Pain and suffering in the Middle East
Part I – Arrival

“Put your eye on the iris scanner” said the guy at Sharjah airport in Arabic, as I passed through customs from Kuwait.

Well actually I suspect he probably said something like “I bet you are here for the pork and beer like the rest of your type you filthy scumbag” but I took it to mean the former, and done as I assumed I was asked, mildly fascinated by the technology while simultaneously feeling like a breach of my human rights was taking place, but not being quite able to put my finger on what it was.

I was of course there for the pork and beer, of that there can be no lie, but more importantly I was there to see Spinningchair and Rainspire and some respite from the drudgery of Kuwaiti life for a weekend. We’ve all been in the Middle East for more than half a year but had still not found the space in our schedules to meet up until now. So, rather than subjecting those two to Kuwait’s delights I made for the bright lights of Dubai.

Arriving at about 10 in the Evening Spinningchair was out for dinner with Giorgio Locatelli, one of the worlds best chefs I hear (I’ve never heard of him either) but Rainspire welcomed me in to their top floor Jumeirah apartment whereI dumped me bag before we both got a cab to the Grand Hyatt hotel.

The cosmetic extravagance of Dubai is visible everywhere you go, but more so if you get to hang around in the finest hotels and eat the finest foods as the Chairs job requires him to do, and my introduction to extravagance began with the magnificently excessive lobby of the Hyatt complete with it’s own rainforest.

After 6 months effectively in the desert, the explosion of greenery was quite too much to take in and I found myself eating some of the leaves quite involuntarily and stealing some of the leaves to take home and frame just in case I would never see such lush flora again. The desert does strange things to a man.

Not much really happened that night, we sort of roamed around lookin for a place to get sharwarmas but gave up and the next day nothing much of note happened really, both the locals being tied up with work, I took a walk around town, albeit a walk that lasted about 8 hours and took me all over the back streets, but regular readers will know that’s my thing, so I had a great time roaming and investigating. Probably the highlight of the day had to be getting on a ship down at the docks, which was loading up with stuff to be exported to Somalia and just chatting and chilling out with the sailors, going into the captain’s room and chilling behind the wheel of this big cargo boat. It was a chilled out day.

From Thursday night the ball started rolling on one of the very strangest lunches I have ever had.

We went out to a place called the Millennium Airport hotel, a 4 star establishment, who held a Hawaiian buffet night every Thursday night. The food was bland, but not utterly inedible, nothing being offensively bad but nothing I would ever eat again (more of which later…).

The décor of the place was like a second rate tapas bar in the Costa del Sol and a cursory look around told us that the clientele was not far removed from the same establishments. Wall-to-wall Brits, with a spattering of Indian families, who could just as well have been from Birmingham as Bangalore, the clientele were like the type who were kiddin themselves that they were in the middle east and hence open minded and not part of the Costa del Sol gang.

There was no escaping the fact that Dubai has marketed itself well and that it is seen as the Costa del “culturally acceptable” for those council estate boys. The Millennium Airport hotel seemed to know its customer-base well and this shameless schmoozing to those ideals was evident from the bland food (which you Brits adore) and crap décor (bits of pasta in glass jars) to the bloody awful music choice. We endured truly poor covers of Bryan Adams tracks, a murderation of some REM and various other poor covers by a little Filipino woman who sounded thoroughly bored and a backing guitarist whose guitar mysteriously carried on playing even when he stopped strumming. The mind boggles.

The final verdict on the place was that, despite the average to bland food the price tag for the meal was a real plus point, as it was 89 Dirhams for as much as you could eat and drink, including the alcohol. This works out at something like 12 quid, which meant that if you put away 4 bottles (which I dutifully did just to bring peace to my bargain hunting spider-sense) then you could break even.

If anything I left with the sense that something was not quite right about that piece of fish that took 2 whacks with a fork to break and tasted a bit like rubber.

The next morning I awoke on the sofa in a sleeping bag and the other 2 were still asleep. I turned over and started reading Time Out Dubai when I became acutely aware of a building fart somewhere down south. Suddenly it dawned on me that things were a lot worse than that...

The toilet was not far from the sofa but I can tell you now that if it had been a foot further things would have been very messy indeed. Heck they were very messy anyway but at least in a flushable kind of way. I consigned myself to the throne room for most of the morning.

But naturally, for a day out with Mischief, the fun wasn’t about to stop there. As I said earlier, I was about to have the very strangest lunch of my life…

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