It’s not quite one place, but it’s not the other neither

One day, when I was trawling the internet for previously unknown information about myself* I found a review of a journal in which I had been published. The reviewer summarised my piece thusly: “Tracy Crisp on Dubai”. For a few days after I read that I was somewhat annoyed at the injustice of being reviewed in a somewhat dismissive tone by someone who hadn’t even read the piece closely enough to notice that I live in Abu Dhabi and had not once, in the entire piece, even mentioned Dubai, but what can you do, and life goes on, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing therapy to recover from the experience. Call the wah!mbulance and so forth.

While I have recovered from the injustice of it all, I am reminded of that review every time I go to Dubai, because the trip never fails to do my head in, and I find Dubai even more incomprehensible than I find Abu Dhabi (sorry if incomprehensible is an absolute state, of which ‘even more’ isn’t, technically, possible, but if you want to argue the toss about it, I challenge you to come and stay for a while, and I will take you down to Dubai, and then we’ll see what you think).

The distance between our house and the first place you might want to get to in Dubai is about 130 kilometres and the trip takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half depending on who is driving. The drive is mostly along Sheikh Zayed Road, four lanes each way (eight in all).

Sheikh Zayed Road is home to the world’s largest traffic accident. It’s on youtube if you want to see a 200 car pileup. I’m not linking to it. I try not to think too much about the accident side of things because the mister makes the trip a couple of times each week, and it doesn’t do to dwell on things.


So much for SMART goals (achievable, realistic and so on).

The difference between the two cities is simply described as the difference between Canberra and the Gold Coast. Abu Dhabi being Canberra and Dubai being the Gold Coast. If Canberra had more money and the Gold Coast had more steroids. But this doesn’t really do the difference descriptive justice.

I have spent a lot of time trying to think about how I could describe what it is that distinguishes Abu Dhabi from Dubai, but it’s going to take a bit more work. I’m having trouble with it, probably because I’m trying to describe degrees of incomprehension.

For now, all I can really say is this:

it’s not so much that in Abu Dhabi you wouldn’t see the world’s tallest building

an indoor ski field

or go through a gate to get to a mall that traces the steps of Ibn Battuta:

No, no, that hole leads to Atlantis, this is the one that gets you to the lands of Ibn Battuta (sorry):

And it’s not so much that you wouldn’t see a shop that specialises in pink camels

or, erm, these

it’s just that in Abu Dhabi you don’t.


*side conversation had during the composition of this blog post
‘Have you ever googled yourself?’
‘No.’ True and actual surprise on his face at the very thought.
‘I only asked you to confirm what I already knew.’
Seriously, that man is so fucking well-balanced it wouldn’t surprise me to learn I’ve been living with one of Earth’s as-yet-undiscovered magnetic poles.

Thunder bolts and snow

I got out of bed twice to adjust the curtains, thinking that the flashes of light into the bedroom must be coming from the roof of the Al Wahda building. The building is two or three kilometres from here and this flashing has never happened before, but it is an enormous building, its towers now being finished one by one and its apartments helping to ease the city’s accommodation shortage. Who knows what light show they might one night start projecting into our bedroom.

‘What is that?’ I said to the mister after the fourth flash. He hadn’t noticed.

A thunderclap clapped, loud and close.

‘It was lightning.’

A dog started to bark, something started to hit against our bedroom window. I got out of bed and held the curtain a little way back. It was rain. Hitting our window and falling onto our lawn.

As the rain and the temperature fall (only thirty degrees forecast for today), life in Abu Dhabi becomes much simpler. Sitting in the playground after school or in our courtyard after tea, the breeze weaves the evocative magic that all breezes weave. I made a descriptive list once of all of my happiest memories, and you know, the greater percentage of those descriptions included a breeze.

It had rained the night before, 120 kilometres down the road in Dubai. I heard about it on facebook and rang the mister who was staying the night in his apartment there to avoid a mid-week commute.

‘Is it raining?’ I asked him. ‘I heard it’s raining.’

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I’m in the Mall of the Emirates. All I can see is snow.’

Lads at Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates

Not again in a hurry

The other day, the Thursday before last in fact, I found myself in such a position that going to Toys R Us was better than the position in which I had found myself. I’m just going to let the true awfulness of that statement penetrate your brain for a moment or two.

I have once been in the Adelaide Toys R Us so I sort of knew what to expect. Lots of plastic. Such as a box of plastic food, including plastic fries and burgers. Good grief. (I could say, ‘No doubt they tested better than the stuff you buy at those ‘family restaurants’, but really that would be too obvious, wouldn’t it?)

Anyway, I thought you would be interested in this as something you prolly wouldn’t see in the Adelaide Toys R Us. I must apologise for the quality of the photo, I had to take it on my phone. Anyway anyway, a prayer set which includes a prayer rug and scarf and skirt.

Fulla is, as far as I can work out, a sort of Barbie for this part of the world, though I’m sorry to say I did not know this while I was there, so I didn’t actually check to see whether there were any Barbies or, for that matter, Fullas. You can read more about it here.

I know, if I were a decent correspondent, I would go back to Toys R Us and investigate further for you and return with photos of the space where Fulla is and Barbie should be. But just to get there, I need to get myself to Mina Port, a drive which requires a level of intestinal fortitude of which I am but rarely in possession, and that’s before I even walk through the doors. And you can be fairly sure I will never again be in the position where a trip to Toys R Us is better than anything else I could be doing.

Covered in sand

So it’s not true that hundreds and thousands of cars are being abandoned as people flee their financial over-commitments in the UAE, but it is true that people get into financial difficulties here, leave and abandon their cars, and thus their car loan, in the process. This is on the street where I used to work. I don’t know whether it’s been abandoned, but apparently it’s been sitting there for quite some time.



On my way to book group a few weeks ago, I walked through a gate and found myself in front of a villa which housed two canary yellow sports cars. I beat a hasty retreat, realising that this was not the villa of my friend and walked in the gate next door.

‘You’ll never believe,’ I said to my friend. ‘They’ve got matching Ferraris!’

She laughed and said, as if this were some kind of failing, ‘You really don’t know your cars, do you? One’s a Ferrari and one’s a Porsche.’

I know a sports car from a four wheel drive, but just as I left New Zealand not knowing my league from my union, so shall I leave the Middle East unable to distinguish between a Ferrari and a Porsche.

When I were a girl, I spent my pocket money on redskins and choo choo bars

So we’re driving down to Marina Mall, because that’s where my knitting group meets, and we drive past the Emirates Palace and I tell the lads that there’s a gold machine inside, and the lads ask about the ins and outs of it as lads are wont to do. I tell them the smallest sliver costs 175 dirhams.

And youngest boy, who spends all of his pocket money the minute he gets it, (in fact why do we call it pocket money when as far as I can tell, not a cent has ever reached his pockets) says to eldest boy, who never ever spends a cent,

‘Oh my God, you could buy some gold!’

And eldest lad (who, remember, never spends a cent) says, ‘I could buy heaps.’

So then they start bouncing up and down, and youngest child is saying, ‘Can we go? Can we go? So he can buy some gold?’ And eldest lad is saying, ‘Gold! I could buy gold. Heaps of gold.’

And the mister looks at me, and I look at the mister, and neither of us know what we should say. Or even think.