Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 53-59, Dubai Santa, Towel Elephant, Kinda KFC and Tex Mex

[Day 53] Wednesday, December 21st, Decking the Halls in Dubai, Back to Doha

We wrapped up our work in Dubai early and I headed back to Doha.

That picture above was one I took in the Dubai airport.  I kid you not.  Apparently, Santa wanted to experience some warmer climes and share the love with his Middle Eastern friends.  And in case you missed the guy dressed in bright red, there is a guy dressed as Santa in there.  I mean the full on Christmas tree with animatronic Santa blew me away on its own, but when I crested the stairs and spied a real live Santa, I was floored.  From what little data I have, Dubai seems a little more Christmas-friendly than Doha.

To continue the weirdness, I went to a Potbelly's (a sandwich shop chain in the USA) in the airport and got a Wreck and a chocolate shake (if you haven't noticed by now, chocolate shakes and hot fudge sundaes are my kryptonite).  As with many Western things made in the Middle East, I would describe the taste as "adjacent".  It's a lot like it, and it's not bad, but it's a step sideways from the flavor, slightly out of phase, off key, something...

And I'm back in Doha!

By the end of the day, I was in a new hotel (work moved me from the W to the Marriott Courtyard adjoining the City Center Mall) with a box o' boozes from the Qatar Distribution Company.

[Day 54] Thursday, December 22nd, Boyz in the Souq

I am on vacation now.  It's more than a little weird.  I have canceled two vacations this year and delayed/shortened this one.  So, my brain is having trouble accepting it.

The day was a bit of a blur, I may have slept, as my sleep cycle was seriously messed up from the 7 day multi-country tour across countries spanning a 10-hour time difference.  I stopped by the pool and snapped a picture, I will return...

Oh, and how awesome are the housekeeping staff here?  TOWEL ELEPHANT AWESOME!

Seriously, I loved it.  Now have I have a pet to keep me company until I go home and he's really low maintenance.  Now if I can just resist the urge to wipe up spills with him...

The evening was spent with another trip to Souq Waqif.  This time I was hanging out with a friend from Shell that I met at the W.  He wanted to show a buddy from work a good touristy time, and what better place to start than the Disney Land version of Doha, Souq Waqif?

For the most part, the Souq is dry (maybe completely, but I *think* there was wine somewhere), so my box o' booze was cracked open for some tasty pre-souq beverages.  This plan was full of win.

For pictures and more details on the Souq, see the post about my first visit.

We hit the Souq, and the visiting buddy whips out a GIGANTIC camera and hangs it around his neck, then goes into stereotypical tourist mode, snapping pictures left and right.  I think he and the folks at the souq found each other equally amusing.

We caught the tail end of a festival, which was apparently related to the Arab Games, which I forgot were still going.  We stopped and watched a goofy act by a European gentleman (German maybe?).  In this picture, he is honking out classical music with horns strapped to overalls.  It was pretty goofy, but we watched and clapped and hollered, if only to make up for the stony silence of the rest of the crowd.

We hit Bander Aden, got a room where we could sit on the floor and eat more gigantic bread, lamb, and chicken.

Wander the shops.  Check.

Show the buddy the "real life Peeps". Check.

Shisha bar.  Check.

Lady friend shows up and...wait what?  Well, that was it for my souq adventure.  the souq isn't going anywhere.

[Day 55] December 23, This Ain't Your Momma's KFC

I relaxed by the pool today, sunbathed for the first time in months, maybe the third time this year.  I was out there for two hours without any protection and did not get a sunburn.  Weak winter Sun is weak.  However, it was incredibly pleasant and relaxing.  It was basically room temperature with a gentle breeze.

Curiosity finally overrode good judgement and I tried one of the THREE Kentucky Fried Chicken places in the City Center Mall.

I *think* I got Original recipe, but I can't be sure.  Ordering had more of a language barrier than usual.  Ordering the sides was easier.  I mean, there were a ton of choices - slaw, fries, slaw, fries, slaw, or fries.

Now, you may notice that this picture is blurry, but that is a good thing.  You see, professional photographers and cinematographers have long understood that blurring can mask dry, wrinkled things, consider Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds commercial.  So, this blurring is for your benefit...brace yourself.

You expected warm, moist, seasoned chicken that you have to resist shoveling into your mouth it's so good?  Will you settle for warm?

You expected fresh, yummy, seasoned french fries?  Well, these are definitely french fries.

You expected a biscuit?  Well, how about a stock hamburger bun, not toasted, warmed, buttered, or even sliced.

The cole slaw wasn't bad..and that was the high point of the meal.

