Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Celebrate diversity

Lively African street dancers dressed in colourful outfits perform alongside a group of young German musicians.

Elsewhere, entertainers from Jordan to Japan, Morocco to New Zealand, showcase traditional arts, dances and music.

An interesting mix of “Tuktuks”, rickshaws, tricycles, joy bus trains and modified golf carts ferry people from the parking lots to the main gate and back.

Imagine mixing all of this diversity together, inside a 17.4-million-square-foot arena.

Welcome to Global Village 2005, a microcosm of how the world’s civilisations can co-exist, rather than clash.

To the thousands of tourists and residents who visit daily, this cultural “masala” is both fascinating and familiar, and a big part of Dubai Shopping Festival’s celebratory 10th year.

Fascinating place

This is where participating countries can showcase their heritage, products, tourist attractions, culture, people, cuisine, dances and lifestyle.

“I’ve seen five previous festivals, but each year offers a totally new experience for me. People accept each other for what they are,” said Parvana Mahtavi, a mother visiting from Iran.

“It’s a fascinating place. So much thought and work have gone into realising this project … it’s not easy to put all of it together, but Dubai has done it,” said Marie Anne Minhinnick, a native Maori from New Zealand.

“It’s really more of a festival now than just shopping,” said Ravi Prasad, a gold retailer from India, who has been working in Dubai for over a dozen years.

“The Global Village experience makes you realise that it’s because people are different that we have so much to share,” said Monica Bruns, a German tourist from Dresden, amid the cacophony of the carnival atmosphere.

Not everything has fallen exactly into place, however.

Some stalls in a few national pavilions are still empty (or under construction). Some of the restrooms serving visitors need quick fixes.

These teething problems are bound to happen, especially because the Dh60 million Village has been moved to an all-new venue, organisers said.

“I like the friendly atmosphere here, even if people sometimes barely understand each other when they talk,” said Feng Jie, an Abu Dhabi-based Chinese diplomat, as she carefully checked goods at Daiso, a store which has an outlet in the Japan pavilion.

All in one place

“There’s so much to see, but so little time. My children are enjoying every bit of it … they get to see so much of the world in one place,” said Abdullah S., a government employee from Riyadh on a week-long holiday in Dubai.

“This fabulous event unites all colours of the world. If you go back 10 years, no one knew about Dubai or the UAE in New Zealand. But now, with direct flights between our two countries, the tourist traffic is just starting to boom,” said Lee Baker, a film-maker from Christchurch.

The Village’s new location has helped reduce the huge traffic jams many attendees remember from past festivals.

Even if it has been moved some 40 km away from the city, however, the Village remains hugely popular.

Weekend visitors waited up to 30 minutes in the queue before they could reach the parking lots, with space for 15,000 vehicles.

“It took me an hour and 16 minutes to get out of the parking lot on to the main Emirates Road,” said Michel, a European. “It was total pandemonium, as eight or nine cars were trying to squeeze into a two or three-lane exit. This could be dangerous if someone needs quick medical treatment and an ambulance can’t pass through. I hope the organisers will do something about it.”

“When thousands of people come together in one place at the same time, there are bound to be problems. With a little patience, everyone can enjoy it,” said Sultan Abdullah, a UAE national from Abu Dhabi, who visited the Village with his three sons and two daughters.

Nothing encapsulates Global Village’s diversity more succinctly than a comment from Sister Sodonie Canda, a Jordanian nun who belongs to Rosary Sisters, a religious order that runs a school in Sharjah.

She said: “I came here with other sisters to satisfy my curiosity. The rich intermingling of cultures offers a very unique experience. It makes people realise mutual respect is what the world sorely needs today.”

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