Friday, December 31, 2010

2010

So the year has come and gone. Think I'll reflect a bit on what happened this year by going through the photo albums:



chilling at the beach, Qatar




with a ceremonial sword at a Qatari wedding, Wakra, Qatar




at an Olympic hockey game, Vancouver





taking a break during a London Walk of Kensington





Boh tea plantation, Malaysia





chilling out with a shisha, near the Inland Sea, Qatar






with my nephew Aiden (I couldn't find a picture of me with my niece Karis though ?!?), McKay family Christmas, Calgary





a picture of a picture taking a picture of me taking a picture of the picture, Victoria and Albert Museum, London





a centuries-old hammam (Turkish bath), Istanbul





getting sophisticated with a cocktail, Vancouver





At the Jet d’Eau, Lake Geneva






Me with a durian (smells bad, tastes good), Kuala Lumpur






Hitting a few balls at the driving range with my friend Tyson, Vancouver





My friend Serdar showing his son the Istaklal Cadessi, Istanbul






flying business class with my friend David, East Putney, England





Iftar dinner at the Cigale Hotel, Doha





Banff, Alberta






With my sister Karen during the Winter Olympics, Vancouver





At the wedding of my former housemate Janel, in Bermuda.





At the CERN particle accelerator, Geneva





Iftar dinner at an Iraqi restaurant, Souq Waqif, Doha





At an NHL game, Calgary





At a surprise birthday dinner (for me) hosted by some friends, Doha





the families and the wedding party relax after my sister's wedding, Penticton, British Columbia





at a fish spa, Kuala Lumpur (it really tickles!)





In front of Abbey Road Studios, London





Digging for desert roses with my friend Serdar and his family, Qatar's southern desert






I'm happy. Vancouver.



Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Qatari Wedding (Arab Wedding)

Okay, I've got a lot of blogging to catch up on. My Qatari friend is back from his honeymoon and gave me some photos from the wedding! Looking back through the blog I realized I hadn't told everyone what happened at the wedding (see what I mean about backlog).

I met up with a group of friends and we all went to the Sheraton hotel where the wedding was being held after the evening prayer in one of the large conference rooms.

Having the wedding in the hotel rather than a tent definitely makes it a touch more upscale, and expensive. But I don't think this was a typical wedding -- that day another Qatari colleague came to me to show me a full page ad in a local newspaper about my friend's wedding and congratulating him. A full page! My first question was, does the ad mention where the wedding is going to be held? Thankfully the answer was no, or else half of Qatar might have shown up.

When we got there I estimate there was about 100 men there already, and over the course of the evening I estimate that well over 800 people were there at some point or another. My friend (the groom) was at the far end of the room with two other men all wearing black bishts, his father and the bride's father. We immediately went over to shake hands with all three and congratulate them, then got out of the way as there was a lineup. We had an opportunity later to meet up with the groom again to have pictures.




We then spent most of the time chatting amongst ourselves and eating the appetizers provided by various waiters wandering around the crowd. Other colleagues and friends came in and we would chat with them after they had greeted the groom. We also briefly met a couple of ambassadors who had attended the function. It turns out many ambassadors were there. A few other men had shown up also wearing bishts, which meant they were likely VIPs (I found out later that some Ministers from the government attended). No chance that His Highness would be showing up though -- he was in Europe working on last-day efforts to win the 2022 World Cup bid, which as we now know succeeded.

After a while dinner was served in the banquet room next door. Like the previous wedding the main dish was lamb on rice on a platter, with a variety of mezzah in small bowls around the table. The difference in this case from the previous wedding I attended was that all of the food was served on tables and everyone had cutlery. Some Arabs stuck with tradition and used their hands anyway. There was also a dessert buffet.

It was during dinner that we noticed there was a woman eating at the head table, which I found odd because I didn't think women went to the men's wedding. She was Caucasian and not wearing an abaya so she definitely was not a family member. Someone speculated that she was likely an ambassador and so as a representative of a nation be allowed at the men's wedding (I found out later that she was the German ambassador).

