There ought to be a museum dedicated to Abu Dhabi of the 1990s. It would be a great, off-beat addition to the burgeoning cultural district of Saadiyat island.
Here's why. Firstly, the 1990s are when Abu Dhabi first started to take shape as a city with varied activities. We saw our first English-speaking cinemas, our first department stores, our first toy stores ... we got a window into the world outside of the tiny city via cable TV and dial-up Internet.
Secondly, these "firsts" were nothing short of relics. Back then, we didn't have 10+ malls to fulfil our hearts' desires. We had only one ... department store. There were no VOX cinemas, first class seating, no iMAX. We had only one movie theater with two or three Hollywood flicks every month. But we welcomed these new experiences as though they were generous gifts, and we cherished them.
But the defining features of that era have all but disappeared. The iconic volcano mountain has been demolished, the cool sun-set sheesha spots on Kasser el Amwaj are nowhere in sight, and whatever happened to the down-to-earth budget beaches we used to go to with our families, like the old Khalidiya palace?
To help preserve the endangered hallmarks of a generation, we've compiled a list of 8 things that marked your Abu Dhabi childhood in the 1990s.
1. Eldorado Cinema
Before Eldorado on Electra street became a Bollywood film cinema, it was Abu Dhabi's first English-speaking movie theater available to the public. If you are a child of 1990s Abu Dhabi, then the first film you watched on the big screen was most likely The Lion King. You probably braced yourself for the scene when Mufassah fell to his death--the added dramatic effect of the large images and surround sound overwhelmed your sweet heart.
Later as an adolescent, your group of school friends gathered here like a pack of wolves. You hovered around your first crush as you loitered the sidewalks. Finally, you were shooed away by the building's employees. And...repeat.
In the 1990s, we didn't have Lays, Walkers, over-priced Kettle chips and rows upon rows in Lulu Center that look like an international exhibition of potato crisps. No, you had "red sticks", "blue sticks", "red square" and "blue square" and a locally produced baked potato chips brand with the sketch of a yellow girl with crazy hair on the cover and the brand was simply named "Chips."
3. Hamdan Center
Hamdan center is the ultimate precursor of Emirati mall culture. The fluorescent light bulbs made us squint as we perused the electronics stores and kitschy clothing shops. It was no Abu Dhabi Mall and Marina Mall where we would come to spend nearly every non-working moment--bringing our daily social get-togethers at home to an abrupt and unfortunate stop--but it was our one-stop shop for non-grocery essentials.
Hamdan Center still exists, but it occupies a slightly less important place in Abu Dhabi living.
4. United Colors of Benetton/Mothercare
When United Colors of Benetton and Mother Care first came to Abu Dhabi, your mama got a new lease on life...cause it meant she didn't have to keep sewing all your clothes! It also meant you were dressed like at least one other kid in any given room on any given day.
5. The Old Indian Souk
The Indian Souk is probably the single most defining feature of the Old Abu Dhabi landscape, and its removal is a watershed moment between old and new. This is where your parents hunted for the best spices, and found great bargains. It was an authentic experience where a huge migrant community found expression and recreated a little India.
6. Archie Comics
As with every aspect of the 1990s Abu Dhabi shopping experience, bookstores left a lot to be desired. The retail market was small, but strict censors made bookstores even smaller. But then there were Archie comics, and they were great. Many of us spent our pocket money on the newest issues. You had to ask your parents for a "loan" if you wanted a Double Digest.
7. Toys R Us
We didn't need amusement parks, we had Toys R Us. And when your parents were kind enough to take you on a 20 minute car ride -- a significant distance in 1990s tiny Abu Dhabi -- then you roamed the rows of toys for hours and hours. If you were lucky, you bought something, but mostly you were happy to be just be surrounded by so much wonder. It was our toys equivalent of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
8. Family & Friends gatherings
In the end, it's not the commercial stuff that marked our childhoods, but the togetherness that a lack of malls, cinemas, restaurants etc forced us to have. Our parents gatherings were incessant, and they played games that they had us join in on because the atmosphere was filled with cheer. There's no way to embody this most epic relic of the 1990s, but we cherish the memories.