Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ramadan 2018 - Meals

One of the nice things about Ramadan is that you get a lot of invites to iftars or sohours. Whether from friends or corporate events there's plenty of opportunity to eat out. One would think since Ramadan is about fasting people would generally lose weight but it's usually the reverse, once the sun sets the eating begins! I think I've been doing pretty good this year, trying not to overdo it at buffets and when I'm at home my meals are definitely low-cal (soups, vegetables, tuna, low-cal protein bars).

Here was what I was up to this month:

W Hotel iftar buffet. A popular venue and has a reputation for some of the best sushi in town. I was here twice on different invitations, which shows how popular it is with corporate groups as well.

Mondrian sohour tent. Actually their main ballroom decorated in an Orientalist tent style. Beautiful room, was the nicest decorations of any of the hotels that I ate at. They also had an Austrian dessert section with strudels! Not something that I was expecting for sohour but they were delicious.

St. Regis iftar. Popular with my Qatari friends, we've gone every year for the last three years. This time there was something like 20 of us for the buffet.

Kempinski (Pearl) iftar. I've only been to this hotel once before but they put out a nice spread. We arrived early which is why it looks empty.

Iftar/sohour at friends' homes. More often sohour than iftar (you need to go pray after iftar so if you have friends over the meal will not be hours long). Traditional platters of meat or seafood on rice. You all sit on the floor and eat using your right hand.

Like I said, it's not easy to resist digging in when you go have these lavish meals. I'm not going to rate the hotels, they all had nice food. I will say that some of them (not naming names) had the tables too close together in order to pack in as many people as they could, which got annoying at times. Every place I went to was packed so if the tables were too close it was a challenge getting around and having people constantly passing by your chair.

Alas, Ramadan is almost over and so no more big buffets.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ramadan 2018 - the Ramadan Car Parade

Another Ramadan tradition in Qatar is for people to take their cars down to the Corniche starting around 4:00 or so and just cruise along the road. It's not an official parade, just a way to pass the time while waiting for iftar and to see interesting or expensive cars. Some Qataris bring out vintage cars or other unusual vehicles to display on the Corniche.

It was pretty late in Ramadan that I went to it this year and there weren't as many cars as I was expecting. Maybe because it was also a Saturday? Anyway, we had a number of participants:

Expensive Cars:

Vintage Cars:

Cars of a similar make grouping up and going down all three lanes slowly:

Children looking out the windows or sunroof (the police have cracked down on this in recent years but I still saw it occasionally):

And Qataris driving cars that you wouldn't usually see them drive:

Ramadan is almost over so if you want to see nice cars go to the Corniche in West Bay around 4:30 or so.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Ramadan 2018 - The Ramadan Cannon

It wouldn't be Ramadan without a visit to the Ramadan Cannon. Every Ramadan the Government sets up a cannon at the State Mosque, which fires to signify the end of the fast for the day.

Here's the Mosque.

Here's the cannon.

Part of the fun is that before it is fired kids are allowed to climb on it. What kid doesn't want to climb on some military hardware? (I know I would have.)

But when it is near the time everyone is cleared away from the cannon.

Note that I'm standing much further away and using max zoom. The cannon is LOUD (it's a cannon!) and as far as I'm concerned everyone was too close.


After which is the crying from frightened toddlers who were shocked by the loud noise. Even from where I was my ears were ringing slightly for a minute, it would have been worse for the people who were closer. At least it was now time to eat. Lots of people had food & water waiting in their cars while others hurriedly went home to have iftar. I had a bottle of water, dates and some bread in my car for breaking the fast.

If you go visit stand further back and cover your ears.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

12 years in Qatar!

So I have now been in Qatar for 12 years. 12! That's a long time.

Qatar has changed a lot over those years. I'm not kidding, only someone who has lived here or visited it frequently could really grasp just how much has changed. The amount of construction and other projects is staggering, there is always more stuff being built, more stuff completed, and yet it never seems to end. I recall saying eight years ago if I left Qatar I'd come back in 5 years "just to see it when everything is finished". I was a bit naïve about when everything would be "finished".

So I figured I would reflect a bit on just how much has changed since I arrived.

- Salwa road was a 6-lane road with a bunch of roundabouts. Now it's an 8-lane highway with overpasses.

- City Centre was easily the biggest andn best mall in Qatar (no Villagio, Mall of Qatar, Festival City, and Landmark was smaller than now)

- no Katara

- no Pearl

- no Souq Waqif

- no 22nd February street / D-ring road. I don't even remember how one went North without it.

- there were only a handful of hotels, I think maybe ten or eleven places served alcohol (including the Rydges, anyone remember that place?). Whenever a new hotel opened EVERYONE went there to check out the new bar. No one offered happy hour deals, they didn't need to.

- three-quarters of the buildings in West Bay didn't exist. It was mostly sand. Wanted to go to City Centre for lunch? Sure, there was always plenty of parking!

- Does anyone remember the old Musherib neighbourhood? Lots of inexpensive stores and restaurants and thousands upon thousands of South Asians would hang out there on the weekends.

- I remember the old airport, and I mean before the two expansions it went through before everything moved to Hamad International. The old airport was always playing catch-up with the rapidly expanding numbers using it.

- I remember expats moaning about how there's nothing to do in Doha. I don't hear that anymore.

- Education city was in its infancy, many of the buildings weren't there.

- The Ritz was basically out on its own in the desert (so was the Intercon and the Diplomatic Club now that I think about it)

- The population has tripled, TRIPLED. It was <900,000 when I arrived an now it's 2.7 million.

