Saturday, December 29, 2007

Test results were okay

The test results on the nerves in my hand/arms came back as OK. It was a strange test involving running electrical currents through my arms, which made them twitch every time I got a shock. A few of the tests had some upped amperage and my whole body twitched a but from it while my arm jumped almost a foot! Anyway, the prob is not constricted nerves.

The tenderness in my hands has subsided a bit so I'm hopeful that my three week break in Canada will really give them time to heal up fully. I think I'll take my brother's advice and look into some physio exercises while I'm in Canada. My hands are now at the point that proper exercises shouldn't cause them to get worse.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

why no updates?

Sadly my hands are still not better. So far been to three doctors and now the thought is that it is some kind of problems with the nerves, either their pinched on constricted somewhere. I have a neurological test scheduled for the 27th so hopefully that sheds some light on what's going on. The amount I've been typing has been scaled back heavily and I haven't driven my car in 2 months so I hope doctors get to the bottom of this soon. I'll update after I get the test results.

It's not too painful, just uncomfortable, so don't worry that I'm in agony or anything.

Since updates will be later have a Merry Xmas everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An adopted dog

Thanks to the person who sent me the updated link to the Qatar Animal Welfare Society, my friend and his family stopped by on the weekend and adopted a nice german shepard cross. Your post to this blog found a dog a new home!

As for Beijing, I figured my next posts would be a simple "odds that..." format to give you a slice of life in Beijing.

Odds That In Beijing a girl coming up to you to practice English is really only interested in practising English . . . 50% (2 of 4)

Two girls I met at Tienanmen were genuinely wanting to practice English. One was really good, the other's English was pretty poor. The other girls, which I met on the shopping street and in a high-end mall, we more interested in getting me to "have coffee" at some teahouse somewhere down some alleyway. I declined and was later informed by my friend in Beijing that if you accept such offers there's a hefty bill waiting for you at the teahouse, as well as some muscle to make sure you pay it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

So, what have I been up to lately?

I haven't mentioned what I've been up to lately. Aside from work, now that the weather is pleasant a bunch of us have been organizing meet-ups on the weekend to various places in Qatar. This week we went to Sealine Beach resort south of Doha to hang out on the beach and go swimming. The week before that it was a Diwali celebration hosted by one of my Indian coworkers, and a couple of weeks ago we went to Souq Waqif, a marketplace designed to look like an old traditional souq. It has a lot of shisha cafes and restaurants so it is popular with locals. On top of that the Natural History group is up and running again so I've been going out on the field trips that they organize.

And a coworker has been organizing viewings of classic movies at his apartment every Friday afternoon. This week it is Double Indemnity. Last week it was Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise), a 3+ hour French romance hailed as the French equivalent of Gone with the Wind. I was surprised that I found it to be a good movie despite the fact I'm not fond of romances.

Other movies I've seen via "classic movie afternoon":

To Have and Have Not
The Seven Samurai
Mr. Hulot's Vacation

In other news yet another person in Qatar has mentioned to me that they found my blog on internet searches, which is why I'll reiterate that you are never going to read stories about my workplace on this blog!

What about Beijing? Well I'm off to Bahrain on business for three days so I'll post a bit more about that when I return.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sorry about the delay - updates

Wow, I have been remiss in posting. Sorry about that, with the RSI I've been trying to stay away from computing but 2+ weeks is a bit much.

Beijing: Although I hate commercials one of the things that I like doing in a new country is to watch the commercials on TV. Commercials are like a window into society and do a resonable job in reflecting things that the society cares about or are concerned with. So what did I find in Beijing commercials?

-- lots of ads for skin creams, including ones that 'whiten' skin
-- lots of ads for supplements and vitamins that will make your baby/child more intelligent, stronger etc.
-- lots of Olympic ads

what I didn't see much of:
-- ads for movies, TV shows or other entertainment
-- ads for applicances or cars
-- ads for airlines or travel

My favourite was an Olympics 2008 ad featuring the five official mascots. Now, most Olympic ads in the West are about gearing people up for it and emphasing the excitement of the games. But China is different - in China the ads were about how citizens should behave in preparation for the games! No joke! The ads featured the mascots instructing people to pick up trash, help tourists, form orderly queues and even instructed people to not talk loudly on cell phones in public transit. Bizarre. Obey Citizen!

Currency peg: talk in the media is that despite all the talk from the Central Banks that they will not de-peg or revalue the currency (due to the $US dollar decline) at least one of UAE or Qatar will drop the peg within 6 months. Interesting news, I hope they do that here, it means my money is worth more.

My trip back to Canada in January is booked. Good news is that I will be visiting Vancouver for the first time in about three years -- it'll be nice to see everyone again. Bad news: not visiting Bermuda en route. I couldn't get the flights to work out so I'm going to Vancouver via London rather than the US. Maybe next year Bermuda.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Return from Beijing.

Okay, I'm back! Had a great time and it'll take a number of posts to explain it all. First, the conference. The conference was known as the “World Congress of Scientific Inquiry and Human Well-being: Improving Science Spirits and Building Harmony Society”. The conference was more academic and serious than a TAM with dozens of professors and researchers giving 15-minute talks on a number of topics. Some of the local talks were . . . different, with titles like “The sci-tech culture leads the construction of a harmonious society” or “A special case reflecting the worship of numbers: the numeric metaphors in Chinese internal dan theories” but some were more down-to-earth and discussed items like the results of science teaching initiatives in rural schools. Western presenters included Peter Atkins, Scott Atran, Daniel Dennett, Murray Gell-Mann, Lawrence Krauss, Edward Kruglyakov, Jean-Claude Pecker, Paul Kurtz, and a number more. Most of the time the various presentations were held simultaneously in two rooms so I could only see about half of them.

The talks were only 15-minutes, which didn’t really give much time. Only two talks that I attended were affected by having to stop so that the Chinese interpreter could translate for the audience, essentially only giving the speaker about 8 minutes! Pecker and Kruglyakov’s talks were affected, and Krauss and Atran, once seeing this, refused to stop their talks for translation, telling the hosts to translate a summary afterward.

For talks in Chinese a translator sat next to us foreigners (at any given time 3-8 of us) and would verbally translate the talk to English as it was given, so Chinese speakers did not have to pause for translation. It generally worked out well but sometimes the translators would not know how to translate if a talk got very technical. All-in-all though having the translators was much appreciated. With only 15-minutes though none of the talks could go into much depth.

What was interesting was that the Chinese talks were heavy on ideology and key buzzwords, similar to most speeches you hear from Comm Party meetings. Lots of mention of “science spirit”, “embracing science popularisation”, and “harmonious society” in almost every talk. It was sort of a cross between a science conference and Communist meeting. I’ve been told by westerners at the conference who live in China that this is fairly typical for speeches in China --and let’s not forget that all of the Chinese speakers were from a government-approved list.

As for the non-presentation part of the conference it was great! With so few foreigners there, I think there were all of about 8 of us there who were not giving presentations, we were invited to all of the events and tours so you got to chat with many of the speakers. Any distance between speakers and attendees didn’t exist: Jean-Claude sat down at our table for lunch one day, Gell-Mann the next, Krauss joined our table for dinner, Dennett went out with us to the TGIF for a drink one afternoon and so on. All of the speakers were very approachable and this was no exception: no attitude, just regular folks looking to meet with other attendees and speakers to chat. Just that instead of 900+ people at TAM (the Vegas conference I went to last January) there were about 30 of us, Westerners that is. Our hosts provided us with lunch every day, two banquets with entertainment (acrobats, magician, ladies playing traditional instruments), front-row seats at a Chinese Opera, and a tour of the Great Wall. I appreciated all of the work that they did for us, they were wonderful hosts.

One amusing thing was that because there were so few foreigners a lot of the local attendees assumed that I was “somebody”. I got asked many times what my talk was going to be about and lots of people were taking my photo during the sessions. Any westerner was a minor celebrity there.

I had a few days after the conference so did the usual sights: Forbidden City, Temple of Heavan, Summer Palace (my favourite), Lama Temple, acrobat show, some shopping for pearls & jade. Another attendee stayed over for a couple of days so we did most of the sights together, everyone else had moved on to a week-long tour to Xian etc. In the evenings I usually met up with a guy I met on the JREF forum who showed me various bars to sample the Beijing nightlife.

I'll post more about the sights & sound of Beijing over the next week or so.
For those of you on the e-album list it is on its way.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm off to China!

Heading to the airport in two hours for my trip to Beijing. Because the Eid holiday starts today this will likely be one of the busiest times at the airport this year - so I'm giving myself 3 1/2 hours to check in and board.

I took some time today to review my Lonely Planet guide to Beijing and they had a bunch of phrases at the back for people to say if they need to get key info across in Mandarin. So I tried it out on a Chinese coworker (Singaporean actually) to make sure that I had the pronounciations correct. It was great doing this because I discovered:

-- the english sayings in the Lonely Planet are not phonetic;
-- Chinese people cannot understand a word that I say in Mandarin; and
-- Saying things from the guidebook is a great way to get Chinese people to laugh hysterically, which should be useful to break the ice at parties.

For example, one of the words Lonely Planet lists as 'bushi'. How would you proounce that reading from the book? Bu-shi is my guess. How is the word really pronounced?


So why the %@$&@# does the guide say bushi ??! This was repeated with most of the words I tried - my colleague had no clue why the book translated them this way, but laughed and laughed at my attempts to say them.

Also, from the limited phrases given in the guidebook it appears Lonely Planet readers are generally concerned with things like:

"use the meter please"
"where does this bus go?"
"where is the nearest gay nightclub?"

but the guide is silent on "where is the toilet?" or words like "left" "right" or "down the street two blocks". Apparantly it is much more vital for Lonely Planet readers to find gay nightlife than a washroom. (I don't even want to think about why - is that even legal in China?)

