16 February 2007

Car salesman or Jewelers?

Time yet again kiddies for another of Southern Air Pirates sea stories. Hold on to your Pirate hats and remember to scream what you want for birthdays and Christmas to your parents during the commercial breaks.

So it came to be on my first fleet cruise after seeing most of Southern Europe in the summer time and before the world turned up sided down. My ship USS Oldboat sailed through the Suez Canal (aka as the ditch) went around the horn of Africa and the Saudi Peninsula and found its self near the end of that summer in the Persian Gulf doing our best to enforce the Southern No fly zone. The ship we were supposed to relieve USS Olderboat didn't leave station because one of her airplanes was shot at while in international air space by an Iraqi Surface to Air missile battery. The talk start to come up about dropping some bombs and basically conducting a live fire exercises on a few of the Iraqi Army positions outside of the no-fly zones as a way to say the UN meant business. Long story short a few more aggressive patrols and the use of a few inert training bombs on the fixed sites and the bluster past. Port Visit time, time to hit the Sandbox in Jebel Ali.

Those of you that are in or were in the Navy and have cruised post-Desert Storm then you know the Sandbox. For those of you that haven't been there let me tell you what it is the absolute joy and jewel of the UAE. What the Sandbox is an attempt to provided a safe area away from the native population for a ship to release her crew to be fat, stupid, westerners (the time I was there a UK ship pulled in at the same time). Drinking, shopping, sports, a place to wash your clothes, and to re-sample American food.

This is officially called The Oasis-Jebel Ali MWR. They offer on something akin to 3 football fields of fenced in compound: a AT&T calling center with a free 15min call anywhere in the world; a laundry center; a center with Internet computers, movies on a projection TV (and yes some are cruise videos), gameboxes to play video games to your hearts content; then around the fence line of the compound are trailers with stores in them hawking everything from the latest electronic gizmo to Persian rugs to stuff from Hard Rock Dubai; a car dealership where you can order an American car that can be delivered to your hometown or near your hometown as discounted rates; other trailers with food like Popeye's chicken, Fuddruckers, Uno's Pizza, Burger King, 31 Flavors, and even a Starbucks. About half a mile away is the taxi stand where you can hope in to a UAE taxi and then head into town.

Heading into town is an adventure, I remember doing this with a buddy of mine name Steve. Our plan was to visit the Gold Suk in town and then head over to the mall and do some shopping there. We took the cab into town and found paid out something close to 35 dollars for this cabbie to take us from middle of boonievile into civilization. The ride was interesting because there was miles and miles of desert pock marked here and there with either a refinery or some outdoors storage facility for cars or cargo containers. We go into town and headed right for the Gold Suk.

The Gold Suk is a place where all the gold dealers and jewelers in the city hawk their jewelry or plates. From what we had heard from old hands to the area is that you can get some killer deals on 18K or 24K gold that is pretty pure. The only thing that might not be up to stuff is the workmanship, but when you are paying about 100-150 dollars for a nice 24k gold chain well you can over look the manufacturing marks. Both of us at the time were dating some wonderful girls and we wanted to get them a nice chain, pendant, some piece of jewelery. I don't know, we had heard a rumor that girls love that stuff, we weren't completely sure. Anyhow we walk into this place and it hits us right off the bat. That this is going to be interesting. It was like watching those live Wall Street market shots on a cable news network. People are talking in raised voices and mainly arguing about prices.
We had learned from the pre-brief that haggling with a seller, outside of a name brand store, was typical in the Mid-east. It was actually considered part of the tradition and showing bad manners to not argue about the price at least once during the transaction. So, Steve and I set it up that we would pull a good cop/bad cop routine with these jokers. The first thing we did was walk around and observe everything going on in this place. This was set up like a farmer's market in any typical town with little kiosks set up and all sorts of gold laying out on clothes and pillows. Also walking conspiciously around are the local police and federals. The local feds looked kind of scary walking around with a sub-machine gun strapped to their back and almost Dirty Harry look on their faces. Nearly all of them in their walk, demeanor, and posture seem to say "Go ahead Make my day!"
After scouting out a couple of the kiosk that we like. Steve and I walked back to a corner and mashed heads together. We agreed to haggle on a price of no more then 100 for a simple chain and no more then 125 on any chain with some sort of pendant/locket on it. I had found at a kiosk some pretty large gold braid chains with hearts on them. So as Steve and I walked up to this guy it started.
"Hey Joe you buy gold for girlfriend"
"No, we are just looking"
"Southern this chain would look nice on Shannon"
"Steve I don't know..."
"Yes, yes these are very good gold, pure 18k only 115 Dirhams"
"Yea but the guy," and I swung my arm out one way down the row of kiosks, "down that way was selling a better looking chain with 24k for only 100 Dirhams"
The conversion at the time was about 1.50 Dollars to a Dirham. So we were talking at something around 170 dollars to start with
"No, No, they are lying cheating bastard sons of camels. I will give this chain and another locket on it for 100 Dirhams."
"Southern that is a sweet deal. Look at a few of these chains."
"Steve, I really don't know I mean what about that guy near the entrance. He had offered us both 2 chains with 3 pendants for 80 Dirhams."
"Southern you are just trying to cheat Abdul here now."
"Okay, okay I will give you 2 chains with two of my pendants that are inlaid with some Rubies for 90"
" Steve lets go that still doesn't sound like a plan. We should look some more."
As we walked away. The owner of this kiosk laughed hard and said. "Fine, fine my friends 2 chains, 2 pendants for no more then 60 dirhams"
At which we both needled each other pretend to argue some more and I finally paid up. The end of the deal I got to nice chains with a heart pendant that had a small ruby inlaid in the center for about 65 dollars US. All of it showed some real shoddy workmanship. There where some hammering marks on everything and where the ruby fit showed that it would be loose.
So we walked over to where Steve had found some stuff, did a role reversal and went through the same process. Long story short there he got a 3 plain chains for little over 50 dollars.
At the end of cruise since we both went to a jeweler in Norfolk and asked him to remake them into something better. I paid an additional 40 dollars for him to remelt everything and re form it better and get the rubies to fit tighter. The jeweler we went to told us that the stuff we had was 24k gold that was about 85% pure and if made or import here in the states would have been about 200 dollars if he or a name brand jewelry store made them. So at the end even though we both save about 10 dollars it was still worth it. Because the girlfriend at the time loved the gift and my mother loved her Christmas present. So I guess women do love jewelry, you learn new things every day.
So ends our sea story. Stay tuned next time, same Southern Channel for another exciting adventure of Southern Air Pirate and his band of wacky sailors.

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