My latest piece is a light tongue in cheek look at my time spent in Dubai. “Dreamland Hotel” was published on December 24, 2009 at the Window Dresser’s Arms, a wonderful online forum, full of robust discussion.
By Reuben Brand
Walking out of the airport in Dubai was like walking into a hot cup of tea – hot, sticky and a tad uncomfortable. It was late, I was tired and all I wanted was a shower and a decent bed to rest my weary head, so I jumped into the nearest cab and was on my way.
As we pulled up the taxi driver assured me that this was the ONLY hotel in Dubai with vacancies, “sure of course it is” I said, too tired to dispute the blatant lie.
“Dreamland Hotel… This place seems OK” I thought as I checked in. Despite the name reminding me of a dodgy mini golf centre, or a David Lynch film – I was just thankful I had found somewhere to stay. It wasn’t the Hilton but it had clean sheets, hot water, TV with movies in English (bonus) and super cold aircon.
A quick wash and I was ready for a walk around the neighbourhood.
As I walked the streets beneath the giant skyscrapers a voice, now quickly approaching me from behind, darted out of the darkness, “Hello, what’s your name?” I turned to find a young man smiling and smoking a cigarette. “My name is Ahmed, are you lost? Let me show you around” he said.
I walked with Ahmed for a while; he was from Lebanon and seemed strangely interested in just about everything, it was a tad creepy and the conversation soon degenerated. “So, are you circumcised? It’s much better when you’re making sexing to be circumcised,” he said, completely out of the blue.
Slightly taken a back I tried to steer the conversation away from my nether regions, “what an odd thing to ask” I said. “What about when you’re alone… do you…” continued Ahmed. My God! Where the hell was this guy from? I had a fair idea of where he was headed with these questions and really didn’t want to go there. We turned a corner and I was just about to use the nearest shop as an excuse to end our charming chat, but to my dismay it was a darkish empty street.
Ahmed’s voice suddenly went up a few octaves and became a camp, nasal twang, his hand gesture became overtly animated and he giggled like a school girl as he flamboyantly strutted alongside me.
“So, you look tired, do you want a massage? Let’s party, I studied special massage techniques you know… Just come back to my place, it’s so relaxing, do you like partying? I love partying, it’s so much fun, do you want a massage? I’m really good.” He said in almost one breath.
Oh great… The last thing I needed was to be hit on by a sexually frustrated Lebanese guy who wanted to prod me in all the wrong places. OK, strange city, extremely creepy guy, dark alley, very bad mix. Had to think of something to say and fast… “I have to re-arrange my sock draw, go watch paint dry, cut myself and bathe in vinegar, learn the Dewy Decimal system” Anything! Sheesh, quickly Reuben think of something! “Oh wow, look at the time, I really must go check my emails… Thanks but no thanks mate.”
“I really must go check my emails?” That was my great escape sentence? Oh brother, I must have been tired – but it worked a treat and I was off like a Jewish foreskin. (I was going to say “off like a bride’s nighty.” Or “off like a bucket of prawns in the hot Aussie sun,” but this, untasteful as it is, seemed to fit the previous paragraphs perfectly.)
It can’t get much worse than that I thought, as I scampered unscathed back to the safety of Dreamland Hotel.
The first few days at Dreamland were nice and quite as it was still Ramadan, everyone was lovely, I even got to know the girls at the front desk, “hello Mr Reuben” they would say as I clambered through the door, in a sweaty mess after a long day in the hot sun.
Finally I could get some work done – or so I thought.
On the last day of Ramadan one of the porters came and asked if I was ready to disco, “all the discos start tonight, Ramadan is over so we can party,” he said with a grin.
“That’s nice” I thought, “good for you.” Little did I realise that what he was trying to tell me was that the hotel had its very own nightclub. Not one but three. And my room just happened to be above two of them. Fantastic, there goes my peaceful sleep.
The first club was called “Wild Indian Girls” Presumably for the Indian clientele, the second was an Arabic club “Arabic Dreams” or some such name and the third, which was right under my room, was for Pakistanis. I can’t remember what it was called; only that it was extremely loud. That night was like trying to sleep in a bad Bollywood flick, as the distorted bass rattled everything in my room, including my now frayed nerves.
On the second night curiosity got the better of me and I just had to see what all the fuss was about.
I tentatively ventured into the Pakistani club – I was half expecting to find a dimly lit room, perhaps a smoke machine and disco ball and of course some badly dressed Pakistanis wearing their jeans pulled right up under their armpits, pressed cotton shirts (unbuttoned half way) and bouffant hairdos all busting a “Bollywood meets disco fever” move on the dance floor. Oh how I was wrong.
To my surprise the room was full of tables and chairs, no dance floor, no disco ball and only a few bad hairdos. In the centre of the room was a stage, on the stage was a long bench and on the long bench sat a row of thoroughly unimpressed young girls. “Something is very wrong with this picture” I thought to myself. The room was packed with incredibly drunk men sitting around the tables, all shouting and cheering – having a great old time. Then the music started and one of the girls got up and did a total Bollywood dance number, then another song and another girl. It seemed they all had particular songs that they would mime away to as they flitted nimbly around the stage.
It was all very cute and amusing until I noticed some of the girls on the bench having what looked to me like an elaborate conversation in sign language with some of the patrons. Hand signals were flying all over the shop, numbers, thumbs up, thumbs down, the international rubbing of thumb and pointer together “money, money, money” waving fingers back and forth in a “No! No! No! I don’t think so” kind of way, pointing upstairs and giggling all the while – “are they bargaining for something? What on earth is going on?”
My suspicions were confirmed as I watched these covert transactions take place and one or two girls silently slipped away only to reappear some time later looking slightly ruffled.
