Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Souq Waqif Update

It's winter! That means the temperature is nice enough to go walking around in the evening. It had been a while since I've been to Souq Waqif so I went down to see what changed over the summer.

First, the latest stock of falcons is in the shops. I saw a few Qataris looking at the birds, shopping around for the perfect hunting falcon.

Crossing over to the restaurant area I was surprised to see that a Novo Cinema opened in the Souq! It doesn't look very big but actually most of it is underground, the building is just the entrance.

And at the end of the restaurant area they've opened the stairway to the new Musherib neighbourhood. Some of the Musherib area is open and it looks like there will soon be shops and cafes opening. There was also a new hotel that looked like it would open soon.

I didn't realize that Musherib also is developing a light rail service to take people around the neighbourhood.

That rail service will be a great way to get around when everyone arrived at the metro station. It looks like it's almost ready but the buildings around the station are still under construction.

I'm really looking forward to the metro. Some of it will be open soon. There were rumours there would be a soft opening on Dec 19th but Qatar Rail made a press release denouncing the rumour. Anyway, it'll be soon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dhow Festival at Katara

Thursday was American Thanksgiving and I was invited by some friends to a restaurant that had a special Thanksgiving menu for that evening. Dinner was going smoothly when at around 8pm we noticed through the restaurant window some fireworks at Katara. We weren't sure what it was (it certainly wasn't to celebrate Thanksgiving) so I did a quick look at Katara's website and found out it was the annual Dhow Festival week and they had fireworks in the evening.

On Saturday evening I happened to be in West Bay and didn't have anything much to do so I remembered the Dhow Festival and went to Katara to check it out. Surprisingly the traffic was pretty heavy at Katara. I didn't think there would be big crowds but it looks like the festival has gained in popularity over the years so there were a lot of cars. Parking on the street was impossible so I went into the underground car park, which though crowded still had plenty of spots at the back.

Katara was full of people for the event.

On display were a number of dhows and areas where reenactments of back in the day when working on dhows was a significant part of Qatar's economy, whether for fishing, pearling or trading. Back before oil came along. I don't think many Qataris are involved in operating traditional dhows anymore, at the Festival it looked like it was mostly Omanis demonstrating the traditional ways.

The dhows were parked just offshore but they had large piers so you could walk to them. A couple of them were even open for people to climb onto. Apparently there were some races earlier in the day as some had signs declaring they had won a race.

Unfortunately the Festival is over now. Next year if you get a chance take the family. You might want to bring snacks though, every restaurant and food stall (and many had been set up for the festival) was busy.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Today it rained. Hooboy, did it ever rain.

I was woken up around 9am to the sounds of thunder.  It wasn't that far way either, as best as I could figure it was maybe a couple of kilometres.  The rain was light at first but quickly got more intense.  By the time I went outside the lightning was directly overhead and the thunder was so loud it almost hurt my ears. I took a couple of pictures of the usual lake that formed in the area outside my building then went back inside to unplug things. I figured for sure that the lightning was going to knock out the power.  It's a good thing that I live on a lower floor so I don't have to worry about taking an elevator to get to my apartment.  For people living in high rises it must be a bit of a worry, if the power gets cut it's not easy climbing 20-40 flights of stairs.

I had not seen rain this bad in years. I could see from my window that a nearby store was flooding as staff were busy pushing water out the front door. They weren't in the "lake" so it's likely that rain was leaking through the ceiling and onto the floor, a common problem in a part of the world where heavy rain is rare.

Then I remembered that my car was parked on the street -- if the rains continued it would likely be flooded.  So I changed into my bathing suit, put on some flip-flops, and went out into the rain, wading through the street to my car.  I got there in time, the water was maybe 12-15 cm deep around my car, and moved my car to some higher ground. My estimate is that some parts of the "lake" the street had become was maybe 25-30 cm deep.

When I got back I checked social media.  Naturally it was going crazy with people posting pictures and videos of the rain and flooding. Some of the major roads were heavily affected, and in some neighbourhoods flooding was so bad it had swamped cars. Some underpasses were impassable. Areas of the desert also turned into ponds, the soil in Qatar does not absorb water well so when there is heavy rain the water tends to collect on top.

There was nothing left to do but sit around the apartment and keep myself busy.  The power never did go out but I did not want to take any chances so I left everything off, there was plenty of light from the windows to see by. By 3pm or so everything had calmed down so all that was left for the city to do is deal with the flooded areas. It'll take a couple of days to get all the water drained (they'll use water trucks to pump/collect the water if there are no drains.)

The rains arrived early this year and with a bang.  Hopefully that's the only heavy rainstorm we will get, Doha does not cope well with big storms.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Contrasting Turkey with Qatar

So during Eid I went on vacation to Turkey, a country I typically visit at least once a year. Spent some time in Bodrum before heading to Bursa. It's a lot easier visiting places in Turkey now that Qatar Airways has opened more routes to the country, I think they now fly direct from Doha to seven different places.