After the dinner many returned to the main room where they continued to chat with the groom and occasionally did sword dancing when a group of singers started performing.

Eventually the groom joined them at which point most of the men were dancing.






I don't know this kid but he's dressed to the nines. :-)


The wedding was over by about 10 and I returned home. In the next coming weeks some of the local Arabic newspapers had full page or in one case two-page spreads with photos from the wedding. Looks like the wedding hit the society pages.

A great time was had by all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Syria

I'm back from my latest journey – Damascus. Qatar's national day gave me a long weekend so I looked at a map for somewhere I had not been yet and recalled an English friend of mine saying how he had a really good time in Syria, so I took the long weekend in Damascus to see the Old City.

Now to my knowledge Damascus is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world, if not the oldest. I think it's been here for over 3500 years, and for at least the last 2000 was never completely razed or destroyed by some invading army. There's even a few ruins from the Roman days still in the city.

And it was one of the best trips I’ve ever had!

The Old City is a massive place of busy souqs, beautiful mosques, museums, palaces, hammams, and labyrinthine alleyways full of mystery. Exploring the city was really cool, almost an adventure, and in the three days I think I explored almost every inch of it. From the outside most of the buildings looked decayed and decrepit, but peek through a doorway or turn the corner and suddenly you could find yourself in a beautiful Square, by an upscale store, near a millennia old church, a small shrine, an old barber shop, children playing soccer in an alley, or even a mosque. Most importantly, and anyone who's been to Egypt will appreciate this, no one bothers you. No one. In the three days I was there one shopkeeper did the whole "Hi, where are you from? Really, I have a cousin in Canada. Come into my store . . .”. That was it. I explored the Old (and new) City undisturbed. That made it very enjoyable. No, no beggers either. No, no honking taxi drivers trying to get you in their cab. You get hassled a lot more walking around Vancouver.

My presence was relatively ignored. People went about their day shopping, attending mosques or churches, chatting in caf├ęs, and just generally living their lives, not caring about the tourist with the camera. And there weren’t many tourists there, December is the slow season and even on the main tourist streets of the Old City I would maybe see a tourist every three or four minutes.

Here's a few pictures:




In a restaurant in the Old City, which had a band of a guitar player/singer, a percussionist, and a Whirling Dervish.





An Arabic beer! Never thought I'd see one of those.





Another street scene.






At a hammam in the Old City.






At a Shia mosque in the Old City (pretty impressive Iranian architechture) this mosque contained the tomb of one of the daughters of Hussein.






Shopping in the Old City






While wandering around the Old City one evening I happened to come across a rock concert in a park






The Ummayed Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the city, built the eighth century.






Inside the main prayer area of the Ummayed Mosque. The tomb in the center of it is supposed to contain the remains of John the Baptist (of course about a dozen other places also claim to have the remains of John the Baptist but I'm willing to take Damascus's word for it). John the Baptist is also a Prophet under Islam so the tomb has significance for both Christians and Muslims.







Another street scene.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Vacation

I'm off on a trip for about four days, Qatar's national day is December 18 which created a nice long weekend so I'm taking advantage of it by taking a small vacation. I'll discuss the Qatar PISA results more when I return.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

OECD PISA test -- looking again at the Shanghai controversy

My posts skeptical of Shanghai scores on the PISA test has generated a bit of interest, including some input from Chinese commentators. A couple of hypotheses have been floated: IQ scores, the longer hours Chinese students spend on school work and studying, work ethic, impressive results by China at Mathematics Olympiads etc.. The general assertion is that the Shangahi scores are reasonable and not somehow overinflated as I asserted based on a statistical “Freakonomics” proposal given the large pool of students taking the test.

[update: at least an anonymous someone did post a lengthy comment regarding the Chinese scores, IQ, testing, etc but I can't find the comment now?! For the record I didn't delete it!]

