Monday, September 28, 2015

Eid in Qatar

I had a couple of days of the Eid holiday here in Qatar, perhaps for the first time ever. Usually I book a vacation starting a few days before Eid and ending a few days after but this time I couldn't do it so I got to see some Eid festivities.

I wasn't here for the day when people slaughter animals for meat, a standard practice in Eid al-Adha, but not everyone here slaughters a goat or sheep. Under Islamic tradition most of the meat should be given to the poor but as Qataris (and others here) are wealthy enough to have meat whenever they want many instead donate to charities who will purchase sheep in poor Muslim countries and have it slaughtered there so that poor people can have all of the meat. Here's an ad that I saw at a mall, I also saw similar ads in Turkey. A small sheep is around US$70.

As for festivities apparently there were things going on all over the city in Sports Halls, Malls, and Katara, but I was always going to Souq Waqif. The Souq was PACKED with people and there were extra police out to keep things calm. I think the parking lots may have completely filled up as well, there were long lines at the parking lot by the Diwan Mosque. I did feel bad for South Asian labourers who tried to enter the Souq, the police were immediately sending them away if they were not with a lady or a family.

The Souq had a number of shows, mostly traditional singing and dancing. I was surprised at just how many Arabs were watching the traditional fare and taking photos and video, I guess such displays are becoming rarer and rarer in the Middle East.

I kind of wish I also went to Katara to check that out, newspapers had pictures showing lots of people watching the shows, but the thought of fighting the traffic and dealing with parking discouraged me.

And so ends Eid. Work tomorrow.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why Don't I Have a Full Beard

I've had a mustache and goatee for over 10 years now and don't plan on changing any time soon. I have a chubby baby face so without the facial hair I look a lot younger, I recall even in my early 20s having to show ID to get into bars and a couple of times they still didn't believe me. I like the goatee.

Some have asked why I don't grow a full beard, popular in this part of the world. Well thanks to being in Turkey for a week without shaving I can now show why I don't grow a full beard. Here's my face after 8 days without shaving:

Yep, pretty much nothing on the cheeks but some hair on the neck. I'm one of those guys who would grow what we call a 'neckbeard'. Blah! I really don't think the neckbeard look is for me (or almost anyone for that matter).

It was great to go to the barber yesterday and get it cleaned up as it was starting to get really itchy.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Eid Mubarak everyone

Eid Mubarak! I just got back from Turkey, where I spent a week enjoying the Eid Holiday (called 'Bayram' in Turkey).

I was is Istanbul for the first couple of days, hanging out with friends. The hotel we stayed in had some, um, interesting decor.

Let's see: striped walls, gold tassels, and giraffe-print chairs. It's like someone tried for arabesque but managed to incorporate a bit of "19th-century upscale French brothel". Thankfully no mirror on the ceiling.

We did eat at a great steakhouse where they just bring plate after plate of meat. Excellent food (it's called Nusr Et)

After a brief stopover in Mudanya four of us drove seven hours to the town of Bodrum, to stay at a resort near the city that my friend booked. We met up with some other friends who flew down.

Weather was sometimes spotty (including a day where the rain was so heavy it caused flash flooding in some streets in Bodrum) but there was still plenty of time for swimming and lounging, and enough sun that I sometimes draped a towel over my head to help prevent sunburn.

As one of my friends can only speak Turkish my Turkish-English dictionary got a real workout. I also determined that every sentence I said or heard had one of the following words in it:

yemek (eat)
aç (hungry)
soğuk (cold, as in the water in the pool (havuz) or sea (deniz))
uyumak (sleep)
yuzmak (swim)
yağmur (rain)
güneş (sun)

which pretty much summed up the week. A typical day went: yemek, yuzmak, yemek, uyumak, yemek, yuzmak, yemek, yemek, uyumak. Maybe another yemek in there somewhere depending on how aç everyone was, which with Turkish men appeared to be pretty much always.

A fun time was had by all, shame I had to leave earlier than everyone else but Eid is such a crazy time for travel that flights to Doha were booked solid the other days.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Qatar Football

So this weekend I attended two Qatar Stars League (QSL) matches as part of trying to follow the local league. My team (Al Sadd) wasn’t playing so I checked out some of the other teams.

First it was Ar-Rayyan vs Al Saliya. This match took place at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium (also known as Al Sadd Stadium). This is the home pitch for Al Sadd yet they weren’t playing, which was a bit odd. Maybe there’s construction at one of the other stadiums so it is shut temporarily? I’m guessing there is a lot of construction in the area around Ar-Rayyan stadium so it’s probably that one.

