You Are in Trouble, Dad

“Kids, we need to strategize,” I called the children together in front of the “super-sized” Carrefour Supermarket which was inside the Emirate Mall in Dubai, UAE, one of the largest mall in the world. “This place is huge so we need to work together.”

I continued, “We need to be smart about what to buy and who will buy what. First, here is the Carrefour’s ‘Anniversary Celebration – Big Deal’ booklet. You are only allowed to buy items that is listed on sale in this booklet. This is our ‘Bible’ for shopping. Now, who wants to buy what?”

Supermarkets in Dubai are "super-sized"!
Supermarkets in Dubai are “super-sized”!

“Joani and I can take care of buying snacks,” Nathan volunteered first.

“I can buy the pasta, bread and cheese,” Annie went next.

“I will buy the vegetable and fruit,” Olivia said.

“Okay, I will buy the meat,” I concluded. “Now, remember, only buy those that are ON SALE!”

Off we went quickly to different corners of the gigantic supermarket.

This was the most grocery we had bought yet on our one year trip.
This was the most grocery we had bought yet on our one year trip.

When we gathered back, we examined together our finds. Annie got a plate of cheese cubes which were half-priced because they were the left over pieces. She also bought the cheapest vegetable, cabbage, and the cheapest starch, pasta and potatoes. I got frozen chicken instead of fresh ones since they cost only half as much. But I treated ourselves to fresh cuts of beef tongue from Australia, ribeye steak from Brazil, mutton chops from Pakistan, and lamb shoulder from New Zealand. After not having tasted beef for two months in Nepal and India, I was dying for some large juicy steaks.

Every section in the supermarket seemed to have endless varieties of food. Olivia was so overwhelmed that she had to grab on to Nathan.
Every section in the supermarket seemed to have endless varieties of food. Olivia was so overwhelmed that she had to grab on to Nathan.

“This is literally the ‘World Trade Center’,” Olivia laughed. “Except for the tomato, all the vegetables, meat, instant noodles, and everything else are from countries outside of UAE. This is amazing!”

“I love the variety! This is heaven for a cook. You have ingredients from all over the world,” Annie said happily.
“The supermarket is a perfect representation of the Silk Road, where the east meet the west, where all the trade flow through,” I declared.

“It is basically a tourist destination!” Joani added jokingly.

“I feel like having some time inside the supermarket and people watch. There are people from all over the world shopping here,” Olivia contemplated.
Nathan came back with bulk packages of Doritos and Cheetos, which are preciously rare and expensive in China.

“They will be perfect when we go to the beach,” Nathan said trying to win my approval.

We never knew there were so many varieties and so many ways to eat dates in the Middle East.
We never knew there were so many varieties and so many ways to eat dates in the Middle East.

“Dad, I can’t decide which chocolate to buy. They all look so good!” Joani said after spending all her time in the chocolate section.

“These two cartons of ice cream are on sale. Can we buy them, please…” Olivia, together with Nathan and Joani, looked at me with their big eyes, hoping that I would give in to their wishes.

“For lunch, let’s buy a roast whole chickens and eat at the food court with the bread,” I proposed. “An entree at the food court would cost more than these already. We will buy another roast chicken for lunch when we swim next to the ‘Sail Hotel’ (the Burj Al Arab hotel which is the architectural icon and symbol of modern Dubai)”

At the checkout stand, we each guessed how much all these cost. One guessed 500 AED, another guessed 450 AED, and I guessed 600 AED. To our surprise, it was only 336 AED (around USD 94) for our food for the next 3-5 days.  We were so happy that we high-fives and congratulated each other for mission accomplished!

We didn’t feel we were there very long but when looked at our watches, we realized that we spent 3 hours in The supermarket! And we didn’t even go through the whole supermarket.

For the first hour, we just looked at aisles and aisles of food without buying anything.
For the first hour, we just looked at aisles and aisles of food without buying anything.

The first time we laid our eyes on a supermarket in Dubai, our jaws dropped. Joani felt that she stepped into the movie Jurassic World. Olivia felt overwhelmed that she got panicky and couldn’t go through the rows of food without grabbing tightly to one of us. There were about 180 aisles of three-layer shelves of food items and about 50 checkout counters. The aisles seemed to go on forever. Our first few minutes in the store were spent just taking photos after photos of groceries in the store. Then for an hour, we just ambled through the maze of food shelves, admiring and touching the pretty packages on the shelves. Many shoppers and staffs stared at us strangely as we took photos of bread, cheese, chocolates, etc. Olivia even made a video to send to her friend. We had not seen so many varieties and brands of different items in one place. To our delight, there were about 20 different types of olive around the world and just as many different varieties of date.  After traveling two months in India and Nepal where supermarket was almost non-existent, we were not prepared for the supermarkets in Dubai, where everything seemed ‘larger than life’.

