From 2002-2004, I was living and working in Saudi Arabia. During that time, I traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia and kept a fairly detailed journal of my experiences. As my web site attracted less than 10 visitors a month, it was more effective to spam my friends with long emails about my life in the Middle East. Dubbed ‘Notes from an Ethnic Land’, I sent out countless posts to unsuspecting recipients over the years. This is one such email, originally sent out in June, 2006.
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As my portly colleague Vikram and I were on our way to the Dirty Chicken Shop for some lunch the other day, I glanced up towards the digital thermometer at the gas station on Falasteen street: 51 degrees Celsius. The Dirty Chicken Shop does not have air conditioning.
Summer is back and it is hot as hell out here (incidentally, seeing that Jeddah is, in fact, hell, I am now coining the term ‘hot as Jeddah’. Please feel free to use it liberally.)
I’ve just returned to lovely Jeddah from a brief sojourn in Thailand. I hope you packed a lunch…
My good friend Fadi dropped me off at the airport like a sad and nervous mother. He stood and waited until I had cleared customs and passport control before he felt comfortable leaving the airport. He worries a little too much.
I sat around the Jeddah International Airport, drinking copious amounts of Pepsi and waiting for my Emirates flight to Dubai. The flight was delayed, as usual (you learn not to be surprised by anything when dealing with Arabs and time). We eventually managed to take off from Jeddah shortly after 9pm, about an hour and a half late.
We coasted into Dubai shortly after midnight, local time, leaving me with about three hours to kill before my connecting flight to Bangkok. (An interesting side note: some of you may know that I was born in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a major city just south of Dubai. As I chatted with the friendly Pakistani architect sitting next to me on the plane, it occurred to me, suddenly, that I was returning, for the first time, to the country of my birth. It was a shocking realisation. How the fuck had this not occurred to me before? For the first time in my life, when asked where I was born, I could simply say ‘here!’ instead of having to explain where the UAE is and convince people that I hadn’t just made it up. I digress…)
I had not been able to get any confirmation from anyone out here as to whether there is a bar in the airport in Dubai. Nevertheless, with three hours to kill, I would certainly find it.
It took me four minutes.
I ordered a pint of magical beer and sat quietly, drinking by myself. Within ten minutes I was on my second pint, chatting with a large South African man and a young English woman. Roughly three hours later, three crazed people are seen sprinting from the bar, heading towards their closing departure gates. I almost puked by the time I got to the plane.
I slept most of the way to Thailand (the morbid fear of flying quelled somewhat by a gut full of beer).
I arrived in Bangkok shortly after noon and rapidly made my way out of the airport and hopped into a cab. I was somewhat relieved that the cabbie spoke English and knew of my hotel. We drove down the airport highway in silence as I nervously watched the meter. As we pulled into the city, the old man came to life, pointing me towards many places where I could pay for sex. I smiled politely, thanking him for the tip. He became more excited the further into the city we drove; “you can fuck here! Fuck here! Fuck there! Fuck everywhere!” he spat out excitedly, pointing in all directions, slowing down so I could take notes. Or photos. Nice man.
I checked into the hotel around 1 o’clock (my friend Ricky’s friend Geoff having taken care of all the reservations on my behalf). I sat back on the couch in the room, exhausted. I flicked on the TV and found that Marseille and Valencia were about to kick off the UEFA Cup final. What timing!
As soon as the final whistle blew, I peeled myself off the couch, ran downstairs, hopped into a cab and headed back to the airport. I didn’t have to wait for long at all – by the time I pulled into the airport, Isabelle’s flight from Dhaka was landing. I waited around for about 20 minutes, chain-smoking and excitedly tapping my feet as I waited for her to emerge.
Here is part of an email that she sent me a few days earlier: “Can you believe we’ll be able to just walk into a bar and order booze??? I am just overwhelmed.”
My thoughts exactly.
So, like a pair of savages being released back into civilisation, we jumped into a cab and headed into Bangkok, wide-eyed and full of expectation. Naturally, I pointed out all the places that my previous cabbie had suggested.
We spent our first night drinking in our hotel room, feeling it best to take our time before re-entering the real world.
Fat Ricky’s friend Geoff was kind enough to come over to our hotel the following evening to take us out for some dinner and drinks. He took us down to an area called Nana, where we could have a quick meal and then go watch the whores and strippers ply their trade.
