31 August 2006


It didn't come as much surprise that the old Van Cad was dumped by his girlfriend a couple of days after the watersports situation. He can wave that relationship away, along with his dignity, forever, poor kid.

In a further addition to his antics, it's possible that not only was he at this party in only his boxers, but when he bummed a ciggy from the head of the department, a middle aged, highly professional and respected woman, he may also have dropped his dacks to offer a cheek.

Funny how the accounts of what was happening with his girl differ so wildly - his talks with me gave me the impression of a the beginnings of a proper relationship and they were, ahem, going at it like toe hump camels. Mel's talks with Eloise were not the same - she saw it as a couple of pashes and no more. He got told.

Mel lives just downstairs from us and, with her flatmate Simon, are good friends with Trav and Eloise. Every time I'm down there they're playing hiphop, often Aussie, really loud and loving it. My respect for her rose tonight when Trav produced a Cat Power album borrowed from her. Granted, it's only the new album, but - respect. Sorry Van Crack.


How much Deadwood is too much (cocksucker)

There are a couple of side effects that indicate that you may have been watching too much - a propensity to call everyone a cocksucker and a desire to drink straight whiskey all the time, including just after breakfast.

With the new series of Arrested Development in the post from the States, I was forced to seek out new televisual entertainment. With a vague recollection of recent high praises, I moved on to the two box sets of Deadwood series on the shelf. within one episode I was totally hooked, and had a big fright when the owner asked for them back when I was an episode away from finishing the first series and the DVD player stopped working.

Deadwood is a period drama, but forget the frocks and manors of all the English bodice rippers ABC screens every single Sunday night. This is top shelf film as can only be done in America. Such an enormous, successful industry as hollywood attracts and supports a spectrum of artists who can afford to be dedicated to their passion, rather than making do as we do in Aus. It's gritty and filthy, visually dense and dramatically tense, violent and sexy and absolutely compelling. Its about a gold rush town on Indian land in the 1870s and the order that develops amongst the dregs attracted there in the absence of actual laws. Very little gold mining is shown, but a lot of whoring, drinking, gun fighting, swearing and power struggles do. It's probably the truest representation of what it might have actually been like.

The interviews with the creator are fascinating; his intellect is such that every character is informed by a vast bank of knowledge and amazingly most of the characters, as well as the actual place, are based on historical truths. I don't know what this guy has done before, but he's a genius, such as might in another time be dedicated to poetry or novels. Luckily for us he's writing for television.

I remember flipping over to it a few times late at night and becoming immediately turned off by the purple prose mixed in equal measure with blue language, the twisting plots and densely dirty design. But watch it from the first episode and it's fucking cocksucker dirt worshipper top of the morning (is it the same for all those Sopranos fans? Prolly).


28 August 2006

Van Cad and Crack

Friday was 'Watersports', organised by Travis, lots of fun and some deep shame for one drunken sailor. It was hard to get up for the 8:30 taxis after a short Thursday night of boozing at a party in the South Tower. About 25 of us convoyed down to the Corniche and got on a dow.This is an old style of local boat that used to be used for pearling. Some of them may still be used for fishing, but I think they're all kept in the harbour for show more than anything else.

It was your average stinking hot Doha morning and we were all nursing hangovers and sweating like crazy, waiting to get out of the dock. The indian crew finally managed to jump-start the engine with a couple of loose wires hoisted over from the boat next door. Everyone on board was from work, but most people didn't know everyone, so it was a good opportunity to talk to the faces you see around the office but never meet. While Australians outnumbered, as usual, there was a good representation of Lebanese and Greeks and the obligatory South Africans and Canadians.

Eskys were pried open and the beer flowed as the music cranked up. It took about an hour to chug out the harbour, past the former Palm Island (now a patch of sand) and all the skyscrapers of the city lined up along the foreshore. A brisk breeze picked up and the temperature dropped to a normal sunny summer's day arrangement, just in time for us to pull up near the Pearl development.

Immediately we were all jumping from the upper deck of the boat into the warm, very salty water. The jet-skis and speedboat arrived and it was all on. Jet skis are ludicrously fun, like the difference between skateboarding and snowboarding - you can thrash like crazy without any real fear of hurting yourself when you fall off.

Almost from the time we pulled up my colleague Stephen was well under the weather. Steve is my fellow CAD man, and a part of whose last name, Van Gruene, has lent itself to our department. Stephen is known by everyone from bosses to caterers as Van Cad and it's spread so that we're usually referred to as the Van Cad Family. Thursday he earnt himself a new derivation - Van Crack. While the rest of were slowly working up to getting boozed, he was sideways hours before it seemed possible. The rest of the day was spent laughing at and being embarrassed by, his antics - there will be pics of him baring hairy ass cheek, demanding ass cheek from others, and generally stumbling, slurring and grinning like a sunburnt goose.

