Monday, November 28, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 29-30, NEEDLES! Qatari!

[Day 29] Sunday, Making an Impression, Vitamins, NEEDLES!

Another work week dawns.

Making an Impression

Sometimes, when you slow down the counts on your repetitions with free weights, you can hit a wall with the endurance of your grip strength.  Today, I had that issue, but then I remembered a trick for squats, laying the dumbbells flat on your shoulders instead of holding them in your hands.  I used this trick to finish out my squats...and made a humorous discovery.  Because of the weight sitting on my shoulders, I had effectively branded myself with the name of the manufacturer of the dumbbells, Technogym.

Meh, it's hard to see, but it's there. Oh and there's my favorite pre-trip electronics purchase, the Bose SoundLink.  Oh, how I love it.  And in related news, my deltoids are casting a serious shadow now*.  W00t!

* - rectifying the atrophy of my poor shoulders due to my sedentary lifestyle from 2006-2010 was one of my chief concerns.


I can already feel the difference from taking vitamins.  I guess vitamins work or the placebo effect is strong.  I feel more alert and...mojoful?  Of course, this means more grunting at the gym, because, well, I am a guy, and it's what we do.

I am also accepting that maybe I was working out too much last week and I should stick with just one workout per day, unless the intensity of my routines goes down a lot.


After work, it was time for my teammate Mike and I to go for our "medical examination" to further our Residency Permit progress.  This is all handled by a third party contractor.  Our outing started with a half hour wait for our ride.  It turns out the driver that was going to pick us up was in an accident.  Oy.

Eventually, we were on our way to...I don't know.  But arrive there we did.  Our driver/chaperone was an actual Qatari.  That was pretty cool.  It was pretty impressive to hear him switch in and out of Arabic and English with relative ease.  He spoke with Mike and I in English; proudly recounting his visits to America, especially California and Las Vegas.  He spoke to the other two gentlemen in the car in Arabic.  At one point, one of them commented on his ability to speak multiple dialects of Arabic.  He seemed like a cool guy too; I'd like to party with him sometime.

Male Qatari Clothing Interlude

Male Qatari traditional clothes consist of the  Thawb (shirt/robe) and headgear composed of two pieces - the Ghutra (the folded cloth) and the Igaal (the rings that crown the Ghutra and help hold it in place).  In Qatar, the Igaal tends to have long black ropes hanging down from it, which end in tassles.

/end interlude

So, we head into...the place I don't know.  There is a sea of Filipino and Indian workers crowded into the place.  Our guide walks us up to the front of the line and hands over our paperwork.  I can't help feeling like a douche bag, walking past all of these people, but I am in no position to argue.  A few minutes and a hasty photo, then we are on our way to another window.

Again, our guide walks up to the front of the line.  We hand over our paper, get another paper and a vial.

Our guide walks us past everyone and directly into the phlebotomy room and right up to the chairs.  Mike and I get the fastest, most painless blood draws in our lives.  Of course, the phlebotomist does about a thousand people a day, and I do not think that is a significant exaggeration.

I roll down my sleeve, grab my stuff and...where the hell did they go?!

I look back the way we came, nope.

I navigate the sea of people, pushing forward to a 4-way intersection.

Not ahead.

Not right.

Can't see past that guy to the left...a ha! I manage to spot our guide's Ghutra swaying back and forth as he powerwalks down a hall off to my left.

I catch up and it's off to the X-ray room.  A quick chest X-ray and we're done.

So, why did we get these tests?  I am told that the primary concerns are HIV (the blood) and Tuberculosis (the X-ray).

Then it's back wait...where are we now?  More blood?

We pile out of the car.  Mike decides to leave his bag and jacket in there.  I have already learned the lesson he is about to learn...

Mike: "Will the car be locked?"
Josef: Quizzical look
Mike: "I left my bag in there."
Josef: "I leave my house unlocked 24-7, no one steals anything."

The car remains unlocked and we go in.  Now, that may be a fine approach here in Qatar, where most people are too well off to care or they risk losing their livelihood through deportation if they wrong someone.  But I don't plan to spend the rest of my life here, so I want to keep appropriate reflexes and habits for the rest of the world.  And that's why I just carry my stuff with me.

As for MORE BLOOD, it turns out it's a finger stick to determine our blood type.  I am surprised they don't just ask, but perhaps they had too many folks that were ignorant or simply made up an answer because they didn't care.

In total, once we were picked up, this took about two hours.

The next step in the process is to await medical approval in a day or two and then get fingerprints.

On a whim, I decided to go exploring after dinner.  I credit the vitamins again.

I found the Moroccan Embassy, some nondescript private residences with what looked like tank traps in front of it, and some cool architecture.  I have quickly taken interesting architecture for granted here.  With the money flowing around this place, it's like an architect's wet dream.  All sorts of freaky buildings are going up, like the zig zag towers.  Of course, sometimes it goes wrong, like the building I like to call "condom tower";  It even has a reservoir tip...

[Day 30] Monday, Chunky Kit Kat?  Whaaaa?  Om nom nom.

I guess it's been a while since I mentioned music...I fired up Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill for my Spartacus workout today.  Decent music-wise, but it lasts barely long enough to finish the workout, let alone the warm up.  Oh well, a little Blade II Soundtrack to finish it off.

Work.  When I showed up at 11:30, there was not a soul in the cafeteria, then a few showed up.  Speaking of the cafeteria, first, here is one interesting quirk, tissues as napkins.

And the main cafeteria itself...

They generally have 3-4 entrees and 2-3 sides.  The cuisine of each varies every day, so for example, you might have Asian vegetable dish and an Arabic fish dish, as I did today.

No progress on the medical exam yet.

I came across this in Carrefour after work.  I am not sure they have them in the US.  I had to get one, I was starving and curious, a dangerous combination.

It was tasty.  It seemed more chocolatey than a usual Kit Kat, which is a good thing in my book.

Dinner at the Pearl with a friend.  It was an Italian place...staffed completely by Indians.  The food was decent.  The fish special was good, but the potato side was uninspired.  The wine and desserts were good.  The cost was on par with dinner at the W, but I think the W Market produces better food.  Overall, not a bad place, but perhaps the value is questionable.  Of course, a fish dish may not be the best way to judge an Italian restaurant. :-)

Stayed up late to make calls to the US for work...but it was difficult.  I started turning into a pumpkin at ~23:00, but I had to keep going...time zones are fun?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 23-28 , Exercise, Apartments, Turkey, Orchestra!

