Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. I went to friend's place for a Christmas Eve dinner and then I had a late lunch/early dinner Christmas Day hosted by some other friends of mine. Turkey and all the trimmings for Christmas. Like my eggnog woes someone else lamented that you can't find pumpkin pie here. C'est la vie I guess, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches of not being in North America. It is a shame though as pumpkin pie is my favourite. For the Christmas Eve function I made some eggnog (sans alcohol) and while I would not say it was the world's greatest eggnog it turned out reasonable enough.

The other day I was on my lunch break at the mall with some Qatari colleagues when one of them remembered that he needed to shop for something we do not really know much about in the West -- aoud. So off we went to an Arab perfume shop in the mall where raw aoud is available for sale.

Aoud (or sometimes spelt 'oud' but that is also the same spelling for an Arabic guitar) is a wood that Qataris like to place in incense burners. The wood is from a Southeast Asian tree called an Agar tree. When a certain type of fungus attacks the tree it fights back by exuding a resin, which also happens to be a powerful fragrance. When the resin-infused wood is burnt it gives off a fragrant smoke which Qataris use to add a scent to rooms or clothing.

When we got to the shop the owner started pulling out small chests where he keeps pieces of aoud and my colleagues took the time to point out to me how to identify various qualities of aoud. Bands of colour is important (the word is normally light in colour, darker bands indicate the resin) and a tiny piece was placed in incense burner so that we could see the resin boil and create the smoke (another way to tell how much resin is in the wood). While the tiny piece was in the burner they showed me how to brush the smoke towards your face to get the scent of the wood, also mentioning that smoke from good quality aoud will not cause your eyes to water. Then they demonstrated how you hold the burner a few feet under your face and let your gurtra hang down over the smoke so that the scent of the smoke infuses the clothing. Much like tobacco smoke if you get enough in the clothing the scent will stay for a couple of days.

All in all it was a great lesson in Arab culture.

Now you might be wondering, isn't this 'quality checking' a bit much for a bit of wood you burn? You would think so until you realise how expensive the stuff is. The first box we were shown contained low-quality aoud that was selling for about QR 300/kg (US$80/kg or ~US$35/pound). That was the low-quality stuff. One of the boxes contained aoud selling for QR 1000/kg (US$270/kg), and the best-quality aoud that the store had went for . . . . brace yourself . . . . US$9500 a kilo!! I nearly fell over, almost $10,000 for a kilo of wood! Aoud is serious business in the Gulf.

I now want to grow an Agar tree in my home!

Monday, December 22, 2008


Christmas in Qatar does not have quite the excitement that it would in most parts of the world, not least in part because Muslims do not celebrate Christmas. Things have been changing a little bit over the time I've been here though. The Christmas displays in the malls seem to be more and more noticeable every year, from very subdued beginnings when I first arrived to nice displays in the middle of malls. Most, if not all, malls in Qatar do not do the Santa thing though. Some hotels do but by and large Santa does not make the widespread appearances that he does in Western countries leading up to the Christmas season. Combine that with the fact that it is still over 20° and it just does not feel like Christmas. I keep forgetting that it is only a few days away.

Two days ago I want to the grocery store to get some eggnog and guess what -- there wasn't any. Not because it had sold out, there just wasn't any. I don't know why I thought stores would have it, just going on autopilot I guess. I lamented the lack of a eggnog at work and a coworker recalled that two years ago a different grocery store did carry it. So last night it was out to the other grocery store (I even had a request from an American friend to pick up some for him as well if I could find it). No luck. I might just have to make some from scratch, however you do that. I'm sure there are good recipes on the internet. I wanted some so that my Qatari friends could try it as they had never even heard of eggnog before. Even many of my British co-workers had never tried it, I guess it is a very North American thing.

Another thing about Christmas in Qatar that takes a bit of getting used to is that it is not a public holiday. Thankfully my office does give us Christmas off work but for most it is just another day as usual. Case in point I was at the physiotherapist today and after I was done I went to the counter for booking my next appointment to be told that it would be on the 25th at 8am. I said "great, thanks", walked out the door, then went "wait a minute..." .

So I get to start my Christmas morning with a physiotherapy appointment! ( I guess it's a gift that keeps on giving.)

My Qatari colleagues were not that excited about having Christmas off work since of course they weren't really going to be doing anything with the day off. I joked with them noting that wouldn't it be nice to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Isa (Isa = Jesus in Arabic, according to the Qur'an Jesus was a Prophet of God as well) since most Muslims celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed? They knew I was joking of course, while most Muslim countries have a day set aside to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed, Wahhabist-Islam nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia do not. My understanding is that under the form of Islam practised in Qatar and Saudi Arabia while they revere the Prophet they are careful not to revere him to such an extent that it could be seen as almost worshipping him, so having a holiday just for him would somehow detract from the proper focus on Allah. At least I think that is why they do not have birthday celebrations for him.

Oh well so it looks like the 25th will be an unusual Christmas Day for me. I am attending a late Christmas lunch/dinner at a friend's house so the day will not be a total wash. And I get to eat turkey. And maybe eggnog.

If I do not post before then have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 19, 2008

National Day

I forgot to mention that December 18 was also Qatar's National Day so I got the day off work. Celebrating this day as the National Day is a relatively new phenomenon only a couple of years old. Before then the national day was September 3, the day Qatar gained independence from Britain, but the Emir decided to move it to December 18, the day the Al-Thani family took power something over a century ago.

I remember the first September 3 holiday that I had here and there was nothing going on in the way of festivities. Made sense I suppose, early September is still bloody hot. Moving it to December means that the temperatures are nice enough for the country to celebrate National Day. This year they had a military parade in the morning, horse races in the afternoon, and a fireworks show on the Corniche in the evening. I only went to the fireworks which were good but started way too late (10:00pm) and there was not much else in the way of activities on the Corniche so if you got down there early there was not much to do. And don't get me started on the traffic since thousands of people went down to the Corniche. Long story short -- nice fireworks, not sure if it was worth the effort to get there though.

Now back to Singapore. While wandering around I happened to come across something that I have heard of and always wanted to try -- a fish spa. This is where you put your feet and legs into a tank of water and tiny fish called doctorfish swarm over your feet and legs cleaning off the dead skin. It tickled so much I couldn't stop laughing! Imagine having fish go in-between your toes and nibble at the soles of your feet. So I was cracking up, and the staff were laughing because I was laughing. 20 minutes later I had nice and smooth feet. They also had a tank with bigger doctorfish but I did not like that as much as the bigger fish pinch a little and I was getting a little worried that they might actually take off some flesh. I will stick to the little fish.

If you ever see a fish spa give it a try.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Singapore eating

Okay so how was Singapore? In a word -- delicious.

Singapore is what you would call a 3-or-4-day city, not one of those places that could keep the tourist busy for a week or so like London or Paris, but it does have some things to do and things to see for a while. What were the touristy things I did? Raffles Hotel, Night Safari at the zoo, cruise down Singapore River, and went to see the Singapore Flyer (Singapore's equivalent of the London Eye). But mostly what I did was search out the various local cuisines available at hawker stalls and street markets throughout the city. A Singaporean colleague had given me a list of interesting night markets to try and dishes to eat. Sometimes finding those markets was a search in and of itself, and allowed me to see parts of the city that I think were a little off the beaten path of tourists. Not always of course, a few of these markets like Lau Pa Sat are well known but occasionally I was finding myself in places where were no other Westerners to be seen.

So rather than go into all the details here is a list of some of the things I ate during the trip:

Roasted duck noodle
Matcha lattes (from a place called OChaCha)
Toast with Kaya jam (from Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet)
Hainanese chicken rice
Iced lychees
Spicy popiahs
Eel with green peppers
Sweet rice cakes with black bean and sesame paste
Laksa (sort of a curry fish soup)
Ice Kachang
Mixed-meat satay
Steamed BBQ pork buns
Chili tofu
Smoked eggs

The one thing I missed trying out on was deep fried carrot cake, a local specialty. Every time I went somewhere where I had heard they served a good version of this dish the place was either closed or too crowded. Maybe next time.

I know what you're thinking, going all these out of the way places to eat in night markets and stalls didn't I get sick? Well -- yes. Luckily though it was right at the end of the trip, literally as I got to the airport to catch the flight home. In the taxi to the airport I suddenly thought "I don't feel so good all of a sudden" and by the time I got to the airport my stomach had announced that it was time to sit back & relax as it was going to be emptying itself out about once an hour. So that wound up being the most hellish plane ride I have ever had. I was sick 4 times waiting for the flight and 7 more times during the 8-hour flight, I could not even keep down some water. Thankfully no one was sitting next to me as I would have felt really embarrassed being so ill. I was also grateful that it was just vomiting and not diarreha, but at the time that was a small consolation. When I got home I went straight to bed and was ill for another day.

Man, I had never experienced "traveller bug" before and don't want to again.

I have no idea what food caused it. I actually suspect it was a dish from a cafe at a mall that some cheese in it, not from some street stall, but I have no way to be sure.

And by the way the Raffles Hotel is the biggest rip-off ever! A Singapore Sling there was S$31 (US$21)! 21 bucks for one drink!! And a pint of beer was US$18, the same beer I could get for $4 down the street. Something about that hotel just seems to appeal to older Westerners who absolutely have to pay completely ridiculous prices just to say that they had a drink there. And no I did not have a Sling, for 21 US dollars I don't care that it was invented there. I went across the street to the Fairmont and had one for half the price.

