INGULFED

In Shanghai

Miss Dial and Mr. Right

The United Arab Emirates, I am certain, has the highest ratio of wrong numbers dialed in the entire known universe. If Yellow Book made a guide for Abu Dhabi, it would have every number on one page with the heading: JUST GUESS. At least once every day, I answer calls from India, from Senegal, and from all over the Emirates unsure if I’ve ordered something or could somehow be the least bit useful to the mumbler on the other end of the line. Because of language barriers and the fact that everyone in the UAE is actually calling all the same people, you’re never sure until you’re asked: “Sanjay?”
No. This isn’t Sanjay.

Text messages rain in from banks, clubs, stalkers, vampires (just guessing about the last two), often divulging more information than they should because you’ve got someone’s old number. Your statement is ready for the Dubai Islamic Bank account beginning 4299 and ending 8654. Even banks have trouble finding Mr. Right.

Or maybe this is actually the vanguard of sketchy advertising. Hey! That’s not me, I can see myself saying. But you guys do text message banking? I’m listening.

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival, too, tests the limits of ethical sales tactics with its website — complete with the single most aggressive shopping cart in the whole wide web.


I had heard some screenings were selling out, so I set out to buy tickets online, ignoring 25%-off packages in person at the box offices. The extensive, chic website (a needle in the .ae haystack) lures you in — you click names of films whose pages won’t load, refreshing again and again because the site is just so pretty. You finally add the first screening to the shopping cart. 20 AED.

YOU HAVE 20 MINUTES TO COMPLETE YOUR PURCHASE.

But what about your friends? They said to get them tickets. No time to call. Add a plus one for every screening. Four minutes pass.

YOU HAVE 8 MINUTES TO COMPLETE YOUR PURCHASE.

Is time speeding up? Maybe. No time to think about it. You could check out now and confirm your purchases, but then you’d have to put your credit card information in again. You have time for one more.

YOU HAVE 3 MINUTES TO COMPLETE YOUR PURCHASE.

One more.

YOU HAVE BEEN LOGGED OUT.

Shit.

I did however, before the website mercifully shut me out and before I read about half-off student discounts, buy six tickets for the price of twelve, all confirmed in an email attachment with no information. In this network of misdials, in a place where FaceTime is banned, it often pays to be there. So, armed with a tasting menu of college IDs from three continents, I took my revenge — and with only tens of dollars on the line, I was in it for the Game. Seventeen tickets, please.

Today, listening to the Q&A for my seventh movie in four days, I heard a familiar voice. Incredibly familiar. One of the five people in the theater was, I knew instantly, an old friend from college. And high school. And middle school.

It’s sure better to cross paths than signals.

“Aaron?” Yeah. It’s Aaron.

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