The timing of my trip coincided with the Turkish currency crisis, where the lira dropped something like 40% in value. Not great for Turkey but it sure made my trip cheaper. Did a lot of shopping while I was there because my friends and I found that prices were around half of what we would pay in Doha. Some news articles noted that in Istanbul luxury goods shops were packed with tourists taking advantage of the currency to get top-end goods at great prices. I doubt it's like that anymore, the shops would have had to reorder stock from Europe so would have to factor in the currency difference in the retail price. I did note that at the Duty-Free at the airport all of the prices were in Euro, not lira. If the currency crisis does not abate soon I'm betting most tourist places will switch to Euro for pricing.

But what I wanted to discuss was some differences between Turks and Qataris. While Turkey is a secular State the population is still pretty much all Muslim, so it's interesting to see how their lives are different from an Arab living in the Gulf. Some people in the West think that all Muslims live their lives the same way but in truth countries with Muslim populations can be very different from one another. Travelling between Turkey and Qatar it always strikes me how different the two countries can be.

Turk society as a whole is more relaxed about privacy. In Qatar for example homes have walls around them and when designing a home there is always concern around where windows are and whether a neighbour can see your property through a window or see into your house. I've seen homes that put up screens on top of walls specifically to block a neighbour's view of the house. In Turkey cities are more densely populated and most people live in apartment blocks. Qatar-levels of privacy would be simply impractical in Turkey.

I suppose a lot of it stems from how much gender segregation occurs. In Arab society there is more emphasis on gender segregation. Saudi Arabia is always pointed out in Western Media as an extreme of this and while Qatar is not as strict as Saudi there are some similar cultural practices amongst Qataris.

Local schools are gender-segregated (though many foreign-run ones aren't) up until university, in Turkey I saw a number of mixed elementary and high schools.

In Qatar men will usually not approach friends if they see their friend with their wives and family. This is a faux pas in Qatar society. While mixed workplaces are now common the tradition about meeting in a personal setting prevails. This is why a man's majlis is separate from the house, so other men have no need to enter the home. One of my friends commented that he won't enter his own home if his wife has friends over, he'll stay in his majlis until the ladies leave. In Turkey is a lot more similar to the West and you meet couples all the time.

Continuing on this I have mentioned many times how wedding celebrations are separate for men and women. I've never seen a ladies wedding, nor would I ever be invited to one. I have yet to meet or see a picture of any of my friend's wives. I remember one time after a friend got married he was at the office one day with his wedding photo album -- it was all photos of him and his male relatives, there were no pictures of the bride or other ladies. Those photos were in a private photo album that only relatives would see. I have not been to a wedding in Turkey but I've seen pictures of brides and I'm guessing the level of segregation found in Qatar does not occur in Turkey.

In Qatar mixed workplaces are more and more the norm but it can be a surprise to some Qataris. Workplaces will accomodate where possible, keeping ladies together in rooms so that they can keep the door closed and have privacy, but sometimes in a office that isn't feasible. I have worked with ladies who just started in the office and you could tell they were uncomfortable working alongside men. It would take a while but in time they would get used to it. In Turkey men and women are not as segregated so everyone is used to mixed-gender offices.

Clothing is also quite different, with Qatari men wearing a white thobe while ladies wear a black abaya (usually without a veil or 'niqab' though some ladies still wear it). When travelling in places like Europe Qataris will usually wear Western-clothing but ladies will keep their hair covered. In Turkey clothes for men are typical to what you find in the West, although older men tend to dress in suits and collared shirts in cooler weather (I once saw a beggar in Bursa who was dressed more upscale than I was). With Turkish ladies it varied widely, ranging from Western clothing and not covering their hair, to long dresses and covered hair. Turkey is a large country so clothing style can vary based on the region. Outside of Istanbul, Ankara and the coastal cities ladies tend to dress more conservatively, and I was in one village an hour's drive from Ankara where ladies clothing was more similar to an Iranian chador than clothing worn in other places in Turkey. Turkish ladies also wear a lot more colour instead of the all-black of the Qatari abaya.

Attitudes towards alcohol also vary. In Qatar it is much more strict, and alcohol is not as widely available. Many of my Qatari friends will not even go near a bar as they do not want people thinking that they drink. Qataris are more understanding when travelling abroad, there's pretty much no way to avoid restaurants that serve alcohol, but in Qatar they try to distance themselves from it. None of my friends drink. In Turkey alcohol is more available and while it might be frowned upon people openly drink alcohol without much stigma, especially beer or raki (a spirit similar to ouzo or sambuca). It does vary by region, it is much easier to find alcohol in places like Istanbul or the coastal tourist cities than it is in more conservative areas. In the coastal tourist cities drinking might even be encouraged, with party boats and festivals, something that Qatar NEVER does (when the World Cup comes in 2022 it'll probably be the first time a huge event with alcohol is held in the country. Yes, Qatar is well aware that there will need to be areas where World Cup fans can access alcohol, they accepted that when they made the bid.)

