Monday, October 16, 2017

Souq Al Wakra

Now that the intense heat of the summer is over I decided to do a bit of exploring and see areas of Qatar and I would not normally go to in the summer. There's so much construction going on in Qatar right now that in just four or five months a lot can change.

I had some time one afternoon before meeting friends in Wakra so I went to the Wakra Souq to see how it was developing. It is a lot more finished then when I visited last, all of the restaurants and cafes along the Corniche appeared to be open, some of the interior shops were also open, and more importantly they completed the beach.

The shore by the beach was dredged to make it deeper and thus much easier to swim in. Unlike much of the coastline in Qatar you don't have to walk out 100m just to get in knee-deep water. As far as I could tell using the beach is free, however bear in mind that there are a lot of rules:

The beach is family-only (and I'm willing to bet they mean it, there were a lot of security guards) but more importantly there is a strict dress code. Sorry ladies, no bikinis or even standard "Western" swimsuits, you need to be a bit more covered up here. Guys will be okay with what I call "surfer shorts" (long shorts that go to the knee) but anything smaller is not allowed. One other issue with this beach is that there isn't much in the way of shade. You might get some resting at the site of a dhow but other than that you'll need to bring a beach umbrella. On the plus side all the restaurants and cafes are right there are so it's easy to get a snack or treat.

As for the other shops it looks like a few chain restaurants were going to open soon, and they even have a small falcon and pet souq, similar to the one in Souq Waqif. Overall Souq Al Wakra is at least the same size as Souq Waqif, maybe even a bit bigger, so it'll need a lot of visitors to look busy. The Corniche seemed to be doing okay though.

If you feel like braving the traffic to go to Wakra then consider visiting the Souq, a quieter alternative to Souq Waqif.

Monday, October 09, 2017

German Design Exhibition

Today I went with some friends to the new Exhibition on German Design, at the building next to the Islamic Museum.

The rooms were organized by decade and discussed the changes in how Germans approached design for various items. Cars were a big part of the exhibits, with examples by Porsche and Volkswagen.

But it wasn't just cars. Computers, plastic and wooden furniture, clothing, experimental design artwork, it was actually pretty interesting walking around and seeing all the stuff.

One of the coolest rooms was a Sound Room that contained a large keyboard where each key was a sound from a Porsche, ranging from interior sounds to the sound it would make as it passed by you at different speeds. It was fun to play around with that for a while.

Like I said some of it was experimental and not designed for common use, such as this hat that has movable parts and intricate lighting. It was used in the video for "Automation" by the musician Jamiroquai (you can see the video on YouTube). Not something that people would generally be wearing, except maybe when cosplaying.

Anyway the Exhibition is definitely worth a visit, and kids would probably enjoy it as well. It's in Doha until mid-January.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Fresh Dates

I was at a friend's majlis the other day and he had a gift for me:

Dates from his palm trees. It was his first harvest from the trees at his home. Not that the trees were young, it takes time for a palm tree to mature enough to produce dates. The trees were from his father's farm, which were dug up and transported to his home.

I bet you are thinking, "Those are dates? They don't look ripe". To us foreigners perhaps, yes, they don't look like ripe dates, ripe dates are dark brown and wrinkly. For Arabs dates have varying stages of ripeness and many prefer eating them before they have reached that brown, wrinkly stage (called "tamr" in Arabic). This old blog post of mine gives a bit more detail about those stages. The dates my friend gave me looks like they are in the "bessar" stage. They will become more ripe over time but my friend said they are great to eat now. I've tried them and eating crunchy, unsweet dates is just not for me. I'll wait awhile longer to let them get more ripe.

As for what variety the dates are they are a local variety called "barhi". I haven't seen this variety in stores here but searching the internet they are sold in other places. My popular blog post "Varieites of Dates" didn't have this particular cultivar. I won't be adding it at the moment, the dates would need to reach the tamr stage if I were to try to compare them to the others.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Back from Vacation

It was a long trip, thanks to getting a week off for the Eid holiday. I was away almost a month! I didn't post beforehand as I get a bit concerned that someone reading the blog might realize I'm out of the country and try to burgle my apartment -- extremely unlikely here in Qatar but it has happened to people elsewhere in the world.

First I was off to Thailand with a lot of friends (all told it was 15 of us, yes 15). It was my first time in Thailand and we had rented villas in a compound in the island of Koh Samui. We did a lot, a boat trip, BBQ, went to see the Muy Thai fights, explored temples, did an ATV excursion in the jungle, did go-kart racing, we packed a lot into five days.

