Saturday, August 31, 2013

At the Gold Souk in Dubai: Nope, I did not buy any Gold nor a Kaftan dress

I am sure that if my mother was with me, she would have bought gold. Helaas, I am not much of a precious metal and stone person. I appreciate them but I do not have the real craving to possess them (I do not mind to receive them as gifts though, haha). I guess for most of the material things in this world I do not see much of their importance, although lately, maybe because I am in the maturing age phase (40’s), I have been haunted to part away from my antique (as what my mother calls them) fashion accessories, and invest (I mean really, is jewellery worth investing?) in real jewels and gold.

Well, I do have some genuine jewels which I mostly wear for work but for the daily life and when I am travelling, I prefer to wear my antique fashion accessories and sometimes my silver ones because they are not too glaring for a bling-bling. I feel safer with them. I am not a mugging statistic waiting to happen out there, nor a Christmas tree out of season.

My chauffeur dropped me at the main street, a block away from the entrance to the Gold Souk, also known as the ‘Dubai City of Gold’. I did not have high expectations because I have already seen many pictures of this bazaar on the net.

My goal for today’s visit is to really just wander around, have a look myself and take a few souvenir pictures.

Dubai City of Gold

Earlier on during the ride, my chauffeur warned me that it’s Ramadan, and that means many shops will be open late or will not be opening. And indeed, when I was there, some of the shops were just opening up while others remained closed.

I wanted to go loose and snap pictures of all the gleaming opulence on display – of which some of the gold jewellery designs were too antiquated and cultural to comprehend, but a number of the shop’s windows have a signage that says ‘no picture taking please’. What a bummer. I hate to become the unwanted tourist, so I behaved and looked for the right window display and timing.

The touts were also not as assertive as I would have expected them to be, so that’s a breath of fresh air there. They were mostly in the waiting mode, although a few would smile and subtly try to approach you.

Can you see the sweat on my face?


Arabic Kaftan Dresses and Shoes

Along the Gold Souk’s covered walk are narrow lanes leading to a huddle of retail fashion shops selling Arabic-style long kaftan dresses (they call them here in the Gulf region, Khaleeji) and psychedelic colourful shoes. I found some of the dresses very elegant and pretty, and the shoes as well were oh so cute! But if I buy them, where will I wear them?

I fancy the torquoise and white kaftan dresses =)

It was also so hot and humid, I was dripping sweat like a pig. So I sat down on the bench to fan and gather myself. I sat there fanning and people watching sans the drink. It’s Ramadan, so no one is allowed to eat or drink anyway during daytime.

Next in my agenda is the Spice Souk. It is supposedly nearby but I may need to ask someone for further directions. I am sure someone here speaks English?

Travel Period: July 2013
Destination: Deira – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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A Dubai Orientation: Dubai's Districts

For a quick guide about Dubai, I have here the districts of the city. Because I only had a day to experience Dubai (there will be another time I am sure, when it is not summer and Ramadan!) I settled to explore where my heart’s desires were leaning towards to, and that is the old part of Dubai. What can I say, I am a full-pledged culture freak and it is important for me to see the remnants of the real Dubai before all these modern-day Disneyland infrastructure was put in place. I however managed to venture out to Jumeirah area and Dubai’s Downtown Centre, so that’s a plus.

Dubai in a nutshell is evolving. The city is a neverending contruction site, a constant work in progress, although it is currently going through a tough time with the financial crisis since the credit crunch (staging a comeback somehow?) and the current political instability in the Gulf Region. So it is just a matter of project, an economic boost, some militant investor willing to throw money in, and time obviously, that the city will have another enclave, or district or better yet, an artificial island.

I found this map in Dubai Mall but couldn’t take a whole shot of it as it it too wide, so I cut them into 3 shots. These are the popular districts of the city and the map goes from left to right:

BUR DUBAI – Dubai’s historical district situated on the Dubai Creek. This is part of Old Dubai where Bastakiya (old Dubai Ruins) is located, the Dubai Creek Walk, Dubai Museum and the Textile Souk.

DEIRA – Dubai’s old financial centre and the old downtown Dubai. It is separated from Bur Dubai by the Dubai Creek. This is where the Gold and Spice Souks are located.

KARAMA – A mixed commercial and residential district, somewhat a Little India and Little Manila because of the high concentration of Indians and Filipinos living in the area. Lots of cheap  retail shops here and international food places.

MIRDIFF – A commercial and residential district for the well-to-do.

