Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas in Doha 2015

Merry Christmas everyone!

I had a pleasant enough day. This morning a Qatari friend texted me to see if I'd join him for breakfast at a cafe, " . . . if you're not too hung over from all the partying last night." Huh? Was there some major party I didn't know about? (and he was a devout Muslim who doesn't drink so it wasn't something he would have attended). I went to breakfast and asked him about it, turns out he confused Christmas Eve with New Year's Eve, he thought on Christmas Eve all the Westerners had big parties with lots of drinking.

Christmas is not an official holiday in Qatar but it didn't matter as this year it's on a Friday so it was a day off for everyone anyway. In Qatar people can celebrate Christmas, and thousands go to services at the Cathedral, but for the hotels and other businesses they keep it subdued. They can sell Christmas items like Santa Clauses and stuff but I don't recall seeing anything Jesus-related. Hotels host functions but don't overdo it with all the decorations and so forth. The Government's tolerance can change year-to-year, some years the hotels have had huge Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and so forth, other years they "dial it back" a little.

As it was Friday the newspapers had their one or two page Religion columns and articles. I scanned two English-language papers to see if it would discuss the Prophet Isa (Jesus), acknowledging the holiday, but neither of them did instead focusing on word and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed or discussing the Qur'an.

It's not that Christmas is something to keep hushed up, I looked like this today as I wandered around town. No hassle.

By early afternoon it started raining, and I mean pouring. The clouds were so low they were touching the tops of the skyscrapers.

Many of the hotels have Christmas brunches, typically outdoors! Here's hoping they prepared a 'Plan B' for rain as there was no way to have it outside in that weather. The rain didn't stop me from going to a friend's house for a lovely Christmas dinner. In Qatar most of the hotels offer a package where you can order a turkey with the trimmings and you can pick it up on Christmas day. Saves a lot of cooking at home.

I told my friends that in Canada ordering your Christmas dinner from a 5-star hotel would be seen as a major luxury, I had never heard of anyone doing that before I moved to Qatar, but here in Qatar it's not uncommon.

My friends also had a pumpkin pie (not provided by a hotel). I think they did it just for me because I absolutely love pumpkin pie, it's my favourite. I had a double helping -- and I'm not ashamed. I'd do it again in an instant!

By the time the evening ended it was still pouring, so naturally the streets are all flooded again. I made in back fine but Doha will be looking at the same problems it had from that big storm last month.

Oh well, it was a wet but Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (no spoilers)

A friend was buying tickets to the new Star Wars film and managed to get tickets for a bunch of us to go. I hadn't been following all the recent hype about the new film and hadn't watched any of the trailers, I was really disappointed about the prequels (especially The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, blah!) so I wasn't excited about the new film. But after checking out it's rating on and discovering that (gasp!) critics were saying it's actually pretty good, I got a bit excited to go see the movie and I wanted to see it before details got spoiled.

So I went to the movie with a clean slate, absolutely no idea what was going to happen or who the new characters were.

First, the theatre. We went to the Novo theatre at the Pearl. I didn't realize until we got there that my friend had bought tickets to their most expensive theater, the Novo "7-star". I have to admit it was luxurious, huge comfortable seats that recline and have foot rests, essentially a Lazy-Boy chair. Embedded in the chair was an iPad that you can use for ordering your snacks and drinks, which are then delivered to you by a waiter. They even supply a pillow and blanket! The theater was steep so even with the seat fully reclined you had a complete view of the screen and if someone in the row ahead of you stood up it didn't block your view. The nicest theatre experience I ever had. You pay for it though – QAR 150 a ticket (~ US$ 41).

As for the movie itself it was definitely an entertaining film, I’d probably give it a 7.5/10. It did a much better job than the prequels of capturing the adventurous spirit of the originals, and the new characters were well developed and brought some of that lightness and humour that made people like Han Solo so endearing. The special effects were great without being too overused, and the movie moved away from all of the political/trade complexities that bogged down the prequels, sticking to the “we’re in trouble / lots of fighting and blaster fire / witty banter” formula of the original three films.

My one main criticism was that the movie was such a derivative of the original three films that at times it was more like a remake then a new movie. You'll know what I mean when you see it, so many things appeared to be just duplicating things from the original series that I found myself wishing that the producers could have been a bit more risky and done a lot more completely new things. This lack of originality hampered things a bit but I’m hopeful that the later films will take the story in new directions.

When it came to critics reviews it was the one issue that divided them. Critics who didn't care that the movie recycled many things gave the movie rave reviews, critics who cared more about it notched the movie down a bit to "good but not amazing".

Where does it rank in the canon of Star Wars films? I’d rank it below A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but well above any of the three prequels (which I have never had a desire to ever see again). Right now my gut feeling is to rank it just slightly below Return of the Jedi but that could change in the future if the subsequent films manage to really tie everything together well and make the new characters as iconic as the originals.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Qatar National Day 2015

I spoke with some friends about attending the parade and was told that I'd be lucky to get a seat if I arrived at 5:30am so I should aim to be there earlier. Before 5:30am? Ummmm, I gave that a pass. So I did what many people do and watched it on TV. (the photos are at a bit of an angle -- that's just how I roll. :) )

What about the rest of the day? After Friday prayers I met a friend at Tim Horton's for lunch. I made sure I had National colours on for the day.

At lunch I received a text from a Qatari friend to come to his majlis tonight. Sounded like a plan! Gone was heading to Souq Waqif to fight through the crowds to watch the fireworks.

