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Princesses & Emperors

At the turn of the year, it's normal to look back and take stock. It has been my privilege through 2007 to paraglide with the Emperor and the Desperate Princess. Readers come and go and all are welcome, but you two have been by far the most regular. One is quite a public figure, through blogging; the other far less visible. Maybe 2008 is the year the three of us will share a drink in the 4-pints Charlatan. Or maybe not. Happy New Year, Princess & Emperor - have a great one. Helga is proud of you!

No Mean Milestone

5,000 visits (in total) hardly compares with conquering Everest. In fact, it's scarce a mountain at all - maybe a Corbett, assuredly not a Munro. Ah, but in these flat desert lands, may we not value all the more every slight gradient, and savour with sharpened gratitude every small summit? And if we start our journey in such humble surroundings as Chalky's Bar, in the honest if shadowy company of Helga and her Chickens, with no higher ambition than to return there at the end of the day, are we to be blamed for basking briefly in our small achievement? May we all know peace as this year ends. And may we journey together for a year or two more.

But is it Art?

Paraglider welcomes the editors and readers of The Chimaera to the Paranormal Hotel. Grab a bar stool, have a beer on the house, sit back and be entertained. By all means, sign the visitors' book (unless you don't care to be seen here!) You won't want long for agreeable company.
Note to Helga - These people have come to the Paranormal in search of Art. Be gentle with them. For some, this is their first taste of the Middle East. Speak slowly, and of things ethereal, for at least the first thirty seconds.

Mixed Oddfellows

Though not in the same class as the Paranormal, the Admiral Plaza merits a visit, if only for a change of scene. To get there, leave the Para before closing time (it only takes will-power), turn left and walk towards Bank Street. As you'll be heading down Bank Street, towards Customs House, you can cut the corner if you like, by crossing the desert car park, but beware of sand and pigeons. Once on Bank Street, be on the lookout for the Ascot Hotel, on your left. On no account enter this dismal establishment, but take it as a signal to cross the main road. Once over, you'll see, a little way along the first turning on the right, a big but easily missable white and blue neon sign heralding the Admiral Plaza, possibly Dubai's least celebrated hotel.

The bar entrance is diagonally across the entrance hall, hidden behind screens, as if (because?) the present Management are embarrassed by their seedy inheritance. Unlike Paranormal, you can play darts here without impaling anyone. And there's even a pretty tolerable live band (after Ramadan, of course). The place is darker than it needs to be, but is otherwise OK and, with the right company, which is readily available if you haven't brought your own(!), the seating arrangements (cozy booths) are remarkably comfortable.

On the other hand, Paraglider has never met anyone else who has been there, so it's just possible that it doesn't exist. Who knows?

50:50

The days of Ramadan tick by, quietly, and we watch the night sky. In a couple of nights, the full moon will mark the halfway point. The No Locals sign on Chalky's door has fallen once or twice, is showing dog-ears, but will probably last the fortnight. It scarcely matters; it's there only to placate the outrageable and be ignored by the regulars. Ringlets, on her corner stool, manages a wan smile, but still pines for Mahmoud. Back in two weeks, he'd said. On a brighter note, this full moon is also the Chinese mid-autumn festival of zhong qiu jie. Fasting is not a requirement. It's another excuse to eat moon cakes and be very happy. Nothing wrong with that.

With Deep Foreboding

As the Holy Month of Ramadan approaches there is the usual rumourmongering among the regulars. This year they're going to clamp down. All the bars will be closed. Or, This year they're going to relax. The bars will be open as normal. This year, of course will be just like last year, in the Paranormal. Closed through the daylight hours, open at seven, background music only and a table placed in the middle of the dance floor as a token bastion against frivolity. Perish the thought. Three pints of Stella and a deep and meaningful conversation with Helga. It's not such a hard life. In Qatar, every bar is closed for the whole month. There, the rumour is They're going to refurbish the Stufital during Ramadan. This is worrying. Not that it doesn't need an overhaul, but Ramadan is no time for project work. Nothing gets done. Still less in Qatar.

