I realized I have been to a public aquarium facility in each of the countries I have visited — Sunshine City International Aquarium in Japan, Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in China, Fakieh Aquarium in Saudi Arabia, and Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo in United Arab Emirates. In the Philippines, I think I have only frequented numerous fresh and saltwater aquarium shops. I actually couldn’t remember visiting a public aquarium facility in my own country, but I’m sure there must be at least one that I visited during one of my elementary and high school field trips.
Moving on, based on what I’ve seen so far, if you leave the structural design aside, all public aquarium facilities anywhere in the world may actually be no different from each other. All of them house almost the same marine species — fishes of every size and color, seahorses, jellyfishes, sharks, stingrays, dolphins, sea lions. And not to be skipped, reptiles and amphibians.
Looking back, I realized it was the experience that made each one different from another. My visit to the aquarium center in Tokyo was an overwhelming experience for the mere reason that it was my first international trip and, therefore, everything can only be described in all positive superlatives — marvelous, magnificent, majestic. The trip to the Oceanarium in Shanghai was terrible all because we went there on a national holiday weekend and, therefore, the crowd was infinitely congested. And that one at the Jeddah aquaria, we went there for the purpose of photography. My colleague friends and I just had our first DSLR cameras and we were so excited to take photos of anything, and in that case, the marine species.
My visit to Dubai Aquarium was totally unplanned. In fact, I did not even go inside the Underwater Zoo. On the first day of my three-day business trip in Dubai, I consented to meet with my two sisters-in-law who were both working in that city. Upon checking in at the hotel I pre-booked days before, I was informed that there was a bus plying to key spots in the city including the Dubai Mall. The bus was to leave at around half past three in the afternoon. It was still too early but I thought it was best to take that early bus rather than get lost in commuting alone later. As expected, I reached Dubai Mall before five, more than two hours earlier than our intended meeting time. Left with nothing else to do, I toured the mall looking for whatever it had to amuse myself with when I chanced upon the ceiling-high aquarium.
The Dubai aquarium was a massive 10-million-liter saltwater tank made to look like a living wall. It was huge but I did not find it very interesting. The artificial reef looked bleached and there were not enough fish to look at. It was like ogling at a dead rock formation, which could have been great had it been in a cliff or elsewhere outdoors, but that was an aquarium and I was expecting colorful reef and fish formations and not static gray rocks.
Located next to it was the cave-looking entrance to the Underwater Zoo, and above it was another tall aquarium. It was smaller compared to the main one, doesn’t have fancy rocks but there were more than enough fish to give an impression of a real underwater scene. I was trying to take photos of the aquarium and the sharks swimming crazily inside it but the thick crowd was getting in the way. I put my camera away and stepped back to marvel at it from a distance when something else got me excited.
Most of the people gathered in front of the aquarium had their smartphones out, trying to capture photos of the sharks like what I originally intended to. The mall was slightly dim-lit which caused the light from the smartphones stand out. It was like a scene from an old-school concert where people would light up their lighters against the dark, waving along with the familiar melody. Only there were no singers but sharks. I brought out my camera again and aimed at the crowd while adjusting the shutter speed to create a silhouette of the crowd against the bright-lit foreground.
It was amazing! The curious crowd was able to humanize what had been a monotonous scene. I kept taking photos while aiming at different subjects — the crowd against the aquarium, the bright-lit smartphones against the crowd, the whole scene with varying shutter speed to either light up the people or reduce them to silhouettes.
I lost track of time and before I realized, one of my sisters-in-law was already there behind me. She had been there while I busy myself with the crowd.
Later, as I was reviewing my photos of the aquaria in Jeddah, I realized I had been taking photos with similar scenes without realizing it. I was so engrossed with what’s inside the tanks that I failed to notice the human interactions in the whole place.
From then on, I have always paid attention to the crowd. Whether at a concert, a party, or a basketball game, I would always take candid photos of how people conduct themselves while being absorbed by the occasion. Armed with a 50mm lens, I turned myself into a commoners’ paparazzo.
Note: Because of another crazy incident, I lost all my photos of my three-day stay in Dubai. Another lesson learned the hard way, and another interesting story to tell.
Update: Found the photos, though still none of the otherworldly Dubai Skyline. Here’s why.