Like any good critical thinker you have to be willing to revisit issues if new information comes up. Unfortunately I'm in Qatar and do not have access to the granular Shanghai PISA data so the best I can do is look around the Internet and see what the media has uncovered. Most of the articles that I looked at just accepted the results at face value without much digging into the underlying reasons for the good scores. There were also some veiled assertions of fixing the scores but without any elaboration, which is also of little value.

So here's some of the items I could find:

Let's start with support for my assertion. A blog post by a writer working for The Atlantic quotes a scientist who pretty much came up with the same rationales that I did, statistical anomalies etc. and suggested that Shanghai officials were “gaming the exam”:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/12/on-those-stunning-shanghai-test-scores/67654/

Downside: this scientist is not named so I cannot figure out the source for the (rather lengthy) analysis. I tried looking on the Internet but could not find anything other than another article that was referencing The Atlantic article. The article seems comprehensive though so I gain some comfort that it is for real. However, the article is actually critical of almost any type of standardized testing to compare groups and points out that there are other significant differences between countries that seem unexplained so questions the overall validity.

Overall opinion I get from the article -- Shanghai scores are probably overinflated, despite that Shanghai students are still probably way better than (almost?) everyone at these things due do their educational system focusing on standardized testing, and everyone is overanalyzing the PISA results and needs to chill out.


Solidly against my assertion: the New York Times. They had a few articles about the PISA test but unlike many other newspapers did some level of work looking at what Shanghai did:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/education/07education.html?ref=europe

Much of their work focused on interviews with education professionals who are familiar with Chinese system. Such as . . .

“Mark Schneider, a commissioner of the Department of Education’s research arm in the George W. Bush administration, who returned from an educational research visit to China on Friday, said he had been skeptical about some PISA results in the past. But Mr. Schneider said he considered the accuracy of these results to be unassailable.
“The technical side of this was well regulated, the sampling was O.K., and there was no evidence of cheating,” he said.

How about . . .

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview on Monday.
“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added.
(though I'm not clear whether he was referring to the Shanghai scores or the US scores)

Also NYT asserts . . .

“The testing in Shanghai was carried out by an international contractor, working with Chinese authorities, and overseen by the Australian Council for Educational Research, a nonprofit testing group, said Andreas Schleicher, who directs the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international educational testing program. “


So it appears that there was some independence in administering the test, so controls may have been tighter than I had assumed.


The Christian Science Monitor also took a look at Shanghai and spoke to two American professors with some experience with the Chinese educational system. Both provided rationales for how the results could have happened, and discussed issues regarding the possible strengths with the current Chinese educational system, including attention spans, focus on education, and recent changes to education in Shanghai. Neither of them dismissed the results or alluded that they may have been overinflated:

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2010/1209/Shanghai-test-scores-have-everyone-asking-How-did-students-do-it

The Telegraph had an article that did not challenge the results but instead looked at some of the factors as to why Shanghai students would do so well. Long hours of class and studying with a focus on specific subjects that are tested appears to be their conclusion. They even quote a Chinese critic of the educational system that states that the singular focus on test preparation is actually a problem as it goes too far:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8187967/Shanghai-students-ranked-best-in-the-world-at-maths-and-science.html


So far the evidence is definitely stronger for the “Shanghai did not inflate the results” camp. I'll keep monitoring to see if anything else comes up in the media but it would need to be pretty strong to offset what has been reported in some of the articles. I would be interested in finding some articles from other East Asian countries to see what they have to say given that those countries also have very strong focuses on education.

Friday, December 10, 2010

OCED PISA test - back to Qatar

The release of the PISA results tied in well with the 2010 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), which was being held in Doha at the same time.

I was wondering if the results were going to be discussed at the summit because in the first couple of days the local English-media were silent about Qatar’s test results. One newspaper had mentioned the results of the test were out and that Shanghai had done so well but didn't mention how Qatar had scored, which led me to wonder if there is a bit of reluctance to discuss the issue. My fears were unfounded -- there was a special session at WISE to discuss the results and after the session one of the three English-language papers noted Qatar’s score and had a brief interview with one of the delegates about the results.

