Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dubai Style Day Two

Top: Michael Kors via thrift store
Leggings: American Apparel
Shoes: Sseko sandals
Scarf: vintage

I wore this same top in Portland just before I left for my trip. Trying to  see how it fits is hot and cold climates.
Now it's time for the famous Ari to get photographed in front of the other  "Burj" in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa. It's so tall we could only fit the bottom in the picture. Don't worry, more photos of the Burj Khalifa will be coming soon!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dubai World Aquarium

An Aquarium in a mall? Only in Dubai!
Now we embark on another tour of one of the world's great aquariums, but first, a few words about their journey to Dubai Mall itself.

The day after I arrived in Dubai, my host was busy at work until the early afternoon, so I decided to take a 30-minute taxi ride to the Dubai Mall in Jumeirah and check out the aquarium myself. Cabs are strictly cash only, and I had a 100 dirham bill (about $36) in my wallet, so I thought I would be just fine. 45-minutes of sluggishly moving through Dubai's traffic, we arrive at Dubai Mall, and I pull out my 100 dirham bill to pay the 45 dirham cab fair. 
Too big, says the driver, no change. 
What? How can a cab driver not have change for 100 dirham?
Smaller bills?
So he tells there is a bank inside the mall, where I can break 100. Then he parks his car and follows me inside the mall. That's cool, I thought, at least he can tell me how to get to the bank. But apparently he did not know precisely either. So we walk for about 10 minutes to find an information desk, which points us to the other end of mall, a good 15 minute walk. 
I couldn't help but think what an odd couple of mall-walkers we made, this old surly cab driver and myself. 
But, after 20 minutes of walking side-by-side in awkward silence, we found the bank. I broke my bill, and paid him in exact change. 
Lesson learned. 

Always have exact change on you in Dubai. 

Now, back to the aquarium, where I paid with credit card ;)

The Dubai World Aquarium is located in the Dubai Mall, which is one of many air-conditioned wonders in this man-made oasis. I was at first disappointed to learn that the aquarium was located in some tacky place like a mall. I imagined it to be like a large aquatic pet shop.
As you can see, I was a bit off in that assumption. 

In my view, a mall is kind of a weird place for an aquarium, but so is the middle of a thick forest, next to someone's mansion, like the aquarium in Denmark.
And besides, for a country which also boasts an indoor ski complex in a mall, maybe a mall aquarium is not such an oddity.

The aquarium begins as most do, with an impressive underwater tunnel. In Dubai, they sell tickets just for the tunnel alone, because it is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being  built with the "Largest single acrylic panel in the world" according to the plaque that hangs on the entrance.
I've always loved these tunnels, so I spent a good deal of time taking pictures here.

I purchased the VIP package for the aquarium, which included access to the tunnel, a boat ride, and the underwater zoo.

After walking through the tunnel, you must go up the escalators in the mall to the third floor, where you will find the entrance to the underwater zoo.

Now, when they told me I would be getting a "boat ride," I imagined something like the gondolas in Venice, (or well, the Venetian in Las Vegas, more precisely). Rather, this "boat ride" was actually a small indoor ferry that takes you around the surface of the tunnel tank. You have to wear an orange life jacket, in case you fall off the boat. This was  neat little experience, but because it was indoors, the low ceilings made me a little claustrophobic. I really felt like I was floating in a giant fish tank...and, well, I was.

The boat had a glass bottom, so you would see the fish swimming below your feet. This way way, I got to see the tank from the side view inside the mall, from below inside the tunnel, and now from above on the boat.

My favorite part of all aquariums are the colorful sea animals. Dubai had no shortage of these, except that many species were not local. That's always the funny thing about zoos and aquariums, they look almost the same over the whole world, all with the same foreign species.

Like other aquariums, Dubai not only had sea animals, but also reptiles, insects, and mammals.

One of the first exhibits contained Nutria, which are gigantic rats with orange teeth (I mean, bright-ass orange teeth). Ironically, there are tons of nutria where I am from in Oregon.

The underwater zoo itself consisted of two levels, a lower level with large tanks, and an upper level of swaying bridges and smaller insect exhibits. See all those lush green vines? Yep, they are all fake. That was a bit disappointing because I always thought that if a place has real animals, it should have real plants too, but apparently that is not the case in Dubai. It is an aquarium in a mall, after all.

By now you have probably realized that my obsession with documenting aquariums is a rather superficial one. Rarely do I provide any enlightening information on the various species at each aquarium, their habitats, and other interesting scientific trivia. 
It's all aesthetics for me.
My love of aquariums is not one of scientific curiosity, but rather a fascination with our  strange and colorful counterparts underneath the sea. To think, without technology and a bit of effort, we would not be able to see these glorious creatures in their habitats, fascinating as they are.
It is images like the lionfish, that seem to leave the most profound impressions on me.

I remember seeing these Japanese spider crabs in the aquarium in Osaka. I know they live in the deep sea, but this is almost enough for me to never want to go near a Japanese beach.

In all, I spent about $30 USD and 1 hour in the aquarium, and it was a memorable experience. To me, the aquarium mirrors many of the traits of Dubai. An extravagant  glass tank, like the ostentatious commanding buildings of Jumeirah. Fake plants, like the fake trees and flowers along the sides of highways, mirages in the desert. Visitors of all kinds, British girls in mini skirts, ladies in black abayas, like any street in Dubai you are confronted with an array of cultures and images, trying to find harmony among each other.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dubai Style Day One

Dubai, I have arrived.
Yes, that's the legendary Burj al Arab in the background.

