“Abu Dhabi, we like to party!”
Jermaine Cole’s yesteryear lyrics, flipping the classic line from the iconic Doug E. Fresh cut.
I have to say, after spending five full days in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, I have no idea what the fxck he was talking about.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have an awesome experience in Abu Dhabi. If I could, I would be back there in a heartbeat. Two quick things: AD is the second largest city in the UAE in terms of population and is pretty much the central business district of the entire Arab Emirates, i.e. where most of the multinational organisations/corporations come to set up shop in the middle east. This, as I’ve come to discover from living in one of the “première” western destinations in the world – Sydney, AU wha wha – is becoming a readily accepted paradoxical stereotype of this region. That is, big money and war torn-ness. While both are accurate to an extent, I feel that both analysis’ need to be segregated into their own separate [working] definitions of “nation”. Well, from a First World perspective anyway. Like the largest city in the UAE, Dubai, they are doing many new and wonderful things to attract tourism and cater to the one per cent. But there’s something there for any blue collared Joe, lets be real.
The first thing I realised when arriving in the city, and the first thing I can advise YOU the reader and potential traveller, is that if you’re choosing a cab as a mode of transport (and odds are you will) always ALWAYS take a legitimate cab with a meter. For the distance you need to travel in AD, fuel, and subsequently cab fare, is ridiculously cheap – e.g. a 20 km trip will cost you around 36 Dirhams, roughly $12 AUD. The cabbies will do right by you all the time. Anyone offering a private car service, do not take that ride. Hit the taxis bays immediately and get it legit. Just about everywhere in the city itself also has taxi bays readily available. For more on how cool taxi drivers in AD can be, click here.
AD’s population is roughly 900, 000 deep. That’s nine hundred thousand actual citizens of the United Arab Emirates living in Abu Dhabi, which isn’t a BIG number per square capita per se. However it’s probably not widely known that most of the workers you see on a blue collar level in the city itself, are not actual citizens of the emirate. Every other majority nationality has their residency guided by either specific VISA or passport rules. To be frank though, outside of noticeable socio-economic differences I couldn’t tell the difference. That is to say, the three other major residing nationalities, of which consists Indians, Bangladeshi’s and Filipino’s, all appear to get a fair go in AD. in fact if I didn’t know better, I’d make the call that the national dish of the UAE is fried chicken.
> SEGUE! >
I’ve come to the conclusion that fried chicken is the formal peacetime food of the world. Vegetarians, please see the tofu alternative. Vegans? There’s a reason you’re always disgruntled and insecure… oh hey, KFC even does a delivery-to-your-door service for its Arabia branches! This was the same in Manila also. Damn they got it good. It’s probably a good thing we don’t have it in Syds though. It would onset the bogan apocalypse and even worse, propel laziness to unprecedented heights. Which would actually be an unfathomable social low. End mini rant.
My best advice for eating in AD is going with either a) the aforementioned fried chicken option, or b) shwarma, all the way. For those familiar with *El Jannah’s or Jasmine’s back home, this is like that but the OG edition with like a ballion things on the menu. And for a third of the price. A big one is to always get either humus or baba ganoush. I had this at the breakfast buffet along with some of the usual suspects, but legit, I had the best humus in this city that I’ve EVER had.
These calls may appear to be locused around stereotypes. But between smashing this and hitting the hookah, these “expected” delicacies of the locale are actually the most done to perfection in this town. Like the old saying goes, home is where the heart is.
I’d never been to a predominately Islamic cultured country before. But forget that because in the Arab Emirates (and I could imagine for some of the surrounding nations) Islam is not only the majority, it’s practically law. This is the very first country I’ve ever been to where religion is law and not the other way around, if that makes sense. Essentially, adhering to basic Islamic don’t’s is almost the same as abiding by the law of the country. This means that aside from the basic moral no no’s (assault, theft, murder) there’s also a nil mandate for both pork/bacon/ham/pig-based products, and anything relatively adult R18+ related. Secret tip to the latter? Tumblr. Booyah.
Alcohol is available, mainly in hotel bars. I would heavily advise not being found drunk and disorderly on the streets of AD though.
Oddly I got use to the no pork after five days. Maybe halal turkey bacon is the future of all tradie daily protein intake.
Another helpful tip is to avoid the discussion of politics altogether. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the ruler (emir) of Abu Dhabi, the first president of the UAE (1971) – a post which he held for over 33 years – and was the principal driver of the formation of the UAE. That’s what I know about him in general. What I discover is that in AD this man is treated as, at very least, a demi-god. Around town there are general billboards of artists renditions of him, promoting any general positive human value from consideration to good will and intentions towards others. For me, this was the biggest culture shock. Probably because in a million years in the countries where I’m well versed on their political situations, you would not essentially worship any political figure unless doing so meant you were getting your money up by doing so. Or you’re trolling. Pardon my ignorance, but with the current electoral candidates in Aus, there’s just no comparison to the shroud of the Sheikh.
Not unless we’re seeing that K. Rudd money again.
But the skinny is, don’t talk politics, and don’t talk about the Sheikh. This lead to an awkward cab ride where the conversation was quickly redirected by the cabbie to shopping.
Finally, and what made this experience truly great, was the sheer awe factor over way of life in AD, and probably the entire Emirates.
If I really had to sum up the whole trip in one word, it would simply be humbling. The most suitable moment for this adjective being a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Words won’t do justice, but potentially this gallery will.
Leave religious views, or lack thereof, at the door and abide by house rules. If you’re human then your mind will be blown fo’ reals.
Often in western culture, we’re stigmatised towards most of the Islamic world, villainising a people we see as a collective, even a race, instead of what Islam truly represents in their home territory: a social institution and lifestyle. Too often will we judge the Islamic community on their religious guidelines. Common criticisms come to mind like the treatment of women in general, to outlandish ones inducing narratives of “killing in the name of God”, bombs, military insurgence etc. I believe that Abu Dhabi, and it’s titanic cosmopolitan sibling Dubai will play a massive role in shifting perspectives of the western world towards Islam and the middle eastern region in the years to come. My only regret is not seeing the Yas beach area.
*You’ll never see a review of El Jannah’s on WUD. It’s like asking for a review of El Loco. We know it’s awesome, just stop blogging about your visit there every weekend.
Note: heat ranges anywhere from 30 to 50 degrees celsius. Air conditioning is everywhere but stay hydrated. Good hotels will provide adequate provisions and summer activity (I paid $240 AUD for four nights at Novotel). Avoid lush and exy hotels unless you’re baller status.