Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I have found some time to catch my breath and reflect on the past seven weeks. After leaving my wonderful host family on Sydney’s north shore, which was a tough and sad experience as they have truly become my third family next to my first and second families in Germany and the United States, I took off for an unbelievable trip of a lifetime, which is still continuing for two more weeks.
I started off travelling from Cairns down the Australian east coast to Brisbane, from where I took off for Singapore and Dubai before returning home after seven months away from Germany. Then, after a week that flew by in the blink of an eye, I took off again for the United States to visit family and friends in the Washington D.C. and Maryland area. Over the past week, I explored South Carolina and Georgia before flying up here to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Here I am now, having another great time catching up with one of my best friends, whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. Together, we will visit Chicago next weekend, before I return to Washington D.C. and Maryland, my second home, to spend another week with family and friends.
Despite still being in “travel mode”, which means living like a nomad and spending most of my time “touristing”, I found some time to sit down in a hipster café in Seward, a Minneapolis’ suburb, and pin down some thoughts regarding my recent travel experiences. For now, I will focus on my two stopovers in Singapore and Dubai, because they have been the two most “unusual” places on my itinerary.
I would consider both Singapore and Dubai the most interesting places I’ve been to so far. Not my favorite places, but certainly interesting in the sense that they were different from the places I had been to before. Prior to my recent stopovers, my travels had mostly taken me to countries in the western hemisphere or, in the case of Australia, countries dominated by western culture. Those travels have been interesting as well, as there are still noticeable differences between places which seem similar, but none of them have exposed me to completely different cultures and forced me out of my comfort zone.
Singapore, the first place I have ever visited in Asia, is still heavily influenced by western culture due to its former status as a British settlement. However, due to its location in Southeast Asia and its wealth, it has a high influx of immigrants from all over Asia as well as Europe and Australia. This combination made it very interesting, as people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds seemed to live together in relative harmony.
During my two days there, I deliberately chose to stay in a hostel in Little India, which turned out to be a great decision. While the tourist hotspots of the city, mostly located at and around Marina Bay, seemed to lack culture, Little India was full of different sights, smells, and colors. Strolling through its streets, I explored several Buddhist temples and street markets, which offered everything from Henna tattoos to exotic spices and traditional clothes bursting the most amazing colors and ornaments.
The Marina Bay district, home to the annual Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix, which had taken place the day before my arrival, seemed dull in comparison. While the buildings are all modern architectural masterpieces and worth seeing, the area seemed like a typical tourist mecca deliberately designed to cater to the needs of western vacationers. However, one of the places I found spectacular is the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which offers a breathtaking view over the city and the Street of Singapore, the ocean passage between the city state and Indonesia. Instead of taking the elevator up to the tourist viewing platform, I took to the rooftop bar Ce La Vie, which is located next to the famous infinity pool. You may not get the cheapest drinks up there, but the view and atmosphere is breathtaking. Additionally, the magical Gardens by the Bay, conveniently located next to the three-tower-hotel, round up the experience.
While I thought Singapore is decadent in a sense that it is completely “over the top” and thus attracting many superficial people, Dubai even topped this experience. My visit there both refuted and confirmed my expectations.
I had expected it to be completely artificial and the characterless skyscrapers that were
either in the process of being built or already finished all seemed like they had been picked out of a catalog or copied from somewhere else in the world. The Palm Jumeirah, The Palm Jebel Ali, and The World, three ambitious real estate developments in the Persian Gulf, are the prime example of wealth that had come to the biggest of the United Arab Emirates too fast after the first discovery of oil in 1966. Only one of them looks like it will ever be finished. The oldest part of Dubai, Deira, looked like it used to have a lot of character, but had also been neglected for the longest time. Old buildings and boats were not being kept up and instead replaced by more high rises that seemed to come right off an assembly line. The three different markets, called souqs, of whom I only visited the spice souq, seemed like a relic of the old times. Even though today there are many air-conditioned shops that look like every other shop in a big mall, you can still stroll through narrow alleys where the shopkeepers offer their goods from market stalls. If you want to get a feel for what the city used to be like in the old days, walking through the spice and textile souqs is thus a decent option.
I had expected to feel a little bit uncomfortable discovering the city by myself, considering I am a woman and a single traveler. But that expectation was refuted, at least to some extent. I did not feel much more uncomfortable than I would travelling in any of the other countries I had been to before. And if I did feel a little more uncomfortable, I must admit that I might have to blame that on my own preconceptions. Like Singapore, the city felt extremely safe, even though one must credit that to the authoritarian ruling systems in both countries.
Overall, Dubai was worth a visit but probably not a place I would choose to go back to in the future. At the Top, the viewing platform of the impressive Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world and, aside from the Burj al Arab, one of the buildings I did like, is worth a visit. However, the view over a city that is dominated by construction sites and cranes is not nearly as impressive as that from the observation deck of the One World Trade Center or the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Finally, both Singapore and Dubai were interesting due to their different climates. In Singapore, a city located close to the equator, temperatures reached highs of 34 degrees Celsius and heavy, hour-long rainfalls and thunderstorms as well as high humidity made enjoying the city a challenge for my “European” body. Dubai on the other hand was dry but even hotter. Temperatures reached highs of 42 degrees Celsius in late September and made it impossible to stay outside for longer time periods, especially as there is a lack of trees in the city that could offer relieving shade.
This brings me to another commonality between Singapore and Dubai: their use of air conditioning throughout the year. There is clearly a need in both cities for air conditioning in order to make daily life a little bit easier – after all, one can make use of mankinds achievements when it is reasonable. However, the wastefulness of the modern western lifestyle is very visible especially in Dubai. While you would think that a city that is built into the desert where the sun shines almost every single day throughout the year would be smart and, despite having large oil resources, would get their energy from that never ending source, these expectations were not fulfilled. I could not spot a single solar panel in the city.