Sunday, May 21, 2017

Days 1 and 2 in Doha: The Max, Pearl, MIA, and Falcons!

We spent our last vacation days in Doha, exploring what has been Justin's home for the past few months teaching as a visiting professor at the Northwestern University in Qatar.  I didn't really know what to expect, having had not much to draw on except the knowledge that Doha was the headquarters for Al Jazeera which is a fantastic news channel; it tended to be a bit more conservative and sleepy than its Dubai counterpart; and that it had a nice airline and fancy airport through which many flights lay over.

I think we were really pleasantly surprised by the city.  I was bracing myself for another Dubai -- and in some ways, it may have been (the desert, the constant construction, the abominable way of treating migrant workers) but it many other ways it was different (smaller, quieter, less flashy).

Justin had a sweet corporate apartment (three bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms!) in the West Bay with a sweeping view of, well, the bay.  And lots of construction too.

 The construction was around the clock - even throughout the night.  Supposedly the workers work in twelve hour shifts and get bused in and out for the daytime and nighttime shifts, but who knows.  I really hope for safety and, well, humanity, that the construction work really did switch off.   Apparently all of Doha is in a constant state of construction, and has been for some time.  The West Bay pretty much didn't exist ten years ago, and now look at all these buildings and hotels!  Qatar is also extremely focused on the 2022 World Cup, which they're hosting.  Apparently the first building (of eight) has just been completed.

We managed to catch the sunset both nights we were in Doha, not at all an easy feat for us on this trip.
The first day that we had in Doha was really a half day because our flight from Muscat wasn't until noon, so we didn't aim to do much.  After getting a tour of Justin's apartment, we headed to the nearby mall.  There, we were really only wandering around with no particular goal in mind, until we stumbled upon The Max.

Michael found a bunch of shirts that he liked, which is really rare.  He picked up three or four t-shirts, a henley, a  polo, a was a shopping spree that is unheard of for a man who often requires two trips just to purchase a pair of shoes.  It was a smashing success.  The Max, Fashion for Real People:
(Those striped pajama pants were mine, plucked off of the shelf from the men's section in a bit of a jealous frenzy.  I didn't even try them on.)  After all that shopping, we collapsed into a booth at Nando's for some spicy chicken sandwiches/wraps (funny thing is that all of the American chain stores that we can't find in Hong Kong were here, like Applebee's and chili's) before heading down to the cavernous Carrefour (like a Costco or a Sam's Club -- another thing we could sorely use in Hong Kong) to pick up some breakfast essentials.
The difficulty of procuring alcohol aside, and the somewhat difficult navigation in society as a woman aside (minor issues, I know) I could see how living here is super convenient.  I was amazed to hear that there is only place in the entire country that you can buy alcohol - and it is about an hour drive from the capital, and you have to have a special liquor license in order to enter.   Getting the liquor license is also not without its hoops and hassles - from what I understand, you have to be a Westerner, you have to be living there long term, and of course you have to fill out the application and go through the administrative process.

On our first full morning in Doha, we started our day by heading to the Pearl, a fancy complex full of restaurants, shopping markets, apartment buildings, in the shape of two circles side by side.  It is all new, all artificial and very sanitized.   You can see West Bay in the background.
There are lots of dhows docked in the bay.
While there, we popped into a few car dealerships for kicks.  Ferrari, anyone?  They told me no pictures so this was the only one I managed to snap.
We went to the Museum of Islamic Art after lunch (burgers and lemonade at a Fatburger - very authentic, I know) which was a beautiful museum designed by I.M. Pei and one of the highlights of our trip.

Architecture is amazing in how it manages to change space, and light, and perspective - it can make you feel so differently about what you see, and from that, how you process what you see.

The exhibits inside were pretty cool and interesting too, although the space was the stunner.

After the museum closed at 5:30, we wandered around the MIA park to watch our second sunset.
I loved the setting in the MIA park, but I couldn't help but think about how incredibly wasteful and unsustainable it is to maintain rolling lawns of perfect, beautiful Kentucky bluegrass in the desert.

After the MIA, we headed to the Qatar souk, where we wandered around checking out all kinds of knick knacks.  The salespeople weren't that aggressive here (though likely nothing will compare to our experience in Marrakech)!

We had dinner at a fancy Lebanese restaurant (I love Lebanese food - is there anything better than tabbouleh?!  The tabbouleh at this restaurant was phenomenal).  The bread basket was fantastic too (the bread in these countries!!).  Justin had been to the restaurant before and he steered us completely right to the grilled platter for two.  It was delicious.  And that innocuous looking white sauce?  Lethal, phenomenal garlic paste.

We also tried a kibbeh (meatball) in a yogurt sauce paired with rice.

Amidst our wanderings after dinner, we wandered down an alley where there were lots and lots of chess sets.  Justin and Katie planned to bring one home as a souvenir, so as soon as we showed some interest we were all ushered into the little shop.  The shopkeeper was such a character - he was a consummate salesperson, forcing us all to sit, look through his catalogues... bellowing at his lackeys, "Tea!  Get them tea!"  When I heard that, I though, uh oh... As we sipped the (absolutely fantastic, delicious) very sweet, strong mint tea, Katie joked, "mmm this tea tastes like buyer's remorse," to which we all could only laugh and nod our heads in assent.  Thankfully we managed to extricate ourselves gracefully and without much hassle.

We then decided our final task for the day was to try to find the falcons - apparently there was a whole section of the souk set aside for purchasing yourself a falcon?!  Falconry is a huge sport (along with camel racing, which we sadly missed because the season had passed).  

After passing a few shops where the birds were already retired for the night, we got lucky and saw one shopkeeper who still had all his birds out.  He clearly knew we weren't in the market to buy a falcon (gee, I wonder why) but he was still super hospitable and offered all of us the chance to hold the bird.  Michael went first.
Then Justin tried, then, when offered the opportunity, after a moment's hesitation, I decided I had to go for it!  I slipped on the heavy glove (to protect against the falcon's very sharp talons) then the man helped guide the bird onto my glove.  For safety, the bird's eyes were shuttered behind a cloth hood. 
The falcon is a lot heavier than he looks.  I was flexing every yoga-earned muscle in this pose.  The man said this falcon was about 2-3 years old, which is their prime hunting age.
I had so much fun!  One last picture for kicks:

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