Well, it's been a while and honestly I can't really remember much of the week.  I am not sure if that is good or bad.

[Day 23] Monday, Fitness Ramp Up and Blogging...

I am happily getting into the home stretch of my year long fitness quest.  Since I am nine months in, the rate at which I add muscle has slowed to a crawl, but that is natural and I am cool with it.  However, I still have some nagging residual fat around the mid-section.  Not a lot, but my standards have changed and it's gotta go.

So, I have cut back on food a bit and added some bonus exercise until I get to the point where I want to maintain.  This may be a mistake, but I am incensed to push through this plateau and I can always back off.

Now I feel I should insert something Doha-ish in here, so...behold Mister Potato Crisps!

I think Mister Potato Crisps is Pringles' secret migrant worker half-brother.  As for the chips/crisps, the MPCs are crispier, almost like they were fried twice.  Aside from that...pretty much a knockoff of Pringles.

I have to confess that this comment is somewhat out of order, because these chips are a souvenir from the Dunebashing trip; in my defense, though, I was waiting to get back to the hotel and stack them with the Pringles can for the picture.  I picked these up when we stopped at the equivalent of the "Last Chance Gas Station", where we also came across a Qatari with a falcon (no kidding; wish I took a picture).

I then sat down to compose my Doha Diaries: Days 19-22, The Social Blur post, missing some key pictures of me on a camel.

[Day 24] Tuesday, Camel Pictures!  Apartment Scouting

Today, I coordinated picking up the camel pictures that were missing from Monday's blog post and got them posted.

I spent the rest of the evening with very unexciting scouting of corporate apartments.  This is sort of work-related, but also not, because you may find yourself looking at the same apartments.  So, here we go...

Things to Consider When Getting an Apartment in Doha

Transport: This is a complicated consideration.  It's more than just location.

First, you want to figure out how easy or hard it will be to get where you want to go.  Because of the relatively young infrastructure of Doha, this is a more significant concern than you might expect.  It is not uncommon that a single road is the only way to where you want to go.  So, consider how the roads are laid out and if the traffic will be tolerable for you.

If you plan to take cabs, consider how easy it will be to get cabs where you are.  If cabs are loathe to go out there, or simply are not willing to hang out for fares, then you may have an issue with excessive delays.  You should also think about how the location will impact your need to take cabs.  If you are isolated from restaurants, groceries, entertainment, work, etc., then you may find yourself spending a lot more time and money due to cabs.

Qatar is undergoing rapid development and it seems that people are far more interested in building very tall towers than adequate parking.  On top of that, lots of folks are buying cars.  So, if you are going to rent or own a car, look into the parking arrangements.

For me, I currently plan to use cabs, chiefly because I have no Qatari driver's license and we are unsure how difficult it will be for me to obtain one.  For US and Canadian folks, it's complicated, reputedly due to some diplomatic tit-for-tat. /sigh

Facilities: Be sure to check out the facilities.  They vary wildly here.

Laundry facilities are usually not impressive.  It is common for residences to have the all-in-one washer/dryers that take close to forever to wash a load of clothes and, at least in one case, appear to dramatically accelerate the aging/wearing of clothes.

For me, the fitness facilities are very important.  Especially since I have yet to find a commercial gym nor a store that sells an adequate quality and quantity of sports equipment in Doha.

For pools, you have to consider the scorching, humid summers.  So, unlike in the states, it can be very important as to whether or not the pool is indoors; if not, does it have a shade over the pool area?  Heating and chilling of the pools is another consideration.  Finally, if you want to do laps, does the pool accommodate that?

If you are also a fan of free weights, pay close attention to how high the weights go, the amount of free space you have to exercise (more important when it's crowded), bench quality, etc.  If you have a love for a certain type of cardio machine, check that they have it and try it out; some machines have an awkward motion.

Shops: In my experience here, thus far, you will not find fully-stocked grocery stores or pharmacies on virtually every major intersection in a residential area like you would in the US.  Therefore, your primary concern in this category should be the shops that sell your commonly-used necessities, e.g., grocery shops or drug stores (aka "the Chemist").  An hour round trip to get some milk or cold medicine would be a real pain.

Restaurants:  If you plan to eat out regularly, then riding across town every night for dinner may be problematic.  Scout out the nearby restaurants and ask to see the menus.  As every one here quickly learns, restaurant prices commonly vary by almost an order of magnitude; e.g., I can feed 5 people at Bander Aden, (see Day 22 of my Social Blur post) for what it costs for dinner for one at the W Hotel Market restaurant.  Make sure the cuisine and the PRICES work for you.

The Apartment: How is the kitchen?  I saw an apartment with only two burners on the stove top.  While that may be adequate for quick, simple stuff, it would be problematic for cooking a good meal.  If it is a furnished apartment, are the pots and pans provided?  I saw an apartment with one skillet, one pot, two sauce pans, and no kitchen towels...I knew I forgot to pack something! :-P

How is the bed?  This varies quite a bit here.  The shapes, sizes, and materials are all over the place.  "King" is not a uniform size here and mattresses can be anything from a real mattress to what is essentially a thick pad.  Sit on it, lay on it.  Be sure.

How about a balcony?  Well, right now, in the "winter" it's nice, but when summer hits, it may become a waste of space.  For a good six months or so out of the year, the heat and humidity outside is rather oppressive.

Then there are the usual things that you would consider anywhere.

Location:  Is it where you want to be?  Consider the beach, view, and access to stuff.  The beach is nice, but so is access to shops, entertainment and work.  Unfortunately, in Doha, it is very hard to have both, so consider what you want on a daily basis, versus something you would want infrequently and thus be willing to drive.  Also, the beach may be a moot point for half the year, due to the heat and humidity.

The People: Do you want to be surrounded by expatriates or mix with others?  Some residences are practically expat enclaves and you can all but completely avoid anyone else. For some, that is a plus; for others, a minus.