Monday, December 08, 2008


So what has been up this week?

Well for starters the Museum of Islamic Art finally opened its doors to the public, after about three years of construction. I went there on Friday to meet with a friend and his wife and wander around. I must say it is a spectacular building. Well-designed, spacious, and the exhibits were nicely placed with a reasonable amount of space between them. While the museum is a decent size it is not so large as to cause "museum fatigue" which can happen at places like the British Museum or the Louvre, where there is just so much (albeit awesome) stuff it takes forever to see it all and you get tired. Your average tourist would probably go through the Islamic Museum in about three hours, more of course if they take the time to examine every item on display. We only went through about half of it since we knew we could come back some other time to see the rest. From what we saw there was a lot of pottery, carpets, jewellery, and calligraphy/books from various eras and places such as Spain, North Africa, Middle East, India, and Central Asia. Not a lot of paintings and sculpture but this is to be expected -- in many parts of the Islamic world art that depicted individuals was frowned upon for religious reasons. There were some exceptions such as paintings from Mughul India or the late Ottoman Empire, but by and large most Islamic artwork did not depict people. I will go back to the museum to finish seeing the rest of the exhibits in a few weeks when things have quieted down a bit.

It is nice that Doha is actually starting to shape up and have nice things/areas for people to go to. When I first arrived there was not much to do aside from going to a mall. Now there is Souq Waqif (a rebuilt Souq in the old classic style with a lot of restaurants and traditional shops), the Museum, and in the next couple of months the first phase of the Pearl will open (reclaimed land that will have a beautiful boardwalk with restaurants and shops). The W hotel will be opening soon and the Grand Hyatt resort is scheduled to open the first quarter of 2009. Not that I'm too fussed about hotels as they are always really expensive, but the Hyatt will have a Thai restaurant which I'm looking forward to as I have not been that impressed with the Thai food one can find here.

In other news earlier this week the Istisqaa Prayer (prayer for rain) was held. It is an annual ritual that dates back from the time of the Prophet and apparently a Sunnah mentions it. It was the first time I had heard about the Istisqaa Prayer but Qataris take this prayer seriously -- it was led by the Emir himself. Two days later we had a big thunderstorm and a whole heap of rain. You have to be careful what you wish for though, enough rain fell that many of the streets were flooded and there were a lot of car accidents.

I joked with a couple of my Qatari colleagues about the Prayer, asking whether they did any kind of dance akin to Western stereotypes about Native "rain dances", and they laughed and noted that it was simply a set of specific prayers. I learned later that the Prayer is not just about rain, it is a more of a ritual based on repentance as part of the Prayer involves asking Allah for forgiveness for prior sins. Maybe the rain that you pray for represents washing away one's sins? I think that this Prayer may be unique to Arabia as I am not sure how widespread it is throughout the rest of the Islamic world, especially in places where they get lots of rain like Malaysia.

It was also reported that Qatar has now reached a population of 1.5 million. Considering two and half years ago when I arrived the population was just under a million it goes to show just how quickly this country is growing. The paper also reported that in the last month alone 28,000 people arrived, mostly labourers of course. Also of note was that they estimated that out of the 1.5 million people 1.18 million were men, which means that the gender ratio of men to women is close to 4:1, the highest such imbalance in the world. It can be a little unsettling to women at times, especially if you are in neighbourhoods popular with labourers such as the area just outside the Souq Waqif area, as there could literally be hundreds of men on the street and not a single woman to be seen. It also means that women can be subject to a lot of stares and leering. Couple that with strict enforcement against prostitution and "illicit relations" and you have thousands of frustrated men roaming around. I can see why women might be nervous walking around on their own.

As for my knees they are definitely improving now that I am doing proper exercises to strengthen the muscles, which has made me a happier person. One downside though is that I've had to stop swimming in the compound pool because it is just too bloody cold! The pool is unheated so the water is freezing, and the temperatures are starting to drop now so in a week or two it will be too uncomfortable to walk around without a jacket, let alone just wearing a swimsuit. I will have to find some other exercise to keep me busy for the next couple of months.

And finally the second Eid holiday has begun. I'm not sticking around in Qatar for this holiday. I have three days off work and couple that with the weekend and you got the makings of a nice getaway holiday. So I found myself a great deal to . . .

. . . ready . . .

Singapore! I leave tomorrow. Plans are to mostly relax and enjoy the food. A work colleague is from Singapore so he gave me a list of all sorts of great places to eat, as well as a couple of things to do. The Night Safari at the Zoo to see the nocturnal animals is a definite must as everyone who has been to Singapore has told me it is great. A bumboat tour of the river (apparantly there are boats called bumboats there), and a Singapore Sling at the Raffles hotel should be enough activity for a low-key relaxing trip. I'll blog about it when I get back.

Eid Mubarak to all those Muslims reading the blog, enjoy the holiday.

So where are the pictures of the glyphs?

Once again the Compound computers were crashing out, and work computers block picture sites so hopefully this works . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rain & Glyphs

It finally rained! On Friday a few rainclouds went over the country and gave it the first decent rain since January. It was maybe 1 cm max but it was nice to have a bit of rain hit your face. Now I just have to get my car cleaned again -- the raindrops pick up the dust in the air so when it dries your car is all dusty. The air is clearer though.

This Friday I went out with the Qatar Natural History Group to see a group of petroglyphs in the north of the country at Jabal al Jassassiya. The glyphs had always been mentioned in tourist guides but I've been here almost three years and never went out to see them so I did not want to miss the field trip.

The glyphs are a number of carvings, date unknown, made into the limestone rocks. When they were first discovered back in the 60s there were over 900 of them, but for some inexplicable reason a company started blowing up the limestone mounds as part of a quarry. Now about half of the glyphs are gone but thankfully I do not believe there are any plans to blow up the rest.

The carvings are mostly on the ground rather than on vertical surfaces and most of the carvings are of two themes -- boats shown from above, and a series of dots, usually 7x2 (like this ::::::: ). What the dots represent no one is quite sure of, there is some speculation it was for a game as the placement and spacing of the dots is similar to an African game. Others have pointed out that some of the series of dots are carved in the angles of the rock that would make them useless for holding counters. Because they cannot be dated, and no archaeological expedition has been undertaken to try to see if there was a nearby village or settlement, the origins of the carvings remain a mystery.

They were interesting to see as they were a lot bigger than I thought, some of them were over a foot long so would have taken a bit of effort to carve. Tonight I'll attach a couple of pictures that I took of the glyphs, hopefully you can see them and not a big red X.

Friday, November 28, 2008

End of November updates

So far the changes I've taken to help heal my knees have been going well. Every day I have been doing my isometric exercises, balance exercises, and swimming 10 laps of the compound pool (yes, a lap is to the end and back). One positive thing that should keep me doing the exercises is that after a day at the office my knees feel sore but after doing the exercises they feel better, so I start doing some my exercises as soon as I return home. My sister also sent me some other exercises and I have been starting to try them out. Hopefully they help as well. I don't think I will be able to get into physiotherapy until January because the physiotherapists here are very busy.

As for the diet it is also going well. Breakfast is a small bowl of healthy cereal, no dipping into the snacks at work, and lunch has been usually a chicken taco salad (no sour cream and I do not eat the bowl). Since lunch is my "big" meal as well as my daily source of protein dinner is usually a couple of slices of wholegrain bread, a banana and an apple. If I manage to stick to eating along these lines then the weight should gradually come off. My only lapse has been on Wednesday, when my friend Serdar offered a chocolate-covered marzipan that he brought back from Germany, and one of my Qatari colleagues was going around offering every one fresh dates stuffed with walnuts. I didn't think I could refuse when an Arab offers you dates, y'know? The other days at work I was good.

Let's see how this goes, my knees are definitely feeling better than they were last week so I'm not complaining.

In other news the men's Tennis tournament has been announced for January 5-January 12, and both Federer and Nadal are scheduled to play! This would mean that in the span of two months I will have seen both the top two men's and ladies tennis players. I sure hope they can both make it, I have never seen either one of them play before so I'm looking forward to watching their matches.

The property market in Dubai is starting to reel, and I don't think anyone is pretending it is not going to go down. Conservative estimates are 20%, while I have heard estimates as much as 60%. Banks in the region have really tightened their lending for mortgages and hundreds have been laid off from the real estate developers. There is even some concern that if the crash is big enough it will take a few regional banks with it and everyone is analysing bank financial statements to see how exposed they are to real estate. The three big property developers in Dubai have already agreed to scale back the completion dates for many projects so that further oversupply does not hit the market. However I think this means that anyone who put a down payment on an apartment in said projects is out of luck -- their apartment or villa will be delayed likely for a year or more and I highly doubt they will be getting whatever money they paid back. Let's see how this plays out over the next few weeks.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Last week I saw an ad in the local paper for a lecture on the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) at the Islamic Cultural Centre. I remember some of my Qatari colleagues telling me about all the little rituals and things you had to do during Hajj so I figured I'd go to the lecture to hear about all the details. The city of Mecca is closed to non-Muslims so going to a lecture about the Hajj is probably the closest thing I'm going to get since there is no way I will be able to actually witness it.

The Islamic Cultural Centre actually has a really nice lecture hall capable of holding at least 300 or 400 people at the ground level, with an upper tier that can probably hold another 100 to 150. Men sat on the ground level while women sat in the upper tier. I guess at least a hundred men or more showed up for the lecture, a number of women were there as well but I'm not sure how many. The lecturer was Dr. Bilal Phillips, a Canadian who converted to Islam in the early 1970s and became an Islamic scholar.