Salaam Pardner!

Driving from Doha airport into the city centre, visitors can hardly fail to notice the huge full length likeness of the Emir himself, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, with his arm upraised in welcome. This is a model of hospitality that many cities would do well to copy. Making no comparisons, Las Vegas, having no Emir, can only offer Vegas Vic, the fifty foot neon cowboy. Vic's arm used to wave a welcome, and he used to roar "Howdy Pardner" at passers-by, but the mechanism and the voice are no more. Perhaps there is an opportunity for his Highness here? Howdy Habibi!

Watch the Birdies

It isn't every day that the car you're asked to review turns out to be a metallic blue Bentley Continental GTC. Such a car is as much at home in a photoshoot as on a country lane, so Doug, never one to miss an opportunity, drove it straight to Bur Dubai's number one night-spot. Doug's preference has always leaned towards Uzbekistan, with Kyrgyzstan a close second, so it wasn't long before Chalky's Bar had emptied these nationalities onto the street to form a neat, orderly queue for their chance to sit behind the wheel. And though Doug kept the keys securely pocketed throughout the proceedings, there were smiles all round as poses were struck and pictures taken, many of which will already be brightening otherwise dingy bedroom walls in Bishkek. Security, as a reward for keeping onlookers at arm's length, had his own moment of glory before Doug drove off, alone.

Sitting Outside

The roast pork smell of old Charlie next door practising fire-walking in the garden certainly adds something to the morning ambience. The balcony came with a discarded lady's shoe (word order matters!), a pair of colonial khakis and an impenetrable story that improves on every telling. Dust is of the essence. He who sweeps clean destroys history. Nice one Charlie!

For Honoured Guests

Doha Stufital is not the Paranormal, and never will be. In fact it's a pretty dismal place with expensive beer (double the Para happy hour prices), a no-cash bar (you have to buy beer-tokens in the lobby), typically a 30:1 male:female ratio, toilets a roach would run from, and, following last month's refurbishment, a roped off V.I.P. seating area. This last passeth all understanding. Surely we all know that when His Royal Highness has a burning urge to boogie on down to the Filipino band he prefers to come in mufti and blend in with the lads from Kerala? Don't we all?

Don't cry for me, Paranormal

Things change, and Paraglider is finding it increasingly difficult to eulogise the Paranormal from afar. Now based in Qatar, visits to Dubai are all too infrequent. What, then, to do with The Paranormal Hotel blog? Three ideas come to mind: 1 - just let it exist as a strange memorial of a time and place, 2 - take it down, 3 - start writing about Qatar's nearest equivalent, the Stufital, instead. Much deliberation went into this trilemma. But option 3 prevailed. The blog title will of course no longer reflect the content, but worse things happen in the Middle East. Regular readers are of course welcome to provide news from the Paranormal in comments.

Your Feet's Too Big

There's good posture, and there's presence. Anna has both, especially the latter. And eyes. Eyes that don't so much look as inhale. Rather like the old Superman comics: Aside - With my X-ray vision, I can see that he's carrying a ray-gun in his haversack. It turns out (since you have no option but to talk to her) that her father was in the KGB and doesn't know she's in Dubai. Which says a lot for intelligence. And that she was an aspiring ballet dancer with a wodge of potential until, sadly, her feet grew too big. Well, they're not huge, but, looking down, her story is certainly believable. Still, you might think there would be some happy medium between stardom and the Para. Maybe some modern dance troupe with progressive attitudes towards feet? Apparently not. So it's good to know that the Paranormal is there, rather like a donkey sanctuary, for ballerinas in free-fall.

