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Of Luxury and Lost Luggage

We awoke the next morning feeling quite rested and rolled out of bed to find ourselves in a beautifully decorated, sun-bathed apartment in a futuristic housing development somewhere in the Persian gulf. Sid had awoken early that morning and headed off to work. Following his instructions to a T, we made ourselves comfortable, enjoying our ability to relax into the morning.

I plugged my Mac into Sid’s router and began broadcasting wireless through the apartment.  Meanwhile an away team was sent downstairs to the giant in-house shopping complex to acquire materials with which to create breakfast. The away team returned with no-doubt fabulously expensive eggs, bread, and –of all things unholy– bacon.

We put on Deeper Than Rap by Rick Ross, cooked a fabulous breakfast, and generally played house.

The team’s spirits were high, and it was becoming obvious that good team chemistry would propel these four wheelers toward Oman.

The only question now was about the car. Since before our arrival at Motta’s pad in Kunming, we had been working closely with Claudia to contact car rental outfits in the cities of Dubai and Muscat. The optimal choice, of course, would be to rent a Toyota Previa in Dubai somewhere, and drive the thing first to the Musandam Peninsula, a wholly separate part of Oman known for it dramatic desert coastline, and then back down through the UAE to the central parts of Oman, exploring small cities along the way, culminating in a visit to the glorious and ancient city of Muscat.

The only things that stood in our way, however, were price and my age. Jackson, of course, was over 25 and thus fully legal to rent a vehicle all over the world. However, being 24 seemed to produce some mild difficulties or encourage some inflated fees. Jackson, on the other hand, through a set of unique circumstances, was without a license. So that left me as the oldest licensed driver in the group. Unlike gasoline, renting a car is not cheap in this part of the world, no matter how old you are. That was what we had discovered in our efforts to do so remotely. It was our hope, however, through guanxi, or through the power of in-person bargaining, we would be able to find a more reasonably priced rental car.

This task was primarily Claudia’s, and it was not any easy one. She continued to make phone calls, while we spent most of the next day working on correspondence for you, dear reader. In addition to the rental car issue, Claudia spent a fair amount of time fighting with the officials from Air France and Southwest. Her bags, we learned, had been located, and they seemed to be on their way to Dubai. This felt like an easy success, and the successes only seemed to continue, as we met back up with Sid that evening.

We wandered over to the gigantic mall across the street, and spent some time talking with the rental agencies there. Unfortunately, while we were seeing more reasonable pricing, none of the rental agencies seemed to support a Previa or Previa-equivalent option. So Sid pulled out the big guns, calling a company on the other side of town that  his business often rents from. And it was so that we ended up climbing into Sid’s brand new rental car and heading across town in search of Stellar Rent A Car.

The folks at Stellar explained to us on the phone that they too, unfortunately, did not have a Previa, but they did have a slightly smaller Toyota model called an Innova. After some brief calculations, we  concluded that we would be able to fit all of us and our gear into such a vehicle, so we were ready to pull the trigger if the price was reasonable. With four wheelers, we were able to consider much larger expenditures, and we were determined to make our dream of cruising through the Gulf a reality, and frankly, Dubai had given us a bit of an increased appetite for expenditure. We were in luck, for  they also claimed to be able to provide us with the much-needed Omani insurance package. All was falling into place it seemed.

As we drove, Sid chattered away with them in Hindi, which we were quickly discovering was the much more useful language here. Without fail, whenever Sid would roll down his window and question a passer-by as to directions or the like, the fellow would respond in fluent Hindi. And so it was with much excitement that we approached the rental counter at Stellar Rental a Car.

Sid, in his effortlessly exacting manner, worked us a deal and guided us through the insurance purchase process. I was somewhat astonished that all we needed to rent the car was a U.S. driver’s license and a passport. The insurance documentation would be finished the next day, and in the meantime we would be insured to drive in the UAE.  It sounded good to us. So we shook hands, exchanged a down payment, and strolled over to check out the car with one of the employees, who was from, off all places, Indonesia. Jackson, our dear Indonesian Bureau Chief, and the gentleman chatted away in Bahasa Indonesian, which coincidentally Sid knows as well, being an old high school friend of Jackson’s.

Driving home, we enjoyed the local Dubai radio broadcasts and tried our skill at navigating back to the Burj Khalifa, which was not an easy task.

The roads constantly funneled us into alleyways, dead ends, superhighways, and boulevards which seemed to direct us towards the Burj until veering off in the final stretch.  We had been informed that McKinsey & Co. was responsible for much of the conceptual planning of the city, and considered calling one of their local offices on the chance that they would be obliged to help us navigate these byzantine roads over the phone.  Fearing they would charge us with scope-creep, we continued to use our own guesswork to eventually return home.

That evening, Sid introduced us to some of his friends in Dubai. They were all foreigners working in one capacity or another in the city’s finance industry. We chatted late into the night over sheesha smoke and more Arabic pastes, talking about AsiaWheeling, the city of Dubai, and global finance, in the garden of the massively luxurious hotel we had toured the day before.

Near the end of the after-dinner conversation, Claudia excused herself and climbed into a cab bound for the airport.  We chatted for a while longer, and eventually wandered back to Sid’s place. As we strolled back we got a series of SMS messages from Claudia, indicating primarily excitement in her discovery of yet another Johny Rocket’s in this town, this one with a sign in Arabic, and secondarily  that we would need to wait one more day for her cycle and bag. This was fine with us, we were enjoying Sid’s apartment and our relaxed Dubai lifestyle tremendously.


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