I don’t have anything prepared this week so I thought I’d write about Teengenerate in Dubai. No, we didn’t play there. I don’t think we’d be allowed to. Too many songs that insult the prophet. But we had a 6-hour layover there on our way to Spain to play the Funtastic Dracula Carnival and we decided to get out of the airport and explore. When are we ever gonna be back there?
I had my reservations because I come from a country that has fucked with people in that region for so long that there are guys there who wear ski masks even in the super-hot desert sun and make scary YouTube videos about cutting off our heads. But what I didn’t realize is that Dubai is flush with money and therefore peaceful and not overrun with maniacs.
I’m writing this in one coffee-fueled scrawl with no outline and no plans to edit so please excuse any mistakes and aimless rambling.
We landed and as we taxied, I looked out at the flat brown wasteland and thought what a shithole. I’m quick to judge like that. Little did I know how cool it would be. We got off the plane and my first observation was that the bathrooms in Dubai smell like curry.
It was early morning and once we left the gates, the terminal was pretty much empty. It was hard as hell to find somebody who worked there but we found a jovial bunch of guys dressed like hotel concierges joshing each other and bullshitting in a language I presume to be Arabic. I asked one of the bunch if we could leave the airport since we had such a long layover and he said it depended on what country we’re from. I told him and he said that the American was okay but he didn’t know about the Japanese so he indicated a direction we should go and said to ask there.
We followed his directions and ended up in an even more spacious and deserted part of the airport. But in the middle of this massive empty space was a small space-age console lit by blue fluorescent lights, in the middle of which was a tiny woman staring straight ahead doing nothing, perhaps waiting to be beamed up to the mother ship.
She watched me as I approached. I explained our situation to her and she told me she didn’t know but that we should just try to go through immigration and they’d sort it all out there. I thanked her for the help and her businesslike demeanor was broken up by a girlish giggle.
Immigration wasn’t deserted. There were lines of people of all race, shapes and sizes waiting to be called to the front of the line. At the front of the line were guys dressed in thawbs (I looked that shit up on Wikipedia) chatting with each other and calling people up from the lines. When each person came up, they’d stop smiling, look stone-faced at their passports, shoot them a few stern looks and then stamp them, wave them on and resume their laughing and talking with each other.
I went first since I was the one with the English skills. At the end of my line wasn’t a jovial young Arab man but a toad-like woman sunk so far back in her burqa that she had no neck or really any shape at all whatsoever.
In the politest manner possible, I stated our case and was even ready to expand on how we wanted to experience the riches of her wonderful country, but she just responded by saying, ‘PASSPORT.’ I gave her my passport. She stamped it and then indicated with a subtle but impatient spasm in her imposing brow that I could then proceed and I did. I stood on the other side and watched as my bandmates and friends entered the United Arab Emirates.
Once officially inside Dubai, it was on to the next order of business – coffee. Luckily, there was a coffee stand right there and I ordered a large coffee with absolutely no understanding of how much I was spending. At Haneda we had exchanged some yen for Dubai money. I think it’s called the dirham, but we didn’t know that and instead referred to it as ‘Dubai money’ the whole time.
Interesting thing – the coins in Dubai don’t have anything on them that you recognize as numbers, so you have no idea how much you’re giving shop people and have to rely on their honesty to not completely rip you off.
We went outside and smoked and talked. Dubai has a super modern airport that has its own train station, just like Narita. Someone had told us that the airport was centrally located, so we decided to hop on a train and see where it led us. We took the motorized walkway to the elevated train station.
The train route is simple in Dubai but when you’ve got to make a plane in a few hours or else you’ll be stuck there, it looks complicated and you really want to make sure you’ve got it well understood. Everybody kind of left it to me to figure things out, I guess because I speak English and maybe also because I’ve mastered Tokyo’s insanely complex train system so well that I manage to make it home after even the wildest nights of drinking.
I did some mental math and then picked out an approximate spot on the map where I felt it was safe to go and come back in short enough time, all the time aware that whether or not Teengenerate made its show in Spain depended on this decision.
Sammy and Kaoru had actually scouted out something to do in Dubai. They wanted to go to the Dubai Museum, which was located in an old part of town. An old part of town sounded good to the rest of us. We had no interest in seeing that huge stupid tower or the rich part of town which is probably bland and expensive just like every other rich part of town in the universe, so we figured out a few stations that seemed near that part of the city.
