We’ve landed in the year 2525.

Fully accessible, floating buses take flight passengers to and from the main airport terminal. Electric blue glows brightly from beneath the highway overpass. The upcoming Dubai Silicon Valley’s main building looks like a space ship from a Spielberg film a massive construction of glass and steel with floating red fibre optics adding to the alien feel.

The city skyline is unbelievable. Massive buildings crowd the horizon. Each skyscraper rests gently against the curb of another. If you’ve ever seen downtown NYC, or the crowded corners of (former) Wall Street, you know exactly how downtown Dubai looks. The Dubai Tower shoots out above the city as a lone tower and spreads its futuristic, 190 storey shadow over the busy streets. Japanese builders developed much of the city’s infrastructure design, such as the metro stations. I really feel like I’ve landed on Neo-Earth.

Oddly enough I’m going through a bit of culture shock. After almost three weeks of living with family and friends, I’m used to hearing the call to prayer five times a day; to veiled women and men in traditional dress; to open worship at the Grand Mosque for Ramadan; to signs and newspapers written in Arabic; and to hearing souk Arabic in the streets and formal Arabic spoken on television. Now, 80% of the population is made up of expatriates; English comes first in all advertisements; alcohol is served openly; there’s only a handful of mosques instead of 3 on every street corner; men and women dress how they please; and everywhere I look, I see blond hair and blue eyes. Everywhere.

Dubai has the feel and look of North America, with an undertone of Arab culture. At first I was shocked especially when I saw the Medina Jumeirah souk. It’s a beautiful high-end curios and souvenirs area, designed to look like the winding, wood covered streets of Marrakesh. Completely constructed to ensure that tourists can shop comfortably in an “authentic air conditioned Arab market” without ever actually having to touch or smell the locals. Not my cup of tea.

But as I learned more about Dubai’s history and as I saw more of the city, I began to appreciate Dubai for what it is. It’s a sheikh’s “Toyland” and it was most certainly built for the British tourist and Emirate prince. The country is not as oil-rich as some of the other “states” in the United Arab Emirates, and 90% of the GDP comes from tourism. I quickly got over the fact that I may not find the “authentic” culture, as everything is constructed like a museum, a tourist trap or a “heritage” area with the comfort and needs of the non-Muslim, Western tourist in mind.

Everything is moving to Dubai. Dubailand is under development, and Disneyland is soon to follow. Dreamworks and MGM are also coming. Tiger Woods has his own self-designed golf course. I cannot even count how many theme parks they have here. And everything is a theme. Marvel has a theme park. After 2012, I cannot WAIT to stay at the X-Men Mansion, buy tickets for the Iron Man rollercoaster and get my nails done at Wolverine’s claw shop. This city is like Las Vegas on super steroids.

We’re staying at the Arabian Ranches. It’s a city suburb constructed just like my current Mississauga Condo community: 4,000 houses resting nicely in a carefully manicured and gated compound complete with hospital, top-notch school, daycare, community centre, shopping mall, and golf course. The only difference is the Arabian theme. Each house looks like a “traditional” sand coloured villa and the surrounding terrain relies heavily on desert plants and desert landscapes. The idea is to create an atmosphere where you can really believe that you’re living in a desert. You know not that you’re living in a desert country where they’ve built a pretend desert community
for you to feel like you live in the desert. Get it?

There’s also the upcoming World concept development: Japan, Ireland, Britain, Pakistan, India, etc. Each country will have it’s respective culture inspire and create the community theme. The Universe is another concept development. Fancy living on Mars? Come to Dubai! Most expats live in these kinds of developments. It’s the uber-rich who live on The Palm or at the other upscale hotels and developments.

This morning we ate breakfast while watching tourists and nationals skiing in -4C degree weather at the Mall of the Emirates. We then hopped over to the Atlantis hotel found on The Palm. Imagined like it’s lost namesake, this massive hotel offers sweeping views of the ocean, massive fountains everywhere you turn, and the largest aquarium in the Gulf. The Palm development is built on reclaimed land. Each leaf provides access to private islands or have their own housing community. Michael Jackson, David Beckham and Shah Rukh Khan all have villas in this area.

My favourite hotel so far has to be Al-Qasr (The Palace). It was built incorporating the best out of all Arab culture and cultural influences. We first entered into a sprawling desert city and I was immediately transported
back in time to when Arabia was at the height of its success. The hotel is modeled on the Alhambra Palace in Spain and we were met with black and white stripped pillars, grand arches, and beautiful chandeliers. The courtyard was again modeled on the Moorish-Spanish design – with multiple curved arches, flowing sail-covered ceilings, and mosaic tiles, and looked down upon a winding river where Arabian gondolas took guests from swimming pool to swimming pool. Each corner and curve deserved our attention as the builders have taken great pains to ensure that this hotel captures the essence of 10th century Spain.

That’s what I love so far about Dubai. In Las Vegas, the hotels and displays are huge and speak for themselves but upon closer inspection, only look like large replicas. Here, every corner speaks volumes. Every detail takes colour, light and position into consideration to create the most perfect, beautiful or serene view. So while I recognize that the Jumeirah souk is a “fake”, I cannot deny that it is beautiful and certainly has its appeal.

Tomorrow we’re going off to the desert for, “authentic” sheesha, henna designs, dune bashing, belly dancers, local customs – all for the low, low price of 250 Dirhams!”