“Dubai, Dubai…” so good, no need to name it twice.

Right. So I have been travelling and I’m in a different time zone. I get it, I really do. But I’m only 4 hours ahead. So why was I still awake at 0100 this morning? I can’t blame the booze. It must be the overwhelming sense of disconnection from all things familiar. There is probably a psychology doctorate in some posh university working away explaining the psycho-social ambivalence I’m experiencing. You see, it looks like I’m on holiday…but without those I love. I’ve also a stack of preparation to do. I don’t expect sympathy as I bask in 26 degrees under a blue sky in a 5 star hotel, oh no. No sympathy for this devil. 

In the film ‘Pulp Fiction’ one of the lead characters is fresh home in Los Angeles from being away in Amsterdam. He says to his partner as they drive to their next ‘job’. 

“they got the same shit over there as they do over here, but it’s the little differences…” 

He is right. There is so much that is the same in its seeming difference.

Dubai, after all is a city. And a very, very modern one at that. It is New York, London and Las Vegas in one but without the dirt and the subdermal grime only history provides. It is cleaner, bigger, shinier and brighter than any other city I’ve been to. It is certainly richer. The taxi driver dropped me off at the hotel and parked right next to a Ferrari. Later on my way ‘Downtown’, another Ferrari passed us….followed by Bentleys. The place is dripping with gold. 

Not all of it legal, not all of it real, and a good part is for ‘fools’.

As with Las Vegas, we are actually in a desert. I suspect that about 100 years ago the spot where I stand to gawp at the immense sparkling tower of the Burj Khalifa, and wonder at the half hourly dancing fountain show, was possibly a shrivelled bush or perhaps a lizard’s hidey hole or a dead camel fermenting in the afternoon heat. Its a blooming wonder what finding oil under your dusty sandalled toes can can do. 

The similarity to any modern city is striking. I pass recognisable names on the shops…Burger King, Wagamama’s and Pizza Hut. Cafes and restaurants abound as you would expect and they all have their names both in English and in smaller Arabic lettering. Everyone speaks English if, at times, a few struggle with pronunciation. Hey, so do the Cornish. I can imagine Denzil Penberthy, finding himself in the glittering multi story palace that is the Dubai Shopping Mall, confronted with marble and diamonds, asking the nearest local, ‘’ere wosson, wos a ‘Balenciager or that bleddy Versace’ mean? T’int proper’. The locals I fear would struggle with a Cornishman bashing their ears with what otherwise would have been a familiar language to them. 

We of course have Malls in the UK, and no doubt you can find them in Las Vegas, Milan or Sydney. They are modern cathedrals of course to the new (old) religion of money. The Dubai Mall takes your breath away on any measure. I’m not a fan of these places, but you have got to be impressed with the sheer scale and affluence of it all. Anyone coming from Redruth would need to be acclimatised first before being let in, otherwise the shock might do them some long standing psychological damage. I suggest that upon arrival at the airport that they are whisked to a modest hotel where they first look at pictures in a magazine over a nice cup of tea. They could have their teeth fixed and their spines straightened while they wait. Then, when they have had a hour or two with a few glossy magazines, they could be sent to bed to begin processing the wonder they have seen in picture form before being let anywhere near a Dior. 

Denzil would say “tiz all bleddy fine, but no bleddy pasty shops?’ And he would be right. Cuisine from across the globe is thrust before you – seafood, steak, pizza, Thai…but not a single Rowe’s, Philps or a Warren’s in sight. “Christ, ‘ell up!”

I don’t see any poor people, perhaps they have been swept up in the morning along with any dirt that might have settled and sent off to a tent somewhere out of sight, I’ve no idea.  Poverty, like God, might exist but is never seen. 

I come to at about 0830 this morning. I wouldn’t call it awakening as fresh as the proverbial perfumed daisy. But consciousness slowly returns. The coffee and orange juice at breakfast helps.  After logging on to the work’s email I see a message.

Travel into Saudi Arabia from a new list of countries is now banned. Dubai, overnight, makes the list. My contact in the company phones to say they are moving me to Bahrain which still has access, but for how long who knows. Dubai is a non starter, so they are gambling that Bahrain will still be open in 10 days to allow access to Jeddah. One proviso..I have to get another Covid test, but no worries “there is a drive through test centre at the Mediclinic City Hospital” nearby. I have to merely get a taxi, drive through and hey presto!  I am sent a google maps link. Easy. Just have to show the map to the taxi driver and it will be all over before the fat camel farts. 