It turns out the lecture was part of a series that was being held throughout the week to prepare pilgrims for the Hajj, which is in early December. Unfortunately this lecture was about the historical/religious underpinnings for why the Hajj takes place. Dr. Phillips was very specific in the Q&A that people not ask about specific details as that would be covered in two other lectures later that week. Thus the talk didn't have the kind of stuff I was hoping to hear discussed but it still was pretty good. The first part of it was more like a sermon, discussing the story of the prophet Abraham and his second wife Hagar. There were a few stabs at Christianity and the Bible, discussing how some of the biblical accounts had to be wrong since prophets such as Abraham and Soloman would never act in a manner depicted in the Bible. There were also attacks against the Catholic rites of confession, with Dr Phillips pointing out that only Allah (God) can forgive sins, a man (i.e. a priest) cannot grant forgiveness for sins.

I was not fussed by the criticisms of Christianity. The Qur'an states that the Bible cannot be relied upon because priests have modified the text over the centuries, thus the actual message of God has been lost (according to the Qur'an this was why God chose to reveal His word to the prophet Muhammed because the Bible does not truly reflect His word). So it came as no surprise to me that an Islamic scholar would say that biblical accounts are incorrect, it is a core belief of the religion. The stuff about Catholicism was unexpected for a lecture about the Hajj but again I wouldn't expect an Islamic scholar to be overly positive about catholic rituals -- heck most other denominations of Christianity are not positive on them either.

For me the most interesting part was the question and answer as it revealed a few details I was not aware of about the Hajj, or the views of other Islamic societies towards it.

-- you can do the Hajj on behalf of someone else, even a deceased person, but then it does not count as your Hajj
-- you can do the Hajj multiple times for yourself if you have the opportunity, but it is the first one that counts the most
-- it is a requirement in the Qur'an that any Muslim who has the opportunity to do so (and can afford it) must perform it at least once in their life. Therefore if someone offers to pay for your Hajj you should not instead use the money for other expenses like food for your family etc. as you are now being given the opportunity to perform the Hajj.
-- similarly, you should not hold off performing the Hajj until you have finished things like marrying off your daughters. If you have the means and the opportunity to perform Hajj then you should do so and it should take precedence above other matters.
-- an Umrah is a similar ritual to the Hajj, but performed on different days than the Hajj is supposed to (i.e. going to Mecca and performing the pilgrimage at a different time of the year). If one has the means and opportunity to perform Umrah, but not Hajj, then by all means perform Umrah, then start saving for Hajj. Dr Phillips noted that you if you don't you have no idea what is going to happen in the future, you might die suddenly, at which point you performed neither the Umrah nor the Hajj.
-- an Umrah does not take the place of a Hajj, but is still a valuable ritual
-- part of the ritual requires drinking water from some sacred source in ?Mecca? called "Zamzam". Dr Phillips was against Muslims doing things like bathing themselves in it, bottling some for later, or washing a shroud in it so that when you die you can be buried in a "blessed" shroud. None of these things are mentioned in the ancient Islamic teachings. Also, the water is unlikely to heal people so should not be seen as some healing fountain or Fountain of Youth. Dr Phillips noted that while some people have had medical problems that they claimed were cured by drinking Zamzam many people have not been cured, ancient Islamic accounts do not mention miraculous cures from the water, and similar claims of miraculous healings have occurred at non-Islamic places (for example Lourdes).
-- it is okay to be assisted during the Hajj if for medical reasons or age you are unable to do all the walking on your own. In ancient times you could perform the Hajj riding a camel, but nowadays you can't because there are too many pilgrims.
-- if you mess up one of the rituals there are apparently various atonements that you can do afterwards to make up for the error.

While I am intrigued about what other details there are to the Hajj I am not sure if I will attend the other lectures. It seemed to me from listening to Dr Phillips that the subsequent lectures really are meant for Muslims about to go on the pilgrimage, so I am hesitant to intrude. I will talk to my Qatari colleagues and see what they have to say.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

While all of you up in Canada and Europe sit there shivering in perhaps the latest cold snap I am proud to announce that I have finally turned off my air conditioners. The temperature has finally dropped consistently below 30°C and now the evenings are pretty pleasant, so I no longer need the air conditioners on during the day and can sleep without one during the night. And it only took until late-November.

Health update

Well I got back from the doctor and, not surprisingly, I need to do more physiotherapy and work harder at this. I explained to him the exercise programme I had been undergoing with my physiotherapist and then three weeks after I stopped physiotherapy I did my exercises (exercise bike) and the next day my knees were in agony. I figured I was pushing myself too much so did not exercise for the next two weeks to let the knees rest and heal. The doctor was not happy with me for that.

Apparently there are three ways I can do this: not exercise (bad), exercise but do it incorrectly (very bad), and exercise properly (good). He figures what was happening was that the exercise bike had too large of a radius on the pedals so I was either straightening my leg out completely on the bike, which is not good because it rubs the kneecap into the cartlidge, or I was bending the knee too much, which is also bad because it pushes the kneecap into the cartlidge. I need to make sure that I do neither of those things because it will make the injury a lot worse, as I discovered. But stopping exercise is also bad because the only way I will get better is if the quadricep muscles strengthen to help hold the kneecap steadier.

Then it was time for the Serious Talk. My legs are not perfectly straight and the knees bend inward a little. (I think it is genetic as I recall my father had problems with his knees as well.) This causes the bones and the knee to rub a little more against the medial cartlidge than it should, wearing down the cartlidge and causing inflammation. While this is the first time I have had this pain in my knees it was only a matter of time. The injury from the hiking and walking around during my summer vacation only highlighted the issue early, even if that hadn't happened I would have been in the same situation maybe a few years later. So the doctor said to consider this as a very early stage osteoarthrosis (i.e. arthritis). It is likely that sometime in the future I will develop arthritis in the knee joints. How long in the future depends on me, if I do not take this seriously and don't do the right exercises and strengthening then arthritis will set in early, do the right thing and it could be a long time (?decades?), if ever. But this is not a problem that will just go away, my knees will never just "feel better after a rest" and then I can go back to living the way I did before. I have got to keep up a proper exercise regimen to prevent this occurring in the future. He was even using terms like "it will help reduce the pain and discomfort and make it more manageable".

Make it more manageable!?! Arthritis!? Never go away!? *Ack*

So that was that. More physiotherapy, proper exercise, take this seriously. I also have an MRI scheduled for late December just to see how much the cartlidge is damaged.

Surprisingly I took it rather positively. I think it's because I'm one of those types of people who would rather know what was going on, even if it was not a great diagnosis, then be in discomfort and have no idea what was going on. Uncertainty makes me nervous. So having more information such as why I was in agony after exercising a few weeks back was really helpful and made me feel relieved. We had a long talk about proper exercises and other things to do. I left his office feeling fairly upbeat to be honest, which on reflection is strange considering I have a chronic long-term problem.

So that means it is time for serious changes:

1) Physiotherapy. I did six sessions before, the doctor told me that was not enough and I should be doing a lot more.

2) Exercise. Something I've always done but now the type of exercise has got to change.

Out: running, hiking/long walks, stairclimber

In: swimming, isometrics, exercise bike (proper size, might have to buy one)

Maybe: weight training (doc warned me that if I do weights it is VERY important I do that properly because if I don't it will really mess my knees up)

3) Take care in how I sit at work, I should avoid folding my legs under the chair as that bends the knees a lot.

4) Lose weight. Simple logic, the less you weigh the less stress there is on the knees.

Now I have always been on the overweight side but never obese (according to BMI). Like many people I lose weight and regain it, and so on. Unlike most people that yo-yo-ing is only in a range of 10-12kg (22-27 pounds). I think in the last 10 years I have never been out of that range. Time for that to change, and that will likely be the hardest part of this all. But I've started already -- the fridge is now full of fresh fruit and vegetables. For the last two days I have been cutting back on portions, and will tell friends and colleagues why I am dieting so that hopefully they will help stop me if I start reaching for the treats and snacks that seem to flow frequently around the workplace. Hopefully after a few months my weight will have dropped a decent amount.

And so starts a new beginning...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Camping Qatari-style

I was speaking to one of my Qatari colleagues the other day about his plans for the weekend and he said that he was probably going to go camping with his friends. That sounded intriguing, I did not know young Qataris go camping in the desert, so I asked him more about camping in Qatar. The conversation kind of went something like this.

(me jokingly) " so how do you guys camp, a big tent with an air conditioner?"

"No, it's cool enough now that we don't need one, but we will have a generator"

"A generator? What for?"

"Well for the lights and the television."

"Television?! You guys are going to bring a television?"

"Yeah, one of my friends is going to bring one."

(laughing) "What, you guys have a satellite dish or something as well?"


"So why bring a television?"

"Well my friend had better bring one because I'm bringing my Xbox."

(laughing, then sarcastically) "Sounds like you guys are really roughing it! And do you have servants do the cooking for you as well?"

"One of my friends is looking for one to bring along."

"Huh . . . WHAT?! He is going to bring a servant?! What for??"

"For the cooking and cleaning. I don't have a problem with doing it myself but some of my friends don't know how to cook, so if only some of you are doing the cooking and cleaning it will just lead to arguments, in which case it is better to have someone else do it." . . . "and he can watch our stuff while we are away at the dunes."

