I saw Blade Runner for the first time when I was about twelve years old. Even though it was the now-reviled voiceover version of the film, Rutger Hauer’s Tears In Rain soliloquy still made an impact. Perhaps more than I’d ever realized.
I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain.
Melodramatic though it may be, these are the words that sprang to mind this past January as I made my way to Afghanistan. All I could think was, “The things my eyes have seen…”
Part of my romantic thoughts were certainly due to being a newlywed. Afterall, who wants the honeymoon to end? I had just eight short weeks with my bride before my job and the real world called me away. My wife is wonderful and she’s always been much more sensitive than me, crying when we’d have to part after visits in our long-distance courtship. I never cried during or after our goodbyes, though I’d have obviously preferred her company. This time I wept like a baby. I like travel and seeing new things- they’re the very reason I took this job. I’ve been afraid of stagnating from being in the same place for too long and sought out adventure. But this time, none of those were acceptable enough reasons to leave behind the treasure I now had at home.
At some point, these lights were visible below. I don’t recall where or when this photo was taken now, but it has to have been somewhere over Africa. Morocco? Algeria? Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Because what struck me the feeling I had. Emotion somehow isn’t the right word, but feeling. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, the disconnected feeling semi-consciousness brings. Maybe it was the dark sky and earth being divided by the dull glow of the horizon. All I know is speed of the plane and proportions of the lights made them amorphous and anything my mind could imagine: Tangier or other towns on the Strait of Gibraltar. Luminescent lily pads floating on a still, dark bayou. Galaxies moving through the universe as Elton John sings Rocket Man in my mind.
The next morning was much more conventional. After a night of negotiating dodgy cab drivers to get to my hotel, and a wonderful night at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai’s Festival City (they had wifi fast enough to FaceTime with my bride), I had a full day’s layover left to go. And there was no way I was going to squander 24+ hours in Dubai by staying put. There’s a great big world out there, and I want to see it all.
What I didn’t know at the outset of my day is that each shopping mall in Dubai has it’s own little draw or attraction, like casinos in Las Vegas. And the malls in Dubai are just as plentiful as Vegas casinos. All I knew was that a Dubai mall had built an indoor ski slope, either from reading Popular Mechanics years ago or seeing it on Modern Marvels or something. And at the Mall of the Emirates, I got to see kids that live in climates of oppressive heat having snowball fights. That’s pretty cool. I’ll freely confess that my time in the military, 9/11, and various other cultural prejudices from growing up in America had given me a rather negative viewpoint on Arabic people. Seeing families laugh and smile together, an absence of sharia enforcement, and eating some of the most wonderful food you can get did a lot to open up my heart and mind. I may disagree with Islam, but they’re still people.
While dining on some curry in the Mall of the Emirates food court (which was harder than you’d think, since it was populated by McDonald’s, KFC, etc.) I saw a Big Red Bus doing tours like one might expect in London. What better way to see more of Dubai?! So I ran off to find a boarding spot and see what I could see.
I didn’t have time or daylight to stop at the Burj al Arab, the world’s only (self-proclaimed) 7-star hotel. But I did get to see it from the road and it’s pretty. I also ran through the Dubai Mall as quickly as I could to get photos of the Burj Khalifa, even though it can be seen from almost anywhere in the region. I didn’t know tickets to At The Top sold out two days in advance, so I didn’t get to go up the tower. I guess I’ll just have to be content (for now) remembering my ears popping in the Sears Tower elevator. But I’ll be back someday. Because seeing all the Aston Martins and world’s largest acrylic panel at the Aquarium in passing wasn’t enough- I need time to prowl around and see more. Preferably with my wife, next time. Plus, I want to see what the mad geniuses that devised the Bellagio fountains could possibly do to top themselves.
In short, Dubai was amazing and I’d pay to holiday there on my own dime.
The next morning was early rising to get to the airport for the next leg of my journey to Afghanistan. My time in Dubai was short-lived but wonderful. And while photos of motorcycle delivery boxes and McDonald’s menus taken with my iPhone aren’t going to unseat Ansel Adams’ place in history, it was their shaking up of my routine that I enjoyed.
And that’s really the best part of travel. Shaking up the routine. Discovering all the world has to offer. Eating a “McArabia” sandwich for breakfast and seeing things you otherwise never would have. A life lived in safety or unyielding routine is no life at all. I want a life lived on purpose. I want to have stories from far off places that nobody else in the room can tell. I chose this, and I have (almost) no regrets from the moment I decided that I would determine my own course in life. It’s been fulfilling, adventurous, humbling, educational… My favorite adventure now is marriage, and knowing that my wife shares my zeal for life. Having a partner in adventure is a wonderful thing, because then we can share the experience and when we have children we can tell them about the things our eyes have seen. We can work together to better document our experiences and instill a love for adventure, learning and expanding horizons in our kids. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.
In the meanwhile, I can always laugh a little about the way we always bring some of “home” with us wherever we go…