A Month in Dubai

By Peter King, January 4, 2010



Here are some thoughts from one person’s recent stay in Dubai working for one month in October this year – a month before the bad debt threat to the city’s future. He went as a consultant working in Dubai’s now stalled and litigious construction industry.

Here are some thoughts from one person’s recent stay in Dubai working for one month last October – a month before the bad debt threat to the city’s future.
He went as a consultant working in Dubai’s now stalled and litigious construction industry. He wondered; what could Dubai really be like after all the conflicting stories and bravura images? Would it be a strange glittering promise of the future, or a cage, a mausoleum for humanities small endeavours, philosophically a corruption of change? As suggested in media shows a sleek brimming plaza of opportunity, plush onyx and gold…..a live coral bathed in its own warm sea of optimism – an epilogue to now and the new definition of normal?

Norms had characterised his entire life, respect for the law, the life of others and the joy of constancy. As he kissed his wife and felt once more the soft warm shape of her, he realised how much he would miss her and often how necessary remoteness can be. So here, now, in the moment of farewell touch, a goodbye to the soft umbra of familiarity, he could not breathe because there is no rule or law for this kind of separation. He remembered how she looked on Saturday as she sat near him in their garden. The September sun was unusually warm and slanted shadows from the deepening west revealing her beauty in a kind of Clairol moment, a snapshot for the album. She had been ill the past few days and now enjoying the sun, he told her. You look beautiful. She said, ‘don’t say that’…..and turned away.

Now in the darkness of early morning, the Volvo chauffer driven car waiting, Heathrow waiting, he turned and left her, the only trace of his going a drying stream of air conditioning coolant on the tarmac.

The plane was delayed. In some parts of the Emirates Airlines business and first class departure lounge, announcements could not be clearly heard. He waited and looked out at the late arriving Boeing 777 – Gate Gourmet disgorging, numerous vehicles and a collective activity of making ready. The lounge has a long picture window overlooking the runway so you can see the taxiing planes and their take off. The coffee is good but the interior decor is now fading and a few years out of date. A man next to him is making phone calls, meetings here, in the U.S, talking to Mike. – the man testily explains the need for an agenda and says I’ m sorry it HAS to be transparent. Then he calls Sarah and has a long quiet tirade accusing her of all sorts of deceits. At first his sonorous tone and righteous indignation sound just and impressive, but after, when he starts to repeat himself and repeat the threats of punishment you realise that Sarah is on speaker phone and talking to her boyfriend or pretty much anything else until the bluster goes away. Silence can give you power and action is not words alone. Sarah understands this but my fellow lounge dweller does not.

This was a feature of my stay in Dubai, a sense of isolation and detachment, an observer wanting to get in. But silence on the point of it all with punishment as an undertow.

*First night*
He slept well but not for long, the balance between the air con being switched on, with consequential sore throat, and the stuffy heat of a breathless room not being found. Dawn had come swiftly, the white light leaving no refuge from the day.

Last night he went out with his colleagues soon after arrival, drinking in the English pub, taking a taxi far away toward Abu Dhabi on the six lane highway toward Jumeira Beach, speeding past the Burg Dubai twinkling in the yellow light like a crooked lance probing the belly of heaven. Just where the car stopped – after a high speed chase of a ride in a white Lexus (no tax to pay in Dubai so the cars are uniformly top specification) a single flowering fig tree, its dark green canopy and sinewy branches festooned with fragrant white petals. The tree, the most silent and beautiful thing in this high tide of crenulated concrete – with so many dark windows in the glass walls of the never ending towers.

They ate in a Cuban bar in Arabia, with fried plantains, spiced steak and mash. They drank Sol beer and margaritas, gazing at the graffiti decorated walls, no tags ever seen on the crisp white walls outside on the city streets, only neon advertising hoardings and artful illuminated green abstractions in Arabic, small and large businesses abound. They ate and talked of nothing as the Carlos Santana songs swayed into the fixed stare of Che. The welcome heat of the night warmed his chilly skin as they returned to the hotel.

The large and welcoming comfortable bed in his room had been turned down, the small balcony overlooking the creek across the main drag of two lane highway toward old Dubai. A bottle opener fixed to the wall in the bathroom screwed tight through the thick white tiles; the opener a strange object in the sleek room, cast in chrome, a gimcrack tool for a bar in Newport News, Virginia. Time Out magazine tells of 20 ways to make more money when in Dubai, tacit admission that making money is the only reason anyone would be here? Check out the advice in there – see You Tube ‘Dubai Metro at 818mph’ and the photos of Dubai’s first Caribbean restaurant, complete with picture of Bob Marley – another appropriation of a counterculture icon.

Breakfast and the day – too cold in the office, hundreds of people working on the liability of a failing construction project. He went out, again with colleagues at lunch time into the wonderfully warming and hot humidity – to a mall for an Indian food lunch. With bottled water 11 Dirham and at 6 Dirham to a pound, the fifty pounds a day Sterling allowance (300 Dirham),he reasoned would be plenty to live off. This allowance was made by his company to cover daily expenses like laundry, taxi’s and food. Most people in Dubai work here to send money home, to India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Later, he and two others went for a ride on the Metro, very slick and smooth, but in parts woeful in quality – in others very good. Metal roofs like armadillo shells shield the open tracks from the sun and the cold air doesn’t rise up the gleaming escalators and polished floors. All the stations are themed, a perm of wind, air, fire and water. Most stations are still closed which is good because it still takes 45 minutes to travel back into Dubai from the end of the line. Out there a car park with giant cladding and glass angled to be cleaned if it ever rains, covered in sandy grime, but the interior a cushion of colour to the eye, a cheerful grey on all walls floor and ceiling with green car park bays and red walkways. A glitter of tiny lights all green until a bay is filled with a car, the sensor turns the green light red, when you are driving and looking for a space you can look down an entire row and spot the empty bay – except the car park is eight stories high and there are five cars parked in it. The main 12 – six each way, lane highways run parallel to the raised railway track and a never diminishing array of vehicles race past in both directions. Some people travel back into the center with us chatting and staring at the track through the front driverless carriage. The remote does not work and someone controls it from a room from one of those towers somewhere, the screen has a windscreen wiper in case of rain.