The turnout wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, I’m guessing maybe 800-1000 Rayyan fans, and about 100 Saliya. The VIP/family section had another 200 or so. Both the Rayyan and Saliya fans had drums and were chanting so it was a pleasant atmosphere, and the rain from earlier did cool things off a little so it wasn’t bad sitting in the stadium.

Things went rough for Al Saliya, who had a couple of chances but by half-time were down 2-0 and then had a man red-carded.
Half-time entertainment was traditional sword dancing.

Saliya put up a decent battle though they were a man down but in the end it was a 4-0 beatdown. Most of the crowd was happy.

The next night was a match between Al-Arabi and Al-Wakrah at the Grand Hamad Stadium (the Al-Arabi stadium near Rawdat Al Khail intersection). I arrived too early but it gave me time to check out the 9-ball World Championships, which were also being at an indoor hall at the stadium.

The night was humid and a bit uncomfortable for sitting around outside. Maybe that affected the turnout, there was maybe 200 Al-Arabi supporters and as for Al-Wakrah it was, um, sparse. Their section for fans is on the left of this picture, where the blue flags are, and I think there was maybe 15 people. It’s pretty rough when your team outnumbers the fans. The VIP/family area had around 100, almost all were Al-Arabi fans.

The Ref seemed a bit touchy as there were a lot of yellow cards being given out. Al-Arabi scored a really good goal and after that it was a lot of back and forth and close-calls. Because of the humidity I missed the half-time show as I went into the air conditioning to get a drink. Al-Arabi had a man sent off part way through the second half but they managed to hold off Al Wakrah. In the end Al-Arabi’s goal held and the score was 1-0.

Given that tickets are, depending on where you want to sit, 10, 20 or 50 riyal I can’t fault the ticket price, it’s a pretty good deal.

I’ll keep attending matches and I’ve now made it my quest to attend at least one game in each stadium this season, which will mean going to matches in places like Al-Khor and probably Al-Ruwais.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Falcons at Souq Waqif

Summer is almost over so the falcons are back at Souq Waqif.

This is the main buying season for falcons so the shops at the Falcon Souq will be packed with birds, and many Qataris will be out shopping for falcons. If you've wanted to see the Falcon Souq, or take visitors there, this is a good time to do it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

It's Raining! In September??

Walked out of a mall today to a brisk rain and the sounds of thunder.

Wow, what the heck?! Rain in September? Rain normally starts around November, I don't recall a time when it rained in September. DohaNews quoted Al Jazeera's meteorologist that in 2012 it rained at the end of September so that would still make this the earliest in probably decades. A decent amount of rain too.

I'm sorry Doha, it's my fault! I washed my car yesterday.

I spoke with someone who hoped the rain would cool things off a bit. I doubt it, it was around 40 degrees when it rained and the rain felt hot. Now it's all humid out. Blah.

Naturally my car was parked under a shade awning in the mall parking lot so months of accumulated sand was washed from the awning onto my car, forming a lovely mud layer.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Queen Elizabeth II -- Long Has She Reigned

Like almost every paper in Britain I'll give a shout-out to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who today became England's longest reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria. Her reign has been 63 years and 200+ days, and likely a lot more to come as she certainly looks energetic and healthy for someone of her age.

A bit mind-boggling to think about it really. If you assume people maybe remember back to when they were around 4 or 5 years old I'd say around 85% of people in Britain have never known another monarch.

To put it into a Qatar perspective His Highness the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad, was born the same year Elizabeth became Queen (1952). The Emir at the time was Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani, and it was during his rule that Qatar started shipping out oil, which is when Qatar started developing its economy around petroleum. The Sheikh built the first medical facility in Qatar only five years before Elizabeth's reign and the first school was completed in 1949. Qatar has gone from such humble beginnings to the country it is today in roughly the same time-span as Queen Elizabeth's reign.

As for the Queen her reign is long but compared to world monarchs throughout history it is still modest. According to wikipedia her length of reign has just cracked into the top 50 in history (currently 48th). Heck, she's not even the longest-reigning monarch alive today -- the current King of Thailand's reign is about 6 years longer and still going. Still, I'm glad the Queen continues to be healthy and active, and I wish her many more years on the throne.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Qatar Stars League

In all the years I’ve lived in Qatar I never really followed the soccer league (henceforth I will call it ‘football’ since I’m not in North America). I have a team, Al Sadd, as they play in the neighbourhood I first lived in when I arrived in Qatar, and I have seen a few of their games. I’ve also been to the occasional Emir’s Cup and Heir Apparent’s Cup, so it’s not like I’ve never seen a game.