Anyway looks like I'll stick to English as much as possble. See ya in 10 days!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Road fatalities and other updates

Geez it's been two weeks since last update. Hands are improving but not 100% so I'm still taking it easy. General updates:

A comment was recently posted on an old blog post that the website for the Qatar Animal Welfare Society has moved to . Coincidentally the day before I was talking to a colleague who recently moved here, his family was thinking of getting a pet. So thanks to the person who sent the update.

The newspapers recently reported that last year Qatar had 207 road fatalities, which works out to approximately 6.9 deaths per 10,000 vehicles on the road. For comparison this webpage has the deaths per 10,000 cars rate for most countries in the world for 1996, in the US the rate was 2.0, Canada's was 1.8. Thus 6.9 is pretty bad. The Government has just passed tougher laws and installed more speed cameras in an attempt to crack down but people are skeptical as to whether it will be enforced. Time will tell. I think the problem is not the laws, it is just that enforcing those laws, and punishing reckless drivers, is weak at best.

[update: I think my rate calculation for Qatar is overinflated, please see my post of 28 January 2011]

I forgot to mention that it's Ramadan now. Restaurants are closed all day, only opening in the evening and alcohol is not for sale anywhere in the country. All the Muslims are fasting now so it makes for cranky drivers near the end of the day. I like Ramadan though because the morning commute is much better and we get to leave work 2 hours early. For people into nightlife the only option is house parties.

A week to go before I'm off to Beijing! I'm definately looking forward to it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

RSI flare-up

Sorry everyone but my RSI is kicking up again. Looks like I didn't rest it enough. Have to relax and cut-down on the typing and computer use. Damn, RSI is annoying.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

So, about Abu Dhabi

So what was I doing in Abu Dhabi you ask? Well Monday September 3rd was a national holiday so everyone in the office was planning four-day getaway vacations by taking Sunday off. A coworker and I were thinking about going to Damascus to look around.

Then one day in August an announcement was made from the Palace. Sept 3rd is no longer a public holiday! It will instead be replaced by a public holiday on Dec 18th. (In an absolute monarchy things like that can happen, with a wave of an Emir's hand public holidays can disappear.) Suddenly those 4-day weekend plans ground to a halt.

I still wanted to do something that weekend so I went down to Qatar Holidays to see if they had any deals for a 2-night getaway. Sure enough they had a deal that was too good to pass up - a shocking reasonable getaway to nearby Abu Dhabi to stay at the Emirates Palace Hotel.

Definately check out the link, this place is supposed to be one of the grandest hotels in the world (there is also a wikipedia entry on it. So with such a good deal I figured what the heck!)

I emailed my friends Mike & Elushka in Dubai to let them know I'd be around and they decided to drive down and stay a night as well.

Well the place was truly awesome - and huge! Upon getting to check in someone came by to give me a cold towel, followed by someone else with stuffed dates, followed by another person with water & arabic coffee. A clerk showed me to my room (something like 300m away in the East Wing) and at the desk in my room is where I signed all the check-in paperwork. Meanwhile the bellhop brought my bags and a butler(!) came in with a glass of orange juice. Once the check-in clerk left the butler showed me the various room features, including the 52" plasma TV. So far I was impressed. All non-alcoholic drinks in the mini-bar were complementary as well.

So the next day was spent lounging around the West Wing pools with Mike, Elushka and their son Keelan. The West pools had a current pool that went inb a circle for around 200m, plus waterslides. We had a great, and relaxing, time.

The next day I stayed at the East Wing pool, and hung out at the pool bar or relaxed on a lounge chair. I didn't do anything fancy or see the sights in Abu Dhabi I'm afraid, maybe next time.

So was it worth it? At the heavily reduced price that I got it was worth a one-time splash in luxury. Would I do it more often at that price? No, still a little pricey (one beer is approx $13). Would I do it at regular prices of $500+ a night? Heck No!! But it was nice to really experience how the other 1% of uber-rich people live, if only just once.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Brief updates on currency

Abu Dhabi was cool, more on that later . . .

As for the unified Gulf currency planned for 2010, an economist says it is unlikely to happen. Oman has backed out, Kuwait removed their currency peg, and the UAE is starting to waffle on the idea. Looks like a common currency is out. Shame, I appeciated how much introducing the Euro simplified things, and a GCC currency could have done the same.

In other banking news looks like the Central Bank is getting "tough" with banks lending money to individuals. Now such loans are capped at something like QR2.5 million (a paltry US$686,000) and the maximum repayment term is 84-months. That's cracking down?? No wonder these banks have so many defaults if they are willing to lend large sums like that over 7-years.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Out for the weekend

Taking a quick weekend getaway to Abu Dhabi. My friends Mike & Elushka are going to drive down from Dubai and meet me there so it should be a fun weekend. None of us have been there before so we'll take a bit of time to see the sights. I'll post again when I return.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another journey

Well everything has been finalized and it looks like I have another conference coming up in October.

So where am I heading this time? . . . .

I can’t quite believe it myself . . .


Yes, I’m off to China in October! The conference is three days but I’ve taken some time off so will be there for a week to see the sights. Got my guide book, already spoken to a few people who have been there – I can’t wait to go now.

My one hesitation is the air pollution, some types of air pollution can sting my eyes fiercely, so I can only hope that I’ll be okay while I’m there. If the air quality really affects me then this trip could turn out to be a misery instead of interesting. I’ll try to arm myself with eyedrops before I go.

Forbidden City here I come!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Here she is!

Happy Birthday Karis!

A Happy Birthday wish to my niece Karis. I'll try to dig up a photo for the blog - she's so cute! She is one of those rare children who rarely cried through the night, thus letting Mommy & Daddy get a decent night's sleep. She calls me "Unkee Glen", mostly with "No" around it, such as "No, Unkee Glen, no!" whenever I do something she doesn't want me to do (but she's cute when she says that too).

It is an unfortunate part of living so far away that you rarely see family. I only visit Canada once a year, so it has been a while since Karis has seen Unkee Glen. Hopefully she recognizes me when I visit in Janauary!

Have a wonderful Birthday Karis! *kiss*

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Liquor Permits

So after being here about 15 months I finally broke down and got a liquor permit. You see in Qatar you need a license to have alcohol at home, otherwise the only place to buy it is a hotel bar. I wasn't too fussed about it so I didn't bother with the permit but I'm finding the prices at bars so outrageous (~$8-9 a drink) that I decided if only so save money I should get one. That Ramadan is coming up (when even the bars can't serve alcohol) is a factor as well.

So I had to fill out a form, get copies of my passport and work permit, and get a letter from my employer noting:

-- that I am allowed to have a liquor permit. Can't get one without employer permission.
-- my salary, as it affects how much I can purchase a month.
-- my marital status (??)
-- where I live (??)

oh, and pay a QR1000 ($US275) refundable deposit.

So I go to the only liquor store, wait an hour at the permit office with about 10 other guys (only men were there for permits for some reason), then got a permit card with my picture on it so I could buy some alcohol right away!

My monthly limit was mind-numbing. For a country that restricts alcohol I certainly wasn't expecting the limit that I got. Think 4-figures $US! A month! I'd have to open a small bar to go through that much booze.

So now I'm stocked up with some spirits to get me through the next couple of months. I shouldn't need to go to the bars now if I want to drink something, especially since and entire bottle of spirits from the store costs less than 3 drinks at a bar.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Premium vs. Regular gas

I had always wondered what the difference in octane between premium, super and regular gas was supposed to do. A little research came up with some surprising results. The difference is very little, except price of course. Apparantly lower octane can cause pinging, but only if your car engine is designed for high octane fuel (check your manual for recommeded octane) and it doesn't have some kind of engine stabilizer to prevent pinging, which almost all cars have. So in other words paying extra for premium or super gas is usually a waste of money.

While I could like to all sorts of technical websites, the guys who run Car Talk, a popular North American radio show about cars, do a better job of descibing the situation. Read about it here. My favourite quote:
We don't believe that any modern engine that claims to require premium will be damaged by using regular unleaded judiciously. Neither do any of the sources we've checked with — including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Engine Rebuilders Association — even a chemist (who would rather go unnamed) at a major gasoline company.

So save some money and use regular gas!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A trip to the movies

Wasn't doing much the other evening so decided to check out "The Simpsons Movie" as I had heard that it was pretty good. This will mark the second time I have been out to the movies in Doha since I arrived 16 months ago. No particular reason, I'm just not a big movie buff.

Like North America the movie theaters in Qatar now have that nice "Silver City" type seating with drink holders etc. Tickets were QR30 (~$8) but drinks were fairly standard, a small popcorn and soda was QR12 (~$3.50).

Now one thing that many around here mention about the movie theater is that in Qatar apparantly it is perfectly acceptable to keep your cell phone on, answer calls, or chat loudly with your friends during a movie. Everyone complains about that. Luckily for me the theater was only about 30% full and I don't recall anyone chatting away or doing other annoying things. I guess that's the sign of a good film right there.

What this cinema had that I hadn't seen anywhere else was a "VIP theater". I guess serfs like me use the other 13 screens while the VIP theater is for important people or something. I found where it was and since nothing was showing there at the moment I snuck in to take a look. Pretty nice I must say. The seats reminded me of business class seats on an airplane. Looks like they swiveled side-to-side as well (which goes to show how much space there was between seats). The cup holder was to the left of the armrest and had wood panelling. They probably have waiters come by with your food & drink order so you don't have to stand in line. If I was more interested in watching movies I'd find out how to get VIP status, but since the show in that theater was an Arabic-language movie I can only assume it's for locals only.

The movie was good, popcorn was fine. What more can I say?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ladies, does your husband work in Doha on his own?

If so, and he's 45+, I put it about a 1-in-6 chance he's roaming around Doha with a young pretty Asian lady.

