Posts Tagged

market

Bedouin

Bedouin. No, it isn’t something from Star Wars. The inhabitants of the desert and forefathers of the hyper-city that lies before us was no more than a nomadic tribe diving for pearls only 100 or so years ago. Before the discovery of oil in the 1970s and the mass development of Dubai, it started off from fairly humble beginnings. I was convinced before I came here that Dubai had no history at all – it was one of the reasons that I avoided coming here, but there is a heritage. It isn’t something that you are going to find in Dubai Mall or in a 5* hotel (of which there are many). You have to dig a little deeper.

The city tour that we booked ourselves onto this morning was to settle us in. After resting our swollen feet from the floors of the Burj Khalifa, we decided that it was time to sit on a bus. The national museum had told us the brief story of this place, and now it was time to see the effects. Bur Dubai, where the old gold souks (markets) lay were noticeably empty – it was the quietest street market I had ever seen. However, it had a character that did not shine with the veneer of the imported marble that we had seen everywhere.

Jumeirah. You have heard of it. It means chandelier and relates to the most expensive part of Dubai, probably the wealthiest street in the entire world. A road filled with the emirati, descendants and loved ones of the royal family, that own the UAE and its rich contents. Whilst the oil may have dried up, the wealth has never left. Only the distant descendants of the Bedouin tribes are able to open businesses and own property in this country – which means that the only thing that we can take away is what we can carry in our Prada bags – the real wealth in estate and citizenship don’t go any further than the Arabian Gulf.

What struck me about this place is the sheer size. It is like an enormous Monopoly board in which someone has put hotels on everything. From the breathtaking Atlantis hotel as a window onto the ‘Gulf; to the familiar sail of the 7* Burj al-Arab hotel on the Palm Jumeirah; the word ‘luxury’ is ripped out the dictionary and replaced with a map of Dubai. The only place for modesty here is in clothing, with its unspoken yet strict Islamic laws.

However there are contradictions. The pork aisle in the Waitrose supermarket labelled “non-Muslim”. The variety of cigarettes and alcohol on offer to any tourist willing to pay the tax-deductible price. The emphasis on greed and spending, and the absence of humility and humanity. There are thousands that build these buildings and maintain this 24/7 tourist attraction, but they do not exist in the minds of those who come here. The backbone of the populace is almost invisible outside of their uniforms and duties – it is as if they are the ghosts that prosperity left behind.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype. The thousands of shops, crystal white beaches and unimaginable luxury, but it is not real. It can’t be real when 80% of it is dependent on foreigners and there is no incentive to work for the vast majority of residents. Yet, the destructive circle continues. More skyscrapers are built. The world’s largest zoo is in construction. Companies continue to pay no tax. And investors continue to pour talent into this man-made oasis.

For me, a society built on this level of consumerism is a recipe for disaster. Imagine how many people in Syria could be saved if the King sold his solid gold Rolls Royce. Perspective is a very damning indictment. And it doesn’t seem to exist here.

The “Fixed Price” Myth

You would think that after the wedding, all of the gifts had been given and it was time to move away from incessant shopping. You would be wrong. Whenever you are in India, there is a need to buy a gift for everyone there, back home and some people you don’t even know. As soon as you walk past something, there is a committee meeting with three distinct questions: 1) can we make use out of it or give it away? 2) is it something that we have seen before or unique? 3) can we afford it? If two out of these get an overall yes, then the process begins. If you didn’t know it already, Indians love a bargain.

We decided to stay in Baroda for a few more days after the wedding considering we hadn’t spent enough time with our family. It had been so hectic that we hadn’t really had the chance to relax with them. However, part of this bonding experience meant exchanging gifts as well as finishing off any last minute shopping. And if you walked around any market, you would be surprised what you can walk away with for 350 rupees (about £3.50 at this current moment).

The most laughable part about the process is the “fixed price” signs that they put in each of the shops. It is an unwritten rule that there are absolutely no fixed prices in India, unless it is unlucky enough to have a barcode – although to be honest, the most persuasive person could probably do the job. If you are trying to buy a sari, for example, then you can assume that they are charging you 20 percent more before you have even sat down and it has been unfolded in front of you. The so-called NRI (non-resident Indian) or foreigner tax. Then you can probably shave another 20 percent off if you have a little more chat, and the more items you buy, the bigger chunk you can get off the overall bill. By the end of it, the original figure seems like a fairytale and however upset the vendor looks, he or she knows for a fact that they have got as much out of it as you have. Just be ready to walk away if the price isn’t right.

When prices are so flexible, you start to get an eye for quality. The street markets in India are generally better than those in the UK, but you have to be careful, and it means shopping around. Whenever you enter any showrooms here, with stacks and stacks of clothes delicately placed behind the counter, it is no mistake that there is a huge mattress on the floor. You don’t look through the clothes here, they are presented to you. A salesman will get our sari after sari, shirt after shirt, until the entire white surface is covered in a heap of colours and material. If you are lucky, he (all of the sari vendors seem to be men) will try on the sari in front of you so you can see what it would look like. The first time it happened, I can’t tell you how many glances were exchanged between my brother and me.

As much as I hate shopping, especially in the intense heat, it is interesting to see the performance every time. It is always the same routine as I have described above, and it is amazing the effort that each vendor will go to in order to sell his wares. Everything is in fashion, a good material, with some sort of quality certificate and an absolute steal…whether it be 100 or 10,000 rupees. We seem to be spending a lot of money out here, but I can see why.

There aren’t many good shows in the world that are cheap.