Later we eat by the creek – in the lovely warmth of the evening and again chat about nothing, after, going for a walk next to the dark water, watching the parade of gaily lit tourist boats pass by. Pretty festoons of white lights follow the prow and curving shape of the vessels as tourist mingle on the carpets and cushions of the top deck smoke the hookah or take refuge from the heat and humidity in air conditioned restaurants just above the water line.

What is this place, diamonds and pearls, all that glisters is not gold?
The city indulged it’s self regarding swoon, a casino of change, a studded necklace of sparkling towers fringing the coast. A half moon, irrelevant, benign in its patience, poised in the heavens, trailing a solitary star faithful to its cousin who pulls the inky blackness of the tide. Out there in the desert somewhere, beyond the golden glow of the streetlamps and the roulette of gold crunching, is the open sky. Out there on the ancient sands it’s still possible to see the stars in all their myriad intensity. To see the arithmetic in the starry labyrinth and grope at where calculation in the minds of men began, as reflection in time and space. Witness the origins of those numbers, where soft numeracy grew to hard resolve, prediction and account in the Arabic numbers of the balance sheet. Numbers now employed so flippantly in crude union with deceit and the mayhem of motors on the street. Dubai a turbulence of towers and the measurement of all things to be superlative – the best and the first. Big is good the god of greed. The stars of this new universe are unseen but they manipulate all things in it for their own end, we are all flunkies to their demand.

He thought this and closed the curtain, unable to think more. One night – the same? He walked beside the creek toward the cargo unloaded on the key side, all stacked neat, an orderly disgorging of fridges, coca cola, Hitachi electrical goods, bales of cotton, car tyres, boxes and cardboard containers emblazoned with Mitsubishi and numerous crests of global concerns. Coolies stripped to their waist, sat listless and chatting in the hot breeze as he walked past, their turban rags discoloured with sweat. The jammer of foreign song, a clucking noise of irritation the hammer of the car horns the fiendish queues of traffic bumper to bumper engines idling sucking in the breeze and disgorging more heat. The ships, not large just big enough to dock here, with pointed prows like the cruel shape of a falcons’ beak, beautiful shapely lines devoted to a proud past. All wooden, the captains bridge at the stern a concoction of bright painted decoration, colourful and gay, balconies and windows – a place to work and ply his trade and live.

Ship after ship, with the key side curving away the creek narrowing at the mouth. Dubai formed round the deep incision of The Creek. A broad salt water knife like plunge into the body of the desert – until recently, only 40 years ago, a sloping sandy shore. The sea out there somewhere, beyond the noise of traffic and the busy lights. They turned to find somewhere to eat entering into the Golden Souk, following alleyways, twisting through high narrow streets, a canopy above for the sun during the heat of the day. All manner of shops, carpets, fabric, tin pots and gold, watches rings, plastic containers a general shipping merchant seated at his mahogany desk, in white robes and hat, all decoration stripped away a blank canvas of white walls in such contrast to the myriad signs and colourful crammed displays and calling vendors. Selling himself with such dignity. We looked for spices but found none and no smells of the east? Maybe during the day – but during the day all the tarmac roads would be plastic with movement under the blinding sun, and no one would be walking. Now! The call to prayer with suddenly a Mosque on every corner. The wailing deep sonorous pleadings – completely ignored by the chirruping crowds. Mostly men in T shirts and short sleeved shirts, chatting, looking, doing business. A few women some with faces clear, some only flashing eyes but covered complete, all dressed in that long robe of black from head to toe. So many Indians too and when women they are as Indians, light in dress their bodies visible and purposeful – the men standing authoritatively wobbling their heads from side to side in agreement. The entrance to a Mosque, hundreds of shoes left on the steps outside – so someone heard the call.
Dubai is noted for its gold but in particular the ornate carved patterns on bracelets, bangles and rings. You cannot get such fine work for such cheap prices anywhere else – it is all done right there in workshops attached to the Golden Souk, the labour and machines are cheap – but the gold is still world price, the days value for weight quoted in each shop. You wander through the seemingly endless labyrinth of the souk, dripping in the heat eyeing the displays draped in gold. Then enter for the hard pragmatics of the financial reckoning tempered by the cold relief of the cold conditioned air. All the outlets have credit card connections to the international world – tourists ponder the cost and put it on their flexible friend. They get what they want – but they pay for it, gold is not cheap.

Even the souk which looks old is new. The old town is new, everything here is new, a young child, passing by holding it’s fathers hand, is older than the place.
He has been told that in Dubai only 1 in five are born here. The ruling family owns all the land. He drinks mint tea and has humus with bread and salad. 4 Dirham’s for the tea, 70 pence.

He sits in the site office, double desks lined up in rows, the room about 20 meters by 15, with seating for 25. Four small windows paint like portraits the searching heat of the sun. On opposing walls are mounted the air conditioning units fed by thick white cabling – six in all, dishevelled storage, shelving and metal cupboards crammed beneath them. The A/C units are on – they are always on, necessary; the low-ceilinged room with its chequer board of lights also permanently on. The room a potential oven. A4 paper sheets are taped to the units ensuring a continual flutter of movement to accompany the low continual burr of noise.

