Dazzled In Dubai

So, Perch Creek are in Dubai… It was supposed to be a secret, but this journalist knows that the truth needs to find it’s way through the diamond studded curtain… Read on!

When we first got the call from the people at the Dubai based entertainment agency, we thought it might be a hoax, but after some more correspondence it seemed like it was the real deal. Being such a last minute arrangement, we handed in all our paper work a week before leaving time only to find out that Eileen and Christi’s passports were about to expire and had to be renewed before we would be allowed in to the UAE. We now give our sincere thanks to whichever bureaucrat came up with the concept of “express passport processing”.

Our only prior experience with Dubai was when we had a one-day stopover here on our first Europe trip. We stumbled out of the hotel, red-eyed and dazed into 46 degree desert heat. After wandering around some random streets for about fifteen minutes with absolutely no sign of any life (not even a blade of grass) and one failed attempt to catch a train, it was all too much for us and we went back to collapse into our hotel bed. Our expectations this time couldn’t be lower, but that’s not always a bad thing.

After a relatively easy flight we arrived at a comfortable hotel in Bur Dubai. At first we thought we had arrived in the Indian district, but we quickly realised (and a quick Wikipedia search confirmed) that over 50% of Dubai is inhabited by Indians and when you combine the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan population (I’m sure these diverse groups just love being lumped all together by an ignorant Westerner) you make up over 75% of the Dubai population, with Emirati making up only 17%. Combine that with the fact that Dubai is a major tourist town and you find that true locals are few and far between.

Our gigs were all at WAFI Mall as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival – hardly the epitome of cool status we are trying to maintain back in Melbourne (now you know why it was supposed to be a secret!). WAFI Mall is themed around Ancient Egypt, with pyramids and Sphinxes everywhere, but despite the massive effort put in to the exterior decor the mall itself is always eerily quiet. This is partly due to the fact that it is generally extremely expensive and that compared with the mind-boggling opulence of the ultra-modern Dubai Mall (The largest shopping mall in the world), WAFI looks a little half baked and dated. However, WAFI is the preferred shopping place of Dubai’s royal family who like to keep away from the crowds. There is a sign out the front forbidding “Kissing and overt displays of affection”. The other guys were relieved that Camilla and I had to adhere to that one.
Wafi mall

WAFI Mall: Not as happening as it once was…

playing at wafi

…until Perch Creek got the party started! This great photo is courtesy of a friendly, eccentric and unfortunately anonymous Japanese guy who was kind enough to give us his photos.

capo

It’s just not a Perch Creek gig unless someone has forgotten something. Luckily, a pencil and a hair tie make for a fine capo.
All our transport to and from the venue was pre organised with a private minibus driver and we were able to leave all our gear on the stage for the whole time. The roads are wide, vast and full of very fast and exceptionally bad driving, all in glitzy four wheel drives. Fuel here is 1.5 dirhams per litre (about 45 cents), and a taxi driver told us that in neighbouring Saudi Arabia fuel is a third of the price as Dubai (like 15 cents/L!).

We met some street musicians from Toronto called The Sidewalk Crusaders (who incidentally had to change their name while in Dubai to the less revolutionary but somewhat inert name of “The Sidewalk Musicians”) who gave us their “hop-on hop-off” bus tour tickets, so the next day we decided to give them a whirl. There were only 4 tickets so we were going to buy a fifth ticket – but when we found out the outrageous price, we decided to enhance the enjoyment of the bus ride with the thrill of sneaking an extra person on. The bus ride took us around the old part of town where we were fascinated to see dhows (traditional Arabic boats) still in use for small scale importing and exporting. The dows are beautiful, old boats made primarily of wood, with blue rendering on the cabins. It was bizarre to see them load up with cargos of brand new fridges and set sail across the Arabian Sea with a crew of a handful of people.