"ummmmmm . . . let me get this straight. Camping = a big tent with a generator, a television with Xbox, and a servant doing all the cooking and cleaning."

"Yeah, it's fun."

I joked that setting up a tent on the beach of the 5-star Sharq Resort would be roughing it more -- you would have waiter service but not have electricity.

Is he pulling my leg? Maybe, but he is a decent guy and devout Muslim so is not the type who would usually make up extravagant lies as a practical joke. If anyone out there can verify the Qatari "camping" experience let me know. It sure is a heck of a lot different than what Canadians consider camping.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Computers and Health

I'm getting really fed up with the computer access at my compound. Not only has it been very slow in the last month or so but it will time out about every 20 seconds, making accessing web pages a real chore -- and forget uploading anything. I have had my Czech Republic e-album ready for almost a month now and I can't upload it! (No I can't even stay late at work to do it there, the office network blocks photo sharing sites) It is starting to drive me nuts. Another person at the compound told me he spoke to management about the Internet access and management doesn't seem that bothered with it. Hopefully it gets fixed soon.

Health-wise the knees are still a problem. Patella chrondromalacia (runner's knee) apparently takes a long time to get better and I guess I rushed it because after two months of ups and downs I now think I am back to square one. I have a doctor's appointment this Thursday afternoon so hopefully I can get back on track -- and rule out that it is not some other affliction. I will probably need another round of physiotherapy sessions. According to some of my Internet research it may take a good two months or more to get better.

What is really annoying is that even driving a car irritates it, I think due to all the lifting of the leg and moving it around between the gas and the brake. That means that not only is walking a potential problem but also driving. Also, one of the symptoms of runner's knee is if you have pain or irritation in the knees from activities such as sitting at a desk for a long period of time. Why in the world that would be irritating I don't know, maybe the knees don't like to be in the sitting position for long periods of time? I agree though -- I do not recall my knees ever feeling better after a day at the office (sometimes they do not feel any worse, but they are never better). My knees usually are at their best in the morning after I wake up so obviously laying in bed is pretty good for them. I will ask the doctor about that.

The hands (repetitive strain injury) are generally okay though. Using a tablet instead of a mouse, and having speech recognition software, has been a real saviour. I doubt I would have been able to work in the office anymore without them.

It sometimes depresses me that in the last few years I have been getting a lot of long-term/chronic illnesses. Tennis elbow (2 months to heal), repetitive strain injury (will never fully heal), bronchitis (1month+), and now this. Why can't I get those simple injury/illnesses that go away in a few days? I'm not even 40 yet, so I'm now starting to get a little concerned about what I'll be like when I'm retirement age. Gack!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama & Tennis

Now that everything has settled with the US election I guess I should join the tens of thousands of other bloggers to voice my opinion on the results. First of all I was not really following the candidate's positions on issues. After all, I am not American so I was not really concerned with their policies regarding economics, social services, housing etc. I guess I should have cared about their stances on the economy given that their decisions would reverberate throughout the world's economy, but at the end of the day me caring or not caring is not going to have an impact on their policies.

I did however get caught up with the drama. The changing poll results, the shifting media focus from Obama to Palin to Obama again, the battleground states, the subtle racial, gender and religious undertones (will whites vote for Obama? Is McCain "Conservative Christian" enough? Will Hillary voters shift to Palin? The accusations that Obama is a Muslim.). I'm not even American and I can give you off of the top of my head the electoral votes for probably 20 states. What a bizarre election it was. I really liked how early on a guy on the street was talking to a reporter and said something to the effect of "minorities feel really charged about this election because for the first time you can vote for someone other than a rich white man".

So am I happy with the result? I would have to say that yes I am. Not because I am sure Obama has better policies, more because if I were an American I would have probably voted for him. Actually the truth is I would have voted for anyone who stood a chance of defeating McCain/Palin. Palin was a very conservative Christian who I believe was in favour of teaching creationism as a scientific alternative to evolution, and for that alone there is no way I could have voted for them. So Obama it is!

Obama has a tough job ahead of him and he is entering the presidency at a time when his country is really in a mess. On the bright side that makes his chance for reelection better since after four years it is highly unlikely things will have gotten worse so he will be able to take some credit for improving things (even if nothing he did caused the improvements).

I also forgot to mention that the season-ending women's tennis championships were in Doha a week ago. Thus I got to see the top eight women play which was awesome considering my tickets in the middle stands cost QR20 (~US$5.50). I saw Venus& Serena, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva. No Sharapova though, she had to pull out of the tournament due to injury. By and large the tennis was good but I did not get to see the finals since I had to leave for Dubai that day.

There were three things about the tournament that were annoying though.

The first was people who brought babies to the tennis matches. Seriously, people actually brought their babies to an event where you have to remain silent while players are serving. The tickets specifically state that no one under two would be allowed into the stadium but obviously it had not been enforced. Not surprisingly at least once each evening someone had to run out of the stadium with their screaming baby. I do not think you would ever see that at any other major tennis tournament. Leave the babies and toddlers at home people!! With any luck next year security will enforce the "no one under 2" policy. Maybe it should be no one under 4. (And before anyone starts thinking that it was Arabs most of the people with the babies were Westerners)

The second was groups of schoolkids aged around 7-9 on some kind of evening field trip. Do you remember what field trips were like when you were that young? Right, we were all noisily laughing and chatting with our friends. And these kids were no exception. At one point both players stopped and stared at the umpire, who had to specifically tell the children to be quiet. Remember this tournament is broadcast by at least 20 major networks, so do have to stop play for something like that would be a real embarrassment for Qatar. The Qataris knew it as well, because after the umpire's comments security guards were up there in a flash keeping an eye on the kids for the rest of the set, and they were gone by the next set. There was another group of school kids the next night that security was there right from the get-go to keep them quiet.

The third was the distribution of tickets. At no point in time in the three nights I was there was the stadium more than 40% full, yet there were people waiting outside hoping to get tickets but the ticket booth didn't have any to sell. I know this because a friend of mine wound up with four extra tickets so went out front of the ticket booth and announced "who wants tickets?". 10 people surrounded him immediately. (By the way he sold the tickets at face value, he wasn't scalping). Obviously Qatar needs to take a look at this issue to try to figure out how to get more people in the seats. Since tickets for the middle and upper sections were so cheap (QR20 and QR10) I assume people were just buying a whole bunch and then not being too worried if they could/couldn't make it. But if the organisers make the tickets more expensive they probably won't sell them all so it is a bit of a conrundrum.

Now despite my comments above I have to say that this tournament was the best run out of the four major ones I have attended in Doha. Obviously the Qataris have been learning from previous tournaments and improving things. Hopefully next year's tournament will be even better.

And congrats to Venus Williams for winning. It was a shame that in her match with Serena that Serena's game fell apart in the last two sets (5-7, 6-0, 6-1) but it was still great to watch them.

On travel

So what has been happening? I just got back from four days in Dubai where I was giving a brief presentation at an IFRS seminar. IFRS stands for International Financial Reporting Standards, which are used in most countries by accountants in creating financial statements. I won't bore you with the details of an accounting seminar but suffice to say there were two things on everyone's mind:

(1) the global financial crisis; and
(2) the Dubai property market

The Dubai property market is getting really nervous right now as banks are tightening their lending, property development companies are laying off staff, and the share price of local real estate companies plummet. Everyone is now selling but no one appears to be buying. Prices are starting to inch down but there have been no dramatic decreases (yet). The next few months should be very interesting, hopefully there will not be a full-blown panic as a lot of Dubai's economy relies on property.

Otherwise prices on everything else in Dubai could really do to go down. When I got to my hotel I did not want a big dinner so I just went to the hotel pub to have a burger. The price of a burger and fries in a pub at the Sheraton? 69 dirhams, which is about US$19 (Cdn $21). 20 bucks for a burger and fries! I could not believe it. The Middle East is becoming such a rip-off nowadays, I'm getting tired of having to pay prices like $4-5 for a coffee. That is why I hate going out to fancy places, give me a $5 dinner at a cheap indian place any day. But it is getting more and more difficult to find anything reasonably priced around here.

Thanks to my trip I did get to see the brand new terminal 3 in Dubai airport. It is apparently one of the largest single terminal buildings in the world and since it opened only a few weeks ago everything was still new. My impressions? It is too big, it felt very empty to me (then again it will not be fully utilised for another month or so) and because the decor is white, silver, and muted green it seemed very sterile and cold. But that still makes it way better than Terminal One, which many of us jokingly refer to as a refugee camp. Terminal one was always crowded and had inadequate seating so whenever I went there I would see lots of people sleeping on the floor. Waiting times through security were hit and miss as well and transit passengers going through terminal one could spend an hour or two waiting in the security line. At terminal three there were so few people I wasn't waiting in any lines at all. I even went through the security/X-ray without a single person behind me, try to think about the last time that ever happened to you. When I got to a coffee shop I joked with the staff if they had any seats available since they had over 30 seats and I was the only customer. Like I said I was not that impressed but if being in an empty and sterile-looking airport is the price one pays for having no lineups or hassles I will gladly take it.

Once terminal three is fully running it should cease feeling somewhat like an empty warehouse, and thankfully terminal one will now be far less crowded and easier to deal with.

