Another wild romp around the world with the world's finest fighting force.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates:
Our Two portages in Dubai were a bit strangulated by some big-brass crackdowns. Liberty policies are of little tactical significance, so I can tell you a bit about them. A lot of ships in the strike group have been having alcohol problems ashore. C5F has taken an interest in our reputation. That's 'Commander, Fifth Fleet' by the way. His dispatch was that unless we clean up our act, no command attached to our battlegroup will be permitted to take liberty in any Fifth Fleet ports.
C5F encompasses most of the Middle East and anything that touches the Indian Ocean, so that would mean much less fun time during our deployments. To prevent that from happening, our strike group commander issued General Order 01-11. If there are any alcohol-related incidents on any ship in Dubai, liberty will be revoked for the entire battle group. To prevent THAT from happening, our CO said that there will be no drinking in Dubai other than the drinks served on the pier by Navy personnel. Violations will result in securing liberty for the entire ship.
My take on it was: WHEN this happens, because there is no IF involved in that assessment, I don't want to be stuck with ~$180 worth of unrefundable hotel reservations that I get to look at while I sit on the ship and be mad at life. So I didn't book a room this time. We'll see what kind of teeth all those directives have because two guys, from Reactor no less, came back to base drunk on day three. Liberty was still on for day four, so the world might not have ended. They didn't cause an incident really. So the battlegroup and C5F consequences might not be triggered. All they did was drink when the Captain said not to. And one of them rushed the sentry post. Dumbass. Would've been cooler if they shot him. But you can't really justify IDing someone as a credible threat when they can barely walk. Hopefully this will only screw them and not everyone.
Just as you've heard from the media, the United Arab Emirates is in an area rich only in oil and sand. Internet connectivity is one of the many resources that they are cripplingly short on. Hotel rooms are really the only place you can get a reliable connection with only a moderately fascist content filter. The base has wifi, but there's not a network on earth that's designed to handle the kind of traffic that pier was seeing. Really sucked because I was hoping to get in touch with home.
Thusly, my chances to get at the internet were few and fleeting. The best public network I found was at a Seattle's Best at the Mall of Dubai. I managed to check my civilian e-mail and IM some friends, but the HTML codes that Facebook uses were too much for it to handle. It all fell apart after about 45 minutes, during which I accomplished much less than I ought to have. On the plus side, I'm pretty sure the iced Chai Tea latte that I got was made with powdered angel wings and unicorn tears. It was just about the best thing ever.
Anyway, the rest of the port was not a disaster, and I'd love nothing more than to go into detail regarding that.
Other than being the largest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall doesn't really have much going for it. Once you finish with all the attractions and spectacles and ridiculous stuff, it's really a terrible place to shop. If you don't want overpriced trendy clothes or diamonds you're pretty much hosed. The Mall of the Emirates beats it out by a wide margin. There were stores that I actually found myself wanting to go into and they didn't have a criminally baffling layout designed to keep you there until the end of days.
I've been looking for massage oil for my Grandmother in just about every place I've been around here. I thought it would be easy since I see all these places just wallpapered with soaps, aromatics, beauty products and the like. I'd get weird looks from everyone I asked. I thought that it was just a language barrier or somesuch. Turns out I've run into something high on the expansive list of obscure Muslim taboos. Apparently you're not supposed to rub someone's back unless you're a professional, so such products are not available commercially. No wonder these people are so angry. It's hot as Satan's armpit all the time and you're not allowed to do anything fun!
We went to the theater at Dubai Mall and looked at all the posters for movies we've never heard of. It sucks to go back to land and see DVD releases of movies that were 'coming soon' or didn't exist when we last checked. I had seen one commercial for 'Change Up' so we went to see that instead of 'generic action movie,' the original choice. I'm glad that I managed to convince everyone. That is easily one of my all-time favorite movies now. It's a body-swapping romantic-comedy type-thing. I was dizzy and exhausted from laughing so hard by the end.
We spent some time at the arcade later. It was pretty much an amusement park indoors. Most of the games were one Dirham, and the exchange rate was 3.67:1, so it was just like back in the day when all the games were a quarter. I kept some of their coins, they really do feel like arcade tokens. They had a Johnny Rocket's there, which is the most American restaurant I've ever been in. I left them a big tip because they put on disco music and danced to it during the middle of our meal. It was so weird to hear them playing like... Michael Jackson and the Bee Gees in an Arabic restaurant staffed by people of every race except white.
The next morning went quickly, more shopping and some Lebanese food. The menu-darts strategy that I used in Europe didn't work as well, but it was still okay. It went so quickly in fact that we were nearly late to our tour. I bought tickets and convinced my friend to come with me at the last minute because I like to do at least one tour a port. And because there was a warning on the brochure that the tour shouldn't be taken by the elderly, people with back or neck problems, pregnant women, or heart patents. Which, in my experience, is a seal of guaranteed awesomeness.
