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Where To?

Dubai, March 4, 2002

"I can take you there," the cabbie said. "What's the phone number?"

We were on our way to a shop in a souk we had previously visited with our friends who live here. We knew the general location, Karama, which we initially had told the cabbie. However, now that we were in the vicinity we were trying to figure out where our final destination actually was.

Why didn't we just give him the address, you may ask? Actually, that's the idea I had in mind when I looked up "City Lights" in the phone book. And that's when I found out that the "address" for anybody is a post office box number! It turns out that nobody has a street address! In fact, not all streets even have names1!

At first, I thought that the post office must have a master database with a cross-reference between post office boxes and locations. But then I realized that they don't deliver; a PO box means, as you may have experienced in your distant past, that you come in and pick up your mail yourself. Although the post office probably does have a pretty good idea of where the Hyatt Residence2, PO Box 7573, is located, it's less likely that they know where Maha Salim Obaid Al Ketbi, PO Box 66735, actually lives. (The post office box numbers, although fictional, are representative of actual ones.)

So when people near the vicinity of a place they haven't been before, they pull out their "mobile" phone (the preferred name for "cellular" phone), which everyone has, and call for "final approach" instructions!

1 Most streets in Dubai do seem to have names, or more likely numbers, but there's not necessarily any logic in the numbering scheme; for example, numbered streets aren't either north-south or east-west. In fact, the north end of the souk that was our destination was at the intersection of Streets 16 and 33B, while the south end was at the intersection of Streets 20B and 45B!

The Gulf News on the day we left had an article that Sharjah, the capital of the emirate of the same name to the north of Dubai, had embarked on the second phase of a major project to name and number streets and buildings. It noted that "The new system will help in the long run to facilitate the postal system, as the postal authority will be able to deliver mail at the doorsteps of the residents and commercial organizations instead of only using the post box system."

2 Before we left, we applied for a visa to visit Oman, the UAE's neighbor to the east. One question asked for the address where we'd be staying. We looked up the Hyatt Regency on the Internet and found "Corniche." Thinking this was similar to one of the roads along the French Riviera (Upper/Middle/Lower Corniche), I entered that as the address. After I arrived, I found that "Corniche" was not a road; like Karama it actually was an area!

© Copyright 2002 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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