The Apartments I Scouted

The Pearl - These apartments are a fair distance out from the main city area.  It is essentially an expat enclave.  There are nice restaurants nearby with hefty prices.  There is a grocery store being built at the moment, but for now you will have to take a car/taxi out to get groceries and other essentials.  The apartments and the area have a swanky, upper crust (posh for my UK friends) feel to them.  It's a mixture of pretense and polish, so, again, a plus or a minus, depending upon your tastes.  You are near the beach.  For most jobs, you have a significant commute and traffic tends to bottleneck, especially during the morning rush.  The workout facilities are great and the pool is decent.

My concerns: Pretty isolated.  My commute to work will shoot up from about 5 minutes to 20-40 minutes each way.  I would probably hemorrhage money at the local restaurants.

Al Rabban - These apartments are about a five minute walk from the City Center Mall, which has groceries, a pharmacy, movie theater, and restaurants.  The layout, decorations, and furnishings are adequate, but in comparison to the Pearl, Al Rabban is his slightly-less-wealthy cousin.  You have ready access to shops and entertainment.  If you work in the city area, you will probably have a short commute.  Unfortunately, the fitness center is crowded and I need heavier dumb bells than they provide.  In a pinch, there is usually a line of taxis at the City Center.

My concerns:  Mostly, the fitness area.  While I can accept some lack of gear for a few days in a hotel, moving into a place for months that has inadequate facilities is not appealing.  I could conceivably fork out some cash and get some weights and a bench...but that is complicated (Where would I buy them? Where do I put them? Can I sell them when I leave?).

Here's hoping I get some more choices...

[Day 25] Wednesday, Eye Test and A Little Too Motivated...

Ah, yes, the eye test.  What can I say about the eye test?

How long does it take to get a 15-second eye test at a place that is about 5 minutes away?  Wrong! It takes over an hour.
  1. Hop in the chartered bus (and when I say "bus" I mean tiny van)
  2. Wait around while people that are not supposed to be on the bus have many confused discussions with the coordinator.
  3. Show up at the license place as everyone is heading out for their afternoon prayers.
  4. Wait
  5. Compete for access to the test with a group of people that rolled up just before the prayers ended (a smarter plan)
I passed!  I am so proud.

On the fitness front, today I went too far.  I didn't injure myself or anything, but I did three workouts and I could tell it was just too much.  Oh well...back to one workout a day for now...maybe.

[Day 26] Thursday, Thanksgiving x 2! Mini-Farce

Being in the Middle East, I had no expectations of a Thanksgiving dinner.  However, much to my surprise, I found myself invited to TWO!  The first one was simply lunch at Ric's Kountry Kitchen (see November 2 of my Doha Diaries: Week 1 post).  They had a basic turkey dinner.  It was OK.  The turkey was good.  I am told the cherry pie and mashed potatoes were good (I had pumpkin and pecan, both were not very good, so i was not up for more pie).  As for the rest, we all agreed it was pretty mediocre.  Still, we enjoyed the meal and each others' company.

This was the start of a near farsical execution of activities, errands, etc...

So, from there, Paul was gracious enough to take me to Dean & Deluca, a fancy pants grocery store where I had hoped to find a side dish for my evening Thanksgiving event.  Hmm, not many side dishes and all of them are too...Middle Eastern or contemporary.  Bummer.  TO THE CHEESE!  With Paul's expert UK-certified assistance, I pick out some nice cheeses.

TO THE FLOWER SHOP! Now it's time to speed walk across the mall to pick up some roses for a lady friend while they hang out at Dean & Deluca's snacky place.  Waiting for the bouquet...done.  TO THE SNACKY PLACE!  Hmm, where is the bag of Cheese?  TO THE FLOWER SHOP!

I was relieved that the cheese was still there, since time was not on my side, but some part of me regretted that I was not caught up in a Wallace & Gromit-esque adventure chasing a cheese thief.  TO, starting to work up a sweat here...TO THE SNACKY PLACE!

They finish at Dean & Deluca's.  TO THE W HOTEL!

OK, so now time is really getting away from me.  I drop off my stuff at the room.  I hop in a cab to drop off the roses.  Sure, I really don't have the time to spare, but hand delivery is how I roll, yo.  TO THE <HOTEL NOT NAMED>! (Sorry co-workers, keep guessing)

Flowers delivered...


OK, so now it's 10 minutes until dinner and I am at the hotel, sweaty, in a suit, desperate for a shower and a change of clothes.  I call Ed and, thankfully, he grants me a reprieve to shower and change.

Fastest.  Shower. Ever.


The cab driver doesn't exactly know where to go but, thankfully, I have just enough recollection to get us there and Google Maps actually has the compound on its map.

I finally make it to my full-fledged family Thanksgiving dinner at Ed and Nicole's house.  It was awesome.

Ed and Nicole are wonderful hosts.  Their friends are pleasant and fun.  The kids are busy being kids.  And I am quietly doing my laundry in the background.  Win.

The food was incredible.  The side dishes ranged from great to great & intriguing (e.g., Nicole's tasty cranberry relish...chutney..whatever that Ed and I fought over).

The post-meal banter was great too.  Ben could probably be a successful stand up comedian if he wanted.

Oh, and the cheese!  Paul had recommended a specific one, a stinky blue cheese that was yellow instead of white.  Paul tells me it was Stilton Blue.  It was surprisingly good.  If you had told me how it would taste, I would not have believed you fully until I tried it.  It was completely unexpected how rich and smooth it was; I was expecting it to be akin to being kicked in the throat.

Ed had me try some funky liqour/liqueur.  I think it was ginger schnapps or something like that.  The only way I can describe it is angry cough syrup.

After the dust had settled and everyone else had left, Ed and I enjoyed another chat in his courtyard about culture and life in Doha.

A great evening.

[Day 27] Friday, Haircut and R&R

Slept in a bit, since I got to bed well past my bed time, then I had to hustle a bit because I wanted to knock out my workout, breakfast, and a haircut before lunchtime.

Getting a haircut here takes one of two paths.  You can go to a "Gentleman's Saloon [sic]", pay some guy virtually nothing, and be happy with what you get, which may include various massages, a facial, etc.  Or, maybe you want to be able to actually communicate effectively because you feel life is too short for bad hair cuts.  I prefer the latter.  I got a recommendation from a colleague at work for the Bio-Bil spa and it was great.  Here I am showing off my new 'do with Allan, the stylist/barber that cut my hair.  Thank you, Allan.

