My song for March: Out of Reach and Out of Sight

In my list of 50 goals and plans for 2010 I wrote “6.1 Write an album’s-worth of new songs and record them by the end of the year…” which I’m interpreting as one song per month.

Here is the song from March. It’s called Out of Reach and Out of Sight.

It’s been a slow burner, as far as writing is concerned, and I don’t consider it quite finished as yet. I had the music composed by the end of March, and had the feel for the lyrics, but I hit a wall. I had lots of inspiration on different topics, but none fit this music. The current lyrics are about a secret relationship, but as it sometimes takes me years to finish the lyrics of a song, it might not stay that way.

I recorded it now because I’m leaving this ship tomorrow, going home, and then taking all of May off work. That means I’ll be back to the guitar, and have no easy access to a piano. I wrote the February song on a piano, then recorded it with a guitar. This time I wanted to capture how the song sounds in my head when I wrote it.

Actually, in my head there are drums and bass too. And someone better at singing than I am. And a better pianist too.

Maybe I should start a band.


Dubai buildings and fountains

Dubai! One of the emirates. I guess they all have stupid buildings, but Dubai has made it their priority to have more stupid buildings than anywhere else.

Exhibit 1: a large indoor ski slope. Attached to a shopping mall. In the desert. I didn’t have any plans to go skiing or snowboarding, mainly because I’ve never learnt how to snowboard, and it’s been 15 years since I last went skiing.
Exhibit 1: a large indoor ski slope. Attached to a shopping mall. In the desert. I didn't have any plans to go skiing or snowboarding, mainly because I've never learnt how to snowboard, and it's been 15 years since I last went skiing.

If I return to Dubai I’ll see about having a go though, because it looks like a lot of fun.
If I return to Dubai I'll see about having a go though, because it looks like a lot of fun.

I visited that on my first day in Dubai. I caught the metro there and back, because I had a few hours to kill before I had to catch my ride to the desert. The metro is interesting; it’s so new the first station I tried to enter hadn’t opened yet. All the metro stations are numbered, but only seven or eight stations are open just yet. It’s a raised train, and it runs down the main strip of Dubai.

Main strip? The only strip. That’s what the new center of Dubai is, really, one massive road lined with stupid shaped buildings.

On the way the way back from the ski slope mall, I stopped off to see the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world. I didn’t have time to get really close, so I just took some photos. Here’s one.
On the way the way back from the ski slope mall, I stopped off to see the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world. I didn't have time to get really close, so I just took some photos. Here's one.

On my second day in Dubai, I had to do some work, knowing I only had two days at home before my next gig. That meant the first time I left the ship was when a driver picked up me and Mike, another entertainer leaving that day, and took us to our hotel.

We only had the hotel as somewhere to stay between when the ship sailed (about 4pm) and when we had to go to the airport (flying out at 2am). It’s a hard life!

I told Mike I was going to go visit the Burj Kalifa again, as the folks at the safari highly recommended watching the new fountain installation. I also wanted to see if I could ride a lift to the top of the tower. After some convincing, Mike tagged along.

The area around the base of the Burj Kalifa isn’t open yet, as it still being landscaped. The paths are there, but are closed off. At first I thought they were open, but the crowds were made up only by hundreds of workmen.

So the only way to reach the base of the tower is to walk through the Dubai Mall. I’m not sure, but this must be one of the largest malls in the world. That’s a theme of Dubai.
So the only way to reach the base of the tower is to walk through the Dubai Mall. I'm not sure, but this must be one of the largest malls in the world. That's a theme of Dubai.

At one end of the mall are a series of five story high indoor waterfalls. It’s probably best not to ask why.
At one end of the mall are a series of five story high indoor waterfalls. It's probably best not to ask why.

Outside the mall is a wide open space with a huge pool. Oh yeah, there’s also the tallest building in the world.
Outside the mall is a wide open space with a huge pool. Oh yeah, there's also the tallest building in the world.

There’s a lot of demand to visit the top of the tower, so you have to buy your tickets in advance. As we arrived late in the evening, there were no tickets left. It’s normally possible to pay four times the normal ticket price and jump right to the front of the queue, but even those tickets had sold out.