Stopped by a couple of bars last night. As per usual the guy to girl ratio was around 12-1 or so, but inevitably there is always some older Westerner with some Asian 20-something sitting at a table. You see these guys in every bar, sometimes he looks older than 60. She never does. I don't think the girls are hookers though, I think most of them are girlfriends who like being with a sugardaddy. Like I've said in previous posts most workers here from Asia do not make a lot of money, maybe $350 a month, so it wouldn't take much for a Western man to be considered a rich man by some ladies.

I'm not passing judgement on it, as far as I'm concerned consenting adults can do whatever they want. Just want to give all those wives back home a head's up.

Ain't I a stinker. :p

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


While travelling in London I tried to find a place that served absinthe, a drink that I had always been meaning to try out. Absinthe always had mysterious connetations and was a popular Bohemian drink, rumours about its halucinogenic properties led it to being banned by most European nations in the 1910s, the "reefer Madness" of its day. Nowadays the hype has died down and it is legal in many countries.

I didn't have any luck in London but it Paris it was more common (makes sense I guess, Paris was where absinthe was all the late in the late 1800s-early 1900s). I tried it at two restaurants and both served it properly: glass of green absinthe, glass of ice-water, sugar cube, & slotted absinthe spoon for the sugar cube.

Absinthe is a strong spirit, usually around 50% alcohol, but I was fine after drinking it. I did have some strange dreams that night after the first one and I wondered in the absinthe played a role, but I had no problems sleeping after the second time so I doubt it.

What does it taste like? Would you like it if you ordered it? Whether one would like absinthe or not really depends on how much you like sambuca since they taste very similar (both being anise-flavoured). I like sambuca so absinthe was a pleasant enough experience.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A bit about travelling.

I can't believe that I forgot to mention one of the most useful links: Trip Advisor. I don't use it for booking vacations, what it is great for is the hotel reviews. Readers can sumbit reviews of the hotels that they stayed at and this gives you a great insight into what hotels to stay in, and what ones to avoid. Just search for "hotels in XYZ" and the list will come up. I try to use hotels that have at least 10+ reviews (better chance that the reviews have not been stacked by hotel management logging on and giving it a fabulous review). I've used the reviews when picking hotels for the past 3 years and it hasn't steered me wrong yet. Check it out next time you are planning a trip.

I have discovered that the airlines in this region: Qatar Airways, Gulf Air (Bahrain), and Emirates (Dubai) all have an interesting trick. I always wondered why flights back to Doha were full of people who were using Doha as a transit point to their next stop and assumed that the airlines were cutting their prices for transit passengers going to Asia and other destinations. Turns out, and a friend and I checked this out online, that flights to a destination are cheaper if transiting though the regional hub than if you were going there from the hub directly. Example:

Doha -> New York on Qatar Airways: ~$1,125
Dubai -> Doha -> New York on QA: $878

Doha -> London on QA: ~$1,200
Doha -> Dubai -> London on Emirates: $906
Dubai -> London on Emirates: ~$1,150

What the heck is up with that, pay more and take one less flight!? Gulf Air does this as well. You pay a couple of hundred more to fly from the regional hub than if you transited through the hub. Next time I book a ticket I might go down to the airline ticket agency and ask why this is, maybe they'll give me a discount to keep quiet. ;-)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Links to occupy your time

The internet is an interesting and bizarre place. Here's some links to neat sites that you might not have seen before. Something to while away the hours with:

A great site for getting backgrounds and wallpaper for your computer is Digital Blasphemy. It is by an artist who uses computer graphics programs to create beautiful images of landscapes, fictional planets etc. Many of the works can be downloaded free of charge, no registration required. Take a look through his galleries.

I'm sure you have all heard of the film critic Roger Ebert, but did you know he maintains a list of what he considers great movies. There are probably about a hundred of them, each with a detailed review. Some of his choices are obvious (Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Wizard of Oz, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, 2001: A Space Odyssey), some are older films or foreign films you've likely never heard of (Battle of Algiers, Bob le Flambeur, L'Avventua), some are films that you'll love to be reminded of (A Christmas Story, Snow White, Moonstruck) and some that you may recall were in theaters but you never bothered to see (Dark City, Crumb). Go through the list and maybe you'll find something new to rent. I have a copy of A Hard Day's Night in my DVD collection now thanks to this list.

All the news that is not fit to print,, a great site for finding out the latest news of the weird. I've mentioned this site before in my blog and it really is worth checking out. The articles that readers submit can range from tragic to comically bizarre. The photoshop contests are usually a treat as well.

And if you're the mellow type, or just feeling a little blue, try Cute Overload, a website dedicated to cute pictures of fuzzy widdle animals. Kittens? check. Fuzzy bunnies? check. Puppies? you got it in spades.

That outta keep you busy. If you know some really cool links, let me know.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Random bits

I was reading a book on Salvador Dali (with lots of pictures of his work) before going to bed last night. Big mistake - I had the weirdest dreams about melting figures and stuff. So make a mental note to yourself: don't read about Dali before sleeping.

French people really do appreciate it when you try to speak to them in French, even if you mess it up somewhat. While in Paris at least three times people complemented me on my French or me trying to use it. How many times have you seen anyone compliment somebody for trying to speak English? So I will make an extra effort to try to learn a bit of the local language when I go travelling (which means I need to brush up more on my Arabic).

Tonight I'm going out with a few people to a local restaurant for a Dosa Festival. Essentially, you sit down and eat lots of Dosas. Sounds good to me! I love crepes. (Not sure about having it with pickles though).

The humidity here has finally started to ramp up, now every time you go outside it feels like stepping into a sauna. It'll probably stay this way until late October. I can't say I enjoy it much as it gets so humid you just don't want to be outside for long. Gotta plan my next getaway, maybe the first week in September.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

London vs. Paris

Okay so how was the trip? Which city did I like better? Well, I figured I'd do a itemized list of things to compare the two cities on, almost like a competition:

Overall look: London has an interesting mix of buildings both old and new but Paris retains much of its architectural charm. Neighbourhood after neighbourhood looks like it is from the late 19th-early 20th century, with four or five storey apartment buildings side by side with the shuttered windows etc. By keeping the architecture consistent the streets of Paris retain a lot of charm.

Winner: Paris

Cleanliness: Both cities were not immaculate of course but the parks were well-maintained even though busy streets were a little grungy. Overall things were relatively good considering they are both major cities. I had heard that in Paris there are dog droppings everywhere but I didn’t find that to be the case at all.

Winner: I’ll give this one a tie, both cities were fine.

Air quality: Both cities had some air quality problems due to all of the cars but there was something else with the air in London – blowing my nose would result in a tinge of grey, something that didn’t occur in Paris. I also saw a number of bicycle riders in London wearing masks/filters, something I never saw in Paris.

Winner: Paris

Least expensive: Don’t get me wrong – both cities are prrrriiicey. Hotel costs are brutal, and food is not cheap either. Overall though I found beer, coffee and most food items cheaper in London, and wine and bread/pastries cheaper in Paris. (in this case “cheaper” still means at least 2X what you’d pay back home). However London doesn’t charge for most museums and attractions, while in Paris most museums charge 7-10 euro for entry. Considering all of the museums these cities have that adds up for someone doing the tourist thing.

Winner: London, thanks to subsidized museums.

Metro: Both the Paris Metro and the London Underground provide great service to anywhere a tourist wants to go. Always make sure wherever it is that you are staying that it is close to a metro/underground station and then you can just use a multi-day pass to get around. Overall I found the Underground a bit easier to navigate, and trains ran a bit more frequently (usually every 2-4 minutes as opposed to 3-7 minutes in Paris). The Underground was a bit cleaner as well, though that isn’t saying much, but the scent of stale urine was definitely to be found in some Metro stations.

Winner: London

Restaurants: Well I certainly didn’t eat everywhere, and wasn’t eating in top-end jacket & tie types of places, but the food in restaurants was generally good in both cities. I recall some service issues in the occasional place in Paris that didn’t occur in London though. One memorable one was in a sidewalk café on the Champs de Elysses where the waiter placed down a paper tablecloth, napkins and cutlery on our table but when we just ordered coffees he grabbed the tablecloth, napkins & cutlery and moved them to another table where another couple was sitting! He then had us move to the table next to them – all because we weren’t ordering food. Weird. We and the other couple had a good laugh when we told them where their cutlery had come from (though we did point out that we hadn’t touched it).

Winner: London, edging out the win due to better service.

Museums: The British Museum is iconic, and it’s collection of Egyptian antiquities can’t be beat outside of Egypt, but as a museum the Louvre is in a class on its own. You would have to combine the British Museum, the Tate Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum to even come close to the sheer size of the Louvre collection, and the walls and ceilings of many of the Louvre’s galleries are artworks in-and-of themselves, retaining their centuries-old décor. The park and gardens around the Louvre are also spectacular. And I didn’t even see most of the other museums in Paris.

Winner: Paris, unless you are a massive fan for all things Egyptian

Other attractions: Cruising the Seine beats the Thames. Eiffel Tower is better than the London Eye and Big Ben. Westminster Abbey beats Notre Dame. St. Paul’s edges out Sacre-Coeur (St. Paul’s is more historical and has more to see, though Sacre-Coeur has a must-see view of Paris). Arc de Triumph leaves Trafalgar Square in the dust. Finally there is the walk from the Arc de Triumph, down the Champs de Elysees, through numerous parks, past the Obelisk, past some large fountains, until you reach the parks in front of the Louvre. That walk cannot be matched by anything in London.

Winner: Paris

Nightlife: I don’t know much about the quality of nightlife in the two cities but London is a pub culture so it seemed that anywhere you looked there was a pub or club that you could pop into. In Paris that was a lot harder to find, cafes were much more plentiful.

