Today, I visited what is possibly the biggest covered market in the world. It was a space larger than one hundred football pitches and contained more “stuff’ in one place than I have ever seen in my life! I had been wondering where local people shopped and suddenly I have been presented with the answer, Airport Bazaar.
Built on a desolate plain eight kilometres outside Baku it consists of two blocks of fifty or more arched concrete and steel arcades perhaps 100 meters long and twenty wide, linked by transverse passages. Every five meters a different shop front pours goods into the space between while shoppers pick through the selection, bartering for everything. It is still growing, with several additional halls being erected as I watched.
Strangely, the whole scene reminded me of Crufts – The World’s Greatest Dog Show laid out over the five mighty halls that comprise the National Exhibition Centre outside of Birmingham, UK. I got that impression not because there were any dogs but due to the fact that the hundreds of stallholders clearly obtained their stock from the same five or six manufacturers. There was unlimited choice but at the same time, no choice at all.
Unlike a traditional Khan, the stalls were not gathered together by trade – copper smiths, dyers, and jewellers but by more general type, household goods, clothing and building materials. Nothing was hand made and everything looked as if it had been imported from China. Gaudy dinner plates and cheap cut-glass teacups, plastic sieves and beach balls interspersed by shops selling juicers, microwaves and washing machines of every description. It went on and on, miles of it. Finally I walked out, having purchased nothing.
Moving across to the second market, I worked my way through cheap cotton materials and mass-produced shoes. I walking through a glass partition and found myself in an air-conditioned mall that seemed to contain nothing but expensive looking shops selling fur coats, fur hats, fur stoles, fur wraps. Everything looked the finest quality and the shops seemed to exude confidence in their products.
The wearing of real fur in the West has been considered such bad taste that I cannot remember when I saw any shop selling the stuff. I can’t remember seeing anyone actually wearing a genuine fur coat either. I have been to Moscow, Leningrad and Omsk in Siberia but those were summer trips. I’m not often shocked, but this scene took my breath away. Mind you, Sandra read in the local paper yesterday about a rich guy in Azerbaijan who saw a bear in a zoo, bought it, had it slaughtered and made into kebabs. This jolly little feast cost him 1 million Manat, about $800,000 US. Interestingly the article was straightforward reporting and did not dwell on any moral issue that might have arisen from his barbaric act.
I think Azerbaijan will present us with some interesting moral issues…