See that cool picture in the back?  It's an images of birds within birds.  Very cool.  Let's zoom in on that...

Cool, huh?

All righty, all presentable now.  Time for some lunch.  Today, let's try "Chicken Barq".

Oh, hey, look at that, meat, bread, and rice!  The tiny little bowl of Fattoush (the salad) is the reason I have settled on this among the three kabob places in the mall to be my primary choice.  At least they try to make their standard meals healthy.

I am still curious what the hell a local chicken looks like, I have no idea what part of the chicken produced this meat, and maybe ignorance is bliss here.

Speaking of's time for R&R. I took advantage of the couples room at the Bliss Spa at the W.  Because of the cultural norms, I am not sure how much I should say.  So, I will just say, it was cool.

Their massage technicians (their term, not mine) were great.  Mine helped teach me that I was not stretching enough.  She found this spot in my mid-calf that was a nasty knot, which she brutally assaulted as I tried to climb off the massage table, desperately looking for weapons to defend myself.  My friend put me to shame, taking the beating from her technician with a smile.  I thought it was over...then the technician found the exact same knot on my other calf...oh...the...pain.

A great start to what turned out to be a wonderful day and evening.  I am a lucky man.

[Day 28] Saturday, Coding and Getting All Up In Some Culture

I slept in a bit, worked out, and napped a bit after that.  Feeling a bit tired/lazy today.

I headed over to Carrefour (aka, the French Wal-Mart) and picked up some stuff.

I swung by a chemist (pharmacy) and picked up some vitamins, because I have become concerned that I am not getting all of my nutrients here, especially with the current reduction in calories; I am feeling a bit worn down.  It's too bad bread, meat, and rice don't provide 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowances of nutrients, otherwise I would be set.

Today, I tried the new "Spicy Fish" dish.  The sign...

And the meal itself...

Oh look, more meat, bread, and rice! It tastes better than it looks, but spicy?  Eh, not Michael spicy.

I spent the day coding for OwlCon, working on the "back office" portals where the Planners do their magic; but first I have to do my magic and give them the portals.  PHP, HTML, and MySQL do not make for a tasty dessert.

After dinner, I went to see the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra at the Katara Cultural Village with a couple of colleagues.  The orchestra performed Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and Brahm's first symphony.  It was great.  It would be better if they had an acoustic stage, but it was still good.  The venue is cozy enough that the sound was not swallowed.

Here is a picture of the seating area.

The stage...

And the stage with people on it.

A beautiful venue.

The pianist was really getting into it.  His facial expressions bordered on comical, but I decided that laughing out loud during an orchestral maneuver would be a bit of a faux pas.  Then there was the conductor.

I can't quite decide what a conductor's role is.  I see him up there, hopping around, waving his arms about.  but I also see the musicians intently reading their music and playing, oblivious to his apparent grand mal seizure.  Even worse, I see the conductor's motions all too often seem out of time, disjointed, or completely superfluous.

So, I have concluded that conductors are most likely fancy, overpaid go go dancers, sans the sexy.

After the show, we hit up Royal Istanbul for a chicken shawarma.  Not bad.  Not exactly the nectar of the gods that I was expecting from my colleagues' description, but not bad. :-)

Side note: The best shawarma I have ever had was at Droubi's in Houston.

And now, to set this to post at a time when my friends and family will actually be awake...let's try...noon CST.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Doha Diaries: What the Hell is Happening Back Home?

I have been in Doha since October 31st of this year.  For various reasons, I have effectively stopped watching TV.  My time is focused on work, exercise, and play.  What news I do get comes from the Qatar Tribune.

The other night, I was eating at Bander Aden with some friends.  As we sat down to dinner, we saw footage of Egyptian military/police beating the crap out of a guy for apparently being near them (we saw no weapons, no threatening actions).  We (Americans and Canadians) collectively thought/said something to the effect of, "What the hell?"

Ignorance is bliss.  I then see this:

What the hell?

I think Michael Chorost, PhD, does a good job of conveying my feelings in his article, especially the part about wanting to tear those officers apart.  You can blame the idiot administration all you want, but those police are a disgrace to the uniform and their country.  I guess we only get the concept of following only lawful orders in the military.  The idiot with the spray is just flat out a power mad sadist, the exact wrong person to have a uniform.

Seeing this in 2011 makes me both furious and sad.

Serve and protect?  My ass.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doha Diaries: I Need More Camel!

Well, here are the missing pictures from the Dunebashing trip, taken by a lovely young shutterbug.

Riding off into the sun...

Coming back...


Good camel, have a treat!

Trivia: I karate-chopped the apples in half.  I am not joking.  It's what the guy told me to do, so I did.

And a picture from inside the SUV as we were plowing through dunes.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 19-22, The Social Blur

Holy crap.  So...much...socializing.  Here's the breakdown:
  • Week 1: Social activities on most of my nights.
  • Week 2: Social activities every day but one
  • Week 3: Social activities every day and conflicting social activities on many of those days
Here.  In Doha.  Where I knew like two people when I showed up, one a family man and the other not naturally fond of social gatherings.

Color me freaking stunned.

When I came out here I expected about as much social activity as I did acres of lush farmland.  Which is to say, I expected it to be a rare surprise.  But I was naive.

I am not sure exactly about the genesis.  One of my many new friends suggested that it is the nature of expatriates.  That those folks willing to come out to the desert are not typical.  Perhaps it is a shared lack of roots, family, and long-time friends here.  Perhaps it is the sense that you need to huddle close with friendly faces.  Or maybe UK folks* are just naturally more social, and taking the rest of us along for the ride.  Maybe it is the lack of our old familiar ways to kill time that causes us to more actively seek anything to do that is not eating and shopping.

* - the plurality, if not the majority of the westerners appears to be from the UK

I honestly don't know, but it has made things very interesting and it has been a lot of fun.

