Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Passing of Sultan Qaboos of Oman

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Sultan Qaboos of Oman this weekend. Everyone knew he wasn't doing well, after a number of medical troubles in the last few years he cut short hospital treatment in Belgium to return to Oman, leading most to suspect that he had a terminal illness and it was only a matter of time.

I happened to be in Oman for the New Year's weekend with friends and the front page of all local newspapers were covering palace announcements about his health (at the time he was stable). The Sultan was 79 and had ruled Oman for almost 50 years.

I don't think most Westerners would understand what the Sultan managed to accomplish for his people during his reign. The Sultan's father was xenophobic and rejected "modern" things like technology, isolating the country and not developing it despite the wealth from oil coming in. When Qaboos deposed his father in 1970 the country was almost completely undeveloped: if you weren't in the capital chances are you had no access to paved roads, schools, hospitals, even electricity. Illiteracy was high, and many people were suffering/dying of preventable diseases. Sultan Qaboos immediately changed that, using the money from oil to develop the country, including rural areas and villages. He was known for touring the country with Government Ministers, seeing the changes and meeting with villagers to discuss their problems and what work needed to be done. Sure the Sultan had some lavish tastes as well, he didn't live as a pauper (he especially loved fine yachts) but it is stunning how much he used the country's wealth for development and helping the people. If you do a search of the internet or Youtube you can find some films/writings about what it was like in Oman before Qaboos took over, or in the early part of his reign. Compare that with today, the country is truly modern. The new airport is stunning. The cities and architecture are great. University education is common. Traffic jams are a common annoyance in Muscat now. The infrastructure is up-to-date. Luxury hotels and resorts are in Muscat and even up in the mountains. You would have never thought that 50 years ago there was very little. If you do get a chance try to travel to Oman, it really is a lovely country, and I have stated on my blog more than once it's my favourite country in the Middle East to visit.

I'm not sure how the Omani people are coping with the news. Most Omanis have never had another Sultan. I think it will be tougher for the older Omanis; younger Omanis are used to the modernization and maybe do not realize just how much the Sultan changed things. Older Omanis would have lived through the transformation and know what the Sultan did for the people.

Sultan Qaboos did not have any sons, nor did he have brothers, and there was no official successor. Qaboos decreed that after his death the Royal Family had three days to decide on a successor, if they could not decide then a sealed envelope would be opened, which contained Qaboos's choice for who should succeed him. Media in Oman reported that the Royal Family decided instead to respect Qaboos's choice, declaring that it would not decide on a successor and instead open the envelope. Thus Qaboos's cousin Haitham bin Tariq has become Sultan. I think the Royal Family was wise to use the envelope -- Qaboos was greatly revered and people would always speculate about what his wishes were. Going with Qaboos's choice will allow for a smooth transition of power.

Best wishes to Oman and its people in this difficult time.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

24th Arabian Gulf Cup

Qatar is hosting the Gulf Cup this year and, to everyone's surprise, the teams from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE participated. Originally there were not going to attend but suddenly they changed their mind. People here are seeing it as a sign that the frozen relations of the blockade are thawing -- maybe there'll be a breakthrough in the coming months. Tongues have been wagging with all sorts of rumours.

But for now there is football. Qatar got off to a weak start, losing 2-1 to Iraq, but finished off strong with wins in their other games to go through to the semis. The last game, against the UAE, was really important to Qataris are the UAE are considered the major rival, and with the problems at the AFC Championships earlier this year (hosted by the UAE) Qatar was hoping for a repeat of the 4-0 smack-down they gave the UAE at the earlier tournament.

The new Metro proved handy as the stadium was near a station. Heading home from work the Metro was packed with people, including lots of Qatari families heading to the game. When I got home I hopped into my car and headed to a friends' majlis to watch the game. It was worth the trip as Qatar won 4-2, to the happiness of the local crowd (including H.H. the Father Emir).

Tomorrow it's against Qatar's other rival, Saudi Arabia. But every Qatari I have spoken to is not so fussed about that game. It'll be great if Qatar wins but since they won against the UAE that's all that seems to matter. Much like the AFC Championships where no one was fussed if Qatar lost in the final (they won though!).

