Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas 2008

At 10:05 in room 1005, I took an orange from the complimentary fruit bowl and squeezed its juice into a shot glass. I played a little game with myself, seeing how many of the pips I could flick into the waste bin that nestled beneath the desk in my hotel room. Three out of seven. Mixing a little mineral water with the juice, I then topped up the glass with Bombay Sapphire gin. It wasn’t exactly Bucks Fizz, but it was strong. Real strong…

This was Christmas morning, 2008. The first in my life I had spent alone. No hugs, no kisses; no cards, nor presents. But at least the weather was agreeable: a low sun floated idly across an azure sky, while the morning temperature was a pleasant eighteen degrees Celsius in the shade. On stirring a short while earlier, I had seen images of Queen Elizabeth and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swap places on the television screen. Unable in the haze of rousing to determine what was being said, I struggled to make the connection. Surely the Iranian premier wasn’t also delivering a Christmas message from just over there, across the Persian Gulf?

The first gulp of the gin made me shiver as it bit my throat. But I knew it would help begin clearing the fuzziness in my head. By now, CNN was presenting its version of the year’s events. Sponsored by this… brought to you by that… each feature painted another layer of gloom on the undercoat of the blackest year in living memory: the one we would all be glad to see the back of.

Afghanistan-Iraq-China-Myanmar-Zimbabwe-Georgia-Mumbai… The miserable catalogue of natural catastrophes and man made atrocities spattered the media canvas with blood and grief. And then of course there was the global financial meltdown. The thing that now kept us awake at night. But there were a few bright spots, too. Thailand had a new, young prime minister. Educated at Oxford University, no less. There was also Boris Johnson’s “ping pong’s coming home” speech at the party after the Beijing Olympics. Eccentric, rousing, brilliant. Wiff waff! (Post this into your browser to view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsFRgIb8mAQ) And then, of course, there was Obama. Time magazine’s man of the year – the guy who’ll change things. Who says “we can”, and for whom we have great expectations. Last year they chose Putin, which greatly angered me. (See: http://kirkaustin.net/?p=54) This year, I was much happier with the verdict.

Lunchtime approached and I sat in the sun, awaiting friends. This family was one I had known for over a decade, from back in Jakarta days. Now, they were being generous enough to include me in their Christmas celebrations. We drove to a district popular with expatriates, to the home of another acquaintance (ex-Hong Kong, this time), where the turkey had been quietly barbecuing all morning, over a low heat. Among the guests, it was satisfying to see an eclectic mixture of nationalities and cultures, all sharing the spirit of Christmas while enjoying fine wine and traditional food. Algerian, Bahraini, Indonesian, British, American – the conversation was interesting, genuine and lively: the turkey, succulent. I felt honoured to be a part of this garden gathering, to be invited into their harmonious community.

It was already dark by the time we left, my next destination the familiar atmosphere of the home of another family of friends. I had first met them in Singapore almost two decades earlier: could recall, even, their son as a baby crawling across the table over lunch one day in a Boat Quay restaurant. The young man who now greeted me at the door was both courteous and self-assured, but with a healthy glint of mischief in his eyes, nonetheless. I had always had the greatest respect – admiration, in fact – for the easy way in which this family knitted together, and tonight was to prove no exception to this observation. Carols soothed in the background while the glorious smells coming from the kitchen invited hunger pangs, despite the earlier feast. The conversation was urbane; the food truly scrumptious. Walnut stuffing, turkey breast, roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts – all capped off by a deliciously moist home made Christmas pudding. After two Christmas dinners in one day, I would need little to eat tomorrow.

On Boxing Day I woke to a new experience. Thick fog shrouded the hotel, and it was actually cold outside. From my time spent on the water in Hong Kong, I deduced that the mist was what meteorologists call advection fog – the type caused by a difference in temperature between the air and the sea. Difficult for the sun to burn off, more and more of it is produced until the relative temperatures of the two terraqueous media begin to narrow.

Starting a simple breakfast, I munched on a date while slicing in half a Granny Smith apple. What excellent teeth the old lady must’ve had, I thought, when subsequently biting into its crunchy exterior. By now, it was 10:05 again in room 1005. The sun seemed at last to be winning the day, its first rays poking through the haze. Telling myself that it was in celebration of this solar triumph – but in what was actually becoming ritual – I sipped my first gin of the morning. Proper, this time: with tonic, for which I’d splashed out a whole Dinar (almost two Pounds) for just one 300ml can. (There’s room service for you…) Phooo… I blew through my lips. Christ, that’s strong. A blasphemy to which, in response, I could almost hear my late Grandfather (mother’s side) chastise: “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Sometime around noon I was again fortunate to be picked up by my ex-Jakarta friend for a tour around the northern part of the island. Accompanied by his cute ten-year-old daughter, we drove out to the Busaiteen seashore in his 6.2 litre Chevrolet tank, across a vast expanse of dusty reclaimed land. On our way to the sea wall, where we would search for signs of sea life, we passed the almost surreal sight of migrant Indians, resplendent in their whites, playing cricket against the backdrop of a city now illuminated by the low sun: 4-runs-in-the-desert.jpg Later, we dozed through some rented movies after snacking on the food of kings: crisps and beer. An early night followed this second consecutive day of festive excess.

It was the day after Boxing Day and another glorious morning. Somewhat spoiled, however, by the news from CNN that a significant portion of the Pakistani army was withdrawing from its northwest frontier with Afghanistan to take up position instead on the border with India. So the Mumbai terrorists’ plan had worked, and the focus on the war against the Al-Qaeda training camps in the tribal regions of western Pakistan was, at least temporarily, being thwarted.

A sorry contemplation, there at 10:05 in room 1005, where Christmas 2008 had come and gone, but the ritual continued to be respected…

posted by Kirk at 7:20 am  


  1. Happy New Year Kaptain Kirk! We miss you here in the Marina especially for the Cowboy Nite Theme New Years Eve Party. The highlight will be Perry riding on a mechanical bull which is really Danny in Disguise. Wilson will be the Sheriff with orders to shoot to kill!
    Be careful taking that Bombay Sapphire Gin from the Hotel Room Bar. They will rape you on the price (and rape in your part of the world would not be pleasant). Is it OK to import “spirits” there? I doubt they sell them in 7/11. If not I will try to negotiate a deal through the U.N. Security Council that when the I’s lift the siege of Gaza, they also allow free import of booze into Bahrein.
    Anyway, Happy New Year! From The Zadmiral

    Comment by zvi — December 31, 2008 @ 5:24 am

  2. dad! i have a present for you! and hugs and kisses!

    Comment by your favourite daughter — January 12, 2009 @ 8:39 am

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