Square Pegging

Regular readers will know that Paraglider is allergic to 5-star hotels, so it was with some reluctance that he agreed to accompany a friend to Scowlit's night club in the Elephant Towers. The place was busy. So busy you could almost believe some people go there intentionally. Noisy too, with MTV masquerading as entertainment. What seems to unite the Scowlit crowd is the belief that they are good-looking and extremely fashionable. Paraglider is not qualified to comment on the second of these and too polite to dwell on the first. Certainly it's the only place in town where Russian ladies distribute business cards. Helga would be affronted.

Without Prejudice

Paraglider was still musing on how long it had taken the ants (near the cash point) to rebuild their walkway after the last sandstorm, as he stepped from the sunshine into Paranormal, then sharp left into Chalky's, darkness and temporary blindness. For the unwary, this is a dangerous two minutes and it's best not to speak till the eyes recover. From somewhere on the left - Me, I come from the US, Doll. Pennsylvania. Ever heard of it? Clearly a Broadcaster. From somewhere closer - Hello, what you name? From straight ahead - Sir? (a welcome voice). - Pint of Stella, please. And as the fog lifts, the Broadcaster is seen to be wearing shorts and hiking boots with socks, and has started shouting about camel toes. Beam me up, Scottie.

At Close of Play

The Sweepers are among the last to arrive and are the surest sign that it's time to leave. All cheekbones, lipstick and hollow eyes, they take up positions vacated by successful younger Chickens. They watch us, and wait. Gentlemen - are we old? They don't mind. Are we ugly? Good. Are we fat, shabby and ill-shaven? Better still. Are we all of these things, and drunk besides? Champion - we will be swept up within minutes. Or, are we so drunk that even the Sweepers have become lovely to our eyes? Gentlemen - we are lost, wallet and soul.
Meanwhile, we should be adding the sugar to the cranberry juice, stirring it till dissolved, then pouring it all into our bubbling must. The job's done now, apart from waiting, and topping up with water when it calms down, usually after two weeks.

By Way of Verification

i*maginate commented - Hmm, shaved Aussie? Possibly a case of lost identity. I refuse to believe an Aussie would be shaved. Unless he was at the Para, of course - Well, it was about time for another prizewinning photo. I think we can now agree the shaved head, the considerable height, and substantial bulk (the foreground head is at normal head height). Our hero is towering above and looking down. Now, we can't prove the Australian roots, but would you argue? The wine yeast was excellent too.
Speaking of which, it's now time to add the rest of the grape juice, 3 litres in all, to the working yeast. This time, screw down the lid then back it off half a turn. We don't want sticky explosions, especially when doing something not strictly legal. Hold back on the cranberry and sugar. That comes later.

Treading Water

To make your own, first find a 2 metre tall 120 kilo Australian willing to bring you in some decent quality wine yeast from his next trip home. Buy him a beer to seal the deal. Then wait. After a month or so, take home one 5 litre bottle of water. Work your way through it over the next few days (it can be used for drinking) while amassing the real ingredients. These are: 3 litres of red grape juice and 1 litre of cranberry juice, all with no preservatives, and half a kilo of granulated sugar. Don't put any of these in the fridge. When you've finished the water, dump half a teaspoonful of yeast into the 5 litre bottle and pour in about a quarter of one of your grape juices. Screw down the lid, shake it to buggery (this is the correct technical term in Australia) then go for a beer and forget about it for 12 hours...
When you reach Paranormal, you can wonder why there's a traditional wood-panelled English pub in a low quality concrete building in Dubai, and why it has no windows even though it is in a corner with two outside walls. But such musings are fruitless in a desert city with an indoor ski centre. You might just as well ask why sandals are not allowed, except on ladies.

