Saturday was a much more organized day than Friday. I was thinking about going to the Gold Souk, which is a market near the Dubai Creek. In the morning I got a message from one of the other faculty members that Karuna, the International Recruitment Manager, had invited the tutors to her hotel for tea at 4:00 p.m. Following tea she was taking them on a trip to the Gold Souk, and we were invited. This was perfect timing. I decided to head to the gym for a workout before lunch. When I was finished I thought I should eat my big meal of the day now, because I suspected that tea would be quite filling, and that we would be relatively late returning from the Gold Souk – too late for a big dinner.
Karuna’s hotel is right across the street from my hotel. Five of us met in the lobby and walked together to meet for tea. As I suspected, tea was extravagant. It included juice (orange, tomato, watermelon, or mango), spring rolls, samosas, deep fried vegetables (including jalapeno peppers), cheese and tomato sandwiches with their crusts cut off, four dessert options, and tea or coffee. We all enjoyed the food and the company. When we were done the tea, Karuna took us up to show off her apartment. She lives on the 65th floor – the top floor of the tallest hotel in the city. It is a wonderful view of the downtown part of the city, including the Burj Khalifa.
There were about 14 of us heading to the Gold Souk, so we started loading into cabs. The cab I was in was the first one to leave the hotel, but it ended up being the last one to arrive. Karuna had arranged for the cost of the cab to be a set price before we left the hotel. We walked down a narrow street, which is only for pedestrians. Then Karuna directed us into the main building for the Gold Souk. Thankfully it was air-conditioned, because even at 6:30 p.m. after the sun was down, it was still very hot and humid outside. The shops in the Gold Souk are basically full of gold and diamonds. There is some silver, but very little relatively speaking. I wandered around the hallways and did a little window shopping. I don’t really wear jewelry, and I don’t have an affinity for gold or diamonds, so I was not tempted by the many choices. I noticed that the prices of things were not easily visible. I had noticed that prices are often unclear, including the price of popcorn and a drink at the movie. After we were finished inside, we headed outside to see some more shops. On the street, the men were approached to see if they wanted a fake Rolex and the women were asked if they wanted a fake bag. There were also lots of men each carrying a tray filled with bottled drinks.
My colleague Zoran and I went into a shop that specialized in silver. As soon as we walked into the shop we were told that it only had silver, no gold. I guess that many people assume that all the shops have gold. The shop itself was very small. Zoran was looking for gifts for his wife and daughter, and I had considered buying a watch. The clasp on my dressy watch had been broken for awhile, and I didn’t get it fixed before I came to Dubai. I did want to have a fancier watch than the plastic Timex watch I have been wearing so far. I had no idea how much the watches cost, but there was one in the display case that I thought looked nice. I asked to see it, and asked how much it cost. The first thing they do when they figure out the cost of the jewelry is to weigh it and then calculate the value of the metal (either silver or gold) based its value on the market and the purity of the metal. Then they pull out a calculator and punch in the offer. I think the first offer was for 1400 dirham, which was over $300. I immediately lost interest in purchasing the watch, because I was not planning to spend that much at all. Karuna grabbed the calculator and made a counter offer. She was speaking English and Hindi I think, and saying she could get this much cheaper in India. The price she suggested was 900 dirham, which was still more than $200. Again I was not really interested in paying that much for a watch. It was a very nice watch, and it was pure silver, but I hadn’t even decided if I wanted to buy a watch at all. In the meantime, Zoran had found a couple of bracelets he thought his wife and daughter would like as gifts. Karuna then turned her attention to negotiations on behalf of Zoran. She kept asking the merchant for his “last price”. I could hear some negotiations in the back of the shop and the customers were also asking for the “last price”. When I turned to leave at one point, the merchant asked me what was my “last price”. I can’t remember the details of the negotiations for Zoran, but I think he ended up paying 1050 dirham for the two bracelets, from a starting price of 1600 dirham. While we were waiting for Zoran to pay for the bracelets, Karuna asked if I would be interested in the watch if it was 600 dirhams. I said that was a more reasonable price. When we were leaving the merchant asked Karuna if she was our guide, and she laughed and said no. She told Zoran and me to leave the shop and she stayed behind. A few minutes later she joined us outside with a bag from the shop. She had the watch in a nice gift box, and she had bought it for 600 dirhams. I was a bit taken aback, but it is a nice watch. If I didn’t know any better I would think that Karuna and the merchant were working together to get me to buy the watch. I didn’t have the money with me and she said that was fine, that I could could settle with her at work on Sunday. When I got the watch home I saw the original price tag was 1945 dirhams.
Karuna lead us through the streets towards the fabric section of the Souk. The very narrow streets were crowded with people and cars, and it seemed to be hotter than when we left the hotel. As we walked along people from our group randomly entered some of the shops. Outside a perfume shop, Karuna told us that the perfume here is made with water, not alcohol. That means it does not last as long on your body because the alcohol absorbs into the skin better. It also means the price of the perfumes was lower. I bought a pair of flip flops I wanted to have for walking on the tile floors in my apartment as well as when I went to the pool. I negotiated the price from 20 dirhams to 15 dirhams.
We arrived at the main building for the Fabric Souk which was an air conditioned building. By this time I was sweating profusely, and was very happy to cool down. Karuna found a bench near the entrance and said she would be waiting there for us. I wanted to buy a large scarf or shawl to wear in the apartment. When I am sitting for too long, the air conditioning is quite cold in the living room and dining room. I realized yesterday that I do not have any long sleeved shirts here. Again I negotiated the price from 25 dirhams to 20 dirhams. I suspect I could have done better, but I didn’t have the energy. As I wandered around the Souk, every merchant who saw me said “Hello ma’am” to get my attention. I didn’t think too much of it until I realized that they were not calling out to everyone who passed. The hallways were quite crowded, but I was the only one they were calling to as far as I could tell. When I looked around, I didn’t see any other white women walking near me. I think that I was definitely being targeted as I wandered around. When I got back to where Karuna was sitting, Zoran was already there. I sat down and waited for the rest of the group to return. I asked the adult male members of our group if the merchants called out to them as they walked around the Souk. They said no, however they had been constantly approached to buy a fake Rolex on the street earlier.
I showed Zoran and Karuna the scarf I bought. Karuna said I had done well and effortlessly draped the scarf around herself in a way that looked elegant. I am sitting here now with the scarf around me looking like I have a random piece of fabric wrapped around my neck and shoulders. I might have to get scarf wrapping lessons at some point.
After everyone had reconvened we headed outside and started the job of finding cabs to return home. The chaos of the streets was going to make this a much tougher job than getting a cab near the hotel. Zoran managed to grab a taxi that had just dropped off someone, and Karuna told us to jump in. I felt a bit guilty taking the first cab, but you couldn’t really stop to organize things where we were. I am sure everyone got home safely. If I had come to this part of the city myself, I am sure I would have been wandering around aimlessly past the shops. I am so glad that I took my first trip to the Gold Souk with Karuna, even if it did cost me $160.