If I’d planned better I could have bought my ticket earlier in the day. But I didn’t. That means I didn’t visit the inside or top of the Burj Kalifa, even though I’m a big fan of going up high buildings in cities. I guess it gives me something else to do next time I visit Dubai.

The tower is stupidly big though. Standing at the base and looking up actually makes you fall backwards. And I’m not just saying that. It really does.
The tower is  stupidly big though. Standing at the base and looking up actually makes you fall backwards. And I'm not just saying that. It really does.

The Dubai Fountains! Here’s Mike watching the show.
The Dubai Fountains! Here's Mike watching the show.

Each evening from 6pm, the fountains do their thing every twenty minutes. They are like the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. Except, of course, there are many more fountains, and the individual water jets shoot higher. Yeah, they are the biggest and tallest fountains in the world.
Each evening from 6pm, the fountains do their thing every twenty minutes. They are like the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. Except, of course, there are many more fountains, and the individual water jets shoot higher. Yeah, they are the biggest and tallest fountains in the world.

We stayed to watch four displays, each time from a different direction. I’d timed the visit just right too, as we saw the first in daylight and by the latest the water was mainly illuminated by colored lights from below.
We stayed to watch four displays, each time from a different direction. I'd timed the visit just right too, as we saw the first in daylight and by the latest the water was mainly illuminated by colored lights from below.

Here’s the Burj Kalifa again, without the fountains.
Here's the Burj Kalifa again, without the fountains.

One more photo of the tower, which I took on the walk back to the metro. We found it amazing that the tower actually stood above the clouds.
One more photo of the tower, which I took on the walk back to the metro. We found it amazing that the tower actually stood above the clouds.

When (or if) I return to Dubai, I’m certainly going to revisit the fountains and tower twice, both in the evening. The first time I’ll go to the top of the tower as the sun sets, and watch the fountains from above. The second time I’ll have dinner in one of the restaurants beside the pool, and watch display after display.

Maybe I’ll return a third time, just to take more photos.

Mike and I ate at this India restaurant. We both agreed it was some of the best Indian food we’d ever tasted.
Mike and I ate at this India restaurant. We both agreed it was some of the best Indian food we'd ever tasted.

In all, Mike and I had a really fun evening. And it was cheap too! The fountains are free. The metro works out at about 3 euro each. One thing I found interesting was the minimum charge in the taxis we took to and from the metro station. The meter starts at about 2 euro (equivalent), and our ride only raised it to about 4 euro. But it didn’t matter, as the minimum charge was about 5 euro.

If there’s a minimum charge, why not just start the meter at that amount, but just wait the appropriate time before increasing it? No idea.

Anyway, Dubai is a unique destination. It isn’t the kind of place I’d choose to go on holiday, but there is certainly enough to do there to fill a week away.

And when I return there’ll probably be another twenty stupid buildings and “Largest xyz in the world!” to visit.


Dubai desert safari.

Dubai! The city of stupid too-big buildings. Yay! I’ll write more about the buildings and the city itself in a future blog post. This one is about my trip to the dessert.

I had two full days in Dubai, from the morning of the 4th of April to the evening of the 5th. The cruise ship was staying over night, so I didn’t have to be back before it sailed in the evening. Great!

Here’s a nice HDR photo of the Queen Victoria at the Dubai cruise terminal. It was docked just behind the now decommissioned Queen Elizabeth 2, the old Cunard flagship, and a ship I worked on back in 2007. Pity I couldn’t get a photo of the two ships together, due to a fence in the way.
Here's a nice HDR photo of the Queen Victoria at the Dubai cruise terminal. It was docked just behind the now decommissioned Queen Elizabeth 2, the old Cunard flagship, and a ship I worked on back in 2007. Pity I couldn't get a photo of the two ships together, due to a fence in the way.

So, what should I do on an overnight stay in Dubai?

I decided to go on an evening dessert safari. I booked it online the night before, and got a text message to say when and where I’d be picked up.

There are over 3,000 apartment hotels in Dubai, so even if the driver works 350 days a year, he might never return to the same hotel twice. This is a good thing, for me anyway, because he couldn’t find the hotel at first, so picked me up, and then went again to find the right hotel. This meant I was first in the Landcruiser, so took the front seat.