Best of luck to Qatar tomorrow. I'll be watching at a majlis.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Metro Gold Line is Open!


So I was away on a business trip just as the Gold Line was being open on the Metro. This was really unexpected, the initial plan was for the Green Line to open first, then open the remaining stations on the Red Line (such as the Airport), and then open the Gold Line in 2020. The Green Line was originally scheduled for September but then got delayed, and the rest of the Red Line is still due to open sometime this year, so for the Gold Line to open early was surprising.


The Gold Line goes from Ras Abu Abboud to Villagio Mall. All of the stations are open. So now you can take the Metro to places like the National Museum and Souq Waqif.

As I just finished my trip I decided to take the Gold Line to Villagio Mall. I changed at Musherib station. The way to the platform had four escalators, so clearly they are planning ahead for a large number of passengers. The train cars were the same as the Red Line.


From Musherib station all the way to the mall it is entirely underground but really fast, it took all of 15 minutes. There's no way you could get from Musherib to the Mall in less than that by car.


It worked great, by contrast my business trip was in London and getting around looked like this:


Now the comparison isn't exactly fair to London, their metro system is way older and the city has way more people, but Doha's modern system, with nice large stations and trains, is just a more pleasant experience then dealing with the London Underground.

Now I hope they finish up the Airport station that'll be fantastic.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Trip to the Inland Sea

Summer is over and the weather has started down to cool down to the point where it is somewhat tolerable. One of my friends decided to organize a road trip through the desert to the Inland Sea.

So myself and some others got into two SUVs and headed out to the desert. For trips across the desert you need at least two vehicles with you, as there is a good chance of getting stuck in the sand at which point you'll need another SUV to help pull the vehicle out.

Below is the route we took. The Inland Sea (called Khor Al Udaid in Arabic) is in the southeast corner of the country, and some parts of it border Saudi Arabia, so we had to stick to the north side.


After heading south on the highway we turned off into the desert. The terrain consisted of mostly rocks and a bit of sand with occasional hills, but as we went further inland more and more sand appeared and soon there were small dunes interspersed on the rocky landscape.
It was at that point that we came across a herd of camels!



The camels were packed together, I assume to provide shade for one another in the afternoon sun. There was no herder around but the camels were content to stand there as long as we did not get too close.

There was one lone camel about 80m away from the herd, not sure why it was on its own.



A few dunes later, sure enough the SUV I was in got trapped in the sand.


It took a while to pull the car out and we continued on to the Inland Sea. There was also a number of security posts whenever we were close to the border so we kept our distance. When we got to the sea one of the first things we saw was a flock of flamingos! Was not expecting that, I guess they were migrating to Africa and stopped in Qatar for a rest. I had never seen flamingos here before.


We started heading towards the Gulf, got stuck a second time, then made it to the area south of Sealine.


In the winter this area is packed with camps and vehicles zooming around but as it was not camping season yet it was fairly quiet, we saw the occasional SUV but all in all it was still pretty empty.

The lead vehicle had sped up a dune but didn't realize it was a sheer drop on the other side. He quickly turned off and didn't go over the edge but then got stuck in the sand.


Pulling him out took a lot of tries but we eventually managed it. We were close to trying to flag down other vehicles to help.


Eventually we reached Sealine and chilled out at the beach, and had a swim, before heading home. Heading overland to Sealine was a bit of an adventure, and we were lucky that only one car at a time got stranded (going with three SUVs might have been better). As the weather is cooling my friends and I are planning further camping and road trips around the country.





Monday, September 16, 2019

Qatar and Medical Care


I recently had to visit a clinic to check something out. Having medical insurance is a definite benefit in Qatar and almost all employers provide it to some degree. There is a public hospital system (generally known as Hamad but that is the name of the largest hospital, there are other public hospitals as well) but if you have insurance you can visit almost any clinic in Doha. Hamad and other public hospitals tend to be crowded.

Now most local clinics have an almost assembly-line approach. You go in, pay the fees, take a number, sit down and wait your turn, visit the doctor, maybe some tests, then get a prescription. It can be fast and at times you might be in the doctor's office for as little as five minutes, rarely longer than 15. It's not great if you were hoping for a thorough examination and discussion but it's great if you want some tests done.

