Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sheikh Faisal's Museum

First a brief update. There was a bit of discussion about my article on the cleaning man because it got picked up on doha.tumblr. Just want everyone to know that yes he is getting paid more and I also gave him back-pay for the first time he showed up.

So, this weekend I went with the Qatar Natural History Group to Sheikh Faisal's Museum, including a lunch. It had been over two years since I've seen it so I figured why not.

The museum is well known for its extensive collection of, well, almost anything. Weapons, carpets, animal skins, calligraphy, fossils, cars, furniture old photographs, there's all sorts of stuff. There was so much stuff that the museum was fairly crowded with items. Over the last couple of years to shake has expanded the museum space significantly, something like five times as much, so was able to put more things on display. At times the place was rather like a maze, go one way and you might miss a doorway that leads to an entire wing of items. A lot of the fun was just wandering around to see what was there because you just never knew what you were going to run into. For example:

• a steam engine car
• a 19th century Persian carpet taken from the Shah's palace
• 9th century Syrian pottery
• an F1 car
• a detailed family tree of the Al-Thani family, compiled by some British source that would give descriptions such as "cheerful" to various family members
• a confession booth from a church (I'd like to know how he got that)
• a camel howdah (sort of a small tent that would sit on top of a camel and people would stay in it while the camel moved)
• fossils dated from 250 million-years ago
• full-size Arabic boats (all displayed indoors)
• stuffed falcons
• abstract paintings
• a small collection of Jewish memorabilia
• the largest collection of Yemeni and Omani daggers I've ever seen
• a carpet with famous leaders from history, including Moses and Napoleon (??)
• A photo of two camels mating
... and so on

Just to give you an idea of how big the galleries are lunch was served in one of the exhibition rooms and there was enough space for 130 of us plus a buffet.

I really suggest to anyone in the area to visit it if they get a chance, it would be great for whiling away a summer afternoon. If you're a tourist be warned that it's about 25 km outside of Doha, but close to the camel racing track. Make sure you have a good idea where it is before heading out.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Qatar 2022 World Cup Bid

Apparently there has been allegations in the UK press that a whistleblower has stated that Qatar bribed to African officials who voted for Qatar to get the World Cup bid. Qatar and the 2 FIFA officials involved all deny the allegations. The whistleblower will be talking to FIFA shortly, if he hasn't already. There is speculation as to whether, if the accusations prove true, a new vote will be held. There were similar allegations before the vote that Qatar was doing some kind of vote trading with Spain or something. I think this is an issue the World Cup bids are going to face every time.

I can't comment as to the allegations, but would I be willing to support another vote?

I suppose . . . if all the other bids are investigated as well to see if they committed any bribery infractions!

Second place in the 2022 bidding was the United States and it appears that people have short memories. The US bribed IOC officials to win the 2002 Winter Olympics and the bribery was a lot worse than what is being alleged of Qatar. Unfortunately it was deemed too late to give the Winter Olympics as someone else once the scandal was uncovered (how nice was that). There have also been some allegations about Japan when it won the 1998 Winter Olympics, mostly related to excessive “entertainment expenses”. So it's not like the US has a clean record.

I think FIFA needs to really change how they do things if this kind of stuff is going to happen every time -- allegations flying around during the bid round and whenever somebody wins. My suggestion -- increase the number of voters to 300 or more, it’s a lot harder to bribe hundreds of people than the 50 or so FIFA currently uses. The accusations are Qatar paid $1.5 million to each of the two executives, you are certainly not going to spend that kind of money on 100+ people.

I hope this issue gets resolved quickly so things can move on.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Doha Car Inspection

[June 2015 update: got my car inspected and updated the post accordingly. There's a great website now with information www.fahes.com.qa]

Looking back in my blog I realized that my post about the car inspection process was out of date. Since it was time to get my car inspected I decided to not do what I did last year (pay someone else to do it) and go out myself so I could experience the adventure first-hand.

This usually meant a trip to the Industrial Area, something no one looks forward to doing, but other options are now available. There is a website with the locations, timings and more information -- www.fahes.com.qa

Someone told me that the center in Wakra doesn't have much of a lineup so on Wednesday around 11:30 I went there hoping it would be quick -- WRONG! Massive line-up of something like 50+ cars and only two garages for testing. You'd be in line for something close to over two hours. I saw the main center in the Industrial Area opens at 6:00am, and that would be before the morning rush hour, so I set an early alarm and headed out. . .

The Industrial Area testing center is located on 24th Street (I suggest looking it up on a map before you head out so you know exactly where it is). Note that you have to go around back to enter - to a corner entrance marked “Gate 1”. The entrance is not on the main street.

