Riyadh Travelogue - episode 1
Last Thursday, I completed 3 weeks of my stay in Riyadh. A lots of things happened which kept me from updating this blog. Here is my long overdue take on the trip.
Debenhams, Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Ave (the store where Liz Hurley recently introduced her beachwear collection), etc have set up shop. Mall culture is evident and booming. Kingdom Towers which caters primarily to the affluent is a must see. It boasts a 56m long observatory SkyBridge at the top giving a breathtaking view of the city. I haven't been to the SkyBridge yet, but will definitely make a trip before I return.
abaya and gender segregation in public is common. Some of the malls have specific timings for women and families.
The weekend before last, my colleagues and I decided to visit Faisaliya Mall, which is walking distance from office. When we got there, we were surprised to see hoardes of cops and security personnel outside the mall, running about chattering on their radio. The scene was tense. We got into the mall and it was crowded; mostly women in their teens or something (its difficult to tell anyway!). Our first thought was that we got in at the wrong time, but then decided to stay as we spotted a few men around.
We headed to the top floor to check out a few gadget stores, the kind I'm interested in. We were greeted with no space to walk. People, mostly women folk were thronging at the center of the mall. We found out that a local celebrity named 'Hisham Abdul Rahman' was visiting the mall to sign some copies of his new album. Apparently, Hisham was the winner of a recent talent search called Star Academy in the Middle East (a la 'American Idol' in the US and copies of the same in India). There were security people (the men-in-black kinds) talkin into their suits and trying to control the crowd. Members from the 'The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice' (called 'mutawwa') were present too, doing their round of checks. Women were blatantly screaming, waiting to catch a glimpse of their celebrity son.
We stopped when it became impossible to go any further. I took out my camera and started to break sweat. I asked my partner in crime to check if the coast was clear. Meanwhile, a young arab standing right next to me noticed my camera and told me it was okay and showed me pictures that he took on his phone. I changed setting on the camera to night mode, switched of the flash and got ready. After confirmation from my colleague, I took a few snaps.
We headed back to the coffee shop soon after, to join those who hadn't come. On our way back, we noticed the cops ordering all the shops to pull down their shutters. We decided to leave and headed home, discussing what happened, all the way. It was one evening that we will remember for a long time.
One of the things I like about Saudi's, is their taste for cars. That, I'll save for my next post. So, stay tuned..