OK, maybe it was a bad time, an off day, whatever.  But it was REALLY bad.  I mean it was *almost* bad enough that I just threw it out and went somewhere else.  Oh well, I had low expectations, just not quite low enough.

I went on a short quixotic quest for a place that sold good boots and snapped some nice pictures of buildings along the way.  Here is the Al Fardan Towers and friends.

And here is the iconic Tornado Tower.

Ignore the building behind that it trying to make it look fat; it's jealous.

Aside from that, some lazing around and more coding for OwlCon.

[Day 56] December 24th, Christmas Eve in Doha

The day was spent sunbathing, coding for OwlCon, and screwing off

This evening was set aside for romance.  'nuff said.

[Day 57] December 25th, Christmas in Doha!

So...I woke up with just enough time to workout, get ready, and get some lunch before heading off to the home of Paul and Tracy Marriott, who graciously and generously invited me over for Christmas dinner with them and Tracy's parents. :-)

I was pretty wiped out from Christmas Eve, so when the cocktails, wine, champagne, more wine, more champagne, etc. started flowing, I had to cry "uncle" eventually.  I think UK folks have a genetic tolerance for alcohol; either that or they are the result of some mad experiment to increase alcohol tolerance.  With the lack of sleep and the alcohol teaming up on me, I even had some caffeine (cue dramatic music) in the form a cup of tea, because I would very likely have dozed off in mid-bite during dinner.

It was a very UK experience, something I remember from a Chirstmas (or two) I spent in England as a child.  Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, and ample alcohol (did I mention that?). :-D

I headed back home and soon went to bed for much needed rest.

[Day 58] December 26th, Monday, The Day After Christmas...

I am starting to lose track of time...which I am told is a good thing on vacation.  Definitely not stressing out about things.  I even spent some time playing computer games, which is a stark indicator that I have lots of time on my hands.

I said good bye to my lady friend, whose short term assignment here is ending.  "We'll always have Doha" still sounds cheesy to me...but it's true.

[Day 59] December 27th, Tuesday, Wave Pool and The Tex Mexening!

It was a tad windy today, which allowed me to capture this cool footage.

After a long day of completely goofing off, I recruited my friend Eric to go with me to try out Paloma, in the Intercontinental Hotel, which claims to be Tex Mex.

Eric is the proud owner of a shiny new Qatar Driver's license and a rental car.  Freedom!  It was really weird driving around Doha and not expecting to get hit by a car at any moment.  It gives me hope if I ever get a license and car here.

What we saw when we arrived was not what we expected.  It was basically a bar* that had a kitchen next to it / in it.  I am not kidding.  you walk in, you see bar tables, a bar, big screens with sports on them, more bar tables, people drinking and smoking, and then, BAM, a kitchen staring right at you, daring you to order food.  The only encouraging sign I saw was some peppers hanging in the kitchen.
Doha cultural norm interlude: This bar versus restaurant primacy aspect is important actually.  You see, if it's a bar that serves food, then you need to have your passport or a Qatar resident permit to show them at the door to get in.  However, if it is a restaurant that serves alcohol, they don't care.  Don't ask me how that makes sense, but it is what it is.
We sit down and peruse the menu, which is not a typical Tex Mex menu.  It was more like an intercontinental menu with a lot of Mexican-influenced dishes.  There was one taco dish, one burrito dish, one enchilada dish, and a lot of other dishes that could have been in any restaurant.  Still, we were determined to try Doha Tex Mex, so we got Nachos for an appetizer, he ordered the burrito meal and I ordered the enchilada meal.

The nachos were very nacho-ish.  Tortilla chips, good start.  Cheese, meat, jalapenos, etc.  They were good, not great and what stopped them from being great was the lack of Tex Mex flavoring.  It tasted very Tex Mex adjacent.  Close, but not quite.  Don't get me wrong, they were quality ingredients, but the recipe for nachos is not chips, meat, cheese.  You actually have to put some seasoning in there to get the Tex Mex part going.  Still, they were good.

At about this time we noticed a couple drunkenly pawing each other at the bar.  It was a strange site, given the modesty thing in Doha.  In the US, it would have been a blip, but here it seemed so out of place...maybe I have been here too long. :-D

OK, so the main courses arrive and, again, good, quality ingredients, but the resulting flavor is Tex Mex adjacent.  However, I will say the refried beans were pretty spot on.  The rice was pretty close too.

Verdict?  It's not bad, but if you don't like eating around cigarette smoke or you are looking for authentic Tex Mex, you probably should look elsewhere.  You see, the punchline is that this is a hotel restaurant and the Tex Mex adjacent meal I just described cost me about $60, and it just was not worth it.