It was called Sunset Safari. It was basically off-roading in sand dunes. A bunch of us piled into an expedition and took off into the barren wastes. And they really were barren wastes. We passed an automotive assembly plant that was on fire on the way. No one really seemed to be doing anything about it either. I got some pictures of it because it was pretty epic. Black, billowing smoke, gouts of flame shooting into the air and whatnot. Our guide was a short guy that was wearing no shoes, thawb and ghutra, stylish beard, the whole deal. I try not to judge, but it did also feel like he was trying to kill us the entire time.
The sand dunes would collapse underneath us and we'd slide about 10ft sideways, just long enough for him to gun it and get us back on course. It was astonishing how many SUVs were out there driving recklessly in that area. Some of them were tailgating, including ours. It did not inspire confidence. Eventually we got to this little village out in the middle of nowhere made of reeds and palm tree branches. It's a lot cooler than it sounds. Well, it's not cool at all. You know, blazing desert and all. It's more interesting than it sounds though.
They had music, shops and a lot of good food. I was glad for the chance to get some authentic local food. This country is a little easier to navigate because of it, but it's disappointing how westernized it is here. It's slightly more westernized than America is. I didn't spend six months altering the building blocks of existence to travel to the other side of the planed just so I could eat at freaking Applebee's.
Anyway I tried hookah while I was there. You know, because of peer pressure and well, when in Rome... Actually it was pretty good. If I could realistically smoke nothing but that, I would totally start smoking. Fortunately, there are significant logistical complications with owning and operating a hookah and I won't always have a crack team of professional hookah technicians at my disposal. Still, at least I understand what all the fuss is about now.
Anyway, after dinner the band kicked up and we got to the main attraction, bellydancers! Okay there was only one, but she was still very talented. Excellent show, definitely something you couldn't see anywhere else. I very much appreciated that fact. Seeing as the rest of this POC was all shopping malls, I'm glad I took the chance to do something original and exciting. They had a few camels you could say hi to if you wanted, but I left my shoes in the car and with the camels doing, what camels do, in the sand... I figured it would be best if I kept my distance. After that we went back to the pier. I had duty the next day, so all I did was take embarrassing photos of drunk people before turning in.
Duty was okay. I had an old Warrant Officer as a Propulsion Plant Watch Officer. He always has some interesting perspectives on life. Particularly matters of the heart. Well, after five marriages I would hope he'd have learned something about the process by now. I got relieved late twice because everyone else was hungover. Missed meals because of it. I got someone to do a food run and got some schwarmas though. Good stuff. It's really boring when everyone is gone and you're just trying to keep yourselves entertained on watch while you're holding down the fort. I somehow ended up singing 'Be Prepared' from The Lion King for the watchteam. That's actually not the first time that's happened if you can believe that. I got a standing ovation from all five or six of them, so yay I guess.
I didn't sleep too well that night. Everyone in berthing was making a lot of noise. I guess I slept pretty well the next morning though. I woke up at something on the order of 11:00, late enough for everyone else to leave without me. I wasn't too broken up about it. They were just going to the mall for the thousandth time. I paid for an hour of internet at the pier. Apparently the almighty dollar can cut through the noise pretty well. There was a hell of a line for it though. I grabbed a few e-books and caught up on things, missed my family on Facebook again. Not really much of a surprise though. An hour window in four days is a small target to hit.
After that I found one of my friends outside. His enlistment is up soon, so I was happy for the chance to hang out with him. He even bought me a beer. Then someone else bought me a beer and I settled on a plan. I could just stay there and drink until people stopped buying me beer. After about six I noticed that the sun had gone down at some point. I got sent to buy cigarettes and more drinks, and walked by the massage place on the way there. I remembered that I'd really like to have an unabbreviated massage and they didn't have too many slots left, so I went for it.
My original mission got delayed by about an hour, but I'm glad I did it. It actually helps to be a little bit drunk when you're getting a massage. There's always a little bit of awkwardness and tension there when you're alone in a room in your underwear with some little Asian girl that only speaks Arabic. But if you're drunk you can relax right away and let her get to work.
I got back real late with the drinks, but my friend understood. I found a beer there called 'Stroh's' that I'd never seen before. I've got nothing negative to say about it, which is impressive considering that I've never been much for beer. The Foster's was okay too, but they were beers number Five and Nine I think... so my opinion may have had a bias to it by that point. I made it to eleven or something. I know it was at least nine because I tried every drink they had. I knew I had to stop because time was running out and I had figured out that their capacity to buy beer far exceeded my capacity to drink it. I spent the last hour drinking water and trying to get a hold of myself. On the 'making a fool of myself' front I think I did okay. So I'll call it a good day.
We're on the move again, still pretty hot here because we'll be in much shallower water for the near future. I haven't gotten anything in the mail recently, but port calls tend to shake up the postal system. I am excited to hear about getting cookies though. My weight has stabilized since prototype, even if I do gorge for days on end when we get to port. I'm not worried about it.