Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

The 9 things I missed most about Dubai when I moved away

From the sparkling-clean toilets to the multicultural energy

When I lived in New Zealand I missed sunset strolls along Jumeirah's beaches, left, but now that I'm back in Dubai I miss hilly walks with my family in Wellington, right 
When I lived in New Zealand I missed sunset strolls along Jumeirah's beaches, left, but now that I'm back in Dubai I miss hilly walks with my family in Wellington, right 

I’m a boomerang resident: I lived in Dubai for five years, moved back to New Zealand for four years, and have now been back in the UAE for five years.

I know it’s a privilege to have two places that feel like home when there are people in the world that are fighting to find one location that is liveable, but I guess it’s the human condition that when I’m in Dubai, I miss New Zealand, and when I’m in New Zealand, I miss Dubai.

When here in the UAE, I miss the irreverent and understated nature of Kiwis (I mean the people, the birds are pretty quiet). I miss my hilly, oceanside walk to work in Wellington, I long for the late ­sunsets, the winter days that are crisp and sunny (not those that are grey and windy) and, of course, I miss my family.

But when I was in New Zealand, I missed so much about the UAE. And sometimes I like to remind myself of these when I’m tackling a bout of missing “the land of the long white cloud” (the translation of the Maori word for NZ, Aotearoa).

Here are some of the things I remember missing the most

1. Having friends from afar

First and foremost, I missed having friends from all over the world. Even though New Zealand is a multicultural nation (and better for it) –: its cities are home to huge Pasifika populations, large communities from East and South Asia and plenty of people from the Middle East, the UK, Europe and Canada – very few cities can offer as multifarious an experience as Dubai.

When people move to places such as New Zealand, they tend to connect with other people who are new to the country – as there’s definitely a sense that those who have lived there their whole lives already have their social circles sorted.

And sure, the same probably happens when people move to the UAE: but the difference is that so many people have just moved here. This means, in my experience, that people are more open to letting you into their social circles and their homes. In any multicultural city, people have friends who hail from around the globe, but in my experience, the group of people you genuinely intermingle with in Dubai is uniquely diverse. I’ve also found it means that people seek out what unites them, and focus on their similarities, rather than honing in on what divides.

I remember spending Christmas in Dubai a few years ago and having lunch with one Egyptian, one Canadian, three Brits, two Russians, two Syrians, a German, a South African, a Nigerian and me, a Kiwi. That felt like a distinctly Dubai moment (or perhaps, rather, it’s just a uniquely expat one, and expats in NZ have very similar festive dinners).

2. Being in the centre of the globe

UAE also has the advantage of being at the centre of the globe. I don’t feel I need to detail quite how beautiful New Zealand is: Lord of the Rings and Tourism NZ have done enough of that. But yes, it’s an amazing country. It is, however, also a very isolated one: Sydney is a near four-hour flight away, and London a 25-hour trip. The fact that, in Dubai, we’re connected to the world’s busiest international airport, and less than a four-hour flight away from India, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Nepal and more, is a truly unique vantage point from which to take in the world (see 17 destinations within five hours of Dubai and Abu Dhabi here).

3. The sparkling toilets

This is a trivial point, but one that I am starkly reminded of when travelling the globe. When I am away, I miss how clean the toilets are here (although those in NZ aren't that bad). I truly appreciate the people who work hard to keep the likes of the loos in The Dubai Mall looking as sparkling as an en suite in a five-star hotel room.

4. Beach walks

I also pine for walks along Kite Beach – on any given evening you see people from all walks of life strolling, jogging or sprinting and parkouring down the seven-kilometre running track. There are those in the latest Nike sneakers all fitness-trackered up, but there are also fishermen taking a break, families stopping on the sand for picnics and Emirati families creating makeshift majlises.

It's a chance to see Dubai's many cross-sections of society all at once, and I absolutely love it.

5. Piping-hot bread

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - August 22 2013 - Sayed Gul,32, bakes Afghani bread at the Ibrahim Al Nubi Ali Bakery in Safa Al Qouz residential area of Dubai for residents of that area. He has been living in the UAE for two years. Tags: STANDALONE (Razan Alzayani / The National) *** Local Caption *** RA0922_ibrahim_bakery_003.jpg
Sayed Gul,32, bakes Afghan bread at the Ibrahim Al Nubi Ali Bakery in Safa

Picking up naan from a tiny bakery beside a mosque, whether of the style from Afghanistan or India, will forever remain my favourite way to carbo load.

6. My pool

Again, a trivial point that will make me sound like a princess: but the fact many of my Dubai homes have had a pool and a gym is something I don't take for granted. I've lived plenty of places here without a gym or pool (from Satwa to International City), but now that I have a treadmill and sun lounger at my disposal on weekends, it will be something I really miss when I move back home.

7. Feeling so safe, especially as a woman

The sense of security is something I appreciate here – I walk my dog late at night without batting an eyelid and I often forget that in other countries you get wolf-whistled at (I was personally reminded of this when travelling recently. 'How very 2009,' I thought, but I also felt low-grade fear. And that's not OK).

8. Arab hospitality

Emirati hospitality is something special. I’ve never been into an Emirati home without being fed copious amounts, and often leave with leftovers to keep me fed the next day.

Basically, anyone who gives me a Tupperware full of food will forever have my heart.

9. The food

I love the fact you can eat amazing Iraqi, Syrian, Pakistani and Mexican food here; and, that Indian food here isn’t one monolithic tomato soup-base offering (as it is in many countries).

Different restaurants serve the food of different regions, and it’s all glorious. In fact, I've written an entire love letter to the hidden food gems in Dubai (that's how passionately I feel about the topic).

Updated: March 5, 2020 12:32 PM

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