And with looks like I am actually all caught up on my Doha Diaries!  Hooray for vacation!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 42-52, Travel Til Your Eyes Bleed, Geography Test!

[Day 42] Saturday, December 10th, Coding...

I will be traveling back to the USA in two days, but it's for work, as I have decided to spend my Christmas in Doha.  All of those late night calls back to the USA time zones are over...for now.  The sleep deprivation led to the above picture, which I call Mr. Snackyface.  I plan to be stranded on a desert island with him and hallucinate that he's a real person...until snack time, then he'll be in ma' belly! [For those that are not familiar with Cast Away and "Wilson", and thus the joke, my apologies for what must seem like a bizarre statement.]

Mostly I did a shedload of coding for OwlCon today, renovating a number of features for our Registration Coordinators.

[Day 43] Sunday, December 11th, Packing and "Seasonal Party"

The flight out to the USA leaves early in the morning, so I got busy preparing for the trip, but there was a brief break to attend a "seasonal party" for work.  You see...Christmas...not so much of a holiday here, so around this time of year, phrases like "seasonal" or "festive" are used.  I wonder if the folks at Fox and Friends would go ballistic over it.

Another little reminder of where I am as in one of the hotel drawers.

Not unlike the Bibles left in hotel rooms back in the USA.  I do have to make it clear that from my limited experience in the region this is atypical, a Qur'an and prayer mat is pretty swanky; sometimes, the best you get is the arrow pointing in the proper direction to pray.

[Day 44] Monday, December 12th, If You Thought the TSA Was Bad...

I checked out early in the morning.  The fiscal acrobatics of resolving the check was a bit involved because of the changing expenses processes throughout my stay, but of, credit, for that goes to the Global Mobility team at my work.  I hate to be mean, but there are times when that term feels like an oxymoron.

I get to the airport with ample time.  I go through security and decide to get a bite to eat before the flight.  They have a nice bowl of freshly-cut fruit, a nice surprise in an airport.

I finish my snack and head to the gate to find that I have to go through security a second time and it's worse than ever.  First, they have me take EVERYTHING out of my carry on, even plugs and wires, to the point where it's basically empty.  They have me take off shoes, belts, etc.  Then they hold me up in line before I get to the scanner.

When I get to the other side, there is a guy has slid all of my belongings way down to the end in a great big jumbled mess, about which none of the security personnel seem to care.  There are easily a half dozen other passengers with ready access to my luggage and valuables; yippee.  Well, at least there wasn't a body cavity search...but it was slow and painful nonetheless and what was a leisurely schedule turns into - damn, I hope I get checked in before they close the gate (they generally close the gate early).

My fellow travelers and I make it to the bus.  They drive us out to the plane and we embark.  I settled into the plane for another freakin' long flight.  We are going with the rotation of the Earth, so it's about 1.5 hours longer and it's daylight the entire time, but I am going to Dulles, in the Washington, DC area, which is slightly closer than Houston.  They cancel each other and I am facing another 14.5-hour flight.

This flight was, interesting that last time?  You see, this time all three seats were full and the middle seat contained a little old Indian lady that kept falling asleep...usually on me.  Maybe it was the new cologne... :-P

On the plus side, it helped distract me from the 14.5-hour long "try not to permanently flatten your ass on this plane ride" dance.  I think I was successful.

Anyway, this is my first time coming back to the USA since I was a child, so I have no idea what to expect for customs.  The first part was...weird.  You see, we stepped off the plane and were herded into this:

Yeah, not a very illuminating shot, so here's a view from the outside of one that is gorging itself on passengers, or maybe disgorging them, whatever.

Yeah, that's right, it's a sort of funky room on wheels.  It raises and lowers itself on hydraulics, but not in the latino lowrider sense; even though that would be hilarious, I think there would be some broken hips and law suits.

And here is a pack of them, resting after having had their fill of feasting on human beings.

I don't know why, but it had a creepy feel to it.  The efficient containerizing and transport of humans, herded into said containers.  I half expected to see some guy stumbling out of customs, yelling, "Soylent Green is immigrants!"

[Day 45] Tuesday, December 13th, Work, then Home!

I met with some folks for work (the whole reason I stopped in the DC area for a layover), and then prepared to head home.  Some fascinating crossovers between industries...

I was staying at a place called the Staybridge Suites, in Chantilly, VA.  I chose them because they had an incredible 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.  That's pretty hard to comprehend, given the freedom folks have to wreck such a thing on a site like TripAdvisor (not a knock against TripAdvisor, just stating the obvious about ratings on the interwebs).

