It’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re not well, even in the best places in the world. On the upside I have a nice room with a view down the river to the Marina Bay. In the distance I can see a giant ferris wheel, and what looks like a ship balanced upon a sky-scraper – have I started hallucinating?
On Saturday I feel a bit better but my stomach’s still sensitive so I don’t fancy straying too far from the hotel. The sky is overcast and it’s the usual 30 degrees and massive humidity as I walk down the river, so like most people over here I head for a shopping mall. I wander round, pass on the karaoke, stock up on books and check out the “longest wall of HDTVs in Asia!” I’m in need of a sit-down when I spy a couple of massage chairs like the ones you see in British service stations. Only the Singaporeans are at a whole new level.
The chair automatically reclines. Cushioned clamps form around my lower legs and pin me in the chair. The sides squeeze me until I worry about the camera in my pocket. An unexpected pressure massages my, er… the base of my spine and, well, it’s very effective. As my five minutes are ending a Japanese lady sits on the other chair, peruses the instructions, fingers the money slot speculatively, then decides to have a go. Judging by her squeals I think she enjoyed it!
I’m finally staying put long enough to follow a Grand Prix weekend. Even better, Singapore has a Hooters, so I’m looking forward to plonking myself at the bar with a plate of boneless wings, watching the qualifying and hopefully meeting some interesting people.
“Welcome to Hooters!”
…chorus the girls at the door.
“I’ll have a seat at the bar please”
“Table for one?”, comes the confused, and confusing reply.
“No, a seat at the… er….where’s the bar?”
There’s no fricking bar!!!!!
Looking around in shock, I can see there’s a small one, outside in the sweaty uncomfortable world, with no seats to watch TV, but there’s literally nothing in here. I’m still hungry, so I’ll sit alone and have some..
“Where’s the boneless wings?!”
“We have chicken strips”
…which turn out to be unpleasantly gritty. Arggh. I don’t even get the trademark Hooters banter with a friendly waitress. I later read that Singaporeans don’t do small talk because it’s considered rude to ask a stranger direct questions. I don’t know if that’s true or if I just got a grumpy waitress, but I can’t get out of there fast enough! Feeling tired again I return to the hotel, but I pass an Irish pub which looks promising for tomorrow.
Sunday is race day so I head for the Irish pub. It’s 7.45pm but still hot and sweaty, so I luxuriate in the air conditioning inside as I look for a good seat where I can see the big screen showing football. Hang on, football?
“We’re showing the F1 outside, sir”
Well that’s just great.
I look around for an alternative venue, but the other sports bar is showing the footy as well. Returning to the Irish pub I can’t find an empty table outside but there’s a bloke sitting alone who turns out to be John from Holland. Well, I think he said John, though that doesn’t sound very Dutch. “John” is happy for me to join him. Being Dutch I wonder who he’s supporting in the race.
“Lewis, and then Jenson”
John says something about working as a taster, or maybe a toaster, which is intriguing, but we’re soon distracted by the race. We cheer on the Brits, argue about tactics and swap jokes over beer. It seems a long while since I’ve had some enjoyable company and we have a good laugh, especially when John tries to buy me a beer and the waiter keeps giving him my entire bill, cottage pie and all!
Monday was uneventful, partly because I’d begun reading “127 hours between a rock and a hard place”, adventurer Aron Ralston’s account of being trapped beneath a boulder. I couldn’t put it down and missed out on sleep, desperate to know how long he’d be trapped for, and whether he’d live to tell the tale.
It wasn’t the best preparation for Tuesday’s early start to catch a flight to Dubai. I was also disappointed that Terminal 1 in the legendary Changi airport doesn’t have a good brekkie place! But I enjoyed “Limitless” on the plane, and sat next to an Aussie from Brisbane who was flying out to surprise his daughter. He had annoyingly wide shoulders but was a laugh to talk to, which helped pass the time in the Dubai airport queues.
I met up with my sister at the Holiday Inn Express in the district curiously named Internet City. Sarah moved out here a few years ago when the UK construction industry dried up. She’s since moved to Qatar, but she’s come back because she’s loving and caring for her little brother (..and by the sounds of it there’s sod all to do in Qatar). She’s brought along her house-mate Mark and they’ve got some fun stuff planned. Or at least that’s what they claim, as they’re not telling me what it is, but I’m hoping it includes the Abu Dhabi GP circuit, Ferrari world, and an Audi R8 has been mentioned!
I’m excited but nervous about being in a muslim country. I don’t like the sound of restrictions on where you can get a beer, but I’m not so bothered about the lack of pork as I don’t really eat pork.
