Friday, 19 August 2011

Remembering The Old Days & The Night I First Arrived in Dubai

Gosh it was so long ago.

It was the begining of the 1990's and I flew to Dubai by Air Lanka. The flight was almost empty because in those days not many people visited Dubai or UAE and that was because most people had never even heared of it let alone knew where it was.

When the flight landed you had to climb down the plane steps and onto an old bus which took you to this tiny building which was Dubai Airport. As soon as you went through the doors you were at passport control. Then straight through to baggage claim, it took just a few minutes from stepping off the plane to waiting for your bags to appear.

Then you stepped outside the airport building. The night I arrived the airport was virtually empty. As I stood outside waiting for "O" who was pretending to hide from me, I only saw 4 other people lol.

Here is a photo of how the airport more or less looked when I first arrived.

The main western expats back then were British, and it was rare to meet expats from any other western countries, well I never did until about 1995/96.

I do remember seeing the occasional German tourist on the beach at the Chicago Beach Hotel and they seemed to be the main tourists who had found UAE and realised it made a nice holiday destination.

Life was wonderful back then, you really got a feel for the rich culture of UAE, unlike today where its so westernised that you would think you were in USA not UAE.

If you were driving back to Dubai from somewhere like Al Ain, you knew you were nearly there because you could see the Trade Centre on the horizon, and YES the trade center was the tallest building in UAE at that time, hard to believe now as it is dwarfed by all the buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road now.

Apart from the Trade Center one of the first BIG buildings in Dubai was the Hard Rock Cafe, stuck out all on its on along SZR, and the first real high rise apartments were the original ones at the start of SZR near the trade centre (and they are still there today).

The road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi was a nightmare because it was basically one lane each way and loads of speed bumps, so it took forever to get to Abu Dhabi. Eventually around 1995/96 they began to change the road and make more lanes.

People in Abu Dhabi would drive into Dubai to shop as there were virtually no shopping malls in Abu Dhabi. Even in Dubai in those early days you were limited with Deira City Centre (which they built after I arrived), Burjuman, Lamcy Plaza (again built after I arrived) Al Ghurair, Wafi and Al Mulla Plaza.

When Deira City Centre opened it was the most exicting thing to hit UAE and there were huge que's across the bridge to reach it.

The Dubai/Sharjah road was something else, I have mentioned this before on my blog but it was 2 lanes each side with virtually nothing either side of the road but sand and a few cafes selling shawarma. If you were in a taxi on the dubai/sharjah road and there was a traffic Jam the driver would just drive off into the desert and reach Sharjah that way as did most other people lol. You could also drive off on the sharjah/dubai side and reach the sea and we often did that and fished in the evenings until they began to do something that pushed the sea out and then they built on it.

Places expats liked to spend their spare time were Panchos Villas, The Highland Lodge (where most expats met up at the weekend), George and Dragon, Hard Rock Cafe, The Country Club.

Everyone spoke to you, unlike today in UAE, locals and expats mixed freely and enjoyed each others company. The only cinema to show english speaking movies was Al Nasr.

Ikea was in Karama and was easy to get to and shop in and a fav with expats.

The only English channel back then was channel 33 which started at 3pm and finished quite early in the evening. I remember watching Martha Stewart and Bold and Beautiful but other than that there was not much else to watch until Star TV hit UAE.

Newspapers were sold at the traffic lights by overheated Indian boys and you could also get your back and front car windows washed while waiting for the lights to turn green.

Most shops back then closed between 1pm and 4pm and most of the day on Friday.

Here is a great Video and Song of Old Dubai, brings back many happy memories as when I arrived it was almost the same as the pics in the video.

Other things I remember were haggling with taxi drivers before you got in the taxi, they had no meters so you set the fare before getting in.

Bartering for almost everything especially electrical goods as there were virtually no fixed price shops outside of the few shopping malls.

I remember when Mirdif had but a couple of villas's on it, one of which was my friend Sheikh Saqr's. Taxi drivers got lost in Mirdif as it was virtually all desert.

That was the real UAE, not as it is today.

On a forum recently, those in UAE prior to 2000 were discussing how life was hard, but so good back then and someone asked if any of the old timers get annoyed with newer expats constantly moaning about this and that. The answer was more or less yes, and that view was formed by the fact that most people new to UAE these days arrive with certain expectations of what life "should" be like in UAE and when things dont go according to plan they wonder why they came.

However people who have been here a long time or arrived as I did many years ago have seen how things have developed and how they developed and have seen how quickly things get done and the amazing way that the infrastructure etc has been implemented.

People forget that they come from towns that took hundreds of years to develop where Dubai/AD have basically done it in 20/30 years.

Unless you have been in UAE prior to 2000 you probably find it hard to understand how different things were back then and how wonderful it really was compared to today. Those that were around in the old days almost always say the old was better than the new today.


jnana said...

You're right.
I feel for the old generation of Dubai, the one that's leaving this world: the generation that would dive into the gulf to feed themselves and their families, and live through this heat with no air condition. It must pain them so much to see their latest generation so dependent on reliant on expectations and not willing to give much from their side.

♡ αmαℓ said...

Fascinating. You were so lucky to see the old UAE, mashallah!

' Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ Sσrℓisค ... , said...

I wish I could see Dubai for how it was in the old days because it sounds a lot more humble, down to earth and rich with culture. I can already imagine how it was from your descriptions. I visited Dubai last year and I was expecting it to be less westernised and modern (although I knew the rate they were developing at) and I have to say, I was disappointed because it felt way too materialistic.
Thanks for sharing this post!

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