It was towards the late 90’s when I first set my foot on Dubai sands, thanks to my Uncle who invited me to visit the United Arab Emirates and have a look at job opportunities. This was also one of the primary reasons that brought most Asians towards this city right from the 70’s.
A lot of people have come here and prospered thanks to the enterprising nature of the founders of the emirates who never floundered when it came to trade and adventures. The rulers be it the great Shaikh Zayed or Shaikh Maktoum, always had a pulse on the people’s sentiments and the trade.
My arrival was in June, being one of the hottest months in these parts of the world where I was given a weather shock, just as I left the cool precincts of the airport. I had heard and seen the progress of the Dubai airport since childhood days, as the post cards carried a lot of pictures of the new airport that came up in the 80’s.
The network of roads was mind-boggling in the initial days, and I could not make anything out of the places wherever we went. I stayed at Karama at my uncle’s place, and places like Deira and Bur Dubai took a few days to digest. Also, got to see a few places at Sharjah in the first week, before I decided to hunt for a job.
Mornings were reading the newspapers to look for possible appointments that could match my skills, and call up my uncle at work, so that he could send them by fax, or post to such openings. It appeared that he was running such errands for me more than the work at hand at his office. Email was just catching up in 1997, though computers and the internet had made their appearances in offices. I remain indebted to whatever he did to help me etch out a career in the Gulf.
When I landed a job finally in a few weeks time, it was the public transport that amazed me, by their promptness and by their pickup and delivery of commuters at various work places in neat clock work precision. With just a few coins in your pocket, you could literally travel and cover the whole of the city. Wide foot paths made walking easier, and I would always take the option of walking at least a mile to my office from the bus stop. In summer, however this liberty was taken, only when I missed the bus which would drop me closest to my office, as otherwise, I would be drenched in sweat by the time, I reached in time for work.
Summers are very hot in the middle east but it is best experienced by tourists, visitors and natives alike in the months from June to September, where the dates on palms would ripen with the heat. The humidity was its best in the month of October during the switch over from summer to winter. When one used to leave an air-conditioned cab, you could experience the humid air, that would force you to seek the next cool place. In my case with my spectacles, I would have to take my handkerchief and wipe my lenses, before i could see a thing. It was like getting into a sauna bath. With a few years in the city, it was easy to judge the change of seasons. Rains rarely made their appearance sometimes they did in the winter months especially in the month of December or January, and it was so special that you would miss it if you were indoors and not aware of that lonely shower of rain. With an annual rainfall averaging 2 to 3 centimeters, Dubai was a city that got stuck with its name of the being an Oasis City in a desert. Drinking water came from the springs of Masafi in Fujairah made popular by the Masafi brand or from other springs in other places in the Emirates.
Getting a taxi was easy and you could jump into any make or model of your choice. Most of the taxis were Toyota Corollas and Coronas and Mitsubishi’s. In Deira, armed with a 5 dirham currency note, you could travel anywhere in Deira and take the ferry at Deira to cross over to Bur Dubai and get into another cab or a bus that suited you. The ferry trip would cost you just 50 fils ( 1 Dirham equals 100 Fils) at that time.
Most of the taxi drivers were Asians at that time, mostly from India. Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sometimes people would haggle or bargain with them before getting in after telling them the destination. This way, one could avoid the war of words at the end of the trip, the weather not helping much to the heated arguments in the summer months.
Come 2000, the Dubai Transport made its appearance with the Mercedes make cabs, the Sonata’s followed by the Camry and some of the best makes, and one could get into one’s car of choice, if one had the patience to wait for a while. With this, also came the meter, and one had to cough up more money to pay and slowly the waiting time also got factored into the meter calculations. When the cabs waited for more than 5 minutes, the waiting time started, which was a period of mental agony for the middle class.These cabs offered good comfort, the driver came in a uniform and pleasant manners unlike the earlier cabbies who would size you up, as if your stood in a garment store and he was your worst tailor to befriend.
All said and done, the old cabbies in their corollas and coronas were good natured, barring a few and were the transport messengers of Dubai for long years. By mid 2000, most of them had either joined the branded and newly sprouted car companies like Dubai Transport, Cars and Metro Taxi service or had switched to other professions while some had called it a day and left the land of gold to their own sweet native homes. Many a time during long trips to the other Emirates where work would take me, these drivers used to tell their stories about their loved ones back home.
With the advent of Emaar and Nakheel, the construction boom started, and in all roads, you could see cement mixing trucks plying along signifying the ticking progress. Dubai Airport got a ramp up with Terminal 2 coming up, and the metro got off to a construction phase in 2006.
As Dubai prospered, the savers and lenders of money, the Banks made their appearance with almost all the 7 emirates each having a national bank to its name. In addition to the government banks, there also came to the fore, some private banks from enterprising business houses as also foreign banks like Citi, StanChart, HSBC and Lloyds. The bank street at Bur Dubai and the bank street at Sharjah in the late 90’s got their names from the many banks that stood on either part of the street. As time progressed, slowly banks moved to their private properties at well located places in and around the cities in these emirates.
Dubai was to the asian nationalities, a land of great promise, just as the US was at one time to other nationalities all over the world. There were plenty of jobs in the construction, petroleum and trading industry. Moreover, Dubai was setting up a lot of shopping malls to give company to the lonely Al Ghurair Shopping Center. Slowly you could choose from Burjuman at Bur Dubai and Citi Centre at Deira with a host of major ones coming on Shaikh Zayed. Roundabouts gave way to signals, and the famous Fire roundabout and the fish roundabouts were memories.
The cinema houses that ranged from Dubai to Deira Cinemas as well as the Strand and Al Nasr Leisureland and the Galleria at Hyatt got more company as multiplexes opened in the major shopping complexes that sprung up giving more choice and comfort. With time, some of the old cinema houses were either pulled down or got converted to business complexes.
Hamriya Vegetable and Meat market was well planned, but because of the traffic congestion and difficulty to upscale and being difficult to access, the market got shifted by 2005 to another location near the Al Ain roundabout.
The shopping festival was another attraction for all residents and was a shopping feast that got the approval of all traders who participated in it. With festivals and their raffle draws that evinced a lot of interest at the creek park, people came from far and near to get a glimpse of the various cultural programmes and the fun and fair activities usually associated with exhibition fairs.
GITEX and other exhibitions were well received, and the diary of events started becoming full for a resident to be kept busy after office hours..
By 2005, the new downtown had emerged and the expansion plans filled up both sides of the Shaikh Zayed road with more shopping malls and apartment complexes. Accommodation and business projects expanded up until one could see the gates of Jebel Ali port. Previously a car drive to Abu Dhabi was lonely as one would leave the World Trade Center behind along with a dozen towers on each side.
By becoming a tourist destination on the world map and a trading port, with a couple of free port, internet city and countless hotels, Dubai has finally arrived on the tourist map with a lot of variety for a tourist to choose once he or she lands on the sands of the emirate.
Dubai is vibrant and one can feel the sense of urgency in expansion in the vision of the rulers which is so evident if one just looks at the projects that have come in the period from 2006 to 2013. The trail blazer projects be it the Airport, the Burj Khalifa, the Metro and the umpteen interchanges and construction buzz has made it clear that Dubai is a product of the well laid out planning supported by principles that have a deep-seated foundation and perhaps so because the city and all its inhabitants believe in hard work and progress for all. But for its founders, it is still a work in progress…