So, in a twist, this means less blogging.
As a reminder:  I don't like to get overly detailed on social outings as that treads on folks privacy and potentially parts of their life they wish to keep intimate, including me.  So, while I might describe an outing and maybe what I ate, don't expect much more, especially if alcohol or the opposite sex are involved.
[Day 19]  Thursday, The Most Boring Day In This Post (for me)

Sometimes it is the little things.  On the way to the ATM in the bank next door, I glanced down at the cars I was passing in the parking lot and spotted this.

The written Arabic language has such beautiful calligraphy, it makes the mirror look classier.  I have no idea what it says, but I will guess, Infidels in mirror may be closer than they appear.

TGIT!  You know, thank God it's Thursday!  Yes, another work week behind me.  I have an invite out to a new sports bar, at the Marriott, with some new colleagues and some I have already met.  Should be fun.

I hop into a cab.  "To the Marriott!"

20 minutes pass.  I walk into the hotel and ask where Champions is located.  The doorman points to a hallway.  I head down the hallway.  I see a Filipino woman dressed like a Doña from Spain, but no Champions sports bar.

I inquire again. "Oh, that's in the *other* Marriott."

Um, other Marriott?

I hop into a cab.  "To the Marriott!"

20 minutes pass.  I walk into the hotel and ask where Champions is located.  The doorman points to an escalator...well I finally find it.  I am an hour late, but hopefully the group was large enough that my tardiness will go unnoticed...wait, where the hell is everyone?  It turns out that most of the crew got stuck at work and the bat signal to cancel the gathering was out of commission.

Ah well, time for some much needed rest and a blog post.

[Day 20] Friday, I'm On Another Boat!

Rather than repeat my link to I'm on a Boat! I decided to go with another Lonely Island song, Jack Sparrow.

Yep, I got on another Dhow!  This one was a dinner cruise more or less.  We cruised out to Banana Island, parked, swam, ate, drank, and chatted.  No rolling swells kicking the boat all over the place and no frigid wind eating your flesh at night (I brought my jacket this time, just in case...).

By sheer coincidence, we were treated to an air show by the French Air Patrol.  They were performing for the boat races nearby.

So far, this was one of the best experiences I have had here.  I will have to do this again.  Next time I will bring some shorts so I can swim. :-P

That evening I got together with some new friends and visited some night spots.  The evening was wonderful and lasted well into the early morning, although I may* have had a bit too much to drink.

* - there was no "may" about it, but it sounds better that way. The Brits are rubbing off on me.

[Day 21] Saturday, I'm Tired and Queasy...Let's Go Dunebashing!

After about four hours of sleep, I got up, had as much breakfast as I could eat...which turned out to be about a handful of egg because my stomach was still uncertain from being abused yesterday.

Then it was off to Dunebashing!  This is the term used to describe when you get into an SUV, let some air out of the tires and then do you best to turn gigantic dunes into a makeshift roller coaster ride, but a lot more fun.

The austere majesty of the giant dunes stretching out to the horizon was breathtaking at times.

On the way to the dunes, we stopped and rode some camels, but I didn't take any pictures...but pictures were taken and I promise to post some when I get them.  It was a cool, touristy picture and once I have that picture of me riding a camel, I can leave the middle east with peace of mind. :-D

After the actual dune bashing, we got to the Inland Sea.  The Sun was setting and it was beautiful.

And my feet in the Inland Sea...

And a quickie self-picture which was *supposed* show some Saudi Arabian mountain behind me, but I can't make it out in the picture...oh well.

Once the sun went down, it was back to base camp.  A couple of folks in the group had been wrestling with nausea all day and we had to stop for a moment en route to insure the inside of the SUV was not redecorated, but we eventually made it there much to everyone's collective relief.

And the dinner table...

While we waited for dinner, I tried out sandboarding.  This is like snowboarding, except you trudge up a high dune with a snowboard and ride it down.  Having never snowboarded, I expected to eat sand.  But much to my relief, I was able to pull off a passable impersonation of someone that knew what the hell they were doing.  I did it three times to insure it was not a fluke.  It was pretty fun.  I may have to give snowboarding a try someday.  Again, no picture of this, but I do have a video of the *tiny* bit of sand that got into my shoes while I was trudging up the dunes.

Another day of great fun and socializing, wrapping up an amazing weekend.  All of these happy words coming out of my mouth is making me feel like Tony Bennet.

[Day 22] Sunday, Back to Work, Back to Souq Waqif

This evening I went back to Souq Waqif with a group of new friends, but this time I had dinner.  We went to a place called Bander Aden.  We sat on a carpeted floor, lounging on cushions, and eating wonderful food.  First, there was the soup...and the super sexy plastic sheets they put down on the floor.

The bread was...big.

We didn't order fish, but I had to snap a picture of how they prepared it.

And finally, they were gracious enough to take us back and show us the oven where they made the bread.

We strolled the Souq a bit and goofed off.  I still need to come back here and try the shisha...another day...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 16-18, Football, Souqs, and Bennigan's LIVES!

[Day 16]  Are You Ready For Some (Real*) Football?

* - for my friend Paul, a proud citizen of the UK.

I can't recall what I listened to for today's workout.  Oh well, whatever it was, it must have been fine for chest, back, and legs. :-D

Today's big thing was going out to the "International Friendly" football/soccer match between Brazil and Egypt.  This is part of "Football Against Famine" and the proceeds of the match will be donated to help combat famine in Somalia.

Now, if you know anything about football, you know that this will basically be a shooting drill for Brazil.  The two teams are incredibly mismatched.  But, like they said it was "International Friendly" so who knows how hard they will play?

I was going to the game with three co-workers Paul, Bob, Paul's wife Tracy, and another co-worker.

The evening started with me being picked up an hour earlier than expected, so I was bolting down another awesome meal from the Market restaurant at the hotel and racing out the door.  So, there we were, leaving two hours in advance for what should be a 20 minute trip.  Sound excessive?  Well, it turns out it was not.

We hit progressively more traffic as we traveled down the ONE highway that went to the stadium.

Qatari HOV lane

We saw a lot of what is considered commonplace in the country - people in SUVs hopping off to the side of the road and blazing along.  I have dubbed it the "Qatari HOV lane".  We indulged in a bit of vengeful schadenfreude when more idiots* decided to go off-road, like the guy who did not understand how his air dam worked and pretty much tore his to pieces on the rocks.  In our defense, these people were basically like the folks I remember in Houston who would dart out of the exit lane, race up past everyone then dart back into the exit lane.  Most of them were doing exactly that as they soon ran out of drivable ground and got back into traffic.  I have not yet learned the Arabic word for "douche bag" so I was ill-equipped to properly communicate my support for their driving habits.

