I caught a bus to this seriously weird shopping/exhibition centre on the edge of Bahrain called Dragon City. It’s a single storey ginormous shed type building, like a DIY superstore back home, or IKEA.
Incidentally, I keep seeing IKEA signs around the Middle East. I even went into one in Muskat, Oman, to get a waterproof bag. I shouldn’t have; I really shouldn’t have. I got sucked down a consumer rabbit hole and ended up in what felt like the seventh circle of hell; one of the cold hells. I got my bag and eventually found an exit portal and transmatted to an ice cream store to soothe my jangled nerve endings. It just jangled my tooth nerve endings instead; an improvement, I think.
At a rough guess, there must be five or six hundred little shops here. They are all identical and located in little pods of 30 or so in various aisles. They are all Chinese and indeed there is a very Chinese theme to the place. The shops seem to be selling the whole range of tat we are used to from China but they also seem to be showcasing Chinese goods, as well. I haven’t seen anybody buy anything yet but its early; 10:30am on a Sunday morning, which is a Monday in the Muslim world.
One of the aisles was all lighting with the most amazingly glittery and dazzling chandeliers. It was like walking down No 1 runway in a major airport, it was so bright.
When I got tired of walking about, I sat down in a little food court and ordered a McDonald’s knockoff of an egg and cheese muffin and a cup of Karak.
Karak is a masala tea or chai with cardamom as the dominant but subtle taste. It is made with black tea, spices and condensed milk with a little sugar. I’m completely addicted to it and it’s perfect for cooling down on a hot day. There are little Karak stalls and shops all over the Middle East and they come in small cups about the size of, or even smaller than, an espresso cup. They usually cost about 100 fils (0.1 of a Dinar or €0.25) The smallest coin here is 100 fils so it is always useful to have a few loose in your pocket.
The bus journey over here was interesting. I got a local city bus, a number 41, just outside my hotel to the central bus station in downtown Manama. It took about 30 mins. Then I caught a No 12 to Dragon City. This journey took about 70 mins and went to the end of one of the smaller islands through a good representation of the different segments and areas of Bahraini society. Most of the people I saw were South Asian with few Bahrainis evident. I think this is typical of many Middle Eastern petrostates where some times, as in UAE, only about 10% of the population are indigenous.
On the way back, because the stop was the terminus, I got to sit up front near the driver. I could see straight out through clear glass and not the darkened glass in the rest of the bus. The driver was Indian, I think, and very experienced. He had interesting world weary eyes and he had a polite and helpful though impatient manner. I don’t think he would suffer fools gladly but mightn’t let a fool know this.
The traffic appeared chaotic as if rules of the road were mild suggestions and not law. At one point, at schools out time when parents were picking up their kids, there was gridlock. Drivers responded by beeping their horns. I noticed that when our driver beeped his horn, several cars would edge slightly forward. The road was a very narrow one with single line of traffic in both directions. People drove up the wrong carriageway and turned the road effectively into a one way system. We couldn’t turn left. Much beeping of horns and gesticulating but no obvious aggression and certainly none of the abusive behaviour we might see in Dublin or London. Finally, an older man with an authoritative air got out and started directing traffic and soon cleared the logjam. But not before the main perpetrator of all the hassle, a woman who parked her huge SUV almost in the middle of the road to attend a beauty saloon. All the beeping alerted the staff in the shop who alerted the woman. She came out gesticulating and giving the impression that the fuss was all our fault. When she moved her car, this allowed the older man to pour his oil on the troubled waters of the road and soon it was no more.
After 90 minutes, I arrived back at the bus station for karak.
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