Anyway, the takeaway from all of this is that there are a lot of Muslim societies in this world and their cultures vary widely from area to area. One can't take a place like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, or Morocco and just assume every other Muslim-majority country is like that.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

That Saudi vs. Canada Thing

Okay, it's been around two weeks since the Saudi Government became incensed about a tweet from Canada's Foreign Minister demanding the release of two human rights activists, who are siblings, from Saudi jails. The wife of one of those jailed fled with the family to Canada where they were granted asylum and eventually citizenship so Canada does have some stake in this given the husband and sister-in-law of a Canadian family are in a Saudi jail.

I don't know if things have calmed down on the Saudi side but I've just reviewed a few Canadian news websites and there is barely a mention of the spat now.

The incident did generate a lot of interest from Qataris though, and every day for the first week or so at least one Qatari, usually more than one, was asking me questions about it. With Qatar still under a blockade that started 14 months ago, the Canada-Saudi thing had Qataris basically saying "There they go again."  One Qatari said that Canada was now "in the club" of countries facing Saudi hostility. I don't think it's really on the same level as what Qatar is facing right now. Trade and interactions between Saudi and Canada is pretty limited so there is not a lot of damage that this could cause, unlike the Qatar blockade.

When the blockade happened it was a big deal, pretty much the only thing on everyone's mind for a couple of months. The country had to quickly reroute aircraft and shipping lanes, do a lot of diplomatic legwork to gather allies, and the population were left with an uncertainty of where this was all headed. Would there be an invasion? Would the embassies call and tell their citizens to clear out? As for the recent incident, in Canada the initial reaction to the Saudi reaction was, "Huh!?" followed by sentiments ranging from "Good on Canada" for standing by its statements to ""Meh, whatever." Some Qataris were a bit surprised at this but I knew that was how the Canadian populace would react given the two countries do not have deep ties. The Saudis stopping their flights and demanding their citizens leave Canada was met with confusion and "Ummmm . . . okay I guess, if that's what you want. Bye."  Canada has pretty much moved on now, and within a month's time most Canadians will have probably forgotten about it.

Qataris however did follow the events with a mix of sympathy and amusement. While diplomatic relations between Qatar and the blockading countries was frozen on media and social media there was a lot of mudslinging and rhetoric. Some of the stuff said about Qatar was ludicrous (digging a canal to turn Qatar into an island, for example). So with the Canada thing some enterprising Qatari started a twitter account where he took some of that mudslinging and changed "Qatar" to "Canada" just to show how ridiculous it was. Some of the stuff I read (or had read to me because it was in Arabic) was pretty funny. Others joined in and soon the account was filled with satirical pictures and phrases from the time of the blockade.

Will the dispute end soon? Well if the Qatar blockade is anything to go by then the answer is no. Saudi Arabia has even less incentive to mellow its position with Canada than it does with Qatar so I doubt there'll be a diplomatic breakthrough anytime soon. Not that Canada has much incentive either, and Canada's Foreign Minister nor the Prime Minister have backed down on the tweet and reiterated that they stand by the comment.

As for retaliation I don't think Canada will do anything. I mean, what are they supposed to do, cut ties? Stop trade? Kick out Saudi citizens? The Saudis are already doing that to themselves! There isn't really much left for Canada to do to retaliate. Maybe we can send Nickelback over to do some concerts. [just a joke, actually I like Nickelback, not sure why the internet hates on them so much.]

Anyway, as John Oliver recently noted during his show, Canadians not apologizing for something is a pretty big deal. :)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Lunar Eclipse

Last night there was a lunar eclipse visible from Australia and most of Asia, including Qatar. In Qatar the timing of it was great, it started around 9:30 PM, so you didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to see it. I happened to be at a friend's majlis with a bunch of other guys at the time. We followed it on TV but also went outside to take a look. Doha has a lot of light pollution and dust which obscures the sky (you rarely see stars) but the Moon was easily visible.

Here's a picture of it from the majlis.

By the way that bright dot that you see below the Moon is actually Mars. Many people don't realize that, depending on the location of the planet, the nearby planets can look brighter than stars. In fact after the Sun and the Moon the next brightest object in the night sky is Venus. So when I saw a star-like light near the Moon I knew it would be a planet, either Mars or Jupiter. The light pollution and dust covered the actual stars. Thanks to the Star Walk app that I have on my phone I was able to identify it as Mars. (If you like looking at the night sky I recommend downloading Star Walk 2. Great app.)