Winner: London, just due to the ease of finding places.

Safety: Both cities have their dodgy neighbourhoods but overall I didn’t have any issues. There were a few beggars here and there in either city, and the odd homeless guy in the parks or metro stations – nothing to the level you see in cities like Vancouver or LA. There were signs warning people about pickpockets in Paris but I never saw anything or heard any commotion. Janel may have had a pair of earrings stolen from her hotel room in Paris though, probably by a maid but it is possible someone came through the window of her 1st floor room.

Winner: I’ll say London based on the earrings but if Janel does find them I’ll move this one to a “tie”.

Queues: Way longer in Paris than in London for all major tourist attractions. London’s only major queue problem was at Madame Tuseud’s, so we didn’t bother going in. Waited over an hour to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and skipped Notre Dame because of the long line. Crowding was pretty bad at the Louvre as well.

Winner: London

The Overall Winner: Though London beat Paris 6-4 in the categories Paris won the major ones: overall look, museums, & other attractions. If I had to choose for only one of them to go to for a vacation I’d choose Paris over London. Paris Wins!

[People on tight budgets, people who greatly prefer pubs over cafes, families with kids (sodas in Paris cafes cost at least 3.50 euro!), and Egyptologists might be better off in London though.]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm baaaaaaaaack.

Back from the Europe trip. I had a wonderful time in London and Paris and like most good trips it is a bit of a drag that it had to end and head back home. After being in Paris I now realize that my five-years of French class in high school has meant that my French sucked. It definately improved as time went on but was still sketchy at best. However I went from asking the hotel reception:

day one: Key to room six-ten s'il vous plait.

last day: La cle pour la chambre six-cent dix, s'il vous plait.

If I had stayed a few more weeks maybe I'd have really gotten the hang of it. The real problem came when French people would talk back in French because the odds of me understanding them was near-zero. Like one time I asked for a coffee and the waitress said something like dulait and I'm wondering what a dulait is, thinking it was one word, instead of du lait (lait being milk). Oh well, c'est la vie.

I'll blog more tomorrow, I'm pretty tired right now since I took a red-eye back to Doha from Paris so it is time to go to bed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Off to London and Paris!

For the next couple of weeks blogging will be sporatic, I'm off to Europe tomorrow morning! I can't wait. I'm meeting up with some friends in London, and a former housemate of mine from Bermuda will be meeting me in London and journeying on to Paris with me.

While I've been to London a few times I never get tired of it, and I've never been to Paris before so I'm really looking forward to that. I'm taking the Eurostar between London and Paris, so I'll get to see the countryside a bit and go through the Chunnel. I think me travelling by Eurostar will be a one-off though -- a one-way trip is costing >$300! Yikes! Pretty bloody expensive for a 2 & 1/2 hour train trip. Some people have told me that flying between the two cities is actually cheaper, but then again you also have more hassle with all of the stuff you have to go through at the airport. The Eurostar also stops in the centre of Paris so it is more convenient to get to my hotel then from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Temperature currently a moderate 20 with chance of clouds and rain. Works for me! I need an escape from the heat so I'd prefer that then 28 degrees and sunny the whole time. Give me cool and cloudy.

If I get a chance I'll send some updates from Europe. No guarantees though, I'm not going to Paris is the summer to hunt down internet cafes to update blogs.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

One thing to make you sad, one to make you laugh.

Here's a couple of links that you might find interesting. First the sad one, the website for the orphanage in Nepal that my friend Mary taught at this Spring:

If you click on "About Us" then "Children" you get a bio of each of the kids at the orphange. While many of the orphans have lost their parents some of them have one or both of their parents still alive. Mary was telling me that in Nepal it is not uncommon that when someone gets remarried that they have to abandon the children from their previous marriage, so many of the children in the orphanage have simply been abandoned. Unbelievable. Some of them were beggars and living on the streets before being brought to the orphanage.

Anyway take a look through the website, and if you're ever in the Pokhara area of Nepal maybe pay them a visit and see if you can help out. The orpahange's primary focus is on educating the kids so that when they grow up they can get jobs and a decent start in life. My friend Mary taught secretarial skills to girls in their late teens and most of them have gone on to decent-paying secretarial jobs somewhere in Nepal. Mary has done at least two stints there so I know that it is a legit organization that really helps improve the lives of children.

On to the funny link: First you have to know who Stephen Colbert is, if you don't, click on this wikipedia bio first. His show on Comedy Central is a riot.

Anyway, is a website that has all sorts of weird news stories but also has daily Photoshop contests. A recent one was phtotshopping Stephen Colbert as a relgious figure. It turned out to be one of their best photoshop contests ever. Click on the link and hopefully you'll get as big a kick out of it as I did.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Medication warnings

I just noticed that:

1) all of my medications were made in either the UAE or Egypt; and

2) none of them say that you can't take them with alcohol

Maybe it's because they assume that the person taking them would never drink alcohol anyway, right?

Well, off to the BBQ to have a couple of beers. WhooHoo!

You just never know what it's your turn.

A while back the cafe at the compound had a new waiter, Raju, a young guy from (I think) Nepal. The company who runs the restaurant has six locations in various compounds so any new waiters train at my compound's cafe for a month before being reassigned. We chatted a little here and there when I stopped in to get dinner, but I didn't learn too much about him. He was then transferred to another location around the beginning of June.

A week or so ago the waiters at the compound approached me to ask if I wanted to donate to a collection for Raju's family. Apparantly on June 22 he came down with a high fever and passed away! Just like that he was gone.

I couldn't get any more details as to exactly what happened, the best the other waiters could tell me was that he came down with a high fever. Man that just bites.

Things like this make me reflect on how you just never know when you're going to die. We always think it'll be a long way off but I bet poor Raju did as well. So . . . are you living life to the fullest? I don't think I am, I'll have to think about it in a couple of weeks. Today I'm going to a BBQ, tomorrow to a party, and next week I'm off on vacation to Europe, so I guess it's not like I'm just stuck doing nothing all the time. But I will think about this when I get back. How about you?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Oh yeah, I forgot the heat exhaustion!

. . . and as well as the flu followed by bronchitus I've had my first experience with heat exhaustion this year. June was not a good month for my health.

A friend of mine, Mary, stopped by Doha for a few days on her way back to London from Nepal, where she had been teaching in an orphanage the last three months. Despite my cough I took a couple of days vacation to show her around Doha and the countryside. The first day we toured around in the car for a while before going south to see the sand dunes. We got out of the car, walked 100m to the dunes, took a few photos, then went back to the car for a half-hour drive to a hotel in Doha for coffee and snacks.

We got to the hotel, I sat down, then suddenly every ounce of energy just drained out of my body. My appetite went to zero and Mary told me later that the colour just drained out of my face. I couldn't keep my eyes open, and since in this particular hotel restaurant we were seated on Arabic-style couches, I just lay down for a sec to close my eyes.

I woke up about a half-hour later! I was out like a light.

I still felt like crap so Mary and I left my car at the hotel and took a taxi home. I went straight to bed and slept for another 2+ hours. After that I felt great, but we decided to just chill out at my place for the rest of the evening rather than risk it.

Man, heat exhaustion sucks. I don't think it was due to my outside exposure, we weren't out long enough and I was wearing a Tilley hat and drinking water the whole time. My guess is that the constant sunlight pouring down on us for hours in the car while cold A/C air blew in my face probably messed me up. Mary had started feeling a little queasy as well when arrived for lunch but felt fine when she got inside. Another twenty minutes or so and see might have been ill too.

I just thank my lucky stars this didn't happen while I was driving or we could have been in real trouble.

Oh, and Happy Canada Day everyone!

Saturday, June 30, 2007


So now that my flu is gone I guess life decided that it would be a great time to follow it up with bronchitus. I've been coughing for nine days now but I finally went to the doctor (a different one than the vitamin pusher I went to for the RSI). Once a chest X-ray determined that bronchitus was the likely culprit I was perscribed an antibiotic and two meds. Hopefully that'll clear everything up because it really is an annoying cough.

Doctors here appear to lack the bedside manner of North American ones. Maybe it is the language issue, almost every doctor listed in the Yellow pages has an Arabic name so I assume most of them are Egyptian or Lebanese. If English is not your first language then I guess it would be difficult to chat with an English-speaking patient. Thus, both doctors that I have seen since I have been here have been very "down-to-business" and discussions of my symptoms are short. Examinations and tests seem to be the route of choice. At least the recent one wasn't big on vitamins.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Truth or rumour

Yesterday's newspaper had a front page story about, get this, that the Nepalese embassy was investigating rumours that a Nepalese man was killed and eaten by his Vietnamese coworkers!

Does this scream "urban legend getting out of hand" to you? It did to me. And why is it always people from Southeast Asia who are connected to eating unusual things in these legends? And why was the embassy investigating and not the police (though the original story did say that "rumour had it" that people were arrested and had confessed to the crime).

Well the story created enough buzz that a follow up story had to be published so far it's just a rumour. I think it helps that there is not even an identity of the supposed victim, nor who these supposed people who confessed to the crime were. Well, if anything else happens on this I'll let you know.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Yikes, it's been a week-plus since my last post. I was out sick for a few days with a flu, and I've still got a cough from it. It had been keeping me off the net because when I get sick with a flu I do nothing but sleep. I think during my worst day (around last Tuesday) I was only up five of six hours total during a 36-hour period.

So what's been happening?

Work has moved into a new office building. I generally like the new digs better than the previous one. We'll see in a few weeks when all the annoying things start to emerge.

My friend David stopped by from London for a couple of days on business. Thankfully this was after I had recovered from the flu since he was crashing at my place. Pretty much just went out for dinner and drinks with friends both nights, not much else to do in Doha in the summer.

