Thursday, February 17, 2005

About Abu Dhabi

As cities go, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are as alike as chalk and cheese. The people who live in each place tend to dislike the other (this doesn't stop hordes of youngish Abu Dhabians making the trip to Dubai on a Thursday evening for the nightlife).

Having lived in Dubai for 11 years, I've spent a miniscule amount of time in Abu Dhabi. I only go there when I have to, which is usually when I need to visit a client there. Mind you, I took my Arabic designer there last week, to do final corrections to a job on-site with the client, and he told me that he had only ever been to Abu Dhabi once in the 14 years he's lived in Dubai. And that was only to visit the Canadian Embassy to apply for a visit visa.

But in the last six months we have had two clients in Abu Dhabi, so the visits have been more frequent. And in the last month I've been five or six times. Do you know what? I'm starting to like the place!

In the olden days (six years ago), the trip was a bit of a nightmare. You had a very decent highway as far as the Abu Dhabi border. Once inside Abu Dhabi Emirate, the road was only two lanes each way, dotted with potholes and absolutely littered with speed bumps. There would always be a few wrecked cars by the roadside where people assumed it was safe to do 120 kph (or more), only to encounter a speed bump with almost no warning. It was scary. These days the only difference between this road in the two emirates is that Dubai's speed cameras are facing you, so you don't get too much warning, whereas Abu Dhabi's cameras take pictures of your tail.

The other thing about Abu Dhabi six years ago is that there were literally no shopping malls. Now they've 'caught up', and they have some bigguns.

But what I really found endearing was the trip I made with my Arabic designer. We had to be at the client's office as early as possible. We left Media City at 7.30 am. Thinking we would likely hit morning rush-hour traffic in Abu Dhabi, I told the client to expect us 9.30 - 10. We arrived at the client's office at 8.45, having seen no congestion whatsoever. The client was a bit surprised to see us when he arrived at 9. When we left at 5, I was sure we would get stuck, but no, plain sailing all the way to Dubai. I'd mentioned this to my client, and he said the only time you get jams into and out of Abu Dhabi are when there's been an accident. That's why he loves living there and dislikes Dubai.

In fact, six years ago, Dubai was a bit like that - you could go anywhere in town at practically any time, and not get held up unless there was an accident (I'm not talking about getting to / from Sharjah, that has always been a problem). You could even cross the Creek without thinking about it. But these days, Diera is perpetually gridlocked, the Creek crossings are permanently jammed, and the infrastructure is struggling to keep up.