Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Desert Island Dishdash (2)

It’s the first time I’ve been shown where the emergency exits are by a man dressed as a chef. Once airborne, it’s the first time, too, that I can ever recall being offered soup as a starter on a plane. Quite unusual, as well – minted pea, with the accent on mint. It’s served up restaurant style, in a bowl that nestles atop not one but two different-sized plates. For the main course I choose the Arabic chicken dish, which Karl serves with what I assume is some kind of traditional Maltese flourish. The chicken is stuffed with dates, of all things, and I make a mental note of all the other ingredients on the plate: parmesan polenta, roasted zucchini, courgette, yellow and green peppers, plus some capers and chopped raw onions. When was the last time you saw such an eclectic mixture of ingredients tossed together in one meal?

As the old A340’s electric seat motors begin buzzing noisily all around me, it’s time for the ‘International Cheese Selection’, which comprises – somewhat disappointingly – of an agreeably pungent soft French number on the one hand, ‘complemented’ by what can only be described as a Dutch version of Bridgestone slicks on the other. What transports the platter beyond borderline affrontery is the generous offering of fresh figs. A rare treat, and reminder of the region to which we are headed. By way of accompaniment, a rather fine South African Shiraz also pleases.

“Fasten ze zeatbelt,” barks a rather nervy-looking Yulia, who hails, it turns out, from Sochi in Southern Russia. “Ve are eggzperienzing tubbulence. Ve don’t know how much. Vould you like to fill in ze in-flight-cuztomer-zatizfaction-zurvey?” Once again, I’m handed the dreaded paperwork just as – ping! – the fasten seatbelt signs, which have been illuminated for the past hour, are extinguished. By comparison, how switched on were you, Yulia? I think to myself.

The airport is clean and efficient. I get forty-four Ba-ha-raini Dinars for the thousand Hong Kong Dollars I pass to the currency exchange staffer, which starts me wondering what to tip here without breaking the bank each time. As expected from the news I was given while the plane was still on Manila tarmac, my luggage doesn’t arrive. “It’s OK,” the Gulf Air ground representative gleefully informs. “It’ll be here on the next flight. Arriving at 10:30 this evening. You can pick it up then.” Thanks, I think. But I’ll be in the bar by then. If there are such things here, I correct myself.

Dusk is already falling by five-thirty, and the call of the muezzin can be heard. The temperature is pleasant; the combination of this and late afternoon’s fading light a reminder that I have flown North, as well as West. In the summer it can climb above 50 degrees Celsius here, but for now the palms are swaying in a soft, almost Mediterranean, breeze. A routine inspection of my room reveals that the minibar contains just two bottles of mineral water – once again, I’m in a mild panic. What if…? But a cursory glance at the hotel facilities brochure appeases: the Bellevue Bar opens daily from six till midnight. Bismillah! I’m joined by an old friend from my days in Jakarta, who tells me that this particular bar is famous for its Pina Coladas. Three of the creamy shakes later, I have to agree with him: I’m already feeling at home, and comfortably numb.

Next day, we tour around town in his arctic white 6.2 litre Chevrolet tank: “The only kind of vehicle you want in this place,” my friend asserts, in his Minnesota drawl. He recounts a story he once read in the local newspaper about a government vehicle – all sinister black bodywork and windows – which, parked without shade, self-ignited one day. We drive out near the airport to the reclaimed land on which his house is built – a moonscape of heat and dust. What will this place look like in ten years’ time? I wonder. A canary yellow Maserati is having its tank filled as we stop at the petrol station – as I look down from my seat in the tank I can’t help chuckling at the sight of its two Dishdashed occupants: they remind me somehow of Ray Winstone as the viagra-altered Sheikh Me-Cory in the film Love, Honour & Obey. But I’ll get used to it, I know.

On to our final destination before I’m due to return to the airport and, ultimately, Hong Kong: the tackily-named Ric’s Kountry Kitchen – a redneck, Texas oil-man type of bar, complete with Country & Western muzak. Three very agreeable pints of Carlsberg Ice, a gigantic, child-size portion of cheeseburger and chips and a glass of J├Ągermeister later and we’re out of the place where by now I’ve scrawled my name on the bar.

Oh yeah… I’m getting to like it here, all right…

posted by Kirk at 10:13 pm  
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