(And for those of you not that familiar with Dubai terminal one yes I do think the crowding was worse than Heathrow 3 & 4)

Since I'm talking about airports I may as well give everyone my general views on them since I have now seen so many. The general rule seems to be that the more famous an airport is the worse it will be. I think this is because the "big name" airports were built decades ago so are now completely inadequate compared to a modern airport. Heathrow, JFK, O'Hare, Charles de Gaulle, Atlanta, none of them are particularly nice and I do not look forward to going to any of them. There are exceptions when those airports have new terminals, JFK's new terminal nine is nice and modern while their older terminal reminded me of a subway station. And Heathrow is particularly infamous. I haven't seen Heathrow terminal five yet but maybe now that the opening disaster has settled it will be nice.

Airports I liked? Vancouver, Hong Kong and Zurich are all very pleasant and generally efficient (especially HK and Zurich). Washington-Reagan airport is pretty good. I do not remember much good or bad about Beijing and Shanghai so I guess I will put them in the "okay" category. Miami is poorly laid out requiring you to walk a 1,000,000 miles to get to different terminals. Abu Dhabi is small and old, Muscat & Bahrain are not bad but wait times on arrival can be a pain. I will put Doha in the okay category although many might disagree. At least you don't have to walk a lot to get to places and there is plentiful seating. I am in Calgary airport at least once a year and it is decent.

I guess I will leave it there for now, happy flying everyone.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Get a second opinion!

A colleague of mine recently had his family away for a few weeks staying with relatives in the Far East and while the family was there they took their year-old son for a medical checkup. The results came back -- the child had high levels of lead and mercury in his system! Needless to say my colleague was quite concerned but couldn't for the life of him figure out how his son could have lead and mercury in his system. The water here is reverse osmosis filtered seawater, which does not contain those chemicals to any degree, and the family normally drank bottled water anyway. They've never fed him fish or other seafood that tends to concentrate heavy metals. I was a little suspicious of the situation as well and was glad when he decided to have his son tested at another clinic. If the results came back positive again he was going to get the whole family tested (and I was going get myself tested too in case it had something to do with the water).

Test results -- nothing found! And doctors at the second clinic were of the opinion that if the baby had heavy metal levels that high the child would also have readily apparent behavioural/development issues.

So what was with the high levels of lead and mercury from the first clinic? My "critical thinking" sense started tingling and I think I knew what was going on. I asked him a simple question:

Did this first clinic seem eager to offer chelation treatment?


Sigh. Sounds to me like this clinic was another one of those places that finds "problems" with someone so they can immediately offer them treatments. Basically a medical scam.

So what is chelation? Before I begin, chelation treatment is not in-and-of itself a scam, it is a viable medical treatment, it is just overpromoted in some "alt-med" clinics. It involves injecting a chemical called EDTA into your system, which is a chemical with an excellent ability to bind to metal ions. Once bound to metal the resultant metal-EDTA composite is then more easily removed by the body. Chelation treatment is actually used in the medical community for metal poisoning for that reason, but like any treatment you do have to be careful. EDTA is not choosy about what metals it binds to so chelation therapy will remove even beneficial metals such as iron from your body. Someone undergoing this treatment would need to make sure that they are taking extra doses of metals important to your health. And EDTA, like all medications, is not 100% safe as some patients can have side-effects or adverse reactions. Unfortunately many dubious clinics like to promote chelation therapy for removing "toxins" and other nonsense, at a nice price as well of course. It is also not uncommon for such clinics to diagnose patients as having high levels of some harmful metal in order to get the now-worried patients paying for expensive chelation treatments. That the clinic would do this to someone is annoying, that they would try to get a baby to go through chelation therapy in the name of making a few bucks is sickening. I hope my colleague reports the first clinic to that country's medical authorities.

So what is the lesson to be learned here?:

1) get a second independent opinion for any serious diagnosis

2) be skeptical whenever a clinic seems eager to promote a certain therapy, perhaps even offering you discounts or special prices for it

3) do some research if the clinic claims to be the only one in the area to offer a certain therapy. There is a chance they are either not the only one to offer it, or that there is a good reason why they are the only ones to offer it (i.e. because the treatment is either ineffective or unproven to work).

4) be wary of any clinic that claims to help you remove "toxins", without telling you what specifically those toxins are.

5) Oh, and be skeptical of any clinic that is critical of conventional medicine and tries to warn you away from regular doctors or hospitals, or tells you to stop taking medications prescribed from a doctor so that you can take their treatment instead.

6) and do your own research on your medical condition before accepting treatments. www.Quackwatch.org can be a good starting point.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Finance and water

Geez has it been two weeks since my last update?? Sorry about that folks.

Just a quick bit on the Global Financial Crisis. I admit I do have a couple of mutual funds that invest in a wide range of stocks and bonds. So how are they doing? I have no clue. You see, I have not even looked at what they are worth now. What would be the point? It would probably just get me depressed. I made those investments with long-term intentions like retirement, and that won't be for probably 20 years. So it is just a matter of holding on to them and hoping that they eventually rebound. I am fairly confident that everything will be fine in a few years.

My sympathies are more of those who have retired or are about to retire. The most pivotal part of retirement planning is how much money/assets you have. Suddenly the projections of how much retirement income a person has would be completely thrown out the window. People about to retire now probably planning to hang on and work a few more years -- if they keep their job, and if they lose their job I don't think it is very easy for a retiree-age person to get a new one. People who have just retired are now in real trouble as their income will likely be much lower. Retirees could be in real trouble for the next few years and with current financial systems taking a real hit I'm not sure what extent the governments can assist them. It will likely be a major issue for western governments.

In other news, Qatar has announced steep penalties and fines for wasting drinking water, including washing your car. This brings up an interesting question of where all the water comes from, after all Qatar is a desert. Well most if not all the water comes from desalination plants, which provide an impressive amount of water considering there is now over a million people in the country. There are no rivers or lakes in Qatar and since the highest point in the country is something like 70m I doubt there are extensive underground aquifers either. Some underground water must exist -- no one could have historically lived in this country otherwise, but I doubt it is much.

So why am I mentioning this? Because as part of the new law regarding wasting water it is okay to get your car washed at a service station or car wash business. This is strange to me as the amount of water used at the car wash station would be a heck of a lot more than individual just washing his car with a bucket. And I thought everyone got their water from the same source so what water are they using anyway?? Sounds to me like this new law is more to support car washes then save water resources. Maybe there is a powerful "car wash" lobby here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Although I do not interact with Qataris too often I have been fortunate enough to get to know two Qataris who work in my office as graduate trainees. Through chats I get a number of interesting titbits about life as a Qatari and how it is different, yet in some ways similar, from life in the West.

Both went to university in the West (one to France, the other to the US), which means they have had to balance their religious beliefs with life in the West. One of them told me that for him the hardest part of living in France was getting used to talking to women. Qataris, like Saudis, take seriously Islamic teachings about not associating with women you're not related to. Growing up it is hammered into a young Qatari man probably from about the age of 9 or 10 that he should not be talking to girls, and schools are gender segregated so he would never have much interaction with girls anyway. So going to the co-ed Western university classes would be a new experience. He told me that it took a good year-and-a-half before he was reasonably comfortable talking to a woman.

It works both ways. My friend Linda teaches English to Qatari high school graduates to prepare them for University and the classes are co-ed. She has told me that she has had women drop out because they cannot handle being in the same class as men.

This means of course that marriages are arranged. One of the graduates expects to be engaged next year. It is unclear to me whether he will even meet her before the engagement as his family will arrange everything, though they may "short-list" some potential candidates and he will then meet her and her family to see if they both think the marriage would be suitable. Once they are engaged THEN they can go out on dates and talk to one another -- but only while chaperoned by a male relative from her family. If they feel they are not really compatible then they will break off the engagement.

The gender segregation can manifest itself in other odd ways. For example one of the guys told me that his mother and sisters like to watch Desparate Housewives, but when the show is on they will lock the door so that the men in the family cannot see the show as they do not feel it is appropriate for men to be watching it. And this was the guy who went to university in France.

Qataris also take family responsibilities seriously. In my office the hours are 8-5 but most Qataris work for the government and their hours are 7-2. This gives a Qatari time to come home in the afternoon to see the family and maybe play with the kids before dinner. The thought of not being home with the family in the afternoon is disagreeable to Qataris. I think the graduates here are fine with the extended hours because they are not married, but once they are married and have children would probably try and find a job that would allow them to be home in the afternoons.

At the same time there are many similarities with Westerners: kids play videogames, families go shopping, people love to travel, or go to the theatre or watch movies and so on. No different than anyone else in the world.

Friday, October 03, 2008


So right now I am in the middle of the Eid holiday, celebrating the end of Ramadan. We get three days off of work so combine that with the weekend and I'm off for five days. Most times I take advantage of the holiday to go on a trip but this time I'm staying put here in Qatar. I left it a little late to book a trip and the prices got ridiculous because everyone in the region travels during Eid. Flights to Europe were generally over $1000, and hotels in the Middle East tend to crank their prices, so I figured I would stay put for once and see what Qatar does for Eid.

Apparently not much. For Qataris the holiday is a time to visit relatives, it is not one of those holidays where people have parades and things like that. So generally things are quiet. Thankfully friends are here as well so there have been things to do like barbecues, dinners, and a Pakistani colleague of mine is having an Eid party tonight. So my days have been spent doing errands and chilling out and in the evenings I go out to the dinners etc.