After just about as much bad Bollywood music as I could bear I made for the sanctuary of my room, stuffed napkins in my ears and tried to get some sleep.
The next morning on my way out I was stopped by the man who sat at the door. “So… Did you have some fun last night?” He asked. “Did you like… the girls? You can take them up to your room you know…” He was an elderly Pakistani man, very pleasant in appearance, if not a tad strange in manner. “But don’t bother with these girls, they’re too expensive,” he continued, as he looked at me through his 70’s style glasses (original vintage) with his thick locks of grey hair blowing in the warm breeze. He was 65 years old, but didn’t look a day over 40, “what’s his secret?” I wondered.
“I will take you to a place where there are good cheap girls…very, very cheap… But they’re only available in the mornings.” He said with a slightly disturbing grin. What is this? A red spot special at woolies? Early bird gets the worm I guess…
“Oh gee… that’s um, well that’s… good, great, yeah thanks… that’s ah, good to know… very informative… thanks it’s a very ah… kind offer, I’ll um… I’ll… yeah thanks.” I spluttered.
If “very, very cheap” prostitutes was this guy’s secret to staying youthful, I think I’ll just have to age gracefully.
That night I had a quick peek through the door of “Wild Indian Girls.” It was much the same as the Pakistani club, although more subdued – Pakistanis really know how to let loose and party. I wasn’t too sure about the name though, as the girls didn’t look all that wild – possibly “uninterested, depressed Indian girls” would have been more fitting.
They say that curiosity killed the cat – but mine had died years ago, so my next port of call was definitely the Arabic club. I was informed that just to enter the club there was an exuberant cover charge, “try before you buy” was my excuse and so I slipped in for a minute or two. As far as dodgy clubs in even dodgier hotels go, this was not so bad – plates of hummus and nibbles were being served, the air was filled with the sweet smell of flavoured tobacco, as just about everyone in the room hubble bubbled away on their sheesha pipes whilst three or four largish Arabic woman all performed some kind of pseudo belly dance come two step shuffle on stage. I didn’t stay long enough to see if any covert hand signals were being given as I’d had just about enough Twin Peaks entertainment for one night.
The same rules applied for all three clubs – a few hand signals and it’s into the express elevator to the elusive “upstairs.” So I was staying in an illegal brothel – out of all the hotels in Dubai I ended up at Dreamland or “Wet-dreamland” as it should be renamed. There has to be a first for everything I guess.
I decided to take a quick stroll to the shops – I had only made it to the end of the street when a young black girl approached me. “You looking for some brown sugar?” she said in a tired voice. “I have a place we can go to.” “No thank you – just looking for some cigarettes” I said in as polite a voice as possible and decided to take a short cut through a nearby car park. I had apparently now stumbled into the African girls pick up section – girls, young and old were hanging around under dimly lit street lights, all waiting for a John Doe to take them home.
Nervous young men pretending to talk on their mobiles stalked the car park, all waiting for a quiet moment to make their move and pounce on their prey. I almost expected to hear David Attenborough start narrating as this national geographic style dance was performed.
Quickly leaving the shadows of the car park I headed straight for the shops, only to be faced with a giant Russian lady who looked like Vladimir Putin’s sparring partner. Bright blue eye liner, thick red lipstick that looked like it had been applied by a blind man with Parkinson’s and a horrendously short skirt displaying thighs that would have made Phar Lap whimper – she looked me up and down in a very menacing way, turned and continued smoking her cigarette.
“Phew!” I obviously didn’t look worth it, which was great as no amount of polite “no thank you” would have appeased this giant lady of the night, who more than likely ate baby kittens, little children and dolphins for breakfast.
I was nearly there, just a few more metres and that packet of $1.50 cigarettes was mine!
All of a sudden a slim arm slipped itself around my waist and a young Asian girl made herself quite comfortable by my side. “Do you want massage? Special price for you…” What on earth is going on? I quickly checked to make sure there wasn’t a huge flashing neon sign above my head that said “Young white male: Quick, offer him unusual sexual services!”
Well at least she wasn’t a hairy Lebanese guy, but never the less, the answer remained the same. “No thanks – I just want a packet of cigarettes.” I thought choosing cancer over possible herpes or HIV was a rather good move.
Finally I had made it to the shops – their glowing fluorescent lights were like a beacon of hope, a sanctuary of safety. I stepped into the light and took refuge in the isles of frozen goods and cleaning products, but it wasn’t long until I had to brave the elements once more.
I sat, smoking a much needed cigarette, on a nearby bench pondering the bizarre nature of the past few days when a voice quietly whispered something in my ear that would make your average lady of the night blush like a school girl – I turned to find another Asian lady sitting beside me. “Where on earth am I?” I wondered – it was like I had somehow crossed into a parallel universe where Kings Cross, minus the toothless junkies and crack whores, was having a really bad Arabian Nights theme party.
As flattering as it all was, the only thing I really wanted to do was watch daggy 80’s re runs on the movie channel in the comfort of my room.
I returned to the hotel and as I walked up the stairs to my room I stopped to chat to the security guard standing at the door of the Pakistani club – he was from Ethiopia and always had a tale to tell. “Tomorrow you should go to the Ethiopian section of town, they have special cafes where you can take part in a traditional coffee ceremony,” he said. Hallelujah! Finally, someone was talking about something that didn’t involve cheap prostitutes or massages! What a lovely idea, good coffee, a new experience, should be fantastic. “The ceremony is performed by beautiful Ethiopian woman,” he continued, “and afterwards, you can have all kinds of fun with them, if you know what I mean – Ethiopian woman are the best in the world…” Oh God… I just can’t escape.