Do I think they are worth 5 stars?  That's a tough one.  I think my answer is this - they are absolutely worth 4 or 5 stars.  If I compare them to a regular hotel in terms of a short term stay, they fall short, but I can see that they would be incredible for a long term stay.  They arrange social gatherings on a number of weeknights, have a library, games, lounge areas, a roaring fireplace, etc.  The gym was barely adequate, in my opinion, but I demand more than most folks from a gym.  As an extended stay place, yes, 5 stars, as a hotel, I am not certain.  That said, a fine place to stay and the staff are incredible.  Bonus - a shuttle to and from Dulles, local businesses, and the nearby museum (if only I had more time).

Anyway...that night I touched down at DFW, was picked up by my buddy Paul and we went to one of my regular spots, Rockfish, for dinner and then it was back home to start laundry and COLLAPSE.

[Day 46] Wednesday, December 14th, Work...then shopping!

Aside from work, today was spent doing laundry, some shopping, and dinner with some family.

When I went to Doha, my jeans were already too big on me, and they were "relaxed" or "loose" fit, so they are pretty gigantic on me.  As a result, before I embarked on this trip, a lady friend charged me with the mission of getting jeans that "showed off my assets" more.  Since the nights in Doha were sometimes surprisingly chilly, I also charged myself with the mission of getting a nice leather jacket (my favorite was long past dead, and I was using an ill-fitting substitute that really needed to go to Goodwill).

Unfortunately, I tried on the fancy pants designer jeans first, so I was spoiled when I tried Levi's and the Gap.  After a long night of trying on clothes...the winners in the jeans category were Citizens of Humanity and 7 for all mankind; although Gap and Levi's came close.  The combination of fit, comfort, and style stole the show in all cases.  It was a good thing.

[Day 47] Thursday, December 15th, Work then off to Houston!

Aside from work, a little bit of shopping and a visit to another favorite for lunch - Fogo de Chao.  Just before lunch, I dropped by the mall to pick up my new leather jacket.  After sleeping on it, I finally settled on the tailored fit of a Hugo Boss jacket.  It has a nice clean motorcycle jacket aesthetic, i.e., not a million zippers and pockets, just the essentials.  I can't seem to find a picture online and the picture I had was too crappy to post.

That evening, I arrived in Houston, the last leg in my US tour.  I met some friends and got to bed.  I may have done a bit of coding for OwlCon in there somewhere.

[Day 48] Friday, December 16th, Work, Coding

The work meeting ran very long, but it included lunch at the local Fogo de Chao.  I don't recommend Fogo de Chao on two consecutive days.  It makes it a lot less special, it's a bit pricey for that, and it can sometimes take more than 24 hours to recover from your meat coma. :-) was a great meeting.  Lots of great discussions, but that is work...and this is not a work blog.

The rest of the night was more coding and probably dinner somewhere, that I don't remember...

[Day 49] Saturday, December 17th, Coding, Trip Prep, Eating!

Aside from lots more coding for OwlCon, we hit Kenny's and Ziggy's deli for lunch and the Grand Lux for dinner.  I had some sort of heart attack on a plate at Kenny's and Ziggy's, I think it was the Knish Knosh; a Ruben with a sea of cheese, on top of a knish?  Something like that.  I added a chocolate shake to guarantee that it was not a healthy meal.  Luckily for my body, I offset it with a healthier choice at the Grand Lux - a Mediterranean fish dish...followed by a molten chocolate lava cake; aren't those healthy too?

[Day 50] Sunday, December 18th, Off to Dubai!

Well, it was time to head back.  This was not the original plan.  The original plan called for me taking a few days of vacation (which, at this point, I cannot possibly use up before they expire), but our customer expressed a need for my presence in Dubai and I agreed, so there I was, heading back to Dubai.  With this 25-hour trip through Atlanta, New York, and Doha to Dubai, I ended up spending a total of about 50 hours flying in a 7-day period.  I have been bombarded with so many cosmic rays at this point that I damn well BETTER have super powers soon.

When I arrived at the gate in New York (JFK airport), I had a surprise awaiting me.

Yep, the 18th of December is Qatar National Day.  From what I know, it's a holiday created by the government to celebrate national pride and such.  Apparently, the best way to celebrate it is with white sheet cake served on a Christmas tablecloth. :-D

This trip went very smoothly, although I did have some close calls in terms of spare time initially.

