Saturday, January 01, 2005

In Praise of Choity's

I just want to say a few words of praise for our local supermarket, because I get a bit soft in the head around this time of year.

We live in a bit of a non-place called Jebel Ali. Jebel Ali is about 30 kilometers west of Dubai City. It was developed about 25 years ago as a Port and Free Zone. Along with that development, a village was built to provide accommodation for the engineers working on the Port development. It's a cute little place with a primary school, a medical centre and a social club. It also has a bunch of little shops - a travel agency (housed in a Portakabin, and sporting a blue tarpaulin roof after the recent rain), a pharmacy and a little supermarket.

The Village was getting along just fine for many years, when the Dubai Ports Authority (the managers of the village at that time) decided that they had to build a ton of low-cost housing for people working in the Free Zone, and in the newly-announced Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City. And so Jebel Ali Gardens was born. This is where we have lived for the last three years, and it really is the most astonishing development. It covers a very large area of land, and comprises 126 apartment blocks. They are three storeys high (actually G + 2 in the local construction parlance), with maybe thirty apartments in each block, and a total population upwards of 30,000.

The main point about the Gardens is probably the landscaping. A development like this could have been built as an urban wasteland, but instead it is a fantastically-landscaped park. There are mini-playgrounds for the kiddiewinkles, a full-size cricket oval, a football pitch, volleyball and tennis courts and three swimming pools. It is gorgeous and very safe - you can walk for miles without having to cross a road. And the other main point is that the apartment rents are very low.

But, as in all new developments anywhere on the planet, things like shops and schools and social facilities get left until the end, so we have to use the local supermarket in the Village. This is run by T. Choithram and Sons (Choity's for short), who are one of the big two chains in town that cater to a predominantly Western market. The other big chain is Spinneys. Now, I don't fully understand the market positioning of the big UK supermarket chains any more, but ten years ago you had Sainsbury's who were very much upmarket, and you had Tesco, who had been a bit grotty but had started trying to be more upmarket than Sainsbury's. So, Spinneys is like Sainsbury's used to be, and Choithram's is more like an old-style Tesco.

It doesn't really matter - Choity's is just down the road, the staff are mostly pretty good, friendly and obliging. They will deliver stuff to your house if you're too lazy to go out and get it. And over this festive season it has seemed like I couldn't buy anything there without getting a gift. When I bought the turkey they threw in a small chicken. Buying some last-minute stuff on Christmas Eve, they gave me a rich fruit-cake. I bought something yesterday, and the manager rushed off somewhere and came back with a plum pudding. Brilliant!

So, we have a brand-spanking new and shiny shopping mall opening on site in a few months time, featuring a GĂ©ant Hypermarket. People are saying it will kill Choity's, but I don't think so. Their revenues may drop slightly, but not from us. We might go to a hypermarket to do a big monthly shop, but I hate hypermarkets because they are so crowded and you have to walk miles to get anything. But at least we'll be able to get stuff that Choity's don't do (like seafood). And I'm really excited at having a 21-screen cinema literally within walking distance, that's just going to be so cool (and an IMAX cinema also!). The Gardens Mall itself is gigantic - it's more than a kilometre long, so if you can't park in the right kind of place then it's gonna be hard work.

Anyhoo, rambling a bit.