The Glove

Lana wore Paraglider down till he grudgingly agreed (again) to take her from Paranormal to the Vice President for a game of pool. We know the routine well. Place a dirham on the table and wait your turn. It's winner stays on there. The young Syrian guy seems unbeatable and certainly believes himself so. After half an hour, the time comes. Lana walks up to the table. Syria is gracious - if you want to play your girlfriend, I'll step down for one game. Thanks, but she's playing you, my friend. Meanwhile, Lana is fetching her single glove (!) from her handbag and selecting a cue. Five minutes later, Syria is dispatched to the sidelines in a flurry of coloured balls, to nurse his injured pride, soon to be followed by Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the rest. Paraglider waits and watches. It's OK. There are worse places to drink and Lana is nothing if not decorative. Go girl!

A Fourth Option

Guys who don't want attention mostly stare at their beer. This is relatively safe. Slightly riskier is staring at Sky News - eyes may appear in your eyeline, and besides, extended exposure to Sky is known to reduce IQ by 3 points per month. Riskier still is watching the girls with their backs to you. Your 4th-pint reactions are no match for their Red Bull head whip. You can be cornered and questioned mercilessly for at least an hour. A rarely practised fourth option is to enjoy the unique fabric and artefacts of Chalky's interior. Sooner or later, your gaze will fall on the (unused) dart board, emblazoned with 'The King of Arms'. What creative genius decided to mount a dart board on a pillar? Miss the board (which is likely) and you might skewer a Chicken on the dance floor. Then you'd just have to make amends.

Various Entertainments

This, from a Travel Website:
Guests can also sip various beverages at Jockey's Pub, while enjoying various entertainments.
Jings.
Quite apart from the strange 'various' fixation, in many years, possibly amounting to man-years, in Chalky's Bar, Paraglider can honestly say he has never witnessed the ignoble perversion of 'sipping'. Gulping is the good honest norm. The same travelogue-ist observes:
During the daytime, the visitors can enjoy various activities like dune bashing, camel riding and sand surfing on the sands of Dubai.
Yes, but, selfsame sands are not cheek-to-cheek with Paranormal and it is arguable that the hotel's camel stock has dwindled to less than one. In fact, our nearest sands are the car park to the right and the graveyard to the left. The graveyard is best observed from 2nd floor bedrooms and above. There are dead people there, but that's OK too. They don't make too much noise, and don't sip any more, if they ever did. Still, s/he was right about 'various entertainments'.

The Missionaries

Strolling out Mankhool Road the other day, Paraglider was surprised to see a mixed collection of bods literally sprinting into town on the other side of the street. There seemed no obvious explanation, so he dismissed it from his mind. Later, somewhere between Sky News and Helga's new hair colour, it came to him in a flash - of course! They were the bloggers, racing to be first to catch the latest edition of the local papers - to be first to be second to publish. Another Stella, please.

A True Professional

'There comes a time in a man's life', droned the Gourd, 'not that he's exactly dissatisfied with his wife, sorry, life, freudian slip, I meant life, it's the beers, it's the beers - but there comes a time when circumstances conspire to bring to light an awareness of an inner emptiness, a lack of purpose. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Of course he could ignore it and just carry on in the same old rut, but there comes a time...' '500', said Zarina, looking past his left ear at tomorrow's breakfast.

Something pedal

Mira is as respectable as they come. Eastern European, can't quite remember (that's me, not Mira) if it's Poland, Hungary or Bulgaria, but it's not France. Anyway, she likes shoes. Likes them enough to sit in the Paranormal foyer for maybe an hour and a half, nursing a coffee or two and watching the ladies, from the ankles down, making their ways to and from the toilets. She will never venture into the bar because, not being 'business', she knows she hasn't the rebuff lines to keep herself free of grot (which is all too available - see Scottish Table below). But her road home passes Shoe City (a shop, dammit), so, if inspired, her nights are not wasted.