I have my July vacation sorted out, a nine-day trip split between London and Paris. I've never been to Paris before so I'm really looking forward to it. My friend Janel from Bermuda will be along as well. I definately need to brush up on my French before I go, I've lost a lot of it over the years (not that I was ever that great in it to begin with)

My friend Mary will be stopping by for a few days en route to London from Nepal. Mary has spent the last four months doing charity work near Katmandu so I can't wait to hear about how that went.

Annnnnnd, it's damn hot here, not that one would expect anything less.

That's it for now. As I have recovered I should be updating the blog more frequently again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What is in a name . . .

One thing I have noticed about my name, Glen McKay, is that many non-English languages cannot handle it. 'Gl' is not a sound in some languages and 'McK' is a combination of letters that most languages just do not have. So what in English is a fairly simple name becomes a bit of a letter-twist to everyone else.

Case in point: Japanese. 'Gl' is not a sound in Japanese, in fact they don't have a 'L' at all. So the best Japanese could do with my name is Guren Makae (gu-ren ma-ka-ay) because if you say it fast Guren sounds similar to Glen (Grren!).

Well I've just found out that Arabic also has issues with my name. A renewal notice for my car insurance arrived at the office the other day (all my mail is sent to the office because Qatar does not have home mail delivery). The mailguy at the office didn't know what to do with it so he gave it to someone, who thought it might be for me and gave it to me, while other coworkers advised me not to open it because there was "no way that was for me". But sure enough it was. I think my name got translated to Arabic in a database then someone at the insurance company retranslated it back into English. It doesn't help that in Arabic almost every consonant has a vowel after it.

It was addressed to . . .

Ready . . .

Jaline Makay!

Just call me 'Jal' ;-)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Brief updates

Cyclone Gonu has so far killed 60+ people in Oman and Iran :-(

Hands are feeling better, so I don't think there is permanent damage.

I just moved office buildings today, issues with the A/C but otherwise I think things will work out ok.

And it's damn hot outside now. The peak heat of summer has begun.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Cyclone Gonu

A friend in Houston emailed me to ask if I'll be okay due to Cyclone Gonu hitting the Arabian peninsula. It was the first I had heard of the storm, but after searching online it is a nasty storm. It is hitting the coast of Oman before moving up to Iran. Such storms are rare in the Arabian peninsula, the last one recorded in Oman was I think in the 1940s. Thankfully that's about 600km from me, so no, the storm will not affect me at all. Hope people in Oman are okay though.

As an aside on the carpal tunnel, it is getting better, but I misnamed it. I should have said Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), carpal tunnel is a form of RSI that is not usually caused by keyboard & mouse use (instead it is the RSI common amongst guitar players).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Carpal Tunnel!

Bad news, I may be coming down with carpal tunnel syndrome in my left wrist. Wrist had a dull pain all through Friday, likely from too much computer use. It’s feeling about 90% now - two days later - so I’m going to get it checked out by a doctor. In the meantime blog postings will have to be short & sweet to minimize computer use and let the arm rest.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm British - and a moron!

Hey, my camera wasn’t stolen after all! I found it!

I was driving around then suddenly remembered that back when I put my camera in the glove compartment I told myself “that’s dumb, if somebody broke into my car they’d find it easily”. So I hid it somewhere else in my car. And eventually forgot that I did that, only recalling that I put it in the glove compartment. So after straining my brain to recall that other hiding place I remembered, looked, and there it was!

Good thing I hadn’t bought a replacement camera yet.

Looks like ignorance really is bliss: I’m a moron, but now I’m a happy moron! :-)

Blimey! I'm British!

I got the call from the embassy and picked up my UK Passport today.

I'm officially British! (and Canadian too of course)

Now when I land at Heathrow I can use whichever passport line is shortest! Mwahahahaha.

Ironically my next trip out of Qatar, and the first one where I can use my new passport, is Britain. When I get there I'll have a pint to celebrate.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Grrrrrr, my camera was stolen!

Well what was becoming a really nice weekend had a major letdown on the realization that my camera had been stolen. Even worse - I have no clue when or where it happened. #&%*(#@ !

Sadly this was due to some poor coincidences and lack of memory power by yours truly. Two weeks ago I took my camera with me to the Corniche to take some pictures, then put it in my glove compartment when I went to the mall. Then for some reason I thought I had taken the camera out of the glove compartment later that evening and brought it back into the apartment.

Fast forward two weeks: yesterday I'm looking around my apartment for my camera as I wanted to take some pictures of some stuff downtown. Not finding it, I went "oh yeah, I must have left it in the glove compartment of my car!" Went down to my car and found . . . a completely empty glove compartment. Even my car manuals that I keep in there were gone, which was a sure sign that something had happened and not that I was being forgetful about the camera.

Now this confused me. My car had automatic locking - you know, where you press a button on your key chain, the car lights briefly and makes a "chirp-chirp" noise. And I didn't have a broken window, so how did someone get into the car?

So I stepped a couple of feet away from the car, and clicked the autolock.
"chirp, chirp", lights flash, doors lock -- then immediately unlock, like the locks were on a spring!

I tried again, pressed the button, doors lock -- then unlock.

What the hell!?! Tried a few more times, and same result each time. My autolock was busted and was sending both the lock & unlock signal at the same time. And since I was always walking away from the car when I "locked" it, and always far away when I unlocked it, I never noticed. Primarily because the car would flash and chirp like everything is fine. How long it has been like that I have no idea.

So for at least the past two weeks I've been leaving my car in various parking lots and streets completely unlocked with a camera in it. Talk about tempting fate. So of course I have no clue when someone rifled through my car. In the last two weeks my car has been parked at the Corniche, the Souqs, the docks for that dhow trip, various malls, hotels, at the school where I have Arabic class, and so forth. It could have happened anywhere.

So I'm a little upset at this but really it was only a matter of time I guess. I had been thinking about getting a new camera anyway (mine was 5 years old and was bottom-of-the-line even back then) but this still irks me. I hate being the victim of petty theft. I hope the thief chokes on it. At least since it's an old camera he probably won't get a lot for it, not that he had to do much work for it.

Grrrrrr, what a letdown to the day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A tale about currency in the Gulf

Recently Kuwait has decided to remove its currency from its US dollar peg, instead tying it to a basket of currencies. It was a fairly big announcement for everyone in the region.

All of the countries in the Gulf peg their currency to a fixed exchange rate to the US dollar (for example in Qatar 3.64 riyals always equals $1 US). This generally made sense to petrodollar countries since oil is bought/sold in US dollars on the open market. By fixing your currency to the US dollar you remove any risk that would come with the currency fluctuating.

Unfortunately the US dollar has been sliding/underperforming so much in recent years that it is starting to affect the region. Inflation has been high in recent years as it costs more to import goods into the region due to the Gulf currencies weakening against exporting countries, despite the fact that the Gulf countries have booming economies due to petrorevenue. And I’m talking serious inflation, on the order of 25-35% a year right now (estimates I’ve seen for Qatar have it at around 27% for 2006). There are plans in the works for a unified Gulf currency by 2010, involving Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and Oman, all of which have pegged $US currencies, at which point the currency should be strong enough to ‘free-float’ on the currency markets. With Kuwait removing its peg experts believe that the unified currency is no longer going to happen.

In response to the peg removal Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman said they have no plans to do so but UAE has so far not said anything. Speculation is that they might follow suit and remove their peg. If that happens the unified currency is definitely dead.

What does this mean to you? Right now Kuwait is a significant oil producer but not enough to really impact global oil markets. If other Gulf countries follow suit then currency exchange fluctuations will affect the price of oil, likely making it more expensive for North Americans as the Gulf currencies gain against the US dollar. Well, maybe not Canadians since the Canadian dollar has also gained strongly against the US.
So I’ll try to keep an eye on this and let you know if there are further developments.

No need to panic and hoard gas though, I doubt the price would impact more than 5-10% even if all the Gulf countries removed their pegs.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A trip to the British Embassy

For those of you who didn’t know I’m actually half-British. Dad was from Belfast while my Mom was from Winnipeg. This entitles me to British citizenship though it was something that I never pursued. Not sure why, I guess growing up in Western Canada it was never a big deal – if you were already a Canadian citizen what would being a UK citizen get you? It’s not like the family had any plans to move back.

30+ years and one EU later having that citizenship was looking more and more like a worthwhile thing, especially now that my work is more specialized in insurance & reinsurance. London is one of the ‘Big Three’ centres in this area (the others being Bermuda and New York) so it is definitely possible that I might wind up there in time. In any event it just seems prudent to get my UK passport before they do some crazy rule changes that would cut me out.

It took a while for my family and I to get the required documentation together from Northern Ireland and Canada but it was eventually compiled together. So with application and paperwork in hand it was off to the British Embassy in Doha to submit it.

Not surprisingly security at the embassy is fairly tight – concrete blocks to prevent cars parking near it, metal detector, security-monitored double doors (i.e. you go through one door into a small room, then a door at the other end of the room once the first door is closed) but it took maybe a couple of minutes to get through it all. After that I steeled myself for the ensuing chaos and walked inside to the passport section.

Now I was steeling myself because last year I had to renew my Canadian passport when visiting the family in Calgary. What a zoo that was. It was like a rock concert, you had to line up early just to guarantee that you’d be seen that day. I think each time I went the wait through the line up was something like 45-60 minutes – and I went pretty early. By the time I left they were always turning people away.

Anyway at the UK Embassy I had to:

- wait in line for a clerk to give them my forms
- wait for them to go through my forms to see if everything is there
- wait for them to go away with the forms for whatever reason
- be told to have a seat as I will be speaking with a consular officer about the application (I wasn’t expecting that)
- have an interview with the officer, basically to clarify some details like why after 30+ years I was applying for UK citizenship now.
- Pay my fees

Total time for all of this: 40 minutes!