The Greek and Lebanese kids got their dancing on in the afternoon and impressed everyone with top shelf Arabic belly dancing and the like. A fine barbecue feast was lined the stomachs and kept most off the jet skis for a while and on the top deck taking in some sun.

By three was weighed anchor and putt-ed home. A surprise bottle of Cinzano bianco appeared, with ice and lemon to cap off a beautiful day on the water.


I was straight in the pool when I got back to the apartments, as were lots of others, and some more cold beer arrived and stereo was stuck out the window of the gym for beats. As 5 or 6 of us lazed on lilos Van Crack appeared for an encore. For whatever reason, as he entered the pool area he decided to throw his bag and towel to the ground - and his phone and sunglasses down on the other side, onto hard tiles. The next hour or so we continued to be entertained by his cross-eyed rantings.

With the sunburn appearing on my arms and legs, I soon hit the wall and retired to our apartment to get some rest. Van Cad appeared soon after, having been thrown out of what he thought was a party, but was actually a team-building meal for one of the departments. He'd walked straight in, been confronted with 'what are you doing here??' and had been physically ejected out the door. This was funny enough, but even better when I reminded him of it at work today. His eye glazed over as he tried to recalled what happened... 'Was i wearing pants?' he wondered. Hahahah. Turns out he had stumbled in there wearing just boxer shorts. There were heads of departments and all sorts of big wigs. Lol!


Tonight I'm still sore and tired. Generally that's what the second day of a weekend is for - recovery. But no, we were all back in to work after that one, exhausting day off. Time for some early kip. Night.

22 August 2006

You know you're a local when...

This was my first week of highly anticipated 6 day week. Did I mention that we get the privilege of not getting paid for the extra day? Huzzah. You kind of have to forget your regular working schedule; the local weekend is Friday and Saturday. I'll be taking my day on Fridays, so my working week actually starts on a Saturday, which is a bit of a headfuck.

Anyway when I went down for a swim on Friday morning, i knew I was on my was to being a local when I heard myself saying 'It's not that hot, only about 40 degrees.' It was overcast with gusty winds, not at all like the blinding 50 degree sunlight is usually is, when being outside at daytime is like standing on a BBQ grille inside a dryer.

Lots of people had gone to a 'rave' at the Diplomatic Club the night before and were sharing war stories and fresh Iranian bread and Marmite around the pool. Eloise's description of the last one she went to didn't sound too attractive - lots of local guys dancing with themselves and each other and morality police keeping an eye one things from the edges of the dancefloor. I stayed in with a couple of scotches.

In the afternoon I borrowed Travis' bike and rode into the souks. On a normal day I would never attempt this, but as it was 'only 40' it was ok. It's only a few kms, but it was a good opportunity to stop and take photos instead of speeding past in an air-con-ed car.

Friday is the holiest day, so while local families go to mosque or spend time with family, the hired help has the day off (or just the afternoon more often). So the downtown of Doha is suddenly full with thousands of Asian men, all just hanging out. They have no particular place to go, so they stick to wherever they haven't yet been moved on from. The most popular spot is a large roundabout near the souks. On the way in I had to stop and take some photos - there were about 300 men standing, sitting, holding hands, hanging out in the middle of the roundabout and surrounding pavements. On my way back in the evening there were about double that, a really crazy sight.

Being the afternoon, there were alot more people at the markets. I bought a hilarious set 'Russian dolls' done in the style of an Arabic family. And a tiny 'Alladin's lamp', made in India of course.

Friday afternoon is obviously family time and there were loads of local mums, dads and kids walking around. I'm still not used to not being able to see any of the women's faces, its really hard not to be able to connect to anyone. And of course you don't even want to smile or say hi in case hubby or brother takes it the wrong way. This is the total opposite of Vietnam, where everyone is trying to engage you all the time - it can get exhausting, but you're in conversation with locals all the time. You're often literally fighting the kids off your heels and the ladies from trying to sell you stuff. Here you can't even see the women, and if a kid looks at you and you smile back, they get a firm pull on the elbow by their mother. You'd have to say it's not a very socially connected community, at least for foreigners.

I sat down at a bench to change a roll of film in front of a falconry shop (very popular here), next to a neat young Asian man. He was waiting for 'Madam' and her family to return from shopping, he's their driver. I asked him if the family were good to work for and he replied something like 'the Madam is hard'. Poor kid, he's from Nepal, looked only about 18, and is basically a man servant to a family who treat him harshly.