Then, I gave up completely and asked a guy trapped behind a glass counter, who luckily spoke English. I asked him if he could recommend something in that area, indicating the area of the museum on the map.
He said, ‘I recommend sir that you go to Brj Khalifa.’ That’s the big tower. I think he blathered something about it being the biggest tower in the world.
‘Where is that?’ I asked him.
‘Here,’ he said pointing to an area of the map really far from where I’d said we wanted to go.
‘But we want to go somewhere around here,’ I said. ‘Can you recommend something?’
He studied the map for a minute and then thought about it and then looked at the map again and then sighed and said, ‘Sir, I really recommend Brj Khalifa, it’s the best thing to see in Dubai.’
‘How about this station,’ I said, pointing to one near the Dubai Museum, far from Dubai’s massive phallic cry for attention.
He was clearly exasperated. ‘Sir, I’m afraid that I can only recommend Brj Khalifa. It is simply the best Dubai has to offer and a major world monument and I guarantee that it will be worth your while.’
There was no reasoning with him. I gave up and went back to the friends and bandmates. While I explained to them the situation another group went up to the counter and they all shouted at each other for a while. We decided to just take matters into our own hands and get our own tickets for the station we thought was nearest the museum ourselves.
But unfortunately, we were mystified by the ticket machines so I headed back up to the counter. The guy wasn’t happy. He glared at me, a look of challenge on his face. I told him we wanted six tickets for HERE and indicated the station we figured closest to the museum.
This started another maddening negotiation. He suggested we buy all-day passes. He explained that an all-day pass isn’t much more than the ticket I wanted to buy and we could use it to get on or off anywhere we wanted. Thus, it was perfect for enjoying our layover to its fullest.
With no idea how much our Dubai money was worth, I assumed he was trying to pull the ol’ Dubai screw job on a Yankee boy who didn’t want to see the Dubai Glory Tower.
I conferred with bandmates. We did simple math. The math didn’t help and we still weren’t sure but we figured this was our one and only handful of hours in Dubai, so why not go for broke? It was a plan – we’d buy the all-day passes.
I said we wanted the all-day passes and without a word the counter guy rang us up and slapped the tickets on the counter. He was clearly over it and ready for us go to away.
He pointed a stern finger at my coffee and said, ‘No coffee on the train. The fee is 50 dirhams.’ Then he pointed the finger in the direction of Fifi, who was smacking away at his perennial chewing gum, and said, ‘No gum on the train. The fee is 50 dirhams.’ And finally, ‘You must not get on the women-only train car. The fee is 100 dirhams. All fees must be paid immediately in cash and it doesn’t matter if you’re a foreign visitor or not.’
I quickly tried to picture what it would be like to go to jail in Dubai and then said, ‘Suredy-doo, boss’ and went to chuck my coffee into a nearby trash bin. I was whistling as I went and a large security guy looked at me and I stopped whistling.
We rode a human being conveyor belt to the super-modern train station. We looked out at the desert scenery where the sun was chuckling wickedly as it slithered higher into the sky.
We waited for the train along with an assortment of Dubai people of all races and in various manners of dress. There weren’t too many people but probably half the world’s ethnicities were represented. The diversity was one of the things that really struck me about Dubai. It wasn’t just some bullshit that the ‘Experience Dubai’ commercials on the plane said.
Pretty soon the train pulled up. I noticed that while most of the cars were somewhat crowded (not Tokyo crowded but somewhat crowded), the car at the end was nearly empty. I’m a genius when it comes to mass transit, so I suggested we get on the train with hardly anybody on it.
We got on the train and then I felt that sinking feeling you get when you realize you’re flagrantly breaking the rules in a scary foreign country. I looked around – the train car consisted of us, three women, one child, a large woman standing in the corner of the car in a uniform with a device for issuing tickets, and signs plastered everywhere saying things like WOMEN ONLY.
I started shouting in English, ‘GO! GO!’ and physically pushing everyone into the next car.
The large uniformed woman’s eyes followed us as we went.
The regular car was full of people but not crammed like the Tokyo subway. Like the Tokyo subway, it was quiet and modern and everybody was looking at small electronic devices. But instead of everybody being Japanese, they were a mix of races.
