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The Happiest Place on Abu Dhabi Island

January 3rd, 2013 · 1 Comment · Abu Dhabi, UAE


This is Leah’s observation, but I believe she nailed it.

The happiest place in Abu Dhabi?

The bowling alley!

The Khalifa International Bowling Center, (above) to use its full name, is not the only venue for bowling on Abu Dhabi Island, but it is by far the biggest and most popular.

We dropped over tonight to roll a couple of games. It’s the fourth or fifth time we have been there, and it has always turned out nicely.

What makes the bowling alley particularly noteworthy is the eclectic mix of ages and nationalities, at the lanes.

This is a country that largely self-segregates. Indians with Indians, Pakistanis with Pakistanis, Filipinos with Filipinos, Emiratis with Emiratis, Westerners with Westerners. Often, the groups are subdivided by geography or language. Brits with other Brits, Yanks with Yanks, Canadians with Canadians. Pakistanis from Waziristan are over here, Pakistanis from Karachi over there. Indians from Kerala state will mingle … Indians from Delhi might well have their own space.

(It has been suggested that the UAE is not a “melting pot”, which is often the description associated with the United States. The UAE is more a “tossed salad” — lots of entities in the same bowl, but still clearly identifiable.)

The bowling alley is perhaps unique in Abu Dhabi in that everyone is in the same room at the same time. Still self-segregated, yes (there were three of us in our party, all Yanks), but immediately to our right was a group of Filipinos, and to our left was a group of Emirati 13-year-olds. It is the sort of proximity on a large scale not often seen here.

Over those 40 lanes, you could find non-Emirati Arabs, including women, Westerners of various descriptions, southeast Asians of several types (Malays, Indonesians) and lots of Emiratis. It is the UAE version of the United Nations general assembly.

What hammers home the near-mixing is that bowling calls for casual dress. No Englishmen in suits, no Emiratis in kandouras. To bowl, you need to be able to swing your arms and you need to be able to take long strides, and formal wear generally does not allow that.

And everyone is wearing the same ridiculous shoes.

Beyond the symbols, Leah decided “everyone there is having fun.” She is right.

It’s bowling. What could go wrong? No one cares if you bowl 65 or 165. No one notices. It is inexpensive; about $3 per person per game. It is social exercise with no pressure and marginal impact.

The bowling center includes other low-stress, often mindless venues for recreation. Tables for snooker or pool. Air hockey. Ping-pong.

Want a snack? The place has a snack shop. Want an actual meal? Bizarrely, perhaps the best Chinese food in the capital can be found upstairs in a restaurant named “Noodle Bowl” which has a balcony, yes, which overlooks the 40 lanes.

The resto tonight was packed with people, including two groups of at least 12, so we waited and were rewarded with one of the choice balcony tables. So, we ate spring rolls to the tune of bowling pins crashing, and with lights flashing from scoreboards or the dozen TVs hung from the rafters.

No one has a bad time at the Khalifa International Bowling Center. (Even the guys handing out shoes seem to think it’s a fine way to make a few dirhams.)

And everyone consumes the experience pretty much in the same way.

Happiest place on Earth? Disney may have appropriated those words for its theme parks, but the happiest place in Abu Dhabi? The lanes at the bowling alley.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Lucky Strike // Feb 8, 2013 at 1:21 AM

    Lovely comments about the bowling centre, very accurate!
    The snack bar you mentioned above isn’t just that! We offer freshly made Prime angus burgers, freshly made grilled or fried chicken burgers. All of our bread is made especially for us daily, even on Fridays! Summer Breeze is our sister company in the bowling centre offeringfrozen yoghurt and ice cream parlor offering low fat and low sugar delights and milk shakes/smoothies. We love our food and are proud to serve you.

    Thank you.

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