All units are on – except where he sits.
He does not like the draughts of freezing air the way it whips into his throat like a clammy grave like breathless thing, sticking to the back of his throat like peppered cling film.

So, where he sits there is no wind, no movement except the stabbing of the keyboard or the slow turning of pages and pages in the files. Where he sits, apart from the others, the heat collects. A humid and persistent companion throughout the day. His chair is hot, his clothes are hot, a thin film of sweat sits permanent on his skin – in the afternoons his eyes are heavy with the burden of heat. Yet, still he sits in his island apart, grateful to be outside the fridge zone. There is where all the others – five of them. Dave, two Henrys and a Steve congregate, clustered like good colleagues. When He first arrived and sat down – choosing this place apart and at the other end of the room, they looked at him. He felt he should not do this, not hide from the cold but knew he had to, explaining that he did not like the taste of the coolant. They looked at him oddly. Even so, away from them he sat. He will go up to the window from his hotter space from time to time and stand with his back to a window, feeling the massage of heat transmitted through the glass, wanting to be outside in the guts of the day.

The kettle and the makings of tea sit between them – they meet here and make tea – he drinks English Breakfast with no milk and notices how clear the water is, no oily film at all – he enjoys drinking it.

Every building and every room in this city is its own tiny island of cool against the heat – the reality is that his colleagues are the beleaguered one’s. It is they who are isolated, washed by the artificial cold. He could not stay in there in that bubble. He looks forward to lunch and the walk outside under the fiery sun.

Out they went into the afternoon. Henry, Steve and he. Walked the baking route back to the hotel, they seeking out cover, he too, conscious of the sun avoided the sharp contours of the shade.

They ate at Yum Yum’s , his companions having noodles and he white boiled rice and Thai green curry, very good.

Tomorrow is a day off, one day to savour escape from the routine – already routine, already set. Everyone off to an Irish pub, he doesn’t know what to think…….Thursday is the new Friday.
Friday in Dubai a holy day and for him a day off from the six day straight working week. We are all here to make money so why take another day off? Work through Saturday and Sunday and Friday is a gift.

He woke, after sleeping badly in the air con – a con of comfort. The chill of it seems to go right through him to his spine top. Growling he swung out of bed, feet planted on floor toes crushing the carpet and went through the routine. Canadian air force exercise manual – determined movements followed a memory of a slim volume read and used years back, efficient exercises whilst standing on the spot; they helped. Then down to swim. Wrapped in a white Hotel robe from the sixth floor down to the first. The heat of the day warmed him as the cool waters of the pool embraced his
doubled form. Slowly the therapy of movement and the gentle wash soothed the tender muscles of the neck and back, he could back stroke and reach out to swim, unfurling his limbs to the pulse of the life giving sun. After, as he lay luxuriant on the sun lounger, he wondered how closely humans resemble reptiles, prone in the sun, inert, brains like a peanut, aware only of the heat and the insects.

Down to the Town City Mall shopping for his daughter’s birthday. A disaster – the metro is not open (only opens at two on a Friday) and when he got to the mall by taxi (everyone goes by taxi so they are cheap – well cheap if you are like him) nothing to buy. There will be a hole in the birthday presents, his daughters father not even present with a card – there are no cards, or they are useless. There are no gifts, or they are useless. Not a thing could he see to buy. Nothing is made here, it all comes from somewhere else so there is no meaning to a gift from here and everything is more expensive in these malls than it would be in London. How does that work he thinks? The rental for the space must be cheaper than London because the malls in Dubai are so empty. Only two 9 or ten people wandering compared to the crush of London Malls. And also the wages for all of the attentive workers must be cheaper than London. Everyone here so grateful for the money they can send home. Yet all the prices are equivalent or more than London. How does that work?

With colleagues went dune bashing in the afternoon, which is as it sounds, driving across the yellow waves of sand in a Toyota land cruiser, sliding on the top of a crest and falling, nose first, into the valleys of a motionless sea. Our driver had a sense of drama and took us where the others did not go, into the centre of the maelstrom – you would have hated it, the nonsense of it, as a metaphor to humanity and the end of the green and blue planet it is a worthy candidate. Dozens of these vehicles, nose to tail, careering across the wastes of the desert. It was fun and we had a good time, going to a barbeque where the drivers of all the cars lined up to serve us. I was surprised to see our driver lading out some chickpeas onto my plate. Good food, more Indian curry than Arabic maybe. Beer 30 Dirham a can (5 pounds) but all the water and soft drinks were thrown in with the price (180 Dirham – about £30 each). Later a belly dancer, dressed in orange and gold. Such an erotic dance of great playfulness and frivolity. He remembered when, with his wife in London in a very good Arabic restaurant, both of them watching a belly dancer. When, close to us in the middle of her dance, whilst twitching her breasts up and down in a most bewitching way, to redress the balance or diffuse the overtly suggestive act, she gave his wife a broad wink……to say, to tell her….. it is a game and we are only playing – maybe you would like to do this too, with him?

On this night in the Arabian desert it was just as sex charged but again with that character of – I am Woman as well as object. She invited onlookers from the audience to dance with her on her carpet, they first embarrassed and then as everything relaxed asking, wanting to take part, dance with her. Trying for the snake hips and the artful curves and suggestive lilting arch themselves, she of course supreme in her suggestive movement. Her finale a beautiful moment of femininity when she held a baby from the spectators pressed to her breast, displaying her womanhood and dignity with this gesture.

Saturday he worked all day and played tennis in the evening – so hot and the light not good, couldn’t see the ball until it was on him. But good fun, all the Hotels all have courts and gyms and swimming pools of course. Outside in the exhausted heat of the evening the people that keep this city working take a moment’s pause – no recreation space for them.