We watched the scenery pass outside. Some of it looked definitely foreign and Middle Easterny while other places, like giant shopping centers, made me feel like I could’ve been in any American suburb.
As an American, I can only relate to new, unfamiliar places by deciding which American state or city they look like, otherwise I would have to reckon with something different and outside of my experience, and that would be too upsetting to me. Dubai looks like Phoenix or Las Vegas without the casinos, except that it’s full of Middle Easterners, Asians and South Asians instead of old white people.
We got off at our stop and took the escalator up to ground level and savored that last bit of sweet air conditioning we would know for the next few hours. Sammy and Kaoru set off for the museum and we stopped to smoke.
It was only about 9:30 or so but already sunny and hot like the inside of an oven. There were people milling around in a dusty empty lot that appeared to be an ex-building. We smoked there and then started up the street. It was a large multi-lane street with tall buildings on either side with no space between them. Some of them were banks, others I have no idea.
We were looking for a place to eat. There was a guy sitting in a parking lot who I figured might be a lot attendant and thus know the area. He was sitting in a plastic chair in the lot looking at his cell phone. I asked him if there was anywhere good to eat around here and he shrugged and indicated vaguely that we should continue up the street.
It occurred to me that I was in the Middle East. Wow. I said it out loud a few times, ‘I’m in the Middle Fucking East.’ It was exciting to think that. If you looked one way, right there was Saudi Arabia. Over yonder was a bunch of water and beyond that, Iran. I’m in the Middle… Fucking… East. I’ve done pretty well for a Missouri boy, I thought to myself.
We kept walking and there was nothing that looked good. There was a kebab place and a sign across the street for a hamburger shop of all things, but it was morning so it didn’t look like anything was open. Then we hit gold – a supermarket. There’s nothing cooler than visiting a supermarket in a foreign country. Plus it was air conditioned.
I wandered around looking at the goods on the shelves, wondering what they were. The best was the snack aisle. There were all kinds of potato chips and Cheeto-like snacks with Arabic writing on them and flavors like spicy mayonnaise. I don’t know why, but there was a lot of peanut butter. It seemed like there was a whole row of nothing but various local brands of peanut butter.
There was a small deli counter with bread goods and pastries like pizza made with goat’s cheese and sandwiches of various kinds. There was also a fish counter with bins full of freshly caught fish where the fish man was talking to a shopper and gesticulating fervently. A whole aisle was devoted to spices and I have no idea what any of them were.
I was stupid because I didn’t buy anything. I was totally going to but I knew we’d be back in Dubai on the way back and foolishly thought I’d pick up stuff then. But when we came back, it was only a four hour layover and the middle of the night. I still think about those weird potato chips and spicy mayonnaise jars and the missed opportunity.
Back out on the street, we kept marching up the hot avenue.
We came to the next train station and here the street forked. In one direction the bustling avenue continued, but the other way was a smaller street. It looked like there were eating places down the smaller street and in any case it had a much funkier vibe, so we took it.
The street was narrower and on each side were tiny storefront shops. People walking around looked sullen and hot, probably sullen because they were so hot and, unlike us, had shit to do. Most of the people I saw were Middle Eastern or South Asian, although I also saw Africans and Asians and even a few whiteys like myself.
There were little tributaries leading off this street and we wandered them as well. We saw quite a few bakeries where they were baking the morning’s bread. Outside of one was a jovial man in a thawb sitting on an empty crate sipping tea. As I walked by, he said, ‘Good morning, my friend. How are you?’ He seemed like a dude you could hang out with.
We saw lots of restaurants here but most of them were dark and empty, which means they either suck or they’re just not open yet. We strolled around and finally Pop’n (who else?) found a promising eatery. He noticed that there was a steady stream of what looked like laborers pouring in and out of a restaurant called Aysha. Laborers are a good sign that the food is delicious and cheap. We’d found Dubai’s Waffle House.
The place was pretty crowded. I think all the tables were taken. People were sitting at tables eating big flat pieces of bread with their hands, using it to scoop up what looked like a thick curry. Most of the people in the room were men but there was at least one family. Everybody looked up at us as we came in.
They didn’t stare at us too hard. Everybody quickly went back to eating. I noticed a stairway leading up to the second floor and I suggested, how about the second floor? Two guys were at the counter and one looked like a cook. At my suggestion, they talking to each other animatedly and then the non-cook guy said, ‘Okay,’ and gestured toward the stairway.