Wow, was that ever fast! I figured it would take a lot longer, and the moment I was told to take a seat for a discussion with a consular officer I pretty much wrote off the rest of the morning right then and there. But it was all very fast, efficient, and best of all – pleasant. All of the staff were very nice and helpful, even the consular officer was kind and polite.

Maybe they do that to help soften the blow of the passport application fee, which is approximately US$245. Ack! That is some serious fees for a passport, I think my Canadian one was a third of that.

Anyway, the docs are submitted, the fees are paid. Now I’ll sit back and see what happens. I’m not even sure how long it will take. I hope the passport photos that I submitted were okay, but I had my friend Eric in Bermuda sign two different sets (he’s a laywer) and I submitted both of them, so that if one set is not acceptable to the passport office maybe the other ones will.

Hopefully in a month or so I’ll be a dual Canada/UK citizen!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Day in the Life

After sending that last e-album about Jordan I received a few emails noting that I must be having such an exciting time living in the Middle East. Uh, it's not all that actually. Remember, e-albums show the highlights, much of the week is the same toil & trouble that one gets from the average workday in the West.

So . . . here's my average workday, like today.

06:00 alarm goes off
06:15 I get up
06:50 I'm out the door to catch the carpool
07:20 dodge some crazy drivers and arrive at work
07:30-12:30 push paper around in a cubicle etc. I push a mean paper!
12:30-1:30 lunch at City Centre Mall food court. These days it's usually a veggie sub (no cheese). Gossip about work with coworkers.
1:30-5:00 push more paper, maybe go to a meeting or something.
5:00-5:30 dodge some crazy drivers and arrive at home
evening: dinner, 30-minutes on the treadmill, maybe do an errand or laundry, surf and answer emails if the server in the computer room isn't as slow as molasses that evening.
9:00ish chill out with a decaf coffee and reading
10:00 bedtime.

Yes, yes, I know, why aren't I selling this script to NBC? I mean, it's like Desperate Housewives, only with abayas and camels.

Now I'm depressed. Ugh, I need to pick things up a little. I think I'll spend the next week looking for something more exciting for the evenings than just doing Arabic lessons twice a week.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

DVDs, so what have I got

For those of you who know me I'm not a huge fan of movies. I'll go see one occasionally but it usually has to be one that I really want to see. I'm less inclined to go see a movie just for the sake of seeing one. I am always willing to see a film by certain directors (Terry Gilliam & Tim Burton come to mind) but otherwise it has to be something that would really catch my interest. The only movie I've seen in theatres here, and it was one of those things where I was hanging out with friends and they said "let's see a movie", was Little Man. Ugh, watching garbage like that is enough to put anyone off of movies for the next decade.

I rent movies even less and when I was in Bermuda I didn't even own a DVD player. I have a player now though, because in the summer you have to do something. Even picked up a few movies here and there. Not many though, it has to be something I would want to see more than once. My tastes lean towards sci-fi, fantasy and foreign films or documentaries. Right now my Babylon 5 DVDs are what I primarily watch, but I've taken the occasional break from that to watch 2001 or Afghani movies like Kandahar. I'm still looking around for a copy of Metropolis and Brazil, but I haven't had much luck around here. Looks like I'll have to wait until I visit Canada next.

Just for completion's sake, here's the list of the rest that I have:

Dark City
Born into Brothels
City of God
Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within
A Hard Day's Night
Monty Python: the Holy Grail
Blade Runner

and, uh, one or two others I can't remember off-hand. Don't plan on adding a lot more either but we'll see.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Critical Thinking - Nigerian Scams

Okay, I’m sure we’ve all heard about Nigerian email scams or 419 scams as they are also called. You get an email from someone you don’t know, usually in Africa (originally they were always from Nigeria but now people in other countries have picked up on it). This email usually has some long spiel with it but the crux is usually this: there’s a bank account in Africa with tons of money in it, usually multi-millions of dollars, and if you help them access it they will give you 50% of it etc., in other words a deal too good to be true. Of course to help them you have to send them some money first, for application expenses or whatever.

Anyone who send them money will never see a dime. Ever. And as for the bank account, they’ll keep stringing you along with expenses to squeeze more money out of you. Victims of this crime generally don’t come forward since they were technically helping someone commit fraud – they think they are assisting people to access a bank account that doesn’t belong to them in order to get millions.

There are other variants of this scam as well but basically you should never, ever, respond to any email that you weren’t expecting that was sent by someone that you don’t know. Never believe the tales of woe that these scammers spin. They’ve been doing this for years so they are very good at getting people to cough up some money (I saw one documentary that went to Nigeria and one of these scammers estimated that if someone replies to the email he has about a 70% success rate getting money). So just do not reply.

Now you might think “who falls for emails like that?” but millions of dollars is lost to these scammers every year. At one point there was an estimate that this scam was the 4th largest source of Nigeria’s foreign currency imports, but it has tapered off a little as people have gotten a little more savvy.

So why am I bringing this up? Due to a recent article in Australia. Here’s how bad it can be for victims of this crime:

“The biggest losses were incurred in the Nigerian investment scams, and only about 24 per cent of the people we contacted and told they were participating in this scam believed us," Supt Hay told reporters in Brisbane “So, 76 per cent continued to send millions of dollars after we told them they were participating in a scam."
So after the police track the victims down and told them it was a scam 76% continued to send the scammers money. They were so caught in the scammers web, so unwilling to admit that they had been duped, they kept chasing the dream. The human mind can be a very stubborn thing and unfortunately these people paid the price. Sometimes a true believer in something will continue to do so even if shown to be wrong.

This doesn’t happen just with Nigerian email scams but with other things as well; alternative medicine scammers thrive on this principle, as do cults, pseudoscience believers, doomsday prophets, conspiracy theorists; many reach a point where they have dug themselves in so deep that they can’t bear to admit that they were wrong, so they dig themselves in even further.

I remember being on the Bad Astronomy boards back in 2002-2003 where the fuss was this doomsday prophet predicting that some rogue planet would pass by Earth on May 15th 2003 causing mass tidal waves, earthquakes etc. A small number of people bought into this and started doing crazy things like selling their homes to move to ‘safe areas’ that this doomsday moron had said would be relatively safe from the disaster, there was even one report of a person killing their dog to spare them from the impending doom. No amount of common sense (things like “if this planet is going to hit us in a month why can’t we see it now?”) was convincing some of the diehard believers, who would instead find whatever piece of irrelevant evidence to shore up their beliefs.

So what happened after May 15th when nothing happened? Most of the believers saw the light, but many turned to the doomsday moron, who by this time had of course changed the date of our impeding doom - a common trend amongst doomsayers whose predictions don’t come true. I think that nut lost most of the followers by that time though. But there will always be another nut around the corner to ensnare the gullible.

Rant over. Please everyone, keep that adage “if it’s too good to be true . . . “ in mind with all of your dealings in life.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An experience with the locals

So Friday I went out with the Qatar Natural History Group for a cruise in a dhow to celebrate the end of the season. Around 50 of us boarded the dhow at the Corniche for a cruise along the Corniche and the developments at West Bay (where my workplace is) before anchoring just off of an island a few miles away for a swim and barbeque. So far so good. Then trouble came.

Trouble is this case is jet skis. There were a number of other boats there along with small speed boats and well over 2-dozen locals zooming around on jet skis. Mostly guys in their early twenties with no consideration of other people. It actually got quite scary at times, our dhow was anchored maybe 50m from shore and the jet skis would constantly zoom along in-between the dhow and the shore while people were swimming. I was shocked that they’d do this since it would be easy to hurt someone who was swimming in the water. Many times the dhow owners and others who could speak Arabic would yell at the guys to go around the dhow because there were people swimming. A few did, but most either ignored us or basically brushed us off then deliberately rode through. Unbelievable.

Not surprisingly there is no such thing as a Coast Guard here that monitors pleasure craft. An American who was on the cruise was simply stunned and noted what would happen back home to reckless jet skiers and boaters. But here is not the US. Here being an idle rich kid with no sense of rules; where connections, money, and daddy’s influence puts you above the law; you can just do whatever you want. It’s really sad. And it doesn’t bode well for the citizenry in the future. Sadly many of these guys are probably the same ones getting themselves and others killed with reckless driving and drag racing.

But other than that downer note things went fine. No one was hurt, thankfully, and the BBQ and cruise back while the sun was setting was really nice. I’ll have to remember to do that again sometime, or maybe when guests come by, but it really depends on the time of year. It was almost at the point where it was too hot to do this, in a few weeks going out in a dhow would be quite uncomfortable. And December to February would be too cold. Anyway, an eventful day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm ready for the Weekend!

Well last night I started a new Arabic course. It has been around 8 months since I took Arabic, and I was really starting to lose what little of it that I had learned, so it’s good to get back in the saddle and learn. This time the course is being given by a nearby university (CHN Institute) and while it costs ~$400 for fifteen 2-hour classes work will compensate me for it if I attend most/all of the course.

So far it appears to be better than the previous free course that I took with the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam, which was about 30% Arabic and 70% learning about Islam (search my blog for QCPI if you want to know more). The teacher is a Jordanian lady with decent English skills. From our first class it became obvious that this one is focused heavily on conversational, leaning key sentences and phrases that one would need in everyday life. Except maybe for the marital status issue. We learned many sentences about how to ask and reply about your marital status (married, single, divorced, widowed). Someone else in the class even asked if it was common for Arabs to enquire about this, it’s not something you generally get asked by everyone back home.

Otherwise the weekend is almost upon me. Only thing planned is a dhow cruise around the harbour on Friday with the Qatar Natural History Group. Sort of a farewell for the season, the group doesn’t meet during the summer because it is too hot for excursions. They are also making arrangements for an October trip to Yemen that I am tempted to sign up for. As for the cruise I haven’t been on a dhow yet so I’ll take some pictures. I’ll also spend some of the weekend sorting my Jordan pics for an e-album to send to everyone, and maybe watch some Babylon 5 episodes. Such a stressful life I lead.

