Sunday, 9 June 2013

An Awkward Brush With Ajman's 'Tea Set'

Teapot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They're all sitting back after consuming their Dhs45 ($1,400) a head Chinese meal and chatting about the roadworks around National Paints. The glittering crowd of red-faced, balding men and their wives, all bleached blonde hair and sun-damaged skin, are sipping 'special tea' from silver-rimmed porcelain cups. The conversation turns to local retailer Spinneys and how they've stopped selling Walkers Cheese and Onion crisps again. The mood turns ugly as someone pipes up, "They never have any bloody fresh cream in, either. We have to go to Mirdiff for that."

I'm undercover, a BBC journalist taking in the seamy side of this secretive emirate, the underbelly of the glittering United Arab Emirates. Just a few minutes away from the  marble malls of Dubai, Ajman is home to a significant population of wealthy expatriates working in the oil, real estate and other industries. Many of them enjoy themselves in the whirl of socialising and conspicuous consumption that has come to characterise expatriate life in the UAE.

It doesn't escape my notice that there's something wrong with the tea. The mens' tea is yellow and foaming while the womens' is white. One has ice in her 'tea' - "Vodka an' tonic, luvvie" she confides in me, sipping her tea with a suggestive wink. The black market booze-up is just one of a number of wilful transgressions of the law that these expats undertake in their everyday lives- seemingly uncaring that one wrong move could have disastrous consequences.

"This place has been here for years. Nobody cares about a few cups of tea," Billy, a construction company executive tells me as he smokes his umpteenth Marlboro. "There's a law about smoking in restaurants, too, but nobody cares about it."

Behind him in the kitchens, Ang Yang Wang labours over a series of sizzling woks. A refugee from Szechuan, she makes a meagre Dhs 8,000 ($45) a month working as a chef in the popular 'China Parlour' restaurant. "I come here for cook these people," she tells me. "They no eat good food, they eat cat."

Puzzled, I leave her to rejoin the party. On their second pot now, the men are laughing loudly. I decide it's time to leave before the scene gets too rowdy and my safety is compromised.
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