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Published: March 15th 2009
The visual extremes of contrast are continuing on my daily travels. Located in central downtown Abu Dhabi, I am able to walk around a great deal, exploring the back streets, Corniche beach walk, luxriuous Emirates Palace, 5 star Hotels & restaurants to the local backstreet shops & cafes.
Everywhere I look seems to hold a contrast of extremes,... construction sites loudly & dustily in progress, to glistening glass towers. Old mosques tucked away in back streets, local Indian & Pakistani shopholders with their wares.. westernised shopping malls, neglected rundown apartments for the "workers", modern luxury apartment blocks & hotels for the higher end expat workers.
The mosque's call to prayer chant echoeing across the city 6 times a day, a beautiful evocative sound, if not a tad early starting about 5am! This is contrasted with the constant sound of cranes & excavation of the massive amount of building sites underway. Tooting of horns by the mostly Pakistani taxi drivers in the "local " yellow top cabs, as opposed to the more officilally sanctioned silver taxis which actually have working seatbelts & metered fares. Their is an art to being able to hail a taxi.... designated taxi pull- ins are
often already overcrowded with large ques of people waiting with no system of courtesy as to who is next in line, it is each to their own in the assertiveness of jumping into the cab first! Although not "allowed", a discreet nod or hand signal may find you a cab easier in the back streets. An interesting sight is the "local system" of taxi "auctioning/gathering" for groups of people awaiting the same destination at a more affordable price.... Then of cousre there are the fastly driven cars, often oversized 4 wheel drives, speeding past as you tentatively attempt to cross at the intersections, where it seems cars always have right of way. Generally it is safe to cross in numbers..when all the locals cross...you follow... often to be the only woman, let alone western woman in a crossing of about 20+ dish dash clothed men.
I find myself going from marble lined walls, chandeliers, fountains, elegant staircases, valet parking, impeccable serving of meals at the more "fancier" establishments, to the local "hole in the wall" sharwama stands etc, & "local" eateries. Walking over broken & crumbled footpaths, constantly watching the change in height in the paths, often walking amongst
the cars when no footpaths are available. Walking the back streets amongst the large population of working men here mostly from Pakistan, and neighbouring countries who have no doubt left their families behind to come & work here, to provide for them. They can mostly be seen gathering in large numbers, sitting & waiting around, finding shelter from the heat of the day in few of the shadey spots, but perhaps reprieve from the cramped living spaces of thier often rundown apartment blocks, hidden away in the back streets. The evenings come alive with their social gathering amongst these streets, connecting with fellow countrymen, eating at the "local eateries". With horns tooting, voices yelling, vendors bargaining,colourneon lights & movement everywhere,....these "local backstreets" feel more authentic & interesting.
The 5star establishments, often very close by, are a completely different world. Porters, ushers, waiters, guards, hosts... all there to greet & welcome you and make your visit as pleasing as possible. The food is usually exquisite, & service very proffessional. The surroundings are often opulent, spacious, light, lots of gold & marble. I am constantly surrounded & visiting both these extremes, living side by side.
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