As soon as you are entering the gate you will see a security guard. Do not drive past him, you need to stop and get a number from him. I didn't know this. All I knew was that I needed a number so I drove past the security guard, parked, went into the testing center, and went to the information desk to ask for a number, only to be told you get it from the security guard. That meant I had to walk out, walk to the other end of the parking lot in the heat, to get a number from the security guard. [2015 update: this time the security guard didn't hand out a number and just directed me the booth I mention below. It might have been because I was there so early, he might hand out numbers later.]

There were a lot of cars in line in front of the testing garages and the security guard pointed to a lineup that I should join. So I got back in my car and got in the line. The lineup was about a dozen cars long and you only moved every 3 to 5 minutes. [2015 update: because I was there early, 6am on a Thursday, there was only one car ahead of me, in previous years I was there on Saturdays around 10-11am so it had a bigger lineup.]

Part-way along you pass a booth. When I pulled up to the booth I gave the guy my vehicle registration and the fee (QAR 75). After a minute he gave me a receipt with my ticket number on it, and a plastic sleeve which contained my registration as well as a copy of my receipt which said "Inspector Copy". After that you continue to inch along the line to the garage.

Once I got to the garage I pulled up, put the car in park and left the car running, handed the inspector the plastic sleeve with my registration and "Inspector Copy" receipt. He looked at the receipt and registration, handed me back my registration, and then I left and walked into the main building. Make sure you bring your copy of the receipt with you as it has your ticket number on it. He asked if there was a fire extinguisher in the vehicle so be prepared to point it out (No fire extinguisher? You can buy one in the main building). Otherwise you're not allowed to stick around or chat with the inspectors, you have to go wait in the main building.

In the main building is a small stand with various sodas and drinks, another counter with a guy selling fresh orange juice (QAR 6, I know because that's what I had), an ATM, and about 80 seats in front of the counters where the employees were. There was an electronic board that would flash your number when your report was ready.

I was a little concerned about how long I'd be there as there was about 40 guys waiting and only one guy working the counter. Turns out it was not a complicated process: when the inspection is finished the report is printed and the guy at the counter types your number on the electronic board, and you go collect your report. I maybe waited about 15 minutes then got my report and car key. Then I went out the door near the counter (opposite the door I came in) where my car was waiting in the parking lot near the garage I used. All in all the whole process took about 45 minutes, much easier than when I did it the last time at that temporary inspection center near a supermarket.

But sometimes they do fail you for small things. The report has two sections:

1) Technical requirements: this is the stuff like if your brakes or exhaust are up to code. If you fail this you'll need to get your car repaired.

2) Legal requirements: If there are any scratches or other damage this will be deemed a failure.

Once because I had a couple of scratches on the door (from some fool in the parking lot opening their car door too hard), the inspectors deemed it a “fault” and said my car didn't pass. Seriously, the two scratches were about an inch long! Apparently the inspectors are instructed to be conservative and write up any problem. My car now fails the Legal Requirements part every year.

So what do you do in that situation? Go outside and get your car and at the side of the building is another line up with a Ministry Officer sitting outside by a desk, who you go to for a second opinion. Drive up, hand him the report, he takes a quick look, and if he thinks it's minor he signs off that you can renew your registration. Which of course he did in my case.

Fighting the traffic on the drive back was more annoying than getting my car inspected.

[So the inspection is done, now what? click on this link to see my post about renewing your car registration http://qatarskeptic.blogspot.com/2014/06/how-to-renew-your-car-registration.html]

Thursday, May 19, 2011


So a while back (I'm not saying when) my friends Carrie and Kamahl organized a small birthday party for me and asked me to invite some people. I'm not one to make a big deal about my birthday but I knew there was no getting out of it -- last year Carrie and Kamahl surprised me with a birthday dinner weeks after my birthday. So I invited some friends but didn't tell them that it was for my birthday as I didn't want people making a fuss or getting me gifts. I guess you could say I surprised them.

We had a nice meal of barbeque meats and fixins and then went to another room for dessert. What I wasn't expecting was what they had prepared for me:

A Canadian flag cake, birthday cookies with Canadian flags and "Happy Birthday Glen" in icing, and a huge assortment of other tarts, pies and desserts! Wow! Apparently they found the cake decorator to ice the entire cake to make it look like a Canadian flag.

Here's a close-up:

There was enough dessert for over 20 people, and there certainly weren't that many of us there, so after stuffing ourselves I took the remaining cake to the office the next day. People in the office saw the cake and asked if it was Canada's Independence Day or something :)

(That is actually July 1 in case you didn't know)

I had a great time, thanks guys.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Story of a Not-so-Glamorous Life in the Gulf

Today I arranged for a cleaner to come by my apartment. A friend of mine recommended him; apparently he's a maintenance guy at some building but cleans my friend's apartment for extra money.

I'm like most people, I hate cleaning. My place isn't a pigsty but I'm definitely not good with sweeping and mopping floors in a timely manner. I'm all for having a cleaner come by once in a while.

When I spoke with the cleaner the night before his only request was that he be given enough time to do the job -- no rushing him or telling him he has to do everything in an hour. I was cool with that, who wants to rush a cleaner? I'd rather he take his time and do a good job. It didn’t matter how long it took anyway as he asked for a flat rate of QAR 40 ($US 10.80) each visit, instead of charging by the hour.

Yep, he wanted about $11. He was from South Asia and he probably made about QAR 500-600 ($US 140-170) a month at his regular job, working full-time six days a week. That means he makes about $0.65 an hour. $11 for a couple hours cleaning is, sadly, decent money.

The issue of South Asian laborers in the Gulf is one that doesn't get a lot of press in the West. We'll go on and on about whether women should be wearing veils and stuff like that but if you look at websites of groups such as Human Rights Watch one of the big issues in this region is the treatment of South Asian laborers.

They are brought into these countries by the tens of thousands to work in construction, security, cleaning, and any other menial job (shelf stacker at a grocery store, gas station attendant, tea boy, taxi drivers etc.). Many make only QAR 400-600 a month ($115-170). It doesn't seem like a lot of money to us but when you live in a village in rural India or Nepal, where unemployment is rampant and people live on $1 a day, getting a job for $0.55-$0.70 an hour is big money. And with about 1.6 billion people in South Asia competition is fierce. A British-Indian friend of mine once pointed out that for every labourer you see there were likely 20 trying to get that job.

Unfortunately it's not as easy as just getting the job, you have to get the visa as well. This leads to the real crime – “visa arrangers” back in their home countries who charge exorbitant fees to get these poor men their visa (and thus a job). The fees are typically $1000 and more, money that these guys don't have. Desperation takes them to money lenders, or to selling the small plot of land the family used as a farm. So for the next year or two most of the meager money they earn goes to paying lenders.

Then they have to hope and pray they have a good employer.

Once they arrive at their new job they are stuck. They can't quit, they owe money lenders or since they sold the family farm they have no way of earning a living when they return. Their family: a wife, children, and maybe his elderly parents who he is supporting, will be destitute. A plane ticket home will cost them at least four months wages. In Qatar you're not even allowed to change jobs to another Qatar company without a “no objection” letter from your employer. It is a situation that is ripe for exploitation by an unscrupulous employer.

So they toil in 45° heat on construction sites, or work 60 hours a week mopping floors, without complaint for fear of getting fired. They are then bussed back to their residence, typically on the outskirts of the city. Many are crammed four or eight to a room on bunk beds, and I have heard that some employers don't even provide air-conditioning. I wish I was joking that these residences are referred to by the cringe-inducing name "labour camps” but you occasionally see a real estate advertisement for a labour camp for rent or for sale. There are also reports of employers who make the laborers pay for food out of their own pocket, or not pay their salary for months at a time. Enforcement of employment law is lax.

Earning money is the reason they're here so there are an abundance of people around who will offer to do odd jobs for you. Clean your house, wash your car, help you move stuff, take your groceries to the car. Tips can be a big source of revenue.

I try to tip when I can. Gas attendants, the guys in the mall food court who clean tables and trays, grocery baggers, they all get tips from my friends and I. Two or three riyal is not much to me but can make a big difference to a labourer. One of my Qatari friends tips QAR 5-10 to the food court cleaners, he says they're some of the worst paid workers. A day’s wage for them is probably QAR 16.

So what happened with my new cleaner? He wasn't kidding when he said he didn't want to be rushed, it took him about three hours to clean my one-bedroom apartment! Not because he was slow but because he was so thorough. He removed all the books from bookshelves to dust the shelves, he wiped down the legs of chairs, he moved the furniture to sweep and mop underneath, he took everything out of the medicine cabinet to wipe it down, he did a fantastic job. Yet he was a little worried that I wouldn't think he did a good job -- he wanted me to do an inspection to see if I was happy.

Three hours work, for $11.

I gave him QAR 50, a 20% tip, and drove him back to the apartment building where he works, he had a shift starting later that afternoon.

