Shopping center or suq – in Dubai they are both an experience. One modern, one old, one cool, one sweltering hot, both are extreme.
At the time of my visit, Dubai had completed fifty shopping centers, with many more in the planning or semi-completion stages. Older shopping centers were nothing special, just like any shopping center in the West. But the newer ones were really special. Built around themes like water parks, zoo, ski slope, race track and marina, they tried to outdo each other in glamour and attraction. Egypt was well represented with the spynx guarding its entrance. The latest shopping centers were attached to fabulous apartment buildings, each more grandiose than the next. One building turned on its axis twice a day to allow residents sea view and land view, sunrise and sunset. Another had rotating individual floors. The owner could turn his residence as desired to admire the water or to the land. At the fabulous marina, people lived in intelligent apartments where they controlled washer, dryer, air conditioning, stove, or lights from anywhere in the world via computer. They could check the contents of their refrigerators and order foods from the ground-level store housed in a shopping center.
All provided fabulous play areas for children, with ice skating rinks, or splashing pools, buggy racing rinks, kiddie trains, computer games, climbing areas, and great places for mothers to socialize. Each shopping center housed at least two mosques, one for men and one for women, and the larger provided two mosques at each end.
I loved strolling along the display windows, and admired the merchandise from all over the world, restaurants from many different countries, and was fascinated by the local fashion. Muslim women are as fashion conscious about their abaias, the long black gowns worn outside the home, as Western women are about the latest styles. Abaias décor and design seem to change every year. They are always long, and always black, but the sleeves may be cut differently, the decorations may change from embroidery to sequence to stones. Materials differ. Some are very fine, rich texture, and probably very expensive. Under the abaias, the ladies may wear the latest fashions or simply jeans.
I wanted to buy an abaia, veil, and headscarf, but could not afford the prices in the shopping centers. Later, in the suq, I bargained for an older model in which I greeted my friends "back home."
In the ladies’ rooms, each toilet was equipped with a hand-held water sprayer, something like a portable bidet. What a great idea in such a hot climate. In the common area women removed their veils and headscarves to brush their hair. Beautiful hair, shining, and great shapes. I became aware of the beauty shops in the malls. Unlike in the United States where the customer sits in front with dripping hair and running mascara, to be seen by everyone passing by, the women are groomed in back rooms where no one can see them. The window fronts of the beauty shops show play areas for children, some even equipped with child-sized beauticians’ chairs.
I spent an entire day at the Ski Dubai shopping center. The ski slope area is attached to the shopping center and from the outside of the building looks like a big fat thumb sticking up in the air. Floor to ceiling glass walls offered a look onto the activities on the slopes. I settled down for lunch in a Lebanese restaurant with a perfect view. Winter in Dubai! Two ski slopes, an obstacle course, play areas. Local women in abaias covered in long black winter robes coasted down special slides on inner tubes alongside their children. In another area women pulled their children on sleds, helped them build snow men, and a few children enjoyed snowball fights. People rented skis, shoes, toboggans, winter clothing and coats at a booth next to where tickets were purchased. The ambience was complete with a roaring fire in a giant stone fireplace.
To visit Dubai’s suqs I hopped on the tourist bus. They are located in the old part of town. Narrow streets and alleys, and off them again smaller alleys, they are picturesque and mysterious. The first destination was the gold suq. Canopies or glass and steel provided much needed shade and a bit of coolness. Shops with fabulous displays of gold and precious stones were lined up next to each other. They looked exotic. Ladies in abaias, headscarves and veils floated from store to store. Gold, gold, gold, everything 18 k gold. Rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, all shapes and sizes, glittering with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. I admired the shop windows, and the people inside.
Eventually I selected a store where a number of local women were in lively conversation with salesmen. The displays inside were even more fabulous and seduced me into wanting to buy something. After much "should I or shouldn’t I", I selected a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond ring. Some quite intense bargaining followed, and they were mine. When I returned to the U.S. I learned that I had purchased well. My prize would have cost twice as much.
"Authentic fake watches" and "authentic fake hand bags" were hawked by street vendors who shot out of narrow side alleys and tried their best to lure prospective buyers into their shops and stalls. I wasn’t in the market for an authentic fake watch or bag, but I wanted to find a T-shirt for my husband.
After my selection, the vendor tried to sell me a second one. He thought my comment "But I only have one husband," was a great joke.
The guide led us to the spice suq. The smells were overwhelming like nothing I ever experienced before. Strong, sweet, pungent, wonderful. It was impossible to identify individual spices, they had melded together into one overwhelming sensation. Nostrils wide open I kept breathing deeply to fully
indulge in the pleasurable mix of aromas. Here, as in the gold suq, many shops were lined up next to each other, all offering the same or similar merchandise. During my Dubai visit I had learned to like cardamom sugar for my coffee, so I purchased a glass of cardamom spice.
There were so many streets and alleys, that without the guide always somewhere in sight, I would probably have been lost. Since I wanted to buy an abaia, headscarf, and veil, he directed me to an area with many such shops. I admired the fashionable stones and embroidery. The materials were not as beautiful and rich as in the shopping centers. After trying on at least five, and looking in the floor length mirror at my very strange apparition, the haggling began. In the end I paid twenty dollars and was happy.
Suq or shopping center. This is Dubai, and everything is extreme. From ultra modern to the old, and old means about sixty years. Before then there were sand dunes and Bedouins.