Monday, January 21, 2008
Have time, will travel - but wherever I turned doors, roads and flight options closed.
I couldn’t get a visa for Paris. Then I looked at flights to South East Asia, South Africa and North Africa but they were either too full or too expensive.
So I decided to discover the UAE a bit. Get out there. Go to an oasis or something.
However, it rained so much here that the roads became rivers and the traffic became, well, somewhere I didn’t want to be.
Obviously I was not meant to go anywhere. So I surrendered to my fate and did what all the expats in Dubai do best with their free time: eat, party and watch TV.
Until the rain stopped and the roads cleared and I decided to go ‘traveling’ at Global Village, a theme park in Dubai which is divided into all the different countries in the world, complete with souvenirs and local food.
Perhaps I expected too much but I was greatly disappointed. It’s not as cheap as everyone said, although many of the souvenirs are cheap plastic products and clothes. There is also not much variety and the whole place, in general, lacks energy and soul.
I guess the richness of history and culture, people and crafts is not something that can be replicated so easily. No money in the world can recreate myths and legends, or what places smell like, taste like and feel like.
Living in the middle of the world makes a decent base to travel from, under normal circumstances, but it is certainly not a magical one.
Monday, January 14, 2008
The eternal optimist in me doesn’t cancel the ticket to Paris. Instead I keep checking the French consulate’s website just in case there is a cancellation so I can jump on it and get my visa in time.
Then, just as miraculously as the rain that is falling here in the desert, it happens. An appointment opens up on Monday at 9am. So I book it, print the receipt and spend the night tossing and turning in excitement and anticipation, with 'Lady Marmelade' ringing in my head.
What I don’t realize is that fate is already laughing at me, sending me on another seesaw ride of hope and disappointment. When the taxi eventually gets to the turnoff towards the consulate building, the road is closed – same as most of the other roads in Dubai this morning.
So I phone the consulate and somewhere in the recorded French message I pick up the word ‘ferme,’ closed. The darkness closes in again and blacks out my visions of a catwalk show and a hotel close to the Moulin Rouge.
Most part of the city looks like a ghost town as we try to make it back to my apartment, the taxi and I. The only other people in the streets are the security guards who monitor the blocked roads with eagle eyes.
“Sorry but you can’t go back now,” says the taxi driver, “the roads are all closed.”
“Ok, then just drop me off at a shopping centre,” I say, feeling confused and drained. Why did they give me the appointment if they were going to be closed?
“The shopping centres are also closed. President Bush arrives at 9. So today like public holiday. Everything closed.”
I end up spending most of the day at a coffee shop, drinking coffee I don’t really feel like and staring out into the empty streets.
The whole city closed down for Bush’s arrival. All the streets. All the shops. All the consulates. The authorities declared today a public holiday at the last minute, to ensure the US president’s safety in this Muslim city where Al Qaeda is rumoured to be based and do their banking.
How many lives of little people like me has this big man affected? I just lost my last chance of getting to Paris. It could be worse. It could always be worse. Some others have lost their lives.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
It has been just a little more than six months since I last went to Paris and my senses are longing for this place.
So I book a few days’ holiday, a plane ticket and a hotel. I even have a ticket for a show, since my off days are going to be during fashion week, an exclusive event in the city of "lights...? models...? guest list...?"
But alas, the magic is not meant for me. Not this time. The French Consulate in Dubai has been busy. Perhaps all the Sheikhs’ wives are on their way to pick Chanel garments off the catwalk. Hm, maybe I really should take up that Sheikh I met on his invitation “for a drink, or something…”
I called them (the consulate, not the Sheiks’ wives) to find out whether they can process an express visa for me and/ or what to do about finding an appointment but, in true French hospitality, the ‘monsieur’ on the other side of the line put the phone down in my ear.
Which reminds me of the difference in rudeness between the French and the Emiratis. The French are rude in a pompous sort of way. They seem to get much satisfaction out of creating problems and being intimidating. The Emiratis, in turn, simply have complete disregard for anyone or anything other than themselves.
Well, so much for making me feel welcome. This disappointment makes me appreciate how freely my job in the travel industry allows me to cross borders. Hopefully this job will take me to Paris again soon.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
To wear sunscreen
The Thais may live by the principle of ‘sanuk’ or ‘fun’ but being red-faced is all but being fun, except if you’re a reindeer.
To try not to judge others’ customs and cultures
That much chilli? How rude! You must be crazy.
To trust my instinct
If it doesn’t look like chicken or taste like chicken it probably isn’t chicken.
To do less shopping and more sightseeing
This time I traded the palaces in Bangkok for taxi hopping between Platinum Mall and Siam Square. The taxis are a sight in itself though, being as colourful as Smarties.
To stay true to myself no matter what influences are around me
A sex change operation, uhm, maybe not…
To be more grateful for the experiences and adventures that I accumulate
Even being dropped off at the wrong place twice by the tuk-tuk drivers in this city could have been an adventure if I faced it with a more open mind.
To learn how to say at least ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in the native language of each place that I travel to
Thank you: “ka-pong-gaap”
Happy New Year: “sa-wa-dee-pee-mai-kaa”