Friday, August 27, 2010

Things That Will Be Missed: the Saudi Mall

I have to admit that when I step into the Kingdom, I immediately become focused on money and materalistic things. That is basically how KSA rubs off on you - it's a capitalistic land of fancy things. Of course I have had the opportunity to appreciate the finer things in life here, but not too fine. No way am I going to Harvey Nichols and spending 3,000 Saudi Riyals on a dress!

The dress was beautiful, though.

The text on the building (towards the left) says "Nights". Cut off: the word for "Ramadan" (i.e. it said "Ramadan Nights")
The picture above describes something in Saudi that I will have fond memories of - food and luxurious malls. Even as a kid living in Makkah, some of the best times were spent at malls! The tall, elongated pyramid is the Faisiliyah tower which contains, on its bottom floors, a fantastic mall. There are no malls in the world like those in Saudi! You cannot see the food in the picture, but I was sitting at a dinner table at an outdoor hotel restaurant when I took this photo. It was for a combination iftaar party-farewell party for a colleague of my mother.

I couldn't take pictures of the hotel or the restaurant because it was a social event and people in Saudi are NOT happy about having their photo taken. I was going to take a picture anyway, but one of the guests at the table advised me not to. That is the thing about rational people - they are irritating because they make sense and their reasoning stops you from doing silly things you enjoy! I appreciate her wisdom, of course, but damn that place was beautiful! And the food...

The iftaar party was wonderful for its food. I ate lamb, and more lamb, and rice. That's what I do when I get to Riyadh - I eat! And I eat A LOT. I eat red meat, drink lots of milk, and basically destroy any chance of a weight loss diet. When I go to the US, I tend to eat more on the vegetarian side, with a hint of chicken or fish here and there. However, I eat badly in the US because I eat a lot of microwaveable garbage or fast food. Here in Saudi, my food is baked, grilled, and fried to perfection. I always feel better here regardless of the health concerns!

The look in my eyes is not a fault of the camera. I channel the devil and devour meat like Satan devours SOULS.
This is a photo of me eating at As-Sorayah restaurant, a Turkish place. I don't have a picture of me eating lamb at the iftaar party, but I have one of me doing it elsewhere, of course! I basically looked the same - I even wore the same abayah! The meat was tender and wonderful in As-Sorayah as it was at the iftaar.

I always end up writing about food (and drink) in Saudi because I think about food a lot in general. I have so many stories about me and food. I believe that I think about food even more than I do about shopping...but I do indeed think about shopping a lot! You would too if you went to malls that looked like...

The interior roof of Granada Mall
As I said, there are no malls in the world like those in Riyadh. Even the rest of the Middle East has a different flavour in their malls. Where else can you go to a place with no changing rooms in the stores or area for single people to linger? However, while these are indeed the malls of muttawas and restrictions, these are also the malls of fabulous stores that sell items at equally fabulous prices when there are sales. It is also a display of the city culture of Saudi.

Interior of Granada Mall

These malls are also wonderful in their decor. It is unique in the sense that there is a Middle Eastern flair that I won't be able to see elsewhere. Some of the decor is simply Saudi, and I'll only experience that when I come back in who knows how long. Those palm trees in the above picture are such a great symbol of Saudi even if they are found in other countries. I always think of Saudi when I see date palms.

Traditional Heritage store in Faisiliyah Mall. I apologise for blurry-ness!
I will definitely miss seeing these heritage stores the most, for sure. There is at least one in every mall, and it is always exquisitely and thoughtfully decorated. Inside you will find, amongst portraits of present and previous Kings, many things you cannot bring on the airplane - including weaponry and armour. As you can also see, this store happens to sell many outfits that are reminiscent of, if not directly made by, bedouin and tribal peoples. The colours and handiwork are phenomenal. You have to hold it to understand. And they always have a smell...a smell of incense and smoke. I don't know how to describe it.

What I love most about that particular store is actually the door to the store itself. Here we see it in all of its glory because it is shut - it was prayer time at the mall, so all of the stores are closed for about half an hour. I remember that day really well and the Isha (evening) prayer because my Mom and I could NOT find the women's prayer room! Women are never forced to go and pray in malls (sometimes the muttawas will get all enraged if the men are not going to the prayer room on time) so many of them were walking up and down the mall or sitting on every bench. We were lost in that crowd of women. Eventually, we found it - the sign was minuscule and the door looked like it was leading to a restricted area.