Today Sunday and work again. But today cooler, much cooler. In the site office not hot but okay. He had his induction to the site today. A Filipino woman called Nancy, aged about 25, told her three inductees of the importance of safety and how proud she is of the project safety record. Only three reported accidents in the last one million man hours of work. And she was pleased to say there were only 5 deaths during the whole of the project. Three due to falling form height, one due to a collapsing wall and one due to a worker trying to open a fuel drum with an oxyacetylene torch. Nancy told us there were only the shoes left to be found.

There was a Filipino man he talked to before the induction began. The man, Mr Kris, is a quantity surveyor who said he had been lucky to get a job, many people being out of work. He had been working in the Emirates for the last four years and before that in Saudi Arabia for 10 years. Always sending back money to his wife and two children in Manila. Schools are expensive and the cost of living is high – the average salary in the Philippines is low and not enough to live. So many work abroad to support their families. He said that Saudi was not a good place to be that you could not live how you wanted there. He said that Dubai is much better and now he can go back and visit his family, his children, just once a year. Before, whilst in Saudi it was every two years.
I am full of admiration of that man for being so strong for his family. How hard it must be for him, he is such a nice man. How hard for him to miss his children growing up, to miss his wife and his family. To make life better for them he works – like so many of them, mostly Indian, Pakistani and Filipino. I don’t know if I’ve seen a single native of Dubai since I got here, they don’t need to work and won’t or cannot do the work we foreigners, the itinerant workers, do.

The huge task for the rulers of Dubai is how to keep these workers here. When there is something better elsewhere they will go, and these people make the whole place work. Without the cheap labour and the 12 hour shifts for little money, all would be dark.

*The next Friday*
Went to Oman Friday to renew visa with three colleagues, by car through the desert, via Hatta. This meant encountering Omani officialdom, stamping receipt collecting, referencing passports, car insurance and generally standing about. On the UAE side was a cheerful citizen of the Emirates, dressed in formal robes, a young man with white teeth framed by a smiling bearded mouth. The Omani’s more pecuniary chits and forms all costing money. We paid to get in and out of Oman, on the way back the official, who had a strong resemblance to Bill Burroughs, his thick glasses inflating his eyes, checked every page of all our passports – in case of an Israeli, or another countries unsavoury stamp?

The desert on the UAE side was yellow dunes turning to a scrubby desolate grey flatness. At the border a shallow set of mountains, with large flags of the two countries painted in lurid gloss against the flanking walls of the pass. It looks like amateur work by the locals, a country tag, a competitive statement of allegiance. Why? Is this a disputed zone, a dormant conflict awaiting the first sleight – or a celebration of national attachment for a reason unknown?
In Hatta, on the UAE side, looking for mint tea I asked a man….where could we buy some mint tea?

He came from Morocco, which is the place for mint tea and said we would not get any here. Here there is nothing. He works for a French company, fixing & maintaining air conditioning units and had worked for Bovis, a British construction company, for seven years in the UAE. So out here, even out here, in the lonely place of Hatta, some housing sitting atop a wadi a dance of palm fronds in the hot desert breeze – out here, where satellites reach, the orbit of world finance and markets govern lives. We drove on in our cocoon of cool in the middle of the hot day, in our Japanese Toyota.

On the Omani side the terrain was a white brutal flat openness of rocks, moon like; except for the resilience of umbrella like trees, jauntily offering a desperate shade to the unconcerned and baking desert floor. Occasionally this remote distance was scarred by a wadi, the resolute ancient carving of water and wind. Visible were the sandy green tops of drooping palm leaves, demonstrating the resilience of life when offered just a humid chance of survival. Near the coast we turned right and drove for an hour along the wide two lane tarmac shinning road. On our right the desert, to our left the distant ocean and between a continuous parade of minarets, very quarter mile or so, like giant telegraph poles transmitting signals of faith. Gathered at their base, squat, flat walled and roofed, ice cream coloured houses of crude design and execution. Serrated palms fronds crowded the walled gardens, seemingly offering a carpet of green to the edge of land. Hard to see? A tapestry of dreams and the rich fruit of the spirit might be ripening in there, it just looks so devoid of charm and dull.

Like the diligent westerners we are, we stopped at the Sohar Beach hotel, swam in the warm Indian ocean and had lunch in the sunshine. A dry warm wind coming of the sea.

Then back to eat an Indian meal in the Sheraton International Hotel in Dubai, re entry visa’s duly stamped, spending fifty five pounds between us on 10 Kingfisher bottles of beer. In this way we are in a Muslim State. In many ways it is denied, the whole city of western appearance, and the population virtually all migrant workers – in Oman the difference was clear, but not here.

On Thursday night flocks of young women arrive at the Barasti Bar in taxi’s and luxury cabs and walk out as if on Brighton beach or Miami. Almost insolent in the way they expose their suntanned skin and saunter in their skimpy plumage through the encouraging crowds of young, and not so young men. Bouncers brood as these bodies of women pass by in animated conversation, infected with laughter and their radiant power, apparently oblivious to the milling phalanxes of the men, who create a kind of screening thicket, a hedge against the intolerance of the prudent streets and the risk of contact with the police. To be drunk or underdressed outside the protection of the hotels and bars is punishable in accordance with who you meet, a fine at minimum – you do not want to go to jail. Once in there it can take weeks to get out. I have seen older white women walking in the heat of the day a crop top on, the curve of their breasts visible and their legs exposed, in contrast to the Emirate women covered in black. The Malaysians and Indian women are discrete, yet dress in the more liberated western way.

The men have all the power in this place, yet it is the women who, for different reasons, stand out.

All the people you meet are so friendly, most of them are Indian or Philippine, but the locals are just as friendly, with a ready smile. It’s a friendly place – I suspect until you forget your place. All the friendly people have a job they need to keep. The power people are invisible.