I was also encouraged to hear the following...

In Qatar, the Supreme Education Council decided to join PISA 2012 where the major domain will be mathematics. In PISA 2012, the field trial of which will be administered in March 2011, 1300 students enrolled in Private Arabic, Independent, Community and International schools will be assessed

It is good to see that Qatar is clearly not shying away from the PISA tests and are willing to have their students undergo such scrutiny even though the results may reflect poorly on the country's educational system. This in my mind shows that the Supreme Education Council is more concerned with reform than hiding problems.

As I've noted before reforms in education will take a long time to bear fruit and it is important that those reforms include the earliest school years as that will impact the education of students in the later years. But what are the issues in Qatar's educational system? If you search my blog for PISA you'll find a few posts from last year that discuss the issue, one of which noting in detail some of the things I heard from both teachers and Qataris about how schooling works in the public sector, and it is definitely an eye-opener. That can't be the full story though. It was not only Qataris that were tested, students in the various private schools were also tested and Qatar has a large number of private schools: Indian curriculum, British curriculum, Pakistani curriculum American curriculum, French curriculum, even a Canadian school. I also don't think Qataris make up the majority of students in the country anymore given that Qataris only make up about 15% of the population, I speculate they are around 30% of the students due to the high birthrates amongst Qataris as well is the fact that many of the ex-pat workers do not have their families here. PISA likely tested students from all backgrounds.

Yet Qatar scored far lower than all of the OECD countries, and scored lower than other Arab nations such as Jordan and Tunisia. But if many of these kids went to private schools on Western curriculums one would have thought that at least a portion of the students would've scored around the levels of their home countries (unfortunately India, Pakistan, and major Arab countries like Egypt didn't participate in the PISA study so we have no idea how well those curriculums would do). This would imply that the public school students would've on average scored even lower than the Qatar average would suggest. While I have no data to back it up I can't believe that would be true -- Qatar public schools would have to be some of the worst on the planet for that to be right! The schools may have a number of issues based on what I've been told but I have met many Qataris and their education is certainly not that bad.

So what are the possible issues? I don't have the data, hopefully the Supreme Education Council has data on individual schools or additional supplementary statistics they can use to get to the heart of the matter. I will speculate on some possible problems:


1. Learning multiple languages at once

Qataris generally know both Arabic and English. Much of the ex-pat population are from non-Arabic speaking countries so it can be difficult sometimes to get by without English. Most Qataris, including children, know English to some degree. Same would be true with many of the other curriculums. If the educational system is geared to teaching two languages then kids are definitely going to suffer on the PISA reading scores went up to countries who focus on one language.

2. Cultural focus on education

Do parents involve themselves in a child's education to the extent they do in places like East Asia? Are parents monitoring that homework is being done, and studying is taking place? Is getting good grades important to parents? Do parents put pressure on the school to not fail their child even though they're not performing well? I really don't know the answer to these questions, this is a cultural issue that I have not explored.

3. Wealth

Qatar has been blessed with wealth but sometimes wealth is a double-edged sword, in poorer countries students can be very motivated to do well in their studies because education is seen as a ticket out of poverty. But what if your family is already financially well-off? Are students really motivated to do well if they think that Daddy will get them a job when they get out of high school anyway?

4. Cultural focus on reading

The Qataris I have spoken to are not avid readers and the PISA results show that children who enjoy reading and read recreationally for even a half hour a day score way better than their peers on the reading test. Is reading encouraged in Arab society? Is it a common pastime? I'm assuming it is encouraged to some extent if only for religious reasons -- reading the Qur'an and related religious writings, but perhaps for whatever reason recreational reading is not a big thing in local culture. Again, I don't know if this is true or not.

5. School curriculums not testing on a comprehensive basis

If what I've heard about public schools is true it appears that in many courses tests only cover the most recent chapter of the textbook and then you are never tested on that material again -- there is no comprehensive final at the end of the course. This means that long-term retention of concepts is of less importance than it would be in a comprehensive test curriculum. It also encourages cramming for the test which is also never a good thing for long-term retention of the material.

