INGULFED

In Shanghai

Archive for frustration

Prologue — فاتحة

First they said two hours, then four days, then six weeks. It wasn’t going to be easy to get a visa to Pakistan. Reciprocity, they relayed with a shrug. It isn’t easy for us to go to your country either.

Two months later, I let myself hope there would be a visa in my name, just waiting to be glued into my passport. They said they would call. Calls to the embassy switchboard would almost never go through, certainly not long enough to survive the transfer to the “visa office”, and my one contact — the sole officer responsible for my application — had ceased answering his phone, quit, and returned to Pakistan.

The embassy is only open for business before lunch. At 9 a.m. a crowd of a couple hundred men spills out the door in lines down the steps and pools around the snacks and tea stand; others mill about idly waiting their turn to be ignored. But having other business, I pushed through the infernally dim, musky floor to the much smaller room I remembered from months ago: VISAS / ATTESTATION.
Abandon hope.

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الطيار من طاير

The Levant: Part Five

It is hard to make plans when there’s nothing you really want to do. When I drove into the gas station in Furn al-Shebbak before heading off to Baalbek, I was sick of the traffic and of looking at maps, and I was leaning further and further towards driving to a beach in the south, sticking my head in the sand, and hiring the first shared taxi out of the country in the morning. But more happened at that gas station than I let on about in my last post —it wasn’t so important then — and in the hour and a half I spent parked not buying any petrol, I filled up on ideas and got back into the traveling spirit.

The air force cadet, around my age and dressed in camouflage, did tell me not to go to east towards Baalbek, but he told me not to go south towards Sur (also called Tyre) either. Go tomorrow morning, he told me, and I’ll go with you: fish for lunch, jet skis, the beach. The cadet, his name was Marwan, was from there. “And nargila?” he asked. “Of course.” Huge smiles. This dude was speaking my language.

But if I didn’t go to Baalbek, I really had fuckall to do. I tried to explain that, but I couldn’t quite get it across in Arabic. “Do you know people in Lebanon?” Marwan and the pump manager asked.   No.  “What are you trying to see?”   Nothing. Anything, something different.  “Where are you staying?”   Nowhere.

Their faces grew more and more incredulous with my every hopeless shrug. I truly had no good reasons to do anything at all — no sights to see, no people to meet, and an unfaltering confidence that my rental insurance would cover robberies.

“Meet me outside Melek al-Tawwous at 8:30,” Marwan repeated, unknowingly accepting as his all of my stresses about filling time. I had few wants but I wanted to, I felt I needed to want — but with the air force in charge, I could take the passenger seat and throw my baggage in the back.

And so I asked for directions to Zahle and went to Baalbek, and I came back and crashed in the one pension I knew, and I picked up Marwan outside the breakfast place just as he said. “Let me drive.”

The day started so right. We shortcut through side streets and raced onto the highway, stopping to pick up two pirated CDs of Lebanese Pop from a shack on the road; by the end of the day we’d listen to the good one about 40 times — and the bad one 65. We learned little about each other: he fixed planes for the air force, I wandered around countries. “You have a good heart,” Marwan would say to me. I tried to live up to his assessments, based on my willingness to travel alone or with a very new friend, by trusting in his plans for fun à la libanaise.

We had unbelievable foul (he paid) and pepsi in his town, Ghaziyeh (he wasn’t from Sur), and he ran in to his house (which he never let me see) to change out of his army uniform. “When I come back I will be a real person.” He came back in a sleeveless muscle shirt with his hair gelled. We were going to the beach. “Do you have any cologne?” Tolerance, I told myself.

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Ski Dubai Sucks — سكي دبي المصات

Ski Dubai sucks.

Whatever you want to make it: it ain’t. Whether you are an old timer looking to relive those far away moments on the slopes or a polar bear lost and seeking shelter, you’re going to be as disappointed as the kid at Chuckie Cheese’s that realizes the good prizes cost 8,000 jackpots worth of tickets. And if you’re a first timer — forget it. The 400-ft. slope lacks all of the things that make first-time skiers want to come back for a second. No scenery (it’s indoors); no choice of trails (it’s in a mall), no babes in the lodge (it’s Dubai); no hot chocolate at the bottom (cause fuck you, that’s why).
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The World’s Future — مستقبل العالم


When expecting anything from the organizers of the World Future Energy Summit, you are generally told that your energy will be better spent in the future. The global green technologies conference is coordinated by one company and subcontracted to another for general staffing, hosted in the national exhibition center but sponsored and organized by the real energy enterprise, Masdar, itself a subsidiary of a development company that is in turn owned by the government. The resulting backstage chaos is not only commonplace in the Emirates, it is essential to the expo experience, and the requisite favor-trading, blood clots, and temper tantrums administrators, assistants and the like could not feel whole without.

The key is to find someone who has stake — in anything. Generally, you are told to go over there, and when you get there, the word is still that the action is here. Here, there’s another there where you should be, and there, there’s yet another further there — that’s where you want to be. Except that it isn’t. Once you get far enough away, a misguided assistant (to someone so many degrees removed they don’t know the name of the company your contact works for) inquires gently if you’ve ever been to where you came from three hours ago. Yes, you’ll say, and collapse into a heap on the floor.

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