Thursday, August 16, 2018

That Saudi vs. Canada Thing

Okay, it's been around two weeks since the Saudi Government became incensed about a tweet from Canada's Foreign Minister demanding the release of two human rights activists, who are siblings, from Saudi jails. The wife of one of those jailed fled with the family to Canada where they were granted asylum and eventually citizenship so Canada does have some stake in this given the husband and sister-in-law of a Canadian family are in a Saudi jail.

I don't know if things have calmed down on the Saudi side but I've just reviewed a few Canadian news websites and there is barely a mention of the spat now.

The incident did generate a lot of interest from Qataris though, and every day for the first week or so at least one Qatari, usually more than one, was asking me questions about it. With Qatar still under a blockade that started 14 months ago, the Canada-Saudi thing had Qataris basically saying "There they go again."  One Qatari said that Canada was now "in the club" of countries facing Saudi hostility. I don't think it's really on the same level as what Qatar is facing right now. Trade and interactions between Saudi and Canada is pretty limited so there is not a lot of damage that this could cause, unlike the Qatar blockade.

When the blockade happened it was a big deal, pretty much the only thing on everyone's mind for a couple of months. The country had to quickly reroute aircraft and shipping lanes, do a lot of diplomatic legwork to gather allies, and the population were left with an uncertainty of where this was all headed. Would there be an invasion? Would the embassies call and tell their citizens to clear out? As for the recent incident, in Canada the initial reaction to the Saudi reaction was, "Huh!?" followed by sentiments ranging from "Good on Canada" for standing by its statements to ""Meh, whatever." Some Qataris were a bit surprised at this but I knew that was how the Canadian populace would react given the two countries do not have deep ties. The Saudis stopping their flights and demanding their citizens leave Canada was met with confusion and "Ummmm . . . okay I guess, if that's what you want. Bye."  Canada has pretty much moved on now, and within a month's time most Canadians will have probably forgotten about it.

Qataris however did follow the events with a mix of sympathy and amusement. While diplomatic relations between Qatar and the blockading countries was frozen on media and social media there was a lot of mudslinging and rhetoric. Some of the stuff said about Qatar was ludicrous (digging a canal to turn Qatar into an island, for example). So with the Canada thing some enterprising Qatari started a twitter account where he took some of that mudslinging and changed "Qatar" to "Canada" just to show how ridiculous it was. Some of the stuff I read (or had read to me because it was in Arabic) was pretty funny. Others joined in and soon the account was filled with satirical pictures and phrases from the time of the blockade.

Will the dispute end soon? Well if the Qatar blockade is anything to go by then the answer is no. Saudi Arabia has even less incentive to mellow its position with Canada than it does with Qatar so I doubt there'll be a diplomatic breakthrough anytime soon. Not that Canada has much incentive either, and Canada's Foreign Minister nor the Prime Minister have backed down on the tweet and reiterated that they stand by the comment.

As for retaliation I don't think Canada will do anything. I mean, what are they supposed to do, cut ties? Stop trade? Kick out Saudi citizens? The Saudis are already doing that to themselves! There isn't really much left for Canada to do to retaliate. Maybe we can send Nickelback over to do some concerts. [just a joke, actually I like Nickelback, not sure why the internet hates on them so much.]

Anyway, as John Oliver recently noted during his show, Canadians not apologizing for something is a pretty big deal. :)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Lunar Eclipse

Last night there was a lunar eclipse visible from Australia and most of Asia, including Qatar. In Qatar the timing of it was great, it started around 9:30 PM, so you didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to see it. I happened to be at a friend's majlis with a bunch of other guys at the time. We followed it on TV but also went outside to take a look. Doha has a lot of light pollution and dust which obscures the sky (you rarely see stars) but the Moon was easily visible.

Here's a picture of it from the majlis.

By the way that bright dot that you see below the Moon is actually Mars. Many people don't realize that, depending on the location of the planet, the nearby planets can look brighter than stars. In fact after the Sun and the Moon the next brightest object in the night sky is Venus. So when I saw a star-like light near the Moon I knew it would be a planet, either Mars or Jupiter. The light pollution and dust covered the actual stars. Thanks to the Star Walk app that I have on my phone I was able to identify it as Mars. (If you like looking at the night sky I recommend downloading Star Walk 2. Great app.)

But my friends had to do one other thing, pray. In Islam you have to do a special prayer whenever there is an eclipse. It's in the Sunnah, both the Bukhari hadiths and the Al-Muslim hadiths, that the Prophet Mohammed performed a prayer during an eclipse and instructed his followers to do likewise whenever there is an eclipse. The prayer is different for lunar and solar eclipses, and my friends looked up online what they had to do for the prayer. Different schools of Islam may have minor differences in how to do the prayer but all agree that one should be done. Here's a link that discusses it.

The prayer only took a couple of minutes and then everyone was back watching the eclipse and chatting. At its darkest the Moon was difficult to spot, I wound up looking for Mars as it was easier to see at which point you found the Moon.

Here's a composite from the local Gulf Times newspaper showing the neat red colour.

I was glad I had the chance to see the eclipse.

I'm Back!

It has definitely been a little while since I last posted on my blog.

It was not due to any kind of emergency, no, I wasn't in the hospital. For Eid I went on a vacation to Thailand with about 15 friends, staying in Phuket for a week before doing a road trip up the country to Chiang Mai in the north. After I returned to Qatar I was spending time just getting caught up with work, chores and so forth. Then I fell sick with a bad cold (I usually get sick after a long vacation, exposure to new germs and all that).

I'm better now, guess I should get back to blogging.

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.