Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas in Doha

Christmas was pretty busy for me this year. Luckily it was a day off at the office, Christmas is not a public holiday here and many businesses in Qatar don't give it as a holiday. This means while I had the day off for the most part it was just a regular day in the city. All the stores and restaurants were open.

This year the Christmas decorations at malls, stores, and especially hotels were a lot more subdued than previous years. Some friends of mine were telling me about how at hotels like the Ritz there were very few Christmas decorations, and certainly nothing to the extent there were in the past. I discussed this with two different Qataris and both said it was likely due to a more conservative stance by the new Emir, Sheikh Tamim. That doesn't seem unreasonable, recently hotels were ordered to not serve alcohol outside or by the pools so Qatar appears to be getting a little more conservative in regards to non-Muslim activities.

I celebrated Christmas by sleeping in (yay!), then running around picking up a couple of things before heading over to my friend’s for an early Christmas dinner, including turkey, all the trimmings, even pumpkin pie (my favourite). Exchanged gifts of course, and for their daughter I gave her some new clothes. Hopefully she’s still young enough to not care that she received clothes for Christmas, when you’re a kid you eventually reach an age where you hope for toys and clothes are not a ‘cool’ gift.

In the past we've met for Christmas at a hotel buffet but this year my friends decided to host at their place, starting the dinner early so that the young children at the dinner could go to bed at a decent time. Which was great because I had to leave around 7 to go to . . .

. . . a wedding!

Remember how I mentioned that Christmas is not a holiday in Qatar? To Muslims this is just any other day and it just so happened to be the day one of my Qatari friends was getting married. So I went to the hall, chatted with a lot of my friends who were also there for the celebration, gave my congratulations to the groom of course and watched some of the festivities (unfortunately I forgot my camera though). The evening ended at a hotel café on the beach with some of my friends, chatting while they smoked shisha.

It was not a typical Western Christmas but I’ll take it anyday.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Computer problems

Yesterday I think there was a power outage while I was out of the house and it has messed up my computer. Could take a while to get fixed so blog updates will be sporadic until I sort this out.

[posted using a friend's computer]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

National Day 2013

This year I started National Day (December 18th) on the wrong foot -- I overslept so there was no way I could get down to the Corniche in time for the parade. I had to make do with watching the aerial show from the street outside my apartment building.

From there it was off to Katara to see the National Day festivities. There was a long line up to get in I soon found out that was because they were stopping cars to hand them gifts.

I was given a big box. Inside was a garland of flowers. That was nice of them, I wasn't sure what to do with it though.

Many Qataris decorate their vehicles for National Day. Plenty of shops offer painting or other forms of patriotic covers for their vehicle.

Many were also wearing clothing with national colors (such as maroon thobes, something I don't see any other time of year).

It was pretty busy down at Katara, and most of the events hadn't started yet.

There were all sorts of things for kids, like horses for kids to sit on.

There was also a huge book where people could write their support for Qatar.

And stunt parachuting.

And some activities on the beach.

Waiting outside the amphitheater was the Emiri Guard’s band

So I went into the amphitheater, took a seat, and watched them give a 40-minute performance.

I left around 4:45 in order to get home before the traffic got bad. Too late, the roads were already jampacked and it took me about an hour to get home. From there I walked to Souq Waqif (it would take me longer to find a parking space than to walk there). Not surprisingly it was packed.

In the square they had traditional singing by Arab ladies, which was a rarity. Almost any time I've seen traditional singing it was by men.

After dinner at the Souq I went down to the Corniche to watch the fireworks. No surprise that the Corniche was packed with people waiting for the fireworks. I think tens of thousands were there.

The road was also packed with vehicles. Many of them were waving flags and generally celebrating the holiday.

After the excellent fireworks display (sorry, my pictures didn’t turn out) I wandered back home. Thankfully I lived close enough to walk back, I'm sure it took some people hours to get home.

Happy National Day Qatar!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

National Day 2013 – Qatari Celebrations

Last night I was invited to one of the tribal tents set up for National Day. Have you heard of National Day Ceremonial Road? Neither had I. It is out in Rayyan, past Education City but before Rayyan Stadium (you can find it on Google maps). It's a huge road near the palace where Qataris set up massive tents to celebrate National Day. It is located near the main palace so that His Highness the Emir can easily visit the celebrations.