I wouldn’t have suggested the second floor if I’d know that it was totally empty and apparently not ready for diners yet. There was nobody up there but us and it looked like there hadn’t been anybody there for a while. To add to this feeling, not far from our table and in full view was a metal cage and trap to catch some sort of varmint.
The four of us sat down at the table and then the register guy appeared. He was apparently the owner, or I thought that anyway, and regardless of whether he’s actually the owner or not, I’m going to refer to him that way for the rest of the story.
The menu said the restaurant served Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and some ethnicity I’ve never heard of before. The dishes looked delicious. Some looked like curry, some were rice-based, some were clearly Chinese, and a few appeared to be soups.
While we were looking at the menus and asking the owner what was what, a giant piece of that bread we’d seen downstairs along with the curry-looking stuff appeared. The owner told us that it was piratha and that he made it without oil because a few weeks ago a couple of German tourists had been in his restaurant and had told him that people in the West don’t like oil.
I said, ‘Oh, we love oil!’ And he started speaking rapidly to a cook who had appeared by his side. The cook dashed back downstairs.
The piratha and keema, as the curry-like stuff was called, were delicious. In fact, it was the best thing we ate in Dubai or Spain the whole trip.
We couldn’t make heads or tails of the menu. Finally, we started to order. Fifi pointed to a rice dish and said, ‘This please.’ The owner said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry that’s lunch only.’ Then he would start talking at a very rapid pace to the cook, who would look seriously back at him and nod, and then he would say, ‘It’s okay. We cook it for you.’
This pattern repeated as each of us ordered. Fifi and Fink both ordered rice dishes where the rice is served on top of the grilled chicken, kind of like a reverse donburi. I can’t remember what Pop’n ordered.
I ordered something that looked like mutton curry. ‘I’ll have the mutton curry,’ I said.
The owner said, ‘No! It’s not curry. Curry is India. This is Pakistan.’
I said, I’ll have the mutton thing that’s not curry.’
We all finished giving our orders and the cook dashed downstairs again. We sat back and started waiting for our food. The owner still stood by the table looking at us. It was awkward.
He asked us if we were tourists and I explained to him that we’re a rock band from Tokyo on a layover on our way to go to Spain and play a festival. He didn’t seem satisfied by that answer. The look in his eyes seemed to say, ‘What on earth led you to my restaurant.’
I was a little worried about the money. I don’t think prices were given on the menu. We had two giant bottles of water which we were draining at a rapid pace. ‘You know he’s charging us for these,’ I said to Fink. He was probably tacking on extra charges for everything, including firing up the lunch menu when it’s still breakfast time. But then we figured, let’s blow our Dubai money. By the time the meal was over, we’d have to head straight back to the airport anyway.
It was taking them a while to get our food cooked. Pop’n was still staring at the menu. He’d found something he just had to try. It was a giant fish served on a bed of tomato slices and plain white bread. He couldn’t not order it. We all said we’d help him with it.
It wasn’t hard to call the owner back because he never completely went away. He would go downstairs to supervise or speak rapidly to his cook or something and then he’d be back again, standing at the end of our table, smiling, hands clasped behind his back, sorry that we were in his restaurant instead of some ritzy bullshit part of Dubai.
Finally, the food came and it was much bigger than we’d expected. I had my mutton non-curry, the Sugiyama Bro’s had their rice dishes, and Pop’n had his giant fish. We also had the second flatbread, this time soaked in oil, three huge ‘salads’ (plates of raw cucumber and carrot slices with no dressing) and what was left of the keema. It was a feast.
After the food was served, the cook went back downstairs. The owner hovered at the end of our table. We all took bites and told him it was delicious.
We couldn’t finish everything and so we asked if we could get takeout boxes. I assume if we couldn’t, he’d say okay anyway and send his cook out to buy Styrofoam boxes. But actually they did have takeout boxes. We packed the giant fish and other leftovers and then looked at the bill.
Miracle of miracles – the total for EVERYTHING was a scant 3,000 yen. Unbelievable. We’d stuffed ourselves as full as we could go and it was only 3,000 yen. We just dumped all of our Dubai money on the table and told the owner we’d be sure to come again next time.
We walked back to the second train station (thanks, station guy, for the all-day passes) and were on our merry way. We made it to Spain to play the festival, including Pop’n’s giant fish.