DOWNTOWN DUBAI – Dubbed as the ‘New Dubai’ and home to the biggest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall and the stunning previously tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (she is indeed very stunning, much stunning than the Petronas Towers in KL, Malaysia), and the biggest dancing fountain as well in the world, the Dubai fountain (bigger than the one in Las Vegas, USA).

INTERNATIONAL CITY – A residential area in the middle of the desert next to Chinatown (construction currently undergoing, it is said that the project includes a Forbidden City).

SATWA – Another of Dubai’s Little India and Little Manila due to the high concentration of Indians and Filipinos living here. I cannot stress this enough... there are so many Indians (and Indian-looking, Pakistani, Bangladeshi?) and Filipinos in Dubai! It’s like everywhere I turn to I bump into an Indian or Filipino.

DUBAI MARINA – Hosts the Jumeirah Beach Walk and is home to the largest concentration of western expatriate. I wanted to go to Madinat Jumeirah after my afternoon tea at the Burj al Arab but did not have the time anymore.

JUMEIRAH – Home to the famous Jumeirah Beach and the Dubai Mosque (northern part). Along this beach you can find the Palm Jumeirah (southern part) and other artificial archipelagos such as The World (not totally completed, project put on hold) and The Universe (project put on hold). Oh, care for a trip around the Universe my dear? It cannot get any crazier than this in Dubai! lol

JEBEL ALI – A new area developed located after the Dubai Marina with equally mind-blowing projects.

So that's it! If you are reading this and have been to Dubai or are from Dubai and I have made some mistakes (or would like to add another district that I have not written), please let me know and I shall correct this entry.

Shukran! Assalaam Alaikum =)

Travel Period: July 2013
Destination: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Dubai is a sauna and the view from my hotel’s rooftop

Sauna is probably the best fitting word to describe Dubai during the summer months. My skin felt lovely actually; you know, when you get out of the sauna, you are not only sweating buckets but you reap this pampered effect of having soft fresh skin and rosy cheeks. That’s Dubai for you in the summer. And that’s probably the only positive thing out of this oppressive heat in the city.

The fog is not a camera issue or a trick, this is Dubai during the summer months. Misty, er I mean, steamy.

Free sauna in Dubai

My first experience of the sweltering heat was when I stepped out of the rooftop of my hotel early in the morning. The temperature was a soaring 40-something degree celsius. I was caught off guard when I opened the metal door to the rooftop pool area. The heavy hot air instantly confronted my very startled I-did-not-expect-it-to-be-this-hot face. Humidity was skyrocket-high and I was sweating in seconds. My hairs started to annoyingly curl under my neck and ears as well and I began to worry if my light makeup will melt. I know it's petty but a lady does not want to look ridiculous, right?

It was really too hot to be walking on the rooftop of the hotel but I endured the sizzling dilemma just to take pictures, even if the lens of my point-and-click Sony camera was fogged up due to the steaming temperature. I am sure that if I break an egg on the floors of the rooftop, the egg would just cook by itself. Because of the humidity, there is not much to be seen from afar. Water in the air. Steam. Mist.

What can I say? The city is indeed a one big sauna oven and I can never thank Wills Carrier enough for having invented modern-day air conditioning!

The water in the pool looks very refreshing but it is too hot to be swimming on the rooftop in the summer. No way!

Traditional trading boats docked on the Deira harbour along Dubai Creek. 

That is Hilton on the left. But last minute I switched to Samaya because of their offer.

A mosque on Al Rigga, Deira district, just beside the hotel.

Samaya Hotel Deira

I stayed at the Samaya Hotel Deira because I want to be in the old part of Dubai. I only have a day in the city and the places I wanted to see were mostly in Deira and Bur Dubai. Luckily, both historical places are located beside each other and are only divided by the fascinating Dubai Creek.

For a better understanding of the city, I will give an overview of the districts of Dubai in my next entry.

Initially, I had my eyes set on the Hilton, until I saw Samaya offering a much lower rate. Samaya is a 5-star hotel that have seen better days, which is quite obvious in the hotel’s lobby and reception, however, the hotel rooms were still very nice, spacious, elegant and well maintained. Totally worth the switch I reckon.

I was also right with the location; it couldn’t have been any better. The hotel is just a stone’s throw away from the Gold and Spice Souks, the Abra (traditional wooden boat) station and the historical Bur Dubai district. However, during the sauna months in the city, it is almost impossible to be walking outside, thus one would need a personal chauffeur or a taxi to get to these places. Taxi fares are cheap in Dubai anyway, at least from a Dutch-Euro stand point.

