Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ten Things I Like About Abu Dhabi

1. The small scale of the city. Without traffic, you can drive from one side of Abu Dhabi to the other in fifteen minutes. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern, so even though every street has two or three names (take 4th Street, which is usually called Murour Street and occasionally referred to as Old Airport Road, or 11th Street, better known as Defense Street but labeled on signs as Hazaa Bin Zayed the First Street), it’s virtually impossible to get lost.

2. Great Asian food. From Pakistani and Indian joints with barebones décor that serve the most delicious curries you’ve ever eaten, to a tiny Nepalese place whose specialties are dumplings and an all-you-can eat platter of rice and chicken, to the logic-defying Asian Garden that does decent Filipino and Chinese grub while still managing to crank out the best Thai food I’ve ever had, to an Indonesian dive where the hygiene is dubious but the chili beef is mouthwateringly good, to a sushi bar in a dumpy hotel that even Japanese diplomats and oil wonks consider worth their time, to a simple Korean restaurant where the freshly made kim chee on offer changes daily according to the whim of the chef, to a Vietnamese spot with a mind-boggling menu of fresh juices and iced teas and wonderfully comforting giant bowls of phô soup, Abu Dhabi boasts an enormous and diverse selection of excellent Asian nosh.

3. The beach. I’ve never been much of a beachgoer, generally finding it preferable to spend the afternoon inside with a book and a cup of tea than to outfit myself in skimpy pieces of slippery cloth, slather on half a tube of SPF 50, and pass several hours lying uncomfortably on rough, hot sand and battling sun and wind to read the same book that I could have read much more easily indoors. But there’s something to be said for having beautiful, pristine expanses of beach only a ten-minute drive from your home, especially in a climate where warm temperatures and sunshine are guaranteed all but two months a year.

4. Cheap taxis. I complain whenever I have to pay for a cab, but to go all the way across the city for $5 is pretty reasonable.

5. Intermissions at movies. Having a few minutes in the middle of a two-hour movie to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, or refill your popcorn makes any trip to the cinema that much better. I don’t know how many movies have been ruined for me because I spent the last 20 minutes of them waiting desperately for a chance to relieve myself. Here I don’t have to.

6. Champagne brunch on Fridays. Okay, so the ubiquitous alcohol-sodden buffet brunches that a majority of hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai host each Friday except during Ramadan have become infamous for producing soused Westerners who stagger out at four in the afternoon and do inappropriate things in public places, but they really are a lot of fun. Heaps of fresh seafood, salad bars of Arab mezze, endless desserts (the brunch at the Intercontinental in Abu Dhabi has a chocolate fountain!), plus all the usual breakfast and lunch offerings, washed down with (in some cases) unlimited glasses of bubbly. Decadent, unhealthy, and expensive, and definitely not for every week, but oh so enjoyable.

7. The outdoors. For about half the year, the camping, hiking, and offroading to be found in the UAE and neighboring Oman rival anything in the American Southwest. Rugged mountains, jaw-dropping canyons, singing sand dunes, herds of half-wild goats wandering across the road—what more do you need? Not to mention the fact that you can camp anywhere, with no pesky National Park Rangers forcing you to relocate after you’ve already pitched your tents because you’re not in a designated campsite.

8. Diversity. The number of different nationalities represented in this country of 4.5 million is astonishing. In one day here, between friends, coworkers, and taxi drivers, store clerks, etc., I might easily interact with people from at least 19 different countries: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, the UAE, the UK, and the US. Not to mention those nationalities that I personally encounter less often but who still have a strong presence here, like Bahrainis, Bangladeshis, Ethiopians, Indonesians, Iranians, Irish, Italians, Japanese, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Malaysians, Omanis, Palestinians, Qataris, Saudis, and Yemenis. Whew!

9. Safety. The occasional murder or rape makes the news now and then, but by and large the UAE is an extremely safe place to live. Despite the lack of a visible police presence in most areas, I feel comfortable walking around by myself in Abu Dhabi at any hour of the night.

10. The call to prayer. It can be annoying at times when you’ve just stepped outside the office to make a phone call or you’re trying to watch a quiet movie with the window open, but hearing the haunting, minor-key cry of the muezzin echoing through slumbering streets to summon the faithful to the first morning prayer at 5 a.m. is an experience never to be forgotten. God is great, God is great. There is no god but God, and I witness that Muhammad is His prophet.

No comments: