Entertainment, in Saudi Arabia, can be tough to come by. Your free time options are a) stay home, b) eat, and c) go shopping. Staying home is great, and we have a lot of fun with friends here on the compound. But no matter where you live, you don’t want to spend your entire life in your neighborhood, right? Eating is also good, but there are obvious (and often ignored) limits there. Which leaves shopping. Not ordinarily my bag. Before now, I never shopped for recreation. I’m not saying I can’t enjoy it, but given a chunk of free time it would never even cross my mind to go shopping. And thrift-shopping? Forget it. Too hard.
My, how things change. The date I keep circled on my compound bus calendar every month is for the trip to the second-hand souk. The blog from my first trip, which explains more thoroughly what it’s all about, is here. (Short version: it’s basically a sprawling, filthy, poorly lit, overcrowded, third-world tent-city Goodwill store. Got the picture? Now bedazzle it–rhinestones, feathers, tassels, glitter, gilt… There you go. Perfect.) I’ve been back a few times since the first, and I’m itching to share my favorite finds.
Though I do spend a lot of time in the clothing souk, there’s oh-so-much more. The souk covers acres of ground and in addition to clothing you can find furniture, rugs, appliances, household goods, architectural salvage, and, well, miscellany.
Wait–no. That’s the actual trash. There’s plenty of it, and it can be hard to distinguish from the goods.
Yup, wringer washers. For sale. No returns or exchanges, though, so you’re rolling the dice on how well any electronic appliance works. And you’ll have to call your grandma for the instructions–no original packaging, here.
What I like best about the souk, though, is the cultural education.
Arabs drink a lot of coffee. And this is the kind of furniture grouping on which they gather and drink it:
These rectangular furniture groups line up along the roadside, one after another, in every color and pattern and combination of both you can imagine. And some you can’t. Then there are the unattached groups, which give you more freedom of room arrangement:
A fairly standard grouping is two full-length three-seater sofas, a loveseat, and a chair. You’ll see it described as a “9-seat sofa,” which puzzled me on expat forums until I started looking and counting. For custom collections, just start adding extra pieces. Having trouble picturing it in use? Try these snaps I took of my TV advertising an Arab family sitcom:
Are you starting to catch the vision? I like the cross-cultural effect my friend has achieved here on the compound, where she bought a 9-seat arrangement for her patio for about $80, and had it delivered for another $30 (note: we live 45-60 minutes away):
Yes, the Ladies of Leisure Afternoon Teas have already begun. I think she’s going shopping for a chandelier this weekend. (Sorry about that photo quality–my phone struggled with the bright light and dark upholstery.)
Ah, but what to wear that would be worthy of the furniture? Back to the souk:
Which, come to think of it, is not a bad idea in Saudi Arabia. I wish I could’ve known the girl who had this made. I think she has an attitude I would like. “Yeah,” the dress says, “I’ll party with the rest of you, but don’t even think about trying to mess.” Princess? Hardly. You go, girl. And I’ll have my eye out for the next thing of yours that turns up at the Princess (not) Souk.
15 October 2015: Since I published this post the Second-Hand Souk has MOVED. I plan to publish a new post soon (with pictures! You might also like my other posts here and here) but until then the new directions that were given to me are as follows: Take the Eastern Ring Road toward IKEA. At Exit 18 stay to the right as the highway splits. Turn off at Exit 21. You will turn left under the overpass. After about 4 km you will see TAJ Coffee Keyask. Turn right. It’s about 1 to 1.5km and you will see the big white spire on the left side of the road. The spire looks like a corkscrew. (It’s quite close to the old location.)