Dubai shows humans can rise to challenge
"HELP me take a picture?" An Arab woman, who appeared to be in her 20s, thrusted her iPhone at me.
She wore red lipstick, a tight midi dress and had loose hair.
I had just stepped onto the observation deck at level 125 of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building and arguably the most iconic landmark in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
"Sure," I said.
But it was not that simple.
She fired more instructions.
"Full body, not too near. With all of this," she gestured at the sandy view behind the floor-to-ceiling glass panels.
I was doubtful of fitting all that into the frame.
Plastering herself on the glass, she placed both palms artistically beside her head, back facing me, appearing to gaze out into the cloudless sky.
She looked at the shots I took. "No, no," she shook her head. "Full body," she insisted.
Another four shots, and I was getting annoyed.
She snatched her phone back and muttered "thanks".
Most people, like her, were fascinated with the view from 456m above ground, and taking selfies and photos of it, in all kinds of inventive poses.
After some people left, I had a good spot to take in the view.
Initial reaction: Not too impressed.
The height was dizzying but the landscape was flat and plain, with grey squares of low-rise buildings.
Far away, a cluster of indistinct skyscrapers hovered like shadowy figures - that is the Dubai Marina, where I stayed during my trip in late August.
There was the sea, though, and glimpses of another ambitious construction project, The World Islands, could be seen against the setting sun.
The World Islands is an artificial archipelago, with islands arranged roughly in the shape of the actual world map.
They looked deserted.
That said, such eye-catching projects are probably not for practical uses. I mean, to live on an island in The World, one would need to own a yacht to get home every day.
Similarly, the 828m-tall Burj Khalifa is perhaps more recognised for adding several "world's highest" titles to the wealthy Arab state, however obscure the accolades may be.
A list on a wall in the building read: "Tallest building in the world. Highest number of stories in the world. Highest occupied floor in the world. Highest outdoor observation deck in the world. Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world..."
I forget the rest.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that the UAE currently holds 165 Guinness World Records, including 129 set in Dubai.
Notably, the building next to the Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall, happens to be - you guessed it - the world's biggest shopping mall (by total area).
It is a shopaholic's dream, and full of odd distractions like an indoor aquarium, sculptures and a giant ball pit for kids.
I managed to catch the fountain show in the artificial lake between the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall, billed as the "world's largest choreographed fountain system".
(I know, this world record antic is getting old by now.)
The five-minute water jet display, with music and lighting effects, is free and takes place daily, mostly in the evenings.
Scepticism aside, the elevator ride up the Burj Khalifa, although packed, was quite cool, with futuristic light displays.
Most people, however, had their eyes glued to the small screen above the lift button panel, showing the floors as we went higher. Some whipped out their phones to film the ascending numbers.
7... 48... 80... 125.
Standing on the outdoor observation deck - fret not, there is an air-conditioned indoor deck too - was like being in a giant hairdryer. No wonder, for it was 44 deg C.
I had paid a not-so-paltry AED135 (S$50) for entry into the Burj Khalifa but did not feel like staying long.
"Let's go for dinner," I suggested to my friend.
We rode the elevator back down - it took just one minute.
The doors opened into an exhibition hall. We trailed robotically behind other visitors.
Then I glanced casually at the display panels that lined the hallway. "Hey, look," I called out. "The photos are showing how they built it."
They weren't pretty pictures - mostly of soil works, people in safety gear and operating machinery, as well as views of the building's foundation.
I could understand why most visitors didn't stop. It was not exactly Instagram material.
The building's base is a unique Y-shape - for maximum stability, a paragraph read.
Another panel stated that the building's staggered columns help to deflect the wind, a problem that plagues super-tall structures, it explained.
The cladding also features reflective glazing to withstand the city's extreme summer heat.
These nuggets of facts were way more interesting than bombastic titles like "world's tallest building", I thought.
We lingered in that hall, as other visitors whizzed by.
Just moments ago, I had thought - cue some eye-rolling here - that the country was being self-absorbed by splashing out on all these crazy projects.
But maybe what's important is not the final result but a show of what humans can do.
With great planning, organisation and a spark of imagination, we can make any outlandish pipe dream into reality.