We start by heading to an ex-pat bar, and meet their friend Chris and his girlfriend. Chris is a real character, a cockney Geezer, with the appropriate tattoos and outlandish stories. He’s planning a party where the guests have to buy outfits from the Carrefour supermarket for less than 100 dirhams. Given that that’s about 17 quid, including shoes, it sounds like fun, but won’t fit in our schedule. After hearing some more stories, it sounds like it would wipe out more than an evening!
Wednesday morning and it’s busy at breakfast. A poorly designed buffet and the holiday of Eid make for a long queue, and I can’t find the sausages or the bacon. We have fun watching people from a wide variety of cultures, united by their efforts to burn down the hotel by stuffing the toast machine.
Mark drives us around Dubai and it’s unlike any place I’ve seen. Singapore, Hong Kong and Manhattan all have many sky scrapers, but here there seems to be nothing else. Few smaller buildings occupy the gaps. And because everything has gone up in the last twenty years, there’s no variety of age in the architecture, just gleaming towers of glass. Its 42 degrees in the shade, and baking in the sun, so there are very few people outside, giving the feel of a ghost town.
We visit the beach, but it’s too hot to hang around, so there’s nobody there either. We head to the mall, and find all the people. The top activity for the Eid holiday is not shopping, but window shopping. The mall corridors are packed, but the shops themselves reasonably quiet, since most of the immigrant workers don’t have the money to splash on a ten grand watch, even if George Clooney recommends it. Other popular activities in the mall include ice skating, skiing, snowball fights and watching sharks swim around a three floor aquarium.
But we’re heading for the top. The top of the world in fact. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest manmade structure in the world with over 160 floors so we jump into the lift and head for the “at the top” viewing platform on the 124th floor. You don’t need a fear of heights to feel wobbly up here. It’s in a different league to other viewing platforms, with a view I associate with helicopters, not balconies.
After the sun sets, we return to earth for a very nice Chinese, though there’s no beer. For that we’ll need to fight our way through the traffic back to the hotel. There’s no quarter asked or given out here. Rules are for fools. If you see an indicator it’s probably a trick. Signal your intentions and you’ll watch the traffic close up to block you. It’s like driving in India, (where most workers come from) but with more porsches.
No Porsches on Thursday though, we’re off to Ferrari world. The world’s largest indoor theme park, resembling a red Millenium Dome and covering a space the size of seventeen football pitches. Home to the fastest rollercoaster in the world, which isn’t running. In fact nothing’s running when we get there, as the park doesn’t open til 12, so by sheer luck we’re the first through the gates twenty minutes later. Mark and I make a bee-line for the Ferrari simulator ride, and Sarah game-fully climbs aboard another hydraulic rig so we can race each other and five people unaware they’re about to get embarrassingly beaten.
The gangway falls away. Each of our rigs rises into the air, and I find myself in an F430 on the grid at the Abu Dhabi GP circuit. The red lights come on, the revs rise, the computer crashes and we return to earth with a jolt.
An engineer is summoned, he applies the level of deep knowledge of technical systems we’re famous for and turns the system off and on again.
“Sorry folks, can you come back later”
So we ask when we can go on the expensive, ultra-real F1 simulator
“Ah. That’s broke too. Someone threw up in it last night”
Great. But from then on things improve. We’ve come at the quiet time so there’s hardly any queueing. We move from attraction to attraction, and by good luck and good judgement, never have to wait. There’s car displays, movies, an interactive quiz, motion simulators that jiggle you around and even a live show with (as my old mate Wuz would put it) “angle grinders and the lot!”
…and a roller coaster.
Now I’ve ridden two roller coasters in my life, and I hated every second of them. I don’t get scared, or sick, but the physical sensation makes me massively uncomfortable. Imagine holding your breath as long as you can, then, just as you gasp for air, someone covers your mouth and nose. So I’m very glad the super-fast coaster isn’t running, but they have another one. …or two to be exact, as they have two intertwined tracks where 12 seater “F430s” race each other.
Maybe it’ll be OK. I’ve had some luck fighting the sensation on racetracks, being thrown around at ludicrous speed by professionals. If I can relax, go limp, let it flow, maybe I’ll be OK. Who knows, maybe I can have as much fun as I would if I were controlling the thing.
We trundle forward from the platform. As we exit the huge dome, we’re hit by the outside temperatures, the air is thick with humidity, the sun is scorching, but I don’t even notice. All I’m aware of is the plummeting drop before us, and the tortuous, twisting, tangle of track ahead.
We pick up speed…