Dubai Shopping Nightmare 2008

By now, you all must be familiar with the Dubai Shopping Festival. In its 12th year running (this year January 24-February 24), for the world it is a shopping wet-dream; the height of splurge — justified because it’s “the best bargain on the planet”; a gold-lover’s paradise; unlimited opportunities to win multiple cars, money and kilos of gold. But, for people who live in Dubai, it is hell.

I lived in Dubai from 1998-2006, and I hated the festival. Everything that stands on the road is lit up: lamp-posts, trees, buildings, bridges, bushes, gas stations, restaurants, shops — all have lights twirled around them; stand still for more than 5 minutes and odds are that you will be wrapped in lights too. It’s so illuminated, you need sunglasses at night.

Dubai probably has the worst traffic in the world: it would take me 45 minutes to drive to work on a normal morning; my office was only 7km from my house. It worsens during the festival as people from neighboring cities and countries drive in. Going anywhere is self-inflicted pain. To add to the chaos, the metro is under construction and half of Dubai’s roads are dug up, already causing havoc on the roads. I don’t even want to think about the what the festival traffic mess will be like this year.
The population of Dubai is about 1.25 million; in 2005, 3.3 million people visited Dubai during the festival month. And where do all these people go? To the malls to shop. DUH!

Shopping during the festival is punishment that begins the minute you head in direction of a mall: the traffic, the lines to park (most malls have at least 10-levels of parking but it’s impossible to find a spot quickly), and once you get in, don’t be surprised if you are part of a stampede waiting to happen. As for the shops, the prices are hiked pre-event, so come festival and the offers seem like a super-bargain. Not true. Also, shops often use the festival to get rid of old stock.

There are fun fairs on some of the main streets which means Disneyland type music blaring and a gazillion people walking around. The Global Village takes the fair concept to a different level as it promises a flavor of every country in the world. Although excellently marketed, it is a total anti-climax once you get there. Very little is authentic; most of the stuff is commercial and expensive. It is a rip-off and very crowded, so in general it magnifies the annoyance value of fun fairs.

And lastly: every night, for the whole month, at 8pm there is a 20 minute, non-stop, eardrum bursting firework display. It’s just about tolerable the first week, but after that you really want to hunt down and kill the person who invented firecrackers.

I suffered a serious and extended bout of migraine when one year it was canceled and the following year they decided to make up for it by having it for two months rather than one.

In conclusion: keep in mind that only a city like Dubai can pull something off like this with such audaciously ludicrous opulence (this year you can win 2 Lexus’s and up to US$205,000 EVERYDAY). Like the city, it’s worth visiting for amusement value.