[Day 51] Monday, December 19th, No...More...Flying...ughhhhhh

I spent basically the entire day flying.  I don't recommend it.  When I got to the hotel, I stopped by the nearby 24-hour Subway, truly a shining jewel of cultural advancement that shows a city has really made it.  Well, made something.  I have to say that cities seen from taxi cabs late at night start to look more alike.

[Day 52] Tuesday, December 20th, Work, Geography Test!

I visited the campus of Philips today for my work.  The interesting thing for you, dear reader, is this nifty geography test...see anything missing in the picture below?

Lunch was interesting.  We worked through lunch for the most part, so they had Indian food delivered.  And yet, when I showed up to get my lunch, I saw pizza boxes...

But when I opened it up, it all made sense.

All in all, quite a clever approach, although I suspect an environmentalist somewhere just had a cerebral aneurysm from contemplating the environmental impact of this approach.

My colleague, Paul, and I headed to the Sheraton to eat at their Chinese restaurant.  It was pretty good.  It was more upscale than I am accustomed, but there are so many Chinese restaurants and buffets back home and they tend to err on the side of cheap and austere.

This post is already pretty long, so let's publish this and continue in the next post...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Doha Diaries: Day 41, The Opening Ceremonies of the 2011 Arab Games

[Day 41] December 9, There will be many ellipses in this post...

The opening ceremonies of the Arab Games is upon us!

I finally remembered to snap a picture of my default breakfast at the W brunch.  Actimel for the probiotics (I assume they are good ones), half an orange, half a FRESH MANGO, a few colorful bits of vegetables, a poached/boiled egg, some salmon, and a bit of Gouda.  Yum.  Oh, and "still" water (as opposed to sparkling water).  On the way out, I usually snag a boiled egg or two and a piece of fruit for snacky fun time later.

The day started leisurely.  I had a lot of time to kill.  Then suddenly the time was dead.

You see, being a guy, I do stupid things.  Long story short, I felt inspired to follow the advice of the interwebs and buy 15 roses to say "I'm sorry" to a lady friend.  I'll let your fevered imagination run wild with why I felt so inspired, supremely confident you will never guess.  OK, it was also a good opportunity to buy her more flowers.

So I had this grand vision of showing up early, presenting said bouquet, and heading off to the opening ceremonies on a high note cleansed by my floral penance.  Then time dilated.

I headed to Carrefour...crappy roses and no baby's breath.  I Googled florists and found one sort of nearby.  One confusing cab ride later and we are there...but the store is not.  Calling...internet only you say?  Yippee.  To Villagio!

Yes, it was back to Villagio to visit the only decent florist I have found thus far.  I still have well over an hour to complete this errand and the cab driver tells me it will only take 15 minutes to get to the mall.

About 25 minutes later, we get to the mall.  I jog in order the bouquet and then wait impatiently as they craft it...back in the cab with 45 minutes left.

"How long to get to the W?"

"20 minutes"

"Perfect. Let's go!"

We arrive at the W 50 minutes later...

So, yeah, in spite of setting aside what seemed like an excessive amount of time, I end up arriving late, having to send the flowers to her room, and then meeting them at a Carrefour, where they are buying goodies for the pre-ceremony gathering.  The good news is that it gets better.  Here are said flowers...

Onward to a villa.  Stuff happens...time are visited, conversation is had, someone gets scratched by a cat.

We learn how the exact same villa can vary fantastically by one's choice of paint, decoration, and landscaping.  We also learn that a "maid's room" can be depressingly small.  Oh, and we re-learn that Doha is dusty.  Learning is fun!

We gather with some friendly folks for some grilled food and beverages.  It was very nice; good food and good company.  I met a fellow Texan that came to Doha to teach special needs kids (no, not me).  Our host had a disco laser, so I saw a brief glimpse of a disco laser show...I need to get a disco laser!

Then it's off to the ceremonies!

One of the many cool things about this plan was that we were able to stroll to the ceremonies and avoid the mind-shattering agony of trying to park near the stadium.  So, stroll we did, saunter even.

We arrived at the stadium and passed through our gender-specific security...of course.  I felt sorry for the women in our group, as their line was really slow, but eventually we were re-united and made the trek to our seats.

Show time!

No, wait, not yet.  It's the pre-show!

Arab-speaking guy and English-speaking lady say things...

We count down from 10...repeatedly...

We get many useful warnings...which teach us things like don't have lots of kids and let them run around; rather, have one child and hold them firmly, or bad things may happen.  Trust the check mark, it knows best.

Boys dance/shuffle and sing on the stage with rifles and swords because...why not?!

Girls dance/shuffle and sing on the stage, sans rifles and swords...