Qatar might want to consider some form of nation-wide standardized testing to at least ensure that minimum standards are being met.

6. Too much emphasis on "participation"

Again if what one of the Qataris has told me about the public school system is true then in some classes up to 50% of your mark is based on attendance. So technically you can pass the class by simply showing up. Even if the 50% is not true I don't care if it's 25% that is still way too much just for attendance or participation, especially if it is something like math or science. The Supreme Council deathly needs to take a look at this to make sure that schools are putting too much weight on participation.


Hopefully there will be some announcements over the next few months from the Council of Education about the reforms that have been undertaken and what further steps will be initiated to help solve some of the issues in schools.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

OECD PISA test – Skeptical about Shanghai

A newcomer to the PISA tests went on to take top spot in all three categories – Shanghai. Not only did they take top spot but they did it by a huge margin. Let's take a look at the top 8 scores in each category, and the 32nd place country (i.e. in the middle of the 65 countries/regions whose scores were released):

Reading
556 Shanghai
539 Korea
536 Finland
533 Hong Kong
526 Singapore
524 Canada (yay!!)
521 New Zealand
520 Japan
. . . .
483 Greece (32nd)


Mathematics
600 Shanghai
562 Singapore
555 Hong Kong
546 Korea
543 Taiwan
541 Finland
536 Liechtenstein
534 Switzerland
. . . .
487 United States/Ireland/Portugal (tied for 32nd)

Science
575 Shanghai
554 Finland
549 Hong Kong
542 Singapore
539 Japan
538 Korea
532 New Zealand
. . . .
489 Italy (32nd)

Shanghai beat the second-place entrant by 17-38 points, yet the difference between 2nd to 3rd, 3rd to 4th etc, was a mere 1-9 points, with an average of 4.1, and a change of 56-73 points is enough to take you from 2nd all the way down to 32nd. No country was consistently 2nd or 3rd etc in all three categories. That is just to give you an idea of how wide a margin Shanghai did on the PISA test. It's a fantastic result, an incredible result.



It's too good of a result. Waaaaaaaay too good. Something doesn't quite add up here.



The sample size for these tests is huge. According to the PISA website, countries are required to test at least 5,000 students, or an entire cohort if the country is small and does not have that many students in the age category. What are the odds that a group of 5,000 students (or more) would be so dramatically better on average than other groups of a similar size? I'd say near-impossible odds. (quick, someone call the author of Freakonomics!). One cannot have such a large data pool of random students and yet have such a dramatic variance at the top end.

Now before I continue I just want to make one thing clear -- it is not unreasonable for Shanghai to have taken the top spot. East Asian countries have performed incredibly well on the PISA test every time it has been given, and countries like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore are regularly in the top five in all categories. Education is highly valued in these countries, expectations are high, and there is a lot of parental involvement and monitoring. Children in these countries are expected to study hard and do well in school and PISA results have consistently reflected that. And Shanghai is China's biggest and wealthiest city so I have no doubt that they have some of the best schools in China. There is no reason why Shanghai couldn't be leading the pack.

But no way by that much.

So what happened? Well, I'm not entirely sure. I'm not involved with PISA and I do not know what all of their processes are in administering the test. But let me speculate . . .

Perhaps the educational ministers or officials in Shanghai were under a lot of pressure to see good results.

Countries tend to see the PISA test as a way to see how their students are performing and try to see if there are weaknesses in the educational system for which a government can introduce initiatives to try to fix, or to identify good performing countries so that other countries can look to see what exactly those countries do and perhaps emulate it. It is a great learning tool for governments. If you take that approach to the PISA test then it is highly unlikely you are going to try to manipulate the results in order to look better than other countries. You need real, honest data about how your country is doing. Because of this I'm not sure if PISA’s controls are particularly strict to ensure countries don't manipulate the results. What would be the point of taking the test if you are not interested in honest results, right? Well, if you were worried that your career was at stake maybe you'd be more inclined to provide the results you think your boss wants.

