I sit in my big tower and watch people. This is what I do. And this is what everyone else does in Dubai: they sit in their big towers and watch people. At least I imagine they do, I could be wrong. Yesterday if you were in one of those big towers watching people you would have seen me. I was trying to find a supermarket, but in typical fashion I was trying to find a supermarket badly. Someone had told me that this supermarket was opposite the big tower I’m staying in, ‘it’s just there’ they told me, but when I crossed the busy road in front of my big tower and looked ‘just there’ I didn’t see a supermarket. I didn’t see anything. So I crossed back over the busy road and asked the man who works at the bottom of my big tower where the nearest supermarket is. He looked at me as if I was mad, as if I’d asked him to walk to the moon with me, and then told me it was there, just there, just across the road. So I crossed the road and didn’t see the supermarket so walked for a bit with my hangover up another road and stopped after a while and pretended to check my phone as people were beginning to look at me peculiarly. I thought if I stopped and checked my phone then I could turn back down the road and look like I suddenly had some important business to attend to, rather than look like a 35 year old man who is unable to adapt to the heat and unable to find a supermarket.
Eventually I found it. I crossed and recrossed the road several more times and pretended to check my phone lots and spent a lot of time wondering whether or not I should go back to the man who works at the bottom of my big tower and ask him again where – just tell me where – the fucking supermarket is, but in the end I found it. And there was nothing unusual about it, despite the 300 or so preceding words suggesting that there might have been. Actually, there was one thing that struck me: the price of cigarettes. Cigarettes cost about six dirhams a pack, roughly one pound. Everything else costs more then six dirhams. I saw a yoghurt – not, despite having an umlaut just thrown into the name somewhere, a particularly good yoghurt – that cost 18 dirhams. That’s three packs of cigarettes in my money, not 18 dirhams. I don’t see things in terms of money out here, just in cigarette terms. I went to buy a banana milkshake today (a rubbish one, one from a shop) that cost three packs of cigarettes and refused to buy it, reasoning – quite rightly – that I would rather smoke three packs of cigarettes than drink one banana milkshake. Last night I bought a friend a glass of wine that cost ten packs of cigarettes and I begrudged her every sip.
The point is, and there is a point to all of this, that I’m smoking lots. The other point, is that all this smoking has done wonders for my head. Made my lungs that little bit itchier, perhaps, but it’s sharpened me up no end and cleared my mind. And I’ve realised that it’s been a long time since I’ve done any journalism of the sort I used to enjoy – finding things out that not many people know about and writing about them. And here, in Dubai, there’s plenty going on that not a lot of people know about. I could go undercover, I think, and expose something. Anything. I could find the seedy underbelly of Dubai. I could go searching for the hidden Dubai that no one really knows about. This is what I think. Then I realise that it took me about an hour to find a supermarket across the road from me – a supermarket that I can see clearly as I type these words – and wonder if I should give it a day or two before I go searching for a Dubai that probably doesn’t exist. In the meantime, if anyone fancies dropping by to chainsmoke with me I’ll be sitting in my big tower writing a book.