The Empty Souk & Solitude: Culture in Dubai

By Abi King | Asia

May 04

Alone in Dubai

Culture in Dubai

Whatever else Dubai is known for, it isn’t for its quiet spots and it isn’t for its minimalism. On my first night in town I found a sequinned girl hanging from the chandelier in the hotel lobby. She was there to serve champagne.

Tomorrow, I’m heading onto the purpose-built palm-shaped island to see the real Atlantis and earlier today I took a peek at the largest snowdome in the world that also happens to live in the desert.

Yet I found something else today that made me stop and stare. It crept up on me, a feeling slightly north of unease and around the corner from unfamiliarity.

A feeling of being alone.

I was walking through the souks that run behind Dubai’s narrow creek. This remnant from the past sees crescent-shaped boats – or wooden dhows – lumber across the water with the ceremony of a music-lover letting his fingertips load a prized record onto a gramophone.

Dhows in Batakia District, Dubai

Dhows in Batakia District, Dubai

The souks themselves stock fabrics in more colours and fibres than I have words to describe them. Sapphire and scarlet, silk and gauze, print-patterns and batiks, even fish-scale sequinned fabrics of the sort my champagne girl could use. A trip through here casts you as the central dancer in a choreographed scarf-twirling parade. Merchant after merchant unfurls his colours into the air, the soft flowing fabric forming an archway as each one tries to block you, tries to make that sale.

Then, nothing.

One more turn and I was completely alone. No-one trying to catch my eye. No-one even minding their own business. Just no-one.

It felt empty, incomplete somehow. Not just because the previous half hour had literally surrounded me with human contact – but also, I think, because the last few weeks have been so busy. I’ve spoken at two different conferences in the last ten days and the intensity of human interaction that those experiences bring is, well, intense.

It’s a long way from sitting on my own at a desk, typing and tapping away, promising to write just another hundred words before finally getting dressed (not that I do that, of course. It’s a story I heard from “a friend” of mine.)

I love both ways of working, but sometimes my brain reels with the speed of the switch.

Still, I’m sure it’ll be business as usual in no time – both for me and for Dubai. I have a week at the desk followed by the Grenadines, Morocco and Spain to look forward to. And Dubai? Well, it has its sequinned chandelier girls. And a couple of other interesting things…

Culture in Dubai


Which do you prefer? Travelling alone or with a group? Or does a bit of both do you good?

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