Sunday, November 29, 2015

Update on Katara

Summer is over so it’s nice to be able to explore around and see what’s changed over the last five months. I was meeting some friends for lunch near West Bay so in the morning I decided to stop by Katara and stroll around.

Preparations were underway for the Ajyal Youth Film Festival so workers were busy setting up signs and other things. On the main square they were setting up a big stage and tents, I presume for a concert.

Near the end of Katara this building was nearly finished. Does anyone know what it will be for? Crazy amount of stairs. I’d half expect to see it host Busby Berkeley musicals.

I noticed that the pigeon towers were not just for decoration. The white bits in the picture are pigeons, enjoying their homes.

The marketplace that is being built near the main entrance is coming along. I expect it’ll be open in 12-18 months.

The beach was looking good as well, in the southern part (nearest to the St. Regis) they’ve added a lot more chairs and umbrellas. I think they decreased the prices as well, I recall a sign that I think said QAR 25 for adults and kids were free.

I also took some time to see the exhibition of Turkish clothing from the time of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. I assume the clothes were reproductions of what was worn at the time, the clothing looked too good for it to have been 500 years old.

Speaking of Turkey it looks like the Turkish restaurant, Sukar Pasha, has built some fancy gazebos on the beach for guests to use for private dining and shisha right on the beach. They had some couches and tables out there before but it looks like they are really going high-end.

Then I chilled out with a coffee at the Al Jazeera Café. It’s a bit out of the way but it is my favourite café at Katara. I should try the breakfast there sometime but couldn’t that day as I would be eating lunch soon at my friend’s house.

And as I was leaving I noticed the development going on in the hills overlooking Katara. Maybe the plans have changed, in the plans I knew from a few years ago it was all going to be villas up there but it looks like they’ve set up some tents with views of the sea. Maybe they are going to turn some of it into a park with tents for picnics? That’d be nice.

So there’s a lot going on at Katara right now. It is a pleasant place to visit, once the development has finished it should be even nicer. Hopefully that marketplace will provide additional parking.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Time to go to Souq Waqif

Thanks to the recent rainstorm the weather is great, in the mid-20s and the dust has been washed out of the air. So hopefully everyone in Doha went outside this today to enjoy the weather. I went to Souq Waqif, my usual haunt, and it was packed with people.

The Souq is getting so popular that even the new 2000-space carpark might not be enough on weekend evenings. Thankfully another multi-story parking lot is being built, it’ll take awhile but construction has been quickly progressing.

As for the Souq now that the cooler weather has arrived everything is back to normal. The police are back with their horses;

The Qatari dance troupes are back to entertain visitors;

The Falcon Souq is crowded with merchandise;

And there’s live music on the weekends with popular Arab performers (in the second picture the guys up in front are dancing).

If you haven’t been to the Souq for a while you should plan to go soon. It’s my favourite place in Doha. Say hi if you see me there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


So I woke up this morning to near-darkness. No sunlight peeking from the curtains, it was very dark. That meant it was either heavy clouds or raining. It wasn't until I went outside that I realized just how much it was raining. It was some of the heaviest rain I've seen in Qatar, which from a perspective of a wetter place like London or Vancouver was on the level of "grumbling that you have to go out in this to go to work" even though you have an umbrella, and kids would not be playing outside. But for a desert like Qatar it was really heavy rain.

So naturally the morning commute was bad. Normally I can get to the office in around 20 minutes but there were a lot of snarls and jams so it took me more like 35 minutes. The parking lot was like a small lake. But what I didn't realize at the time was that the chaos was a lot worse in the rest of the city. Dohanews kept live updates on its website: malls had to close due to leaking water, schools were closed, roads and commutes were hell (one colleague told me his commute was around 2 hours), and there was flooding all over the place. Crazy!

Here's a couple of pictures of some flooding in one neighbourhood, this was about six hours after the rain stopped.

Okay, that does look pretty bad, but it's not like Noah building an Ark right now.

In a city more used to rain it would not have caused such chaos. Unfortunately in Qatar such storms are rare, and while there is some drainage infrastructure it can't cope with a deluge. Heavy rains happens so rarely (maybe 0-2 times a year) I don't think it would be justified for Qatar to spend multi-billions to upgrade the drainage for the entire city, so we have to just deal with the odd wet and crazy day.

[update: Al Jazzera reported it was at least 66mm of rain. Qatar receives on average 50mm of rain a year!]

On the positive side all of the dust is out of the air, the air feels fresh and clean.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mobile Phone Charging Stations

Was walking along the Corniche last night to find that someone installed free charging stations for mobiles.

I wonder when this happened? Anyway there were two stations in the little stretch I walked along and later I saw a few people charging their devices. It's a nice idea, I wonder if they are being placed all over Qatar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Turkey Travel and Politics

So during the time I was in Turkey they were having a hotly-contested election, and the country was on-edge from a recent bomb attack at a peace rally. Naturally security was tight but I didn’t see any overt signs of it. Covertly though it was there.