Nice Laptop, Darling

Different societies should not be expected to share a sense of humour. The occasional Englishman, for example, has been known to try to emulate Scottish dryness, though never to succeed. And the German is yet to walk the Earth who understands punning. Be that as it may, Pyramid Dave was genuinely surprised to find he had made the world's greatest joke. Lisa was on a What is your ... mission, fresh from a phrase book somewhere. Pyramid was being taciturn. What is your name? - Dave. What is your bag? - Computer. What is your computer? - Toshiba. Screams of laughter, much repeating of punch line, more screams of laughter. There's a dubious Chinese saying that translates to big nose, big c--k. Big nose is more or less ta beeze. The rest you can guess.

A Change of Scene

Qatar simply doesn't have anywhere like the Paranormal for the traveller to rest his weary eyes. There are all the usual Charlatans and Majorcons, but nothing catering for anything but comfort. Except maybe the Stufital, one of the oldest hotels in Doha. This has that rarest of articles in the Middle East, a bar with a street level entrance and no entry fee. You do have to buy drink tokens at the door though, because no money changes hands at the bar. Go early, because it fills to danger level by about 10 most nights, with men, unfortunately, who come to watch the Filipina girls in the 'band'. Listening is optional. Fights break out fairly regularly, usually occasioned by an overenthusiastic Indian trying to touch one of the singers (the slim one on the right!) This, of course, requires the Filipino guys to come to her defence. The ensuing free-for-all starts up faster than Security can yawn. But as the Indians only outnumber the Filipinos by about three to one, it's pretty evenly matched and quite a good spectacle.

Doing the Rounds

"You can give me only one dirham?" says little Lee, presenting an open palm and an ingratiating smile to every man in the bar. Bargain basement? No, just taking a collection from anyone who'll help her feed her addiction. Some of us take pity. Clutching a small pile of coins, she retires guiltily to the dark corner for another half hour of Spot the Difference. Meanwhile, the little Sri Lankan repairman ambles around pointlessly, carrying a length of pipe and looking for his favourites.

A Taste of the Dark

Eric's dance was a long time coming. Maybe half a dozen double whiskies and fourteen tentative approaches from all nations East of Turkey. He seemed impervious, even to the wiles of Kyrgyz Carina who retired gracefully, knowing herself rebuffed, albeit in barely comprehensible slurred County. Enter Stella from Eritrea, beaming her beam as only she can. Eric's dance began, all elbows, knees and wire-rimmed glasses. Snake-charmer par excellence, you'd almost think he didn't know he didn't have to try. From her corner stool, Carina said something like "Blyatt!"

Look Outside

The Indian bicycle keeps left, even in Dubai, the better to avoid onrushing lorries. For minimum efficiency, it is pedalled with the heels, bare or sandalled. The trapezoidal stand is fitted with a broken retaining spring which helps it to trail along the road. The rear pannier rack is perfectly adapted to carry forty flattened cardboard boxes or a serene wife whose flowing saree just knows to keep clear of the spokes. However bumpy the road, she never drops the baby. The bell works. If you graduate to a small truck, you can hang it all round with painted chains and festoon the cab with tassels and tapestries.

The Golden Age

It's all about proving I've been here longer than you, as if anybody cares. Even the Paranormal is not immune. Paraglider was blethering to a guy in Qatar recently and the talk came round to Chalky's Bar. Do you remember before they put in that bendy mirror thing? Yes. Before they put down the weird pink lino stuff? Yes. Before they moved the bar to the back wall? No. Well, it was better then. Of course it was. Golden Age, QED. Stranger, 1 - Paraglider 0. The chances are, Helga was younger too.

Members Only, Sahib

The Cardigan Man explained, "We don't operate a racist door policy. Chalky's is a member's club. Who are the members? That varies from day to day and is at the discretion of Duty Security. If we let everyone in, it would destroy the Club. Be grateful we protect you like this". Some days later, Paraglider was passing the Astonishing, near to afternoon chucking out time. The street outside was thronged with, well, with whom? With precisely the people who would be inside if allowed, spending no money, leering unpleasantly and missing no opportunity to grope. Cardigan Man's exclusion policy begins to make sense. Elitist, maybe, though the bar is not set high; racist, maybe not after all, especially as so many of these unfortunates are from Cardigan's own home country. Bur Dubai is not London. Enough said.