From there I was off to England. I really wanted some cool, cloudy weather after months of Qatar heat and I certainly wasn't going to get that in Thailand. I was only going to be there a week before heading to Turkey to meet friends but in the end my friends had to cancel so I decided to stay in England and tour around the country. I went to a lot of places: York, Cambridge, Ely, Chichester, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Wawrick and of course London for a number of days. I won't go into the details as it was such a long trip but I really enjoyed seeing the England outside of London.

As for Qatar unfortunately it's still hot and the blockade is still in place. It was a distant hope that it would have been lifted while I was away but alas it was not to be.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Update on Life in Qatar

What has it been now, 2 months since the blockade started? It doesn't look like it’s going to be lifted anytime soon. At this point though it doesn't seem to matter too much that it will be continuing as everyone has been getting used to it.

I know many Qataris and while they continue to monitor the news about the situation everyone has sort of moved on with their lives and accepted that things have changed. The country now has new supply routes for food, and shipping of other goods has now be re-routed through places like Oman and India. It's unlikely that they will go back to using UAE or Saudi even if the blockade is lifted, those trade links are gone. Some products in shops are different, now instead of Saudi brands you see Turkish, European or Indian, otherwise there hasn't been much of a difference. If a visitor came to Qatar they might not even realize there was a blockade.

What they would see is tons of portraits of His Highness on billboards, buildings, cars, the walls of homes, everywhere. If the Saudi/UAE were hoping that the blockade would help turn people against His Highness they heavily mis-gambled as the crisis only served to strengthen support from the people. I have not heard of any Qatari who thought Qatar's approach to the crisis was wrong, or that Saudi/UAE were right in what they did. No one. Not even an inkling that maybe things should change. Support for the Royal Family has only grown stronger. I've never recalled such unity in the past, even major events such as receiving the 2022 World Cup did not have universal support amongst the Qatari people.

From what I can tell Qataris are saddened that this crisis has unfolded the way it has and that it is now severing the unity of the GCC. Financially Qatar can manage the impact just fine and are even developing a new gas field which will supply even more revenue, making the short-term financial impact from the blockade moot. Most Qataris have moved on, accepted that vacationing or doing business in places like Dubai is over, that goods from Saudi and the UAE aren't returning (and they probably wouldn't buy them if they did) and that there is a new reality going forward. At this stage having the blockade last a year wouldn't make much of a difference to many people anymore. They wish it would end of course but accept it might be in place for a long time.

There are some industries that are taking a hit though. Tourism is one (a significant number of visitors were from Saudi) so the hotels have surely seen an impact, as would some restaurants and tourist venues. Small traders who relied on shipments trucked in from Saudi also have problems, it's not so easy for small companies to simply shift trade routes like the large companies can. I also assume the used car market is taking a beating as well, lots of used cars were sold to Saudis then driven across the border. That market is gone.

As for my life it hasn't really changed. The malls are still open, my favourite restaurants still operate, everyone still meets at majlises or cafes as before, there was no mass exodus out of the country, and leisure activities and vacations are happening as usual. I had never been to Saudi Arabia before anyway so it's not like closing the border made a big difference to my travels. Life is, perhaps surprisingly, pretty much the same as it was before the crisis.

I still hope things settle down and the blockade ends though.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017


A few days ago a friend of mine was surfing the net looking for some local artwork to hang up in his house. He found some nice charcoal sketches by a Yemeni artist who lives in Qatar. My friend called him and found out that he sells his work from a stall at the Souq Waqif Art Centre so we headed out there. My friend bought the two pieces that he liked but came up with an idea -- let's have him do sketches of us as well. I figured what the heck and went along with it.

Now these aren't those 20-minute portraits that you get from guys sitting around tourist areas in Europe, his work typically take a day or two. So the artist took a series of pictures of us and would use them for the drawing.

I went and picked them up today. Here's mine:

So what do you think? Is my forehead really that big?! (I suppose it is. *sigh*)

I'm not sure what it is about the portrait, perhaps it's due to the black/white composition, maybe it's a bit of artistic license, but I think it's a cross between me and someone trying to capture the classic look of an Egyptian movie star. Like I'd be one of the supporting characters shown on the edge of a movie poster or something. Maybe it's the suit.

Anyway it has good detail and came with the frame and glass. I think he did a great job with my friend's portrait (Not going to show you though, sorry).

If you're interested in getting a portrait done just go to the Souq Waqif Art Centre and check out the various tables. A few of the artists there do portraits so hopefully someone has a style that you like.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Art Exhibit Featuring "Glory to Tamim"

I was at the W Hotel meeting some friends when their daughter pointed to a sign about an art exhibit on the top floor about the "Glory to Tamim" illustration (I spoke about it in a blog post here).

