Centenary World Cruise Day 30-31: Dubai

Day 30:

Yesterday, our tour guide told us that when we woke up in Dubai, we’d have an amazing view of the city. He wasn’t wrong. It was still dark out when we got up, and the city was breathtaking. It’s like the scenic skyline of every major city in the world, all crammed into one small place.

Our tour today was to The Museum of the Future. One thing I’ve learned from reading a lot of science fiction is that aliens always choose the author’s home culture to land in, and the author’s home culture is always that one that’s going to save earth. The Museum of the Future follows that same pattern – the UAE is going to save the world with its superior innovation.

In some ways, it was like a theme park ride. First there was the part about the orbiting space station, where visitors got to check out all the parts of the space station, and look at the various jobs, and see the various fictional projects this fictional space agency is undertaking. To me, it was a weird mélange of various other scifi stories and franchises I’ve seen – aspects of the S. A. Corey series The Expansion, snippets from Torchwood, a whole lot of Disney.

Junior space explorer suit, with no functional elbows

From there, on to the conservation area. The best part of this was a huge room called the “genetic library.” It contained three concentric circles of “specimens,” arranged in jars in columns. The “specimens” were color coded by phylum. The jars were actually cylinders of acrylic with holographic representations of animals and plants in the middle of each. The overall effect was really cool.

Next was the wellness area, which was really the most fun. There was a large, dark room with a semi-circular area against one mirrored wall. The floor swam with dots of light, and everyone stood around the outside, staring down. As I entered the room, the guide said “It’s a motion exhibit.” She gestured to the area of floor, which I took to mean “walk on it.” So I did. It was great! The floor was a little squidgy, but the best part was that the swirling patterns of tiny dots moved in waves away from wherever my feet landed. I hopped, slid my feet along, took huge steps. Then I discovered that if you put one arm out away from your body, the light would scatter from the shadow of your arm as well. It was great.

As usual, I’m already late!

Then we went to Palm Island – a manmade island in the rough shape of a palm tree that now hosts the most expensive real estate in the world. The guide was full of superlatives – everything was the biggest, the tallest, the most expensive, the best. He kept saying that “everyone in the entire world wants to live here.” I think that he’s right in one respect – everyone on earth wishes that they had enough money to buy a place here. But they don’t actually want to live here.

Palm Island, so called because its shape resembles a palm tree

One hilarious thing I noticed was that as the tour bus drove along, the guide narrated the sights along the way. Whenever we drove by a building or street that looked less than opulent, he would quickly direct our attention to something interesting on the other side of the bus. It didn’t take me long to start automatically looking out the other side of the bus from where he pointed.

While a lot of Dubai is impressive, it all made me sad. It’s not sustainable. The rate of building here, the kind of consumption it takes to build a city like this in such a short time, the fact that literally everything – every plant, the soil, the building materials, the consumer goods, the talent that keeps the city running – everything has to be imported. It’s hard not to look at all this and see what it’ll look like in 100 years, derelict and reclaimed by the desert.

Day 31:

We didn’t have any shore excursions today, but after all the amazing food we’ve had, we both wanted to go to the spice market and see if we couldn’t score some spices to take home and experiment with.

Our first adventure was getting a cab. Our tour guide yesterday said that 99% of taxi drivers accept contactless payments, so we hopped in a cab confident that we would be able to pay by credit card. Nope.

We went to the ATM and realized that neither of us had brought our debit cards, so we couldn’t pull cash. No problem – we can just use our credit cards to get a cash advance, right? No. You need a PIN, and neither of us had one. We tried calling our bank to see if we couldn’t set that up, but we couldn’t even get a call to go through. Ugh. We’ll figure something out.

We went into the spice market, which is a warren of tiny shops selling spices, teas, rugs, caftans, and various touristy dreck. The spice shops all had baskets and bowls arranged in ranks, and the merchants had a novel approach to selling. They all asked us to guess what various berries, leaves, crystals, threads, dried fruits, and powders were. We got sunflower threads, oregano, ginger, hibiscus, frankincense. We didn’t know indigo or sulfur, which both looked like sidewalk chalk. The big surprise came when the guy held up a white, cylindrical crystal and asked us to guess what it was. We had no clue. Salt? Quartz? He then lit the kind of tiny charcoal brazier used for incense and put the crystal on it. He asked me to close my eyes, and gently blew the smoke toward me.

When burning menthol hits your nostrils, it can burn the hair right out of them. Any congestion I may have had was gone.

From the spice market, we went to the gold market. My tastes are on the minimalist side, so things like a necklace of what looked like chain maille made of gold links that would hang to a person’s waist is so far overboard that it’s on its own island. There were earrings that I would have thought were bracelets, bracelets that I would have thought were some kind of magic futuristic handcuffs (they may be – I don’t know), and necklaces that could be worn as aprons. A lot of the bigger pieces were probably 9 carat gold and so had a very brassy, cheap look to them.

Each of these rings is the size of a ping pong ball.

What was really funny to me were the men who kept approaching us with what looked like business cards with pictures of handbags on them, asking us if we wanted handbags, and then started rattling off names of designers. Whenever someone offers me a knockoff watch or purse, I think of that scene in Home Alone where Catherine O’Hara is offering to give someone her watch in exchange for their plane tickets. The person asks if it’s a real Rolex, and O’Hara says “Do you think it is?”

We ended up working everything out with the cash-only cab driver, and everything turned out fine. I’m excited to have some tea options that aren’t limited to Darjeeling and the nasty stuff that is just labeled “English Breakfast,” but tastes more like the sweepings from the floor of a second-rate tea production facility.

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