“So what do we do when we get there”, I asked my friend, Nick.
I’m harking back to Egypt in 2002, in retrospect, one of the best trips in my life so far. That was my first time to go to an Arab country, to Africa (granted it’s Northern Africa but still), and the first time to be in one of the cradles of civilization. Tough act to follow certainly, but they’re sure to be cut from the same cloth, I thought. Arab culture is thousands of years old so there should be an antiquity museum to discover in Dubai. At the very least there’d be scenes of bearded men in long, white robes, desert landscapes, shishas and camels everywhere. I was absolutely right – to a point.
It was like a reunion for all four of us. We had gone to Greece in 2003, did Mykonos, Santorini (I did, they didn’t), and Athens. Four Pinoys, four gay men. Partners not included. It was fun, fun, fun with only the littlest drama; we are gay after all. After that memorable trip, it was always a consideration to do another one when the right circumstances came, and here it was. Nick was in the Middle East for work and was willing to host. I brought up the idea with Jhoel and Chris and luckily they jumped on it quite readily.
I now find myself a little harder to get along with compared to 6 years ago. I’ve grown just a little more jaded, harsher with life, less forgiving with people. I’ve yet to reach miser proportions but it seems to be graduating inevitably, tempered only by relative perception shifts. It’s been 7 years now since I was diagnosed with tic doloreaux, something I’m still working to accept and struggle to put at the back of my mind, but one that somehow juts to the forefront of all that is significant in my life right now. How I wish it would all just end.
Dubai as it turns out lives up to its name. The main activity that drives this part of the planet is economic. There is very little in terms of history, and culture is minimal owing to the fact 90 percent of the population are immigrants. And the thousands of years of Arab history don’t apply here – there was no antiquities museum. It was immediately apparent that it is the Philippines transported to the Mideast as every nook and cranny of the country has a Pinoy in one form or another, be it a salesperson, a contract worker, and even the occasional tourist. It’s the Philippines but one that works, is clean, very modern, and full of malls. Hence the title of this blog.
For the first few days I was disappointed, and it showed.
I wasn’t rude or short to people, but I wasn’t in any mood to meet them either, to be happy at the prospect of a new day in a new place. There was no anticipation. Even though I knew I had a new job to come back to, at the back of my mind I was thinking of the money I didn’t have that I was spending in a place that I didn’t feel like I wanted to be in much longer than I wanted to. Money, especially lack of it, is always an issue. Should I cut my trip short? Of course not! This was a one of those trips of a lifetime, it was a trip about friendship. It was something bigger than I am.
As human nature would dictate, I became okay with the situation after a couple more days and began to see the silver lining, one of those perception shifts. I saw Dubai as a way to reacquaint myself with the Philippines. I ate at Chowking and Jollibee. I chatted with the salesladies and asked them about their lives there. Sad to say, most of them said they’re unhappy, and using Dubai as a jump-off point to bigger things. I thought about that and liked it in a way. There is still ambition, and that can be the biggest motivator of all. I had that once.
There was more drama this time compared to Greece, and it all came from me. An outing with a Pakistani driver to go dune-bashing left a bad taste in the mouth, and it wasn’t from the desert sand. I thought the driver was relaying some condescension onto our group and I was being negative throughout the trip. My fellow travelers didn’t sense any. Perhaps I was over-analyzing. I was also being difficult during one of our dinners when I insisted we dine indoors as the outdoor heaters were not up to par. I also wanted something authentically Emirati but we settled for Thai (aaargh) as apparently there is no such thing as authentically Dubai cuisine. It didn’t help that my tic was acting up all night. I couldn’t face anyone at all that night – literally.
Nick was the absolute host for the 8 days we stayed; ever reliable, even-keeled Nick. He highlighted our trip by renting a yacht to take a group of us around the Persian Gulf at sunset. Unbelievable that he did that. His partner, Mikko, couldn’t be nicer, and was a great counterbalance to Nick. We were guided around the city in large part by a friend of Nick’s, a Flip who’s been there for years. I didn’t think much of him at the onset but he grew on me as the days went by. A friendship bordering on idolatry grew between him and Jhoel, something that left me somewhat uncomfortable but which Jhoel for some reason fostered. No harm in it, he says. Chris was being his bourgeois self and I love Chris for that, though this trip tested my patience sometimes. If I hear a British inflection again from a Flip immigrant-American who’s never lived in the UK, it would be too soon.
Pessimism permitting, it would be a while, or almost never, before our next group trip. It took almost 6 years for this trip to happen but who knows. What did I buy in Dubai? Time, I suppose.