Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dubai Adventures - A Digression

I had high expectations for my Dubai blogs: regaling readers with detailed and comic descriptions of that little trip; revisiting the difficulty of maintaining an alcoholic buzz all day in 115 degree heat coupled with 85% humidity (difficult) ; 90-minute Thai massage (heavenly) ; snow park (not worth it); playing Spot the Prostitute in bars (easy). But the other night I had a bit of an epiphany that completely derailed my plans; let me explain.
On our last full day, while we were enjoying one of t
he pools and its swim-up bar, I asked Seth to take a couple of pictures of me.

I was disappointed. "No one's going to know where these were taken."
"Well, yeah - no one's going to know where any of these pictures were taken."

And he's right - unless we were to take pictures standing in front of the Burj al Arab no one would have any idea of where we were. We could be taking pictures at the Mall of America for the lack of significant landmarks available. But then, I don't suppose people go to Dubai expecting to experience authentic Middle Eastern life but rather to enjoy visiting an exotic place while being sheltered from contact with any "local" life. Our first morning I was amazed to discover that we didn't even have to leave our resort if we didn't want to: it had 6 pools, 5 restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, plenty of bars, a spa; all that was missing was that quintessential piece of Middle Eastern life: the mall
. We did leave - to visit the Mall of the Emirates and another resort - but not without the realization that while Disneyfication may have forever changed the American landscape, what are resorts doing to the rest of the world? And why bore people detailing our experiences when I could replace the word "Dubai" with "Vegas" with similar results?

On a fun note: our last night in Dubai Seth and I decided to head away from the beach and its 5-star selections to see what other bars were available. Our taxi driver took us to some hotel, where the prostitutes were much easier to spot, and we approaced the Platinum club. There were two bouncers standing outside and one was arguing with a man about being "on the list" or something and the man was subsequently turned away. Only slightly deterred we approached.
"Is your name on the list?"
"Uhh, no."
And with that the bouncer opened the door and gestured for us to enter, which begs the question: what the hell would have happened had our names been on the list?

Along with shopping malls, massive construction is another common sight in Dubai.

Feel free to play in dirty, man-made snow (well, pay first, then feel free.)


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Continuing Adventures of the International Super Couple, Part One

And so Seth and I decided on a quick trip to Dubai. Cheap tickets - though not so cheap once the 50KD, or $174, in taxes and fees was tagged on - purchased and carry-ons packed, we arrived at the airport ready and excited to get away from Kuwait for a bit. A bit: only two full days, but sometimes that's all you need. Sometimes it's all you can get.
Our flight was through Jazeera Air, based out of Kuwait, so no booze on the flight - no free water, either. I guess that what's you get when your tickets only cost $40 (before fees.) No worries. The plane landed at 1am Dubai time and before we even get to customs there, on our right, was a duty-free liquor store. We instantly headed inside, Seth becoming distracted by the Corona display, while I bee-lined it for the wine. Delicious.
Though so many choices! I first found the French selections, but something about French wine bothers me, makes me feel ignorant about my choice of beverage. Two-buck Chuck might be even lower than table wine but at least the bottle has the decency not to mention that. Plus, none of the French had screw-tops, so I moved away from those haughty bastards. I found two nice, decently-priced bottles of red, figuring that would be enough. Seth came by: "Do you think we should get another? We're here for two days and don't where other stores are. We should get another."
"Really? Ok."
"I want to choose." He began scanning countries, looking over bottles, finding one that looked good - "No - no screw-top" - so back it went. He admitted he didn't know what he was looking for and I was becoming impatient. The time was pushing past 1:30, we still had a 35-minute ride to the resort, still had to go through customs, so I made a decision: "Just grab the fucking Pinot Noir!"
And again we were off, finally leaving the airport to head to our resort. We discovered that the exit from Dubai International is replete with water misters which, considering the smothering humidity and heat in the country, served to create a miserable bog-like experience as we walked through. I would put that down as one of the worst ideas ever. Eh, fuck it - in the taxi we were handed cool towels to wash our faces and hands, as well as bottles of water, so we were satisfied. Driving along the highway to the beach, I noticed first how nice the roads were compared to Kuwait: large overpasses, clover-leaf designs, exit signs appearing before the exit (as opposed to 100 meters into the turn of the exit), no sand clogging the shoulders. Seth pointed out one hotel with pyramid-like structures, saying it look like the Luxor in Vegas. And he had a point - at first glance Dubai did seem like Vegas in the "how many ostentatious buildings can fit inside 30-square miles? (253)" sort of way - but only at first. Dubai had something else, something Vegas only pretends to have -
wealth, massive wealth permeating the air. It was daunting.
Check-in and up to the room. I was pleasantly surprised by the robes and slippers provided for us; I was out of my clothes and into a robe before Seth could even drop his bag. He inspected the mini bar while I got down to important business - opening the wine. Two glasses each of Pinot Noir were in our bellies within 15 minutes.