So with Ramadan over things will start getting back to normal around here again. Restaurants will be open at normal hours and now I will be able to go out and have lunch again. Not that I will too often as I plan to go to the gym at lunchtime instead to start to work off the weight. It is weird that during Ramadan I think you tend to eat more because in the evenings there are all these big buffets and stuff like that, and it is difficult to exercise during the day because you should not be drinking anything, even water, in public. Eat more, exercise less -- bad combination.

Unfortunately the traffic is going to be bad again as well. During Ramadan locals work reduced hours because they are fasting so rush-hour is much less hectic. Chances are starting on Sunday my commute time will have increased from about 20 minutes to 40. That is life in Doha.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Picture frame

In a similar theme to the "7 Up" posts I did earlier I got really interesting gift -- a digital photo frame. One of those picture frames were you can store a lot of photos on it and it will slowly scroll through them all. My friends Carrie and Kamahl gave it to me for staying a couple of weekends at their place to take care of their cats while they were away. I was surprised that they gave me gifts, one would have thought eating their food for four days would have evened things out, but anyway...

So far I haven't put any pictures on the frame. This has more to do with some technical difficulties involving a USB memory stick then lack of interest in using the photo frame. But what was really cool about it was that it made me go through all of the pictures that I have on my computer, looking for nice ones to put in the frame. There were a lot of photos.

Sometimes I gripe about Doha being dull and things being repetitive but looking at the pictures I can't get over all the stuff that I actually did do (or to put it more accurately -- where I have travelled). In the past two-odd years I have travelled to 14 countries. 14!! And in the previous 36 years I had travelled to 7. This December I will probably be going to another one. And next March another one.

2 1/2 years.

I have pictures of Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Forbidden City, the skyline of Hong Kong, the ruins of Petra, the Swiss Alps, the Hagia Sophia, and the St. Charles Bridge.

I have climbed the Great Wall, toured Roman ruins, swam in the Dead Sea, and wandered through the Grand Mosque in Muscat.

I drank raki on the Galata Bridge, vodka at a jazz club in Shanghai, absinthe in Montmartre, pilsner in the High Tatras, a latte on Robson Street, and a pint on Portobello Road.

I have seen the Mona Lisa, the Rosetta Stone, the Kiss by Klimt, a Chinese Opera, and the Sword of the Prophet Mohammed.

I ate snake soup in Hong Kong, coq le vin in Paris, langhose in Slovakia, halwa in Oman, cheese fondue in Interlaken, and bangers & mash on the Strand.

Sometimes you have got to just put life in perspective.

Thanks Carrie and Kamahl.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Comprendez-vous francais?

During Ramadan pretty much every restaurant is closed until evening, which means I've been eating lunch at the office a lot. Thankfully my friend Serdar's wife works somewhere where they have a cafeteria that is still open during the day so Serdar and I went out there for lunch one day. The menu was French cuisine.

Now I studied French for a number of years in school. Not that I wanted to, it was just a requirement of the school system in Canada at the time. Now I wish I had paid more attention as I'm getting more interested in learning other languages. But as it stands my legacy of French knowledge from all those years of schooling is pretty dismal. And a little knowledge can be quite dangerous. Which is why when I saw couple of the items on the menu I was really thrown:

Boeuf a la mode et sa garniture
Poulet cocotte grand mere

What do you think these are?

My rough translation of the first one was "beef in a sauce and a garnish" but it was the second one that really threw me because I thought "cocotte" meant prostitute. I'll leave it to you to try and figure out what the rest of that one is from there.

Thankfully I spoke later to a French colleague who clarified what the real translation was. Just a misunderstanding on my part as there is a second meaning of cocotte.

The beef was really tasty.

But I didn't try the chicken.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

7 Up -- part 2

28: Location -- Vancouver, British Columbia

After finishing my degree in chemistry I went to the University of British Columbia to do a year and-a-half of work to get a degree in psychology. Needless to say arts degrees are easier than science degrees, I don't care what arts students tell you. Once that was over, and the final rejections for grad school came (UBC alone had over 600 applications for eight spots), I was left with little direction as to what I was going to do now. So I spent a couple of months looking for a job and passed the time playing games at a nearby game store -- Mishra's Game Factory. Out of the blue one of the guys who was part owner of the store asked if I wanted a job at the store, not sure exactly why they asked me but it sounded like a great deal.

Thus started a phase of my life which to this day I consider the most fun I've ever had.

I was already there a lot playing games and now I was getting paid to do it, selling the merchandise as well as organising gaming tournaments. Because the store was a hub of the local gaming community there were people constantly in the store playing the various games and I got to know a lot of people: George, Happy John, Bitter John, Bryan, Mike McPhee and his group of friends (such as Mike, Mike, & Mike, no I'm not kidding), Dean and Liz, Byrun (whose blog I have a link to), Matt Nakamura, Uri, Orson, Sing, Aidan and Kerry, Fred, Dennis, Peter and the other card sharks (like Terry and Terry), and many more whose names escape me at the moment. By age 28 I had worked there probably close to four years, enjoying every minute of it. I was living downtown sharing an apartment with my high-school buddy Jake and since downtown was pretty much where it's at I never needed a car. Life was good.

But by this time I was also finishing my entrance courses to become a Chartered Accountant. After a few years at the store I knew that there was no way I could continue doing this forever. Don't get me wrong, it was a blast, but I really wasn't making any money, store revenues were slowly going down, and I was getting concerned that if I did not make a change soon I would end up being "Comic Book Man" from the Simpsons. My father, who I'm quite sure hated my job, recommended that I study to become a CA. He agreed to pay the costs if I would agree to do it so I did.

So by this time 1998 I had finished my entrance courses and had found a job as a junior accountant in Kamloops, a city about five hours drive away. I was going to be moving in about a month to start my three year apprenticeship before becoming a full Chartered Accountant. The days of playing games and hanging out with my friends in Downtown Vancouver were about to end. Even at that time I knew that I would never have so much fun in my life again. At least though I had plans for the future and when I got my designation I would be able to make a decent amount of money so that I can actually start saving. I was 28 and barely had a couple of hundred bucks on me.

35: Location -- Bermuda

After my three years in Kamloops I had achieved my designation as a Chartered Account, including passing the brutal UFE exam (16 hours, four hours a day for four days) on my first try. I was not happy at the firm so as soon as I had my designation I immediately called a placement agency in the back of an accountant magazine that specialised in jobs in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Had an phone interview with KPMG within a week and had a job offer about a week later. So I was off to Bermuda.

Shortly after I got to Bermuda my father passed away of cancer, leaving to catch my flight to Bermuda was the last time I saw him. Between that tragedy, moving to a new place where I did not know anyone, and being really busy with work I can definitely say that it was the worst winter I ever had. I spent six months being miserable and regretting my decision to move here.

That summer I was sent on a three-month secondment to the Bermuda Monatery Authority, the financial regulator. I was working in their Insurance Department helping out with some backlog. I worked well there, and they liked me working there, so they extended my secondment to the end of my KPMG contract and then hired me. I was now an insurance regulator. I liked my job. And because it was summer I was experiencing Bermuda's incredible beaches for the first time. Things were looking up.

Three years on I was still there but had moved on to the Policy Department by then. I was staying in a three-bedroom house on the water that I shared with two housemates, had a weekly tennis group that I played with, was volunteering at the zoo, and had a number of new friends: George, Knut and Petra, Janel, Gregg, Mike R and Jen, Lothar and Fiona, Martin, Zuzana, Eric & Fredericka, and others. But I had been in Bermuda for five years and it was a small island, very small. I was starting to get what locals called "Rock fever" and felt like I needed to get away. Also the Bermuda Immigration Department was very strict about work visas and would generally only foreigners work on the island for six years. And because Immigration also required that any job vacancy be posted my work would have had to post my new position if they wanted to give me a promotion -- so there was little room for me to advance. So it was either renew my contract for one year only or start looking for something else. By this time I was still uncertain as to what I was going to do, but by December I had made my decision...

38 (now): Location -- Qatar

And here I am, and insurance regulator in Qatar.

Looking back it is bizarre the path my life took. At any point in time if someone had told me where I would be, or what I would be doing, seven years later I would have told them that they were nuts.

A lot of other people can really plan for the future. They can tell you what the be doing 5, 10, or maybe even 15 years down the road and sure enough they do it. I can never plan like that, I always seem to just go with whatever opportunity happens to come by at the time I'm looking for one. Can't say that I have done too bad by it though, non?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seven Up!

For the last couple of weeks the "classic movies" have been the Up Documentaries by Michael Apted. In 1963 of the group from the BBC interviewed about a dozen seven-year-old children from various backgrounds in a documentary called Seven Up. It proved to be a hit so every seven years thereafter they would track down the same children to interview them to see how they were doing with the resulting documentaries called 14-Up, 21-Up, 28-Up and so on. The most recent one is 49-Up which I think was released last year. So far friends and I have watched 7, 21 and 42, and the 49 we will see in a few weeks when a friend brings it back from the States. They're quite good and I recommend watching them, especially 7 which cracked me up something fierce.

Reflecting on the movies I thought it would be interesting to compose my own brief 7 Up blog entry, turns out my life had changed significantly every seven years...