The skyline of Dubai from the ring motorway.
The skyline of Dubai from the ring motorway.

We drove out to the desert, stopping on the way a few times to buy drinks, food (I bought a Kinder Egg as it was Easter Sunday), and tourist trap tat. This is me after someone tried to convince me to buy a head scarf by actually wrapping it round my head.
We drove out to the desert, stopping on the way a few times to buy drinks, food (I bought a Kinder Egg as it was Easter Sunday), and tourist trap tat. This is me after someone tried to convince me to buy a head scarf by actually wrapping it round my head.

At the entrance to the dune area of the desert, our driver let loads of air out of each tire. More surface area = more grip on sand.
At the entrance to the dune area of the desert, our driver let loads of air out of each tire. More surface area = more grip on sand.

And we’re off…
And we're off...

Us and loads of others! Each evening there are hundreds and hundreds of trucks ranging through this area of the desert.
Us and loads of others! Each evening there are hundreds and hundreds of trucks ranging through this area of the desert.

We were generally the third in a group of three trucks operated by the same company.
We were generally the third in a group of three trucks operated by the same company.

The driving was quite intense! We were told to hang on, and say if we got motion sickness. I did get a bit queasy, to be honest, but not too bad.
The driving was quite intense! We were told to hang on, and say if we got motion sickness. I did get a bit queasy, to be honest, but not too bad.

I understand why this is such a popular activity. It’s really, really good fun! Imagine a roller coaster ride, but one that lasts for about 45 minutes, and the driver is making up the route as he goes along. 45 minutes doesn’t sound like very long, but like I said, imagine a 45 minute long roller coaster ride.
I understand why this is such a popular activity. It's really, really good fun! Imagine a roller coaster ride, but one that lasts for about 45 minutes, and the driver is making up the route as he goes along. 45 minutes doesn't sound like very long, but like I said, imagine a 45 minute long roller coaster ride.

We stopped on a large dune to take photos. Everyone else in the truck (except for the driver) knew each other through mutual friends. It’s a pity I can’t remember any of their names, though I did email them these photos afterward. These two were teaching in Korea (I think) and were stopping in Dubai for a few days on their way back to the UK.
We stopped on a large dune to take photos. Everyone else in the truck (except for the driver) knew each other through mutual friends. It's a pity I can't remember any of their names, though I did email them these photos afterward. These two were teaching in Korea (I think) and were stopping in Dubai for a few days on their way back to the UK.

These three were foreign workers in Dubai, from India, who worked with a friend of the above two.
These three were foreign workers in Dubai, from India, who worked with a friend of the above two.

Our driver showed off a bit so we could take photos while not in the truck.
Our driver showed off a bit so we could take photos while not in the truck.

The view inside.
The view inside.

After driving through the desert, we took a long empty road. Well, it wasn’t empty, but the only other vehicles were other dessert safari trucks. It was a surreal experience, because the road was a dual carriageway, but with no barriers. Because all the traffic was moving in the same direction, it felt like a scene from a movie, with the random overtaking and undertaking and general weird driving.

We stopped at a camel farm. Only one other truck, out of the hundreds, stopped along with us, so I guess the driver knew someone who worked at the farm.
We stopped at a camel farm. Only one other truck, out of the hundreds, stopped along with us, so I guess the driver knew someone who worked at the farm.

I drank camel milk. It tasted sweet and salty. Weird.
I drank camel milk. It tasted sweet and salty. Weird.

I took a photos of the sunset and videoed myself juggling too. Unfortunately my tripod sank into the sand while I ran forward to juggle, and the tipped back. The resulting shot is a bit crap. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll visit another desert some day.
I took a photos of the sunset and videoed myself juggling too. Unfortunately my tripod sank into the sand while I ran forward to juggle, and the tipped back. The resulting shot is a bit crap. Oh well, I'm sure I'll visit another desert some day.

Then we drove to a camp for dinner and show. There are dozens of these spread out through the desert, to cater for the hundreds of trucks and thousands of people who turn up each night.
Then we drove to a camp for dinner and show. There are dozens of these spread out through the desert, to cater for the hundreds of trucks and thousands of people who turn up each night.

I rode on a camel. Warning: camels stand up and kneel down in unpredictable ways at unpredictable times.