The hotel has a glass capsule lift.

UAE currency: Dirhams. 1 EUR (Euro) is 4.8 AED (Dirhams). Taxi rides cost between 10 Dirhams to 30 Dirhams within the city. A 30-minute ride would probably cost about 40-50 Dirhams. That's nothing compared to the Netherlands where a 3-minute taxi ride can cost you 10+ Euros and a half an hour ride between 80 and 90 Euros.

In addition, the hotel is very close to the airport. You’d be surprised that there is traffic in Dubai, after all the city is constantly evolving, bringing new contruction and expansion sites, i.e. new infrastructure, new architecture and new road works that sometimes invites traffic.

Travel Period: July 2013
Destination: Deira – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

There's Bugis for cheap shopping thrills and souvenirs in Singapore

I have been back in the Netherlands and currently suffering a light jet lag. I slept straight for 14 hours but was awakened when the Dutchman joined me in bed. I was startled at first. I did not know where I was? And I did not know who this man is beside me in bed! Oh dear me, lol.

Then I remembered I am home. I am with the Dutchman. This is what happens when you travel to different countries and staying in hotel rooms and other people's houses.

My last leg of my South East Asian trip was Singapore, and since this city was the most fresh in my mind, I have decided to post an entry about our shopping afternoon there, just the day before I left.

Bugis Street or Bugis Village
Website: Bugis Street

Singapore is a multi-cultural city and country. Everywhere you go they have signs in 4 languages like this at a construction site in front of Bugis: English (so everyone can understand each other, glad its not written in Singlish though!), Mandarin Chinese (74% of Singaporeans are Chinese, although other Chinese dialects are also spoken), Malay (well, Singapore was once a part of Malaysia) and Indian Tamil (another rich history from the past of Indian traders coming to Asia).

It is easy to get to Bugis by car, bus or MRT. Check the website link above for more information.

Some Bugis information and history

Bugis Village is the answer to all our cheap shopping thrills and souvenirs in Singapore. There are more than 800 shops here and is the largest shopping location in Singapore.

The area used to be frequented by hookers and transvestites in the 50's through the 80's. It's near Geylang, another area popularly known as the haven for the other darker side of night life. Things have changed since here at Geylang and Bugis, the area is now home to Singapore's biggest retail happening sans the upmarket signature brands unless you do not mind the quite looking very real work of imitations.

Interestingly, the place is also very local. There were some tourists shopping and passing through, I noticed, but not in big numbers. Bugis is clearly a local thing. Now you have been tipped off!

Trivia: Did you know that Bugis name came from the Buginese people of South Sulawesi, Indonesia? They are a seafaring people who moored their boats in the area and traded with Singaporean merchants.

The mother bought some stuff for the employees back home whilst the father acting as the poor shopping bags carrier, haha. But other than that, my mother likes markets like these. Like mother, like daughter I guess.

Okay, someone was brave enough (not me!) to come to Bugis shopping in flowered blue pants and towering high heels! Respect.

A conundrum!

I can't figure this out, but I simply love to browse and take pictures of local markets, especially if they are outdoor markets, farmers markets, street markets and markets housed in traditional buildings. Modern malls and expensive shopping centres do not interest me that much, although I do go there to buy stuff, sometimes to eat and meet people, but the excitement to visit a local traditional and sometimes kitschy market and partake in the experience is just different. I cannot compare the joy and contentment I get from this than going to a modern shopping mall.

Its a conundrum I suppose because I do rarely buy stuff at these markets, and when I do, I buy just one or two, while at malls and shopping centres, I do buy most of my stuff that I, for example, will really wear or use.

And if you have no appetite for shopping? Bugis have takeaway food and 'hawker' food stalls too! =)

They are selling fresh fruit juices but my favourite is chilled soya milk =)

Got so curious so bought a stick. They are fried chicken fingers wrapped in seaweed wrappers. They were... mwah.

From the same store we bought egg tarts but they were not near to the egg tarts in Macau. The Macau egg tarts were also not as par as the real egg tarts (Pastel de Nata's) in Portugal. At least I can say, I have tried them and can compare them to the original ones.

When you are in Singapore, do check Bugis Village or Bugis Street out!

Travel Period: August 2013
Destination: Singapore Central, Singapore

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