Born: 1970

7 -- Location: Regina, Saskatchewan

Regina is where I was born. I went to an elementary school a little more than a block away and my house was fairly close to the edge of the city and the beginning of the prairie (now I'm sure it's a few kilometres away from the prairie since the city must have grown). Most of my time was spent playing with my friend Terry Dixon and getting into the standard hijinks a young boy that age would get into. I also seem to recall that the nearest corner store, where my friends and I would go buy candy, was I think six or seven blocks away. My street ended at a small hill beyond which was a large field with railway tracks, but I do not recall if there were any trains using them. I hope I have my year right but I believe around this time in 1977 my family was preparing to move to Penticton, British Columbia, where my father had been transferred. I remember looking forward to the move as it would mean a long journey into the mountains, which I had never seen before.

14 -- Location: Penticton, British Columbia

At this point I was attending McNicoll secondary school, about a 20 minute walk away. Oddly enough I do not recall much specific to myself around this time. It was 1984 is what I remember most was the changes that were occurring in technology and culture. Music videos were becoming huge, and personal computers were starting to become prevalent. My friend Joel and I were using his Commoadore Vic-20, and it may been 1984 that he got a Commodore-64, which for its time was absolutely mind-blowing. I was also spending a lot of time down at the arcades, which were a big thing in the 80s, and hanging out at the local comics store. I think I also started working summers that year, with my first job being at the concession stand at the Okanagan Game Farm (maybe that was 1985, can't remember). I do not recall that I had any real plans for the future, my plans probably consisted of going to university after I graduated from high school, but that would have been four long years away.

21 -- Location: Kelowna, British Columbia

By the time I graduated from high school the nearby college, Okanagan College, had opened a satellite campus in Penticton for first-year students so I did my first-year college there then transferred to the main campus about 70 km north in Kelowna for the second year, majoring in chemistry. The college was a two-year college at which point students would then transfer on to the major universities on the coast (University of British Columbia, Simon Freezer University... etc) to finish their degrees. Oddly enough when I was in second year Okanagan College announced that it had a new tie-in with the University of British Columbia and were thus going to offer full four-year degrees. So at 21 I signed up to Okanagan College for my third year ...

... and I was the only chemistry student!

That was kind of bizarre being the only chemistry major. Now most chemistry courses that I took had more than one student in it because of the biology and physics majors. It usually ranged from four students to about seven. But there was the occasional specialist chemistry class for which I was the only student. Just me and the professor in the classroom, and because rules required that during labs the professor and at least one lab assistant be present I had the occasional lab where I was the only student and had two people helping me. Weird, eh?

How professors treated it differed depending on the professor. Some treated it more as a tutorial while others just went into "teaching mode" and did the same routine that they would if they had a class of 50 people.

Being the only student did have its advantages and disadvantages. If I was sick or away all I had to do was let the teacher know and I wouldn't miss anything, which was pretty cool. I was also able to schedule a couple of my exams to be at a more convenient time since I was the only one writing them. Downsides were since there was no one else in the class there were no other students to kind of compare notes or answers on assignments, and the worst part of it was you had to pay attention the entire time in class. No matter how boring the lecture was you couldn't drift off or start daydreaming because the professor was talking directly to you the whole time! There were some days where it was pretty tough.

At the time I was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with two other guys from the college. It was a nice place and just across the street from the science buildings so it took me all of three minutes to walk to class sometimes. There were a number of housemates who came and went in that apartment but I think at the time I was rooming with Brad Wakefield and Mike Varga, two guys from a town called Salmon Arm a couple hours drive north. I was hanging out with some friends from high school who also moved up to Kelowna (Jake, Tyson, Scott), my best friend Rod Young, as well as the Salmon Arm crew Brad & Mike knew.

I also recall being pretty broke. I was working summers and weekends at a nearby Agricultural Research Station operated by the government which paid enough for me to not have to use student loans to pay for school but did not leave a lot of extra money for fun. I was also stubborn and would refrain from asking my parents for money as much as possible, even if that meant eating Raman noodles for dinner. I also remember I was starting to get less enamoured with chemistry and was not sure whether I would even be able to go on to graduate school. My favourite course was actually a geography class taught by a really nice professor who was big on getting students to use their brains and think a bit beyond just rote memorisation. I don't remember his name but I do recall he was close to retiring.

My plans for the future were unknown and I seem to recall being a little bit worried about it.

Next blog entry: 28-Up, 35-Up, and today.

Cell phone update

Well what do you know my mobile phone works after all! I tried charging it up again and everything worked fine. Motorola rules!
Except now the picture tube on my television is blown. If it is not one thing it is another...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saudi cleric wants death for astrologers

So as you are aware there is a lot of financial turmoil in the markets now, what with many investment banks, as well as one of the largest insurance companies in the world (AIG), seeking buyers and/or facing bankruptcy. Someone e-mailed me for my opinion on it the other day. So what is my take on it? Sorry, that's work-related stuff. No work chat on the blog.

As for more mundane matters the knee is improving but not 100% yet. I've been seeing a physiotherapist recommended to me by a colleague and it seems to be working out well. No pain anymore but the right knee still gets uncomfortable when I stand for longer than 15 or 20 minutes. The physiotherapist has me on an exercise programme to strengthen the muscles so I'm sure in a few more weeks everything will be a-okay.

In critical thinking news a cleric in Saudi Arabia recently announced that astrologers should be put to death by the sword. A bit harsh, don'tcha think? I don't think the sharia courts of Saudi Arabia plan to follow through on that recommendation but I think things such as astrology are illegal there anyway so one astrologer would face a lesser penalty of some sort. Though I have not looked at the laws here I am sure it's illegal since you never see astrologers advertising their trade in Qatar. Now I am not a big fan of astrology, centuries of discovery and advancement in astronomy and related sciences have shown quite conclusively that astrology does not work. It has been studied extensively by scientists. The positions of celestial bodies do not influence us. That said, while I wish people would stop supporting astrology I am not some rabid anti-astrology campaigner. I know someone here who believes in astrology and they are a real nice person. I'm not about to start getting confrontational about astrology just to prove a point. I might consider getting in a confrontation if an astrologer was trying to skim money off of someone I knew, as while some astrologers are true believers I am of the opinion that most are just con-artists walking the walk to get easy money off of astrology-believers. Similar to a lot of the "psychics" that plague North America.

I suppose it is the same with any belief system, if you start to challenge a person's beliefs out of the blue people will just get defensive and "close the wagons" so to speak. That creates nothing but animosity. I would be the same. Better to make information available for people to educate themselves, or discuss it with them if they ask.

But back to Saudi Arabia. The unusual thing about this cleric is that for him to recommend the death penalty for astrologers means that he actually believes that astrology works. If I recall correctly sorcery is a very grave crime in Islam, so I think this cleric equates astrology to sorcerous practices. He would be better off educating himself a bit more about astronomy and physics and save the death-penalty rants for murderers and other horrendous criminals. I suppose he might be annoyed at the prevailance of such things on television in the Arab world. Many Arabic channels geared to young people have little "compatibility" charts on the side where viewers can text their name, a potential mate's name, and maybe their birth dates and watch as this little compatibility thing on TV spits shows a rating of how compatible you are. It is really a harmless gimmick to get teenage girls to text and would be shocked if people were actually using that to make choices about who they will marry. I suppose stranger things have happened though.

Sorcery being a crime has actually led to some interesting situations here in the Gulf -- the police treat seriously reports of individuals selling "magic amulets", "love potions" and other New Age tomfoolery and have arrested people in the past for it. The person arrested is now in a quandary as they will have to tell the court that they are either (a) a con artist as the stuff they were selling does not work, or (b) engaging in sorcery because the stuff does work. I suspect most opt for (a) as the penalties for sorcery or probably a lot greater.

E-album of Slovakia is almost done! You should see it soon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Mark!

My brother Mark turns something like 5 billion tomorrow. After reading about my recent injuries with the knee, hands etc he informed me that I would have more to come as once you turn 40 you just fall apart. Joy!

Anyway, Happy Birthday Mark!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More random updates

Well, the phone still doesn't work. I guess I couldn't have expected it to after sitting on the bottom of the pool for about 20 minutes. Thankfully I still have my old mobile and the sim card survived the pool incident so I didn't lose any of my friends' numbers. I now have to explain to the friend who gave me the phone what happened to it. My old phone is such "old tech" (true) that they bought the phone for me as a gift because it bugged them that I was using it. They will definitely notice that I'm back on my old phone.

It's not that my friend is some technology snob, the phone really is old tech. I got it by boldly walking into a mobile phone store a couple of years ago and pretty much saying "Your cheapest phone please!". It works fine, it is just not fancy in any way. (For those of you whose curiosity has been piqued it is a Motorola C113)

Speaking of new tech I just bought a new camera. My old Olympus D-560 was just not cutting it any more. Bulky, slow, and had an annoying motor sound when it opened and closed, something I really noticed when I was on vacation. Even more embarrassing was that most mobile phones with a camera feature had better resolution. Considering the camera is a good six years old it has served me well but it is time to move on to something a little smaller and more high-tech. So I picked myself up an Olympus Stylus-820, fits nicely in a pocket, 5X optical zoom, 8.0 MP, image stabilisation, and my new memory card can hold almost 1300 pictures! I'll give it a good workout tonight at a Sohour dinner that I'm going to.

Have I mentioned that it is Ramadan? For 28 days all the Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset so the hotels have lavish banquets in the evenings. Every year the office invites all the staff to one, this year it is at the Sharq spa & resort, one of the nicest hotels in town, so it should be a good spread. They will likely have entertainment as well such as musicians and Sufi dancers (perhaps better known to you as Whirling Dervishes). No bellydancing though -- that's not allowed in Qatar. Too lewd for Qatari moral values I guess.