Ma Asalaam (c u l8r)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Critical thinking news - beware of fake countries!

Just wanted to highlight an amusing report from Australia about a pair of con-men who formed a fake bank from their fake country and started printing up their own currency to spend. After speaking to a few of my Austalian collegues I found that these crooks have pulled this kind of scam before in the past. They go to jail for a few years, are released, then create a new "country" and continue scamming.

There is a reason why they do this - because they successfully either con people out of money or manage to use their fake money to pay expenses. People actually accept money from a fake bank/country.

Now while this is a rare anomaly, creating your own country, it is not new. Check out the wikipedia entry on
micronations. Over history there have been many of these, but the trend has been on the upswing in the last few decades, especially in Australia. Why Australia I have no idea, maybe because there are so many Pacific Islands out there with weird names (Vanuatu, Niue, Nauru etc) who's going to bother to check if one is legit or not? Sometimes these things are used by crooks, but other times it is used by deluded people as some form of tax protest - declare your own country therefore you don't have to pay taxes to that mean ol' government!

I think Family Guy did a parody of this once, the big guy declaring his house and yard a separate nation (for whatever reason).

Lesson to be learned - if you've never heard of a country, or don't know what their currency looks like when you're offered some, don't take it until you do some research. Beware of fake countries.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hey, I've been here a year!

I just realized that it has been a year (since May 1) that I've been in Qatar. So to celebrate . . .

My apartment was fumigated! (Whoohoo! Let the okay times roll!)

Actually this is a standard thing that happens every three weeks to a month. Someone comes by and sprays some insecticide around the edges of the apartment. Stuff seems to work too as I find the occasional dead ant of silverfish every now and again. It's not like Bermuda in the summer though where you couldn't go a week without finding a column of ants attacking the garbage or a massive roach crawling around somewhere. Heck in Bermuda we even had a lizard living in the house plants.

Anyway what was different about this spraying was that the guy decided that 9:00am on a weekend was a great time to stop by (grrrrr). Thankfully I was pretty much awake by then so I was able to open the door for him. Then after spraying the stuff, which stinks up the place pretty nicely, I opened the balcony doors to let fresh hot air in.

Now as many of you know I'm one of those guys for whom odd things happen to. Not good things, not tragic things, just odd things. Like having a waiter quit in the middle of my order, things like that. Things that make you sit back and wonder at the unlikely coincidence of it all.

So here I was standing on the balcony for fresh air (I really do hate the smell of the insecticide, and the reminder that if I can smell it I'm also inhaling it) and I notice a couple of flies dart in then out of the door. Then a few more. Then more. Always dashing in, then dashing out. At that point I looked a bit closer and realized that they weren't flies - they were some type of small bee. I decided to go inside and shut the door as I didn't want some bees flying around my room. Good thing too because then came . . .

A bee swarm! Hundreds of the buggers came from nowhere and were flying all around the balcony! Gaaaaaa!

I quickly ran to the other balcony door and closed it as well. So now I was stuck in an apartment reeking of insecticide while a swarm of bees danced around outside preventing me from airing out the place.

I certainly didn't want to stick around inhaling chemicals so I put on a jacket (bee protection, its 40 degrees out), grabbed my car keys, and dashed out to my car. It was obvious that I wasn't going to be using my apartment for a while now. Went out to have breakfast, came back and the bees were gone. At least I hope so and that they haven't formed a nest nearby.

My place still reeks of insecticide. I think they switched brands because I've never known it to be that bad before. I took the chance and opened my balcony doors again. I sure hope that I don't regret doing that.

Maybe I'll reflect on a year here some other time.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Expensive hotels: R-I-P-O-F-F

In my last two business trips (Jordan & Bahrain) I had the privilege of staying in some pretty nice 5-star hotels. Not something that I'm used to doing. I didn't have a lot of cash in my younger days so whenever I went somewhere 'affordable' was the key word, which meant 2 & 3-star accomodation.

Thanks to recent stays at top hotels I can tell you two things:

1) they are not worth the extra $100+ a night
2) considering you're already paying so much for a room it's surprising how much they'll nickel-&-dime you to squeeze more money out of you.

Case in point: internet service. In both of my recent stays I needed to log on to the internet to check my work email. Now in 2 & 3-star hotels, if they have any kind of business centre or internet computer at all, the price ranges from free to something nominal like $2 an hour. I've been in motels in nowheresville Ontario that provided free internet access. So what happens in hotel #1 (Jordan)? I can buy a half-hour internet access card for US$7, or an hour for $10. $7 for 30 minutes!?! I looked at the front desk clerk like he just robbed me at gunpoint. Even though it was the company that was paying, still, $7?

I needed it to check email for four days so I purchased the $10 'deal', spent ten minutes checking my email, then left.

The next day I go back to the business centre and my card isn't working. I go back to the front desk and tell them. What do I get:

"Sorry sir, but the cards are one-use only. Once you log off you can't use them to log back in again."

ONE USE! I paid $10 for an internet card that you can only use once!! WTF! Nice that they told me that ahead of time.

Let's move on to Hotel #2 (Bahrain). I go to the business centre. Sure enough I have to buy an access card. What's the price? US$14 for 2 hours!

Now I'm only there for one night so I ask "do you have cards with less time on them?"

Nope. 2-hours minimum.

So having learned my lesson from Hotel #1 I ask "Is the card only one use or can I use it multiple times?". The guy tells me I can use it multiple times, which is nice, but then says . . .

"but the card expires after 24 hours."

WTF! The minimum card is two hours but it all has to be used within 24 hours? For US$14!?! Jeebuz H. Kee-rist! This is what you get for paying $200 a night for a room?

The way I see it these swank hotels figure that since you're already paying through the nose you must be rich - and you aren't going to care about a few more bucks here and there. Drives me nuts. And don't get me started about the price for everything else there like food etc. I'm stunned that I wasn't charged to use the pool, buncha gangsters.

And no, the rooms are not so special that it is worth the money. A room at a cheaper hotel is just as good it just may lack a couple of minor perks like having a wider array of free toiletries or a robe. The perks aren't worth the money.

I'm going to be travelling in London and probably Paris this summer and I can tell you that I'm going to be staying in 2 or 3 star whenever possible. These swank hotels are not worth it.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Off yet again

I'm off to Bahrain for two days to write my accounting exam and meet with some clients. These past few months I've just been Mr. Jet-Setter. Many of coworkers are starting to get annoyed "are you off somewhere AGAIN?". Many of them haven't been on a business trip for upwards of a year.

It's getting hot in the Gulf now so I'm not sure how much time I'm going to spend wandering around Bahrain - and taxis there are a ripoff. You have to haggle with them each time and they utterly overcharge but more times than not the drivers are pretty cool. They are always Bahraini and once you settle on the fare they are generally friendly and talkative. The last Bahraini cab driver I was with happily answered my friend David's questions about having more than one wife ("a real headache, don't do it") :)

Anyway, wish me luck (about the exam, not the taxis)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Getting a cold

Arrrrgh, I have to leave tomorrow for Bahrain for meetings and to write an exam and I'm coming down with a cold. I hate colds. I get colds fairly often, I figure that since there are 200+ viruses that cause them by now I'd have gone through over half of them. Just by process of elimination I should get colds half as frequent as before - but no. Thankfully I don't think that this will turn out to be a bad cold, a bad cold being one where you have to sit in bed all day feeling miserable, with the assistance of some d-rugs I should be allright for tomorrow. I hope.

In other news locals' driving skills continue to maintain their already poor standards. One coworker related a tale from the weekend where a guy took a roundabout way too fast and flipped his Land Cruiser, another mentioned how hanging out at certain roads at 3am is a great way to see rich and stupid teens taunt death by going 200km/hr+ in BMWs and Lambourginis. Yet another discussed almost getting wiped out by a car doing 130km/hr in an 80 zone and promptly changing 3 lanes. Without signalling. During the night. Without headlights. Traffic police generally won't touch locals and even if they did so something a fine like QR1000 (~$275) is nothing to a Qatari driving a Lambourghini. Jail time is the only serious deterrent that I can think of but it will be a while yet before the police and court system imposes something like that on a local.

I need to look up the stats on vehicle fatalities sometime, should be interesting.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Okay, I'm back

Back from my trip to the Dead Sea. It was for a 3-day seminar but it was still great to go somewhere different, and the resort where the seminar was held was very nice.

Went into the Dead Sea a couple of times and whattya-know, you really do float in the stuff. The Sea is about 10 times saltier than the ocean so not only can you not sink in it, you really have to be careful not to get any in your eyes or drink it. A little bit was near the corner of my mouth so I instictively brushed it with my tongue - and it caused a mild burning sensation. Ugh. If you swallowed a mouthful of it you'd probably be in great discomfort for days.

I watched a fly accidently land on the Sea and it was dead in 30 seconds. The Sea is aptly named.

I had a number of interesting chats with a seminar participant who was Palestinian. Needless to say life in Palestine is not a bowl of cherries. Is was interesting how he just accepted the stuff that happens with a sort of "that's just how life is" mentality. Spending hours at checkpoints, the inability to travel nearly anywhere, permit restrictions (his wife is Jordanian but her Palestinian visa expired, so if she leaves Palestine she wouldn't be let back in. She's stuck there until it's sorted out. It's been years.), economic collapse, and so forth. It was unnerving to hear just what life is like for your average Palestinian. And it also made me grateful for being who I am and where I am. He hopes for peace but doubts that it is coming.

I never asked why he doesn't try to leave. With his wife being Jordanian you'd think he could live in Jordan. Maybe he's not allowed to, I don't know.