I’m not really into consumerism and glitz is not really my scene, but when I saw Dubai Mall I couldn’t help but be impressed and excited by the sheer opulance and unabashed glitteriness of it all. At the mall there are many tourist attractions, including a massive fish tank packed full with all kinds of exotic rays (including a leopard print ray), a multitude of sharks and copious amounts of diverse fish. We also saw the “musical fountain”, which was really beautiful even though we had to look at it through a wall of people holding their mobile devices up in the air. Such is modern tourism. The fountain was near the base of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world, which towers above the Dubai skyline and, like most things in Dubai, glitters prettily at night. We tried to buy a ticket to go to up the Burj Kahlifa to a place called “At The Top”, but were turned off when we discovered that you had to book three days in advance and that “At The Top” was only halfway up, and not cheap either.

So, at this point you must be thinking “yeah, yeah, but we wanna see more pictures” and my only response is to turn slightly red, look to the ground and mutter something about accidentally deleting nearly every photo from my unbacked-up iPhone, while trying to transfer them to my computer… Oops! Always back up, kiddies. Luckily, we were given a bunch of photos by a friendly and eccentric Japanese photographer whom no-one caught the name of. It may be of some comfort to readers to know that my photos were all terrible anyway.

awkward1

There is something compelling about this awkward portrait. Christi’s poise makes me think of an early blues musician who’s never seen a camera before.

Is Dubai sickeningly consumeristic? Absolutely. In my younger years I would have been far too repulsed to even consider enjoying the fruits of glitter town, but I’m mellow enough now to enjoy it for what it is while we are here. It’s a pretty fun place to be rich in, but it’s not as glamorous for the majority of people here who all seem to share the same story – coming here to work menial and lonely jobs to make enough money to send back to their families back in Pakistan or Iran, or wherever. From what I can tell, it seems that Dubai has a distinct class divide between the workers – who are almost entirely foreign and working in Dubai by choice, and the wealthy – which includes locals and tourists.
shoe sale

Only in Dubai: Camilla posing for her sugar daddy inside a giant diamond shoe.
I could be wrong, but I get the impression that caring about recycling, green energy, fair trade or anything like that is not really in fashion, and I also notice a total lack of any bohemian subculture of any kind. I saw one shop on a busy strip called “Moral Trading Co”. It was out of business with a “For Lease” sign on the window. The UAE is one of the driest countries on the planet (120mm of rain/year) but it uses more water per capita than any other country. Most of their water comes from pumping out an ever depleting ground water supply and the rest comes from desalination. Oil represents only 6% of the UAEs revenue.

moral trading

Morally bankrupt?

Is Dubai full of strict rules and regulations? Yes, but not all of them are enforced as strictly as you’d think. The dress code is part of the criminal law system and forbids sleeveless tops and short skirts, although we see quite a lot of both those items. The drug rules are very heavy as well – which surely shouldn’t affect innocent people like us, you may say, except that Eileen unknowingly risked 4 years imprisonment by traveling with a pack of pain killers that contain the prohibited drug codeine. The Dubai airport also has scanners that can detect drugs in the bloodstream, and some travellers have been gaoled for having trace amounts of illegal drugs in the pocket lint or stuck to the soles of their shoes. There are other rules too. We got told off for playing cards in public (you should see our shiny gold pack of Dubai playing cards!) as gambling is illegal in Muslim states. Our set times also had to change to accommodate for prayer times that occur several times a day signified by a voice singing beautiful Arabic melodies that resonated through the mall. The prayer times were always at a slightly different time of day depending on the position of the moon and one time we accidentally kicked into the start of Party On The Farm before being shouted at to stop because prayer time wasn’t over. Cultural sensitivity has never been our strong point…

