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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

Neighbourhood Watch: travel the world in Dubai's International City

International City’s long-term residents love its global appeal and family feel

The community vibe in International City is a major draw for many families. Victor Besa / The National
The community vibe in International City is a major draw for many families. Victor Besa / The National

Imagine living in a neighbourhood where residents can take a leisurely stroll from Spain to China before travelling from Morocco to France on foot.

All this is possible in one of Dubai’s brightest and more affordable districts, International City, a bustling spot with global appeal.

It has pink, yellow and sand-coloured three-storey buildings, divided into clusters that represent different nations.

Unlike most Dubai communities, where a car is a necessity, residents here can walk to the supermarkets, restaurants and cafes found on the ground floors of most buildings.

Another ingredient contributing to the international flavour is the well-known Dragon Mart, a Chinese mall that attracts huge numbers of visitors from across the emirate thanks to its competitive prices and wealth of goods.

Many residents have lived in International City for more than a decade, choosing apartments which range from studios to two-bedroom homes.

A resident of China cluster in Dubai’s International City. It’s the busiest and most popular section and the hub of Chinese life in the emirate. Victor Besa / The National
A resident of China cluster in Dubai’s International City. It’s the busiest and most popular section and the hub of Chinese life in the emirate. Victor Besa / The National

Syed Yaseen, 40, lives in the England section and remembered a time when there were few options to eat out.

“The England and China cluster were ready first but shopping was restricted to Chinese products in Dragon Mart,” says Mr Yaseen, a Pakistani who works for an entertainment company.

“The location is unbeatable because it is the only community connected to two major roads – Al Khail and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. Plus, for movies we can go to Dragon Mart 2, so it’s really very convenient.”

A magnet for bargain hunters, Dragon Mart is packed with Chinese products including garments, jewellery, furniture, electronic goods and home interior offerings.

Its popularity led to the opening of Dragon Mart 2, an expanded zone that includes entertainment and more dining options.

People from a diverse range of countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Egypt and Morocco are long-time residents in clusters from the Spanish zone to the English sector. But the busiest and most popular section is the China cluster.

For many Chinese families, hearing a familiar language spoken on the streets encouraged them to make the move from Bur Dubai and Deira.

International City is the cheapest place to rent an apartment in Dubai with a median advertised annual rent of Dh32,998. Victor Besa / The National
International City is the cheapest place to rent an apartment in Dubai with a median advertised annual rent of Dh32,998. Victor Besa / The National

Groups of women carry light-coloured parasols to shield themselves from the winter sun and walk to cafes, stores and salons that have display large Chinese-language signboards.

Grandparents with toddlers push strollers and stop to chat on street corners with other elderly residents.

It is a world in one city in which people from an array of cultures and nationalities feel right at home.

“My in-laws don’t speak English so it would be very difficult for them to live in any other place,” said Huafei Li, a Chinese father of three boys aged two, five and seven.

“The children play together in the evening and are taken care of by grandparents. My in-laws have made friends with other grandparents and they go out within the area. It would not have been possible anywhere else.

“As Chinese people, we like our tea and since we have good friends who live near by, they can go over for tea to see each other.”

Mr Huafei, 41, practises acupuncture in a medical centre in Umm Suqeim and eats in restaurants near home when his family is on holiday in China.

A resident peruses the fresh produce at Wenzhou Supermarket in the China cluster. Victor Besa /The National
A resident peruses the fresh produce at Wenzhou Supermarket in the China cluster. Victor Besa /The National

Apart from Chinese people, residents from Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand head to the busy Wenzhou Supermarket.

It stocks fresh produce such as plump green chillies, extra-long cucumbers, broad beans and shelves stacked with sheets of dried soy bean, varieties of shiitake mushroom, kelp, roasted fish and squid.

For Yan Li Liu, a luxury goods saleswoman, being able to find food from home and seeing her son Aiden, three, speak the Chinese language gives her a sense of being back in her native province of Hebei near Beijing.

“My son’s English is good because he speaks the language the whole day in the nursery,” Ms Yan said. “But I was concerned about his Chinese. In no other place would I find so many Chinese people.

“My neighbours are Chinese so my son can practise regularly. We speak Chinese all the time on the street and in restaurants. Living in International City to me is like living in China.”

Residents say easy access to Asian cuisine keeps them loyal to the community despite a lack of parking, and the need for more green spaces and a convenient hospital.

Security has improved, with guards posted at each building and patrol cars cruising the streets.

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Some people find reasons to grumble, but International City’s low rents and sense of community keeps most here for years.

“Car rental companies took over the parking areas because there is no assigned parking per apartment,” said Ophelia Mendoza, a Filipina who works with a travel company a few minutes away from her home in the Spanish cluster.

Dragon Mart does a roaring trade in International City, attracting visitors from all across Dubai. Victor Besa /The National
Dragon Mart does a roaring trade in International City, attracting visitors from all across Dubai. Victor Besa /The National

“So when my husband returns home at night, he needs to search for a long time to find parking and usually finds a space far away from our building.”

Rent for a one-bedroom apartment is about Dh32,000 and a two-bedroom home costs about Dh52,000.

But the low rental prices have also attracted groups of bachelors, with some companies buying several apartments to act as labour accommodation and then packing in as many as eight men to a studio.

“I would prefer my neighbours to be other families and not groups of men,” Ms Mendoza said. “We argue with some people about cleanliness every day.

“But then, I think in every place there will be some complaint. As long as the men are not loud and don’t make a nuisance, it is OK.

“This is a very reasonable and convenient place for us and also for them, so we will continue to live here.”

Updated: January 9, 2019 08:01 PM

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