Monday, August 10, 2009

Saigon, UAE

A few people refused to allow my recent birthday to pass by unnoticed, as is my long-standing preference.* I received a string of well-wishes via email and Skype while I was in Dubai, which ably served to remind me that after nearly four decades on this planet, I have managed to accomplish precisely zero of the aspirations that I once had.

*To those of you did manage to resist the urge to point out how old I am, thanks.**
**To those of you who simply neglected to mention it, or were entirely unaware of it in the first place, or were completely aware and consciously choose not to bring it up, thank you too.

Birthdays are one of those elements of life that suffers severely from the law of diminishing returns. The first three or four are great fun for the parents and assorted relatives, the next fifteen or so are a personal cause for celebration, and then they become progressively less enjoyable as time goes by. Around the middle of fourth decade, the floor drops out and the enjoyment quotient diminishes rapidly.*

*I’m not sure, but I suspect the trajectory of the birthday Laffer curve is heavily influenced by one’s personal circumstances at the time of said event. Nevertheless, there is a distinct downward trendline after the early thirties.

On this particular birthday, I elected to remain for an extra day in Dubai at the luxury hotel where we had just concluded our latest board meeting. If I have to endure another birthday, I might as well do it in decent surroundings.

As any experienced traveler knows, even the nicest hotels (and this was one of them) can lose much of their value when one is alone and without entertainment or activities. Cable TV (especially the Dubai version) and air conditioning are nice, but only suffice to distract one from the fact that there’s nothing else to do.

So, I found myself in the hotel bar at midnight, sipping whiskey and watching the odd crowd that congregates in hotel bars late at night.*

*I am a HUGE fan of hotel bars, by the way. The nice ones are REALLY nice, with top-notch service, professional barmen and a pleasant, relaxed ambiance. The dodgy ones are unrivaled places for mixing with the down-and-out and the generally disreputable. The ones in the middle, at the true businessman’s hotels, are usually the best, combining elements of the high-end places (good service, good drinks) and the dives (interesting people, weird conversations).

As usual in Dubai hotel-bars, there was imported entertainment. I can now conclusively state that one hasn’t lived until one has witness a trio of attractive expatriate Filipino ladies, clad in purple sequined cocktail dresses and thigh-high white vinyl boots, belting out an off-key rendition of the Nancy Sinatra classic “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” to an international crowd who couldn’t appear more indifferent if they were dead. If the drinks were cheaper, I would have thought it was Saigon in ’68.

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