The United Arab Emirates is a union of emirates – an emirate being a place ruled over by an emir. The ruler of the emirate of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum whose face is on billboards and shop windows all around this place sporting an ostentatious scowl lending him a distinct resemblance to Lord Farquaad from the Shrek movie. My initial reaction to seeing his face everywhere and knowing that he inherited power through the monarchy system puts me on high “fascist dictator alert”, but all evidence points to him being a fair and respected leader of an extremely well-organised and forward thinking city. Dubai is different to most other places in the world in that nobody has to pay any income tax and sales tax is limited to cigarettes, alcohol, hotel and restaurant services. Sheikh Mohammed has written a book about his quest to realise his vision for the greatness of Dubai and maybe I am a sucker for propaganda, but he seems like a good guy – which is more than we can say for our home grown hero Tony Abbott. Sheikh Mohammed is also a poet, humanitarian and anti-corruption crusader as well as being responsible for launching the Emirates airline. Thank God Tony Abbott doesn’t write poetry!

Mohammed-bin-Rashid-Al-Maktoum

I like this guy!

We took advantage of some down time by doing a bit of rehearsing and writing in our hotel room and even recorded a demo of a new song of ours thanks to my hand held audio interface and Garageband.

hotel room

Forget decor, it’s amazing how much you can make a hotel room feel like home just by scattering a few instruments around.
breakfast

It’s amazing how good a breakfast hummus and salad makes. The hotel had a truly multicultural breakfast buffet with a large variety of Indian, Middle Eastern and Western breakfasts, including a dish called “foul madames”, which I initially assumed was a French dish which translated to “dirty women”, but it turns out it’s a delicious middle eastern bean stew.
We had to spend a lot of time sitting around between sets and WAFI Mall was a pretty boring place to kill time, but downstairs the “souk” was a little more interesting. It was a traditional Arab style market place with a lot of interesting traditional outfits and knick knacks. If you spent half an hour haggling with the stall holders you could get an OK price, too. Later we ate dinner down at the souk with hummus, veges and freshly baked pita bread, topped off with an after dinner grape flavoured shisha. We passed the sweet and fragrant shisha pipe around between us to the amusement of local onlookers. Camilla embarrassed us all by having a minor coughing fit, while Christi seemed to have an unexplainable aptitude for smoking the exotic water pipe…

While we were sitting around pretending to know how to smoke, one of the wait staff appeared with a grin holding up an Arabic newspaper with a big picture of us in it. I have no idea what the article was about but I’m sure it said that we were fabulous. The photo was of us performing Find The Cost Of Freedom upstairs at the mall – it’s a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover that we have taken to doing lately, featuring yours truly on “drop C” guitar and Eileen bowing the double bass.

find the cost1

This wasn’t the actual photo used, but this is us doing Find The Cost Of Freedom.

Being a Muslim town, drinking in public is illegal and take-away alcohol appears to be non-existent, but licenced bars, while not in abundance, exist here nevertheless, and while Dubai may seem a bit prudish to us hedonistic Westerners, it is actually a major centre for partying in the Middle East. Our artist liason guy, Joel, recommended to us a place called Stables Bar and told us that we “can’t waste [our] Thursday night” so we thought we’d give Dubai night life a crack. As Friday is the Islamic holy day, weekends in Arab countries are usually Thursday and Friday, but symbolic of the UAE’s status as a western-friendly place they have adopted a Friday-Saturday weekend to fit in better with Western trading hours, hence Thursday night being part night in Dubai.

Walking in, the suffocating smell of indoor smoking hit us sheltered smoke-free Aussies pretty hard, but we thought we’d just stay for one drink. Then Joel turned up and suddenly “one drink” changed it’s meaning somewhat… The bar was full of expats from various parts of the world and probably a few tourists too. Upstairs at the bar they had a bucking bull ride in the middle of the room that you could go on free of charge if you dared. We all had a go, but Lear really rode that thing and earned himself the biggest cheer of the night when he finally was thrown off. At this point you should all feel relieved that I deleted all my photos because the photo of Lear on the bull with wild red eyes surrounded by cheering drunks was a little disturbing, if not incriminating… We were all very popular at the bar due to our colourful appearance, and (I didn’t think of it at the time, but…) the fact that we were wearing vintage clothing made us look completely unlike everybody else in Dubai.