I am in a grafted city on a sandy floor. We are but insects sucking at the succulent parts of this place. Witless like ants we labour and toil, some for less than more. I feel acutely that difference as I swim a privileged length or two in the heated pool. The minds of the houseboys, the valet parking boys and the house clerks possibly more agile and alert than mine; but they will remain forever remote from the comfort of this place. Their own reward the thanks and respect of their distant families, who will honour them when they return. It is a Never land.

Last night we took an Abra, a chugging local ferry with pointed prow and benching down both sides facing out – it takes about twenty five commuters a trip; a green canvas canopy providing protection from the daytime sun. But at night, as the boat thrusts toward the far bank of The Dubai Creek, your feet brimming the boat edge whilst cockroaches run the gunnels, the attractive blackness of the swelling water, the compelling movement of the deep and the promise of its cool….there is a danger it will pull you in. So……looking up, the bright lights and towers present and decorate the sky. A glass lift rises like a beetle pressed to outside of the dark glass wall of the Twin Towers hotel, the darkened cabin a container for watchful eyes. Advertisements and neon signs, Rolex, HSBC is the world’s local bank. A much more interesting side of the Creek an older part and with a better market. We ate in a old Arab Moorish type place with a courtyard. So quiet we were the only ones there. I had Kingfish which was like rubber, so maybe that was why it was so empty. Also no alcohol so had a lemon mint ice cold drink – very good.

He woke up. Later than normal, the sun invisible through the thick curtains. His pressed his watch and the illuminated face showed four minutes to eight. A few minutes later, after signing in for his towel, he plunged into the warm water of the pool, open to the sky and framed by rows of sun loungers. As he slipped to the bottom of the pool in a slow breaststroke, his eyes open protected by goggles bought in a nearby sports shop, closely surveying the imperfections of the light blue mosaic of tiles, he thought – its busy today. Two people out here, already reclined, prepared for the sun. Soon to make its majestic entrance into the open carapace, heat the tiles and chase the shadows to hide under the palm fronded roofs of the poolside bar. He thought of his wife and how she would like this, the ease of it and the languid play of the early water. Taking control he started the lengths, noticing how much easier it was to find a more efficient stroke and maintain a rhythm, nursing the air in his lungs to exhale and snatch for re-supply at every stroke. The balance between air and effort easier, his arms feeling stronger as they pulled through the water. He does ten lengths then stops and floats, thinking.

He feels it strange being in a place where all the people who serve him – that being most of the people He meets, are so unbelievably nice and friendly. He risked a slightly cynical comment, like, when do you finish work? to see if the person standing outside a restaurant for 9/10 hours straight in order to entice people in, seems a little bored or tired. Not a bit of it….straight back with some additional tasty morsel of information to entice him back in or to come again. They, the many staff in a place like this, one of the restaurants within the body of the hotel, are so good at their jobs! Either through total belief in it, complete stupidity (which I strongly suspect is not the case), fear of deportation – or worse if the mask is allowed to slip even the tiniest little bit. They appear to love their work with a passion most could only dream about giving to their most loved ones.

He doesn’t believe them?…….but when walking past a restaurant he went to two nights earlier and the young woman at the door, alone but attentive from the distance of a tennis court serve, cheerily calls out his name, Mr Peter, with a welcoming smile he thought might have been reserved for that one special moment her life, perhaps as she walked up the aisle toward her future husband……… He knew at that moment it’s a drug. Of happiness, fear, love or narcotic……yet all of them are so sweet and sincere……it’s like talking to a cameo of a person, great actors in character – what method to get them to be so….courteously, consistently, charmingly….nice?

The harnessing of innate goodness in the pursuit of profit.
Hello…….. Soma must be the drug of choice round here…this new brave world? He wants’ some, it’s so relaxing to be a fragment of royalty, to hold dominion over all the fawning souls. It’s a charge card devised by others to fulfil the simple service of need. Want is a distinction inapplicable in this place, for all wants are blended into a cocktail of syrupy need. The bull in the sweet shop as long as king counting house is full. After the end of that its bottom and the reason found why nursery rhymes have a kick. Stalin would have recognised the nature of this place as a rational construct of functioning humanity; ergo nurture ego.

He awaits the round of applause every time he manages to negotiate the array of lift buttons and successfully exit on the correct floor, unbidden it silently cascades.

He can swim too and eat, He is an infant regarded with fond eyes, adored? Time Out is here. He looks at it, the familiar format, listings and font. Reviews and places to go, art exhibitions, films markets letters and opinions. He notices there are no lonely hearts in Dubai and the gay community does not come here. An exhibition catches his eye, at Carbon 12 a series of pressed by Perspex oil paintings of perfect interiors -portraits of contemporary living distorted and smudged by the application of pressure. He thought appropriate for here, a project of perfection distorted by the prism of exclusion. Time Out not smudged by the interests of the majority here either; providing a veneer of respectable debate, an activity accessible only to the relatively few who can pay and choose to occupy those liberal islands of creativity in a land bonded by conformity.

Did he have access to this other more fluid world? The telephone number and address were there (in that obviously continent traversing odd way that Time Out has – only putting a number & address in the listings and not in the full page review that provokes the interest).

He did not want to use his phone – knowing that the hour long interview with Geneva had evaporated the 100 minute cheap calls and now each minute was a £1.20 charge. He approached the Hotel Concierge desk, two uniformed and smiling young Philippino addressed his approach……Hello Sir, what would you like Sir? He asked them to call the number of Carbon 12 to confirm the address and to ask when open?