So take a step back and look at your comfortable life, and note that even if you don't think things are great it could definately be worse.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Off on business

I'm away on business in Jordan until Friday. Plan to have a nice long float in the Dead Sea too.

As an aside: T-shirts that have "Ramones", "Sex Pistols", or that image of Che Guevera are completely and utterly past their time. Wearing them does not make you look rebellious in any way, it only makes you look like a sheep who thinks its cool to wear stuff 30 years later than actual rebellious people. Che Guevera must be rolling in his grave about how he's become little more than a capitalistic fashion icon for wannabe rebels who probably have never read anything he's ever written, or know anything about his life.

Another rant about the media

Well halfway across the world and however many days after the Virginia shooting I still can't turn on the TV news without seeing big reports about the shooter, his photos, his plays, his life. BBC World even was so low as to discuss the complaints by the police of NBC showing the videos/pictures, while showing the pictures and videos in a splitscreen. Al-Jazeera English, which claims to show a "different perspective", has been giving this as much focus as the other networks it pretends to be different from.

And yet at no point in time has BBC or Al-Jazeera provided that kind of coverage about the victims. Not their names, their dreams, their goals in life, nothing. Hey BBC, maybe some of the victims wrote plays too! Ever consider reading them to viewers?!

Oh, and thanks for the 15-second update on how 100,000 people died in Darfur. Feel free to go back to Virginia now to talk to your expert-of-the-day psychiatrist for 5 minutes about what the shooter had for lunch that day.

The shooter is dead and yet he won. He wanted fame and knew how to get it. Sent pictures to a network who happily gave him what he wanted. He not only killed dozens of innocent people, he used their deaths, and the grief and pain of their families, to propel himself into a sick form of immortality. Just like he wanted. And the media gave it to him - a parting gift from people who apparantly will walk over 30+ graves for ratings.

I hate the media sometimes. I just hate them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On fixing things and media attention

One of the nice things about living in a compound is that there are dedicated maintenance guys whose job is to fix whatever goes wrong in your apartment. If I have a problem I don’t need to grab a phone book to look up a plumber, electrician or whomever, I just have to call the main office and have the maintenance guys sent over.

What makes me even more fortunate is that the maintenance guys in my compound are a) competent and b) quick. Usually once or twice a month I hear horror stories from coworkers and other people living in other compounds about problems with maintenance staff. Guys who have to be shown how to do their jobs, or show up one to two weeks despite repeated calls about your washing machine being broken, or both – having guys who don’t know what they are doing show up after one or two weeks. And there is no choice in the matter, if you call someone else then you are paying the bill out of your own pocket, if the security staff even lets the repair guy in.

At my compound you call and they are there within an hour looking at the problem. I’ve only needed them a couple of times but both times everything was fixed promptly and I had no further problems since (which is a good thing since one of the things they had to fix was an air conditioner!). It’s like out of those 1950’s futuristic shows, just push a button and suddenly people show up to fix things!

The maintenance guys will be getting a nice bonus from me this Christmas.

As a side note I’ve been seeing all the media coverage of this university shooting in the States and have come to two conclusions:

1) similar disasters in non-Western countries would get about 1/5th the coverage;
2) the media have provided the shooter with what he wanted, attention and fame. He went from unrecognized nobody to having everything he did and wrote being scrutinized by millions;

Both of these issues indicate something wrong today with media. Now item #1 I don’t blame US media for, the shootings happened in the US so it is natural that they’d give it lots of coverage; but why were BBC and Al-Jazeera providing live feeds and tons of coverage? Repeated bombings taking out dozens in Baghdad get a news story of a few minutes on those networks, a US school shooting gets repeated and lengthy multi-day coverage. I don’t get it.

As for item #2, it wouldn’t surprise me if this trend increases the problem of these kinds of incidents occurring in the future. Now lonely suicidal nutcases know that taking a bunch of innocent people with them before they go will give them the attention they deludedly think they deserve. Just touch on the shooter’s name and move on, don’t dwell on them. I wonder if this nutcase was mentioning Columbine because he liked the attention those killers got?

Anyway, rant over, time for the weekend.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The classics never die.

Sometimes the classics never die. Remember hearing about, when phones were first coming into widespread use, how people were worried that if they spoke with a sick person over the phone they could catch their disease? That somehow germs transmitted themselves over phone lines? I guess it wasn’t a big leap of logic if you didn’t know how a phone worked – you could hear the person, so why couldn’t germs travel with the voice as well.

Well, some classics never die. According to numerous press articles there was a panic in Pakistan and Afghanistan because some prankster sent messages around about a deadly “cell phone virus” that would kill you if you answered the phone when certain numbers were trying to contact you. The rumour spread like wildfire, some people actually went to hospital figuring they had caught the virus, and many religious leaders were fooled as well. Newspapers had to publish statements from the various Telecom companies stating that it was a hoax because the telecoms were receiving hundreds of phone calls from panicked customers.

If this happened in North America or the UK I’d be railing right now about how education needs to be better funded and critical thinking taught in schools before hoaxes like this do real damage. But in countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan where for many a good education is simply a dream and families have greater problems, like finding food, then picking out colleges for their kids, I’m not surprised that many people would be taken in by the hoax. I don’t blame them for not knowing that viruses do not travel through cell phones, nor that it could transmit frequencies that could cause instant-brain injury – how would they know? I just hope that one day things will settle enough that poor people in those countries have access to good education.

Of course, I still want more critical thinking to be taught in the West as well. We may laugh at the cell-phone hoax, but meanwhile Westerners watch Oprah talk about ‘the Secret’, buy the latest New Age self-help book, take homeopathic meds, and wonder what our horoscope is like today. Same difference.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I have joined the 21st century.

Okay I have now made the technological jump and got myself hooked up on Skype. It took me a while to get it figured out but my friend Knut had asked me to do it - if only because long-distance calls are a real burn $$$-wise. I tried it out today and it worked. No visual though, but I'll see what I can do to get that set up as well.

So between starting a blog and being on Skype I'm a 21st century man! (No, I consider this blog a reasonable cover for not having a MySpace account so I'm not planning to get one.)

Maybe I'll start a dot-com franchise next! :)

Anyway if you have a Skype account and want to talk let me know. Time zone differences can make this a bit of a challenge, but I'm sure we can work something out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A trip to the nightclub

I rarely go to nightclubs, it just isn't my thing. Even in high school, university, my 20s, I just was not big on going to clubs. I'm not a big drinker either and when I go out with friends I prefer chatting with people, something that is difficult to do when there is music constantly blaring.

Last night a coworker asked if I wanted to head out for a few drinks, there was a new nightclub nearby so he suggested there. I figured what the hey, I haven't been out for a while and I'm always willing to see somewhere new.

So here it is - standard nightclub experience in Doha:

cover charge QR90 (about US$25), included two drinks though. Believe it or not door fees like this are pretty standard here, possibly to keep out the riff-raff (labourers) or so that the club can at least make some money off of those guys who have no intention of paying money for overpriced drinks. Speaking of which:

Overpriced drinks. A beer was something like QR24 (~US$7) and spirits at least that or more. My friend and I considered having Bushmills and coke and he asked the bartender how much for a double. The bartender said QR167 (~$45). We said that he could put the bottle back on the shelf. I think at the liquor store you could pay less than that for an entire bottle.

music: supplied by a, I think, Philippino band playing various cover tunes. I think there is some kind of industry in the Phillipines that creates cover bands so that they can find work in the Middle East, pretty much every bar I've been into in the Middle East that has live music has a Philippino band playing it. Maybe the clubs can bring them in cheaply? That said, they were an excellent band.

crowd: it was a big club and it was packed (>500 people I figure) by 10:30 so it was definately a happening place. Problem is that in Qatar the vast majority of the population are ex-pats, which means that they are mostly men working in construction, oil & gas, finance etc. And I think that Qatari women would, in general, never be seen in a nightclub. I could be wrong about that but I don't recall seeing any Arab women in the club that evening. So that means a severe gender imbalance occurs at almost any establishment. In this case I figure the man-woman ratio was around 8:1, maybe worse, which meant a lot of guys just hanging around. It is tough for a single guy to meet any ladies in this town.

By 12:00 my friend & I had had enough. "I feel like I'm in a gay bar" I recall him saying. If someone from the West just landed in Doha and walked into this club he'd probably think the same thing.

At least it reinforced why I generally don't go to clubs . . .

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The job

One thing you might have noticed about my blog is that I don’t discuss work. Well guess what – it is because I’m never going to blog about work.

One thing about being a regulator is that a lot of stuff that crosses my desk is confidential. I have access to private financial information on companies as well as other materials on their controls, pricing, etc. Keeping those things confidential is a big deal, in fact in my contract I’m required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Disclosing confidential information could land me in serious trouble with the law, including fines and jail time. In Bermuda disclosing confidential information held by the Bermuda Monetary Authority (where I last worked) could get you 10 years in prison. Not worth the risk as far as I'm concerned.

Also blogging about work is a surefire way to get in trouble. At least once a month you hear a story about some fool, usually in London or New York, who either emails people about something personal, or blogs about something at work that later comes back to haunt them. One I remember was while I was an auditor. Someone secretly videotaped a woman (an audit manager at a different firm) at a party in a compromising position. [No I wasn’t at the party and haven’t seen the vid so I’m not sure what it was about]. It circulated quickly around her office and someone accidentally forwarded it to a client. When the dust settled the guy who took the video and the person who emailed it around the office were both fired, and I believe the audit manager was transferred to a different office because she was so humiliated.

So the last thing I want to do is get in trouble blabbing about work via a blog. Just the other day one of my coworkers told me that he found my blog while Googling something about Qatar (cool!). If I started griping about coworkers or my job it wouldn’t take much for a coworker to figure out who I’m talking about – and probably start emailing my blog around the office.

So work is fine. It always will be. Thanks for asking.