It was delicious. I love wine and tasting it again was like rediscovering sex after a dry spell: you want as much as you can get in as little time as possible.
The wine hit our bellies hard and by our third and final glass we could feel sleep approaching.

Our drinking slowed and we went to lie in bed. I had one large gulp of wine remaining. "Seth, drink this for me - I don't think I can."
"Man up, you're just going to go to sleep after you drink it."
He was right.
So I did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CSI and Inconsistent Realities

I love sci-fi; I do. I consider myself to be a sci-fi dork, though not as much as I used to be. Because of this dorkdom I am willing to deeply suspend my disbelief. There might be no sound in space, but all six Star Wars movies would never lead you to believe that. The Federation of Planets consists of hundreds of planets and species yet still heavily depends on Earth's history and its philosophical teachings - including the notion of human rights- and this is generally accepted by all members (with the possible exception of Klingons. Haha, see, still a dork!) If you take time to think about those facts could spoil your viewing pleasure but the themes are consistent throughout the movies and tv series so they are easy to accept. Again, I am extremely willing to suspend disbelief - but only as long as the movie or play or even book is consistent with the reality they are creating. (Foxy by Nature agrees; ask her about Terminator if you want her opinion on the matter.)

Last night Iwas watching CSI: NY. I'm not sure if I necessarily like any of the CSI shows but I have a problems with series that you have follow each week or you lose track of what's going on, so CSI satisfies my inability to focus. Anyway, last night someone found a skeleton, with a real skull!, on a tourist bus and the team began to investigate. Apparently the skull has heavy traces of diesel exhaust embedded in the bone tissue and the individual had died at least ten years ago. ( Those guys and gals are amazing with their deductions.) This took them to a huge bus station where they found the guy who created the tourist trick (he didn't kill anyone, just wanted to scare some tourists!) and after some searching found the remaining skeleton and the dead person's belongings (backpack, pocketknife) in some dark, deep partially-hidden room-like thing. Luckily, everything was intact.

Wait a minute - you mean at least one person had found this skeleton - they took the skull, after all - yet didn't even look through the backpack or steal the knife? In New York City? Okay, okay, whatever - back to the lab.

In his jeans they found a dirty, indecipherable piece of paper, but in the the backpack they found a book (Big City, Bright Lights) and a sketch book filled with myriad drawings of New York City, all perfectly clean and easy-to-read.

Wait a minute - this dude's skeleton had ten-years' worth of diesel embedded in bone tissue and a piece of paper in his pocket was filthy with all text wiped away to the point of incomprehension, but the canvas of his backpack somehow shielded two books from the polluting effects of diesel exhaust? Maybe that's why no one ever ruffled through it - the bag was impervious to all kinds of filth. But, okay, whatever.

Because the dead boy (they figured out sex and possible age - 17 - from the skeleton) was a John Doe, one of the scientists took the skull and, using clay and paint, reconstructed what his face might have looked like - just like they did on Reading Rainbow with mummies! Amazingly, the reconstruction looked exactly like the actor playing the dead boy but still left me with some questions: how would she know to give him thick, full lips with a pronounced cupid's bow on the top lip? How did she know he wasn't fat? Why would she give him wavy shoulder-length hair swept back from his forehead? None of her Caucasian male counterparts have hair like that, so what was her inspiration?