So it is possible that officials in Shanghai were very worried about repercussions from the Central Government if results were less than stellar, which would give them an incentive to improve the results. This is not uncommon with one-party centralized governments, officials who fear repercussions give the story that their superiors want to hear. Since this is an outside test perhaps some officials, worried that the students would show poor results compared to countries in their region, tweaked things a little somehow, and tweaked things a bit too much.

How? Here are some possible ways:

1) Have students older than the required age take the test.

2) Select only specialized schools or top-end schools

3) Review the test before handing them in and correct a few mistakes (I believe Freakonomics had a tale on this regarding standardized testing in the US)

4) Review the test beforehand and inform students of some of the answers, or make sure that material is covered in classes before the exam is given.

5) Pretest the students on a similar exam (perhaps PISA 2003 or PISA 2006) and only have the higher-performing students take the 2009 exam.

6) Some or all of the above

Now maybe PISA has some strong controls or prevent many of these, but they would not be able to prevent all of them (number 1 or 5 for example). Anyway, if a country or an education Ministry really wanted to manipulate the results they could.

I would love if someone could get a good statistician and run the odds that Shanghai would pull so far ahead in all three categories given the size of the student pool. If anyone does this let me know. Until such time I will always be skeptical about the results posted for Shanghai.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Qatar education results -- OECD's PISA test

I've mentioned other times in this blog about the PISA test, a test conducted by the OECD every three years which tests 15-year-old students in various countries on reading, science, and math, with a special focus on one of the three categories each time the test is run. It has done this since 2000 and the results always create a lot of media frenzy in the West when countries figure out that their students scored worse than other countries. I expect a lot of education ministers to be fielding tough questions this week.

A lot of non-OECD countries also signed up for the test and Qatar signed up for the 2006 test, where they placed second last out of 57 countries in all three categories (beating out Kyrgyzstan in all three categories). The test continues to grow membership and for the 2009 test there were 65 countries or regions who signed up, including Qatar.

Well the results for the 2009 test were released today, this time focusing on reading but of course testing all three categories. How did Qatar do?

Reading: 61st (higher then Peru, Panama, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan)
Science: 61st (beating the same countries listed above)
Mathematics: 62nd (Azerbaijan pulled ahead in this category)


Now I was not expecting significant improvement from the 2006 test because educational reform takes a long time to see results. The kids who wrote this test would've been 12 years old back in 2006 so would already have been well through the educational system. But is Qatar making significant changes to its educational system? This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and yet its students are clearly underperforming. Poorer Arab-speaking nations such as Jordan or Tunisia outperformed Qatar, and four South American countries also did better.

It does go to show that money does not necessarily buy a good educational system, many high-performing countries spent less per capita on education than high-spending countries such as Qatar or the United States. Thankfully the OECD also does a lot more analysis than just a simple score. Here are some highlights from the executive summary:

• students in urban schools perform better than students in rural schools, even if you factor in their social economic background
• children from single-parent households will score slightly lower on average than children from two-parent households (we are talking about 1% less)
• looks like your Mom was right, children who primarily read comic books do little better than children who don't do a lot of recreational reading at all. However, kids who do a lot of online research and reading do score better. Recreational reading from a wide variety of materials seems to be the best way to have a high reading score.
• Girls like to read more than boys and not surprisingly girls scored better than boys in all OECD countries -- and the gender gap is widening.
• Students tended to perform better on the test in schools that had greater autonomy over their curriculum and how students are tested
• higher teacher salaries, but not smaller class sizes, correlates with better performance on the test
• students tend to perform better in schools with a better disciplinary climate

Cool stuff. Keep an eye out for discussions on this test, and how well or poorly your country did, in your local papers.

(By the way, for some reason South Asian countries like India and Pakistan have not signed up for the test. I wish they would, if you're living in one of those countries, see if you can ask your education Minister why they are not signing up for the OECD test)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup!

