And there it was, more sudden than I had expected, a new moment of departure. A moment to say goodbye, not knowing when we will meet again. A moment of change, and travel from one continent to another.
It was great to have this opportunity. After so many years, have the time to see Gary and Beer again. By having this possibility to stay longer, there was a chance to confirm, renew and deepen our friendship, to get to know their daily life and routine, and learn more about the country where they live and where Beer comes from.
And although, we had a great time and stayed in some beautiful places, it wouldn’t be a country for me to settle down in, like so many foreigners we met, seem to do: older men, who settle down with their younger wives and build a mansion; or younger single men and women, who start, like Gary with teaching.
There would be too many snags to owning land in Thailand (which I honestly find a good and fair way to protect landownership, if at least these rules also applied to large companies, but I doubt it), and there were too many foreigners saying you can’t trust anyone. And then there is the language, difficult to read, and even more difficult to speak and understand.
I think that would be the biggest obstacle for me: not being able to understand the conversations of people around you, always dependent on others to translate official documents, and only being able to communicate with those few people who can speak English. As such, it’s difficult to be able to really learn more about the country and its culture, and always be an observer instead.
So there we went, and although we wouldn’t want to stay long term in Thailand, we still regretted having to say goodbye. Of course we were hoping for a continuation of good weather, as you would expect at the end of April. And most of all, looking forward to see our family and friends in Europe.
As we flew with Emirates, we planned a layover in Dubai. A stopover for a few days, out of pure curiosity. Curious to see what such a large city, in the middle of the desert, would look like. And interested to understand the global fascination for the new wonders of the world that are being built there.
After a good morning’s rest, mainly to recover from food poisoning on the plane, I was ready to explore. Still a bit cautious, we started in the older parts of town, along Dubai Creek, an area not far from our hotel. And we were both immediately impressed.
This was so unlike what we had expected, seeing colorful dhows (wooden boats to transport cargo) on the banks of the river, crossing the river with an abra (traditional boat made of wood), admiring the old buildings, and going window shopping in the souk (market).
It was so nice to stroll along the riverbanks together with lots of other foreigners, all from different countries, mainly Asian countries, judging the languages, dress codes and traditions: India, Philippines, Pakistan and China. Such a global feeling, and all seemed so peaceful and safe.
And I was immediately intrigued. How does this all work? How is it possible to have all these facilities, here in the middle of the desert, while you only see foreigners at work. Except maybe for the immigration officers at the airport and possibly a few men sitting and drinking tea at the heritage village. I am pretty sure that the women preparing traditional dishes were immigrants as well.
And then I looked better and started a search on the internet. We then visited the rest of the city, wandering through chilly malls displaying all the luxury you don’t need, immediately curing me from any desire to shop for at least a month or longer. We admired Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and Hotel Burj Al Arab, a self-proclaimed seven-star hotel, that has the shape of a sailing ship. And we strolled along the quays of Dubai Marina, more than seven kilometers of shops, bars and restaurants. Then we visited an island built in the sea in the form of a palm with a wild water, of more than 40 hectares park, of its own. And I also realised that this is not for everyone to enjoy.
Suddenly I found myself unsettled, in this city of unlimited opportunities, which I first embraced with open arms. A city where, if you have the money, you can travel between, real and artificial, vastly differing climates, landscapes and attractions within less than a day, where you seem to be able to buy or eat anything you want. And also a place, where if you look well, will be shocked by the existing extremities between wealth and poverty and where, I at least, started once again, to wonder whether we should aim for all that is possible, to conquer nature and master our environment, just because we can. Or maybe we could see ultimate luxury living in a small single-room near an unspoiled beach, as we were in Thailand.
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