Oh, whatever - this didn't bring any leads so I guess it's fine. But then a break: they finally, somehow, figure out that piece of paper from his jeans is a pawn ticket for a watch. They go to the shop - someone just picked it up, after fourteen years! It must be the person who killed the John Doe! On to inspecting the surveillance - oh no, he's hiding his face from camera! Wait, something in the shopkeeper's glasses - enhance it!

I shouted: "If they get a picture from the glasses I am never watching CSI again!" Seth was unimpressed.

Luckily for CSI they didn't, but the suspect touched something so they found him, blah, blah, blah - which brings us to my biggest beef with this show: when confronted with the evidence all suspects spontaneously admit to their crimes. Never mind the fact that these lab rats aren't detectives and much of their physical evidence is circumstantial (I also watch Law & Order), suspects just feel a need to admit to everything before they are handcuffed and carted away to jail. God forbid they should have a lawyer present or decide to wait for a trial verdict.

Wait a minute - why are the lab rats going around and questioning suspects? Why are they in the interviewing room? Why aren't they just processing evidence and giving their findings to detectives? Why do suspects say anything even though the CSI people sometimes admit, "No, we're not detectives; we're with the crime lab"? Why don't suspects then shut the door in their face? It seems none of the suspects are ever read their Miranda rights; does that mean every criminal the CSI people think they catch are actually released because their confessions weren't legally obtained? Why is the Vegas lab so goddamned dark?

Ah, okay, okay - whatever.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Genocide: Misuse and Misinformation

On Saturday Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused the Han Chinese - the dominant ethnic group in China - of committing genocide against Uighurs, an ethnic minority predominately found in China's Xinjiang region. The New York Times reported on additional violence in the region, describing how the "ethnic tensions" were leading to "bloodletting" and "massacres." The Times has not concurred on Turkey's assessment on the situation in Xinjiang - it is too early to make such claims, too much room for criticism - but the subtext of that article was screaming: genocide, genocide, genocide.

This is interesting. On one hand there is the irony of Turkey accusing another nation of genocide considering the Turkish government's inability to admit to its own violent history. There is also the fact that the majority of the victims - 137 out of 184 confirmed deaths - are Han Chinese, the alleged perpetrators, and the Uighurs, the alleged victims, initiated the violent attacks. Can the Uighurs still be victims of genocide if they are not the victims of attacks? There are some genocide scholars - typically, but not always, Holocaust scholars - who believe the victim group is unable to defend itself against genocidal attacks, physical or otherwise and that inability to defend is what makes them victims. Others contend it is the perpetrators perception of the group as "enemy" as essential to determining victim groups. There are other theories as well, yet none consider the possibility of a victim group proactively attacking perpetrators before any attempt at genocide has been made, most likely because that group would be an aggressor.

There is the possibility that Erdogan is referring to the continued discrimination and joblessness among Uighurs in the region, realities no doubt exacerbated by the current recession and the influx of Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese into the region. Possible, but unlikely: this discrimination has occurred for decades and has turned violent one more than one occasion (the 1990s were particularly bloody.) Rather, it seems more like a political ploy for Turkey (though for what reason remains to be seen) and another dig at the ineffectiveness of the United Nations. After all, if the UN can't succeed in upholding its founding principle - the prevention of genocide - then of what use is it?

This is not the first time that spontaneous outbursts of civil unrest have been erroneously identified as genocide. Recently genocide has become a bit of a buzzword, thanks to the success of Save Darfur in bringing it to the forefront of media attention and overly simplistic (and erroneous) movies such
Hotel Rwanda pushing the concept into the spotlight of pop culture. In the process understanding of what genocide is has been watered-down to any display of "ethnic violence," whether in Kenya, Zimbabwe or China. However, as the international community is largely unwilling to infringe upon a nation's sovereignty, all the accusations succeed in doing is creating hype and furthering the confusion surrounding the concept of genocide.

