Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hussain Al Jasmi Concert

A few days ago I had messaged a group of friends of mine, just asking if anything was happening this evening, and I immediately received a call from one of them. They were heading to the Hussain Al Jasmi concert and had a spare ticket so invited me to come with them. Sure thing. I had no idea who Hussain Al Jasmi was, my friend told me on the phone he was an Emirati singer, but I'm always up for a new cultural experience.

So I had an hour to change and get out to the National Convention Centre. I scrambled but managed to make it in time to meet my friends. In truth we had arrived early, a good half-hour before the show was scheduled to start, but this region is one of those parts of the world where things aren’t rushed and don't usually start at the listed time so we were actually really early.

It was a nice hall and I was in for a surprise when we got to our seats -- we had front row!

In the first few rows they had really nice seats.

Chilling out in comfort. :)

The opening act was a string quartet playing compositions written by local composer. It was pleasant, and the songs were actually pretty good. I assumed from the type of opening act that Mr. Al Jasmi was a traditional Arabic singer so we wouldn't be hearing a lot of modern pop and rock tunes.

When Mr. Al Jasmi took to the stage the ladies started going crazy and screaming. It was then that I realized that probably 75% of the crowd were women and teenage girls. Unlike a Western concert everyone was still well behaved, except for the screaming, and stayed in their seats. No standing up or rushing to the stage. Ladies screaming at their favorite singers appears to be a standard thing all over the world but in this devout Muslim country I’m guessing that rushing up to the stage and trying to touch the singer etc. is considered unseemly (and as I assume Mr. Al Jasmi is also a devout Muslim I'm not sure he would be too appreciative of that). You'll notice the stage is not too high and there's no security guards or fences protecting the stage.

Anyway Mr. Al Jasmi gave a long show and fans were constantly yelling out song requests, then bursting into applause when he started a song. Looking at his wikipage he has a lot of singles, and as wiki lists him as a composer he probably wrote most or all of the songs himself. Maybe a few of them were covers of popular Arabic songs.

Another interesting contrast to many Western concerts is that the volume level was decent. You didn't need earplugs, nor did we leave the concert with ringing in our ears (well, except when the lady next to me starting screaming at the top of her lungs while within a meter of my ear)

All in all a great evening. I was glad my friends invited me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Government Wedding Halls

A Qatari wedding has to be one of the biggest expenses of a young man's life. Traditionally the groom's family pays for the wedding, although I've heard nowadays some agree to have the bride’s family cover some of it but I don’t think it’s very common. Renting the halls (remember there are two separate wedding parties, one for the groom and one for the bride, so you have to rent two halls), catering, music, jewelry for the bride-to-be and so forth. It adds up. I'm told to rent a hall at a hotel will run QAR 75,000 or more (US$20,000+), and if you want the top hotels be prepared to pay a lot more. Even wedding tents cost a fortune to rent. I discussed the problems of wedding costs a couple of years ago and how the Government was trying to help by building wedding halls for Qataris to rent cheaply. Well I recently attended a wedding celebration at a Government hall, the first time I had been in one.

The building was out in a town called Daayan, south of Al Khor. The building was huge! Looked nice, and there was a decent amount of parking around the building. I discovered when I got closer than it contains four halls. At the time two wedding celebrations were taking place so it was a matter of finding a sign with the groom's name to determine which hall I needed to go to.

And here's what it looks like inside the wedding hall.

It was a lot nicer than I expected. I figured it would be something moderately sized and plain given that it was cheap to rent but dang, it was something else.

As I walked across the hall to find the groom I passed a rack of spare swords that people could use for sword dancing.

After I gave the customary congratulations to the groom and his father I waited around for a while chatting with friends until was time for dinner. Dinner was in yet another hall next to the wedding hall.

I can't believe you can rent this cheaply, the Government really made the place look nice.

A few days later I spoke with some of my friends about the wedding halls and they think they're a great idea. I was told that not everybody uses them, especially for the ladies celebration, and some families still prefer the prestige of having them in a nice hotel. To each their own I guess but I wouldn't be willing to pay a ton of extra cash to use a hotel hall if you can rent a Government wedding hall like this for much less.

This idea from the Government gets a thumbs-up.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Adventures in Book Shopping

The other day I was hanging out with a friend of mine and he suggested going to a bookstore as he wanted to pick up some books to read during his upcoming vacation. We headed out to a bookstore and wandered around the English-language section but he didn't find anything he really wanted. I asked why he wasn't searching through the Arabic-language section for a book (he’s Qatari) and he told me that, in general, he didn't like Arabic literature/books as much as English ones. But since he hadn't found anything I suggested we may as well search the Arabic-language shelves.