Well the new season starts this week so I decided to try to follow the League this year. I signed up to the League’s website,, and hope to go a game this weekend. The League has a membership for fans where you can get discounts at various shops and restaurants by showing your League card. There’s even levels to it: Standard, Bronze, Silver and Gold, based on the number of games you attend. Tickets aren’t expensive, they seem to range from QAR 10 to 50 depending on the seating.

I’m not expecting packed stadiums with thousands of fans. Typically the stadiums hold around 5-10 thousand but far less than that turn up. I’ll do my part to fill a seat.

We’ll see how this goes.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Tims Hortons in Gulf Mall is Open (but IHOP is not)

Was at Gulf Mall for breakfast and the Tim Hortons was open! It soft-opened yesterday.

It's much larger than the one in Ezdan with a lot more tables. That's good because the one in Ezdan was getting crowded and sometimes it was difficult to find a seat. This should take the pressure off.

Man, that was fast. I posted pictures of the place on August 14th and exclaimed there was no way the Tims would be open soon. Two-and-a-half weeks later it's open.

Contrast that with IHOP, which still isn't open. [September 26 update: still not open]

The notices on the window are work orders for various things, and will end on September 10th, so IHOP won't be open until at least then, probably longer. They need to get the guys who worked on Tim Hortons, then they'd have been open months ago.

In other Gulf Mall news there was some activity at Shake Shack so maybe it will open soon (soon-ish?) [Update: someone posted a comment that a staff member told him Shake Shack is aiming to open October 15th. We'll see . . .]

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Oil Price Impact on Qatar

(My nose is much better now, antibiotics are amazing.)

So after many months the oil price has not rebounded and during 2015 has been fluctuating roughly around $50-60 a barrel. That’s a big drop from the $100+ a barrel in the last few years. I was expecting a huge jolt here in Qatar but so far the impact has been moderate.

First off, the Government budget. Estimates I’ve read vary but at 2014-levels of spending the Qatar Government needed oil at around $70 to balance the budget. Some cuts have been made but the 2015 budget had a slight surplus provided oil was around $65. It’s not of course so the Government will be looking at a deficit for 2015. Unless there’s a decent rebound in the oil price the Government will likely make further cuts for 2016, maybe 10-15%, and I believe they are already planning it. I recall a news article a while back noting that 2016 budget submissions the Government had to include more detail about hiring Qataris or improving opportunities for Qataris, which indicates that they'll be some cuts to the non-Qatari government workforce in the future.

That's not to say it's all doom and gloom, tons of construction projects are still ongoing, especially those related to the 2022 World Cup. They like the stadiums, the Metro system etc. can't be delayed or cut back so the Government is continuing to spend money on those projects. It's keeping the construction sector pretty busy.

What about jobs? There have been a number of layoffs in the oil and gas sector of course, running into the thousands, but so far I haven’t seen a major trickle-down into the other sectors, possibly buoyed by the continuing growth in construction. I'm sure there's been a little bit of downsizing here and there but I haven't heard of mass layoffs at places like banks and schools. I did hear from a friend of mine that in many classes at one of the Western schools anywhere from 3-6 kids from each class have left the country, and there is a rumour that some schools now have small or no waiting lists. What I haven't noticed is a significant drop in traffic levels (for the summer it's still pretty busy and similar to what it was last year), and while I'm occasionally seeing “for rent” signs on some compounds it was nothing like back in 2009.

Job cuts haven’t ended yet though. A least one major company will be doing its downsizing sometime in the next couple of months, and the continued mediocre oil price will likely mean more layoffs at some of the oil and gas companies.

So are the astronomical rents decreasing? Not yet as far as I can tell. That said my experience of the Qatar real estate market is that it takes about six months for an impact to be felt, landlords tend to stop holding out for the higher rents by then. Even then it's a slow trickle effect, the areas to see it first are usually the ones that foreigners can buy property in (such as The Pearl or Zigzag towers). These owners have mortgages to pay so will be the first to drop the price in an attempt to attract a tenant. As those properties tend to be more in the luxury range as those prices drop it will push down prices in the lower and middle income sectors, but it will take time. The last few years prices in the Qatar real estate market were booming due to a supply-demand problem, the current layoffs may be simply allowing the supplied to catch up with the demand, who knows?

So the impact of the oil price in Qatar hasn’t been as earth-shattering as I anticipated – for now.