In the evening I went with a guy from work to a big Arabic / English bookshop. I was looking for a 'learn to write Arabic' book, which I found (a school book for 5 year olds!) but I also got a beautiful book on arabic calligraphy styles through the ages. In some parts the script is really fluid an cursive, at others it's really geometric like the patterns. It was a good find, and pretty cheap.

Saturday to be back at work already really sucked and it's hard to imagine keeping it up like this right through for the next 15 weeks...

Now playing: Superpitcher - Here Comes Love

18 August 2006

Thoughts on local design

I had been working on this job for about 4 months before I came here. It's not giving anything away to say that the design draws heavily on the islamic designs of this region. Think of Arabic art and craft and you think of beautiful rugs, mosques tiled with intricate geometric patterns, golden lamps of Aladdin and of course the Arabic script. All this and more is incorporated into the show and it's a fascinating aesthetic to be working in.

But being here, there's a distinct lack of the things which we are celebrating in the show, or at least that is visible to me so far. There are no ancient grand mosques like in Iran or Turkey. There are not even any old neighbourhoods like the alleyways i have seen in workmates' travel photos of Fez or Oman, where you see a rich local street culture. But subtly, the aesthetic is there if you look for it, it's just not the displayed like you imagine it might be.

Gates and walls - I think I have written before about how all the houses have 8 foot brick walls around them to protect the privacy of the women inside when they're not in abaya. Every fence has gates and every gate has some design detail on it. On a regular home this might be some simple bent metal filigree or repeated geometric pattern. On grander houses (and they get very grand indeed) these might be very ornate and showy, often verging on ostentatious. The walls usually incorporate some cinderblocks cast in a pattern, or have some simple rendered pattern. These are usually very understated in just white or yellow, so it's easy to forget that what you're seeing is actually something you would never see at home and is in fact, local design culture.

TV aerials - Doing up the TV aerial on your roof seems to be a point of pride. The actual aerial bit is left alone, but the 6 feet leading up to it is your opportunity to create some fancy metalwork. They're all bent metal rods, like on a birdcage, but fashioned into curvy spire shapes like the top of a mosque or a fancy church bell.

Shop signage - Most shops have a large back-lit printed graphic running the length of their establishment above the door with the relevant information in Arabic and English. They're kind of ugly at first, but they often have weird photos on them (saw one called The Last Chance with a photo of two babies?) or the name or logo in Arabic looks superb. As in type, there are a million different fonts or type styles depending on your message, ranging from 'traditional' (banks and government agencies), 'hand written/cursive' (spice or shisha joints), to 'funky' (fast food chains and gyms), to 'bling' (typically big and gold; car dealerships, optimistic tailors).

Architecture - There is so much being built, so quickly, that it's easy to dismiss it all as cookie cutter replicas with no interest. On the way to work there are, for example, the 'Beverly Hills Gardens' 1, 2 and 3, all massive estates with hundreds of identical (in the true sense of the word) bare white two story semis without a patch of colour differentiation for a kilometer. Not a tree, not a roof tile, not a lick of coloured paint - the whole lot is rendered stark white flat walls. But despite being a cheap housing development they are aesthetically completely different from what we have at home. I wouldn't want to live there and I don't know who would, but they will make for some amazing photographs.

Fashion - The locals are easy to pick - men in white thobes and dishdash on the head with the black ring and two threads running down the back. Often the arms of their robes will have french cuffs finished in cufflinks. Sunglasses and short cropped beard optional but encouraged. Sandals always. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the location right between the two continents, many Qataris are a clear mix of African and/or Asian. The women are mostly in jet black abaya with varying degrees of face cover (it is said that the more beautiful the woman, the more her father or husband makes her cover up). Fancy footwear like heels often. Omani men can be picked by their turban-like headwear. Saudis prefer the red and white or black and white head scarf. I can't get figure who the ones in the coloured thobes (grey only) and head scarves are, but they're very familiar to us as the Osama look. The local Asian workers like a good pair of stone wash, front-seamed jeans and sandals. Or they're in similar robes to the locals. The better-to-do ones dress as westerners.

Cats - There are lots of ferals. Unlike at home they look like the posh Persian variety that people pay good money for, despite being skinny and dirty.

Graffiti - There isn't much about, probably because the penalty would be harsh. But what there is is again totally different from what we understand of the term. The dodginess paint used suggests a 'I happened to have this can in my hand on my way home from work and decided to do something with it' rather than a planned attack. There's the occasional word or name in Arabic, done quickly. More often it's in English, with the ubiquitous 'No Fear' and 'Wu Tang Forever' both up in our street. Then there's the stuff that's clearly done by someone for whom English is not their first language, with non-sensical phrases like you get on cheap T-shirt in China-town. Often accompanied by equally intriguing drawings, sometimes practiced a few times on a wall until perfected.