If the door looked like this, I might have noticed it earlier!!

These specialty stores selling "Arabian" wares are very special to me. While I find the antiques fascinating, the most wonderful thing about the more Arab stores (as opposed to the stuff you can find in England or US like Dorothy Perkins, Debenham's, etc.) are the CLOTHES. Oh, wow, the clothes are fantastic!

Twaila store in Granada Mall, circa 2009 - where I bought my two abayahs.
I wish I had better pictures of the exquisite designs available here. The embroidery, beadwork, and materials are always top notch in these special boutiques for women's clothing. Outside malls, there are boutiques in Riyadh run by female designers that make even better, and more more expensive, clothes for weddings and other festivities. There are also boutiques specifically for men, claiming to have the top designers' thobes and ghutrahs (also known as keffiyehs). I'm talking about Yves Saint Laurent, here! If I had had the chance, I would have definitely gone to these places. My lack of mobility ended up stopping me from doing so. 

However, I will always be glad to have seen these stores within the malls I was able to visit. In Granada Mall, there is a whole "wing" of boutiques of stores with abayahs and galebias (a one piece, long dress). I have on several occassions stopped to look at the beautiful work and thought to myself, "Now that is a dress I'd wear to the Oscars." When/if I ever become a famous actress, I am going right to Riyadh, mark my words! I'd be the (unique) Belle of the Ball.

If this is the kind of crud I would be up against, it wouldn't be that hard!
I think that a lot more imagination and daring goes into the clothing here. It's all lace, net, sequins, silk, and gold thread - combined! And let's not forget the crazy colours. It's orange, blue, and green and amazing. Got a problem? Too bad, the women are too busy working it to deal with you right now.

Intricate, over the top MAGIC

Arab women (and men) are never afraid to stand out. I think that's what they do, when they are amongst themselves. Since women and men cannot mix, they show off to the others of their sex at weddings and parties. I think it's a beautiful kind of self-expression, something that only seems "crazy" and "wild" to someone who has been brought up in a stricter, more subdued environment for the entirety of their lives. They are so used to the little black dress or the colours of the season, dictated by God knows. In places of Western freedoms, individuality is not rampant when it comes to style.

In Mauritius, we like showing off our bright side even though the sexes do mix - we wear our colourful, fancy clothes in order to stand out at every wedding. I myself have worn pastel pink to one wedding and then blue and yellow to another! We are part of the "loud and proud" cultures, or at least I say so. We are expected to shine and make the most of the event.

People coming from the outside world are amazed by the display, either calling it "vibrant" or "gaudy." In the US, I have noticed that the only people who like these clothes being worn in their country are those who are either fascinated by different cultures and hence greatly "other" them; or they are envious of a people who are not afraid of showing off and standing out in a crowd. Maybe I am both of either of those myself, even though I spent most of my life in Mauritius. I wonder that sometimes.

I know now more than ever how much of an outsider I am to each country of the world. Instead of having a prejudice based on my place of birth, I have them based on everywhere I have lived and grown. I am all mixed up.

In the end, I realised that my screwed up mind will see things from the outside and I just have to deal with it. One way to look at the places I have lived is through their clothing and food, but also through their shopping centres. This is where tastes are defined (or refined) and where people group together, after all. It is a curse and a blessing to have malls and mall culture - it speaks much of our habits and ourselves.

Indeed, my life has always included malls and shops. I am a consumer like everyone else. But I like to think I buy into the places as well as the stores. I feel like I can do that especially well when I am about to leave. When you leave a place, that is when you realise what you will miss the most, after all.

Note: Several of these pictures are from 2009 and not of this year. I thought I'd be honest about that. What I show in the pictures has not changed too much since then. I had a plate of the same lamb and rice at As-Sorayah this year, too!


  1. Oh my God... As I was scrolling down, I saw the photo of you about to stab a plate and thought, "Wait, isn't that the Turkish place I used to go to, where they never carded us at the family section entrance?" Oh, Riyadh...

  2. Hahaha I always went with my family and I saw many different groups of people there - couples, business meetings, etc. That always made me happy, PLUS the food is SO GOOD.