Tuesday, 20 November 2012

In Qatar...

Old against new. Dhows moored in the harbour as modern skyscrapers look on.
I eventually flew out of Dubai, heading for Doha, at 0215hrs this morning. The flight was pretty hairy. I sat right at the back of the plane in a window seat, but there was little to see as it was night time.

What worried me was the pilot who said something about turbulence over Doha and how it might be a little bumpy. That was an understatement. The flight time was 45 minutes and we'd be flying at only 22,000 feet, but after 15 or 20 minutes...Wump! We hit a storm of some kind and the plane jolted and dipped and dived for what seemed like an eternity. As you can imagine I was not best pleased, but elated when we eventually landed.

I jumped into bed around 4am and set my alarm for 8am, although in reality it was 1am by my UK clock. Qatar is just three hours behind the UK, which is good from a jet lag perspective. As it was, I awoke around 0730hrs with the sun streaming into the room and, surprisingly, I wasn't feeling at all jaded. I got up, showered and shaved and had a healthy breakfast of fresh fruit, tea and a bowl of Rice Krispies. Then it was off to the Grand Hyatt, home of the conference I'm attending.

Qatar is a strange place and I can't work out whether or not I like it. It's a lovely place, there's a nice smell in the air, a mix of cinnamon and nutmeg and there are palm trees – always pleasant to see. Effectively, though, we're in the desert and that's what strange about this place. Qatar has the skyscrapers and it's building more, but there's something almost unreal about them, as if they're not really there; we are, after all in the East. We're in Arabia and this is difficult to forget as the men wear traditional costume: long, one-piece shirts down their ankles, head dress and sandals and they look cool. Not 'cool' but cool in the heat.
Qatar. Not far from anywhere, including Iran.
My taxi driver tells me there's no crime here, none at all, and I put this down to the fact that Qatar is a 'dry' country, meaning no boozing. I say 'no boozing', you can drink in the Five Star Hotels, but the general rule is that there's no drink, which is odd, but it means there's no buzzin' downtown with bars. There is the Souk (or marketplace) but this is populated with cafes selling tea and soft drinks and even the reception, pre-conference, at the Grand Hyatt was alcohol-free. I drank mango juice and pineapple juice and orange juice but didn't have to worry about mixing my drinks. And while I can honestly say that I don't miss the alcohol, the lack of it does put a dampener on Qatar, but not for the reasons you might think. It's not so much about drinking, it's about what makes up a downtown, what makes a city attractive. One thing is the bars and that's what is missing here; because the bars don't exist, there's no urge to go out and explore at night. Alright, there's the Al Corniche, which is basically a kind of promenade, a boardwalk, but somehow the buzz of bar culture is noticeable by it's absence.

Personally, I like the fact that the emphasis isn't on boozing. It's great not to see booze ads and it's even better not to see unruly people wandering around with cans of 1664 in their hands, swearing and fooling around – as they do in London. Also, it means you avoid a furry tongue in the morning, which is also good.

Crime? There isn't any according to my cabbie, who hails from India. And I reckon that's because there's not a booze culture here – the UK could learn some lessons here.

It's November, of course, but it's hot during the day, certainly in the morning, but even at night it's not cold and people wear only jeans and tee-shirts.

The women here are very glamorous and attractive. Some where the burka, others wear more western clothing, but the overall picture here is good, although there is one other major thing missing: infrastructure. Where are the trams and the trains? They're non-existent. The only way to get around here is by cab or car so I take the cab and the driving is, well, I won't say erratic, let's just say it's fast and furious. At times on my journey back here to the hotel I felt as if I was taking my life into my own hands, especially approaching and exiting roundabouts.

Speaking to somebody earlier, they said that it was a shame that Qatar was going the way of Dubai, with it's tall skyscrapers and so on, and the development continues apace. I'm not sure if you watch Channel Four, but you know those creative bits of film they throw in between programmes where, after a while, you spot the figure four disguised as buildings or whatever the theme might be? Well, there's one featuring buildings and that's what Qatar is all about; it has that quality about it.

What is slightly disappointing is that, while looking from a distance the buildings look pretty slick. Closer inspection reveals that they're not that hot – the tinted windows are shabbier on closer inspection – and there's an impression that Qatar is doing it's level best to be a 'big city' and will, doubtless prevail, but one is left wondering how real it all is. It's a bit like one of those western towns they create at Paramount Pictures that are propped up with wooden stilts, but are basically just facades.

Also, the hotel room is colder than it is on the streets, which can irritate. It's as if there's somebody blowing cool air on to your face at night as you try to sleep. And talking of sleep, it's 1134hrs here and time for me to go to bed.

There are photographs taken by yours truly, but I won't be able to post them until I get home.

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