Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Weak too

I managed to get into AD on Thursday night and had a welcome break from Little Seoul. I met with a chap I "know" from an expat website, and we shared tales of Asian woe over Lebanese food and a beer or three on the patio area behind an Irish bar. The people in the group all agreed that I had a tough gig.

On Friday I ventured out again, calling up my new best friend the private hire taxi gadgie called Bashir who conveyed me to the new Dalma Mall slap bang in the middle of an industrial area (Mussafah). It's supposed to be the biggest in AD. I soon discovered that there was only about 10% occupancy so far, with only a few shops open, including a huge Carrefour. I did find a nice little coffee shop with big comfy seats where I had a very decent cappuccino and read some stuff on the e-reader. There were few other options in there, and I was really after a decent feed, so I called up Bashir and asked him to take me to a different mall...the closest one that was open, and that he did. It was smaller, but had an open food court and a couple of American chain restuaranty places, so I was happier than a pig in muck as I ordered and scoffed a platter of chicken tenders with fries. They were GOOOOOOD.

Saturday was Suckyday. I can't really remember specifics, but I just felt awful. I think it was my proper full day without an excuse to get away, so I spent an interminably long day staring at the clock on my computer. 12+ hours is a long time to do that, believe me. By the time it was time to leave, I was ready to walk myself to the airport and get on the first plane, wherever it went to. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I was meeting my company boss in AD that night for dinner. Firstly I never turn down free food, and secondly I had a chance to whinge, which I won't pass up either, and it might even do some good this time.

I was ready and psyched up to lay down my list of demands and wave a plane ticket in his face, but my bravado dissipated a little on the way into town and all but disappeared when I met my boss at the hotel. He is a very easy-going, cool customer, and he just makes anyone he talks to feel relaxed and at ease. So I didn't go as forcefully as I wanted, but when he asked me how it was going, I did list my concerns to him...the accommodation, the food, the lack of personal transport, the ridiculous hours. He understood them all, thankfully, and said we should wait a week or two before going to the client with a list of issues and requests. I assented to this approach, seeing that it did really make sense.

After the meal we went to find beer and fortuitously ended up in a sports bar where the FA Cup semi-final between the United and City of Manchester was showing. We watched the last half hour or so over a couple of pints in a lively but not rowdy atmosphere and then went our separate ways. I ended up having a late night again, which isn't good when I have to get up at 5.30am.

Sunday was OK as well. I was sent with a driver to pick my boss up from the hotel, which meant another couple of hours out of the site office. We collected him and delivered him to the site where he spoke with the Korean management for all of about 10 minutes, going no further than a few pleasantries and general enquiries about the project. We then went on a lengthy site tour in a 4x4, and then it was lunchtime. I was hoping to escape to return the boss to his hotel, but was told the driver had other things to do afterwards, so I had to stay put.

That night, back at the ranch, I found the Koreans getting lightly sozzled over their dinners on a drink called soju. It's bamboo or rice spirit, something like that, and tastes like a sweet vodka, although it's only about half the strength at 20%. I was invited to sit with a table-full of Koreans and was soon learning the whole ritual surrounding the pouring of the drinks for other people and challenging to drink it down in one..."Gumbay!" A bit like the Chinese "Kampai" and the Japanese "Gambai". I don't know how much I drunk, but I was a little merry. The food that night was really good as well, featuring belly pork and onion-filled pancake things. It was the best meal I've had here by far, and I went to bed quite content...knowing that things were likely to improve.

That's been the peak of it, I think. Since then it has declined rapidly once more. Monday and Tuesday were pretty rotten. I have come down with another bloody sinus infection or something, and have been to the doctors. They gave me a load of medicine, half of which I've chucked away without taking because I probably know more about my own conditions than a new doctor and don't really trust what they give you here after a bad experience in Dubai. Blood tests were ordered as well, which I've had this morning, but they seemed to be surprised that my BP was up, when just getting to see the doctor was immensely stressful and involved 4 lengthy phone calls to my insurance company in London to arrange payment guarantee. It's times like this that you appreciate the good old NHS. (LEAVE IT ALONE, DAVID CAMERON!) I was at the clinic for 3 hours.

To make matters worse, I just can't fathom these Koreans. One minute they seem immensely worried about my welfare, the next they are completely ignoring me. I worry that I did something wrong on soju night, as I feel like a pariah at most meal times, and have watched them come in the dining room and purposefully avoid sitting with me. The 3 chaps I work with the most and share an office and even a villa with seem to have acquired their own car now, but have left me to use the mini-bus to get to and from work, and no-one says a word to me on there, other than the Indian driver who always says hello. I am showering...I'll say that now.

Do I make them uncomfortable in some way? I never had this level of cultural clashing when I worked with Japanese people in Taiwan, but then I was living with my western colleagues and mixing with them after work. I definitely need to get out of this villa ASAP. I've spoken to the Canadian safety guy again and he said it was hard. He lived with them for 4 months. Last night really took the biscuit when they decided to sit out in the common area (what could be a lounge in a normally-occupied villa) and blathered on in inscrutable words for a couple of hours...almost 11pm when they finished. I listened to my mp3 player to try and get some peace and maybe some sleep.

All in all, I am hoping things change quickly here for me, because I can't live like this for another 2 months. Last night I saw pictures of my daughter riding her bike without stabilisers for the first time. Of course, this could have happened when I was at work in the UK, but it's just another thing that got to me.

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