What. A. Day. Jet lag had NOTHING on us today. (Well, I guess technically it did, but we gave it a run for its money!) From witnessing it to partaking in it, the opulence of this day was astounding. I have to break this day up into a few different posts – it was seriously that incredible.
A quick highlight/recap of today’s punch list:
- Realizing you can hail a chopper, as in helicopter, on Uber
- Learning about the complex, meditative ritual Muslims take before entering a mosque
- Checking out the oldest (and first) air conditioning system
- Getting harangued to buy handbags in a spice souk
- Seeing gold in the gold souk, including the world’s biggest gold ring
- Eating gold in the world’s highest restaurant in the world’s tallest building
- Being mesmerized by shenanigans on an ice skating rink and by a derpy shark in massive aquarium – both in one of the world’s largest shopping malls
- Touching the softest, silkiest, most beautiful rug ever
- Seeing a guy buy his girlfriend a customized $250k Tesla SUV at that same mall
Now, on to some crazy stats about the United Arab Emirates …
A truly multicultural nation
The UAE was originally going to consist of nine emirates, but Qatar and Bahrain declined, so in 1971, the seven emirates merged together to found the UAE. Each emirate has a sheikh, which more or less serves as the respective emirate’s president. There’s also a crown prince for each emirate. Each sheikh votes for the UAE president and vice president; Abu Dhabi’s sheikh is the UAE president and Dubai’s is the vice. There are 9 million people in the UAE, only 10% are Emiraties, the rest are foreigners who represent 200+ countries. Yes, 200+! In the Middle East, there are many different languages, with Arabic being the dominant one. So as a compromise, the two main languages spoken in the UAE are Arabic and, surprisingly, English. English has a more visible prominence in almost everything you see.
Oil pays for a lot
Abu Dhabi is the capital, and holds 94% of the oil reserves of the UAE. Dubai has the most people, with two million, but holds just 4% of the UAE oil reserves. Dubai will be hosting the world expo in 2020, which will draw some 40 million tourists to the city that year, up from the normal 13 million. Construction of beautifully ornate, complexly designed skyscrapers is going on everywhere to prepare and accommodate the influx of people. The revenue from the oil reserves will help fund all the infrastructure projects, including building the new Creek Harbour building, which will be 100 meters taller than the Burj Khalifa (already the world’s tallest building). Surprisingly, revenues received from construction crane purchases, which Dubai has a 25% market share of, will also help pay for all the work going on.
Cars are cheap, but those license plate prices are brutal
There are no duty taxes paid on any foreign cars, from Bentley, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Mercedes, BMW, etc. As Wael, our Egyptian tour guide said, “Getting cars is cheap, it’s getting the license plate that’s expensive.” Cars are status symbols, but a low number license plate number is an even bigger sign of status. Having a single digit license plate (as opposed to a five-digit one) is a BIG deal. A couple years ago, a businessman in Abu Dhabi paid $13 million for the #1 license plate! An Indian businessman recently paid $9 million for the #5 license plate in Dubai. I can’t even.
I’ll get into the finer details of the adventures we partook in. I’ll just leave it at today being a really surreal day.