Dress: vintage shalwar kameez
Leggings: American Apparel
Scarf: probably from the fashion district in LA
Shoes: Sseko Sandals

No fashion post would be complete without mention of my fashionably fabulous friend and host, Ari. This girl is not only my college alum and an American expat in Dubai, but she is part of the next generation of Dubai designers. Be on the lookout for her!

I love how she covers a too-sexy-for-the-Emirates top with a sheer shawl for this modest yet classy look.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Emirates Air Experience

"The cherry blossoms had just begun to open when I left Portland this afternoon. I caught sight of them only as I walked to the train station on the way to the airport. Had I chosen to drive, I may not have seen them at all.   

"12:30 pm. It was a wonderful time to depart. Not like the hurried goodbyes in the pre-dawn hours of a morning flight, or the slow, sad partings of an evening flight, when you are already tired of saying goodbye countless times all day. 

"A mid-afternoon flight gives you just enough time to rise naturally, eat a light breakfast, talk and relax as though nothing particular was occurring that day. The hours pass uneventfully. You languidly make your way to the airport with no sense of time. Before you are fully aware of it, you’ve boarded a plane and now your fate is in god and the pilot's hands. 

"When I travel alone, all my idiosyncrasies manifest into observable features. For example, I find that when I am alone I can seldom fully comprehend something unless I say it out load. So there I am in the Seattle airport, reading aloud the sign that says, 'Emirates Airlines is located in terminal S' as though it were my second language. As though I was reading it aloud to an illiterate person.
It's going to be a long day."

Excerpt from my Travel Diary, March 17, 2013.

Photo courtesy of Emma Red of 557

If you are flying to Dubai, Emirates is the way to go. For what I paid, I had a non-stop 15-hour flight form Seattle to Dubai on the 4th safest airlines in the world. I can not imagine spending 15 hours on any other plane. Also, it's not like I had to splurge to get this ticket. For only $200 more I avoided 3 layovers on United, or 12-hour layovers in Amsterdam on KLM. I left at a comfortable 2:30 pm and arrived at a breezy 7:00 pm Dubai time.

Of course, Emirates airlines is famous for its first class cabin, which features fully enclosed cubicles for each passenger, and a standing bar. If I were going to splurge on a first-class ticket, I would want to do it on Emirates. However, that time has not yet come for me, and I'm still blogging from economy class.

My experience on Emirates was really on par with my flight on Korean Air or Cathay Pacific. However, there are a few things that sets Emirates apart from its competitors. They are sort of small  details that you probably only notice 13 hours into a 15-hour flight, when you are sleep-deprived and crazy, but I appreciate them nonetheless. 

1. Artificial Daylight

The lighting of the cabin mimics the rising and setting of the sun. At twilight, there is a faint orange glow to the cabin, which is very relaxing compared to the usual florescent lighting in most other airlines.

artificial dusk on the plane

At "night" the cabin darkens and fake constellations are visible. I tried to see of I could spot any patterns (I was pretty bored) but from what I can tell they did not make too much of an attempt to imitate the real night sky.

I know it's cheesy but <3

2. A food menu

It might sound crazy but I don't always get a menu on international flights. I have memories of United airlines flight attendants saying "Chicken or Beef?" "Tori or niku?" on a flight from Japan. I swear Tori and Niku where probably the only two Japanese words they knew. 

3. Free booze

You won't find this on any American airline carriers! But from what I have heard the other top airlines like Singapore Airlines all offer free booze, but I realize that the last time I flew one of these airlines I was under 21! This time around, I was sure to take advantage of this.

Here was a picture of my food. It was actually quite tasty, but I have since decided that I just can't stomach plane food. I would starve myself for 15 hours just to have Panda Express at the airport. However, if you are one of those people who can eat on a plane without throwing up, Emirates has pretty decent food. 

4. Baby Bassinet

See that basket-looking attachment to the wall? Somebody's baby is in there. This particular baby actually belonged to an Iranian couple sitting next to me. This is awesome because that 7-week old baby slept peacefully the entire flight, as opposed to having a parent awkwardly hold him for 15 hours. If I travel with a tiny baby, I'm going to fly Emirates so I get a bassinet.

5. Entertainment

15-hours was my longest flight so far, and I got bored as hell. I'm giving Emirates credit because they tried to entertain me, but there is only so much they can do for a nauseated flight-insomniac like me. On the flight to Dubai alone I watched Looper, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, Life of Pi, and a really low-budget horror movie.

There were a lot of other great things that I did not get the chance to photograph:

6. Air Freshener in the restrooms.
7. Hot towels given to you before the flight takes off.
8. The diverse air crew. Our flight crew spoke Arabic, English, Urdu, Japanese, Vietnamese, French, Italian, German, and Czech. Not surprisingly, not of of the flight crew on my plane from Seattle to Dubai was either American or Emirati. 
That's Dubai for you.   

Here's a question I get all the time. 
When you fly from the U.S. to Dubai, do you fly over Europe, or Asia? 
Answer: Neither. 
From Seattle we flew straight up over the north pole. Makes for a bumpy ride, but supposedly it is shorter...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Light of Day

It's finally starting to get sunny so I'm kicking off the season with this floral dress. I bought it at Goodwill years ago but haven't photographed it yet.

When I got it, it was floor length, long sleeved, and about a size 2. I thought I would cut up the fabric to make a top or pants, but decided to leave it as a dress. Just cut off the sleeves, took some fabric from the bottom and make it larger on the sides. Turned out well I believe.

Faux Leather Jacket: Urban Outfitters
Dress: Goodwill, reconstructed
Shoes: Target
Black Clutch: Self-made,  Spring 2013

The Gambia: Photo Diaries from the City

Although I flew into Banjul, I spent very little time there. Most of my time 'in the city' was actually spent in Banjul's sprawl...