The first show, pre-dinner, was whirling dervish artist. He span. A lot. And span and span and span. And did fun manipulation with drums and umbrellas and his costume.
The first show, pre-dinner, was whirling dervish artist. He span. A lot. And span and span and span. And did fun manipulation with drums and umbrellas and his costume.

He even had a glow section of his show.
He even had a glow section of his show.

Here’s the henna tattoo artist doing her thing.
Here's the henna tattoo artist doing her thing.

The dinner was a buffet. The queue had already grown to about a hundred people, but as we walked over one of the servers said “This table is open too, you know.” Due to lucky timing I was second in the new line.
The dinner was a buffet. The queue had already grown to about a hundred people, but as we walked over one of the servers said

The second show featured a belly dancer. By this time it was really dark. I wish I’d taken my 50mm 1.8 lens, to work better with the low light. But I only had my zoom lenses, so I had to get creative.
The second show featured a belly dancer. By this time it was really dark. I wish I'd taken my 50mm 1.8 lens, to work better with the low light. But I only had my zoom lenses, so I had to get creative.

The dancer did her thing, and was mildly entertaining. Then she got to the audience participation part. The volunteer she chose was on of the Indians from our truck. He completely stole the show. I think he was meant to copy the dancer, but he just did his own thing with twice the charisma and energy.
The dancer did her thing, and was mildly entertaining. Then she got to the audience participation part. The volunteer she chose was on of the Indians from our truck. He completely stole the show. I think he was meant to copy the dancer, but he just did his own thing with twice the charisma and energy.

At the very end of the show she invited everyone on stage to have a go.
At the very end of the show she invited everyone on stage to have a go.

The night ended with a long drive back to Dubai. I thought I’d sleep all the way, but I didn’t. It was much more fun to listen to the driver (who was from Pakistan) and the other passengers have a conversation in Hindi. It turns out I could follow the conversation easily, due to the fact that half of the words were English, international, or otherwise blatantly obvious.

In all, the desert safari was a great evening and night out, made better by the fun company. I see why the trips are so popular, and I’d recommend it to anyone who visits Dubai for more than a few days. It only cost about 60 dollars too, which I think is great value for the enjoyment received.


Ball Juggling 2001 – 2003

Between 2001 and 2003 I released about a hundred videos on my old website, Luke Burrage’s Thing on The Net. I had to get creative to deal with the bandwidth drains of these videos, as there would typically be about 300-400 downloads per day, which is probably more than the combined views my videos get on YouTube. That’s what happens where you are early to the internet video game.

All these videos are still hosted on my website archive, but I thought I’d make the viewing far easier by editing the videos together into a few packages. This one is the ball trick video.

This is the second time I uploaded the video, but I used copyrighted music the first time. YouTube noticed right away! The music I’ve used here is actually more appropriate, as it is a track I wrote back in 2000 or 2001, and used in some juggling videos I released in 2003.

Enjoy!


Muscat, Oman (vs Brunei)

Muscat used to be the place to buy spices, but now it’s all about the oil. There is a LOT of money in Oman, but I’m not sure how well distributed it is. In this way I thought it might be like Brunei. It was. Sort of.

The first stop, upon leaving the ship, was the bazaar in Mutrah. Mutrah is one of the three parts of the city of Muscat.
The first stop, upon leaving the ship, was the bazaar in Mutrah. Mutrah is one of the three parts of the city of Muscat.

The bazaar was only passingly interesting, considering all the other markets I’ve visited.
The bazaar was only passingly interesting, considering all the other markets I've visited.

I thought “What else is there to do for a few hours in Oman?” I looked for some kind of tourist information or office or excursion provider who could do all the thinking and planning in exchange for money. The only place I found was a boat trip to watch dolphins and snorkel. A nice idea, but the only way they could portray dolphins was through unconvincing photoshopping, so I was suspicious any dolphins had ever visited the water around Oman.
I thought

So instead I thought I’d take a taxi over to the “old city” part of Muscat. The conversation with the first taxi driver went something like this:

“How much is it to Muscat?”

“Thirty dollars.”

“Very funny.”

The conversation with the second taxi driver went something like this:

“How far is it to Muscat?”