One of the assistants dialled the Carbon 12 number whilst the other responded to his other question about where to eat in or around the Barasti Bar at Jumeira Beach? She quickly began to show him where his hotel was on the BIG BUS CITY TOUR map of Dubai. A cartoon drawing of all the districts and important places, mostly the Hotels and financial centre, the pinnacle of Burj Dubai, the camel racing track, World Trade Centre, the two palms with Atlantis, the Hard Rock café, numerous more 5 star hotels, the 7 star Burj Al Arab and the Dubai Creel with its Abra station, cruise liner terminal, Gold Souk and old historic quarter. This last place portrayed as a shopping paradise with trendy cafes and bars by the advertisement feature framing the cartoon. Deep sea fishing boat hire and images of the BIG BUS visiting all of the above enticed him. The bus is a London open top deck – but with a flat roof because of the sun. He knew where he was…..the problem was now he understood that moving on from here to find a place to go in Jumeira Beach was going to be tricky.

Sir, which hotel you want to go to, there us Royal Meridian or Oasis Beach?
The telephone calling assistant had now tried the number two times and it was the wrong number.

He tried to explain, to the other he only wanted to know if they knew of a place to go. He confused things by saying he knew of one place, the West Inn Hotel, He was looking for an alternative did they know of any other place to eat down there? Another map appeared showing Dubai from about 300 miles up in space. It was poured over looking for a listing for West Inn in the five star hotel column. The two & three star hotel listing was also carefully looked at. She looked up anxiously to say: “West In is not there, Sir”.
The telephone calling had now reached two more wrong numbers who had hung up. The number was tried again…..suddenly it was the right one. Hello, said the assistant (in English of course) we have a guest here at the hotel who wants to come and visit….yes………………yes…………….yes…………..on Monday?……….yes………… he can visit Monday?

Sir, she to me relieved and smiling, you can visit Monday. Writing down the address whilst talking on the phone she rewrote it all out again including his name and hotel room number, it is open to 12 midnight sir, but closed in the afternoon.

Thank you he said, wanting to be as reassuring as possible that they were doing a very good job. Every question not on the maps caused a fluttering of nervous energy that they might not be able to please. He felt he had to ask for another map, a street map of Dubai, a map that shows all the names of the roads so you can look up to see where things are, so as the please them……and depart a happy guest?

No Sir these two are the only maps, where do you want to go?

He realised this was the wrong question. You did not need a street map because there are luxury taxi’s and meter taxi’s and you don’t need to know how to get there because the person who takes you does. That person is all of them, all of the assistants, the door man, the valet boy, the senior doorman who talks to the taxi drivers, whistles up the luxury car, mediates on the fare, opens and shuts the door, tells the driver where to go, conclude in a safe delivery; his destination arranged by others.

But, If the question is open and a speculation, then there can be no answers because they look to him to command and can then provide the appropriate response. He now understood. The concierge desk is not a place of options and debate on possibility, as in a tourist information centre in many other parts of the world. Despite the sign saying tourist information it was really only equipped to comply. Time Out had offered a familiar and credible framework but at the concierge desk this is contingent upon and attainable only through their limited knowledge of what is on the map.
He was exasperated. The city lay before him, a blank abstract of districts, lines and names. His knowledge of the few places visited dislocated by the unknown penumbra. He thanked the two willing guides very much, they relieved to see a smile, and departed. He had been thwarted on a place to eat but the visit to the art gallery, whilst not knowing where it was and curious as to why he has an appointment, to visit on Monday, he did not enquire. The taxi and its acolytes would transport him there in good time. He felt as if something essential thing had been eroded, but could not put his finger on it? In the end he went to the Barasti Bar and the same Pizza restaurant as last week, an open terrace in the grounds of the West Inn Hotel, overlooking the flat dark sea.

He went to the exhibition – on Monday as arranged by the concierge. But not at eight. He wanted to play in the little tennis tourney arranged for that evening between 7 and 9 at the Sheraton. Cold duty free beer would be served from the little fridge carried in for the occasion from the site office. It sounded good, so he set out at six for the exhibition, thinking it’s an art gallery, they will be open.

He was interested in how to get there, and had no idea where Carbon 12 was – except it was in the industrial area somewhere? He trusted the system set up to serve and passed the concierge handwritten card with address and telephone number to the doorman and waited at the threshold of the hotel, before him the busy waterfront road and beyond the uncharted streets of a map less city, distant and glittering in the dark humidity of the night. He had 125 Dirham’s in his pocket, he had not wanted to waste time in getting to a cash machine, it would be enough.

The doorman showed the red topped taxi company driver the card – he did not know the area. The car boy whistled to a waiting limousine, waiting for this moment. The valet explained to the driver, the card changing hands, the wobbling of heads form side to side. The doorman approached and said the driver knew the area. They set out into the traffic.

A short time passed, they crossed the Al Maktoum bridge traversing the Dubai Creek and entered a complex road system of entwined carriageways, supporting the nervous tension of the rush hour. Many of these elevated roads were clogged with stationary cars, hooting and flashing their lights in vain, so he looked to locate the limousines digital fare meter, he did not want to sit in traffic. 25 dirham’s spent…okay! The Driver had already called the telephone number – a mobile number, written on the card, to get directions, maybe thirty five times; it is no reply Sir. And kept on trying.
As they progressed and the powerful car opened up on the Sheikh Zayed road he realised the industrial zone was a way off. The flashing aircraft warning lights of the Burj Dubai a marker of distance, they travelled on. 45 Dirham’s. He said they should stop at a cash machine. The driver, after another five minutes of high speed, turned off and stopped on the brightly lit petrol station forecourt. Cash machine in there sir, go through that door, he nosed the taxi in as close as possible bossing the adjacent cars to minimise the walk to the door. The cash machine did not pay out – it only took local cards said a very helpful person.

