Sunday, April 29, 2018

Visiting The United Arab Emirates: Old Dubai

"Sometimes one day in a different place gives you more than ten years of life at home."
~Anatole France

After a good night’s sleep in our luxurious hotel in Dubai, we had one full free day before we began our back-to-back business visits. We fought through jet leg by taking a tour of the city of Dubai, seeing both the old and new.

Dubai was well known as a fishing and pearl-diving community until the late 1920s when the invention of artificial pearls and the Great Depression led to the collapse of the international pearl market. They focused on alternative sources of money by leveraging their port to re-export goods from Indian and Iranian traders. 

We visited the Dubai Museum, which showcased what life was like during the fishing and pearl-diving era. Fishermen and divers left home early in the morning, came back at noon, and then went out again after afternoon prayers. A replica of one of the pearl-diving boats has a prominent place just outside the museum, which is housed in the original Al Fahidi Fort built in 1787, the oldest existing building in Dubai.

Continuing on our tour of Old Dubai, we crossed over “The Creek” in traditional boats to the Gold Souk.

From the dock, we walked over to the Gold Souk, (souk or suq means market in Arabic). What we found was an array of gold merchants for which the souk was named. Interestingly, the Emirati government has taken great care in maintaining standardization of the price of gold and requires vendors to adhere to these regulations so the market remains viable. The price of gold that day is always posted and all vendors stick to it.

Also at the souk were spice merchants, home décor and textile merchants, and all other goods, smells, and chaos you might imagine in a crowded market. Only a few shops (mostly the gold shops) were air conditioned and big enough to walk around without sharing personal space with an eager salesperson. But mostly, I just walked around taking in all the sights and smells that you might expect to find in a traditional Middle Eastern market.

Walking through the Gold Souk felt a little like walking through an obstacle course or the gauntlet. Merchants were constantly trying to get you to stop in their store. I walked out of there with nothing because 1) I didn't see anything immediately that I wanted and 2) I was so turned off by the constant in-your-face salesmanship that I didn't stick around long enough to see if I DID want anything they had to offer. Even so, I loved the experience.

No comments: