Saturday, January 25, 2014

Australian Open

As many of you know I love tennis so I have been following the Australian Open these last two weeks.

I'm definitely a big fan of Roger Federer but when I saw the draw even I figured there was no way he was going to win this. Tsonga then Murray then Nadal then Djokovic!? Not a chance. I'm not even sure the Federer of 2006 could have handled that many top opponents one game after another. Turns out he did a really good job, defeating Tsonga and Murray, while his fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka managed to defeat Djokovic. All Federer now needed to do was defeat Nadal, something he hadn’t managed to do at a Grand Slam since 2007. I was pretty skeptical but still had a glimmer of hope, Federer was playing well and Nadal’s previous matches hadn’t been great. Nadal also had a minor problem with a blister on his serving hand. But it was not to be and Federer lost in straight sets. I knew it was over after Nadal won the tiebreak in the first set. Oh well, an all-Swiss final would have been cool.

Now for the question of the final tomorrow. I'm rooting for Wawrinka and while I definitely think he is the underdog I think many are underestimating him. Many have pointed out that Nadal has a 12-0 record against him and hasn't lost a set but I argue that most of those victories were against the “old” Wawrinka, his form has really improved since the Australian Open last year. He also has the stamina to go to five sets and did a great job defeating Djokovic. I think he has a real chance and I hope he wins. No offense to Nadal fans but I like supporting the underdog and I think the crowd at Melbourne will be as well.

As for the ladies tennis I lost interest once Eugenie Bouchard was eliminated in the semifinals. I was really excited that a Canadian made the semis, and she's only 19! Hopefully she has a great future ahead of her.

Speaking of great results for Canadians, have you seen how Daniel Nestor has been doing in the doubles? After a pretty dismal 2013 season (I think his worst in over a decade) he started the 2014 season by winning Brisbane, then Sydney, then making the semifinals of the Australian Open in Men’s Doubles, and is playing tomorrow in the finals of the Mixed Doubles. What a turnaround, this last month has probably been better than his entire 2013 season. I, of course, will be rooting for him to win tomorrow for his 11th Grand Slam title.

Go Stan and Dan(iel)!

[update: They both won! Congrats to them both.]

Friday, January 24, 2014

Souq Waqif Spring Festival

The Spring Festival has started at Souq Waqif, and wouldn't you know it I forgot my camera to take some photos (and no, the camera on my cell phone is not good as I have an old phone).

It was probably the busiest I’ve ever seen the Souq. There was an amusement park setup for children with activities and rides, including a mechanical bull. There were also two concerts going on, a smaller stage near the restaurants which at the time had a Turkish band and singer performing (I'm not sure who it was but I’m assuming he was well known in Turkey as there was a small crowd of Turks dancing with the music and singing along with the lyrics). In the parking lot near the gold souk a huge concert area had been set up and it was full of Qataris and other people listening to an Arab singer. The place was packed, I believe more than a thousand were watching the concert and a few hundred more were outside hoping to get in. Needless to say the restaurants were doing good business as well, even my favorite juice stall was packed.

It was a fun time and I recommend everyone check it out. Word of warning though, the extra stages and activities were set up on parking lots so there's less parking but more people -- trying to get parking is even more difficult than usual. Go early or expect to park far away.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Obesity in Qatar

Wealth has its drawbacks. An article in the Peninsula today noted the soaring rates of obesity in adolescents in Qatar.

I knew there were issues but the numbers were surprising (though I think the English has some errors):

The large cross-sectional study involving a total of 1,167 female and male students (14-20 years) from 23 independent schools showed that 59.9 percent of Qatari adolescents were obese and 57 percent overweight against 40.1 percent and 43 percent of non-Qataris.

I'm not sure how the percentages work. If 59.9% of Qataris are obese then 40.1% are not obese, not that 40.1% of non-Qataris are obese. I'm also not sure what the definitions of overweight and obese are. If 57% are overweight and 59.9% are obese does that mean "obese" includes everyone who is overweight? The numbers are more than 100% if added together. It's confusing to me.

Anyway let's go with the number that matters, almost 60% of Qatari adolescents are obese. For comparison, but just be warned that the same definition of obese might not be used in the two studies, the rate in the US is 17%.

Again it depends on if the same definition was used for the Qatari study as the CDC study. 60% is a very high number so maybe the Qatar study used a broader meaning of obese. Both studies used BMI as the indicator but I’m not sure what the cut-off was to be considered obese in the Qatar study.

The usual culprits are likely responsible. Sedentary lifestyle and plenty of high-fat high-calorie food like fast food. In Qatar fast food restaurants like McDonalds even deliver so you don’t have to leave your house to get fast food, just call.

I don't have a solution, and I don't know if the study's authors do either.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Falcon and Hunting Festival

Today I went down to the 5th Annual Falcon and Hunting Festival near Sealine Beach, which is being held throughout January. For those of you interested in going . . .

Where it is exactly?

It is not quite at Sealine resort but a few kilometers before it. Just after the overpass in Messiead that gets you on Sealine Road there is a roundabout that leads to the Endurance Course (for horse training). You need to turn right on that roundabout and follow the flags that line the road to the Festival.

What, it doesn't look like a road? Yep. This means . . .

You need a 4x4 vehicle.

The Festival is nowhere near Sealine Road and you have to go off-road for around 10km. You can't do this unless you have a 4x4. No one told me this so when I arrived with my car I was a little annoyed to find out I wouldn't be able to get to the Festival with it. I parked just past the roundabout where a few other cars were parked and luckily managed to catch a ride with a Qatari who was driving by on his way to the Festival. To get back I had to hitchhike and managed to get a ride with some other Qataris to my car.

Lots of people were here already.

Here’s pictures of the camp, lots of seating either in the grandstand or majlis-style seating outside the grandstand

As well as a restaurant

Shops where you can buy gear for falconry as well as camping equipment

A small playground for little kids

And even a tent where they serve some traditional food like harees (I got some food here and they didn't even charge me for it.)

Even though there was plenty of seating at the grandstand a lot of Qataris parked out by the edge of the fence to be closer to the falconry.

The falcons and pigeons are released a few hundred meters away from the grandstand, which can sometimes make it difficult to spot what is going on. Not a problem, there were huge TV screens set up so if you couldn't see the birds you could watch them on the screen. As for food you can also bring your own and have a picnic, I saw some people doing that.

So your time is spent sitting around watching the falconry.

There was bottled water at each of the “mini-majlises” and occasionally someone would came around with either tea our Arabic coffee that you could have. A new competitor was up every 10 minutes or so. They must've been fast pigeons or inexperienced falcons today as none of the falcons I saw managed to catch the pigeon in the allotted time.

It was a relaxing day but given none of the falcons caught the pigeon it wasn’t too exciting. I hope to return later in the month when they're doing the hunting with Salukis, that might be interesting to see as well.

But I’ll need to borrow a 4x4.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Qataris in Debt

It's been a busy week so I haven't had much time to catch up on things but there was one piece of old news I wanted to share. Back in November when I wrote an article for Doha News I noted how I had heard anecdotally that many Qatari families were in debt, and speculated that it might be due to pressure by society to live a lavish lifestyle. A news article in the Peninsula from a couple of weeks ago appears to support that assertion.

Here's the key statements from the article:

A local charitable organisation has plans to start an awareness drive against rising consumerism in the Qatari community that has an increasing number of families trapped in a bank debt spiral.

Studies have earlier shown that some three-fourths of Qatari families are in debt . . . . .

Much money sought through bank loan is spent on entertainment, RAF said, implying overseas trips made by many Qatari and GCC families for shopping and fun — mostly with the money sought from banks as loan.

It’s unfortunate but not surprising to me that many Qatari families are in debt. Over the years I've seen plenty of ads from the banks targeting Qataris, advertising things like vacation loans, and many spend to maintain a lifestyle I don't think all can afford. It’s a stereotype that all Qataris are rich, and many are rich, but not all of them if the banks realize lots of Qataris need a loan to take a vacation.

In Canada there used to be a TV show called Til Debt Do Us Part (maybe it’s still going), where an experienced credit counselor would try to help couples in financial trouble, inevitably caused by spending more money than they earn. It’s a great show and it emphasized communication, budgeting, and not spending money you don’t have. The host of the show was tough and she didn't pull any punches when explaining to these couples why they're in trouble. Maybe Qatar should consider a Qatari-version of a show like this, or some other way to try to get across the importance of budgeting and managing money. I don’t think it’s taught in schools here.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Qatar ExxonMobil Tennis 2014

A friend of mine called to see if I wanted to go to the quarterfinals of the tennis tournament as he had a spare ticket. Unfortunately he had a spare ticket because earlier in the day he had a bad fall so was unable to go -- not the kind of circumstances one wants to get a free ticket from. (He's doing better now, we both went to the semifinals yesterday)

Thanks to a rain delay I managed to get there just a few minutes before Rafael Nadal’s match versus Gulbis.

It was a decent match. Nadal won in straight sets but Gulbis did not make it easy, playing a number of excellent winners.

As an aside, in the past years children under the age of three were not allowed in the stadium. At least that's what I remember the ticket said but the rule was generally ignored and people were bringing babies and toddlers into the match. Naturally that meant there was crying and other noise which would occasionally disturb the players. This year I noticed the ticket said children under five wouldn't be allowed in the stadium so I figured the organizers were getting stricter. Nope, there were still plenty of kids under five in the stands, occasionally making noise at inopportune times. The organizers really need to get strict about this, people shouldn’t be bringing babies to a tennis tournament.

After the Nadal match most of the crowd left, which is a shame because next up was Gael Monfils, one of my favorite players. While he can be inconsistent he is a player who takes a lot of high-risk shots so when he is on his game he is very impressive and fun to watch. A few years ago he beat Nadal here in Doha so there's no reason why he couldn't win again. Monfils was facing Daniel Brands, who was also on a roll, as the previous day he had a straight sets victory over world number three David Ferrer.

I wasn't sure what happened during the match, whether Monfils was “on” or Brands was off his game, or both. Monfils won easily, 6-2, 6-1, in about half the time it took Nadal to win his match. Impressive.

So last night my friend and I went to see the semis. We got there in time to watch Nadal play a complete unknown: World No 162 Peter Gojowczyk, who was clearly having the tournament of his career and was in his first ATP semi-final. My friend figured this would be very quick and Nadal would crush the guy. My view was Gojowczyk might be having a golden week so who knows? If he’s playing really well he could win this. I decided to root for Gojowczyk -- I like underdogs and besides, most of the crowd was rooting for Nadal so someone had to give him some support.

Gojowczyk had nothing to lose so he came out firing. My friend and I sat stunned as Gojowczyk won the first 11 of 12 points and went up 3-0. Incredible shot after incredible shot and Nadal looked really out of sorts. Things settled down a bit but Gojowczyk kept up the pressure and took the first set 6-4. Awesome!

Sadly, tennis is a game of inches and after that Gojowczyk’s aim was just a little bit off and he was not making as many awesome plays as before. And that's all Nadal needed, taking the next two sets 6-2, 6-3 for the win.

In the post-match interview when asked what he was thinking after that first set Nadal said something like, “I hope he [Gojowczyk] doesn't play like that for the rest of the match!”

It was a good match to watch and it also brings up a point that top players like Federer and Nadal have to keep reminding people: the difference between a top 10 player and a top 100 player is slight. These days you can't just judge someone based on the ranking, all it takes is for that lower-ranked player to be having a great game that day and they can take out the top players. Last year both Federer and Nadal lost to far lower-ranked opponents during Grand Slams. That’s why top players don't underestimate opponents and assume it’ll be an easy match just because the guy is not in the top 20.

After that match it was Gael Monfils once again. He again had an awesome match, blasting Florian Meyer off the court 6-3, 6-2.

Unfortunately I can’t be at the final. I’m rooting for Gael but he’ll need to bring his A-game. He’s beaten Nadal before in Doha so he could do it again.

[update: Nope, Nadal won in three sets.]

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Reflections of 2013

Let's look back at 2013:

I guess it needed to be said. Calgary, Canada

Relaxing at Sealine Beach, Qatar

Waiting in line for a panzerotti, Milan, Italy

Getting my hair done. Mudanya, Turkey

Sunset over the Mediterranean. Kas, Turkey

Chilling at the H.R. Giger Bar, Gruyere, Switzerland

Overlooking a dune bashing rally. Khor Al Udaid, Qatar

Updating the blog. Calgary, Canada

Walking around the island of Monte Isola, Italy

Just before going to a hockey game. Canada

The view from the roof of my friend's apartment building. Geneva, Switzerland

Chilling in a majlis wearing a Qatari thobe and gurtra. Shahanniya, Qatar.

Do I really need to say where I am? Yes, it's Venice.

On Kapatas Beach, Turkey

Transporting falcons, North Qatar

The view from Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland

Happy New Year everyone!