Friday, December 7, 2012

The Mall

Published December 4, 2012 - Muscat Daily

Anyone who has been to Salalah in the past year or so will have noticed the humongous fortress being built on our main highway (or what we call a main highway, but what is rather a narrow old road with several dolled up roundabouts that contribute to the worst traffic jams during rush hour). Ladies and gentlemen, that towering fortress is soon to become Dhofar’s first shopping mall. Do I hear cheers? Or were those moans?
The arrival of a state-of-the-art shopping mall in Salalah may be the making or breaking of this town. I tend to think the latter may be more appropriate. Before you pounce on me, rest assured that although crowds terrify me, I have nothing against shopping malls. Shopping malls mean more opportunities to buy things I don’t need. Shopping malls mean an occasional visit to the cinema. Shopping malls mean the possibility of a decent cup of coffee every once in a while. Shopping malls mean people-watching and a cool escape during the summer. You see, I have nothing against malls…as long as they steer clear of my hometown!
While shopping centres seem to be growing like mushrooms in Muscat, we have done a pretty good job down south of keeping the commercial world of malls and franchises at bay for the past couple of decades. The pace of life in Dhofar is a little slow, but that’s okay. It’s how we like it. Many visitors who come to Salalah complain that there is ‘nothing to do’ and that we need a dose of ‘modern civilisation’. When asked what they mean by modern civilisation, it always comes down to shopping malls. These types of conversations always make me laugh. Since when are shopping malls considered the pillars of civilisation?
If you think I’m being a pessimist, let me tell you a story. Nearly 15 years ago my family and I visited a small town in the middle of Kentucky, US. The town consisted of a bunch of farms, a church, a main street that boasted tens of boarded up little shops and restaurants that had gone out of business, and naturally… a big shopping centre.
As honoured foreign guests, the shopping mall was the first ‘attraction’ we were taken to by the eager locals. It had become the town centre where locals spent much of their time and money. That one building had destroyed the spirit of the town and robbed it of its local economy. I’m not saying the same exact scenario will take place in Salalah, but I know local businesses and people will be affected.
The South of Oman is very special. Before the world of crude materialism comes storming into Salalah, I invite you to come and visit. Browse through traditional stores in Al Haffa or Al Salam Street, eat a delicious meal at a hole-in-the-wall Pakistani restaurant or a little Thai eatery tucked between farms in Dahariz.
Sip hot chai on the beach at sunset with your feet in the sand and watch circles of old men play cards while younger kids play soccer. Drive through the mountains and take a peek at the little farms while their owners are out herding the animals. Drive around aimlessly. Go fishing. Take a dip in the ocean at sunrise. Talk to locals. Walk through coconut and banana plantations while sipping chilled coconut water. Savour the town that so many of us cherish and never want to leave. Salalah as we know it is about to change.


  1. Couldn't agree more! I think Salalah will be un-recognisable in the near future - and that makes me very sad indeed. Who needs shops and Western commercialism everywhere they go? It's all so boring and samey!

  2. Its the essence of modernity to have a shopping mall in the town you are in, where the shops are clones of the ones in the town you just came from ;}
    and how much better if they themselves are clones from a culture that you never were, yet might just become :{
    money from the far north, and plenty of vitamin W will ensure the project changes the goose's eggs of your own town to those of the chicken of the town you never imagined you would live in >|

  3. Yes, Salalah is indeed a special place and am most thankful to be given the opportunity to live here now.

    Supposed 'development' is misunderstood the whole world over but as a foreigner please count me out on lusting after malls, ever faster reckless car driving, plastic bags,casual pollution, the destruction of heritage buildings and so on. What is this rush to ultimate destruction? I can't help but to wonder. . .

    I fear the day when all is lost and surprise surprise the much sought after tourist Rial falls on its knees...leaving behind a cultural wasteland.

    The most curious aspect of all of this is that it does not fall into the usual overseas occupier colonisation patterns nor into my first impressions of what Oman aspires to.

    The death knell of many a small town in my otherwise stunning birth country of Aotearoa was multi-national corporatisation. The latter only cared for profit and had minimum engagement with local or indigenous people.

    While wishing to branch out into the world Oman must take heed not to be overcome by extremely short-term capital investments alone.

  4. No one wants the stupid mall.


    A Dhofar

  5. Interesting perspective. I didn't think of the news in that way.

  6. An extra 100 shops will not destroy the soul of Salalah which is a city of 200 thousand people.

  7. Hi,
    I stumbled onto this blog while googling Dhofar after reading about eastern aromatics in Conde Nast Traveler. I live an hour outside ofAustin, Texas. Our town is struggling to retain it's identity due to increased corporate "investment" also. We purchased a large ranch and planned to spend our lives here, but after five years this town is starting to resemble a large city. It's awful. Concrete everywhere. Stores full of items we don't need, and if we did need them they were only an hour away. Too many fast-food restaurants to count. The small businesses with personal service are dying out. I just wanted to tell you it's going on everywhere in the U.S. (I know you visited Kentucky) and it's heart-breaking. We are selling our ranch in the next few months. I like your blog, Susan.

  8. I never knew there is a place called Salalah. Until i need to go for exit from Dubai..Only before leaving i was told by my sister that we have a family friend living in Oman and she wants me to stay with her until i got my visa back in Dubai.
    I was surprised the very first time i arrived Salalah i ask myself..what is this place.....where are the people here..why they are hiding? very quite no busy street..the stores are tall buildings..very different from where i came from. I arrived in the afternoon and i never knew that 1-5pm mostly there is no office at this time and only selected shops are open even restaurants where close. I feel so disappointed that time and i said to myself i want to go back soon. After staying in a few weeks i got a job offer and i take the challenge..while at my work i meet some of my "kababayan" Fil. Nationalities where they stay here in salalah for more than 10 years. I begin to enjoy my work and later on for almost two months I am satisfied of what i see..the hidden beauty of Dhofar is soo wonderful..Darbat, merbat, khor rori, hasik, itin..crying mountain, the sea of clouds...only few i have mentioned..the beauty of Dhofar lies on its people and the wonders of nature sorrounded by abundant sea.
    I enjoyed our road trips even for long hours because there is no traffic and the road is good..During khareef season i was surprised that a lot of tourist coming and the streets are full of cars. i saw people putting thier tents where they could stay at the vacant lot. I often go to Itin moutain with my friends having shisha and a cup of tea with a great view at night overlooking the City of Salalah.
    The place of Dhofar is blessed for its abundant of marine life, peaceful, the life is relax not to busy..low cost of living and the locals here are nice and kind. I learned to know the culture, the way of life of muslim people and the industry of Salalah.
    My only difficulties is that if i need to buy something i hardly cant find it in shopping malls. Now i am glad there is a mall oppening soon and it has many shops inside, with cinemas, entertainment, health club and restaurants. I dont need to spend money to pay for the shipment with my orders anymore from outside the country..It only takes a few months from now on the Mall will be open soon and its just walking distance from where im staying.
    After a few months staying here...When the mall is open.. it is s good sign of Salalah development of society and econmy is growing.