Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lazy Friday

I forgot to mention that my birthday was a little while ago. Not a big deal really, birthdays were never a big celebration in my family so I don't take my birthday that seriously (for us Christmas was the big family holiday). As we got older we would e-mail or otherwise send birthday wishes to one another, and if we were around take them out to dinner. Mom was the exception, her birthday was Christmas Day, and we would always make sure that she got separate birthday presents as well as Christmas presents, as well as a nice cake with candles at dinner. (As an aside, if you know someone who's birthday lies very close to Christmas, and you plan to get them a gift, I recommend not giving them a "combination" birthday/Christmas present.) Most times I don't even mention to people when my birthday is.

This year a few friends knew that it was my birthday so we decided to go out for dinner to Souq Waqif later in the week, a couple of days after my birthday. I never turn down a nice dinner! So I arrived at my friends' house earlier that afternoon to watch a movie when they surprised me -- their whole family came out of the kitchen with a chocolate cake, complete with candles, and a present! I was not expecting that at all and was completely taken aback, especially since my birthday had been a couple of days ago.

Wasn't that sweet of them? When I think about it I can't really remember the last time I had a birthday cake, certainly not in the last five or six years, and despite my earlier spiel about birthdays not being a big deal I felt grateful that they had taken the time to get a cake for me. I think there is an old saying along the lines of unexpected surprises being the most pleasant, and this was no exception.


I know I just mentioned eating cake and going out for dinner but despite that I am actually on a diet. Really, honest! It turns out a few of the other guys in the office also wanted to lose some weight so we all agreed to sign up to the gym on the first floor of our office tower and go there every lunch hour. We started this week and so far so good as I went three lunch hours (missed one because I was supposed to be going to Dubai so I didn't bring my gym bag, see previous blog entry) and I plan to go all five lunch hours next week. Going to the gym to exercise is easier when there are other people expecting you to do it. Hopefully we can keep this up for at least a few months.


In regards to my last post about countries requiring exit permits a friend of mine mentioned that he had looked into it and as far as he knows only Saudi Arabia and Qatar have exit permit requirements for foreign workers living there. I still bet that North Korea has some sort of exit permit system in place, it is just that they don't really have many foreign workers living there and many of those who are there were kidnapped by them back in the 70s, so I'm willing to bet they would need some kind of government permission to leave the country. Anyway, isn't it weird that there are probably only a handful of countries that still have this requirement?


Nothing much else happening today, just another lazy Friday in Doha. I think the Rugby Club next door is having a barbecue this afternoon so I might go just to have one burger. Just one. After that I'll just hang around until the stores are open in the evening as I need some new dress shirts, as well as an extra towel and gym shorts for the above-mentioned workouts. Later.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Exit permits

One thing about Qatar that most Westerners don't expect is the requirement for all foreigners who live in the country (at least, those who are not Arabs from the Gulf) to have an exit permit in order to leave the country. We are used to needing a visa to enter a country, but certainly not one to have to exit a country. Qatar is not unique in this regard, It is common in most of the region and I'm sure a few countries in the developing world have similar requirements. I'm guessing it is to prevent people from running off without paying their debts. It is also a good way to ensure that the only foreigners living here are those who have jobs or married to someone who has a job -- the exit permit is provided by your sponsor or employer. So if you or someone in your family doesn't have a job, no exit permit, and no leaving the country. This of course can cause problems for those who for some reason do not have an exit permit as they may then become stuck in the country with no way to leave. This can happen with workers who are in the country illegally. Recently, the United Arab Emirates granted a general amnesty for those people who needed to get a permit to leave the country without worrying about being arrested for being in the country illegally. Thousands turned up. I'm not sure if the UAE government was expecting the massive scale of illegal workers in the country.

So, why am I explaining exit permits to you? Because this week I was scheduled to go on a business trip to Dubai, went to the airport, went to immigration... and then was told that my exit permit had expired 5 days ago and that I was not allowed to leave the country! The HR department at work missed that my exit permit expired and forgot to renew it. (They did remember, however, to inform at least six of my colleagues that theirs is expiring and in need of renewal). So that was that -- I was not getting on that plane! Unfortunately we were not able to renew the exit permit until the following day by which time the forum that I was supposed to be attending was over. Needless to say that kind of sucked. I was not in a good mood that morning, but I eventually got over it. Mistakes happen. At least it didn't happen on a weekend when I was going on vacation, I would have been really screwed then. But it was then that I realised that the concept of exit permits is very annoying.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Last weekend I decided to do something different -- get a massage. A friend of mine informed me that a new barber/massage place and opened up in a strip mall near his home and it seemed that the prices were pretty reasonable so I decided to give it a try.

Now I have never had a massage in Qatar before. Generally the only massage places are in the big five-star hotels, and there they charge you an arm and a leg for a massage, around $100 or so. This place in the strip mall charges around $30 per hour which is more in line with my kind of spending budget. Of course there's one thing about it that you may not be expecting -- it is a male-only massage parlour.

Now in North America a male only massage parlour would certainly raise some eyebrows, but around here it is not that unexpected. Remember, this is a country with some stricter rules about gender segregation. I'm pretty sure that there is almost no such thing as a unisex salon here, there are salons only for women (in which case no men are allowed at all) or there are barbers for men. From what I've heard about the hotel spas they are similar, most if not all times a man goes to the spa he will get a masseur while ladies will get a masseuse and I know one example of a Thai massage place where they clearly state that you will only be massaged by someone of the same gender. So a male only massage parlour would actually be more than the norm here rather than the exception.

(That said, a couple of the Filipino guys in the massage parlour seemed pretty swishy to me, but the massage was okay and nothing untoward happened)

Otherwise, what else is new? Well, I just got over a cold, and the heat has built up to a point where it is getting uncomfortable to walk outside, but otherwise everything is fine. A friend of mine hosted a big barbecue on Friday night, and another buddy is arriving tomorrow and staying for a few days which should keep me socially active for a while.