I had heard a lot about Dubai before I landed here for the first time. I had heard about the architecture, with buildings like the Burj al Arab being the talk of the architectural world. I had heard about the parties, with the hotels here housing some of the regions hottest and trendiest clubs. I had heard about the international nature, with expats living and working here from all corners of the world.
One thing that was conspicuously absent from my preconceptions was any mention of anything actual traditionally Arabic. Any semblance to what the culture here was like before the 21st century—I mean, surely this place existed before 1995, didn’t it?
After a few days here, I realized that it was exactly what I had expected. Until I had the good fortune of stumbling across the Gold Souq in Deira. I had no desire to buy anything—most of the 300-some stalls here are selling jewelry mixed in with the occasional typical souvenir shop selling magnets and t-shirts graced with smiling camels. But walking through the halls of this semi-open air market made me feel, for the first time, that I was really in the Middle East. Of course I hadn’t been here before, but this made my mind flash back to ancient times, when Dubai was simply a trading village leveraging its strategic central location and proximity to waterways.
Speaking of which, after making my way out of the Souq, I made my way to the water taxi to cross Dubai Creek. And that happened to be the perfect compliment to a stroll through the Souq, until I got to the other side and was met with glowing skyscrapers and whisked back into modern-day Dubai.