But my friends had to do one other thing, pray. In Islam you have to do a special prayer whenever there is an eclipse. It's in the Sunnah, both the Bukhari hadiths and the Al-Muslim hadiths, that the Prophet Mohammed performed a prayer during an eclipse and instructed his followers to do likewise whenever there is an eclipse. The prayer is different for lunar and solar eclipses, and my friends looked up online what they had to do for the prayer. Different schools of Islam may have minor differences in how to do the prayer but all agree that one should be done. Here's a link that discusses it.

The prayer only took a couple of minutes and then everyone was back watching the eclipse and chatting. At its darkest the Moon was difficult to spot, I wound up looking for Mars as it was easier to see at which point you found the Moon.

Here's a composite from the local Gulf Times newspaper showing the neat red colour.

I was glad I had the chance to see the eclipse.

I'm Back!

It has definitely been a little while since I last posted on my blog.

It was not due to any kind of emergency, no, I wasn't in the hospital. For Eid I went on a vacation to Thailand with about 15 friends, staying in Phuket for a week before doing a road trip up the country to Chiang Mai in the north. After I returned to Qatar I was spending time just getting caught up with work, chores and so forth. Then I fell sick with a bad cold (I usually get sick after a long vacation, exposure to new germs and all that).

I'm better now, guess I should get back to blogging.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ramadan 2018 - Meals

One of the nice things about Ramadan is that you get a lot of invites to iftars or sohours. Whether from friends or corporate events there's plenty of opportunity to eat out. One would think since Ramadan is about fasting people would generally lose weight but it's usually the reverse, once the sun sets the eating begins! I think I've been doing pretty good this year, trying not to overdo it at buffets and when I'm at home my meals are definitely low-cal (soups, vegetables, tuna, low-cal protein bars).

Here was what I was up to this month:

W Hotel iftar buffet. A popular venue and has a reputation for some of the best sushi in town. I was here twice on different invitations, which shows how popular it is with corporate groups as well.

Mondrian sohour tent. Actually their main ballroom decorated in an Orientalist tent style. Beautiful room, was the nicest decorations of any of the hotels that I ate at. They also had an Austrian dessert section with strudels! Not something that I was expecting for sohour but they were delicious.

St. Regis iftar. Popular with my Qatari friends, we've gone every year for the last three years. This time there was something like 20 of us for the buffet.

Kempinski (Pearl) iftar. I've only been to this hotel once before but they put out a nice spread. We arrived early which is why it looks empty.

Iftar/sohour at friends' homes. More often sohour than iftar (you need to go pray after iftar so if you have friends over the meal will not be hours long). Traditional platters of meat or seafood on rice. You all sit on the floor and eat using your right hand.

Like I said, it's not easy to resist digging in when you go have these lavish meals. I'm not going to rate the hotels, they all had nice food. I will say that some of them (not naming names) had the tables too close together in order to pack in as many people as they could, which got annoying at times. Every place I went to was packed so if the tables were too close it was a challenge getting around and having people constantly passing by your chair.

Alas, Ramadan is almost over and so no more big buffets.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ramadan 2018 - the Ramadan Car Parade

Another Ramadan tradition in Qatar is for people to take their cars down to the Corniche starting around 4:00 or so and just cruise along the road. It's not an official parade, just a way to pass the time while waiting for iftar and to see interesting or expensive cars. Some Qataris bring out vintage cars or other unusual vehicles to display on the Corniche.

It was pretty late in Ramadan that I went to it this year and there weren't as many cars as I was expecting. Maybe because it was also a Saturday? Anyway, we had a number of participants:

Expensive Cars:

Vintage Cars:

Cars of a similar make grouping up and going down all three lanes slowly:

Children looking out the windows or sunroof (the police have cracked down on this in recent years but I still saw it occasionally):

And Qataris driving cars that you wouldn't usually see them drive:

Ramadan is almost over so if you want to see nice cars go to the Corniche in West Bay around 4:30 or so.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Ramadan 2018 - The Ramadan Cannon

It wouldn't be Ramadan without a visit to the Ramadan Cannon. Every Ramadan the Government sets up a cannon at the State Mosque, which fires to signify the end of the fast for the day.

Here's the Mosque.

Here's the cannon.

Part of the fun is that before it is fired kids are allowed to climb on it. What kid doesn't want to climb on some military hardware? (I know I would have.)

But when it is near the time everyone is cleared away from the cannon.

Note that I'm standing much further away and using max zoom. The cannon is LOUD (it's a cannon!) and as far as I'm concerned everyone was too close.


After which is the crying from frightened toddlers who were shocked by the loud noise. Even from where I was my ears were ringing slightly for a minute, it would have been worse for the people who were closer. At least it was now time to eat. Lots of people had food & water waiting in their cars while others hurriedly went home to have iftar. I had a bottle of water, dates and some bread in my car for breaking the fast.

If you go visit stand further back and cover your ears.