Doha, Qatar for Christmas

Doha is one of the upcoming cities in the middle east, after Abu-Dhabi and Dubai.  Almost everywhere you turn, you’d see placards advertising their vision and dreams for the future, and a large, work-in-progress construction behind them. Obviously rich, progressive and ambitious. About 60% of the population in Doha are non-Qataris. It is also this 60% who are the ones working in Doha, and for very long hours. But they tend to have very long lunch breaks. Typical work hours are 10am -12pm and 4pm-10pm on weekdays, and extend to midnight or 1am over the weekends.

Finds in Pet Shops @ Souq Waqif

Qatar has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. This with 60% non-Qataris doing the work. Which kinda explains why the oil-rich locals never really need to it seems. The joke there is that the non-Qataris are there looking for ways to earn money, while the Qataris are looking for ways to spend it. This is rather evident when we visited since it is extremely easy to tell them apart. Almost all the Qatari womenfolk carry LVs, Chanels, Guccis, and the like. High-end brands seem to be their only accessories. The cars driven by the men are also the create-a-hole-in-the pocket variety – Ferraris, Jags, BMWs, Mercs, Jeeps. But this is given that their pertrol is priced at QR1 (or SGD0.33) per litre, which is veryyy cheap. Plus they have foreign maids tagging along, minding their children while the adults shop, which is a dead giveaway. Even in the Souq, Qataris pay someone to follow and wheelbarrow (literally) their 3 or 4 shopping bags around.

I’m also fascinated by the clear paradox in their need for conservative dress and want for high-fashion. The local women are all shrouded in elegant, highly decorated black cloaks (or Abbayah) with their heads covered by veils (or Nikab). Whenever I visit the washrooms, I’m always surprised to find that underneath it all are very trendy women with full make-up, well-cut, highlighted hair and skinny jeans and heeled boots. I think some of them can give the supermodels a run for their money.

Their tourism sector is still in nascent stage of development, but there are some attractions like the Souq Waqif, the Islamic Museum of Art, and the Arabian Desert Safari that shouldn’t be missed. We spent our Christmas this year in one of the 6 commercial Bedouin camps (the rest of the camps are privately own holiday sites of the Qataris) in the desert over a BBQ dinner of grilled chicken, kebab, briyani, tabouleh, hummus with hot tea/coffee in the cold, dark night under twinkling stars. Quite different from the experience we had in Dubai, but by no means less fun.

Sunset over the Arabian sea as seen from the desert

[First published: 30 Dec 2011]

Wonders of Egypt

I’ve always told SJ that if I weren’t born in Singapore or had the opportunity to pick any academic discipline without fear of recourse i.e. not have a job in Singapore, I’d pick Archaeology. He thinks I’m afraid of too many insects and am too mindful of UV exposure to be in the field all day, digging for things.

True, but when you’re in it, you tend to be able to build immunity to things like that. He snorts at my postulation. Well, if I can’t do,  I will watch. Which was what brought us to Egypt one fine day in December of 2005.

Egypt is amazing. Structures over 5000 years old are still there, though in various stages of ruin. The history behind these places are not very different from classic tales of power-hungry and vain kings who conquer land, usurp wealth and build things in their honour; Or the upright, benevolent ones who take kingdoms from the rotten tomatoes to achieve honour, glory and many great feats. But it’s quite interesting how culture plays such a large part amidst it all, particularly their belief in the mystical afterlife. It seems, if they are not at war or conniving to oust another pharaoh or drowning in moral decadence, they’d spend the other good part of their lives thinking about their deaths and preparing for it.

Just look at the Pyramids at Giza, and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Even in modern times in Cairo, there is a necropolis not too far from the city. Not cemetery, but a necropolis with tombs you can stay in for a night or two. Quite creepy, but also fascinating.

This is a painting on a papyrus that depicts the stages one goes through before entering the Egyptian afterlife. You can get this easily at most touristy spots in Egypt, but the higher quality ones come with the story and a guarantee of authenticity (of a good replica I suppose). This website give a nice summary of the story: http://www.king-tut.org.uk/egyptian-mummies/egyptian-afterlife.htm

Then there is River Nile – the source of life for the Egyptians. The nice things that you’ve read about a cruise along the Nile? They are all true. 🙂 I wished the ship we were on served nicer vegetables, but the experience was well-worth the dietary slack.

I’m glad we got to see all the sights and treasures before the destruction and looting at the recent civil unrest. Such a pity.

[First published: 22 May 2011]