Tea In The Sahara

I flew out from Pudong on a cold, quiet Tuesday night. I said goodbye to my colleagues in the day and my wife and son in the evening which was very emotional. My son is now at an age where he recognises and knows people and he will miss me when it dawns on him I am no longer there. I took a taxi to Longang Road station and then the Maglev to the deserted airport. Quietly and efficiently we all checked in. There were some dudes praying at the gate and there were Arabs and middle eastern men and ladies everywhere as well as a smattering of Chinese and one or two honkies. I remember being momentarily scared and wary of getting on the plane lest they were all shoe bombers and terrorists and then it occurred to me how brainwashed I have been with my opinions of Muslims and the Middle East just I had been with China before I landed there.

I knew it had to change and I was going to experience a new impression once I landed in Bahrain. I slept most of the 9 hour flight to Dubai and stumbled bleary eyed into Dubai airport for the transfer. Now this being 5AM I was staggered to see that there was 24 hour party in full effect in the terminal. Shops, people restaurants all buzzing in the airport that doesn’t sleep. After China it was weird to see all these brand names again and weird to see no Chinese anywhere. Had a cup of tea and waited at my gate fro the connection to Bahrain. A great flight on Emirates and it really is amazing that all the pilots and staff and mostly white. All. This must be a conscious thing to allay the fears of people like me thinking an Arab pilot would fly the plane into the nearest building. I landed at Bahrain early morning local time and as we came to land I noticed how flat and dusty everything was. Two story buildings with the odd smattering of important new-is building here and there. Landed at the tiny airport (think Southend with extra palm trees) and with my visa (which brits can get on arrival) and then to the driver who picked me up and took me to my serviced apartment. Driving the streets I was not blown away nor was I saddened. Its all very meh. English absolutely language everywhere and much more westernised than China. Checked in to my serviced apartment and it would appear all the service staff everywhere and mostly Indian with a few Pilipino here and there and they are always never less than polite with ‘sir’ being used all the time.

My room is ok with a kitchen etc but again, not great. Showered and then straight to my office to pick my new mobile phone and to meet the boss. A quick chat and then I was driven to site by Mohammed Ali. Alas not the boxer but my a very courteous driver who took me to site to look at a huge project my company is working on and the reason I am being brought over. Its already dawned on me that I will be based on site as opposed to an office where I will be able to pontificate in black suits as before. Now I am at the cutting edge where things are made and dreams are broken. I have done it before and I loved it but this was in London so the hut was cold but this is the Middle East so I assume it gets hot and although we are in winter it seemed pleasantly warm to me. The office is also huge and populated with brits and aussies with Indians, locals and Pilipino doing all the donkey work. I am in quite a senior position and have an air of mystery as I am from Shanghai as opposed to being flown in from Belfast. Also, I am on a secondment which means I don’t have to stay so I can see what is going down before I commit. The other thing that I noticed were the sheer amount of sharp suits being worn by management out here – this is a professional operation funded by Saudi and Kuwait oil money and they demand their pound of flesh to be presentable and to the point. With regards to the project itself it is now being built on site and that my friends is a recession-proof place to be right now. I have read varying reports as to how bad the Chinese economy is getting and it seems that it is much deeper than previously felt. The boom times are well and truly over and my company will be shedding jobs come the new year there is little doubt so I have to position myself where the work is. Europe is fucked. America is fucked. Asia increasingly so but the middle east is still pretty good (Dubai aside) and a project that is halfway through construction HAS to keep going. My boss is a good natured Aussie who worked and lived in China for years and knows EXACTLY what I am going through. Its pretty good we have this rapport and I can tell already its going to be OK. The office upper-tier is mostly British with fat old guys with huge guts waddling around doing what appears to be a lot of talking albeit in a very jocular fashion. Its a change for sure but one that is not too painful and indeed its nice to be spoken too now and then. I have learnt a lot in Asia and I think I will be able to apply those lessons in Bahrain to enable me to survive in this very western culture. Later that day we had some weird Christmas meal in a tent near the site which is basically just sand. It was very incongruous to see brits in sharp suits, Arabs and Pilipino eating Indian food in a desert in tent. Where the fuck am I?

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