I had never actually browsed through the Arabic language section of a bookstore here in Qatar. My Arabic is nowhere near good enough to read a book so I never bothered looking at Arabic books. Boy, was I missing out, some of that stuff is ‘unusual’ to say the least.

Even without knowing the titles I can say that there were a lot of books whose covers had a picture of Che Guevara. Che Guevara?!? Why? The man was an atheist Marxist revolutionary! I realize that over time he's become this cool counterculture icon but I’m not so sure why devout Muslims in the richest country in the world would be into Che. Seriously, wealthy Qataris living a life of luxury surrounded by lowly-paid servants and labourers would not have impressed Che Guevara. If he visited Qatar I’m guessing he’d be more likely to try to find machine guns to give to Nepalese labourers and lead an insurrection against the government.

I also took some time to browse through books that teach people English. Wow, was that an eye opener. My friend and I found this one book whose translation exercises had a bit of an agenda. See if, by reading this exercise using “should” and “should not”, you can guess where this book was originally published.

Gee, nothing odd here. No-sireee.

I might go back and buy that book. It was wild. It had translation examples like "I should have divorced my wife earlier", and that women should like cooking. No, really, I'm not kidding.

Here’s another great find. There was one shelf that was filled with books by, I'm guessing, the same author (given that his picture was on the cover of all of them). My friend thinks he might be Kuwaiti, or maybe Saudi, maybe with his own self-sponsored or religious publishing house. Can you guess what this pocketbook might be?

Yep, I flipped though it and as far as I can tell it's a book of the gentlemen's tweets from his Twitter account. He published his tweets in hard copy, one per page of the book. I've never known anyone to do this before. It's on Twitter, can’t people just read his Twitter account? Is this a common thing in the Gulf? It just seemed strange to me.

After finishing looking though the shelves my Qatari friend told me that because there is so much odd stuff it is why he doesn't generally browse the Arabic section of bookstores. I, on the other hand, thought that was great fun just trying to figure out what some of the books were about. I will do that again next time I'm in a bookstore.

If you're a parent in Qatar though you might want to double-check those English or Arabic language exercise books your kids are using.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Souq Waqif Spring Festival 2017

I went for a walk down to Souq Waqif this evening and was surprised at all of the festivities happening at the Souq, I forgot it was the Spring Festival.

Over the new underground parking lot (near the restaurants) was a massive seating area looking at a stage. I’m not entirely sure what was playing, there was probably a hundred or so people in line waiting to get in so I did not go in to see. There were signs showing the Arabic singers that they would have each evening so I assume that they would be playing there.

The festival is getting more and more popular every year. I'm sure the new parking lots helped a lot as it's now much easier to find parking. The place was pretty crowded.

They had lots of vendor stands selling treats, stilt-walkers and other entertainers, and a big amusement park in the parking lot near Fanar.

I believe the festival continues until early February. Even on a Sunday evening there were a ton of families there having a nice time. Given the crowds you might want to consider going on a weekday -- the weekends will probably be heaving with people.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Camping in Dukhan

So my home Internet fried out for whatever reason. It took a good number of days to fix, mostly due to finding a time in my schedule when I could be at my apartment to meet the technician from the phone company, so wasn't able to update the blog while the wi-fi was out.

Thus I’ve got some blogging catching-up to do. I haven't even posted photos from my trip to Italy and that was almost a month ago! Anyway a couple of weekends ago friends of mine organized a big camping trip on Dukhan Beach. About 25 people went. You didn’t have to stay overnight but if you did there were buildings with majlis seating that you could crash on. This was not “roughing it” camping, it was actually a semi-private beach owned by a Qatari company, one of the organizers works for the company so booked it for us.

I arrived in the afternoon and while we waited for others to arrive many of us sat in the outdoor majlis, chatting or playing FIFA on a gaming console (yes, outdoors, I think the electricity was provided by an extension cord to the building). A Nespresso machine was next to the TV.

It was too cold for swimming, and there was a brisk wind which was kicking up waves.

After more guys arrived there was a break to play some soccer at a nearby field.

Dinner was goat, Yemeni-style. A Yemeni friend of ours likes to come to these trips and do the cooking. A pit is dug and wood is burnt in the pit until it forms a hot charcoal.

At which point the packages of marinated goat are placed on the coals in the pit is covered up with more wood burned on top of it. The meat stays in the ground for hours.

While that's cooking they cook up a huge pot of rice that contains various spices such as saffron and cardamom. My contribution was to bring some pots of my homemade chili, which a lot of the guys like to have with the rice.