“About 3 km.”

“So that should only cost five dollars.”

“Ten dollars.”

“Let’s go!”

There is a lesson here.

The taxi driver dropped me off at the market place in Muscat. As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of trading going on.
The taxi driver dropped me off at the market place in Muscat. As you can see, there wasn't a whole lot of trading going on.

Now, let’s compare Muscat to Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei has the world’s largest residential palace ever built. The place is huge. But it’s way outside the city, hidden behind trees. The city itself has plenty of stupid buildings, and prestige projects, all paid for by the sultan, but the old part of the town is still a thriving community. There is a huge water village, as well as a modern city center on land.

The sultan’s palace in Brunei.
The sultan's palace in Brunei.

The water village in Brunei.
The water village in Brunei.

One of the many large building projects in Brunei.
One of the many large building projects in Brunei.

Which brings me Muscat. There was once a thriving city, nestled between high cliffs and the sea. A castle at either end of the bay protected the harbor. But then the sultan wanted a new palace. The ENTIRE city was cleared, and that prime waterfront real estate was given over to his palace.
Which brings me Muscat. There was once a thriving city, nestled between high cliffs and the sea. A castle at either end of the bay protected the harbor. But then the sultan wanted a new palace. The ENTIRE city was cleared, and that prime waterfront real estate was given over to his palace.

The palace from the other side.
The palace from the other side.

The worst thing about this? I haven’t used the word residential. Nope, he doesn’t even live here. The palace is only used for international receptions.

The rest of the city has nothing but embassies, government ministries and (I think) a single museum. And a mosque or two. But that’s it. I walked around for a while, and the place is a ghost town. Nobody lives there. And there’s nothing to see except shiny new plastic buildings.

The buildings might not actually be made out of plastic, but they look like it.
The buildings might not actually be made out of plastic, but they look like it.

The castles on either side of the bay are still used by the military, so I wasn’t allowed to take any photos. Then I checked out the city walls. They immediately stood out to me, not for their historical appearance, but for the way they look overly functional, even for use today.
The castles on either side of the bay are still used by the military, so I wasn't allowed to take any photos. Then I checked out the city walls. They immediately stood out to me, not for their historical appearance, but for the way they look overly functional, even for use today.

And that’s when I realized the entire “old city” is practically a military installation. When the oil runs out, the population of Oman will say “Where’s all our money? Hey, it’s all inside that palace!” They’ll try to storm the city, but won’t make it past the moat before the snipers in the castles take them out one by one.

A small castle on a hill.
A small castle on a hill.

Forget what I said about the buildings being made out of plastic. Here’s a join in the city walls, filled in with polystyrene. It’s like they’re not even pretending they are historic.
Forget what I said about the buildings being made out of plastic. Here's a join in the city walls, filled in with polystyrene. It's like they're not even pretending they are historic.

So, after an hour I worked out there was really nothing to do or see in Muscat. Before I took the taxi in I’d considered buying a drink, but decided to find something when I got to Muscat. I didn’t know there would be nowhere to buy a drink in Muscat. I didn’t know there would be nowhere to buy anything in Muscat.

Conversation with taxi driver:

“I’d like a taxi ride back to Mutrah.”

“Twenty dollars.”

“It cost me five to get here.”

“But there are lots of taxis in Mutrah, and not so many tourists. Here in Muscat there are lots of tourists and only three taxis.”

“So when you drop me off, come directly back here.”

“Twenty dollars.”

At that point I walked away, hoping one of the drivers would say “Ten dollars.” I wasn’t actually planning to walk back to Mutrah, considering the burning heat of the sun.

Then I worked out a bus parked near by was returning directly to the cruise ship. The tour escort, who also worked as a lecturer on the ship, recognized me from my show and said “We have two spare seats on the bus, just get a lift back with us.”

So I did.

On the bus I discovered the most impressive thing to see was the Grand Mosque. It’s one of the biggest in the world, and it’s crammed full of interesting and expensive furnishings. Much more impressive than Buckingham Palace, according to one couple. Unfortunately I had to take the other passengers’ word for it as I didn’t have time then to go check it out myself.

So that was my day in Muscat and Mutrah. Just so you know, it’s not really worth visiting.


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