Walk the mall, skip the heat

I was warned. The heat. The heat in Kuwait. The heat in Kuwait is hot. Hot. Hot. Hot.

The week we arrived was not only hot, but humid. Dry desert air? Ha. Try 115 degree (45 c for my non-American readers) humid heat. Sticky, slice it with a knife, name it like a pet, heat which smacks your entire body the instant you have the audacity to step outside, with steaming claws scratching at you until you find relief again inside.

So yeah. We’ve totally wanted to spend all of our time outdoors, getting our sweat on as we explore the sights of our new country. Wouldn’t you?

Turns out, no one else in Kuwait likes the heat. The daily temps have dropped slightly, closer to 105 degrees, with the humidity coming and going, but it still is not pleasant out there, folks. Like nearly everyone else living in this Arab capital ranked most vulnerable to heat, we seek shelter in malls. Quieter in the morning and early afternoon, they become packed by evening, with families, trailed by their foreign nannies in their uniforms which look like scrubs; packs of teens in t-shirts and jeans; men in the full-length white dishdasha robes; and women laden with multiple shopping bags.

Close your eyes for a moment. Picture your mall. Depending on where you live, it’s probably air conditioned, has several levels, maybe some skylights, a crowded food court off the main hallway, and some sort of design aesthetic most likely consisting of glass and tile with a water feature somewhere.

Now, take that mall, multiply it by at least 10, design each section distinctly—one like a souk, one like Rodeo Drive, one like a children’s amusement park, etc.—add in several rotundas that nearly rival that of the British Museum Library, throw in some Dale Chihuly glass sculptures, dozens of restaurants with what I’m calling (ma)al fresco dining since they are indoors but feel outdoors, and you’re getting close to the opulent indoor extravaganza that is designated as a “mall” in Kuwait.

I am not a mall person. I didn’t spend endless hours as a teen-ager traipsing my local mall; we lived in a fairly rural area so getting to the mall wasn’t exactly convenient. When Liam was little, I did my share of mall walking just to get out of the house, and, in Japan, we did enjoy exploring Japanese malls, especially the food courts. Typically, though, spending a day at the mall is not high on my agenda.

But here it is a little different story. The mall-of-malls in Kuwait City is The Avenues, which is one of the largest in the world. (At some point I will do a post just on this single mall.) It has more than 1,100 stores. That is not a typo. Eleven-hundred. There are 1,100 stores spread out over 12 districts, each with its own theme and style. We can pretend we are in an authentic souk, with winding lanes, traditional restaurants and coffee shops, and shops filled with rugs, robes, and tea services. Elsewhere, a high-end street displays Gucci bags and designer dresses, fancy enough I’m not comfortable crossing over their thresholds. Another lane features shop facades and palm trees that capture the feeling of being downtown in a city. Kids can even go ice skating at a small rink in one of the kids’ zone attractions.

The 360 Mall, only the third biggest mall in Kuwait, is massive in its own right. It has a hotel, a full-size IKEA, a moving walkway to stand on as you transfer from one section to the next, a food court featuring what was, at least at one time, the largest vertical garden in the world, and seven distinct zones to shop in. There’s even a giant Chihuly sculpture suspended in one of the atriums.

We haven’t even made it yet to the Marina Mall, which is near the coast and part of a large entertainment district. Yesterday, we visited Al Kout Mall with some new friends to drive go karts in the indoor tracks at Q8 Karting, located inside the mall. (I observed only.) In Assima Mall, Liam has bounced to his heart’s content at the Sky Zone, also conveniently located inside the mall. We discovered an indoor mini-amusement park in another smaller mall, City Centre, with a tiny elevated train and other small-scale rides.

Coffee shops abound – there are multiple outlets of Costa Coffee, Caribou Coffee and Starbucks. Kiosks with well-groomed men in suits hawk perfume and fragrance—Wil has learned to avoid eye contact to try to ward off getting sprayed. Even fancier are the actual perfume stores, decked out to look like lounges in high-end hotels, with ornate furniture, Persian-style rugs and chandeliers. British brands are everywhere—Boots, Next, Marks and Spencer, Debenham’s—and the majority of stores are selling western-style clothing.  

We’ve been promised that the heat will abate and our weekend outings can more comfortably branch beyond the indoor variety. Until then, though, we have no lack of malls to walk, whether we want to shop or not.