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The sins beneath the surface.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Friday, 27 March 2015 | Views [331]

I obviously didn't take this photo.

I obviously didn't take this photo.

Abu Dhabi.......Perhaps that is all I should say. It is almost all I can say, because my memory and camera were rendered redundant the entire time. 'Abu Dhabi' was something that was said a lot, as a justification for whatever crazy shit was going on at the time. I am very thankful I didn't end up stopping here at the start of the trip or I may not have been able to afford to go to Europe at all.

My cousin Gow has moved there for the next two years as the draughting work he does is far more abundant in Abu Dhabi than it is back in Melbourne. The delay with his work visa had seen him arrive 48 hours after I had passed through two months ago and as much as I bemoaned a 31 hour 4 flight extravaganza at the time, it was definitely Plutus the God of wealth, looking out for me.

Abu Dhabi is composed of roughly 80% ex-pats. Up till half way through the last century the area was a desert with a few villages ecking out a pretty tough existence. Someone was probably trying to bury a goat, struck oil and sky scrapers sprung up, fertilised by all the money oil brings in. Two million people live in a place that will always be a desert no matter how many air conditioned hotels with pools they put in. It is very prosperous place though and people throw their money around like the dirham is diseased and must be shed like lepers limbs.

I didn't want to join in with such reckless abandon, but if you don't, you don't do anything at all. This isn't like London where you can wander the streets through millenia of history and look from the outside if you don't want to mortgage your house just to visit a museum. Everything is less than 50 years old, and while there was an impressive mosque or two around, and a few beaches, I had seen some grand examples of the former and was about the return to one of the best examples of the latter.

1I certainly didn't take that photo either.

Abu Dhabi wasn't that hot while I was there and that is a matter of context that requires elaboration. In summer, it regularly gets above 50 degrees, hot enough to melt butter into coal. It was a fuckload hotter than Europe and I soaked my thermals with about 3 litres of sweat just getting to the hotel. And the 30+ degrees while I was there didn't feel that hot because I was hardly ever in it, either sleeping it out or going from one air-conditioned place to another.

Within an hour of arriving, my perception of the place had been turned on its head. You cannot have 1.6 million ex-pats here on a working holiday, making great coin, unconcerned about personally observing Islamic religious practices and not have some an underground scene of everything banned by law. Humans have needs and those needs will be satisfied in sketchier and sketchier ways dependant upon how hard the blue line comes down on it.

Gow received his residents card while I was there, meaning he was allowed to become an alcoholic to a degree entirely dependant upon his income. Having survived on some gin and whiskey that he'd snuck in, he was now legally allowed to buy beer freely. Nowhere near the extent that he would like, but far more than a 50ml bottle of moonshine a cleaner or restaurant worker would be permitted.

That is only personal possession though. I thought pubs and clubs would be so underground, the only way to get to them is to dig. Our first beer was in an open air pub whose only dubious element was how crap they were at bringing out the bill. We waited for half an hour after three requests to pay, then figured someone would accost us before we made it to the door. Not so, and that was the only time something didn't cost us an arm and a leg.

2The next bar cost $35 to get in, although that got us two drink vouchers as well. After a few ass gropes, a lot of winks, and even a few sly handfuls of my junk, I thought backpackers must be in demand in a city full of western office workers. Gow burst that bubble pretty quickly by stating that the more obvious ones were more interested in what's in the side of your jeans, rather than the front. Who in their right mind thinks a backpacker ever has any money, especially one at the end of their trip? Simply telling the owners of the wandering hands that I had no money was more than effective at sending them on their way.

There was a great Filipino band belting out Rock covers while I nervously smashed my way through pints and for the first time ever in a club, I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. Time and circumstance vanished in a haze and the night ended on Gow's hotel floor with a belly full of KFC chips.....Abu Dhabi!

3

It must have been a late finish cause the next day didn't start till around 3. We had some Mongolian for lunch and tried to piece together the night. It didn't matter too much as we did virtually the same thing again that night. This club was a lot fancier and cost about $120 each for entry. That did get us a small bottle of Chivas Regal to share, and a front seat to the band that could have been mistaken for the same one as the night before except that the guitarist was Jimi Hendrix reincarnate. This guy was a virtuoso and had fingers that could probably speed read braille. That he was a comedian as well, and had a penchant for Metallica covers meant that Gow and I were his most vocal supporters......Abu Dhabi!

Singing duties were shared with a gorgeous curvy Filipino lady, but her repertoire was more Rihanna, Beyonce......and I'm thankful that they are the only two performers I can quote from that style of music. During her singing, something very strange was taking place. Being so attractive, one could be forgiven for thinking something very normal could be taking place, but the truth of it is about as shocking as it gets.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a very strong dislike for soccer. I recognise that I am in the minority in that regard, and would have had a completely different European holiday had I not had such a negative opinion of the sport. This may seem completely off topic from hot singers, but after surprising myself watching soccer highlights at pubs around Europe, I found myself enthralled by the skill of Messi as his Barcelonian team beat Manchester City. It was the first time I had watched a game that wasn't a World Cup final and I confess, I loved it.

4

This makes me very happy, but also extremely sad. I am happy that I am not so fixed in my ways that I cannot change long held opinions when confronted with persuasive evidence to the contrary. I am a long way off calling myself a fan, and I almost reverted back to disdain when I saw the soft cocks taking a dive whenever a player was feathered by their opponents shoe lace. That I am open minded, even over something as trivial as sport, means that I am not as old and narrow minded as what my grey hair suggests.

I am very sad though that I wasn't more interested in the sport as I traveled around Europe. Like cricket on the sub-continent, if you like soccer, you have something to talk about with EVERYONE in Europe. Perhaps not the women, but that is what Tinder is for. That didn't help me in Abu Dhabi as Tinder, like drugs, sex toys, public nudity or anything fun, is banned to the point of beheading. But any casual conversation on the street, or in a pub in Europe, could have been a lot more involved than just discussing local sights and cultural differences.

Another bottle of Chivas ensured the night didn't end early, or the next day start until the sun had almost set and my last experience in Abu Dhabi was sharing a shisha with Gow on a beach out the front of a nearby hotel. Submersing anything in sea water had been as appealing as eating cucumber while doing it so the chance to dip my toes in the warm ocean waters was too hard to resist. Unfortunately that constituted some form of enjoyment and was not allowed after 7pm. I have never been so politely threatened before in my life.

And that pretty much spells out Abu Dhabi for you. You can go off the charts mental if you want, but if it is seen by the wrong people, the resulting punishment could be off your shoulders. I may not have seen any of the city, but I certainly got a good sample of what it is like to live there. I'll be sure to notify my bank manager before my imminent return.

Tags: abu dhabi, alcohol, ex-pats, friends, music, shisha

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