ChiChai’s Reunion with the UAE

– ChiChai@Empire –

The universe brought my mom and I to Dubai in 2013. A company chose Project PEARLS as its benefactor for a gala and sponsored us to join. You can read about our visit to the Gold Market, Dubai Museum, Old Dubai, and Dubai Mall here. Since then, revisiting Dubai or the UAE itself has barely really crossed our minds. That trip was fast-paced and too glammed up for our taste (read about the gala here.) But, five years later, the universe decided we needed to go back.

We travelled to the UAE for the first week of August. This time around, we grew a deeper appreciation for the country and were surrounded by loving company. The two cities we visited were Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it and execute it.”

– HH Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai


The Company

Why Dubai?

Ezra Santos – a couture designer and a Project PEARLS supporter based in Dubai – generously offered me one of the greatest wedding gifts that I’ll receive. (By the way, if you don’t follow the Empire Team personally, Chris@Empire and I are getting married this year lol.)

I won’t get into too much details about what that gift is or how beautiful it is or how much I feel glowed up like a princess who’s dreams are coming true. Instead, let’s take time to appreciate Ezra’s fashion studio and gallery!

Ezra not only welcomed us in his art space but he gave us that warm mabuhay-hospitality by treating us to a local eatery.

My favorite of the food was the dessert: kanafeh, an Arab dessert made of dough, cheese, and nuts meant to be drizzled with syrup. Mm!

He also showed us around La Mer — a beachfront that turned into an outdoor mall, theme park, public art space, and foodie spot.

Some of my favorite murals were the following:

Another person that made our trip worthwhile was my cousin Pamela. This favorite cousin and airman of mine is currently stationed in Abu Dhabi. Lucky for us, her day off just so happen to coincide with our travel days!

The Places

My mom and I realized that we saw maybe only 10% of the Dubai Mall in our initial visit. This time, we ended up spending hours in it… unintentionally. This mall just has so much going on! Here are some of my favorite views within the mall itself:

My favorite spot in the second-largest-mall-in-the-whole-freakin-world is the Kinokuniya bookstore.

We meant to only pass by it but ended up spending nearly two hours within the bookstore alone. They had numerous bookshelves for different segments of art (as supposed to one or two shelves like at Barnes & Noble.) Their amount of international literature was incomparable to bookstores I’ve gone too before — for adults and children!

Plus… it was toy galore as well.

My pick-ups included these must-reads from the political and social science section and… these wedding cake-toppers for Chris@Empire and I

The grandness of Dubai is shown in its metro stations as well. Here’s one near the hotel we stayed at:

Considering Dubai’s climate, plenty of air-conditioned walkways connect buildings to buildings. And, of course, even the views from those walkways were incredible.

Abu Dhabi

My mom and I decided to dedicate a day to tour Abu Dhabi. We wanted to tour somewhere new since we saw Dubai’s major sites during our first trip. Within this one day, we visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Emirates Palace, and the Louvre (yes! there’s a Louvre in Abu Dhabi!)

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The founder of the United Arab of Emirates — late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan — envisioned this mosque to become a unifying foundation for Islam’s cultural diversity with history and the modern world. (source)

When visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, it’s easy to get mesmerized by the symmetry and the harmony of light and colors. I learned that the Mosque’s design plays a key role in representing its Islamic faith; Islam’s art is geometric, symmetric, and patterned in order to represent order and balance and to welcome those inside for contemplation.

To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul, is a mark of Islam.”

“To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul is a mark of Islam.”

– Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Emirates Palace

We thought, “Cool! Our tour guide is taking us to a palace!” Um. It turns out that the Emirates Palace is a hotel.

I’m pretty sure our tour guide here took us just so we can get photos in front of it. But that’s about all we got from it. Most of it was blocked off unless you were a guest (which costs about $300/night!?) Yup… Well, I suppose the tour guide was right. We got a few photos out of it.

The Louvre

See Humanity in a new light.

– The slogan of The Louvre – Abu Dhabi

Established in 2007, France and the UAE “came together to develop a new kind of cultural institution” that focuses on “universal human values.” (source) This institution became the Louvre.

Upon entering the museum, you are greeted by this quote by poet and scholar Jalal Al-Din Rumi

Everything in the universe is within in you

Many know the original Louvre as the world’s largest art museum. It’s beautiful, grand, and full of treasures from all over the globe. However, the history behind the French Louvre’s origins isn’t as beautiful. It began as somewhat a treasure room for royalty then became a prejudice art collector who “considered cultural traditions outside Europe to be of lesser quality, value, and importance.” (source) The introduction of art outside of Europe and Egypt into the Louvre actually didn’t happen until the year 2000!

The Abu Dhabi Louvre addresses the original Louvre’s fault of segmenting Europe and “the Other.” Rather than organizing the museum by region or Western art periods, the Abu Dhabi Louvre celebrates similarities among the world’s people by creating sections of “shared themes and ideas that reveal common connections throughout humanity.” (source)

The artwork and relics were often paired or grouped in threes to show the similarities between different groups of people. For instance, this statue of “Orator” from Rome and Bodhisattva from Gandhara were both sculpted in 1st Century CE with the intent of a more natural look as supposed to stylistic and show the Greek influences that came to both areas in that time. Even the poses of the two are similar.

One of the themes I found most powerful was “Universal Religions.” As emphasized in the museum, what makes religions universal are the humans’ need and spiritual urge to create them and follow them.

In this photo alone, products of faith peacefully coexist with one another although belonging to different religions.

The most picturesque part of the Louvre’s architecture is the “Rain of Light,” a domed courtyard in which several light beams softly shine through.

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‎ستأسر كلاً من أشعة الشمس وضوء القمر زوار متحف #اللوفر_أبوظبي مع شروق الشمس وغروبها. إذ سيسري شعاع النور في أرجاء قبة المتحف المصمّمة بعناية فائقة، مما سيسمح بتسرب الضوء إلى داخل المتحف مع توفير الظل للفن ومحبيه عندما يفتتح المتحف أبوابه بعد أربعين يوماً ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ With the rising and the setting of the sun, #LouvreAbuDhabi's visitors will be delicately drenched in sunlight and starlight. The #RainofLight will shine through the museum's dome, bathing the museum in patterns made by the sun. We open our doors to the world in 40 days! #WorldArchitectureDay. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ‎©اللوفر أبوظبي – تصوير محمد سومجي ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ © Louvre Abu Dhabi – Photography by Mohamed Somji

A post shared by Louvre Abu Dhabi (@louvreabudhabi) on

As you can see from the photo above… my lens got fogged up lol. Even my camera couldn’t handle the Louvre’s beauty. Luckily my mom was able to take photos with her phone:

Regardless of the photo quality/format, the brilliance of the “Rain of Light” is undeniable. If you are ever visiting the UAE, soaking in the sun-rays at the Louvre is already worth the trip.

The travel blogging for this summer has just begun! Coming soon: Manila, Tagaytay, and Camarines Norte of the Philippines. To stay up to date on my travels (and behind-the-scenes of Empire!) visit my Instagram here.

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