So we went up and the top floor had been turned into an art gallery, featuring the work of Ahmed Al Maadheed, the Qatari artist who created the illustration of Sheikh Tamim that has now been a rallying image for people across the country. Or at least I thought it was an illustration, it turns out that it is a painting and the original is on display at the gallery.

There were also a number of other works by Mr. Al Maadheed, including portraits of previous Emirs as well as more cultural themes such as falconry.

As well as a portrait of Turkish President Erdogan, probably painted recently when Turkey backed Qatar in this current political crisis:

The paintings will be on display until September. It's amazing how events can change ones life, in just a few weeks Mr. Al Maadheed became one of Qatar's most famous artists. His portrait of Sheikh Tamim is now priceless to the people of Qatar.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Canada Day!

I've been away on vacation this Eid (I'll post about that later) but I'm back in Doha in time to wish everyone a Happy Canada Day. Canada is 150 years old today, while it was a series of colonies going back to the 1600s it was not an official nation until 1867.

With it being both the summer and Eid there was not much happening here. Most Western expats were away on vacation and with the universities finished until after the summer a lot of Canadians (such as the people working here at the College of the North Atlantic) left a couple of weeks ago. Because of this some celebrated early, and I was at a Canada Day party on June 15th that was hosted by a friend.

One of my Qatari friends went to university in Canada and really fell in love with the country so suggested that today we all meet at a majlis and he'll make poutine for the occasion. We didn't get back from vacation until 2am this morning so we were all too beat to meet up tonight but maybe this weekend we'll try it. Today was just resting and recovering.

Happy Canada Day everyone!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What does one do during Eid

The first day of Eid is a major holiday for Qataris. Last night the plan was for the guys to meet up at a majlis but only if Eid was not called. Since Eid was called the meet-up was cancelled -- it's a busy day today for Qataris. While most people will have a week off of work Qataris will not go away on holiday until after the first day of Eid.

Yesterday the malls were packed with shoppers getting ready for the holiday. For florists and chocolate shops it was busy as people were buying flowers and treats for all of the visiting that they would be doing during Eid.

Firstly there is an Eid prayer that takes place around 5am. Most Muslim men will attend the prayers and mosques will be overflowing. The Government even supplied a list of locations that will hold the prayer so people know which mosques to attend.

Then the visiting begins. Qataris will be driving all over town visiting relatives. Given the large size of Qatari families I believe there is a lot of visiting as you should go pay your respects to your parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and so on (and don't forget the in-laws!). Flowers and sweets will be given and you need to have money handy to give to any children or young people present, it's tradition to give young people money as part of Eid. This can be a serious commitment of cash, check out my blog post from two years ago for an example. My understanding is that toy stores do a booming business after the first day of Eid.

There will also be dinner with family. While you have to fast during Ramadan it is a religious requirement that you don't fast during Eid. Eid is a celebration of the end of the fast.

As for me, I will enjoy being able to eat during the day and also being able to sit in a café with a coffee. I missed coffee.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Eid Mubarak everyone!

So Eid was announced tonight, Ramadan is officially over! It was a day earlier than I expected.

Needless to say this Ramadan did not go anything like I had expected. Only a week into Ramadan and suddenly there was a mass blockade of Qatar and all of the craziness that ensued. Not a lot of time for reading usul-al-fiqh, time was taken up with following developments or discussing them with people. At work it was the main topic of conversation every day.

Of course it isn't over yet. Qatar has a list of demands (so broad and bizarre that they're being mocked on social media and online) and Qatar has 10 days to respond. I think there's seven days left to the deadline. What happens after that is anyone's guess.

Until then, Eid Mubarak everybody!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ramadan 2017 - Corniche Car Parade

Because of all that's been happening this month I also forgot the car parade (thanks to Doha News for reminding me). Every day during Ramadan, around 5 o'clock, people take their cars down to the Corniche and drive around. In previous years lots of people were bringing out their fanciest cars or vintage cars to display them at this unofficial "parade". This year there is a different theme, influenced by the recent political events. This year it's about national pride. Lots of cars had images of Sheikh Tamim, especially that illustration from my previous post.

There were also a lot of children standing through the sunroofs of cars, many of them wearing military uniforms. In previous years the police were cracking down on people letting kids stand through the sunroof but this year it doesn't appear that anyone is concerned because it was happening a lot.

There's still a few more days left to Ramadan if you want to go to the Corniche and check out the parade.