It does not matter sir, said his driver. Still pressing the redial on his phone over and over the audio message crackling the same answer phone message, instantly killed to try again. This number is no good Sir, it does not reply, did you try it Sir? He said the concierge had used it to book the appointment time at the gallery? It is no good Sir, why do they not answer?

They carried on, turning after another 10 Dirham’s off the 12 lanes of the Sheikh Zayed road into different streets, unlit, an industrial area, long straight roads, vast sheds, intermittent sprays of neon promoting company logos, an occasional passing car or person walking through the gloom. The driver said, is a long road Sir, street no 8, this is the road, do you have a landmark, is there a landmark? The road was long, it seemed to stretch away forever as he and his driver slowly progressed looked from side to side waiting for the neon to say carbon 12. There was no sign. The road went on and on, the shapes of the industrial units only displayed the trademarks of heavy industry and profiles of working machines. This seemed a very unlikely spot for an art gallery, where were we, was this the place at all? The road indeed was number 8 and yet nothing empty open yards and darkened low slung sheds stretching away, his driver continued the patrol. 95 Dirham. He told his driver he only had a 125 Dirham, the driver said…do not worry Sir, we will find it. The driver stopped time and time again. Going into a very rare and brightly lit shop, then to people walking past on the road side. Always leaving the engine running the car doors shut, maintaining the cool interior from the heat outside, cosseting his charge. The driver was gone for over five minutes, the engine idling, no chance of any threat from any of the passersby, out from the darkness? the passenger alone; 125 Dirham.

Again they went on, now 7.40pm, having searched for well over an hour. He found he was enjoying this practice. The activity of looking. The determination of the driver. The driver knew that the money was run out, when it was suggested they simply go toward the Burj Dubai – the only landmark visible in these dark warehouse mansions, the driver steadfastly ignored the comment – go to the Mall, a cash machine is there the passenger suggested. Sir, said the driver, we will find it. This, he now understood is how it works, this the way you get to the destination, the task adopted and the effort supplied, the request was made and the assurance given, no stopping or let up. No maps required for they are not required. The driver will see to it, an agent of the doorman on an errand issued by the car valet boy. Sir is a guest at the hotel. There is no question of not getting there, a commitment has been made, the driver is working for you. More than an exchange of time and distance to be paid for. Here is a contract of employment, the responsibilities of the two must be concluded. He to remain detached and patient, a passenger in charge, the driver engaged, dutiful, protecting, concerned. Again, the driver said, maybe for the thirtieth time, low, almost now to himself….Sir, we need a landmark! As again the driver got out to ask…..now the moment of realisation, for both.

The passenger said, He said. It is a gallery, an art gallery. Carbon 12, an art gallery, you know with pictures, paintings? The driver looked at him, and mouthed, an art gallery, Sir. The eyes confirmed the moving lips and now he had it. The driver now had his landmark. The passenger understood it has to be place, not an address or a number but a place.

The driver explained, as he returned a few minutes later, it has a name Sir, Carbon, it is not an industrial place Sir. We were looking for an industrial place. Now an art gallery….they know this, Sir, they can tell me this, they are down here, they are together. He, as Sir, realised that he had failed to give the landmark, trusting to the telephone number and the address. The driver had needed a landmark, at last he had been supplied with one. They found it quickly, all the galleries clustered in the same offshoot off road 8. A small sign stood outside the large industrial entrance gateway, a man appeared from the shadows and waved them in. The driver stopped to look at the sign and said, they have spelt it wrong Sir. It is not Carbon, it is spelt Carbin. The passenger looked and read Carbon, and said so, fulfilling his role of knowledge, a higher understanding of such things. The driver reassured by this but perplexed by the fact he did not see it before and at not having a landmark. The passenger sensed the drivers disappointment, feeling he had let his passenger down. They drew up ,outside the dark warehouse. They got out, the large doors to the building were shut, no noise except the air conditioner of the car heating the warm night air. The driver tried a side door, light lay on the ground like a carpet. The driver stepped back in a deferential movement and the passenger entered, being greeted with welcoming smiles as big as the warehouse, warm handshakes and happiness to see him. He had arrived at 7.50pm, 10 minutes early on the galleries opening night and first private view.

He spoke a few minutes to the young Iranian owner of the gallery, excited and effusive with his first visitor, offering him six different types of water, three carbonated from all over the world, Norway, New Zealand, France, Japan and of course local water from Dubai. It is so, unnecessary to just do champagne again, we thought it was much more fun to try a range of delicious waters. (of course they could NOT do champagne as it is illegal to serve outside the tourist complexes). As he sipped his water, and talked to the owner, his young beautiful assistants dressed in their trim arty way, astute yet available, he wondered how he could have told the Iranian that he would ask his driver to wait outside for him. His driver, when looked at had known the question from his eyes. Sir, he had said. I am with you now, I will wait until you are ready to leave here.

I will tell my driver to wait for me, he had said to the Iranian…it’s so easy to shift into this other world, he had surprised himself.