Hell, after writing all this, I realise I would be really disappointed if I didn't photograph good examples of all of this stuff. It might not be ancient Persia or the Blue Mosque, but it is a unique look and feel. And at the rate they pull things down and re-build, it will probably all be replaced very soon too.


Now playing - Mice Parade - Ramda.

17 August 2006


More factoids:

1) No Qatari pays for electricity or gas or local phone calls. Bear in mind that they also have no income tax, free education, (right up through university), and full free health cover. Oh and every Qatari gets US$18,000 to buy property (when they turn 18 or something). And petrol is AU$0.20 per litre. Pretty good standard of living!

2) It's almost impossible to be become a Qatari if you are not from a Qatari family. So even Arabs, like Palestinians or Lebanese, if they were born here, will never get true citizenship. And definitely not Indian and Nepalese. Forget it if you're Christian. And if you're Jewish you won't be allowed in the country at all.


Went to the ultra posh and exclusive Diplomatic Club last night for dinner to celebrate Eamon's birthday. Massive place in the posh part of of town, very chinzy. There were about 20 of us at one long table. The food was fantastic, about 6 courses, and you could drink booze.

In the bay that the club faced onto they are building The Pearl, sort of like those wacky palm tree islands of reclaimed land in the UAE. They are also building two very odd zig zag lopsided buildings. I can't see how they will look attractive.

It was good to eat some really top class Arabic food. How do they get lamb so tender? And the tabouli was the best I have ever had. We all ate too much though, as it was a set menu banquet type arrangement, so the courses just kept on coming.

Behind the restaurant is an annex purely for smoking shisha. It was full of people just sitting around enjoying a glass of water and pipe. No meal or anything, just company, entertaining.

We all waddled out to our waiting cars as a huge red half moon rose over the construction cranes.


Our work compound is using the NSW OH&S regulations as its standard. All the inductions that need to be done are boring for us and crazy to the imported labourers. But one of the unusual quirks is seeing some volunteer women in full black abaya, just a small slit for the eyes, but with a high visibility fluro yellow safety vest over the top. I'd love to get a photo, if it didn't seem rude.


It's late, I'm sleepy. I've been sleeping really badly all week, I don't know what it is. Plus really intense, epic dreams. It's the kind of sleep where you're actually waiting for the alarm to go off so you can have the relief of getting up. I've had the runs pretty bad too, so it's probably got something to do with the change in diet, or water or something. Also, sleeping in air-con every night is not normal.

14 August 2006

The other night


Our Thursday night party fun, with the usual combination of drunkards, dancing and rowdiness.

Early on it was good to meet some people I had seen around but never spoken to. Of course I can't remember any of their names. But one American lady is usually a producer of feature film and TV at home, but here (and in Athens and Torino previously) is in charge of all volunteer cast. As she explained the task here is much bigger, as most of the locals don't have the performance skills that are taught elsewhere - there is no performing arts in the curriculum.

So she's been here from the beginning, implementing a sing and dance and act element to all the schools. Compare this to Sydney, where they could pluck about 10,000 volunteer cast from schools, who could already 'perform'. The population here, again, who do have these skills are the migrant Asians. It's funny to think that a spectacle celebrating Arabic culture will be devised and performed almost entirely from non-locals. After 2 years work here, she is now excited about these last few months when it will all start to come together.

Around 10:30 the apartment became too full for much chatting; the workshop boys had arrived. They were totally smashed when they got here, and proceeded to charge through any alcohol around. Full bottles of vodka disappeared in one round of shots. Freshly stocked eskis were just icy water in a moment. I learnt the next morning that as grabbing and vomit was also involved. Travis caught a guy trying to steal a case of Corona hidden behind a couch 5 times.

Two guys did a top job of DJing from their laptops and kept everyone, who wasn't outside smoking, dancing. I had another run-in with my dear kind friend from earlier this week. At about the peak of the party I see this little hand come out of the crowd and turn the volume down on the stereo, then flick the lights on. Everyone moaned, and I went and rectified. About 5 minutes later this was repeated and lo-and behold, it was the same cranky friend. I asked what she was doing, to which she replied something about needing to get the drunk people to leave the party. I told her how nuts that was, considering this was a) a party and b) not her house. The party continued. The next morning I was sorry to remember this one blight on an otherwise top night. And by then she'd made it even worse; she was telling people I had told her to fuck off. I didn't, but I will next time.

I woke the next morning to the sound of vacuum cleaners and furniture being moved around. I couldn't let my flatmates clean up while I slumbered, so I pulled myself out of bed to help. No - they were couch-bound, as the buildings cleaners did the job! So we lay around whingeing about our hangovers, occasionally lifting a leg, while the house was restored around us.