Camilla and I snuck out to Jumeira Public Beach for a hangover curing dip in the salty but beautifully blue Persian Gulf. In a town where everything is man-made, it was nice to soak up some natural beauty.

After our gig that night we hopped in a cab to Dubai Mall to go ice skating – you can do anything and buy anything at Dubai Mall – actually, almost anything. You can’t go skiing or buy a dinosaur. However, they do have a real 80 foot long Diplodocus at Dubai Mall, but you can’t buy it, and if you want to go skiing, you have to suffer the inconvenience of crossing town to the Emirates Mall. The dinosaur is the most complete Diplodocus skeleton in the world and was a 25 year-old vegetarian female, which means that she probably wouldn’t have had any trouble finding a good dinosaur share house back in the Jurassic Age…
dubai dino

A lovely pair of vegetarian females.
Anyway, ice skating was a hoot, and we were all swanning about like characters from Blades Of Glory. We were doing so well we started to consider putting on a “Perch Creek On Ice” stage show – until disaster struck. A little kid crashed right into Eileen which set off a chain reaction of catastrophic results climaxing with Lear falling straight onto his head onto the hard, rough ice. One bloody face and shirt, a quick bandage and a “head injury release form” later, we were all safely back in the cab home. Lear’s face was pretty messed up, but thankfully there’s the Jumeirah strip with dozens of world class plastic surgeries just a stone’s throw away, so we promise that if he doesn’t come out all good, we’ll get him fixed up as good as new before we take him home – in fact, he might even come home looking even better than he did before!

head injury

Adrenalin in the veins, blood on the shirt and head injury release form in hand, Lear looks cool as a cucumber…

I’ve never seen anyone wearing an abaya (white gown worn by Arabic men) at an ice rink before, so to my eyes it was bizarre and beautiful to see all the people in their desert outfits gracefully gliding across the glacial surface with ice skates replacing their traditional sandals.

Some random observations made in a Dubai supermarket:

I have always dreamt of a civilisation where packets of mixed nuts must include a mandatory “percentage of peanuts” clearly listed on the packet, so you could imagine my feeling of justice served when I spied a pack of mixed nuts boldly confessing “contains 50% peanuts”. I appreciated their honesty, but frankly, 50% peanuts is not good enough for me. I think we should definitely introduce peanut regulations in Australia. Tony Abbot should appoint himself Minister For Mixed Nuts and let someone else take over as Minister For Women. It would be a win-win situation, for sure.

There was cheese flavoured ice cream. At first I thought it must mean cheesecake flavour, but when I turned the tub over, I saw that the third ingredient was 8% processed cheese. Yumm!

That’s it for now. It’s been fun but after a week we are ready to head home – only that we aren’t heading home just yet, we have 41 hours of transit ahead of us that will see us arriving in Tamworth approximately 20 minutes before our sound check on Wednesday. I promise we’ll put on a good show, but donations of caffeine rich beverages will definitely be accepted.

I will leave you now with a video of WAFI mall being robbed…. by a group of guys in a Morris mini, and a very dramatic promotional video put together for us by Joel, our artist liason dude.

Til next time!

3 thoughts on “Dazzled In Dubai”

  1. James, honestly, as always you are a hoot! Loved the ‘tour’. I’ve only ever been bored, exhausted and cold in Dubai airport – this was much better. Enjoy Tamworth, hope you stay awake!

  2. You guys never cease to surprise. Here was I thinking that you’ll appearing at Tamworth any day now and find that you are in Dubai. I love Dubai, to coin an old comedy phrase: Now for something completely different – that sums Dubai up with it’s architecture, climate, even the fact that the place is based purely on shopping, tourism and leisure. We have had three, two night stopovers there. One of the standouts for us were the air-conditioned bus shelters. I can relate to your experiences, maybe not the ice skating. One thing though, the view from the Burj Khalifa is awesome.

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