Monday, November 29, 2010

Another Qatari wedding (Arab wedding)

So I've done the occasional post about a Qatari friend of mine who was getting married -- well the time has come! He is getting married this week. Naturally, I'm invited, as is almost every other man he knows.

Much like the previous wedding I went to you do not have a lot of build-up, I got the invitation two days ago. That's okay though because unlike the West there are no gifts, no place settings at the table, nor many of the other planning details that go into a Western wedding. In Qatari society it's perfectly acceptable to even just show up, congratulate him, and walk back out the door. No pressure on guests.

Unlike the previous Qatari wedding I went to that took place in a large tent this one is taking place at a prominent hotel. He is the oldest child and his father is a VIP in the government so apparently the celebration has to be a bit more upscale. Qatar society does place some level of expectation on people for how grand the wedding must be, it is something that the government is trying to dissuade people from doing because of the cost, but so far to no avail.

My friend has been very gracious in answering my numerous questions about wedding customs, and knows that I will be posting about it on my blog, but the actual cost of the wedding is something I haven't asked because I feel that's getting a little too nosy. I do know that for a typical wedding (remember there are separate men's and women's functions) you should expect to splash out at least $100,000, not including the gifts and jewelry that go to the bride. My friend's family is probably spending more than that.

Now if you recall technically he's already married; months ago a judge visited the couple and their families and accepted the contract of marriage, but under Qatari culture they are not considered married until they have had this celebration. There is both the men and ladies party where congratulations are excepted, food is eaten, and likely some dancing occurs -- moreso at the women's party I've heard. There is no exchanging vows, an imam overseeing a ceremony, or any other kind of formal ceremony as we know it from a Western wedding. I have asked my friend if there is any specific preparations or ceremonies that he does earlier in the day (the wedding party I'm attending starts after the evening prayer). He said no, there is no other private ceremony he does. After the men's party, which will end 10-ish, he will go to the women's party and leave with the bride. At that point they are considered married by all and sundry.

After that there will be a honeymoon. As of a few days ago my friend still wasn't sure where they were going to go!? Apparently his wife-to-be didn't have any particular preference. I'm guessing the concept of honeymoons is a pretty recent thing, possibly a Western influence. I base this on the fact that he seems somewhat laissez-faire about where their honeymoon will be.

You bet I'll post an update once the party has finished.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

malaysia and switzerland

Okay, I'm back from my tour of Switzerland and Malaysia. Switzerland was for work and had its ups and downs (as it is I got there I cracked a tooth so I had to find emergency dental treatment) but after the seminar I went down to Geneva for the weekend. I've never been to Geneva and I found it to be, I don't know, not as nice as I expected. I think when you spend time in Switzerland most of the cities look so good that cities like Geneva just seems so-so by comparison. I got to see the CERN particle accelerator facility though which was really cool, and they do have free boats that go across the lake near the Jet d’lau and the Lakeside of Geneva is scenic. Just that if you have been to some other places like Interlaken or Zürich then it doesn't hit you with as much "wow" factor as it normally might. Two days was about enough to see everything that I wanted to.

Switzerland is also really expensive so if you're planning to go you better be prepared shell out a lot of money for meals. Expect to pay at least $60 plus for even a straightforward meal at a restaurant. Fast food meal will be $12 plus per person.

I did enjoy taking the train from Basel to Geneva though, it was nice to see the countryside and there was a fantastic view from the train once it got to the mountains near the lake.

So I was back in Doha for about 24 hours before flying off to Malaysia to visit a Qatari friend of mine for the Eid holidays. I was pleasantly surprised by Kuala Lumpur, it was clean, safe, very modern, had a pretty good metro system. I could wander around the various neighborhoods and no one would bother me. The city had a few interesting sites such as the KL Tower, Petronas Tower and nearby park, and the Batu Caves (Hindu shrines and temples set in a cave in a mountainside, definitely worth seeing, but you're climbing at least 200 steps). My friend had one day off so we spent that going up to the Cameron Highlands to see the jungle and tour a tea plantation. I also spent time in Kuala Lumpur seeing a bird park, the national Mosque, a butterfly park, doing a bit of shopping, and going to a fish spa, where you put your feet in the tank and fish start eating all the dead skin on your feet. Tickles like all get out and I spent the first five minutes laughing my head off.

I also got to try durian, the infamously smelly fruit. At first I had a dessert with a durian sauce on it and it was pretty tasty, though it did smell a bit, but then my friend remembered that there was a durian stand somewhere near the fish spa so we went to seek it out. I knew we were getting close due to the smell -- either that or someone threw up in an alleyway -- and sure enough about 50m later there was a big stand of durians. The owner was willing to open the fruit right there and you could sit on some plastic chairs and eat it. The fruit is so smelly that many hotels, and the Metro, will not allow you to take the fruit in. The fruit actually tastes nothing like it smells, more like a sweet banana. Another group of four tourists also bought a durian and were sitting at a table near us trying it, at least one of them gagged and had to spit it out, they couldn't get past the smell.

It was also quite muggy and hot in Kuala Lumpur, typically sunny and hitting the mid-30s with high humidity. Going outside and walking around became a bit tiring and you were quickly just soaked with sweat. But every day around 2:30 to 3:30 there would be a massive downpour that would last about a half hour to 45 minutes, and then everything would be cooler and fresher. I only got caught in the downpour once but I had a very large umbrella with me so only my feet got wet (I was also using the umbrella as a sun umbrella for walking around, great investment and I recommend anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur to keep a big umbrella with them at all times).

