A fresh college graduate’s trip of firsts to the exciting city of Dubai where she learns to appreciate her own company
After booking a seat for Dubai in January for my first ever vacation alone in the summer, I had spent the next few months trying to distract myself from this trip. I had the entire semester before me, but I couldn’t wait for it to be all behind me.
Finally, it was time to go. Before this, I had taken trips with family but not once had I paid any heed to where we were going and how to go about it really. This time I noticed reassuring boards and guidance signs everywhere telling you exactly where to go. Much to my surprise, I found the boarding pass too holds valuable information. I had been outside of Pakistan multiple times, but I felt like a rookie here.
The flight itself was quite amusing too. A man from Sheikhupura came and sat in the seat next to me. Next to him, sat a girl who was flying back to the US. Within 30 minutes of the flight, the strangers were in a deep discussion about gambling in Vegas, how much they had lost in casinos and where had they travelled. They even played Blackjack and Poker on the girl’s phone.
The man told her he was eventually flying to Spain. And guess what? His friends -- one from Sialkot and one from Faisalabad -- were to meet him in Dubai. It all seemed too familiar, as if he was describing a scene out of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Either he was making a fool out of the girl, hoping she hadn’t seen the movie or, he was actually going there, perhaps even inspired by the movie to take that trip.
Listening to their endless discussion, I fell asleep.
The plane landed at 5:30am. I found myself all alone in a foreign land. That’s where the adventure started.
Here again I noticed guiding signals at every step. Within 15 minutes, I had completed the immigration process, and was out of the airport with my bag and in a taxi. Once in my hotel, I crashed on the lobby sofa till 9am (the check-in time). I decided to enjoy breakfast at Tim Hortons’ roadside seating that had a magnificent view of Burj Khalifa.
When with family, we would rush towards the metro station; on my own, I took my time and looked around. This city-state was so progressive in some ways, with women driving, women in every office, working, and taking the commute late at night. And, yet, so regressive in some ways: with its strict monarchy and lack of freedom of speech.
I took my first metro ride on my own that day and decided to go to the Deira City Centre. I wandered aimlessly for some time. The joy of being on my own, not having to report to anyone. And not being under pressure to coordinate with people, was a refreshing change. Tired from the shopping and excitement, I headed towards my hotel where I binge-watched some old Hindi movies before falling asleep.
The next day, I decided to go to the Dubai Mall; with shopping bags in hand, I walked around, just looking at people from all over the world -- Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Americans, Germans, Japanese. Dubai, truly, is a melting pot!
I had an hour of waiting just before the Dubai Fountain show started. I chose to sit in a small café to enjoy the view. A newly-wed Indian couple sat hand-in-hand at the next table completely smitten. Next to them sat an Australian couple with their three-year-old boy, who at first glance looked like a girl due to his long hair.
Time flashed by as I busied myself looking at these interesting people and wondering what they were like.
Soon, it was time for the show. I decided to sit for the second round of the dancing fountains because the crowd didn’t allow me to see much the first time. I couldn’t see much during the first due to the crowd. A Bengali man came sat next to me. As protocol procedure, I rechecked the number of bags I was carrying and shifted my handbag to the side. However, he turned out to be a nice fellow. He saw that I was a tourist and recommended that I stand on the chair to get a good look at the fountains and offered to hold my bags meanwhile. I, of course, declined. He insisted, and so I went ahead with it. And obviously, he didn’t run away with them.
At the Wild Wadi Waterpark was another interesting experience. Here, I went from ride to ride enjoying the splashing cool water that made the scorching heat above bearable. I had forgotten my sunblock at home, and had no intention of spending Dhs80 on a sunblock I would never use again. So I went up to a South Indian lady who was there with her three granddaughters and asked if I could borrow her sunblock. She was so nice about it and readily gave it. When I went to return it she asked, "Beta, do you want more?"
I spent a little time talking to her, asking where she was from and what brought her to Dubai. Incidentally, she was on vacation with her granddaughters only.
This was not my first encounter with a South Indian in Dubai. On my first day, a South Indian from Kerala helped me get a SIM card at the Etisalat shop. I remember having an interesting conversation with him about Kerala’s progressive policies and its beauty and even Bollywood.
The next day, at the Mall of the Emirates, another funny incident took place. I wanted to purchase a fridge magnet to start a collection of fridge magnets from the places I visit. So I went into this small shop and asked for the price of one magnet which was Dhs5. However, when I was about to pay for it, the shop owner said it was for Dhs5000 because it was made of gold and diamonds. Taken aback and embarrassed I said, "I’m sorry, I can’t buy this".
And here the shopkeeper burst out laughing, and I too realised I had walked into his trick. It’s funny now, but I remember being annoyed.
This trip was an eye-opener for me. I realized that not only am I perfectly able to travel alone, but how much I had gained from random conversations from people around me. I spoke to Punjabi Indians, South Indians, Australians, Filipinos and Bangladeshis. I realised that is possible to have fun in your own company.