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.

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