Eating in Kuala Lumpur was great. There were tons of street stalls and restaurants selling Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, and related cuisines. You could typically get decent meals for five bucks provided you didn't want to go to fancy restaurants in malls and stuff. As I was with my Qatari friend we had to make sure we were eating in a halal restaurant, which were plentiful but not every restaurant was halal. Malaysia has strict laws about labeling so almost anything that is halal has to be labeled as such. I even bought some tea when we were at the Boh tea plantation and the boxes of tea had the symbol that it was halal (how in the world tea couldn't be halal is beyond me but there you go).

Back in Doha now, where I continue my Arabic classes and get out and about more because the weather has cooled, but more on that later.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Sorry I haven't posted for a while everyone, I had to go away on a business trip and, as usual, had to work late and on the weekend to make sure I got everything caught up before I left. Weirdly enough I'm only back for today because it is now the Eid Holiday so I will be off this evening to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with a Qatari friend of mine who is studying Islamic finance there. Never been to KL so I can't wait.

I'm also taking Arabic lessons again at Qatar University. It's tough, Arabic is not an easy language to learn if you're used to Latin languages. I'll post more about that when I return.

I've also been considering taking lessons in Islamic theology. Seems like a natural progression to my work studying the local culture and religion and since I believe FANAR provides free courses in it, why not? I guess the only concern is of course they are interested in you converting to Islam but from my experience Muslims are nowhere near as pushy as Christian groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. Once I've had a look at what is available maybe I will be able to do this without getting too much of a hard sell. I remember visiting FANAR once and having a discussion with one of their staff members and I think they were a little surprised by how much I actually knew about Islam.

Anyway, off to KL, I'll be back in about a week.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Doha Tribeca Film Festival -- part two

Okay, back to the movies I saw last week at the film festival...

Africa United

Attendance: about 90%

A movie about some kids in Rwanda chasing a dream. One of the kids is apparently an excellent football player and gets spotted by a scout who is holding tryouts in the capital for kids to be part of a team that will perform at the opening ceremony for the World Cup in South Africa. The kid, his "manager" (a street savvy kid who makes soccer balls out of condoms and plastic bags), and the manager's sister take a bus to the tryouts, get on the wrong bus, and wind up in the Congo. Realizing he missed the tryout they all decide to journey to South Africa to catch up with the team. Various hijinks along the way and they also pick up a couple of other people while they travel through various countries in southern Africa.

Overall I liked it and thought it was a pretty entertaining film. The film touched on some pretty deep subjects (HIV, child soldiers, war atrocities, prostitution, poverty) but on many of the subjects it was only touched on in a roundabout way so adults watching the film would understand what they were referring to but a child watching the film probably would not (the film is rated G). Despite the touchy subjects the film is a lot more upbeat than you think.

Rating: 4/5. Worth taking the family to but be warned that there is a bit of PG language

Itto Titrit

Attendance: maybe 20%, but the show did start at 22:30. I felt bad because the director and the producer were there as well.

A film from Morocco and one of the first films to be made in a native Moroccan language – Tamazight. According to the director in the past, for whatever reason, you were not allowed to make films and TV shows in that language. He was very pleased to be able to make this film where the characters all speak Tamazight.

The film takes place in 1950s Morocco in a village up in the mountains. The villagers still live traditionally and deal with a number of dramas: forced marriage, protests against French occupation, education for girls, and dealing with the modern world as it encroaches on their village.

Unfortunately when you shoot a film in a language that is not widely spoken you do not have a wide berth of acting talent to choose from. The acting in this film was generally pretty bad. Also strange was that this film dealt with so many issues, all of which could have made a movie on their own, yet were usually resolved quickly and in many cases offscreen. For example one young woman falls in love with a French soldier, the family plans to make her marry some old guy so she runs off with the soldier. But we never see her leave, run away with the soldier, say goodbye to her family, nothing. We find out she fled when 2 people gossip in the village "can you believe she ran off with that French soldier?” We never see her again. This entire romance and drama took all of about 90 seconds of film split over three scenes. You see the soldier once. One could have made an entire movie on this.

Rating: 2/5. It got a bonus point because at least it showed life in rural Morocco in the 1950s, which I thought was kind of interesting. The acting, lack of on-screen drama, weak script, and what I consider a nonsensical ending kind of killed this movie for me.

My Perestroika

attendance: around 70%, the director and one of the editors was also there

A documentary that follows five people who were all in their teens when the USSR shifted away from communism to capitalism in the early 90s. All five were classmates in the same school and the film shows how they have led such different lives and coped with the changes. One is a successful businessman, a married couple are history teachers, one is a single mother (her fiancé got killed by the Mafia) who repairs billiard tables, and one is a musician who became a punk rock star in the early 90s. They discuss how things have changed, they discuss where they were and what they did during big events in Soviet history, and how by about grade 8 or 9 they could see that the propaganda did not reflect reality.

Rating: 4/5. It was insightful, all of the people followed were pretty intelligent and open in their discussions about their views during those times. The documentary also included a lot of home movie film footage of the people and the events.

Meek's Cutoff

Attendance: I think around 50%, not bad for a late night screening

A Hollywood film set in 1840 following three covered wagons with settlers in it crossing Utah heading towards Oregon, led by a hired guide named Steven Meeks. They get lost, start running low on water, and capture an Indian in the hopes that he can lead them to water. That is pretty much the entire two-hour film summarized right there. This film is slow and contemplative and has a lot of scenes of people crossing prairie and salt plains.

Rating: 1/5. I was waiting for something to happen -- and very little did. I found the ending annoying at first but then realized that at least the film ended. This is definitely a movie for people who like slow, contemplative films but be warned -- this film makes 2001: A Space Odyssey look like a Jet Li flick.

And so ends another Tribeca. I love film festivals, yeah a lot of the films I saw weren't that great but that's the chance you take, some will always be good and some will be bad, but given that many of the films are independent of foreign films there's little chance you'll get another opportunity to see them.