We walked around for a while, drinking (it is perfectly legal to drink anywhere you please) and observing. As we stopped to polish off our beers before entering a bar, I started feeling a little over-stimulated. There was so much colour and noise (not to mention a throng of transsexual prostitutes standing about 10 feet to my right). I glanced over at Isabelle and she had a similar look of bewilderment on her face. You couldn’t have found two cheaper dates.
We hit a strip club after having a bite to eat, eager to see women shoot ping-pong balls from or pull small chickens out of their vaginas. Unfortunately, all we got were skinny Thai broads dancing around in bikinis. We disgustedly bolted from the strip club after one drink and decided to just walk around for a while. We made a pit stop at a 7-eleven where Geoff bought a bottle of cheap Thai whisky that we mixed with some Mountain Dew and drank from Big Gulp cups. Simply fantastic.
We then walked around for a while, drinking and chatting. We finally ended up at another bar, where we had a few more bottles of the same Thai whisky. It’s incredible how much fun I can have sitting in a cheesy bar listening to a terrible cover band (keeping in mind, of course, what happens to a man who goes months without drinking). The men’s room door, while appropriately labeled, was nothing more than an exit from the bar that opened onto a small sandy lot drenched, invetiably, in urine. They even went so far as to provide a porcelain toilet that rested on an uneven patch of earth. And yes, I lifted the lid out of pure curiosity. I wish I had not.
We left the bar at closing and hit another 7-eleven for more whisky and Mountain Dew. I wasn’t even able to dent my drink. I was so hammered that the only course of action was to eat and get myself to bed.
The following night was a slightly classier affair; Geoff introduced us to his Thai wife who, after a fabulous traditional Thai meal, took us out to some local clubs with her outrageously homosexual friend, Bong. Bong insisted that he show us a couple of his favourite spots, so we followed him into a few gay clubs for some drinks. Isabelle was all too amused as I nervously sidled away from men who insisted on touching me (although, admittedly, it is somewhat flattering when men hit on you). From there, it was to an after-hours club for a couple more drinks before stumbling back to the hotel, shitfaced.
The next few days were spent ambling around Bangkok, recovering and making poor attempts at seeing the sights. We actually made it down to the Grand Palace one evening (so what if we arrived several hours after it had closed? We did manage, however, to get a good look at the wall that surrounds it). We also found the fabled Night Market, which was, to my chagrin, a collection of a few thousand stalls selling nothing more than women’s clothing and assorted feces that would only interest women. Thankfully, we arrived quite late so we (read: Isabelle) only managed to get in about an hours’ worth of shopping before the place shut down for the night.
We went for a few Thai massages over the course of the week, myself never going for the full ‘soapy soapy’ happy ending, despite Isabelle’s encouragement and assurance that she wouldn’t mind at all. The small Thai masseuse did grope me, however, touching and patting the little fella as often as she pleased. It was quite pleasant, although, admittedly, quite a strange experience being fondled by a woman as Isabelle lay two feet to my left.
Not so pleasant, however, were the movements that she tried to impose on my made-from-lead body. After a particularly painful contortion, she would make sure to ‘accidentally’ rub my crotch in apology. True professional.
Naturally, we both ate to excess, trying to stock up on food that is otherwise unavailable in our respective countries. I am quite certain that I had some form of pork in nearly every single meal that I ate (always accompanied by a few beers – no matter how much they hurt on the way down). Isabelle, on the other hand, must have deprived a small nation of its supply of smoked salmon.
The week floated by peacefully, the two of us relishing this mini-escape immensely. Taking a short trip outside of Bangkok would have been ideal, but we just didn’t have the time for it. As a consolation, we moved down to a lavish riverside hotel, where we unashamedly lived like wealthy retirees for the final couple of days.
In the end, I would have to leave Bangkok the night before Isabelle’s return flight to Dhaka. It was a bit devastating having to leave her there and come back to Saudi (of all places).
However, my friends, fret not…there is a silver lining to this tragic story:
I grew some sense and quit my thankless job a few weeks ago; my last day at Initech shall be June 30. Circle that date on your calendars, as that is the day that I shall reclaim my passport and will finally be able to do as I please.
I shall be seeing you all soon.
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