by Chan Kai Yan (13A01A)
Dubai is where superlatives rule – here, one can find the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest shopping mall, and the world’s longest fully automatic driverless metro network. These were among the attractions visited by 23 students from the Raffles Middle East Programme (RMEP) during their educational tour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The school trip marked the end of two terms of talks by guest speakers, lessons in conversational Arabic, and even a course in belly dancing!
Our tour of Dubai began with a visit to the Dubai Museum, located in the historic Al Fahidi Fort – the oldest existing building in Dubai. The museum showcased the traditional way of life in Dubai before the discovery of oil. The dramatic changes brought about by the discovery of oil were evident. Traditional ‘wind towers’ used to cool houses during the scorching summers of Dubai have long since been replaced by air-conditioning, which is now essential to surviving the summer. Even overhead bridges and bus stops are air-conditioned!
The opulence of Dubai does not stop there. We made a photo stop at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, instantly recognisable once one enters Dubai, as it towers over all other skyscrapers. These skyscrapers are the products of the property boom in the early 2000s.
One of the quirks of Dubai is that weekends fall on Friday and Saturday, as Friday is the day of religious worship in Islam. Religion is taken very seriously in Dubai and even the Dubai Metro shuts down on Friday morning. We were only able to venture out of our hotel in the afternoon to ride the Dubai Metro, the world’s longest fully automatic driverless metro network. Our destination was the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall. We had another visual feast when we entered the Khalid bin Al Waleed metro station, which had multiple chandeliers and was bathed in blue light, as part of the station’s ‘water’ design theme.
That evening, we were also hosted to dinner by Mr Ahmad Fuad, who was one of the first Singaporeans to live in Dubai. He has lived in Dubai for over two decades and watched Dubai transform from a small desert town into a global metropolis. Over dinner, we also had the opportunity to interact with many other Singaporeans living and working in Dubai. By talking to these intrepid Singaporeans, we were able to gain a better idea of what it was like to live abroad for an extended period of time. It means having to adapt to a considerably different working style and way of life, especially in the Middle East, where personal relationships are hugely important to successfully do business and life is centred on religion.
Our educational tour of Dubai also included visits to numerous Singaporean and Emirati organisations in Dubai, where we learnt more about the working culture and various industries which we may not have had much exposure to previously. These organisations included Atlantic Marine Group (a Singaporean offshore marine company), Nakheel (one of the world’s largest real estate developers), Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (the public utilities company of Dubai).
Whenever we visited a UAE organisation, we were warmly received and welcomed with many corporate gifts of all shapes and sizes. This was a testament to Emirati hospitality, something which we Singaporeans can learn from. We were given individual packs of corporate gifts when we visited these organisations. These gifts ranged from notebooks to car sunshades and from pails to safety helmets!
We also made a day tour to Abu Dhabi, the capital and largest constituent emirate of the UAE. Abu Dhabi was a little less modern than Dubai, having embarked upon its development later. However, it controls most of the UAE’s oil reserves, and is the seat of political power and national wealth. The sheer wealth of the UAE is best reflected in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which is the largest mosque in the country and a testament to the religiosity of the Emiratis. It features the world’s largest carpet, third-largest chandelier, and largest example of marble mosaic.
In Abu Dhabi, we were also hosted for lunch by the Singaporean Embassy. Personally, it was heart-warming for me to see the professionalism of members of our diplomatic corps, who are working hard to defend Singapore’s interests overseas.
During our trip, the UAE was in a festive mood as it was due to celebrate its 41st National Day on 2 December. We were fortunate to join in the National Day celebrations at two tertiary institutions, namely the Dubai Men’s College and Zayed University. All public schools in the UAE are segregated by gender, and the two tertiary institutions we visited were no different. It was also the first time on our trip that we saw a large number of Emiratis – Emiratis only make up about 17% of the population in Dubai. Indians actually form the largest community in Dubai.
The celebrations were fairly serious occasions, but the atmosphere was joyous and it was a great experience – not least because the celebrations were graced by VIPs, who we got to meet. At the Dubai Men’s College, we took photos with Dr Mohammed bin Sulayem, a UAE champion rally driver. At Zayed University, some of us got up close with royalty for the first time, as the celebrations were graced by His Highness Sheikh Majid bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the fifth son of the Ruler of Dubai and Vice-President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The eight days we spent in the UAE whizzed by and we soon found ourselves on the way home. Nevertheless, I am certain that if I were to return to Dubai the future, the city will definitely look different, as Dubai continues its efforts to modernise and be ‘No. 1’ in all fields.
On behalf of the group, the writer would like to thank Ms Gan Lee Suan and Ms Toh Su Yi, who painstakingly planned the trip and looked after the group for eight days.
Photos courtesy of Chan Kai Yan (13A01A), Elizabeth Gunawan (13S03E) and Maryam Ahmad Fuad