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Submitted by admin on March 27, 2011 – 9:55 pmNo Comment

By John Syfret

Regular NFTU contributor John Syfret continues his diary of life as an expat in Dubai.

Most weekends, I go to the beach. It’s about ten minutes walk from my apartment down to the most popular beach in Dubai, and what it lacks in wild beauty or tropical seductiveness it compensates for in proximity of Starbucks and pleasantness of weather – at least at this time of year.

There are no boulders, and the sand is large-grained but soft; a relatively narrow strip curves with artificial smoothness between the industrial zone of Jebel Ali and the Jumeirah Palm, on which can be seen from a distance the bulky Atlantis hotel with its striking keyhole-void. Several hotels and a couple of nondescript, unfinished buildings, victims of the busted real-estate flush, front directly onto this area, and behind is the loafing zone, all cafes and interior design shops, that constitutes Jumeirah Beach Walk.
I have learned to find it appealing, not least because in spite of the high artificiality of the area, the sea is its own sculptor. Most of the time it is placid – with goggles, there is little visible in the way of sea-life, although occasionally small golden fish flit between your feet – still, it is seldom dead flat. Appreciably saltier than the Atlantic, you can lie back and let the current pull you sedately northwards towards Sharjah, and in summer it is as hot as a Jacuzzi.

Sometimes though, the wind onshore brings rough waves at odds with the serene shore; sandbanks encourage them to break and while I have not seen anything much above 6 feet in height, their violence is enough to remind you that the sea is always wild. As a strong swimmer and keen body-surfer I was not put off by the red-flags that appeared three weeks ago, when the wind did a good job of thrashing the dust-covered date palms and blowing over sunbathers’ umbrellas. When I got in the water, I found an unusually strong current amid the barrage of waves, still nothing to worry about since it was dragging along rather than out, but there were many fewer swimmers around that day than usual.

Soon, it wasn’t just the sound of the waves that was disturbing the usually placid scene. The yellow rescue helicopter and rarely-heard police sirens were descending on the beach. Then about an hour later, the same again. I heard two men had drowned that day, just a couple of hundred yards further up the beach, and that a third drowned a few miles away near the Burj Al Arab.

This country is one in which one rarely feels exposed to risk. Taxi drivers may be blasé about their lane-changes, but traffic does not seem to travel as fast here as in Europe. Living in London, emergency sirens are part of the fabric of the city – in Dubai, they tear it. The next day, the wind had subsided and the sun-seekers returned, oblivious.

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