1. Khalid Bin Waleed Road, December 2001. Somewhere on my computer is a folder full of global destinations I can never do a ‘My 5’ on. The visits in question were all over fifteen years ago and the photos are… well, I can’t pull any punches… they’re crap. This was back when I had a camera that a) wasn’t digital and b) I didn’t know how to use. It’s always a source of great frustration when I have to abandon a potential article. My long ago trip to Dubai very nearly ended up in the reject folder. But somehow, after much editing and plenty of goodwill, I just about managed to scrape together a narrative with five passable shots. Here I am outside The Howard Johnson Hotel, my Dubai base.
2. Jumeirah Beach, December 2001. I flew into Dubai from Qatar, where my friend Scott and I were teaching English. The flight time from Doha was a laughable one hour and five minutes and after checking into our hotel we wasted no time in heading out to explore. I remember Jumeira being a modest little ghost beach, so much so that I wondered if we’d even meet another person to take our photo. These days Jumeira is a high-end stretch reserved for guests of its five star hotels. One of these palatial joints, The Burj Al Arab, is a so-called seven-star resort with assigned butlers, revolving beds, chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces and gold-plated iPads.
3. Dubai Museum, December 2001. Scott and I packed a lot into our three-night stay. We bought camcorders in the electrical district in preparation for a movie we never got around to making. We played pool at a bar called The Billabong and had lunch at The Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. This photo was taken at The Dubai Museum, which is housed within the city’s oldest structure, Al Fahidi Fort. Charting the city’s evolution from a pearling village to global financial powerhouse, the museum’s exhibits walked us through Bedouin culture, the fishing industry, the discovery of oil and important archeological findings. I don’t remember why this bed was important, I just recall the accompanying sign telling me not to lie on it.
4. Dubai Creek, December 2001. You can’t leave Dubai without crossing the creek (Al Khor) in a water taxi, known locally as an abra. We timed our visit for sunset, which was suitably spectacular, despite my camera’s opposing testimony. I also remember the contrasting mix of Dubai’s traditional past and turbo-paced present-future. There were wooden shacks, marble minarets and cloud-piercing skyscrapers alongside at least a dozen under-construction high-rises. “Dubai changing changing changing” our driver told us, with a disapproving tut. I wonder if even he could have imagined just how much change there’d eventually be.
5. Zebra Crossing Shenanigans, December 2001. I can barely remember where this photo was taken, though I’m pretty sure it was near a park of some description. I was deep into my Abbey Road phase at the time, so I roped Scott into an interpretation of the famous Beatles photograph. I named the photo Abu Dhabi Road, which would have been quite witty had it not been an altogether different city.
For more on my adventures in the region, take a look at my article on the Qatari capital Doha.
I’ve also written a short story series about my time there called The Qatar Collection.