While in Istanbul my Mother and I went for a walk one evening down the Istiklal Caddessi, one of the busiest streets in Istanbul. It’s a wide pedestrian street but it is still crowded as thousands of people are always there shopping, dining or milling about, and the street connects to the popular Taksim Square. As we were walking along there were some people handing out political flyers for the HDP party (the pro-Kurdish party). We kept on going and once we reached the end of the street turned around and walked back. By the time we reached the HDP people there was a crowd gathered around, apparently one man had some strong opinions about the HDP and was having an argument with the people handing out flyers. As we walked by tempers flared and I guess someone started punching. We kept walking – no way we were sticking around to be near this. Suddenly men passed us running towards the disturbance, some with walkie-talkies. I’m not talking one or two either, more like 8-10. I guess there were a ton of plain-clothes police throughout the street. In hindsight it made sense, with the political tension and recent bombings there would be a lot of security on the Istiklal Caddessi given how busy it is and how many tourists go there. I assume a similar amount of security was hidden in plain sight at other major centres like the Sultanahmet neighbourhood.

The election was interesting mostly for how polarizing it was. It seems that Turks hold strong opinions about the various parties, in particular about Tayyip Erdogan the current President. Most Turks that I know really like Mr. Erdogan, which is why the party has been the main party for the last 12+ years, but there are others who see him as an Islamist who does a lot of harm for the country, opinions strong with supporters of the main opposition CHP party. My Mother did a bus tour of Turkey and she told me that the tour guide was a CHP supporter and adamantly against Mr. Erdogan. In contrast most of my friends are big Erdogan supporters.

So why all the support? According to my friends Turkey has undergone huge economic changes in the last decade or so, and things in the country have improved a lot. In the Eastern part of the country, largely ignored by the previous Government, there has been more development and job opportunities so it has greatly slowed the migration from poor rural areas to the big cities in the West of the country (this poverty migration is one of the main reasons for Istanbul having 16+ million people, roughly 20% of the population). Millions have been lifted out of poverty. The middle class has prospered. My friends give credit for this to Erdogan and his party. People continue to vote for him because they can still remember what things were like before he took office and they can see the changes that have occurred.

There is some merit to this argument. Turkey is becoming more and more popular with Arabs who have also noticed the improvements. A friend of mine told me as he was planning a trip to Istanbul his father questioned why he would bother going there – his father went there 16 years ago and didn’t like it. My friend went anyway as his friends had told him nice things about it, he loved it, and so his father decided to take a trip there. His father was surprised and said things had changed a lot, now the country was quite nice. I heard a similar story from a Qatari who had not been to Turkey in nearly 12 years but took a trip there recently. Arabs are more and more investing in Turkish property.

But clearly there is a flip side to this or else Erdogan’s party would have won a majority in the summer election (they recently won a majority, in the re-election that had to be held as in the summer election no party was able to form a Government). I’m not an expert it Turkish politics but I know there have been accusations of corruption, an almost dictatorial approach the Government takes against the media (it wasn’t long ago that Turkey temporarily suspended Twitter because it was being used to circulate anti-Government messages), increasing concerns about Turkey’s human rights record, and a slow shift towards more Islamic-friendly policies that contrast to the policies established by the revered founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. These concerns were in part enough to cause Erdogan’s party to lose their majority during the summer elections but they were able to regain it in the recent election. Perhaps the summer election was a message that while the people are generally happy with economic development the Government needs to be careful about overstepping its authority?

While markets reacted positively to the stability that a majority Government will produce it remains to be seen whether the positive change championed by Erdogan supporters will continue. The region is in a mess with the Syria and Iraq problems, as well as renewed fighting between the Turkish army and PKK rebels, so the current Turkish Government will have to deal with all of these challenges during their term.

I'll be back in Turkey next year for a vacation, we'll see how things go in 2016.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Football -- Qatar vs Turkey

I was going to post about my recent trip to Turkey but something else Turkish came up, a friendly match between Qatar and Turkey. Turkish friends of mine bought an extra ticket for me so we could all go, which was really nice of them.

The match was at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium (also known as Lekhwiya Stadium). Decent sized crowd, with plenty of Turks there to support the team. Football is a serious thing in Turkey and many fans showed up with Turkish flags or wearing jerseys from their Turkish League Teams.

It was a decent game with lots of attacking. Qatar nearly scored in the first 30 seconds and were the stronger team in the first half, eventually scoring a goal.

Halftime entertainment was a Turkish dance troupe.

Turkey got itself together for the second half and at one point the Qatari team had a minor collapse, allowing Turkey to score two quick goals (and nearly a third). Qatar regrouped and put on some great pressure, even had one near-miss that I was surprised they didn't score on, but in the end the score held 2-1 for Turkey. It was a good game.

I thought Turkey would be more dominant but apparently they've been a bit rough this year, barely scraping into qualifying for Euro 2016 with a series of losses and draws against lower-ranked teams.

Afterwards we waited around outside with about a hundred-or-so other fans for the Turkish team to head to the bus as my friends wanted pictures, especially of the Captain, Arda Turan, who is a superstar in Turkey. They got pictures of one of the players (I'm not sure who but it wasn't Arda) and they were also thrilled to meet the coach, who shook my friend's hand before boarding the bus. So all-in-all my friends were thrilled to have come out for the match.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Back from Vacation

Sorry that I haven't been posting but I just got back from a 2+ week vacation. Managed to make it through the day even though my plane didn't land until slightly after midnight so I wasn't in bed until 1-ish. Plans for tonight are sleep, sleep, and sleep.