Friday, September 09, 2022

The Passing of Queen Elizabeth II

So last night it was announced that the Queen had suddenly passed away. I suppose this day was coming, she was 96 after all, but given her mother lived to 101 I kind of hoped she'd have a few more years yet. 

I was in a majlis when I first heard the news that she was ill. When it was reported that the Royal Family were rushing to Balmoral I knew it was bad. Sure enough, later that evening the announcement was made of her passing.

What was interesting was when the news broke the Qataris I was with in the majlis were pretty much, "She died? Oh, well she was pretty old I suppose". Not much else of a reaction.

Qatar was never ruled by Britian, nor ever conquered by them. One might argue the British certainly had a lot of influence and oversight in the region up until the 1970s, whether signing treaties with the various rulers, developing the oil and gas fields, or providing military assistance to help allies (for example Sultan Qaboos of Oman had their assistance to overthrow his father and become Sultan). The Emir of Qatar released a statement of condolence of course, both he and the Father Emir had met Her Majesty on a number of occasions, but for your average Qatari, while they all knew of Queen Elizabeth, the British monarchy was simply a distant thing, a country in Europe ruled by a Queen. Most Qataris don't have an in-depth understanding of the history of the British monarchy or its significance, but then again why would they? The passing of Queen Elizabeth has about as much bearing to a Qatari as the death of the Swedish monarch would have to a non-Swede.

So everyone continued with their evening, chatting or playing cards while a football match played on the television. Life moves on here.  

With her passing it is the end of an era. Who knows what it will be called in the end, we already have an 'Elizabethan Era' in the 16th century, maybe it'll be called the "modern Elizabethan" or the "second Elizabethan" or something. Not all British monarchs got an 'era' but Elizabeth II certainly will, and unlike the others I think this will be the first time an era will not be defined by a particular style. Clothing, furniture, buildings, mention the name of a particular era and a certain style will come to mind for each of those things. But for the 'second Elizabethan era'? This is an era that covers the 1950s until now, and not only is there no specific style for the time, the styles change so radically that they are not comparable to each other. The somber clothes of the 1950s, the wild styles of the 60s and 70s, the punk-and-pastel looks of the 80s, can any of these be said to be the quintessential style of the last 70 years? And the technological change during the last 70 years, and how society changed so much during that time, how will that figure in the era? When the Queen was coronated many Brits didn't even have a television, now everyone can get real-time video on mobile phones.

I am saddened at her passing of course but she did not have long left and death is the natural course of things. The tradition and ceremony for succession has been well-ingrained over the centuries and the next two weeks have been planned meticulously, everyone, including the now King Charles III, knows exactly what they need to do during this time.


Friday, August 12, 2022

Summer Vacation Part 1 - Norway

I just got back from a one month vacation. The timing was good as a Covid wave went through Qatar over the last few weeks (I'm guessing the BA.5 variant) and it is starting to subside now. Cases are still high at over 600 a day but far less than a couple of weeks ago.

First was a one week vacation in Norway with friends, primarily in the northern city of Tromso. I don't recall how we wound up deciding to go there but it was a unique trip for me. Tromso is north of the Arctic Circle, so far north that in the middle of summer the Sun does not set. I have never been that far north so it was great to wade in the Arctic Ocean for the first time (briefly, the water was really cold of course) and to witness 24-hour daylight. The continuous daylight really does mess with your sleep schedule but I did bring a sleep mask and that helped a lot. Some of my friends didn't and their sleep got really screwed up. It's weird seeing daylight peaking through the curtains but it's 3am! Your mind starts thinking it's morning and time to get up. I spoke with a store owner, who turned out to be Kurdish, and asked him which was more difficult to deal with, the 24-hour daylight in the summer or the 24-hour darkness in the winter. He said the summer, again because the light can mess with your sleep. It's important to get a sleep schedule and stick to it, and have good black-out curtains.

The weather was mixed, sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy and rainy. I took this great picture of a rainbow, at 1am!

Tromso was a nice city and we toured around the area in cars, did a boat excursion, and took the gondola up the mountain for the views. The city is around 75,000 people and it surprised me that there would be a city that large that far north. In Canada there are no cities even remotely that big in the north.

I will also confess to trying a meat not generally found in the West -- whale. Norway is one of the few countries that still allows commercial whaling so we found a restaurant in Tromso that served whale steaks. The meat was a deep red, a much darker red than beef, but the taste was similar, though with a "fishiness" to it, which made it a bit odd. The waitress explained that the fishiness was from the whale oil. I enjoyed the dinner. Did I feel guilty about eating whale? Maybe a little, but as it could have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience I figured I'd give it a try.

Afterward we spent a couple of days in Oslo before moving on. I enjoyed Oslo, seemed like a laid-back city. Temperatures were really nice, in the high-20s, but I think that was because Europe was undergoing that heat wave so temperatures in Oslo were maybe a little higher than normal (one sunny day in Tromso it hit 26, which was also impressive). The nice weather meant everyone was out and about. We did go see a museum dedicated to polar exploration and wandered around the shore. 

 Next stop -- Canada.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Masks Restrictions Back in Place

As I expected the Government has put some restrictions back in place. Masks are now required at indoor public places. People were generally good at wearing masks in places like malls anyway but as it was not required there was the odd person not wearing one.

I guess after two years I have gotten used to seeing everyone wearing masks, and it was a bit surprising to enter the elevator at the office recently and see someone not wearing a mask. Well, everyone has to wear masks now.