Olives from different parts of the world.
Olives from different parts of the world.

The prices in Dubai also felt ‘larger than life’ for us as well, especially since most of the countries we had backpacked to in the past few years were developing countries with low prices, including Nepal and India where we just backpacked. Supermarket prices for most items were about 2-3 times the prices in China (except for chocolates) and due to the desert climate, vegetables and fruit were 5-10 times the price that we were used to.

“You are in trouble, dad!” Nathan said to me after he saw the estimated lowest budget needed to travel in Dubai as suggested by Lonely Planet, the Bible for budget backpackers around the world. “Here it says that the lowest budget per day per person in UAE is USD 200! Middle level budget is USD 400!”

We bought all sorts of food to cook and snacks to enjoy at the supermarket to our apartment to save cost.
We bought all sorts of food to cook and snacks to enjoy at the supermarket to our apartment to save cost.

After traveling six countries so far on our trip, Nathan knew that I am very careful with our budget. In India, we rarely bought anything over one dollar US for food. So he knew that backpacking in UAE will be the toughest challenge I would have faced yet on our trip.

I also knew beforehand that it will be expensive traveling in UAE. Backpacker hostel is rare and very expensive (around USD 25/person). Two hotel rooms for the five of us in the cheapest hotel would be around USD 200-300. With blessing from God, I was able to find a studio apartment on AirBnB (an online site where individuals rent out their apartment for travelers) for USD 103 per night. It had everything we needed and wished for: beds for five persons, kitchen, washing machine, fast wifi (#1 priority), and even 5-star quality swimming pool, of which Joani was the most excited of all.

We were blessed to have a beautiful studio apartment to rent for half the price of a hotel while having all the facilities to cook, wash, and swim!
We were blessed to have a beautiful studio apartment to rent for half the price of a hotel while having all the facilities to cook, wash, and swim!
Every meal we stuffed ourselves with delicious food we cooked ourselves, which felt like heaven after our time in India.
Every meal we stuffed ourselves with delicious food we cooked ourselves, which felt like heaven after our time in India.

We avoided restruant at all cost (literally) as the cheapest entree was usually at least USD 10, with exception for maybe local sandwich roll called, shwarmas. We cooked in the apartment for breakfast and dinner and brought picnic food for lunch during our daily outings to different tourist sites. For local transportation, we sticked mostly to bus and metro since transfer from bus to metro or metro to bus is free of charge. Usually, each trip on bus/metro would be around USD 1. For short distance, taxis were actually cheaper than bus since we have 5 persons so we took taxis when they make sense.

Instead of eating at the food court, we brought lunch food from the supermarket at 1/5 of the cost.
Instead of eating at the food court, we brought lunch food from the supermarket at 1/5 of the cost.
We brought our own sandwich, snacks, and drinks to the public beach instead of eating at the restaurant.
We brought our own sandwich, snacks, and drinks to the public beach instead of eating at the restaurant.

As for attractions, we sticked to mostly free things to do in Dubai, which was plenty already. On the first day, we spent half a day at the world’s largest theme mall, Ibn Battuta. Surprising, or not surprisingly, our favorite store was the supermarket where we can actually afford buying something. On the second day, we swam at the free and perfectly blue-aqua sandy public beach overlooking the famous iconic 7-star ‘Sail Hotel’ which has showers, changing room, and toilet. Then we went to the Mall of the Emirates to admire the world’s largest indoor skiing arena, complete with five ski runs, live penguins, and sledding hills, in the middle of the hot desert! On the third day, we joined a cultural tour (USD 2.5/person) of the Jumeirah Mosque where we understood more deeply the practices of Islam. On the fourth day, we meandered in the narrow alleys of the old fish, gold and spice markets of Old Dubai, learned about the history of Dubai at the underground Dubai Museam (USD 1/person), experienced the three stories aquarium, 5 stories waterfall, olympic size ice skating ring, and indoor roller coaster amusement park all at the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world. At 6PM, we went outside to admire Burj Khalifa, the crowning glory of Dubai, at 828m high, the world’s tallest building while enjoying free the world’s largest water fountain show next to it. For dinner, a friend who used to live in Kunming treated us to a full meal with 10 dishes of amazing Chinese food at Dubai’s Chinatown. On the fifth day, we took the metro/tram/monorail to experience stepping on the world’s largest man-made island, the Palm Jumeirah, which is in the shape of a palm tree. Afterwards, we strolled along the walkway of the nearby Dubai Marina harbor where we celebrated with ice creams from 31 Baskin Robins the publication of Annie’s first book, “No Work, No School: A Family’s Journey to the Ends of the Earth”.

