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.

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