OK, cute, but COME ON...enough waiting and counting down from ten...quit teasing us!

The Emir opens the games...

Let's fly a flag!  Check out the arm-swinging awesome...

Many athletes from many countries march out and around the stadium.  Somalia gets props for dressing like they were prepping for a 1980s-era street dance battle...straight street.  There is some odd ribbon-dancing; you can smell the lack of excitement off of most of the performers, but a few of them really get into it.

Then we get to the cool light shows and performances...this was where things got really interesting.  This was a pretty cool demonstration of the cool gear they had at the Arab Games.  Check out the choreography of the lights with the wizened, wizard-like guy.  I wish I knew more about what was going on, but we only got the most rudimentary information in English.  It was still cool, though.

So, the story is like this...some old guy walks out into space and makes the Earth, or the desert, or something...

So, the lady on the metal horse watches as the old guy wraps up his spiel and exits.  As he does, the red tribe and blue tribe (I guess the designers of the event played a lot of player-vs-player computer games) step out onto the field...

Here's a crappy picture of the lady on the metal horse.  The light was overwhelming the camera.

After insulting one another and fighting a bit [What do you expect?  Red HAS to fight Blue!], the tribes are united by their common enemy, "the monster of earth" (a hydra).  They flail about a bit, then the lady comes down off the metal horse, apparently armed with the "light of dignity", which she shares with the tribes and they collectively use it to beat down the monster.  Seconds after my video ended, fireworks and flames shot into the air...c'est la vie

Here is a still picture of the battle.

Triumphant over the monster of earth, she takes the light of dignity to the big torch and lights it (which she did *right* after I stopped filming).

One nice touch is that after they lit their torch in the stadium, a flame lit up on the torch tower outside and in the funky atom-like symbol outside.  Here is a shot of the atom-like thingie.

OK, that's a lot of media to process, so I'll wrap up this post with "just" the one day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 33-40, Residential, Booze, Mandancing, and Curry or Massage?

[Day 33] Thursday December 1, Residential Treatment


First a quick follow-up to Doha Diaries: Days 29-30, NEEDLES! Qatari! In that post, I related a trick for when you have to do leg exercises and your grip has given up the ghost, the trick being to balance the weights on your shoulders.  I tried to get a good picture of it, but I failed.  This morning, I had to do the trick again and remembered to snap a picture, a much better one.

OK, back to current affairs...

December kicks off with me officially becoming a Resident of Qatar, and you know what that means...liquor permit!  Yes, I can now buy booze and pork.  Such a momentous occasion!

Well, I can't actually buy it yet.  There is another bureaucratic hurdle before I can get a liquor permit.  They require your employer to provide a letter that says you make a certain minimum amount of money (4,000 QAR or US$1,100).  Apparently, only people with enough cash are allowed to get booze...which must suck if you want to drink to forget your poverty.

If it reduces the likelihood of a poor person drinking themselves into greater poverty, then it's probably a good thing.  Unfortunately, I am betting they still have that opportunity, but it involves greater danger or expense.  Hmm, that was a bit heavy, how about a picture of my new ID?

Personally, I like my goatee. I caught as much of the cool holograms as I could, only so much of it shows up at a given angle.  But hey, palm trees, water, crossed scimitars, it's Qatartastic!

The truly depressing part is that it's Thursday, the end of the work week no booze-buying for Michael's weekend.  Man, I have such a tragic life, I should write a crappy series of novels aimed at a teenage audience, no wait, Twilight already locked that up.

[Day 34] Friday December 2, Mandancing and Shisha

A lady friend and I went to Souq Waqif one night and were pleasantly surprised to see some live music there.  Because of the gender-based cultural norms of the region, the men and women are separated, so guys either 1) dance alone or 2) dance with other guys...I call this "mandancing".  Here is a short video of the event.  Be sure to check out the male gogo dancer with the white headband rocking out in front.  This video was a poor representation; he was usually dancing like it was the finale to an Arabic Footloose.

I also finally tried shisha.  Basically, that's the stuff they smoke in a hooka.  No, it's not "special" tobacco in the way that some brownies are magic.  /sadface  Rather, it's candied and flavored tobacco.  It's actually not that bad.  I expected to weather a horrible experience, but it was all right.  I was happy that I did not cough or sputter once, but I knew enough in advance to puff more than inhale...although I did inhale a bit.  I recommend trying it once just to get the experience.  Where you go from there, well that's all up to you.  Here's a blurry picture, but I am using it because every other picture we tried to get of me blowing smoke or puffing just looked crappy.