After some more moaning we moved down to the pool, where a few left-overs from last night were recovering with a cold ones. The incongruency of our lifestyle to the rest of the country peaked around then when the call for prayer went out from the mosque next to our building. There's us, 15 westerners, drinking in the pool and lazing on banana chairs, with the ancient, mournful call sounding from above. Surreal.


Today, Saturday, many people went into work, including my flatmates. After a terrible sleep (msg infested takeaway methinks), I went into the 'old' souks (markets). Its a maze of buildings with covered walkways, and small shops selling everything from spices to clothes to chicken wire. In the tradition of this country these are not actually old buildings, but are new buildings made in the style of the actual souks that probably used to be in Doha.

Most of the shops were closed, as they do between 10 and 4, which I didn't know. But I had a good wander about and took some photos. It was seriously hot, or to put it another way, it was like any other day. My little thermometer read between 38 and 44 in the shade. The whole city being right on a large, salty, shallow bay, the humidity adds that extra bite, in case you were after something a little bit more. It's like what New Years Day was like in Sydney this year, 45+, with wind. But it's been like that every day since I've arrived.

After about an hour I'd seen everything, and decided to walk down to the bay, only two streets away, about 500m. In the direct sunshine it was a whole other thing. By the time I'd got down there for a photo or two and was heading back, I was struggling. I was sweating like crazy, my face was red and I could feel my heart working overtime. By the time I got back to the shade of the souks I was in a world of pain, drenching myself in water to try to cool off. My driver's air-conned car couldn't come soon enough.

The company has a policy that no-one is allowed to work outside for more than 10 minutes in a row. This seems overly cautious until today. Now I think that being outside is not 'hot', it's dangerous. Another few minutes out in that heat, and if I didn't have water, I probably would have passed out. What kind of place it this, where going outside is a health hazard? And how the hell do these construction workers do it all day everyday??


Hot in Herre

News just in - one of the departments here takes the outside temperature every day. As I wrote earlier, it is generally agree that the government fudge the real temperature down so that outdoor workers never have the chance to down tools when the temp rises to 50. Last week the official daytime temperatures read between 34 and 45. The actual temps, as recorded by us were, on average, 54 degrees at midday! Plus humidity.

I'm thinking it must have been that when I was out and almost passed out.

10 August 2006

Soft arrest


'Software problems'

One of those days. I had my new computer delivered yesterday. There had been speculation that approval for it would never come and I would be working from my laptop for the rest of my sentence.

I have a not-so-legit copy of the CAD software I use and the intention was to use that, at least until they got approval to buy me the real one. But being part of a bigger organisation, no dodgy software is allowed to be installed on any of the computers. Some string pulling by one of my bosses meant the IT guys logged me in as an administrator then walked away, turning a blind eye.

So hooray, success, finally I can install, and it's the newest, latest version too. Sick. Insert the disc I brought all the way from home for this very moment and... FUCK. Somehow it's a Mac version! I've been looking for the latest version for Mac and never been able to find it! How is it that now that I need the PC one, I get the freaking Mac version! Aaarrgghh.

Of course there is no re-seller remotely near the country, and you can't purchase it online and download it. I appear asinine to my colleagues, especially those who've helped me out with some deft subterfuge. Excellent.

So i continue to sit in front of two large monitors, working off my laptop, with every other person who walks by asking me why I'm not using the new machine. 'Software problems' is about all I can mumble.


Is it possible to watch too many episode of Arrested Development?

Elouise has the first two series and and third on order. I have watched the whole first series and a bit in less than a week. I keep thinking the things that the voiceover says 'And that was when Michel realised...', 'And so, moments later', 'Popop was not, in fact, dead, but had escaped in the family stair-car to Mexico with his receptionist Kitty and was at that moment being arrested by the police who recognised him as the TV salesman of the CornBall deep fryer, which was banned for sale in America for being too dangerous, but had gone on to hideously burn the arms of half of Mexico.' Stuff like that.

The more I have watch it the more I realise that it follows all the tricks of a regular sit-com (a character says something, and it's immediately disproved), but it's the 'weird' cast of characters, and how well they're realised that sets it apart. Even the fact that its all about one family, mostly all in one house, with kids growing up etc is straight out of the sit-com handbook.

But what other sit com has a family of wealthy lay-abouts including a man-child son, with a questionably intimate relationship with his soak mother? A pathologically lazy Aunt who marries a probably gay man (last name Funke) to annoy her parents? A father in jail who turns jewish and releases a series of Hebrew self-help videos and a Korean adopted son called Hello. 'Ahn Yang!'

Ok I think I've answered my own question.