- No Aspire Zone, though Khalifa Stadium was almost finished as it would be needed for the Asian Games

- Right, the Asian Games was here in 2006. That was fun. Loved watching the sport Sepak Takraw.

- I remember parking being pretty good most places. I miss that.

- Does anyone remember Palm Tree Island? That little island just off the Corniche? It used to be a small park with concession stands and stuff. The ferry to it left from somewhere near the Sheraton. Shame it was torn up.

- Lusail was just a race track out in the desert.

Man, a lot has changed. It was cool being through all of those changes. It makes things back in Canada seem like it's standing still.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ramadan 2018

Ramadan Kareem everyone! Ramadan was announced last night so for the next 28 or 29 days things change throughout the country.

All of the Muslims (i.e. most of the population) will be fasting through the day and life changes to accomodate that. Restaurants are closed until after sunset, you are not allowed to eat or drink in public, and the liquor store is closed for the entire month and no alcohol is served in any of the hotels. The working hours are also shorter for most people, where I work we've gone down to a five-hour work day. An eight-hour shift when you can't eat or drink anything would be pretty brutal and by late in the shift most people wouldn't be very productive.

Things come alive in the evening. When the sun sets everyone has their iftar meal, a small meal to break the fast. Then it's prayer time and Muslims go to the mosque to pray (the men anyway), there's a set of special prayers called "tarawih" that you perform during Ramadan. These usually end by 9-9:30 pm. That means that people don't generally start going out shopping, meeting friends, or dining in restaurants until after 10pm. Yep, 10pm is when you head out for the evening. Stores do open earlier, like 7 or 8pm for the non-Muslim shoppers, but they are typically open until midnight or 1:00 AM. Final meal is at 3am before going to bed.

It's a bit strange getting used to it. The change in timings was one reasons why I started fasting as well, so that I would be more "in sync" with what everyone else was doing. It is also a good way to experience a very important religious and cultural event in Qatar, akin in importance like Christmas or Easter is to Christians. The fasting started today and surprisingly I was so busy at work I didn't really notice the hunger or thirst. Got home, had a long nap, searched the Internet a bit, the next thing you know it was time to prepare dinner. Unlike many of my Muslim friends I spent the past week slowly decaffeinating, reducing the amount of caffeine I drink every day, and I don't get any caffeine withdrawal at work. Most people just take some Panadol instead.

I hope it will be an exciting month, tonight I'm meeting friends at a majlis for a Ramadan meal, and so far there are two sohour meals at hotels scheduled in the next couple of weeks. I am making an effort to not go too crazy with food.

I'll miss having a morning coffee though.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Souq Waqif Equestrian Festival

I'm finally back in Doha! I was on my usual annual vacation to Canada and got back on Saturday. This evening I decided to take a walk around and see what had changed while I was away. I went to my favorite place, Souq Waqif, and was surprised to see that they had a new festival on.

This was new. I've never seen an equestrian festival here before.

I'm sure the festival has a number of events but tonight was displaying individual horses in front of a panel of judges. There was a lot of very nice seating, including a VIP section with tables and food. I'm not VIP but in my section there was a gentleman wandering by offering everyone complementary Arabic coffee. There were a lot of Qataris there, as well as the occasional Omani. Horses are a big thing in the Arabian Peninsula and a lot of people own stables of horses, which would explain why there was a lot of interest from locals.

It was pretty straightforward, a horse would be led out and taken around the ring before being displayed in the center near the judges.

I don't know anything really about horses so I'm not sure how the scoring worked but there were 5 different categories the horse was being judged on and the scores in each category were added up.

I thing that I did notice was on the sides of the fence there would be people rattling plastic bags type to the end of sticks. I'm not entirely sure what that was all about but it was deliberate and was likely trying to help the horse. When a new horse came out different people would then go to the railings and rattle bags so it appeared that people working for the owner of the horse we're rattling the bags. I did a quick search online and found a couple of sites that indicated doing this was to help calm the horse, "overloading" it with noise so it would not become anxious if it heard any unusual sound. I'm not sure how well it works but most of the horse owners appeared to using that technique.

I lucked out and happened to be at the festival on the opening night. The festival is on until the 14th so you have a chance to go down to the Souq and see the horses.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Health Test

I was at Festival City Mall the other day and saw a new booth.

It's a medical booth set up by the Government to promote healthy heart awareness, providing a free check-up (weight, blodd pressure, and a quick blood test for blood sugar and cholesterol). So I lined up and after about 15 minutes got my results, which they wrote in a booklet for me.

In the meantime they had a simple test where you could see how healthy your heart is. It was a points-based one where you answer questions and add points based on your response. For example if you're normal weight add 2 points, if you're obese add 6 points and so forth. I was on the cutting edge of elevated risk but I wasn't too worried, being a male of my age it was almost impossible to score in the low-risk range.

Anyway the reason why I wanted to do the blood test etc was because I went to this booth in a different mall four years ago -- and I kept my booklet from back then. When I got home I found it and compared how I've done over the years:

Blood pressure: still normal
Blood sugar: still normal (not bad considering this time I had eaten maybe a half-hour before)
Cholesterol: Improved! I was at 129 mg/dL but now it's 110. That's what more veggies and less meat does for you I guess.

The big shock was my weight though - I'd gained 5kg! That was a real surprise, I had worked hard in 2016 on losing weight but I guess I gained it back. *sigh*

If you see the booth it's worth getting checked out. It doesn't take long and it won't hurt to know your numbers.