I also received a couple of requests for that e-album of Slovakia. You haven't missed it, is just not finished yet. I've actually been quite swamped with work but more importantly these albums always take more time than I realise. You see, when I put the pictures in the album I do research to flesh out the descriptions and try to have the information correct. This takes time especially when the album is a good hundred photos or so. Then I have to upload it all onto the net, and the connection at the compound is very slow. I'm almost there, I have the pictures already uploaded and am now starting to transfer the descriptions, just be patient.

For Eid I think that I am going to stay here for the first time ever. I was checking out flights and holiday packages but I left it too late and it just got too expensive. Between that and the knee problem I figure I should just take it easy. I was considering a quick holiday to Munich for Oktoberfest but the prices were brutal. Most decent hotels in the city wanted €300+ per night, and even a one star hotel wanted €120. Ack! What a rip-off, I'm not paying that kind of money just to drink beer from a fancy mug. The cost of flight and three nights hotel was almost the price of my nine-day London/Paris trip that I did last summer. No thanks. I'll just save the money and stay here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A crummy day.

Well yesterday turned out to be a fairly crappy day. You know, one of those days when you just would have been better off staying in bed.

Firstly, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 1:30 but at 9:30 that morning the clinic called to say that the doctor would not be available at 1:30 so can I change my appointment to an earlier time such as 11:30. That was somewhat inconvenient but not a big deal, these things happen. So I get to the clinic a little early (it was my first time there so they had told me I need to show up a little earlier in order to fill out paperwork), filled out the forms, and then waited to see the doctor...

Which happened at 1:00!

Yes, I was waiting there well over an hour and a half. Why in the world they told me to show up at 11:30 I have no idea. At least there was an AC Milan game on at the time which helped while always some time. And the staff were really apologetic about the delay, to the point where even another doctor turned to ask the staff why I was still waiting as he had noticed I had been there for a while.

I forgot to mention, why was I at the doctor? During my trip to Slovakia there was a lot of walking around and standing around at museums and for some reason my legs would get tired fairly quickly. Then my friend and I went hiking in the mountains. At the end of the first day my knees were in agony. Granted I had been hiking in mountains all day but my knees hurt more than they should have been. We tried hiking again two days later on an even gentler trail but my knees wound up in pain again. So once I got back to Doha I scheduled an appointment with this clinic as they had a doctor who specialised in knee injuries.

The diagnosis: (spelling may be a bit off here) Pataeua Condromalagia. Essentially a weakening of the muscles surrounding the kneecap, causing the kneecap to press more against the bones and tendons resulting in painful inflammation.

Well, that sucked. But it is not as bad as it could have been, at first the doctor suspected a condition called oesteoathrosis but he had a thick accent so I thought he said oesteoporosis! (you know, that weakening of the bones common in elderly ladies). I nearly fell out of my chair! Thankfully he corrected my mistake and a quick x-ray ruled out the oesteoathrosis, which sounded scary as well anyway.

So now I have to get physio to strengthen the muscles around my kneecap. My legs were the last place I ever thought I would have weak muscles considering I walk a lot and used to play a lot of tennis.

So that evening I decided to do some swimming since that would be exercise that would not really affect my knees. So I am swimming around the pool and after about 20 minutes I noticed that there was a mobile phone on the bottom of the pool. I knew that wasn't mine because mine was in my knapsack on the lounge chair so I assumed it belonged to the other gentlemen swimming in the pool. But when I pointed it out he said it was not his. A closer look revealed that was the same model as my phone.

And then I realised that, for some unknown stupid reason, I had put my phone in the pocket of my swimsuit when I headed out to the pool! That was my phone!! So not only did I decide to put my phone in my swimsuit pocket, something I've never done previously, I must have looked like an idiot in front this other guy. "Oh yeah, that's my phone!"

I have decided to dry my phone out for a couple of days in the hopes that it works. If it does I am going to send an e-mail to Motorola telling them they have absolutely amazing-quality phones.

I went to bed early telling myself that tomorrow had to be a better day.

Thankfully, it was.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More random bits

Well the Olympics are over but it looks like a least one athlete has been reading my blog. Here I was saying that Taekwondo was kind of dull so the Cuban tae kwon do champ Angel Matos decided to liven things up a bit by kicking the referee in the head! Shame I missed that. Anyway he's been banned from the sport for life, can't say I blame the IOC for that call -- what referee would be willing to oversee a match with Matos after that.

With all the Olympics stuff going on I missed a really good story involving critical thinking. This has to do with that Bigfoot scam that happened in the States, where a couple of guys froze a gorilla suit in a block of ice and claimed it was Bigfoot. Even some major media outlets were reporting on it. Shock of all shocks, thanks to the media hype they sold the "body" to some pro-Bigfoot people for some undisclosed sum and by the time the buyer managed to thaw it out and discover it was a rubber suit the guys had skipped town.

I kind of feel bad for the buyer as they obviously let their enthusiasm for Bigfoot override their caution. When someone announces that they have found an hereto undiscovered new species of 7 foot primate that had been roaming North America without us discovering it until now verify it before putting money down.

So what do I think of Bigfoot? Sorry all you Bigfoot enthusiasts out there but I cannot believe that a species as large as Bigfoot, which apparently roams North America from Alaska all the way down to Alabama, could have escaped being captured and studied by now. How can a species with that big of range have escaped detection all these years?

Anyway for those of you are interested in such things Google the word "cryptozoology". This is about researching legendary animals, though I think most of those people are a little out there. Bigfoot, yeti, the Loch Ness monster, and so forth, there are people still trying to find them.

In local news the big stories are a Qatari student in the UK who was beaten to death by a gang, and a road rage incident in Qatar where one of the drivers pulled a gun and started shooting at the other car, causing an accident which killed the other driver. (Both drivers were Qataris) The gun incident is kind of concerning as that is the first time, that I know of, that has happened here. The guy with the gun is now in serious trouble of course but even if he had not killed anyone or shot the gun he was facing good jail time. Qatar takes unregistered guns very seriously, it was only a couple weeks ago that another Qatari had his car searched by the police where they discovered an unregistered rifle and some ammo. The guy got three years in prison! Ouch. That is some serious gun control laws.

Finally, a piece of trivia that you may have seen in the papers recently. The Collins Dictionary company recently announced what they believe is the most misspelled word in the English language. The result?


Because it is not spelt "supercede". Collins believes we get it wrong because we are used to words like "precede" and "intercede". I was surprised because I definitely would have spelt it with a "c". I surveyed six people in the office and five of them thought it was spelt with a "c" and the sixth wasn't sure if it could be spelt either way. Oxford dictionary agrees with Collins. One of my co-workers suggested that maybe "supercede" is an acceptable North American spelling. If anyone has an American or Canadian dictionary who can verify it, please let me know.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Birthday wishes

My niece's birthday was yesterday (at least it was yesterday my time, because she lives 11 time zones west of here it shouldn't be yesterday where she is) Happy birthday Karis!

Hopefully Mommy and Daddy took her out to a playground or somewhere else fun and then went home for cake! Or maybe stayed home and played, and then had cake! Anyway, hope you have (had?) a great day Karis, and cake. *kiss*

More on Olympics

Apparently Canada has in the last four or five days acquired a nice haul of medals, which should at least allay fears that we were not going to win any. Of course Australia has a lot more so I'm sure there will be more moaning by Canadians once the initial rush has calmed down and the Olympics are over. Whatever.

I do like watching the Olympics possibly because it gives you the chance to see all sorts of sports that I would never usually see. So here is my take on some of the sports I had been watching:

Rowing -- pretty interesting to follow, races do not take a lot of time and they are usually quite close which adds to the excitement.

Volleyball -- decent amount of action, sometimes good drama, but I find the matches sometimes take too long

Boxing -- to me Olympic boxing is not as exciting as watching regular boxing (you know, 10 to 15 rounds, usually ends in a knockout). Knockouts are rare Olympic boxing and they do not fight many rounds.

Taekwondo -- not that exciting to watch unfortunately. A lot of time is spent with the fighters just moving a bit back and forth waiting for their opportunity.

Diving -- interesting for perhaps about 20 minutes then gets repetitive. I couldn't get caught up in the excitement.

Athletics -- I like watching it, even the more obscure ones like polevaulting. Except for speed walking, which I just find bizarre.

Gymnastics -- a lot of people really like watching it but I find myself kind of neutral about it, doesn't really grab me.

Water Polo -- actually not that bad. I happened to turn the TV on when one match was starting (Greece versus Germany) and watched the entire match. It will not be replacing hockey or soccer any time soon though.

Handball -- I don't really get it, rather watch water polo or basketball

Basketball -- the games featuring the United States have not been all that great because the US has been stomping over every opponent. Basketball is at its best when the game is close. I will still try to watch the gold medal game though.

Equestrian -- believe it or not I actually watched a large portion of the team competition and found it interesting. But I must confess it was interesting only in that I wanted to see just how badly some riders were going to screw this up. One horse refused to jump over a water hazard, and another almost managed to throw his rider. One horse seemed to make a career out of just crashing through the gates, which I found quite amusing. I also amused by how the Saudis had one "his Royal Highness" on the team (one of the hundreds of Saudi princes I assume) and he was the worst one on the team.

So enjoy the last few days of the Olympics, I'll try the catch what I can.