The Need to Know

One of the Truly Great Things about the Paranormal is their refusal to ruin Mondays by introducing Quiz Nights. Long may Chalky's Bar remain a peaceful haven from self-promoting quizmasters and 'teams' devoted to acquiring and disgorging trivia on demand. Paraglider, forgetting the ghastly Monday ritual, went for a beer in Four Pints only to find Reserved signs on all the tables and even on the bar stools. Since when, and where else in the world, can one reserve a bar stool? For a quizz?? Still, it was a perfect excuse, if any were needed, for a swift change of venue, and not to Old Vets either. Hi Helga!

Changing the Rings

It is conceivable, just, that a casual visitor to Paranormal might be unimpressed. This is most likely to be a matter of unfortunate timing. For the first half hour or so after opening time, sensitive souls might complain about a smell of disinfectant and extremely cold AC. In such circumstances, the best advice is to go somewhere else and come back later. And where better than the nearby Four Points Sheraton? There, you'll find the most comfortable bar stools in town, very fine bar food, friendly service and a complete lack of everything you went to Paranormal in search of. Nowhere's perfect.

The Place is Heaving!

Paraglider was suitably delighted this morning to find two comments added to the Paranormal blog. Real comments, from a real person who also appreciates the wonders of the UAE's weirdest hotel. Welcome, Malgani - your reward, this small photograph of one of the regulars. Notice where she keeps her mobile.

The Golden Pig

On behalf of all their regular, irregular, occasional and future customers, Paraglider takes this opportunity to wish all of Paranormal's Chinese ladies a happy and prosperous New Year of the Golden Pig. This is supposed to be a most auspicious year. Who knows - maybe the Paranormal is destined to model, in miniature, greater movements in the wider world. China in the ascendancy; FSE (Former Soviet Empire) in decline. Over to you Helga! Let's see if your finest Stans can rise to the challenge.

True Devotion

The Chinese girls are back. On the Full Moon festival they gather in each other's apartments and celebrate with moon cakes and endless games of mahjong. They play for money, winning or losing hundreds of dirhams in a night, but as there is no bank, only friends together, things even out over time. As Lily says, "Tonight no go Palanoma. Tonight pray. All night pray. Pray mahjong".

I see no Ships

Helga's taller chickens take up a corner position and concentrate on looking devastating, safe in the knowledge that they can see and be seen by everyone. They are the Paranormal's lighthouses. Their smaller colleagues compensate by moving around more. Lavatory trips are useful (in groups of course) to polish the make-up and enhance re-entry opportunities. Dancing works too, for the less wooden.

Making it tick

Of course, the true stars of the Paranormal are not Helga's Chickens or the other business ladies, but the real working girls. Meaning the girls who work there. They almost run from customer to customer, carrying trays, giving change, remembering orders, humouring drunks and smiling, always smiling. But not in an American have-a-nice-day way. These girls are as genuine as they are Romanian. And they are completely Romanian, every one.

A Lost Cause

Then there's the Scottish table. A group of regulars who like to recreate the ambience of a bar back home. This seems to involve a lot of shouting, swearing and belly laughter. Some evenings they manage to dominate until maybe 7:30, but the disco always wins in the end. That, and the impossibility of imagining Helga's Chickens decorating even a Soho nightclub, never mind a grot-hole in Wishaw. Still, they try.

Rooney Tunes

Football is bad news, for a Chicken. When Man U and Arsenal are on the big screen you might as well accept that you're invisible. Not even crossing and uncrossing the legs on a high bar stool has any effect. Sulking is pointless, tantrums get you barred and questions about the game are just unwelcome, especially meaningless ones, "What countries are playing? Who is your favourite?" Rugby isn't so bad. It's over sooner and besides, you can enjoy the man-fest. Cricket? No challenge. Most of us only watch the action replays after a big shout. Howzzaaat? Drop-dead gorgeous.