I believe I read somewhere, or someone told me, that men in certain countries do not like to lose face. Just as in England blokes will not ask for directions even when they know they are lost, and are loathe to “read the f*cking instructions!” when confronted with technology and as shouted by millions of long suffering wives. I am a simple soul and I have a tendency to believe people when they say yes to certain questions, such as ‘do you want cream with that?’, ‘is this your pen?’ or ‘do you know the way to San Jose?’. If you cannot stand cream, have never owned a biro or have never met Jose let alone know where he is, then I suggest you say so, unequivocally, and ask for help or find out. Don’t spin me some bullshit that you know what the f*ck I am asking you to do, don’t pretend with ‘certainly sir, follow me’ even after I have shown you the map and relayed my instructions in a cool orderly fashion. Don’t speed off driving somewhere you think you know where you are going but patently don’t or can’t be arsed to find out.

I need the covid test drive through. I don’t need a tour. It is only 10 minutes way…I know this because the map tells me so. 

The driver is a cheery soul, i’ll give him that. Ever eager to please and ever so polite. He is still a twat. He drops me off at the entrance to the clinic after asking security for the test centre. The security chap is as helpful as they can be, but obviously left his brain cell at home that morning because he waves me to the door and points to a chap who can ‘help’. Meanwhile the taxi driver, sensing he has got things a bit iffy, buggers off faster than you can say ‘abracafuckingdabra’. You see, he had no idea where the drive through was and thought to himself that any old clinic would do. I suggest that the absence of a line of cars, a sure sign of a ‘drive through’ if you ask me, was not an issue in his decision making. Once inside the chap at the desk confirms that this was not indeed a drive through and that it was not here.

At this place.

Where I was standing.

And that I needed an appointment (I didn’t) contrary to earlier instructions from my company contact. “Just scan the Q code and you will find the drive through”. Hurrah. “But you will need a taxi to take you there, it is only a kilometre away.’ 

I scanned, and google maps helpfully located it. The same google map I had shown the previous. What can go wrong? I got in another taxi, showed him the map, told him the details and we are off. He nodded vehemently that he understood both my needs and direction and what the map was saying. 

After about 5 minutes as we were speeding down a motorway in the opposite direction to the Q scanned google map, I sensed something was up.

“Er, are we going the right way?” Bear in mind the roads in Dubai resemble a plate of spaghetti thrown on the floor and spread around with a mop. “Oh yes, sir, please sir”.

I don’t mind being called sir as it befits my acquired station in life, but even I can spot a twat covering up his incompetence with politeness. “There is no drive through there, sir, you must go to the other place, sir, where it will be quick, sir’.  Yeah the other place that is 8 kilometres and an extra hundred dinar into the bargain. “Don’t worry sir, all will be well” I have no choice, I fly tomorrow and I need the test.

Well, of course this proves as fruitful an errand as asking a beer soaked tattoo’ed scouse docker for tips on knitting a pair of pink fluffy baby booties. Suffice to say I need to be taken back to the hotel to regroup, without a test. I am a little bit hotter, slightly more stressed and lighter of pocket. All through this fiasco I am informed by every man I have encountered that they know what is being asked and that they can deliver. No question. 

So, in order not to be fooled again, I registered online with the clinic whose website does indeed say there is a drive through about a kilometre from its main entrance. I ask the hotel concierge at the main door of the hotel, in slow and clearly explained terms, exactly what I needed and where I need to go. I again had a map. The taxi driver (another one) nodded after a long conversation with the concierge and we were off (again). This time success. Another hour, another 100 dinari.

What a waste of a whole morning. At least I saw more of Dubai. It is a city. A big one. It has cars and traffic like at home. It has underpasses and flyovers, traffic lights, horns blaring, and roundabouts. It has deliveroo nutters on mopeds weaving through the traffic, noticeable by the big pale blue box that sits precariously on the mopeds’ tiny rear rack. These boxes are so big I bet you can live in one. I think I know where the poor people are!

Turns out I don’t need a covid test to leave Dubai. I need one when I arrive in Bahrain. I log on, pay up and hope. I also just hope the pilot knows where he is going and does not try to save face if an engine catches fire. I expect more than a nod of the head and a ‘sir’ during an aviation emergency.  

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

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