Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shopping in the Souks

9th December 2007:

After a quick breakfast with lots of coffee at our apartment/hotel (The Golden Sands) it was time to begin exploring. Neither Lisa or I had been to a Muslim country before and were not quite sure what to expect. So as not too offend any of the locals we both dressed conservatively which wasn't the easiest thing to do in the heat. Nevertheless, Lisa did get lots of attention throughout the day, especially early on but covering up the shoulders helped reduce the staring. It was also quite noticeable early on that we were the only Westerners in sight, though as we ventured more towards the tourist areas later in the day some more travelers became visible.

Our apartment is located near the airport and near the old part of the city. We grabbed a map from the concierge and started what turned out to be a long trek around the city. It was fascinating. The architecture of the older buildings is like something out of Lawrence of Arabia and you can wander around old restored forts with white walls and fortified towers. Some of these forts had been subtly/tastefully modernized with air-conditioned interiors with items of historical value in glass display cabinets. Some of these buildings were closed and we got the impression that it was off-season, but the entrance fees were cheap and one fort in particular that we did enter cost a whole 50 cents to get into.

No trip to Dubai would be complete without a visit to the local markets and alongside the cities river are small shops selling cashmere clothing and other items of touristic value. The shop keepers don't tend to wait for you to wander into their shop: they prefer to grab your attention as you are walking past as try their sales charm to get you to part with your cash. They were very persuasive, though with everything being so cheap their goods practically sell themselves. The only irritating restriction was the ever present weight restriction for baggage on the flights home :(

There were many very noticeable differences in Dubai to Western cities I am more used to. Every couple of hours call to prayers were sung over loud speakers from the mosques: it sounded surreal the first couple of times but after that I found that it added to a sense of community as it was an experience which everybody listened to. I had thought that everything would grind to a halt during these prayer times, but people continued on as normal: it might be that the people only need to stop what they are doing some times during the day, rather than every time.

The next main difference would have to be the lack of women walking around. You could literally look down a street full of people and see no women whatsoever. Those women we did see tended to be immigrants (predominately Indian) or tourists. Otherwise, whereas the men tended to wear white clothes, the women tended to wear black. However, there weren't as many of the full length black burqa's visible (the dress style which just shows the woman's eyes) as I was expecting.

The last main difference became evident as the day progressed into evening. Most Western cities I have been in can become a bit intimidating in the evening as you try to avoid drunks or other people acting abnormally: we didn't' see any of that behavior in Dubai. Indeed throughout the day we never got the feeling we were being watched or followed or in any type of danger whatsoever. I didn't see any pick pocketing or shoplifting either and I saw one policeman all day: he looked very bored ?

There were no bars/off-licences/bottle-shops or nightclubs visible at all. They do exist but apparently they tend to be part of the bigger hotels. The lack of the usual Western light life wasn't a problem though as within minutes of arriving back to our room the jet lag kicked in and it was lights out: a good first day and there's still plenty more to do.