Quo Vadis, Karwa?

Stepping out of the Paranormal, it's usually not too hard to find a taxi within a few minutes. Better still, there's a fair chance the driver will know where you want to go, and how to get there, even if you're a bit vague on that yourself, or rendered speechless by Happy Hour. Be glad you're not in Doha! There, the fleet of unroadworthy orange taxis has been decommissioned, and with them has gone the knowledge of Where Places Are. Yes, they had no AC, and yes, many of the drivers were, shall we say, ancient and pungent, but they knew where they were going. The new, official, green taxi fleet is a repository for monumental geographical innocence. It's not the drivers' fault. You bring fifty guys from Kerala, sack the ten who have never driven in their lives, and put the remaining forty into shiny new Toyota Camrys. And that's it. On your way, boys - drive. Then there's the language problem. In a country where Arabic and English are the business languages, it's not especially helpful only to speak Malayalam.

Breaking the Ice

Some carry a notebook with useful phrases. "You take lady? Your friend take lady?" But the phrases are written in Russian, with the English translation rendered phonetically in the Russian alphabet. This makes it hard to suggest improvements. One red-haired girl has an unusual line of patter. "Do not talk to your friend. He is going to kill you." Clairvoyant? Or perhaps someone doctored the notebook.

Paranormal Ambiente

Where the Paranormal scores over, say, the York International or the Astoria, is in the girls' adherence to an unwritten rule outlawing serious hassle of the customers. Most of the girls, that is. You get the occasional Cling-on who won't take a hint, but she's the exception. In the Astoria in particular, you won't reach the bar ungroped, and leaving alone means physical unhooking of tentacles. Window shoppers beware.

How it's done

To give Helga her due, she leads from the front. Though nearly twice the weight of most of her Chickens (and three times the weight of the little one) she scores every time in presence and technique. And in having something to say, in near-perfect English. You can only take so much "What you name? How long you in Dubai? Whey you from?" even delivered from the most luscious lips, before some hankering for conversation sets in. Helga provides.

Working on the Chain Gang

Slave labour is alive and well in the Gulf. One of the nastier tricks the less scrupulous employers use is simply to withhold payment for several months, often from an entire immigrant workforce. Westerners often fail to understand this one. Here, the employer is also the sponsor. The affected workers can't go to work for someone else, because the sponsor won't release them. They can't even cut their losses and leave the country, because the sponsor will not issue an exit visa (and you thought you could just get on a plane, huh?) And of course there are no unions, no worker representation. So what are the choices? Withhold your labour and starve, or continue to work for whatever late pittance your sponsor feels like doling out. Probably enough to keep you alive and working, just.

Dress and Door Code

Helga doesn't allow trousers, at least not on any of her brood. Short tight skirts are the rule, and the main reason for the Paranormal's rise in popularity over the last year. That, and the door policy of charging the Chinese girls an entry fee, to deter the lower earners among them. Some of the Russian girls also have to pay, but not Helga's Chickens. Why turn away your principal assets?

The Bottle Trick

You have to have a drink, of course, or the bar staff will ask you to leave. The trick is to wrap a paper napkin round the bottle and to drink, or pretend to drink, through a straw. Waitresses can't see through the napkin, and the straw means you never tip the bottle. For all they know, it could be half full. One Heineken can last all night. With practice, your lip-work on the straw can draw more than beer. Showing the tip of the tongue helps.

Clustering in the Paranormal

Round the central pillar, that's where they seem happiest. They huddle close together, touching sometimes, for security. Helga prefers a bar stool where she can hold court while keeping watch over her flock. She likes to see them working. Eye contact is everything, at least until someone bites. Then it's all about keeping him talking, not easy across the language barrier - harder still if you'd rather run a mile.

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