Thursday, January 13, 2011

The DIFC, a mini-city in Dubai

The Gate, the DIFC's iconic signature building
I had an appointment last week at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), which I never visited before.

The DIFC is located off Sheikh Zayed Road, next to Emirates Towers. I wasn’t about to drive there at noontime, let alone find a parking space. So I flagged a taxi. Being always early for my appointments, I was dropped off at the main entrance a good 45 minutes ahead of time.
As soon as I went through the revolving doors, it was like “Wow!” What a place, what a mini-city within Dubai!

Under The Gate: A view of Emirates Towers and the World Trade Center
The DIFC free zone is recognized worldwide by The Gate, its iconic signature building. It houses the DIFC Authority, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and leading international financial establishments. Hugging The Gate, the DIFC District takes in some 40 modern towers, comprising offices, serviced apartments, hotels, shops, restaurants, galleries, gyms, two metro stations…

The grandeur of the world-class financial district, which spans over 45 million square feet and was designed by U.S. architects Gensler, among them Eric Kuhne, takes your breath away. Luckily, I had taken the trouble to wear a pair of boots instead of my usual flip-flops. Just walking around DIFC made me feel a few inches taller as I tried to capture the sights and sounds and mingle with the “pinstriped suits.”

My first stop, at the entrance of the main DIFC building, was a photo exhibition. Although I couldn’t find any literature on the event, it is the Mansoor Bin Mohammad Photography Award – Thakerat al Aaks or Memories of Reflections. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the frames on show. A security guard stayed with me, though I promised I only wanted to get a feel of the exhibit from a distance and a close-up of the announcement.

The exhibit aims to start “engraving our life and events through Emirati lenses.” The award is to prepare a national photography archive. And indeed, the black and white photographs from years gone by, and a whole section by woman photographers, are fascinating and worth a visit.
The piano at the food court
I then reached the main food court, which doesn’t look like anything near what you have in malls. There are no food odors, comfortable sofas are spread all around and a piano sits in the middle. I was caught in the buzz of the goings and comings of people of so many different nationalities and dress.

What first got me taking pictures and thinking about writing this post is when I came across The Shoe Shine booth. I have always been attracted by this concept that was so widespread in Lebanon. I used to dream of having a shoeshine stall in the London Underground.
Richard at The Shoe Shine booth
Funnily enough, shoes are the first thing I look at. You can tell a lot by a person’s shoes. And my mum, Vicky, never used to let us leave the house without polishing and shining ours. I don’t know what she’d think of my flip-flops nowadays!

I also remembered the old man who has been shining shoes off Hamra since forever and who refused to let me take pictures of him for my “Beirut: Walking in Hamra” post (November 12, 2010).

But it was no problem at DIFC. Richard, the smiling young man at the stand, was only too pleased to oblige. They do a classic, spa or prestige shoeshine for Dhs. 20 ($5.44), Dhs. 30 ($8.16) and Dhs. 45 ($12.25). You can replace your shoelaces for Dhs. 20 too.

The DIFC free zone focuses on several sectors of financial activity. Among them: Banking and Brokerage (Investment Banking, Corporate Banking & Private Banking); Capital Markets (Equity, Debt Instruments, Derivatives and Commodity Trading); Wealth Management (Asset Management, Fund Registration and Family Office); Reinsurance and Captives; Islamic Finance & Ancillary Services. But I was more interested in all the shops around.

Cupcakes at DIFC
There are courier companies, restaurants, coffeeshops, hairdressers, a gym, shirt shops, shoe shops, newsagents, and of course the favored cupcakes.

DIFC, like most places in Dubai, is spotless clean. The temperature inside is just right, unlike other office buildings where you freeze because they don’t adjust the air conditioning.

I also wondered outside the main building to admire The Gate, which is even more impressive up close. The gardens and seating areas all around it are well kept and many people were out enjoying their lunch break.

But it was time to run for my appointment. I don’t know if I will be back at DIFC, but I enjoyed my two hours there. (Join me here)