Now playing: The Album Leaf - In A Safe Place



Had a staff orientation for most of today. They covered all the boring stuff about safety, living in Qatar etc etc. But they also ran us through the process of how the company won the tender, the development of the style of the show, the gigs they have done in the past, and what to expect. It was a big reminder that we are working on what will likely be the biggest piece of theatre ever (!). Yes, bigger probably than the last to summer games.

Its incredible where this team has come from. DA was a top tap dancer, then choreographer, then moved into artistic direction, until he was doing his only shows. These got bigger and bigger and bigger, leading up to Sydney 2000. How else do you learn how to deal with 12,000 volunteer performers? Or start to attempt the largest ever LED screen (5 times bigger than next largest attempted). Or create a company of over 300 people in a foreign country, instantly, then move out and on to another project. The process taken to get to this point is boggling.

Even better - we about to move into 'lock down' mode, where, under top secrecy, everything will be rehearsed, tested, flown, projected and exploded. The site will be used 24 hours a day for months on end. I wish I could write more about all this shit that's going to happen.

They also screened for us the full 3D animated films of the ceremonies. It really is hot. Not only will it be a spectacular celebration of the cultures of the region, but it's also dramatic - there's a story, everything has been thought about with the audience in mind.

Sitting at your desk doing CAD drawings it's easy to forget I'll be seeing all this unfold in the coming few months.

More useful knowledge/hearsay:

1) One of the reasons this country is so safe and stable, considering it location, may well be that a well-known terrorist society blackmailed the government. Cash to stay away.

2) Why do all the homes have 8 foot brick walls around them? No, not for safety security considerations, but modesty. This way the women-folk inside can get about without their abaya, without fear of shame. Considering some of the glamorous and slinky gowns I have seen for sale in the shopping malls, the life indoors must be very different to that presented on the street!

3) After a successful event, Qatar might bid for the BIG games. Interesting...

4) The lower paid guest workers earn something like 300 riyal per month. Divide by 3.5 for $Aud. These include the roadworking gangs, out in this heat.

The thing that is not exciting is the move this week to (unpaid) 6 day weeks for everyone in the company until the end! I have not signed a real contract yet so here's hoping I can wangle something...

Everyone I work with is nice

With a party on Thursday night and ramadan coming up Travis made a bottleshop trip. I left work 20 minutes early to go with him. Felt slightly guilty, but hey, I caught the early bus in this morning, even if it was just to correspond with Arnold about the tunes he was writing for Famous. As far as anyone in the office could see i was the diligent newby out to get ahead.

In line with the daily trend of disappearing roads, the regular route out of the stadium complex was reduced to 30 minutes of bumper to bumper. Travis was dropping his workmate off at a doctor, I didn't know what for, and wasn't going to ask. This girl is the one person I have come across so far (and i must have met at least 100 XX workers so far) who wasn't lovely from the get go get. It was a photocopier incident - my wrong sized paper format was holding up the print queue (typical noob error, I'm still doing it). She was at the printer sighing and moaning when I arrived and suggested something crap and unhelpful. First impression - narky. Again, in the car she didn't radiate warmth, but I was giving her the benefit of the doubt - maybe she was really stressed that day, maybe I just misread the way she spoke to me.

Under her directions we got lost. I tried to be helpful: what street number is it? They don't have street numbers here, duh. Do you remember any landmarks from last time? I just said the name of the restaurant that was opposite. I shut up.

Finally we found the place and dropped her off. We drove off to the bottle shop and Travis said she was under alot of stress, (is she's not normally like that). She was going there to get the results of a CT scan - she thinks she might have a tumour. Oh.

After more driving in traffic (pre-prayer, thankfully, just after prayer in the evening is a killer), and coming across more pulled up roads that existed last week, we made it to the bottle shop. Without my license I had to wait in the foyer, watching the mostly Indian business men go past with their trolleys of scotch and Kingfisher beer. The amount your allowed to buy is pegged to your salary. Apparently the ratio is between a quarter and a third of your total wage! Considering the high wages for executive business people types and the low cost of the alcohol, surely every ex-pat in the country is a soak! I got booze for the bank (a few cases of beer and a bottle of Stoli).

Travis cooks like he talks - all over the shop at a million miles a minute. It's perfect for stage management I'm sure. Its exhausting to witness.

But if anything's going to bring out the best and worst, of everyone, it will be Thursday's party. Kind of feels like Gytha's going away party in my first week in Holland. Getting drunk with people is a great way to get to know them...

07 August 2006

The Qataris must be crazy

The more I learn about the Qatari way of doing things the more nuts they seem to be.

