My first visit to an Arab market or souk was in Dubai at a place called Madinat. It was not a real market, rather a touristy adaptation attached to a beach resort. Being a souk virgin, the place looked, felt, and smelled authentic to me.The owners spent a lot of architecture, but the presence of Cinnabon and Trader Vic’s spoiled the atmosphere.
Next, I visited the original market of Dubai, which is at the port. One can drive, but it’s more authentic to arrive by boat. Although hardly matching the photos I had seen of souks in Istanbul or Marrakech, the place was more like I expected, oozing with atmosphere and local colour. Of course, tourists were attracted, but wise traders could do business and informed shoppers could find bargains. Staples needed for everyday life were on display, as well as world-class gold/jewellery area.
I thought of this a week ago today, as I peered out the window of an airplane departing Dubai Airport. I could recognise the location of the market (nestled in the curve of the Creek (looks like a river, but isn’t). In the distance, the high-rise towers of Downtown Dubai (a misnomer because this part of Dubai is only a few years old, whereas the Creek district is centuries old), mark the location of the most-modern markets known to man: the mall.
Inside the Dubai Mall is a “souk”, recreated to attract modern-day shoppers. They have done a better job than the folks that built Madinat. But, the malls are a bit extreme, with skating rinks, aquariums, dancing fountains, and ski slopes; movie theatres and countless restaurants; huge grocery chains and every high end brand; and massive decoration, from waterfalls to huge mobiles to dinosaur fossils.
The souk has evolved...
That’s the nice thing about Dubai: there’s something for every taste…in market, food, hotel, and entertainment.
For many in the modern world, consumerism is the greatest religion. Some consider shopping malls in the United States to be shrines of capitalism. The problem is that most, if not all, suffer from unappealing architecture. None compares with the great cathedrals or mosques of more traditional faiths.
This is not a mosque, rather a souk (which is Arabic for market or, in this case, shopping mall) in Dubai. One of many such elegant shopping emporiums.
This is also not a place of formal religion, rather a tiny portion of one of the largest shopping malls in the world. There are more elaborate bits, which I did not photograph. No American finance director has his dirty fingers in this project. Whoever constructed this knew that profit derives from spending money, not cutting costs on the building.
And, finally, this is not from a house of prayer, rather one hallway of a hotel in Dubai. Again, no one thought of cutting corners on the architecture by lowering ceilings to boost bottom line.
I noticed the following headline in today’s Time:
“Amazon’s New Grocery Service: For $299, You Never Have to Leave the House Again”
I like to stay home, but I also enjoy food shopping. I would not miss enduring a trip to a large super market, but I would miss visits to the variety of shops needed to prepare a proper meal: butcher, cheese shop, green grocer, bakery, etc. I like to ask about sources, freshness, and recommendations.
Today, I discovered a new shop: an Italian grocery store. Upon entering, I felt like I had been transported to a small country town in Italy. The owner, an Italian man and his Polish wife, did all the work. He recommended wines and let us sample; she manned the meat and cheese counter, where we also sampled before we bought. Shopping can be so much fun and a social event in such a place. For anyone interested in good food, Amazon cannot replicate such an experience. I’m sure everything would come wrapped in plastic...
Anyone with sharp eyes will be able to spot the child. At a young age, he has already displayed his aversion to shopping. Perhaps, he is hiding from his mother has bought and he must wear...
I have spent much of my life looking into shoe shop windows or sitting in shoe shops to wait for my wife. This has forced me to look at a whole bunch of women’s shoes. Most of the time, this has followed such words as “what do you think of this one?”
Often, my wife acquiesces to my likes, but has been known to buy/wear shoes that I find displeasing and/or hideous (a word I never utter). I have formed an opinion of what I like and what I do not like; what is attractive and what is hideous; and what is comfortable and what must be torture.
A trip to London means mandatory shoe shopping, which can last hours. My eyes wander to more than just shoes, because one can appreciate shop design, staff behavior, other customers, etc.
Below are photos of some recent purchases, from a shop that takes our money on each visit. These are some of the most creative designs I have seen anywhere. And, believe it or not, the are said to be comfortable. This is important to someone that makes her money on her feet. Not only are the forms creative, but also the soles, interiors, and boxes.
And, these are the more conservative designs on offer...
If you want to see more or do not believe me, you can check out the website. These are not for wallflowers...
The Canary Wharf area in London is not a place one is accosted for loose change. This is a place where money is collected from the unsuspecting by more devious means. Such people to not like be confronted by or to see poverty. Security personnel roam the streets and malls, without and without dogs. One feels safe, but one also thinks about other parts of city, which inspired the song Streets of London.
