Dubai shoppers

Of all the photos that I took in Dubai, the one that received the most feedback from friends and relatives is the photo above showing women in modern western clothing shopping along side two women in conservative Middle Eastern clothing.  One family member commented that the title of the photo should be Clash of Cultures but as I think about it, perhaps it should be the Merging of Two Culutures as in Dubai, eastern and western, conservative and liberal – they all coexist in one tiny little country.

Dubai is certainly a melting pot of cultures, not only from the west and the Middle East but also from the Indian Subcontinent, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world like Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  It is not uncommon to see people from 3 different continents sitting side by side at a restaurant, at a bus stand or in line at the bank.  When shopping at the malls (and there are a lot of malls) you will find people from all over the world.

I was quite surprised at the modernity of Dubai’s airport, roads, buildings and its shopping malls and stores.  I went to the grocery store (below) and found that (aside from some regional food choices) it was no different from any grocery store in the United States.  Despite this being a desert climate I was able to find fresh meat, sea fish and poultry, vegetables and all other kinds of food that were most definitely imported.  The prices are high, but not so high as to be prohibitive.  Probably the biggest cost in Dubai is the cost of a hotel or a cocktail (drinks from $7.50 to $12.50 in most clubs and hotels).  Picking up a bottle at the duty-free airport store on your way into country is a probably good idea if you fancy a drink.

While out shopping, I spotted these two guys & judging by their head gear, they are Sikhs from India.  What gave me pause where the guy’s “Aladdin” shoes.  I mean, check those out!  Are those crazy Aladdin Nights shoes or what?  I did a photo blow up for better clarity.  And this is one thing I find so fascinating about Dubai: you never know who you are going to run into or know where they came from.

I am not sure if I will ever get used to the sight of masked women.  It seems so utterly foreign to me.  I suppose for two reasons: where I grew up women certainly wear a lot (a lot!) less.  And second, our media does such a good job of vilifying Arab and Muslim culture.  It is such that any association with Arabic clothing or custom is closely associated with terrorism and usually ends in a westerner getting beheaded.  Some of the westerners here jokingly call the Saudi women “Sand People” after the cloaked creatures from Star Wars.  As politically incorrect as it sounds, I do see some resemblance.  I’ve been told by my tour guide that I should not take photos of the Gulf women that it is in fact a crime and if I’m caught I could get into trouble.  So, all of the shots I have of the Saudi (& other Gulf State) women I had to take “from the hip” so as not to attract any attention.  As a result I have many photos with cropped heads and shots that are not centered.

With the affluence that oil has brought, many of the Gulf States residents (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE) are packing on quite a few kilos.  I recently read that the Kuwaitis are now the third fattest nationality on the planet only behind the Americans and the Samoans.  I’ve seen some Kuwaiti kids squeezed into dish dash man dresses wherein the sides of the dress push the fat up and down to the point where they resemble a tube of packed meat stuff.  Fast food restaurants like McDonalds are quite popular with the Gulf Arabs and their waist lines are showing from it.

I was told that one can tell the difference between the Wahab and progressive Saudis just by their dress and hair style.  I was told that the Wahabis (religious fundamentalists, ie – “old school Saudis” who resist anything Western and want to maintain the purity of Islam – women covered, no alcohol and strict adherence to religious custom) do not cut their beards and wear their dish dash (man dress) high up on the ankle.  I spotted this guy (photo below) and he fit the bill exactly: high dish dash and long beard.  I compared him to another Saudi man who I saw near the Dubai Creek who had a longer dish dash and a shaved face (2nd photo below).  The second man’s photo is the style of dress that a more liberal Saudi or someone from another Gulf country might wear.

Many stores and restaurants stay open late in Dubai and I am told that during Ramadan the entire city goes nocturnal and the stores are closed all day and open all night.  While walking around after dark I found that there was quite a bit of traffic – both vehicle and pedestrian – and the city was noisy with engine noise and horn honking.  Even in the evening I saw women in western dress walking around and shopping.  I saw a lot of people from Asian countries like the Philipines, Thailand and China.  It seemed that many of the Philippine and Thai women were working as clerks and the Chinese women were shopping (their husbands doing engineer type jobs).  Dubai sure seems to have a lot of cars and getting around in a taxi is sometimes quite frustrating as traffic does not move much at all.

I discovered a nice sidewalk cafe/restaurant and ordered a gyro sandwich and took a table on the sidewalk.  After I had sat down I noticed an Arabic man glaring at me.  He looked at me with such a look of disgust that I wondered if I had done anything to offend him.  I sheepishly smiled at him so as to express some form of friendliness and in reply, he took of his shoe and pointed the sole of his foot at me.  This, in the Arabic world, is a huge form of insult much akin to “flipping the bird” in America.  I am sure that his animosity was politically or culturally driven but it was clear that he did not care for westerners.  I slyly fired up my digital camera and quickly shot a pic of him.  He turned his head away just after I took this pic and when I put the camera away he turned back and glared at me some more.

Oddly, I did not feel threatened in any way by this man.  By now I had grown accustomed to and quite comfortable with Dubai.  I felt very safe here and thought that this man’s animosity was probably the worst danger that I would suffer here.  I wondered why he  had such disdain for me – especially considering that he doesn’t even know where I’m from.  I think back to my own country and how Arabs, Pakistanis and even Indians were treated in the wake of 9/11.  I’m sure that many had such looks from Anglo-Americans.  Heck, even a Sikh man was killed by a mob in the US who thought  him to be an Arab.  And so, I think that people in the east and west are not so different.  Each side has its fanatics, religious crack-pots and bigots.  As I travel more and more, I learn a little more about others and I find more tolerance and respect for other cultures.


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