My CAD buddy Aaron and his Australian ops flatmate Adam and I went into town on Saturday, for me to get a Skype headset and for Adam to get a cable for his VHS. Aaron was bad with directions so we drove around half the city looking for this cable, and had plenty of time to for them to point out local absurdities. Here's what I can remember:

1) The vanishing island
There was a manmade island out in the city bay called Palm Island, made for family picnics, with water features and playing equipment. From the looks of it, it was about 200m square. A few people had been out there, hiring the old style pearling boats docked at the bay. Apparently a little shabby, but nice. When we drove past it was gone! well, it was razed to rubble, just two trees left. Apparently the Emir saw a fountain he liked on a trip to Europe and when he got back he gave the businesses 2 days to get out. No more Palm Island. There is speculation as to how tacky the fountain will be.

2) Building
At a large roundabout was a demolition site. The guys were like 'oops there goes another one'. Last week a tall building, no more than 5 years old had stood there. Now it was being pulled down and replaced. Apparently this is very common - even our own offices have to be, by contract, razed to the ground when the job is done. There is not even a pretense of re-using them for anything else!

3) The burning twin towers
Two twin 30 story buildings in town are burnt out and abandoned. Here's what happened: they were almost completed when one of them caught fire. They put it out before too much got destroyed. They continued with construction. A week later the other tower caught fire. The flames reached across and set the first tower on fire again. They're 30 stories of black abandoned char.

4) Pedestrian crossings are for girls
There is only one pedestrian crossing in the country. That's not the only unique thing about it; the regular 'crossing man' sign here is replaced with a priceless local version: it is of a woman in an abaya. It's awesome. On a related topic - women are allowed to get drivers licenses here, but are only allowed to drive with other women in the car.

5) Rubble and dust
This place is like trying to have a full city in... Birdsville. Or Oodnadatta, the hottest and driest town in Australia. But I bet both of these places get more rain and have better soil and more greenery than here. It's just so fucking hot, all the time, that nothing grows, except date palms. And because they're constructing (and demolishing) everywhere, they stir up the earth (i can't call is soil, it is just pure hardened white dust) and send dust clouds into the air. So not only is it stupid hot, really humid, its dusty as hell. Keep thinking there's fog rolling in, but no, its just a regular dust cloud.

The day wasn't all bad though - while they for their cable I had time to duck in and out of air-conned shops and take some photos. I love all the signs, the Arabic is really beautiful and it's usually next to the English translation which is often bad, or in some kind of really unusual type face. There was a shop called 'Last Chance' with a big picture of two infants. Huh?

Most of the guest workers here Southern Indian (from a particular province, I forget which. But I bet it's because they're not buddhist, or hindu, both of which I think I remember reading are not allowed to enter the country). So that make most of the population of this country actually Indian, as guest workers make up the vast majority (something like 80%!). All this is boon for lovers of Indian food. I found a tiny, sweating hole in the wall 'restaurant', which I imagine to be exactly as it would be in India. They had a huge counter of coloured sweets and a man in the window served the two dishes available, vegetarian curry and semolina with naan. I bought about 10 hunks of random sweets, all of the rosewater, honey and coconut variety for 10 riyal ($3.50) and the guy insisted I take some photos of him. I got two before he had enough and waved me off. They should be good, he we very striking in his window kitchen vestibule.

In the long search for the cable we visited the two poshest shopping centres in town: Landmark and City Centre, where the feature is an iceskating ring in the ground floor of the central atrium. This is also the place I started to see the blinged out Hummers, Escalades and Armadas with 21" rims I have been expecting to see. I also saw Filipino maids pushing the trolleys for local families. And families of dad and sons in white thobes and dish-dash (long white robe with white head piece and black ring holding it on the head) and mum and daughters (if older than about 12) in the black abayas, talking on mobiles at Starbucks or Pizza Inn, possibly with a double turkeybacon cheese burger and Coke. And, shockingly, some (I think) local women without face coverings, and some without even headscarves. This might just as easily have been Lebanese or Egyptian or such, as I really can't say I have seen the face of a Qatari woman since I got here.

I stocked up at the enormous Carfour there on Scottish smoked salmon, Dutch vegetables, South American fruit and local bread (probably made from Australian wheat). Adam did finally get the cable.

Now playing: Bonnie Prince Billie - Nomadic Revery

06 August 2006

Dune bashing with hiphop at 11


Had the first taste of the Big Brother shared apartment experience last night - regular Thursday night drinks down at the pool lorded over by two blonde Australian girls and a South African (who has secured one of the local drivers for 'private lessons'). I felt embarrassed for some of the older women there when these girls went on about pash parties, lezo Thursdays and passed around a Tshirt with Certified Muff Diver emblazoned on it (an accompanying image). Other than that it was all fun - 20+ people by the pool, drinking it up and talking and such. Everyone you meet does something crazy and unexpected: transport manager, 3D animated storyboards, casting couch, broadcast liaison and any other specialised position you never knew existed. Retired semi-early but pretty drunk - I'm so out of form.