This time I went to the clinic, saw the Dr., got an X-ray done, then the Dr. ordered a CAT-scan, then when I was waiting outside the CAT-scan lab for the results the Dr called the technician to make sure they scanned/focussed on a particular spot. They hadn't, so they called me back in for a second scan. The Dr. then looked at the results, and gave me prescription.

I was in the clinic for less than two-and-a-half hours.

Yep, I walked into a clinic, saw the Doctor twice, had an X-ray and two CAT-scans, all in under three hours. Pretty impressive that there was no waiting for any of the tests. Many years ago I went into clinic and had a same-day MRI done. I like that aspect of Qatar's health care system.


The quality of medical care can be hit or miss, but if after going to one of these clinics the issue doesn't seem to be improving I'll then go to one of the more expensive clinics for a second opinion, which costs more (most health insurance schemes have a larger co-pay for the top-end places, or don't have them on the network at all). I'd say maybe one time in three I go for a second review though so I always use the less-pricey place as my first stop.

If you are new to Doha, don't be put off by a clinic that looks 'old' and is not one of the fancy high-end places. You might be able to get tests done much quicker at a local private clinic, and for less money. If you're not satisfied with the diagnosis you can then take your test results to the other places for a consultation.

Monday, September 09, 2019

I'm Back

Back again after a long delay, went on a big summer vacation and then a couple of weeks later fell ill for a few days with a stomach bug.

Unfortunately because I was away and/or ill I missed out on a few things going on in Doha:

-- The recent Hunting and Falconry exhibition, I was hoping to go to that.
-- Qatar playing a qualifying match for the 2023 Asian Games (but qualifiers are also for the 2022 World Cup but Qatar gets in automatically for that)
-- I figured the Green Line of the Metro would be open, but it's been delayed to the latter half of September




-- I did catch the unveiling of the new 2022 World Cup logo. I must admit when I first saw it I didn't quite get it. I was with a Qatari at the time and he understood how it was a shawl but he wasn't sure about the other symbolism. Once I read all about it its obvious now how it looks like the trophy. I still think a more obvious football motif incorporated into the design would have worked better, like having a football in the middle of the loop. The design, being long and slender, will make it easy to put on the sides of skyscrapers though.
-- I didn't miss the heat though, it is still over 40° in Doha. It should start to mellow out in the next couple of weeks.

I've actually been getting lazy over the years about checking out new things. Most of my evenings involve going to various friends' majlises (majlisi?) and I've also joined a gym to get exercising. I don't have a lot of spare time for things like I used to. I haven't been to the new National Library yet (was waiting for the green line to start to do that) nor the new Qatar National Museum (too hot out right now). And I think some more stuff opened recently at the Pearl but I haven't seen that either.

In time. When the weather cools down I'll head out there. I do feel bad about missing out on the Museum when it first opened.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Carded!


I was tidying up my apartment and came across a series of art cards.


These were from a gallery exhibition in Vancouver called Carded. Every year they would invite artists to create an artwork to put on a card. Then, at the one-night only show, they would display the paintings and you could buy packs of random cards for $5. You would then go around and trade people for cards that you liked while looking at the originals. Some of the artists were there so you could chat with them as well. It was an interesting concept. I went in 2016 with my brother-in-law, as he had done a painting for the show, and bought a number of packs so I had most of the set by the end of the evening.

You can see pictures of the event here: http://hotartcard.com/category/photos/2016-photos/. I can't see my brother-in-law or I in the photos, we must have been in one of the other rooms at the time.

So what to do with the cards? I had an idea, why not mount them and use them as a poster. I don't have a lot of wall space, and a friend of mine likes artwork, so I brought the cards to him with the idea and he loved it. So we went through the cards, removing the ones with nudity (he's Qatari and doesn't want to display artwork with nudity), then gluing it on a backing-board and putting it under glass.

Here's the final piece:


Looks good.


You can see the cards from every year of Carded at hotartcard.com. I'm not sure if they do it anymore but it was a cool concept so maybe someone in your town would be interested in doing a similar event.