A man bargaining for gifts
Filled to the brim, we walked into the heart of the Arabian area. Every scene was so fresh, from the spellbinding neon lights of the Arabic script shining brightly in the darkness to the women dressed in Muslim fashions in the tents, that the show windows of the cosmetic stores were lined with black volume mascara and eyeliner, and the Arab women seemed to be wearing darker eye makeup. And as I was peeking at the unknown world through the show window with excitement, the Dubai man spoke to me.
“I’ll buy a jewelry for you! What do you want?”
Although I was momentarily disturbed by the suddenness of the offer, I shook my head, a little excited by this pleasant suggestion. Then he walked into one of the jewelry stores that lined the Arabian street and started talking to the clerk in fluent Arabic.
While he was making small talk with the store clerk, I peeked into the showcase to see if there was anything of interest, and there were branded jewelry, watches, bags, etc. of familiar designs. Because of my job, I often see high-brand-name products in real stores, and I’d also worked in a pawn shop, so I knew right away that the products on the shelves were obviously faked.
“Yurika, how about this one? Is this a favorite?” If I saw something I liked, a mysterious conversation immediately ensued in Arabic, while I was bewildered by the vigorous introduction of jewelry and watches, one after another. There was not a smile on their faces as they conversed, and I even felt a little bit of fear at the tense atmosphere in what should have been a fun shopping trip. I have no idea of Arabic, but he seemed to be haggling with the clerk for a price.
“It’s a gift for a woman, but don’t bargain in front of her on top of the product being a fake.” I thought inwardly, but he seemed to have already activated the bargaining motivation switch, and he was more serious than I’ve ever seen him before. I couldn’t help but ask him, “Can you quickly buy the real thing at the regular store?” But I didn’t know at the time that, in addition to the fact that this was an underhanded business that dealt in these fakes, “bargaining” was a normal part of the culture, especially in the Middle East, and I still didn’t know why the wealthy man was so obsessed with shopping in this area.
The secrets of the interior of the Arabian area
In the midst of a battle-weary, grass-weary state, I came across a store where the negotiations went a little smoother. Arabic is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I still thought, “Maybe we can make it here. I felt a glimmer of hope in the atmosphere. Then the waiter brought out some keys and led me and my Dubai friend to the back of the store. My Thai friend was with me at the time, and she asked me “Are you Thai? If you are Thai, you can’t get in from here.” She was strongly rejected. Apparently, there is a deeper dark secret room in this dark Arab town store that local Thais cannot enter.
Eventually, my Thai friend was made to wait outside the store, and my Dubai friend and I walked to the back of the store and opened the thick, heavy, multi-locked back door to find a dark, very narrow room with a few light bulbs that somehow allowed us to see into the store, where we could see the elaborate products that were not in the brightly lit store. The room was tightly packed. As I was sweating in a cold sweat at the prospect of being taken into custody and locked up at any moment, no matter how many times I was with my Dubai man, two men who appeared to be Middle Eastern clerks came in from the back. One was dwarfism, and the other had no left arm. The situation and development were so shocking that my mind was in a bit of a panic, but all the tension I had been holding in my head dissipated when they smiled and greeted me, contrary to my expectations.
“How about this? I recommend these as well.” As I expected, all the items presented in front of me without pause were cleverly made fake brands, but they seemed to be carefully selected only for the high end of the counterfeits, which were much better made than the ones displayed in the brightly lit store out front, where anyone could enter. With my reluctance as an excuse, he and the shopkeepers from Dubai let me try on one golden bracelet after another. Sure enough, the bracelet was the perfect size for my arm, and my Dubai man and the shopkeepers were innocently pleased to see it.
Still, I had a strong resistance to the idea of “fake jewelry,” and I said, “Sure, the size isn’t bad, but I don’t need it.” As I was about to hand the item back to the clerk, the Dubai man grabbed the bracelet I was about to hand back to him again and said, “It doesn’t matter if you need it or not, just take it anyway, even if you don’t want to use it.” I didn’t understand what he meant, but he did as he said and put the bracelet on his arm again, and the Dubai man paid the shopkeepers comfortably and left with a smile.
And when I got a little grumpy at being presented with a bracelet that I didn’t particularly want as a half-hearted gift, the Dubai man said to me,
These People in the Middle East who work here do this kind of work for a reason, and I often come here to spend money and support their life as a Middle Eastern person. Thank you to have the bracelet, they will be able to live for a little while longer.”
As soon as I heard those words, I felt my immaturity, and at the same time, I realized how blessed I was to have grown up in a country and an environment where I had been able to live a rich life. Of course, even in Japan there is a gap between the rich and the poor, but if you look at it from a global perspective, the gap is quite small, and we are certainly in a very blessed environment. Setting aside the legitimacy of the means of help, I was reminded of the warm, strong sense of camaraderie and emotional connection of the people of the Middle East as I watched him reach out to his fellow countrymen, even if they were strangers across borders, and I was reminded of my own narrow-mindedness.
Even though “evil” is generally considered taboo in our society, they can appear completely different from each other if you change the angle and position of your view. The simple and easy to understand bipolar structure of “righteousness” and “evil” in the world is not simple at all, it is much more complicated than we can imagine when we actually look into each world. The laws and rules that exist in order for people to live better in society are not always absolutely correct, and there are only a few things in the world that can be neatly divided into black and white, and most of them are made up of layers of gray, and they work well.
When we returned from our earlier shopping trip in a dark room with no lights, we had a strange feeling of coming back to the real world from the dimly lit, brightly lit streets of the Arabian area, as if we had just come back to the real world at once. I met up with my Thai friend who was waiting for me outside the store, and the three of us started walking happily through this sleepless Arab neighborhood again, needless to say, my senses were very different now than when I first set foot in the area. And since I couldn’t legally bring my precious bracelet to Japan, I eventually left it with a local friend and returned to Japan. Although the bracelet is no longer on my wrist, the memories of the people I met at that time are still fresh and I will never forget them.