Here's the outside of the tent that I visited. It's actually more like a series of small tents surrounding a large open area. This was only one of 22 such areas that have been set up along the road. Don't be fooled by the lack of cars, they were all behind me in a massive impromptu parking lot -- there were a few hundred people there.

Inside were a group of singers and a large number of Qataris sword dancing, celebrating the holiday. Other men were standing around chatting, drinking tea or Arabic coffee, or sitting in chairs that ringed the area.

Not surprisingly the traffic was really bad and it took me around an hour to get out there. When I arrived my friend told me that His Highness the Emir and His Highness the Father Emir were here but had left about 20 minutes ago. Dang it, I missed seeing the Emir visiting.

You can still see the tents today and I'm willing to bet there will be celebrations on National Day Ceremonial Road well into the evening. If you think you can handle the traffic drive by and take a look at the tents.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Camel Racing

I received an invitation from a Qatari friend to attend some camel races out at Shahanniya. I still don't know exactly when they hold races (it doesn't seem to be something commonly advertised in English) so it was great when I received the invitation as then I knew I would be there when there were some races to watch.

So we headed to the starting line, where camels were awaiting medical inspections before heading up to the start line.

Everyone then hopped into SUVs to follow the camels when they start racing.

And we were off!

It was a lot of traffic but there were camels there, I swear! :)

The little boxes on the camels' backs were "robot jockeys". Instead of human jockeys the camels have boxes that allow someone to press a button to whip the camel. Human jockeys were banned in the GCC years ago due to outcry from human-rights groups (the jockeys were children) so everyone moved to using the robots.

For some reason I wasn't too worried about getting into an accident despite all the vehicles zooming around. That said, there was one minor accident that day when a fender fell off of a Land Cruiser and the guy behind him ran it over.

There were too many vehicles to get past to see the winner cross the finish line but it was easy to see from what nation the camel was from as the owner and his friends would immediately start celebrating (in this instance the winner was a camel from Oman).

The top three camels would then have a mixture of henna and saffron rubbed on their heads as sort of a victory tribute.

Raising a racing camel is expensive so these races offer great prizes, for example these Land Cruisers.

Time for another race.

And we’re off!

Crowds would yell and cheer as the camels were heading to the finish line.

It was a cool experience. If I can find out exactly where you can get the racing times I'll post it here but if you go on Friday or Saturday you should be able to at least see some camels being trained or doing practice races (except maybe in summer).

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

PISA 2012 Results Are Out

The OCED have now released the 2012 PISA results (a test given every three years to 15-year-olds to test their abilities in reading, math and science). You can find the summary report here.

In the past I used to note where Qatar ranked in terms of the number of countries. Unfortunately it's apparent that that was an unfair thing to do -- a number of countries that in 2009 were ranked in the bottom declined to participate in PISA 2012 so Qatar appears near the bottom again since many countries that fared worse aren’t on the list now.

This is Qatar’s 3rd PISA test so let’s see the trends. I have included the OCED average for each test for comparison and as an indication of whether a particular test was more difficult compared to the others.


OECD average
2006 492
2009 493
2012 496

2006 312
2009 372
2012 388


OECD average
2006 499
2009 496
2012 494

2006 318
2009 368
2012 376


OECD average
2006 500
2009 501
2012 501

2006 349
2009 379
2012 384

So Qatar did improve in all three categories again. The increase in scores was nowhere near as dramatic as between 2006 and 2009 but there were still improvements. In fact Qatar has had the greatest level of improvement over the nine years than any other country. There's still a long way to go though, the scores indicate that kids in Qatar probably lag a good year to a year and a half behind their OECD peers.

In other PISA news the city of Shanghai once again dominated all three categories, East Asian countries consistently ranked amongst the top, and Western educational darling Finland posted a decrease in scores. Even Vietnam, being part of the PISA project for the first time, showed impressive scores given it's not a particularly wealthy country. Canada showed a slight decrease but remained well above the OCED average in all categories.

Start doing a Google News search for “PISA”. You'll see all sorts of articles in the Western press about the test, how their country scored, what's wrong with their educational systems etc.