Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Eve Dubai Style

In Dubai, New Years Eve is a pretty big deal.  

I am not sure if it was always like that.  When I first moved here, I felt like things were pretty normal and moderate.  I think we can thank Buddha Bar for the onset of the over the top “spectacular” priced dinners.  The funky restaurant and bar was the first that I recall to offer a New Year’s Eve dinner at the price of 1,000 AED per person.  This is just under 300 USD.  I remember how shocked my friends and I were at the time, but they got away with it because there were not as many places open as there are today.  And I guess it was the place to be seen.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice place.  I guess if you have great music and can get away with a 30-foot Buddha in a Sharia law country where religious icons and paraphernalia that do not represent Islam are technically a crime, then you can charge a lot for your party.  When other outlets learned people would actually pay such a price, everyone offered similar prices for the years to follow.  Thus enter the “typical” Dubai New Year scene.

Most often we have found ourselves among friends at home.  Last year we went out to a semi-private dinner where we had an amazing roof top view of the fireworks at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeriah as well as those on the beach near the Burj Al Arab.  We were able to look down from our bird’s eye view and see people who spent a lot of money for fancy dinners, as well as those who flocked to the neighboring open beach to ring in the New Year for free.

One year when some friends were visiting from Istanbul, we decided to go to the desert.  We found a place offering dinner, music, dancing and camping at a very affordable price so we booked it.  For sure this was one of our most memorable evenings ever because we learned after we arrived that this was more geared toward the Indian population in Dubai – so much that we were the only Caucasians there.  This didn’t bother us at all, but I better understood why my Indian coworkers would pause when I told them of our plans.  We had a blast watching them dance to the sounds of who we assumed was a famous Indian DJ.  As it gets very cold in the desert around this time of year it was not long before we were dancing with them just to stay warm.  We danced all night.

At the end of the party everyone hopped on buses to head back into town with the exception of us and maybe five other people.  They offered us huts around the camp that were used to market various things during the party.  My only issue with this evening was hearing the desert mice squeak beneath my hut as they celebrated their New Year in style with all the party leftovers that would be cleaned up the next day.

So this year when discussing how to greet 2011 with our friends, everyone wanted it to be reasonably priced.  The previous Buddha Bar example is now the price floor.  Despite a slower economy, you will be hard pressed to find a "moderately" priced evening out unless you are camping on your own.  We also wanted our children to join because some of our friends with older children were wondering how long before they will not find it cool to hang out with their parents on NYE.

In the end one friend threw a big house party, which we did not attend as all of us had been sick throughout the week.  We decided to go small and rather than cook, get some ready gourmet food and eat on our balcony at home.  If we decided to stay home, we could watch the Burj Khalifa fireworks from our balcony, or we could walk across the street to see the festivities in full.

As planned, I got my sick self up around 7:00pm and went with my husband to get the food.  The huge mall parking lot was already full with people that were ready to ring in the New Year under the Burj Khalifa.  I dropped off my husband and drove around several times until he came out with the goods. 

Back home we had a lovely dinner and then played with our son until a later than usual bedtime.   Although tired, and a bit sluggish trying to digest our food, we walked across the street to the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall area.  We didn’t even need to get into the park or water fountain side.  It was already full of people in the streets, on the bridges, on the grass.

I set up my tri-pod next to a few other photographers planning to catch some snaps of the show.  As we waited for it to begin, I watched the people around me.  It was great, and reminded me of one of Dubai’s most endearing qualities.  There were people from all walks of life, from all over the world out with their friends and families ready to celebrate the New Year. 

As I mention, the UAE is a Sharia law country, so alcohol is not compliant.  They do make it available for “tourists” in most of the Emirates at bars and restaurants that have a tourist license to serve it – most of which are in hotels.  Now I love wine with my dinner and a little toast at midnight, but I have to admit it was kind of both refreshing and strange to not see anyone make a fool of themself on the street.  It was all very pleasant.

After the fireworks show, many proceeded to leave rather than hang out in the streets.  I assume one reason for this is that many people here celebrate Islamic New Year, rather than the Gregorian calendar New Year.  Like all other Islamic holidays, it follows the citing of the moon, so it does not fall on the same day every year.

But in this instance, it did not matter what holiday it was or what you believe in.  I saw many conservative and non-conservative people.  There were women who were totally covered with their husbands who wore long conservative beards and dress to match as well as scantily clad women carrying their high heels because their feet were hurting from walking.  At one point I started counting how many different languages and accents I heard.  Within five minutes, I probably counted around ten.

While many people were heading back to the main roads, we walked in the opposite direction into the crowds to experience who was there and what was going on.  We could not believe our eyes - tens of (possibly) hundreds of thousands of people.  My husband estimated around 200,000.  I had no idea, but it far exceeded what we expected. 

The Burj Khalifa was only opened in December 2009, so this was the first year the complex was open for a New Year celebration.  It was spectacular and we enjoyed every minute of it and the festive, peaceful environment.

I love those moments where you realize you just a spec on the earth, or a part of something bigger. In a crowd of so many foreigners, so many languages and cultures, you can’t help but be reminded of how diverse the world is. Hopefully 2011 will be a peaceful, prosperous year for everyone.

3 comments:

CookingInStilettos said...

I love the peak into NYE in Dubai. Makes me want to visit even more!

Sew Pretty Dresses said...

Now that sounds like an experience for me. It's one thing to know that we are a spec and part of something bigger, it's another to experience it.

Pam said...

Well come on over anytime!!