So the evening was spent at my friend's majlis. A number of guys were there that I not seen in a while so it was good to catch up. One of the guys there was on weekend leave from mandatory military service and he got to be in the military parade so he was quite happy about that (apparently the training for the parade was tough though, marching drills are not easy).

We passed the time chatting, eating, drinking arabic coffee and playing Brazillia.

I hung out until after midnight, had I tried to go home any earlier I would have been stuck in the outrageous traffic that occurs near the Corniche and the Souq on National Day. In other years I've witnessed gridlock at 11pm. Anyone going to attend the fireworks really needs to plan accordingly.

All in all a great day. Happy National Day Qatar.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Darb Al Saai

As part of National Day Celebrations a large area is set up in the Al Sadd neighbourhood where there's traditional activities, food and so forth. I decided to head over tonight and take a look.

Even from a distance there's no mistaking it, the place was huge:

Parking was a bit of a problem as there were a lot of people. There are vacant lots a bit farther away that had almost no cars so if you want easy parking try not to park close to the buildings.

Sadly as I arrived I was told by the police that it was "Family Only". Now a lot of times things that are family-only, such as Fridays at malls, are not strictly enforced against Westerners but here at Darb Al Saai they meant it -- ladies and families only. So I wasn't allowed in. :(

I took a couple of pictures from the outside on my way back.

It looked nice. Oh well, off to Souq Waqif.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Qatar Convention Centre

One thing about the summer is that you go about six months without going outside too much, so when things are being constructed you don't bother checking to see how it's doing and then when the weather cools down you can see all the advancement that happened. The other evening I was in West Bay and decided to take a walk to the newly opened Convention Centre just behind City Centre Mall.

Nice building!

The place was huge, I think it's longer than the mall. At the time there was a 'Made in China' convention and that only took up one of five convention halls.

Now is there a reason to bother going there if there isn't a convention going on? The centre does have a small Lina's Cafe if you like Lina's. It's on the side near Al Fardan Towers.

With the new convention centre I suppose they'll now be shutting down the Exhibition Centre near Katara, which is a bit of a shame as a would sometimes meet friends there at the Costa Coffee.

Now on to explore more exciting areas. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to see the new park by the Sheraton, check and see if Souq Al Wakra is finished (it's been about 6 months since I've been there), see what's happened at Lusail, and hopefully hit a time when the traffic is good to wander around the Pearl. There's always something new in Qatar.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

National Day is Coming!

National Day is next week, as anyone who has been out shopping would be able to tell. I was at a souq in Madinat Khalifa and the tailors were busy with National Day clothes (also I finally figured out where people get those cute little military uniforms for their kids).

This year National Day is on a Friday so I'm not sure how that will impact some of the morning festivities. The military parade will go ahead, they're putting the bleachers up near the Corniche now, but other than that things that in the past were held mid-day might shift to the late afternoon and evening.

I might try to get to the parade this year. I know, I know, it seems that I say that every year and then don't go. To get seats you have to go really, really early and I'm just not a morning person. I'll see if some of the friends are going, that'll give me the push to get up, but they don't generally go either.

Otherwise I will likely be at Souq Waqif that evening. The place is insanely busy during National Day which makes it fun.

Start making plans for National Day now, things might be booked up already.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Doha International Book Fair

Today I went to the Book Fair at the Qatar National Convention Centre. The fair is on until the 12th but given how crazy traffic can be on workday evenings I figured this would be my best chance to see it without getting stuck in gridlock.

To get there you have to go past the enormous spider sculpture they have in the hall. It’s an unusual piece and it creeps me out. Guess better that it’s here than freaking people out at the airport.

The Fair is huge! This picture isn’t even all of it.

So I spent a lot of time wandering the aisles. Tons and tons of books were available. A lot of people were there and some booths were pretty busy.

Most of the books were in Arabic but you could find English books here and there, both fiction and non-fiction. Kids books and educational toys were plentiful, even some classics.

A couple of stores even sold manga, which is something I don’t recall seeing at the previous Fairs.

As it was Qatar-Turkey cultural year there were some large booths dedicated to Turkey, where I got some free literature of excerpts from Turkish poems and literature. They even had some actors looking like classical Turkish scribes.

It took a while but I managed to find what I was looking for, an English translation of the Abu Dawud hadiths. Sunni Muslims generally follow six collections of hadiths and I had summaries of the two most important ones (the al-Bukhari and the al-Muslim) so I wanted to find the third most important. It’s five volumes though so it’ll take some time to peruse through. Maybe I’ll save some of it for my Ramadan reading.

What more can I say? The Fair is a good place to stock up on some books, even English ones. Given there aren't a lot of good bookstores in Doha this might be your chance to find something nice.

Thursday, December 03, 2015


Some years ago I posted about miswak, a type of twig that people in the Middle East in North Africa use for cleaning teeth. Here’s a recap of how it works:

Get some miswak, available at almost every pharmacy and, I think, in some shops in souqs.

Remove the bark from one end so that the strands in the center of the twig are exposed.

Rub on your teeth. Try to get some bristles in-between the teeth as well.

It was a weird feeling, something I’m not sure I could get used to. There’s definitely some kinds of chemicals in the bristles as I could feel, I don’t know, a spicy sensation? Anyway, it was odd.

Even now many Arabs use miswak to clean their teeth instead of a toothbrush and toothpaste so I guess it was only a matter of time . . .

Yep, miswak toothpaste. Available in supermarkets in Qatar. But why myrrh as well? Anyway I didn’t buy it, was kind of afraid of what it would taste like. Maybe I’ll get a small tube and try it next time I’m in the store.

I’m going to guess you’re not going to find Colgate selling it in North America or Western Europe.