* - when you significantly endanger others to save seconds off our trip time, you are certainly not driving smart


Eventually, we get to the stadium and the cab driver lets us out at the street, since they have blocked off the road to the stadium and all of the regular paved parking, which was pretty silly.  We marched up to the entrance, got frisked (they were pretty hardcore, even seizing the little light-weight plastic sticks in people's Brazil/Egypt flags).  OK, I didn't get frisked.  I think I was just lucky, but my friends tell me that it was because I did not look like a laborer...hmm.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of their funky night sticks, but I DID take a picture of their horsey guard!

It was funny, because the first picture I took, half of them were just farting around, but by the second picture they were looking all martial and the guy near posed for the shot. I appreciate the artistic collaboration.  :-D

Here is a quick video of the outside of the stadium, with Bob hogging the spotlight (he's such a diva).

We headed around to our seats.  En route I stopped by the concession stand.  It was a pretty simple thing, basically a staging point for food from elsewhere and a selection so limited that it made a hot dog stand seem exotic and multi-faceted.  Oh well, I got my foil-covered cup (literally like 240 mL of liquid) of water and headed to my seat.  We got there with about 15 minutes to spare, so just about perfect.  Now, remember, we left about two hours in advance...well, plenty of time for a picture...

So, you see my black, white, and red shirt?  Well, what you don't see are my red and black running shoes.  It turns out the Egypt colors are black, white, and red, so more than one person took a double-take, unsure if my choice of colors was or intentional or not, especially since I did not fit the profile of a typical Egypt fan...not that I fit the profile of a typical Brazil fan, either.

We checked in with Tracy and Paul and they were still driving.  The match started.  Here is my obligatory picture of the actual game.

Check out the sexy gold capes on the camera crew. Fabulous!  :-D

The game was a lot of fun to watch.  I was so engrossed with watching he ball and trying to figure out where it should go versus where they put it, that the time just flew past.  For the first half, our goal was Brazil's so most of the game occurred on the other side of the field.

Half time came and Tracy or Paul. The poor things were still stuck in traffic. :-(

Now Egypt was defending the goal near us, so most of the game happened near us.  Tracy and Paul arrived shortly after the second half started.  Good news, they were there for the more interesting half.

The final score was 2-0 for Brazil.  Not a shocker for anyone.  I have to give the Egypt fans credit for cheering their team on until the very end, although they lose a few points for "booing" early in the game whenever Brazil got the ball and headed towards Egypt's goal.  They soon tired of that, since that was 90% of the game.

Still, it was fun and memorable.

So, after the game, we marched across the barren wastes to Paul and Tracy's car.  We blazed down the road in the opposite direction we wanted to go because Qatar roads tend to be rigidly divided with very few opportunities to turnaround.  We finally turned around and blazed back down the road until we hit some traffic and then proceeded to go nowhere fast.

You see, the Qatar traffic police were holding up our lane for 20 minutes at a time (yes, we timed it), then letting us pass for maybe 3 minutes.  It was not fun.  We almost lost our minds the second time, as we were two cars away from freedom.  We finally escaped into regular traffic.

All in all, the 20 minute trip took about an hour.  We rested for a few minutes at Paul and Tracy's and caught a cab home.  Bedtime...

[Day 17]  Souq it!

I delayed my workout to the afternoon, which I regretted, but it was that or get less than 6 hours of sleep.  I think the next time I have to make that choice, the sleep will lose.  I find exercising in the morning SO much easier, better, and more fun.  On top of that, I just feel so much better when I get to work after working out.

During today's workout, I learned that Metallica's "Black Album" is not very good for the Spartacus Workout because it has a number of slow songs.  The songs are good, just not enough beats per minute for the workout.  However, this song, Of Wolf and Man, is plenty good for working out.

This evening, Paul was kind enough to take Mike and I out to visit the Souqs.  A souq is basically a mall, but I think that word does not conjure up the right image.  Bazaar, yeah, that's better.  Even better, how about some pictures?

A beautiful building at the Faran Islamic Cultural Center.

Real Life Peeps!

We came across some real life Peeps.  The only difference is that people freak out when you grab one and pop it in your mouth.

These guys were in a hall full of animals and I don't call it that because Paul (near, gray shirt) and Mike (let, white pants and peach? shirt) are in the picture, it was the OTHER animals.

Wander, wander, peek in the Turkish restaurant at Paul's advice.  Shiny.

We hung out and had some refreshments. I had a strange and exotic dish called a "banana royale" from a place called "Baskin Robbins".  It had such wonderfully odd things in it, ice cream, hot fudge, banana, whipped cream, a cherry.  Oh wait, that's a hot fudge sundae with bananas.  Oh well, sue me, I like hot fudge sundaes.

We did a fair amount of people watching....

The cluster of guys obviously visiting from the Air Force base...

The table of Asian women who literally spent 15 minutes (at least) taking pictures of each other over and over and over...

The guy that looked like a local trying to look very suave but mostly just choking on the smoke from his own hooka, repeatedly...

The woman that was completely covered, but had bling on her robes in the form of rhinestones or something sparkly, spelling out letters and patterns.  I guess modest doesn't mean you can't be fabulous.

There were many more sights, but onward!  We decided to go looking for a KVM (keyboard, video, monitor) switch for Paul.  We headed down hallway after hallway.  Phone stores, no good.

Hallways gave way to streets.  Electrical shops, no good.

Streets gave way to dark alleys.  More electrical shops, no good.

*Just* as we were turning around to head home, I spotted a dolly with printers on it.  We inquired inside and Voila!  We found a KVM cable.

Even this was somewhat of a cultural experience as I eavesdropped on the young man selling computers to a local couple.  "Very special price just for you."  I wish had recorded it.  It would make a great ring tone.

[Day 18] Yes, That *Is* A Bennigan's!

Today's workout was legs, back, and shoulder.  The music was Beats International's Excursion on the Version. Here is a video of the track Echo Chamber.

