Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bargain hunting in the Gold City

I'm the weirdo visiting the secondhand shop instead of the designer stores or custom tailor shops, I get more excited about the crafting supplies at Daiso, the funky Japanese dollar store (or, since it Is Dubai, the 7Dhs or $2 store), than about the latest Micheal Kors handbag. This is never more true than during Halloween season! I take it as a personal challenge to see what I can craft or recycle to make things hauntingly delicious without breaking the bank.
daiso variety
For my costume this year (well, last year, 2015, I mean), I wanted something with a regional flavor. I've long been charmed by the uniforms of the Emirates Airline flight attendants and they are super iconic and recognizable around here. My apartment tower and the building next to me actually house a ton of Emirates employees, my neighbor is a pilot with them. So I decided I would be an Emirates flight attendant but that I'd zombie-it-up to keep it Halloween-y. The hat was the most important part.And one of the the most challenging to create. I made it from a cardboard lid to a cheese round, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, red felt and a swatch of gauzy white fabric. The red felt I got at Daiso for 7 dhs (about $2) and the gauzy fabric from a Satwa fabric store, I can't remember for sure, but I think it was 5-10 dhs (less than $3).

Before I get into the rest of my bargain hunting, let me tell you about Daiso! Apparently there are a few Daiso shops in the US in CA and WA, but they're mostly in Japan, South Korea and the Middle East. Nearly everything in the store sells for 7 Dhs and the "everything" that you can buy there is dizzying; disposable underwear, tiny erasers shaped like sushi, cat toys and traditional craft supplies like felt and ribbons and then things I re-purposed into craft items like cheap plastic gloves for food service workers and masking tape. Daiso is great!
disposable gloves and masking tape

Next I needed to find a beige suit or at least a blazer. I'd read about the Dubai Center for Special Needs charity shop in the Karama neighborhood.The webpage listed their usual weekday hours and then included a line that read " Please note that on the first Friday of every month we also have a Sale at the shop from 9am to 12:30pm. " Coincidentally it was coming up on the first Friday of the month and I thought what better time to try to find a parking spot in Karama than the usually sleepy Friday morning (remember our Friday mornings are kind of like Sunday mornings in predominantly Christian countries.) Turns out I was right on about parking but I hadn't expected the crowd I met inside the shop. There was a line wrapped around the entire first floor and there wasn't really room for a line between overstuffed racks of cloths and kids toys and household items.The people in line had trash bags stuffed to the top with items for purchase. I struggled to find a cast off tan blazer that wasn't South East Asian sized (aka petite) finally had some success with one that would work well enough, I
in line at the charity shop-out of my league
was going to tear it and smear fake blood all over it after all. The marked price was 15 Dhs (under $5) but after spending easily half an hour in line behind trash bag hauling shoppers, I learned that the first Friday sale was everything in the store for half price  so I got the blazer for 7.5 Dhs. Here I thought that the charity shop always enjoyed this frenzied buying and that they must be bringing in some nice funds. Turns out, as I learned form the talk around me in line, that there are pros who go from secondhand sale, to flea market, to bag sales, buying and selling, wheeling and dealing. It was an education in a whole life in the city that doesn't show on the surface. I might make my way back to the store on a non-sale day to be able to actually check out the goods. They had some amazing Indian saris dirt cheap that could be cut up to make fantastic pillows or something. As for the first Friday scene, I was out of my bargain hunting league with that crowd!

the chubby cucumber-o-lantern

Next year I'm excited to check out a lead I got on visiting the wholesale Fruit and Vegetable market for cheap local pumpkins. Due to a lack of affordable options in the grocery stores, I've spent the last 2 years carving all manner of fruit and veg. This year my colleague Melanie picked up something at a Satwa corner market that looked a bit like a gourd on the surface but once we started cutting, I swear that thing was a mutant, chubby cucumber based on its smell and the look of the seeds and inner flesh. Once again, the "pumpkins" posed on the balcony- though after the photo shoot, it was into the fridge with them until party time because if they sit out, even in the AC they tend to droop, rot and then turn to liquid!

In general I find that stuff in Dubai is priced on par with or more expensive than in the US but I've heard it's quite the bargain compared with prices in both Hong Kong and mainland China. It's all a matter of perspective. And then there's the quality and prestige issues at play as well. It's one thing to buy a secondhand, ill fitting blazer for a costume and another entirely to try thrift store shopping in earnest in Dubai. It's fun to dabble and to learn about the option though.