I then took the car in to get something minor fixed and while I was waiting went to a nearby Western-style café. It was lunch time so I ordered a cappuccino and a sandwich and spent the next 45 minutes reading a newspaper and watching the news on the nearby television. When it was time to pick up my car I asked for the bill.

The cappuccino and sandwich was QAR 44.

I'm going to start paying the cleaner more.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Osama update

Apparently criticism about killing of the Osama bin Laden had been gaining momentum in the last couple of weeks so the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, gave an interview to BBC News where he noted that it was a “kill or capture” mission and if Osama had surrendered they would have taken him into custody.

The cynic in me is doubtful. Why wasn't this disclosed a lot earlier? Why didn't President Obama note it in his speech or subsequent discussions about the incident? Why didn’t Hillary Clinton mention it, she was watching the raid as well?

He might be telling the truth, we will have no way to know unless sometime in the future unless someone high up in the military or someone involved in the raid speaks out.

I suppose I'm grudgingly grateful. But what took so long?

Monday, May 02, 2011

President Obama – I need to know!

As you are no doubt aware President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in a military operation on a house in Pakistan.

To tell you the truth I am pretty non-plussed about it. I wasn't elated, and certainly wasn't sad of course. I figured the guy died in a cave in the Pakistani mountains years ago so to hear that he's dead NOW didn't actually do much to change anything.

Nevertheless since I did not hear Obama’s speech I looked up a transcript of it on the White House website.


It made for some interesting reading. Here's some excerpts:

. . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

. . . . . . . . . .

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

. . . . . . . . . .

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.
. . . .

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

As I read this and find myself hoping, "please, let it say somewhere that the focus of the operation was to try to capture him alive". But it wasn't in the speech. I did an Internet search but didn't find anything. As far as I can tell the goal of the operation was to kill him.

President Obama, did you just sign off on an assassination!?

Please tell me you didn't. Please tell me that you hoped that maybe he could be captured alive and that you didn't want his death to be the main objective. Please tell me you left instructions that provided it didn't put the lives of your soldiers at risk to capture him alive if possible. Please tell me that if he had surrendered he would not have been killed.

It's important. The world needs to know. I need to know.

Yes, Osama bin Laden was an evil man. Yes, he masterminded numerous terrorist plots which resulted in the deaths of thousands. Yes, he trained others to kill. Yes, he showed little remorse for any victim of his schemes, however innocent. Yes, he deserved to die.

But this isn't about him. This is about us, the West, and what we stand for.

For generations the West has pressed upon the rest of the world the benefits of democracy and human rights. We tell the world how we hold the moral high ground, how our governments and judicial systems support the rights of people, and try to promote fairness and equity. We tell the world why dictatorships are wrong, and why denying the rights of citizens must change. We criticize those who use secret police, detentions without trial, and torture. We promote our court systems and try to show the world that any criminal has a right to a fair trial, and that is why we feel our systems are just. We told them that these things are what help to make our countries great, and that these things should be emulated. Taking the moral high ground is part of who we are supposed to be.

If we are to promote a higher moral standard then we have to abide by it, even when it would be a tough thing to do. We cannot claim moral superiority while sanctioning assassination.

No, I don't think you can just get around this by calling it a "war". Osama called it a war too you know, when he masterminded the attacks that caused the Twin Towers to fall. That didn't make what he did moral, or right, or just.

Justice -- you kept using that word. But was it more akin to vengeance instead of justice?

That is why I need to know. Yes it was entirely possible he was going to die in the raid. Yes it was important to make sure he didn't escape. Definately, you wouldn't want any of the soldiers to get killed in the operation. Absolutely, he needed to be defeated. But were you willing to capture him? Put him on trial for his crimes? Be sentenced to imprisonment for the rest of his life instead of executed? Were you willing to show the world that we could take the moral high ground and stand up for the ideals we tell others they should embrace, or is our message to the world to do as we say and not as we do, that assassination is okay when we think it is in our best interest. That a group attacking a place in the middle of the night to kill someone are “terrorists” when we are the victims, but being “true to the values that make us who we are” when it is us doing the attacking. Is that right?

How can we expect others to listen to us, to embrace our ways, when we are not willing to live by the values we hold in such high regard? How are we to convince the fundamentalists in the Islamic world that our way is better than the blind hatred they themselves embrace?

It can only be done by taking the high road, even when our very souls cry for vengeance. It means having to do what's right, as much as we hate to do it.

It means hoping that while there was a chance he would die he would have been captured alive, to face trial, because that would show that you hold true to the principle of liberty and justice for all. Even for those who do not deserve it. Even for him.

And that's why I need to know.