Sorry for the delay. I've been away. Well, not actually away from Dubai, but away from the computer. We've had visitors in town. The MUM, the DAD and the BRO left last night after a whirlwind week in this crazy (pronounced ker-ay-zee) town. Their visit was a real eye-opener for them, and it has proved to be one for me as well.
It seems like a dream now, but just over a week ago, I picked the visitors up from the airport. Me and the BOY were there, eagerly watching for their familiar faces to emerge from the throngs passing through the automatic doors. I was nervous as hell. My guts were in knots, and I'd had a really bad Irritable Bowel attack the previous night. I had barely slept either.
When I spied the BRO's face, the nervousness peaked, but after the greeting hugs and kisses, the butterflies were gone. My visitors looked absolutely shattered. It had been an overnight flight, and none of them had slept. They brightened up as we headed off towards our house, and the BOY and me gave them a short guided tour of the main sights visible from the Sheik Zayed Road.
From then, it's all a blur really. We had a lot to cram in to a few days, so we did the obligatory Brunch (on Easter Sunday), the day at the beach, the malls, the Big Bus Tour, a meal on Bateaux Dubai and the desert safari, which I think was the best-enjoyed event of the week.
We went on safari with a company called Desert Rangers this time, and in all honesty, the experience was much better than with Arabian Nights. Our driver, George, was a slightly mad chap from Goa, who liked to sing along to '70s and '80s music whilst paying more attention to the two young ladies who came along with us than to the road. His whole demeanour changed when we hit the dunes, as he donned an old animal-skin rimmed hat, and he took great pleasure in showing us his excellent dune-bashing skills as he sped over the sand and twisted and turned his Land Cruiser this way and that, all with one hand on the steering wheel. I'm not sure if it was less scary this time, or if I was just more prepared for it, but I wasn't half as frightened as I was last time. I think sitting in the middle row is the best option. The DAD sat in the front seat next to George most of the time, and at the last stop near some camels, he looked whiter than a pint of milk with a comically-unwell face drawn on it.
The Bedouin camp part was really good as well. They fed us before the belly dancer arrived, and gave us ample opportunity to sample henna painting, shisha and drinks from the bar, as well as go on a short camel ride if we so wished. The food was generous and pretty good quality, and there was just a better vibe all round. More people danced with the belly dancer, and they completed the night with a few disco and dance classics to get us all gyrating on the carpet under the dark desert sky. The only slight let-down was that we didn't see the sunset. As we drove through the desert, clouds moved across the sky and hid the sinking sun. This pattern of weather repeated itself most nights, and the MUM was slightly disappointed that she never saw a nice sunset over the sea or in the desert.
Also worth a mention is the Bateaux Dubai. As is customary, I got slightly wound up about getting there on time, since this restaurant is one that moves. I was told in no uncertain terms to get there by 8pm or we wouldn't get on. So when our taxi driver turned up at 7.20 with a long drive through Sharjah-bound traffic ahead, my heart sank. I asked him to get us there by 8pm, and he told me, "No Problem, Boss". So he weaved in and out of the traffic and sniffed out the least congested routes like some moustache-wearing bloodhound, and we got there right on time. I gave him a generous tip for his efforts and we trotted over to the glass-sided boat, boarding between two lighted half-moon crescent shapes to be greeted by smiling men and women in crisp uniforms.
When we sat down, we noticed that the boat was half-empty, and we sat there until nearly 8.45pm waiting for everyone to turn up. We were ever so slightly peeved at this, and couldn't believe I'd got so stressed about getting there on time. Personally, I hate tardiness. It reeks of disrespect and arrogance, and because these people couldn't get there on time, the journey was at least half an hour shorter than it should have been. It ended just as we finished our coffees and paid our bills. We didn't get the chance to sit on the rear upper deck, sipping an after-dinner drink and taking in the delights of the creek at night. Despite this, the very good meal and the Bateaux experience were pretty damn enjoyable. The creek takes on a different guise at night, with all the old buildings lighting up and light-bulb-covered dhows and their shimmering reflections gliding past quietly. I would definitely recommend it. As long as it leaves on time.
And now my parents and my brother have gone; their physical, tangible forms vanished from our lives again, and it's as if they were never here. It all happened so so quickly, and now I'm left feeling a bit flat and empty. Now I have to re-focus, after looking forward to my family's visit for so long. I suppose that now I have to look forward to going home in the summer. It's only 3 months away now, and it should fly by if we keep busy.
I mentioned the eye-opening aspects of my family coming here. I think the biggest realisation that has dawned on me this last week is that Dubai is an absolutely great place to visit for a week or two on holiday. It has a lot to offer tourists. The Burj Al Arab and the Madinat and the desert can be alluring and attractive. My visitors enjoyed their time, there's no doubt about it, even if their favourite phrase was: "It'll be nice when it's finished!". For me, the people who you share your time with here can make a big difference. Being here full-time with only a couple of close companions is very, very different.
Those of us who live and work here see the other, less attractive aspects of the place, and after that initial honeymoon period when you ignore the cracks in the walls and the dirt under the surface, it can start to grind away at your soul. Those of us who live and work here are doing so on nothing more than a temporary basis, building the Las Vegas of the Middle East for the affluent of the world. What do we get out of it? A tax-free salary, an expat lifestyle and year-round sunshine. Well, whoop-te-doo.
The salary might be tax free, but with all the muncipality fees and charges and school fees and service charges and registration fees and the high rents and all the other bits and bobs they fail to mention when you are being enticed into moving here, you might as well be paying 40% tax.
Expat lifestyle? Sitting on a beach, going to the mall, eating out every weekend. Wow, so enriching, isn't it? And that's if you're in the highest-earning 5% of expats. What they don't advertise is the traffic and then danger on the roads, the constant dust, the noise and the utter shallow fakeness of the place.
Sunshine? I'll give them that, it is pleasant - for 6 months of the year. The rest of the time you're stuck indoors because of the heat, so your life becomes a dash between the air-conditioned sanctuaries of home, car, office, shopping mall and hotel.
Oh, a good moan gets the juices flowing. It gets it all out of your system. I've been told that life is what you make it, and I agree to an extent. Life is what you make it - if you have the means. If life is what you make it, why do people yearn for something else, why do people move to other countries? Why don't we just make the most of where we live and who we live with? It's what a friend of mine has told me for years now: The Grass is Greener on the Other Side.
I've also been told that happiness lies within, and I'm starting to think that this is true. We have to learn to be happy with what we have, with what cards we've been dealt, whether it's a silver spoon, a plastic fork or a wooden spear. Idealistic dream of everyone living equally are just that - dreams. It would be nice, but it ain't gonna happen. But that's fine, because we all know what we know and we are used to the world from our own perspective. Understanding that there are other perspectives is half the battle of life. If you can change the world, do it. You'll be a rare breed. If you can change your own view of the world, even better.
I have a lot of thinking to do.