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Category: Non-music writing

Visiting Kamikochi

During a brief stopover in Kyushu in the early 1990s, British broadcaster and former Monty Python, Michael Palin, stopped in at Huis Ten Bosch, a faithful recreation of a Dutch town, replete with gouda, tulips, windmills and a clock tower built out of bricks shipped from Holland. Not sure what to make of it all, he dubbed it ’cultural karaoke’ and quickly moved on. It’s a phrase that I’ve had reason to recall many times during the decade I spent in Japan, albeit never before when discussing a mountain range.

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Haggling tips from an Abu Dhabi newbie

When I first arrived in the UAE, I met up with a family friend who’d spent more years in the Middle East than in his native Ireland. Keen to impart some of his local knowledge, we arranged a trip to Dubai’s Global Village where he agreed to verse me in haggling culture. ‘The golden rule,’ he explained, ‘is never to show any interest.’

‘So, I’m to fain lack of interest in something I’ve got my heart set on?’

‘Right,’ he grinned. ‘They can’t stand it.’

Clearly, the world of bartering is a confusing place, not dissimilar to that of relationships. But the idea that there might be a ‘golden rule’ was intriguing. It suggested that there might be a science to getting the perfect price. With this in mind, I took a few half-baked theories to the streets of Abu Dhabi.

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Into Wilfred Thesiger’s Empty Quarter

Good old Wilfred Thesiger. The explorer’s five years in the heat of the UAE desert have inspired countless expats to dip their toes in the shallows of the Rub’ Al Khali, and his books and artefacts have become a small tourist industry in their own right. You can head out to the museum in Al Ain to gaze upon the man’s engraved rifle, or you can flit down to Liwa and have a go at desert camping, trying to imagine what it was like to be the UAE’s first expat explorer. You’re never going to get close, of course.

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