Tension between Uighurs in Xinjiang and the Chinese government is not new: Uighurs have been attempting to break away from China and create a separate nation since at least the 1940s. They have legitimate grievances concerning job discrimination and other forms of abuse. Yet China also has a legitimate right to step in and prevent secession attempts within its borders. The nation-state has been a recognized political body for over three hundred and fifty years; by accepting that principle we accept a state's right to remain intact. On the other hand, secession is rarely calm and bloodless and while the Chinese government and its armed forces are obligated to follow international humanitarian law, I can't imagine anyone being surprised if China breaks that obligation while thwarting the attempts of a break-away region. And even if there was a massive outcry against China, who has the power to do anything about it? The country would veto any UN action against it and since China owns so much of the US's debt, I doubt we would threaten any aggression.

But claiming genocide where no genocide exists - human rights abuses maybe, but no intent to completely destroy the Uighurs physically and culturally - only belittles actual instances of the crime. Mass confusion already exists concerning genocide, as well as frustration over a mounting inability to prevent it from happening; false accusations only make efforts at education more difficult and futile. Mainstream media and pop culture add to the problem by recycling misinformation, being either unable or unwilling to research the truth.

The more the term "genocide" is used indiscriminately to describe any episode of ethnic or mass violence or social unrest, the more numb the population grows to its meaning. Genocide is the intent to destroy a group - be it ethnic, racial, religous or national - completely, all physical and cultural evidence annihilated. It is the most heinous act that can be afflicted upon a humanity. If we become apathetic towards genocide then what humanity will we have left?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shifting Focus - A Caveat

I have been trying to finish a post on pop culture and genocide for almost a month now and constantly find myself struggling to form thoughts into coherent sentences. It is time, then, to move away from that for bit and focus on what I've been avoiding: thoughts of my parents. As the end of July brings the 2-year anniversary of my mother's death - and my father's, in a way, though of course that wouldn't happen for another 6 months - it seems only appropriate to spend a little time writing about them. I suppose the underlying theme is death, though not in the teenage macabre sense: what's running through my head as I attempt to sleep is more nostalgia than anything else. In order to calm those thoughts and fall asleep before 2am I will share them with you.

I am terrified of forgetting the sound of my parents' voices. Their smell is already fading from my memory in that I cannot close my eyes and just breath in, smelling them as though they were near; I need a physical reminder, like the Vicks Vapo-Rub Mom would put under her nose before bed to counteract the effects of 40 years of cigarettes or one of Seth's undershirts after a long day of work - the scent of man and labor. There are others: Clinique Happy, Mom's favorite perfume, or menthol cigarettes; black coffee for Dad. Yet memory without prompt is difficult. I concentrate so hard to remember the faintest whiff of something but am unsure if the scent that comes through is real or just a fabrication sunconsciously created to avoid falling into panic. I wonder if that's just how the olfactory sense is or have I failed somehow?

I won't allow their voices to fade away. Yelling, laughing, even heartbreaking sadness released as a whisper - I give myself time, if not every day, then every other to close my eyes and focus on those sounds.

On a different note: I have been waking up with the distinct feeling that I am lying in my parents' bed. This only happens when I move to the right side after Seth goes to work and exists briefly in those moments between sleep and waking. Maybe it's the firmness of our bed that mimics the rock my parents slept on or the whiteness of the walls, looking just as unfinished as the plaster in their room. Maybe the nightstand so close to my head replete with a small lamp, watch and digital alarm clock, numbers glowing red through the night. My mother set the alarm for every day my father worked, even after they slept in separate rooms on account of their snoring. He'd ask her each night if she had done so and sometimes would sit on the bed and watch as she did. There was no hint of condescension or dominance in this action; my father's eyes spoke gratefulness and thanks as he watched her perform that simple display of affection.

Whatever it is, I believe I will open my eyes and be in that bedroom again with cool cotton sheets pressed against my cheek. And sometimes, in the far back of my mind, I can even smell it. I can't focus on the scent or it will disappear, but it's there, latent and fulfilling. Maybe I haven't failed, after all.