I’ve been helping out at the Lao Rugby Federation for a few years by now, but last month, I got to be a part of one of their most exciting accomplishments yet. They have been winning their tournaments with Cambodia for several years now, and as such, were promoted to a higher division of their competition, Division IV of the Asian 5 Nations. That means that for the first time their competition moved out of Southeast Asia…into the desert. This year the Lao men traveled to Dubai to take on Uzbekistan and Pakistan in competition, and I went along.
In preparation for the trip, the men underwent 6 strenuous weeks of training 8 times per week, and I underwent the slightly less strenuous task of recording their journey:
…and then, compiling a video of all of the other people cheering on the team from all corners of the world:
Finally, during the first week of May, we were off to Dubai! For more on the rugby, check out updates on the website and facebook. In the end, the team did not win, but made an excellent debut in a new and challenging division of competition. It was also my debut in the Middle East, although Dubai is one of those cities, somewhat like Singapore in my opinion, that feels like it could be anywhere. It reminded me of Singapore in other ways as well–good shopping, good food, clean, modern, air-conditioned, extremely diverse with many immigrants, efficient, but not a whole lot of unique character.
Granted, I didn’t get out that much in Dubai, so there is still a lot more to discover. And it is undeniably an impressive city. It is quite astounding to look out at the glittering skyscrapers and realize that it is all just built on sand. Anywhere that is slightly unkempt–an unpaved lot, or untended alleyway, is filled with sand, and driving on the highway out of town (as we did to go out to all of the matches), the urban jungle quickly recedes into the sand dunes. The wealth it would require to keep the city going in the middle of the desert must be immense. We took the highway through the desert, eventually ending at a tree-lined boulevard and the most beautiful grassy sports complex with free flowing water abound. Clearly a lot of effort goes into the city’s many luxuries.
And there are plenty of luxuries indeed–the bus stops are air-conditioned, the artificial Palm Islands lay off the coast, and the Burj al-Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building at 829m (2722 ft), looms impressively above the city. We went to one of the natural public beaches for an afternoon (photography strictly not allowed) and the view of the Persian Gulf in one direction and the skyline in the other was rather surreal. This followed by an evening with incredible hummus and hookah along the Dubai Creek made me realize that although somewhat artificial, it is a city worth revisiting.
On our last day in Dubai, we went to the Dubai Mall, an impressive town-sized complex of every store imaginable, with their logos imaginatively redone in Arabic (I LOVE logos in Arabic), plus a shark tank, waterfall, and who knows what else. I missed the indoor skiing and desert safaris this time…but next time, it’s a given.