[Day 35] Saturday December 3, Coding and Recovery

I spent the majority of my free time today coding portals for the OwlCon Coordinators.  But I did step out for lunch and snapped a picture of some buildings outside the City Center Mall.  The middle building is the Ministry for Environment.

I *think* this may also have been the night that I went out for a business dinner to the New York Steakhouse at the Renaissance Marriott. The appetizers, entrees, and sides were good, but the desserts were unanimously deemed not worth getting again, and we all had different desserts. As for the value, the jury is out on that; it's a pretty expensive place which really raises the bar.  I need more data. :-)

And thus ends the weekend.

[Day 36] Sunday December 4, Liquor Permit and More Coding...

I picked up my letter and stopped by the Qatar Distribution Company on the way home from work.  OK, I took a huge detour is more accurate.  Nothing is on the way to the QDC, except maybe the western border of Qatar.
When you arrive, there is a traffic gate and a guard who will not let you enter unless you have a permit or a letter for a permit.  I showed the letter, had the taxi wait, and went to get my permit.  I took a number, filled out my application, and sat in a tiny waiting room, curious what would happen next.  
The form covers basic contact information and the all important, "what is your religion?" question.  Important because Muslims are not supposed to be getting booze.  After less than 10 minutes, I was called into another room.  I had no idea what to expect.  A rubber stamp?  A room of jack-booted thugs grilling me about my booze plans?  Well, it was somewhere in the middle.

A pleasant person confirmed my information, took my 1000 QAR deposit (about $300), took my picture, and gave me a permit.  Downstairs to the store!

The QDC store is smaller than I expected.  Being the sole place to buy liquor for a thirsty expatriate population, I was expecting a vast Mecca of booze.  What I got was a small- to medium-sized liquor store.

The selection was adequate, but the brand choice for a given type of liquor was limited.  There were some oddities, for example, you can buy Grey Goose, but only in a gigantic bottle.  There was a decent variety of wines, considering the shelf space.  Overall, the prices seemed pretty reasonable.  There were many wines that came in at or under 50 QAR (about $13).

I took a look at the legendary pork section, but living in a hotel room, I had little use for it, so I moved on.  Personally, I think I would rather have more selection in my liquor, but let's keep that little secret between you and me; my colleague, Paul, might lynch me for uttering such heresy.

With my imminent return to the US and thus need to eliminate the liquor I bought before I left, I picked up a few bottles of wine and headed back home.  It wasn't much, but it definitely gave me a sense of being slightly more empowered.  At the very least, I had a few bottles of wine for which I would not have to pay the 400% to 500% markup.

[Day 37] Monday, December 5, Work and Coding...

Another dual timezone work day, working here, then staying up late to talk with US contacts.  In between, OwlCon coding.

[Day 38] Tuesday, December 6, Restaurant vs. Massage

I finally visited the Landmark mall today with a lady friend.  It's one of the bigger ones and it has a sense of exclusivity and refinement about it, compared to City Center.  The latter feels more like a shopping factory with its sprawl, throngs of people, and relatively antiseptic decor; that said, City Center is very useful, but it falls short on the experience, relatively-speaking.  New cologne acquired...commencing sexy smell in 3, 2, 1...

After shopping,  we headed to a cute little Thai place called Thai Snack.  On the way, we passed what she called "the Christmas store". It has, well, Christmas stuff in it.  However, since Christmas is not exactly a desirable term here, the store's official name is the somewhat more vague Champs d'Elysees.  We hopped out of the taxi, and en route, discovered where bros from the gulf region go to roast things:

I found this surprisingly funny, don't judge me.  Onwards to Thai Snack!

As usual, there is the decision of restaurant vs. massage.

I am not kidding, click on it for the close up.

Anyway, so we decide to go with "restaurant" this time.  We enjoyed all of the food, but the Pad Thai could have been better.  The green curry was great and the red curry was even better.  It was incredibly affordable too, so I give it a hearty "thumbs up".

After dinner, we perused the Christmas store.  We found all sorts of interesting, often shiny, things there
  • The commemorative Christmas ornament...from last year
  • The various signs with a word vaguely resembling "Merry" rendered in wire, clearly by someone that was not familiar with the English language
  • A figure that I can only describe as "Coming Out Santa"
  • And much more
We stopped at the antique store (the best description I can give; it was filled with old crap) next door. Some of the things were cool, but some were a bit disturbing, like the old timey photos of Nazis and Adolf himself.

The evening ended with a somewhat comical experience talking the taxi in to our location.  Note to self, call the taxi even farther in advance when going to Thai Snack.