An indoor skiing and sledding resort in the middle of the hot dry desert!
An indoor skiing and sledding resort in the middle of the hot dry desert!
We learned a lot about the customs of Islam through the Mosque Cultural Tour.
We learned a lot about the customs of Islam through the Mosque Cultural Tour.
The 3 stories high aquarium in the world's largest mall, Dubai Mall, attracted everyone's attention.
The 3 stories high aquarium in the world’s largest mall, Dubai Mall, attracted everyone’s attention.
The five stories waterfall at the Dubai Mall.
The five stories waterfall at the Dubai Mall.
There is an olympic size ice skating ring in the Dubai Mall.
There is an olympic size ice skating ring in the Dubai Mall.
Looking up at the top of the Burj Kalifa, we all felt a bit dizzy.
Looking up at the top of the Burj Kalifa, we all felt a bit dizzy.
The water foundation shoots water close to 30 stories high but is still dwarfed by the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world.
The water foundation shoots water close to 30 stories high but is still dwarfed by the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world.
We rode on the monorail to get a panoramic view of the man-made Jumeriah Palm Island which is shaped like a palm tree.
We rode on the monorail to get a panoramic view of the man-made Jumeriah Palm Island which is shaped like a palm tree.
We walked around the Atlantis Hotel at the end of the Palm Jumeriah. We felt as if we were in Las Vagas.
We walked around the Atlantis Hotel at the end of the Palm Jumeriah. We felt as if we were in Las Vagas.
We enjoyed the sunset walk along the harbor walkway of the Dubai Marina.
We enjoyed the sunset walk along the harbor walkway of the Dubai Marina.
We celebrated Annie's first book about our travel in 2008 at the 31 Baskin Robins ice cream store.
We celebrated Annie’s first book about our travel in 2008 at the 31 Baskin Robins ice cream store.

During our last meal in Dubai, we shared excitedly our experience of traveling on a budget in Dubai.

“So what was our budget in Dubai, dad?” Nathan asked excitedly knowing that we were really smart about how to get the most out of Dubai with the least amount of expenses.

“Well, believe it or not, we spent only USD 5.5/person/day for food in Dubai! If we don’t count the apartment cost,” I announced proudly after going through my trip budget app on the iPhone. “Congratulations! We did it!”

“That’s incredible. That’s probably even cheaper than India!” Joani said in disbelief.

“That’s amazing. And we ate so well here. We had steak, ribs, mutton, salmon, cheese, olives. Every meal I was so stuffed. I think out of our whole trip so far, we ate the best here,” Nathan added.

“Yeah, we also had our OWN private public pool!'” Joani laughed.

Our rental apartment through AirBnB comes with a swimming pool just 1 minute walk away!
Our rental apartment through AirBnB comes with a swimming pool just 1 minute walk away!

“I think that is one of the highlight, the pool,” I added. “It is a really high class pool. It’s so clear and so clean. There was shower, toilet, changing room, and only 1 minute walk from where we live.”

“And air-con in the changing room!” Joani reminded me.

“I feel like Dubai is the Las Vagas of the Middle East,” I reflected after seeing all the world’s “-est” in the city.

“I felt Dubai is like a vacation from traveling,” Joani continued. “Are we going to take a Chinese New Year break too?”

“No. We are one of those hard working people. We only have 7 days of vacation a year! We used them all up already in Dubai.” Olivia joked.

We all laughed.

Indeed, Dubai was a much enjoyed vacation after traveling for nearly five months. Not only did we enjoyed cooking ourselves our favorite foods, but also did it all at one tenth of the typical cost.

I was not “in trouble” after all!

This free public swimming beach has the best view of the famous Burj Al Arab, the 7 Stars Sail Hotel.
This free public swimming beach has the best view of the famous Burj Al Arab, the 7 Stars Sail Hotel.

4 thoughts on “You Are in Trouble, Dad”

  1. It is so good to hear how much you enjoyed your time here. Hurray! I would have been a wreck in that supermarket, though, more than Olivia. Give me a small one, like mine in Taipei, plus the outdoor small stands. Congratulations to you all for working together, living together, in Jesus’ love.
    Barbara Suppe

  2. I feel great reading all your experiences in different parts of the world and the people of Jordon. Btw how to get hold of your book?

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