By Richard Pretorius

Avid sightseers, armed with everything from camera phones to professional models with long lenses, never stopped snapping during a recent visit to the aquarium in the Dubai Mall.

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

Members of one group posed frequently, trying to catch a shark, a stingray or a batfish in the background. When they got to the penguins, only the little boy among them marvelled that the tuxedoed birds looked like bloated mini-torpedoes when swimming underwater. He pointed at them and laughed. The cameras of the others never stopped clicking.

The next day at the Burj Khalifa, efforts to capture the perfect pose near the top of the world’s tallest building resembled a modelling competition: Over here. A bit to the left. Move in tighter. Your hair is in your face.


The images were examined on the cameras’ screens, approvals given, and then the clicking started again in another spot. Can we get a good shot of the Burj Al Arab in the background? Only with the best of cameras.


Visual memories to take home. Memorable moments to be recalled on a computer screen or printed out and stored in an album. Look-where-we’ve-been scenes to show off to friends.

In spending so much time recording the moment, one wonders if its true value gets lost. Thanks to mobile phones, cameras are as common as fans cheering their favourite football team. By focusing on the perfect picture and not taking in the scene, whether in Dubai or Denver, Abu Dhabi or Amsterdam, that little boy with the wide eyes in all of us never gets a chance to be amazed.

The Dubai aquarium features more than 33,000 animals from more than 140 species. One could watch for hours and see something different at every turn. The mind has a camera of its own. It’s hard to forget seeing a stingray breathe with its gills drawing water. Or two otters playing their version of tag. Or human divers feeding sharks and rays. Would we dare to do that?

Children’s screams of delight upon finding the clown fish Nemo and his friends remind us of the power of imagination, something that gets lost when we are too busy clicking and don’t take time to ponder and appreciate.

The view of Dubai and the surrounding area from the Burj Khalifa’s 124th floor gives much to contemplate: the vast, multi-hued desert not far from the spectacular buildings, the deceiving serenity of the sea, the incredible development of the city and the wonders of modern engineering and architecture. To those who really look, the view can delight and challenge for hours on end.

The same can be said for the scene that unfolds often on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. In late afternoon, as people frolic in the water, relax on the beach, or take vacation photos of friends and family to send home, the sun begins its spectacular descent.

Sometimes it resembles a gigantic orange, almost at eyelevel, giving the impression it could be touched if a person were to wander far enough. While I have yet to see anyone in Abu Dhabi applaud as the sun does its daily disappearing act, as happens nightly among the crowd that gathers for the show in Key West, Florida, those who sit and really look witness a priceless attraction.

In A Short Guide to A Happy Life, Anna Quindlen relates the enduring lesson of appreciating the view. Her teacher: a homeless man on Coney Island in New York City.

“He told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them,” she wrote. “And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital?

“And he stared out at the ocean and said, ‘Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.’

“And every day, in some little way, I tried to do what he said. I tried to look at the view. That’s all. Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I’m never disappointed.”

Put the cameras away. Look, really look, at the view. And you, too, will never be disappointed.