We played a lot of Brazillia, FIFA and even chess while we waited for the meat to cook.

Dinner is served! (This was just one tray of six)

After dinner we spent a few more hours chatting and so forth, mostly around the fire as it starting getting quite cold, until it got really late. I decided to head home rather than sleep there as I had some stuff to do next morning.

Winter is the time for camping in Qatar. I went on a smaller camping/picnic trip the following weekend, I hope to go to a few more in the next few months.

Friday, January 06, 2017

ExxonMobil Tennis 2017

I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the tennis from a friend of mine. We got to see World Number 1 Andy Murray playing against Jeremy Chardy.

The organizers have improved things a bit and got stricter about kids going to the tournament, so this time there were no disruptions due to noise. Everyone seemed to be mindful of not using flash photography as well.

The first set Murray won 6-0. Chardy just couldn't get his game, or his serve, together and so the set was pretty dull to watch. Thankfully he regrouped and gave Murray a run for his money in the second set, Murray won but on tiebreak, 7-6. Much more exciting to watch.

A friend is going to try to get tickets for the final. It's already sold out so I don't hold out much hope.

Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year Cleanup

January 1 was a bank holiday here in Qatar so I had the day off to sleep in and get some things organized.

1) Went through the medicine cabinet and threw out all expired medications

2) Went through the fridge and cupboards and threw out all expired food (I'm looking at you there, condiments)

3) Do a general decluttering, my New Year’s Resolution. I’m about a third of the way through that. When I moved to Qatar over 10 years ago I moved here with five suitcases full of clothes and things. That’s it. Now I probably have enough stuff to fill 25 suitcases. Drawers and cupboards full of things that I probably haven't looked at in years. So I’m slowly going through my apartment and getting rid of stuff. Some of it is throw-away (such as a half used bottle of car wax from six years ago), some of it I'm putting in a pile to see if my cleaning man wants any of it before I throw it out (or, if clothing, give it to charity).

4) Finally I turned in my liquor permit today to get the deposit back. What? Why would I do that? In the past a liquor permit required a QR 1000 deposit, there was no fee to use. Now they have implemented a fee, roughly QR 150-400 depending on how many years your residence permit lasts. I think for me it would be QR 250 every two years. I pretty much never use my permit, I think I only used it once in the last two years and that was only because I had to go to the liquor store to renew my permit, so while I was there I picked something up. I don’t really drink at home, and almost all my friends here are Muslims, so alcohol is just not a big factor for me here. I didn't see the need to pay money for the permit so I gave it up. I can still go to the bar if I ever want to drink something.

Maybe I’ll join a gym as well? How many people have done that and only gone a few times?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Reflections of 2016

So another year has come and gone. While I know the Internet has been disappointed with this year due to all of the celebrity deaths my year was pretty good. Like every year I spent the last couple of days going through my photos.

On a fishing boat, Juan de Fuca Strait, Canada.

Of course I'm going to have wine and cheese. At a café near the Arc de Triomphe, Paris.

Kayaking in the mangroves, Thakira, Qatar.

A different angle of Michelangelo's David. Florence, Italy.

Lazing on the beach, Seychelles.

Dinner time at the majlis, Doha.

Enjoying a beautiful day in the sunshine. Vancouver, Canada.

Boating in the harbour. Bodrum, Turkey

On the steps of Sacre-Coeur Cathedral. Paris.

Chilling with a shisha at a well-known shisha cafe in Dubai, UAE.

Exploring the souq in Al Wakra, Qatar.

Of course you know where this is. I'm not sure how it hasn't fallen over. Pisa, Italy.

Showing off a new hairstyle. Victoria, Canada.

Watching the Euro Cup semifinals at a café in Montmartre, Paris.

Giant tortoises! They are only found in two places in the world, one of which is the Seychelles.

Enjoying a Florentine steak at the famous Trattoria Mario. Florence, Italy.

More and more often I seem to be wearing a thobe when I'm in Qatar.

Photobombing my niece's attempt to take a photo of the British Columbia Parliament Building. Victoria, Canada.

Enjoying a swim with my friends at a hotel in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

A lovely selection of baklava at a cafe in Bursa, Turkey.

Enjoying a concert of traditional Arabic music at Souq Waqif, Doha.

Having a drink at a bar in Florence, Italy.

Enjoying an ice cream. Everywhere, Earth.

Watching the sun go down at the beach. Dukhan, Qatar.

Hiking around a park in Vancouver Island, Canada.

I made a new friend. Doha.

I hope you all have a great 2017!