[Day 39] Wednesday, December 7,  Work and Work and Coding

Another fun dual timezone workday...and a bit of OwlCon coding.  Did I mention how much fun testing and proofing pages can be when your maximum bandwidth is less than a tenth of what you normally experience back home?

[Day 40] Thursday, December 8, More OwlCon Coding...

Going against my plans, I have acquiesced and agreed to recode a page for OwlCon that is going to be a major PitA to renovate.

Will I finish it before I go to the opening ceremonies of the Arab Games?  Stay tuned for our next exciting installment...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doha Diaries: Days 31-32, Fingerprints, Out on the Street?!

I got another Monte Cristo Tuesday, and en route, I came across this sign.  Can you guess the trademarks?  Check your answers at the end of the post...

[Day 31] Tuesday, Fingerprints
Our hero continues to be cataloged by the State...

We got the welcome news that our approval paperwork came back from the medical exam.  Not only did we confirm we had neither HIV nor TB, it meant we were one step closer to getting our passports back and getting residency permits!  Yay!

I went to Bennigan's for my second Monte Cristo visit.  It was not as amazing.  I think maybe that should be a once a month heart is probably happy to hear that.

Late in the afternoon, Mike and I piled into a car and drove...and drove...and drove.  OK, it was only 35 minutes away, but my average time in a car here has been about 10 minutes and when you don't know where you're going, subjective time passes VERY slowly, unless you doze off...which I did.  For reference, we were at the very outermost outskirts of civilization.  Beyond the building it was pretty much all desert.

You see, last night I was up late pinging some contacts for work, and I had a morning I missed sleep.  That was bad, but oh well. we finally get out to the fingerprint place and there are two other people there besides us.  As I waited, I watched the TV screen, which was showing us all of the bad driving habits you should avoid in order to not have an accident and DIE!  Of course, they could just title the movie, Typical Doha Taxi Driving Habits and the content would be appropriate, especially the dead people and blood.  They really do seem to have a deathwish.

The fingerprint place seemed a bit out place.  Out here on the fringes, a shiny new building, gleaming inside, with high tech devices using LASERS to catalog us potential international criminals.

The first machine took a picture of our eyes and scanned our index fingers.  Maybe it scanned our retina, I have no idea.

The second machine was a fingerprint plus.  They did simple surface, rolled surfaces, palm prints, etc.  My hands felt violated and vulnerable.

Afterwards, the driver was kind enough to drop us off at our hotels, which was cool.

The rest of my evening was, in a word, blah.  I coded OwlCon stuff and pinged some US contacts for work.  The latter meant staying up pretty late so I could catch people during the regular business day.

The W Hotel delivered a turd sandwich - it turns out that my reservations were still showing a checkout date of the first of December, you know, less than 48 hours from now, and they were overbooked for their hotel because of a Petroleum industry conference.  Mmm, fun.

Time to being on the street: 36 hours.

[Day 32] Wednesday, Living on the Street? Bonus Fun

Yawwwnnnn.  Oh boy, working two time zones nine hours apart is not fun.

Time to being on the street: 24 hours.

They *may* be able to do something for me, in light of my MONTH stay here, but it would not be the usual corporate rate...blah blah blah...blackout dates...blah blah blah...time for breakfast and off to work.

Work was a bit chaotic today.  On top of the chaos of my room reservations, the whole day had a bit of a pucker factor to it (I leave it to the reader to figure out what that means).

There are NO hotels available...this could be bad.  OK, if push came to shove, I could probably impose on someone with an apartment here, but imposition is not fun.  Keep hope alive!

The day screamed by.

Time to being on the street: 18 hours

I get back to the hotel and find that I will in fact still have a room.  Relief.

Exhausted.  Stress going, but I could use a distraction.

My friend rides to my rescue and she joins me for a wonderful meal at a Thai restaurant.  It's an unusual place.  It's the most upscale Thai restaurant I have experienced.   They serve Tappas know "little plates", a Spanish tradition.  But boy what they do with those plates.

The most memorable, for me, was the Duck Curry.  The duck curry was great, but the memorable part was the pea eggplant, also known as solanum torvum.  Sounds like a great name for a science fiction movie, huh?  Anyway, a gentleman on the staff explained that Thailand has a lot of varieties of eggplant and they like to showcase them here.  Well, we were both impressed.  It was a big hit.

I ordered too much food, though.  I fell for their "You should order 3-4 plates apiece" line.

When I finally get back to my room, it's time to ping more US contacts for work. Just thinking about it is making me yawn again.  Yawwwwnnn.

And now, for the answers to the trademarks.

How did you do?  If you got them all, maybe I will mail you a Monte Cristo.