Today, I expected to be stopped by the security folks during our shopping spree in the mall below the high rise buildings. Shopping bags hung from each handle of the baby carriage and piled high in place of the child, who was forced to walk or be carried. One might of mistaken me for a homeless person, whose worldly belongings hung from the buggy. This is what happens when two women discover shops with clothes and shoes on sale. I bought only shredded wheat, which is not available in Germany.
If I were foolish enough to join Twitter or Facebook, I could have kept interested parties (if such a thing would exist) informed about my busy day. Because I am not a fool, I have only this medium in which to apprise the world of my activities. This might be of interest, in so far as I did something unusual: I went shopping. More correctly, I accompanied Number One Son in his search for home furnishing, nodded in agreement, and paid. The last time we did this was in Miami, a few years ago, when he furnished his apartment in Brickell. I can still recall the furniture shop on Highway One in Kendall. He shipped that furniture to Frankfurt, when he moved back for flight training.
He is moving...upstairs. The penthouse apartment has become available and is being renovated. Because the space is larger and new, and some of the items from Miami have out-live their ‘bust-used-by’ date, he decided to boost the German economy.
The first stop was a huge furniture store. Like all furniture stores in Germany--a perhaps all First World countries--most items were on sale. Of course, original prices were inflated, but one has the feeling of “getting a deal”. Surprisingly, he was satisfied with a reasonably-priced sofa and chairs. And, I was surprised that he wanted to switch from the leather, which he had bought in Miami, to fabric. I like leather furniture, because I do not want to worry about dropping a tomato.
The next stop was rug store, which also offers “discounts”. The selection was huge, but he once again chose something reasonable. (Something must be wrong!).
Finally, we visited Ikea to buy a system for his walk-in closet. I like Ikea and even have a few items in our house. We discussed paying for delivery and assembly and settled on delivery. Of course, one must pay extra for the transport company to pick up items from the warehouse, but the expense is worth avoiding the hassle. I was interested to see that, if we had taken delivery and assembly, the cost would have almost doubled. At first glance, Ikea is cheap, but costs do add up. And, I can look forward to putting some mileage on my new power screwdriver...
I like local markets, because the offer a picture of daily life of wherever they exist.
Today, I visited the twice-weekly market in Hanau, Germany. Customers were also few, but I attributed this to the nasty weather and over-supply of grocery stores competing with price. Vendors seemed to be resigned to low sales, but still proudly touted their wares. I like the market, because many items are superior quality to chain store goods. I am fortunate enough to be able to choose quality over low price.
Last week, I explored the market in Hua Hin, Thailand. This was located in a narrow warren of alleyways off the main street. Outside, bright sunshine pushed the temperature past 30C. Inside, light was minimal; odors were intense; and the atmosphere was friendly. Despite an air of being at the lower end of the economic scale, people seemed happy. Prices were extremely cheap. Customers were few, but I attributed to the time of day.
I ran out of shaving cream: not a disaster, but an inconvenience. The hotel shop does not stock toiletries, only expensive souvenirs, so I was forced to "go native". Of course, that means mixing with all the other tourists crowding streets near the beach.
On a last foray into town, I had noticed a 7Eleven near the Hilton, sandwiched between tailor shops, massage parlors, bars, and souvenir shops. The tiny, crammed shop offered a lot, but no shaving cream, which forced me to try my luck at Tescos (a British food retailer, for the uninitiated). I had spotted a sign, when we checked out the night market.
To reach that prospective solution to my problem, I was forced to walk down a street lined with bars. Although still early (around 6), all appeared eagerly awaiting the crush of fun-seekers, alcoholics, and losers. I discerned anticipation on the faces of girls perched on stools or lurking at entrances, all awaiting easy prey. Here and there, lone men had staked a claim to a seat and started early or had nothing else to do. A number of older men--the type that flocks to such Thai towns--wandered the street and peered into bars, desperation, guilt, or forlornness evident in each expression...
After a moment's thought, I realized that I must look like "an old man wandering the street", so I quickened my pace, attempted a cheerful expression, and stared straight ahead. No one knew me, but I did not anyone to mistake me for someone so desperate to need the company of a bargirl. The only diversion I permitted myself was polite refusal of numerous offers to pay for a massage.
I could find no reason to act like a jerk with poor girls trying to make an honest living.
Returning from shopping with a bag in my hand, a satisfied expression on my face, and a spring in my step, I had no fear of anyone mistaking me for someone trolling for the wares on offer on that street...
I spent the day following my wife around London, as she sought a particular style of shoe. We visited several department stores and countless shoe shops. When she finally found what she wanted, the cost was 500 pounds (you do the math), which was more than she wanted to pay.
That said, she did manage to buy four pairs of shoes, which she had not planned to buy. Why? Because a woman never has enough shoes.
Above is part of the window display of a shop on Carnaby Street. The brand name is Irregular Choice, which has--in my opinion--the most creative women's footware available. The photo does not do the collection justice. All other shoe shops are boring.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.