There was no mango on the brunch today.  A dark day indeed.  But kiwi made an appearance which was cool.

Today, I finally went to check out a place that I had longed to visit since I learned of its existence - Bennigan's!  That's right, the Bennigan's in Doha is still open.  I have pictures to prove it.  First, the signs outside for Bennigan's and Fuddrucker's.

I was greeted immediately inside by a sign warning me that only "ladies and families" were allowed in the section to the left.

And the other side...

So, why was I so excited about going to Bennigan's?  The Monte Cristo!  It's a horribly unhealthy and oh-so-yummy deep-fried sandwich monstrosity.  Behold! [Ignore the bites I had already taken, I got carried away.]

You have to eat it fast because it gets nasty when it gets cold.  So basically you slather jam on the pieces and chow down as fast as you can, working in some salted fries occasionally to break up the sweet.  I know it probably sounds disgusting, but you have to try it first.  I am not sure how good of a Monte Cristo it was because I was just so happy to have one that I was not very discriminating.  That said, it was good.  Yum.  That's gonna cost me, gutwise, but it was worth it.

And once again I am all caught up on my blog!  Yay!

Now, I need to get to bed early because we are hitting Ric's Kountry Breakfast tomorrow before work.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 13-15, Laundry Party, Blackout, and Tiger's Balm!

Wow, it's already been two weeks!

[Day 13] Friday, November 11, A Doha Moment and a Laundry Party!

The work week is Sunday through Thursday here, so you might think of Friday in middle east as though it was Saturday in the USA. It is and it isn't. Because Friday it the Islamic day of prayer, it becomes more of a cross between what you would experience on Saturday and Sunday back in the USA. Shops open late or close for hours at a time to accommodate prayer times. It's not quite like the "bible belt" of the USA used to be, but it's reminiscent of it. Of course, there is the distinctive public broadcasting to the Friday prayer service on loudspeakers throughout the city, so if you are thinking of sleeping late on Friday...that may be difficult...

...but somehow I managed. I arrived at the gym a bit late today. On a whim, I decided that today I would not use a towel to dab sweat off my face and body while I worked out. Rather, I would just let the drops fall where they may. I managed to avoid dripping on my iPhone; yay! Afterwards, I asked the hotel attendant/trainer, Buddhika, the gentleman that is the beneficiary of my occasional post-workout lectures (his idea, not mine), to take a photo of the river of sweat flowing across my face, but the sweat doesn't didn't show up well (there is actually a bit of an art to taking the best possible picture with an iPhone).

Here is a pictures of the drops that fell on the floor and the mat during the workout.  The mat gets most of it, really, which makes sense when you think about it (e.g., when you are doing a T-pushup, the sweat falls from your face to the ground, as opposed to dripping down into your shirt).

And here's a picture of Buddhika:

Today's musical interlude was from the lighter side. I figured that since it was late on the weekend, I would pick music that might be less...oppressive to others. I went with General Public's All the Rage. Light and dance-y, but still enough of a beat/groove to be good for exercise.

"A Doha Moment"

While I was eating brunch, Ed called to tell me that he was experiencing a "Doha moment". I have a vague intuitive understanding of what he means by this, but I suspect that it is a phrase that would not do well under scrutiny, so I am content to let it be.

Anyway, this particular Doha moment is because a friend's daughter is laying over in Doha en route to Nepal and since I have been shockingly lax in doing the usual touristy things, he offered to take us both around for a super quick tour.

The best laid plans...

So, the first intended location was Donut House which proclaimed proudly to have the best donut in town.

Ed confirmed that the claim was well-founded, so I was excited at the prospect...but we were denied. it was closed, which apparently is an anomaly; Ed described it as a place that never closes. Sure, it would be easy to explain it away as a consequence of it being a day of prayer, but clearly, it was a devious plot hatched by Dunking' Donuts, which is where we ended up going.

This particular location featured some interesting donuts, inclining some "premium donuts". Well, how could I pass up a premium donut? I got the "Always" donut, which was basically a Boston Cream with a heart shape and Valentine's day theme.  And not surprisingly, it tasted a lot like a stale Boston Cream donut with extra icing on it.  I don't think I like the taste of premium.

Strangely, this donut shop decided to close on us about five minutes after we got our donuts and sat down.  I kid you not.  We were still finishing the one donut apiece we each got when the guy came up and said...something...we can't be sure if he was going to another job, going to pray, or just had stuff to do and wanted us to bugger off.  Regardless, he was not even going to let us finish, we had to go.  Luckily for him, no one in our trio was feeling ornery.

Time for super speed tourism!

We walked around the "gold souq".  A souq is basically a market area.  It was the place for shopping back in the day.  The newer, shinier, more Disney-esque one is Souq Wakif.  Behind that is the remains of the old one, the gold souq; I guess it gets its name from the golden colors among the facades and signs.  However, because of the time and day, it was shut down.  Still interesting to see, but I'll come back and take pictures when its more lively.

Then it was off to the Corniche, which is a walking path that circumnavigates the edge of the bay.  We stopped for what Ed tells me is the most touristy tourist picture in Doha, a picture in front of the Pearl Fountain.

Not too far away from this tourist spot, I snapped a picture that epitomizes an interesting cultural characteristic.

It's what appears to be a pretty new building in pretty good condition, being ripped down.  This is surprisingly commonplace; well, surprising if you have not lived in Doha for a while.  If it's not to clear the way for some visionary new project, then it's part of a sort of Logan's Run for buildings; after 15 years or so, the little red light flashes and the building is soon put down.

And by simply swiveling about 90 degrees to my right, I get a picture of this palatial building (I think it is a residence of the Emir or Sheika, but it may just be a ministry building).

And now for the most fantastically anachronistic picture I have taken.

A Dhow, which is the type of boat that the Qatari of old used for pearl diving, with a Seadoo (or something like that) and a speedboat tied to it, and in the background the cluster of sleek modern buildings that make up downtown Doha, many of which did not exist 10 years ago.

We wrapped up our mini tour, as Ed's friend's daughter needed to catch her flight.  Ed and Nicole graciously welcomed me back into their home for a laundry party!  This is a thrilling event in which I sit around your house and wash my dirty clothes (Ed and Nicole are such lucky people).  We stopped by the store where Ed showed me a magical substance they had for sale, Tiger Balm.   Not quite Tiger's Blood, but still magical:

I have to wonder, though, to which affected area do you gently apply the balm in order to treat flatulence?