The increase in restrictions is due to the rapid spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of Omicron. Community cases in Qatar are now at 600-700 a day, over 80 people are in hospital (none in ICU however) and another person died last week. A lot of people are coming down with it. I plan to go on vacation soon so I think for the next bit I will 'hunker down' so that my trip isn't postponed because I got sick just before I was supposed to leave.

It is also the Eid holiday starting on Sunday and the first thing Muslims do for Eid is visit relatives, that means a lot of going from house to house to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  The Government is also sponsoring festivities for the holidays. Which means lots of crowds and lots of meeting people. I expect a spike in cases from about the 12th to the 20th, which is worrisome. Not to mention tens of thousands of people have crowded the airport the last couple of days getting flights out, and the flights are PACKED. I'm sure many of them will come down with Covid shortly.

I'm glad it's a holiday, and I'm glad the Government has recognized that restrictions are needed, but I'm expecting this will get way worse before it gets better.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- With Relaxed Restrictions Comes More Cases

Qatar has relaxed almost all restrictions now. You do need to show your Ethteraz app to enter places but mask-wearing is not enforced (many people still wear them but it's optional). Things have apparently become so mellow that the Qatar health authorities have moved to reporting cases and other information weekly instead of daily.

And . . . cases are going up. Not a surprise I suppose with the looser restrictions and that highly contagious Omicron variants spreading around. From around 150 community cases a day, it went to around 240 a day (the weekly report gives the daily average) and now its around 320 a day. That's a lot, and a bit worrisome.  However there is no one in the ICU and no one has died. I think the last time someone in Qatar passed away from Covid was about three months ago. Hospitalizations are steady in the 25-35 range but it looks like most spend a couple of days in hospital before they are discharged. 

Despite the increase in cases there is no word on any restrictions being put back in place, I suspect as long as the hospitalizations are steady, and there is not an uptick in severe cases, then the Government will leave things as they are. But if it starts getting to 500+ cases a day they might reconsider.

I'm still being careful, I certainly don't want to get Covid again. My last booster was at the end of December so the protection must be waning. Time to look at getting my booster dose before Eid in July.


Friday, May 13, 2022

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Cases Increasing

Recently got back from Eid Vacation, I'll post about that later. 

Discouraged to see that cases are rising again in Qatar, I am guessing it's due to those new Omicron variants going around (I think they are called B.A.4 and B.A.5, or maybe it's the one in America, B.A.2.1.2 or something like that). After a brief period of community cases under 100 a day Qatar is now consistently back to around 120-150 cases a day. Hospitalizations are also steady at around 30 with 1-2 people in the ICU. Thankfully no deaths, I think it's been almost two months since someone died from Covid here.

It also means that the restrictions in Qatar are the same as before with little change. It is changing in other countries, such as in the EU, but here you still have to get a rapid test when you return from a trip, and show your tracker app to enter buildings. Mask wearing is also still mandatory indoors and for the most part people have been good about it, not as vigilant as before but pretty good. We'll have to see how this develops over the next few weeks, cases are on the rise in Canada and the US so there's no reason to expect it won't happen here.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

A New Mall - the Vendome

 [Coronavirus cases are hovering around 100 a day, some days less than a 100, others more. Hospitalizations are under 30 and only one person is in the ICU]

So a new mall just had its soft opening yesterday, the new Vendome Mall in Lusail. You can look it up on Google Maps -- it is HUGE.

As it was a soft opening maybe 20-25% of the shops were open but almost all of the areas of the mall were open and tons of people were roaming around to check out the mall. One thing of note is the massive fountain area in the middle of the mall.

And with the mall being three stories in some areas they went with high ceilings and lots of glass.

The supermarket is a Monoprix.

I didn't take pictures of all the other stores because it is a soft opening, and most of the stores that are open are ones you can find in other malls. It will be a while later before the unique shops open. I will note that there were a lot of luxury stores (Jimmy Choo, Dior, Burberry, etc etc,) so there is yet another mall to compete with the luxury shops in other places. Not sure how that will pan out, I suspect some luxury stores in other parts of the city will close up.

While the pictures look nice there was a lack of seating everywhere. Huge wide hallways but no seats. I can only assume that will be coming later because you need to have places for people to sit down. It was weird wandering around and not having anywhere to sit down.

The mall looks beautiful and will be a welcome addition to the new Lusail neighbourhood. Glad it will be finished in time for the World Cup.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Ramadan Kareem!

It's Ramadan, the announcement was made last night.  Time for a month of fasting from first light (~4am) until sunset at around 6pm. 

Spent the last week decaffinating, slowing weaning myself off of coffee, otherwise I would get a massive headache the first day.  It was also weird putting food and water on my nightstand so that I could eat something quickly at 3:30am before going back to sleep.

It will be nice to enjoy Ramadan festivities again, due to Covid I was home for the last two Ramadans, either because of lockdown or because I was keeping myself safe by limiting how much I went out. But things have settled down here, cases are around 100-ish a day, and so it'll be nice to get out an enjoy the month. Already planning to stop by a friend's majlis at 9pm, that's when the Ramadan prayers (Tarawih) end and things start happening in the country. From around 9pm until 2am or so everyone is out and about, visiting friends, shopping, doing errands, whatever.

Here's hoping we all have a happy, mellow Ramadan.