Secure about the lift back to the hotel, he now realised that the evening might become a little more testing than sipping water. The Iranian had said he was VERY interested in having a question answered, a question that the paintings apparently explored. Yes, said his host, you can discuss the meaning of the paintings and answer the question ‘what does memories of the future’ MEAN? We can discuss this and the artists work with the artist, I want you to meet him He is called Gil Heitor Cortesao., a brilliant Portuguese artist who paints perfect interiors on to Perspex and who creates the most wonderful spaces…..I will let you look at the paintings and then introduce you to him and you can discuss this question, it will be MOST exciting to hear what you have to say……. He thought, why? Why are all the art world people the same – the world over. He could now be in New York or Hamburg. However, his is a language he understands and his wife might know of the highly refined levels of bullshit that can flow. So, as he circulated round the gallery, poised, looking at the pictures, he was alert to the challenge and trying to find something to say. He realised that with Perspex, when turned round to be viewed (the signature technique of the artist) it’s the first thing you paint that you see, a question on technique, always a neutral starting point. Cortesao, was an unassuming man, He imagined like Dustin Hoffman might be? He discussed the feeling of emptiness of the artists work, like Edward Hopper he suggested and Gil Cortesao agreed saying Hopper is a favourite of his. The spaces have an absence of people and a question was asked about titles, like De Chirico whose tiles gave his spaces such power. Gil, said he had resisted this, and was satisfied with the neutral stance of a number sequence. They also discussed Brasilia, the paintings had a retro modernist style but full of colour. The images were redolent an anxiety, a decay of place. Gil commented that he thought that Dubai is similar to Brasilia, but Brasilia was a Modernist tour de force. Set piece elements displayed as in a vast 1000 hectare sculpture park cut from a deep jungle. Whereas Dubai is a Post Modern city, compressed and vertical, surrounded by a vastness, flat & empty blue and yellow. He chatted to the artist about all sorts of things whilst viewing the opening night crowd. A mix of Emirati in traditional dress and European people circulating talking, the Iranian amongst them, familiar, friendly – he knew them all and he encouraged them to buy. Although, he also knew me and I was a stranger. However, the encouragement soon arrived after I said how of the paintings I really liked, in particular (which I did). I was optimistic but crushed at the price; 9000 Euro’s. I said too much and he popped his card in my pocket saying think about it, I am in Dubai because I can be competitive, you will not get a better price anywhere in the world. I will do a deal.

The arty crowd of Dubai continued to greet each other and as he left the white box like gallery behind my driver escorted me back to the hotel, stopping at a cash point on the way. It was an adventure and He was pleased to go on the tennis court dressed in his smart suit to meet colleagues, sweating with their efforts over the tennis in the warm night, and entertain them with his story, as the beer went down in the sanctuary of the hotel.

The days are all the same. 7.00 Wake , swim, 7.30 breakfast, 8.00 office, 13.00 swim, sun lounger, 14.00 lunch (sandwich) in office, 18.00 leave office, 18.30 swim, 19.30, eat somewhere, 21.30, hotel room. Routine.

I am beginning to feel as if I might miss this place. It is so easy, everything is either a short walk away or you just get a taxi. The way is paved by the army of helpers, everyone is so helpful, I have forgotten how to queue. Not one shifty eye, each time a smile of welcome, the day could not be better for all. Today I bought my lunch sandwich and the lady who works there gave me a cheery hello Sir, what do you like? A tuna sandwich and I also bought an éclair – they looked so good. She said, they are very good Sir, they are very good, The person who makes them Sir, he has been making the same cakes here for the past eighteen years, so they are very good.

I was wondering about this – the service, the job security; and there it was. I also wondered if the hotel lift attendants, those who summon the lift if the person approaching it staying, or perhaps even going to a floor above the sixth floor. They push the lift button and motion in welcome to the honoured guest. Not to me because I am on the sixth floor. There is a theory amongst my colleagues here that the more important you are to the company the higher floor you are put on. The people who were out here when I arrived asked me which floor I was on and were impressed when I said sixth. You cannot go higher than sixth – but Steve Aldridge, one of the MD’s was put on the eighth floor: Rank!

The bellhops also facilitate the delicate entry of the prostitutes to the upper floors of the hotel. To go above the first floor you need a room key, so the bell hops use their pass key to let the prostitutes visit their clients, or maybe find them in the entertainment bars on the top floor. I’ve never been there. Of course this arrangement must require a payment, but I’ve never seen it, they are discreet. However, it is a strange feeling when in a lift with a young woman. You can’t be certain they are not a prostitute or a guest in the hotel? I don’t like the thought, it seems unfair and judgemental. In a Muslim state women are commodities like anywhere else. I’ve also never been into the pub, just next to the reception, so all the staff can easily monitor, for the same reason. Every night, but particularly, Thursday and Friday night. Lots of men come into the pub from outside the hotel and you see prostitutes coming and going. I was upset to see two young Russian prostitutes one night in the little newsagents. One of then bought some mints but had to be chaperoned by her friend, confused by the money. She looked so tired and young, her face smeared with inexpertly applied make up. Only 18 maybe… she looked haggard, exhausted.

It’s also odd walking in the mall and seeing the local women, dressed from head to toe in black, their faces covered, buying lacy underwear or a clinging ball gown. It’s a strange schizophrenic place about women, but I guess so is the west.

He gazed at the curved ceiling feature running the entire length of the business class lounge, the lounge itself the length of the airport, a dark hardwood of bent ellipses, like a comb preening the manicured atmosphere of this place. A woman walks in tight hipster jeans toward the food counter to collect her champagne, her hips gyrating revealing a band of white skin, perhaps similar in tone to the Chanel milk products he watched her purchase earlier, counting through the dozens of Dirham notes she was offloading. Women act as barometers of change. Their clothing and movements echoed the opportunity of free expression. The men are bland and dull. But all here are groomed, their status assured by the fact of being here. separated by the carefully laid out arrangement of tables, but united in the convenience of food for the taking and the escapist nature of their wait. They are nameless, neutral in this short statement of now. Flight calls echoed infrequently. The soft noise of a small water feature, a vestige in this large open tube of a building to the traditional ways of cooling. The call to prayer, almost apologetically, reverberated through the lounges. He looked to see for any acknowledgement in the scattered assembly, none were visible. This place of transit unaccepting of any permanence of spirit or off place.

He thought of the start of this journey and how at the end of it he understood nothing yet knew so much more.
He thought of his beautiful wife
He thought of the future
And of his children
And what a gift life is……

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