This was the vacation I didn't know that I needed. Of course there were some stressful moments. It was expensive and it was hot, but it was fun, friendly, it felt safe, and in some ways it felt homey.
I'll start with some overall impressions of Dubai:
- So much construction! It's a new city (the downtown/Business Bay Area that we were staying in was only established in 2003) and it's still being built up. While noticeable from the Airbnb's patio, it was very obvious when seen from the Burj Khalifa observation decks.
- Hot & humid. While there, the temperature rarely dropped below 30C (~86F) and humidity stayed in the 40-50% range. We had access to a pool in our building, and most of the activities we did were either inside or in the evening, but I kept a sweat towel with me at all times.
- Very manicured. Dubai has the goal of being a "green city," which does not mean that they are focused on environmentalism. It's actually quite the opposite–they want to have tons of parks and green space, despite being a desert with average temperatures above 100F/40C multiple months of the year. My friends and I joked that they'll soon be constructing a giant bubble to surround the city in air-conditioning. Nonetheless, it reminded me of living in Bellevue, WA, where city parks are always landscaped and litter is rare.
- Orderly. This was actually my favorite thing and made me consider moving to UAE. Rules and laws seemed to be followed and lines were (almost) always respected. My friend's partner (who had previously lived in Dubai for four years prior to moving there again in 2021) said that it was because of a fear of the prison system in UAE, but I think it more likely reflects the wealth of the country and the Islamic values.
- Daily prayers. Speaking of Islam, the five daily prayers are announced by a melodic voice and broadcast from each mosque to the surrounding neighborhoods. Each session is only about two minutes and sounds very peaceful and meditative.
- Culturally diverse. Only ~10% of Dubai's residents are Emiratis, everyone else is an expat. Because of that, everything operates in English (even street signs) and it's quite nice to know I won't get into an issue because I can't speak the local language.
- Service culture. I was greeted with "ma'am" and "madam" more than a few times, and I felt very catered towards. Maybe there is an underlying caste system or racism that I wasn't aware about, but I think it has more to do with the orderly nature of the culture and people being overall generous and polite.