Ed fired up the grill and a cigar, but not in that order, and cooked up some yummy hamburgers.  I chatted with Ed and Nicole about a wide variety o' stuff while the washer and dryer faithfully did their duties.

At around 7:00 PM, Ed was kind enough to drop me off back at the hotel, but the day was not yet done.  En route, I got a call from a co-worker, Paul, to let me know that a group was gathering to check out a bar and/or dance club.

So, I headed back to the hotel, dressed in my usual casual outfit, and met up at Paul's place.  I determined that we were dressing a step above t-shirts, but it worked out all right, as it turns out the bar and dance club they wanted to visit was in my hotel. :-P

We hit Wahim and the Crystal Lounge.  The former was a bar with cool little curtained rooms/cubbies with lots of pillows for lounging about while drinking...or other things.  They had a DJ but no dance floor, which felt a tad awkward.  After a bit we hit the Crystal Lounge, where I wielded my mighty power of "I have a room here" to sashay in and get a table without missing a step.  It was more like a club.  There was a medium-sized dance floor, a DJ, a couple of bar areas, and lots of tables with couches.  However, the tables required you to buy a full bottle of alcohol for the very reasonable price of about $300.  Yeah, it's a scam, but it's a hip, cool scam and that does include bottomless mixers, of which they have a wide variety (but no Creme de Banana, so no Boston Gold for Michael).

Being a respectable and considerate fella, that is all of the detail I am going to share about the night.  I will say it was fun.  Both places were expensive, but they get away with it because folks will pay the price to be there and they had an appropriate amount of pretense to match the price tag. :-D

[Day 14] November 12, Fancy Pants Movies and Blowing a Circuit!

Umm...I sorta slept in pretty late.  I managed to finish my workout before brunch ended, though.  Workout music was selected to be more crowd-friendly. I went with Stereo MCs Connected.

It was well-received by others working out.  But it's not hard to pull that off when you rescue them from the music hell of the W's they keep on a constant loop in there.  Don't get me wrong, I like house music just fine, but whatever it is they play screams pretense and really gets old after an hour or ten.

I met a colleague for lunch at the mall.  We hit the Noodle House, which is sort of a hybrid Japanese, Thai, Chinese, place.  Some of the stuff was good, some was great.  Overall, pretty good.  Not super healthy, though, so the full balance would be a rating of OK.  Ihad wasabi shrimp that were fried and then slathered in a thick creamy wasabi sauce, and too much of it; but it still tasted pretty good.  The lamb curry was lamb, so it's hard for me not to like it.  However, there was too much fat on the meat.  I should have snapped some pictures, though, as they had a pretty good presentation.

We decided to go see Immortals.  I invited a fellow traveller I met at the W, Eric, from Shell, to join us.  I sprang for tickets to the VIP GOLD movie theater.  Basically, you pay three times as much, but you are in a gigantic overstuffed recliner, with an end table between you and the next seat.  It was pretty cool.  Worth the price?  Not sure, but definitely worth it for at least one visit, just to see it.

While I was at the mall, I picked up an Xbox power supply local to the area.  You see, I had researched my consoles online and found that:

  1. PS3 consoles, while they will only show your local power specs, will in fact support everything; this is counter-intuitive because the console does not have a big ol' adapter "brick".
  2. According to the forums, an Xbox requires voltage conversion, but the recommendation was to get a local Xbox power supply and use that instead.
I plug in my PS3 to an adapter strip and fire it up.  No flames shooting out of it, no strange noises.  I pop in Resistance: Fall of Man and start up the game. It works!

Because of some of the commentary I saw and the fact that my PS3 only needs an adapter, I have doubts about using the local power supply for the Xbox.  OK, that and my experimentalist mindset.  So I contact Xbox support.  It takes forever and a day, but after about 30 minutes, the final answer is - "You can just use an adapter, you do not need a converter, transformer, or a local power supply." And I waited while she confirmed it with her supervisor.

Cool!  Let's plug this sucker in...POP!  And everything went black.  Hmm, it seems the circuit has blown in the room.

By sheer serendipity, and my healthy does of curiosity, I happened to discover earlier in my stay that the breaker box for the room is hidden behind a panel of the wardrobe.  So I popped it open and flipped the breaker back on while the Xbox person profusely apologized.

I hooked up the local power supply and plugged it in.  It seemed to work.  I powered it up and everything looked fine.  She gave me an RMA number and made a note for a free replacement if I get back to the states and find out the US supply is not working or the Xbox craps out on me.

Well, lessons learned.  Might as well lay the first scenario of Resistance...

[Day 15] November 13, Work, Work, Work
I got carried away doing random crap on my computer last night, so I woke up a bit tired.  One part of my brain tried to convince the other part that I should just go back to bed for an hour and exercise after work.  The latter part slapped sense into the first part, and I went and exercised.

During the weekday, I get to the gym before anyone, even the guy that works there.  So, I *thought* it would be relatively safe to bust out Sepultura's Chaos AD.  Here's Refuse Resist.

As you can hear, it is not the most unobtrusive music available.  Well, wouldn't you know it, THREE people trickle in over time; the most I have ever seen during my early morning workouts.  So, I turn it down a bit (I am using my Bose SoundLink instead of the gym speakers) and keep on rocking and sweating.

Then it's off to work.  For some reason, I feel I should point out that my workout music is pointedly aimed at high energy music.  I have wide musical tastes, for example, at work today, my background music was Thievery Corporation's The Richest Man in Babylon and The Cosmic Game.  Here's Omid(Hope) from the former.

When I got back to the hotel, I got caught up on my blogging (Egads!) and got some dinner at the hotel.  Dinner was amazing.  I really like the W's Market restaurant.  Tonight it was their grill special, which featured steaks.  I had a steak with a market salad to start, a side of caramelized Brussel sprouts, and warm chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  All of it was wonderful.

Good god, I sound like that businessman in the Kids in the Hall skit, Dull Since the Heart Attack. "Fantastically terrific."

Well, until the next post... :-)