Qatar has won the 2022 World Cup!!

Unbelievable achievement, congratulations Qatar!

Now before I continue describing the mayhem of happiness and joy that erupted throughout the country in the wake of the announcement I would just like to come clean and say for the record: when Qatar first announced its intention to bid for the 2022 World Cup a couple of years ago I said “not a chance”. You need at least nine stadiums that hold 40,000+ people, it has never been held in such a small country before, there aren't enough hotel rooms or infrastructure for 400,000 fans, and the tournament has to be held in June and July in open air stadiums (that's a FIFA requirement). In June it's already hitting 40° with humidity and if the stadiums are open air than how could you cool them? With all that in mind I thought this bid was a no-go right from the beginning.

I changed my mind after seeing the initial bid that they made, which dealt with all of the above issues in detail. Looks like everyone else changed their mind too. They even built a smaller version of a stadium (500-seater) with a revolutionary air-conditioning system to demonstrate how they could keep it cool (apparently the pitch was 27° while outside it was 44°).

I just wanted to get that out of the way -- I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and pretend that I was a staunch supporter right from day one.

Now when the announcement was made I was in Arabic class and left shortly thereafter to pick up a friend and his colleague who were in Qatar for just one evening on business to take them to the souq. I then realized that since Qatar won the bid the streets near the Corniche would be absolute chaos with celebrations and it would probably take us forever to get to the souq. Our friend wondered if that meant we should have dinner at the hotel and I said “Are you kidding? Now we definitely have to go! This will be the biggest celebration since the country gained independence!”

Sure enough the streets were a madhouse of cars, almost all of them with Qatari flags, and horns honking. Qatari men in dishdasha were everywhere, in the streets, waving from car windows, on top of vehicles, yelling, waving flags and jumping up and down. But it wasn't just Qataris, Arabs of all nationalities were out in the streets as well. Lebanese, Egyptians, Moroccan, Omanis, all were absolutely jubilant. Traffic was going almost nowhere but no one cared because they weren’t down there to go anywhere -- just to move around slowly, honk their horns and celebrate. I even saw some policeman in their car waving flags. Some people had painted “2022”and similar slogans on their vehicles. I even received a celebratory text from my Qatari friend who got married the night before!

The world needs to understand that Qataris took this bid seriously and were truly hoping they would get it. There is no chance that celebrations in the USA would've been like this. The two Americans I was with didn't even know that the USA was bidding for it.

After about an hour we got to the souq and had dinner, wandered around a while, then took an hour to get as even at 1130 the traffic and celebrations were as big as when we first left. I eventually got home around 1am, and in the main road in front of my apartment building traffic was still clogged in both directions with celebrating Qataris and other Arabs. So I stood on the sidewalk in front my apartment building and watched it all go by. The party went on into the wee hours.

The next night there was a parade starting from the Corniche and going to Khalifa Stadium. I missed the parade because I was at a friends place but sure enough that evening the streets were again packed with cars full of jubilant Arabs.

Even now I still can't quite come to terms with what has happened. Qatar, which 15 years ago was a country of maybe 200,000 people and didn't even have a mall, had accomplished so much in so little time that they won the right to hold the biggest tournament in the world.

The impact this will have on the nation will be unreal. Prior to this the construction was for various purposes: developing infrastructure, try to diversify the economy, develop ways to invest its oil wealth, but there was no real end point or overarching rationale that put all the various projects together. For the next 12 years the country will have a real sense of purpose, a goal for which all of the construction and changes will be geared to. The World Cup will now be foremost on the minds of Qataris and much of the country’s development will be in support of that goal.

It will be an exciting time, a wild time, and the country will change faster than the momentous amount of change that had gone before. Hopefully it citizens will be able to cope with that change as the tiny country of Qatar becomes the focus of the world.

But they have a while to sort all that out, for now there is celebration, I expect the jubilant mood to continue for at least the next two weeks. Qatar's National Day is December 18 and I expect it will be quite the party.

Congratulations Qatar!