Worked off the hangover with back to back episodes of Arrested Development in bed until it was time to go downstairs and meet for the desert safari.

About 20 people, from oldies, to families with kids, to workshop rough nuts, over 4 4WDs headed south out of Doha for 30 minutes, then stopped at the edge of the sand to let down the tyres. Then it was just all out dune bashing for about 3 hours.

But you've never seen sand dunes like these; they're the same light grey/pink colour of the earth everywhere, and spread over a vast expanse. And enormous, some must be at least as high as our apartment (5 stories) and much steeper than the steepest ski slope. In convoy, we thrashed about, weaving up and down dips and slides and burms. For the really dramatic stuff one vehicle would lead out while the rest hung back to watch and squeal. Taking a long run-up our (very cool Palestinian) driver would crank up to 100 on the flat then hurl us up and around an enormous dune to the point where you thought we'd either fly off the top or roll the vehicle with the steep angle. He'd crank it around and we'd slide back down, staring straight down to the floor below. Of course, the car is full of screaming and cheering as we're all thrown around and our guts are in our throats.

Other crowd pleasers we gunning it around a massive bowl or burm type situation, the vehicle you'd swear about to tip over at and moment, and then popping over the crest at top speed, the vehicle flipping 45 degrees in a moment. And the freakiest: getting to a particularly high and steep dune and throwing the front of the vehicle over the edge and stopping. So you're sitting there, staring straight down, pulling at your seatbelt and wondering how the fuck you can get to the bottom with your lunch not sprayed onto the inside of the windscreen. Then they drop the clutch and down you go, maybe throwing in a few ski-like traversing for effect.

It was all good fun, and the scenery was also worth going for - at one stop, atop a massive set of dunes, we looked south, the sand dropping straight into the Persian Gulf, the land on the other side being Saudi Arabia. There was also an enormous inland sea, which far from being the big puddle it appeared to be, is more than 300m deep (or at least that's as far as divers have been able to go down).

At sunset we reached our dinner destination - a clearing between the dunes, and right on the water. A swim in the very warm and salty Gulf was followed by BYO beers and dinner under a half moon, with tents and lanterns set up, cushions and rugs on the ground, and top service from an army of Indian wait staff. The couple I ate with brought along a bottle of champagne which accompanied some Arabic sweets perfectly.

We had a different driver coming back, with a particularly pumping sound system. With the headlights on, he cranked some crunking hiphop up to 11 and fishtailed it back to the road. He was our third driver for the day, and the third to play a mix of contemporary Arabic and mainstream US hiphop/RnB. I don't usually like this kind of hiphop, but when played side by side with local music you can see why they like it. Often tablas, sitar type sounds and Eastern rhythms are sampled, and between the rap there's the RnB singing which is not too far from the Arabic sound at all. They weren't playing bog standard Eminem or Snoop; they had found other artists whose parallels you could clearly hear.

This guy was also Palestinian and we all had a pretty good chat to him about his family, growing up in Qatar (born here to Palestinian parents, but will never be able to have a true residency status), music, and what going back to Palestine was like. I think we all got the impression that your regular young guy, who likes music, cars and hanging out, hates fighting, hates war and just wants to get on. I think when he went back to Palestine he was resented as a silver spooner; 'a different way of thinking' he said. He hated what the fighting had done to the country and probably how their poorness had made them suspicious of those who had money and opportunity. He could never live there because he wants to 'move forward, not backward'. No fermenting violent jihad rising in him, he just wants a good life.

03 August 2006

The religion and war entry



Another night of reheated bolognese and a beer in front of the television. I had a particular interest in the programs tonight, after the discussions on the bus tonight about the Israel / Lebanon conflict.

Apparently each country represented in the company has a marshall, who in the event of an emergency, would tell us what to do. I was thinking if there was a fire, but no, they're talking a war. Like we all get marshalled somewhere and are evacuated from the country directly.

Until now I have always felt a long way from the troubles in the 'Middle East'. It's definitely a long way geographically to that area, but politically as well. Surely Qatar is so rich and so interesting in business and making money that they would not risk their position to get involved in this kind of conflict, to become a target. Probably.

But if Syria and particularly Iran, who are just across the gulf from here, did put their toe in, someone would have to assess whether it was a safe place to continue working. Would this peninsula into the Gulf have some strategic importance that one side or another might want to control?

Even if Iran was involved and it was deemed no significant risk by the company, that might not be the opinion of the participating countries in the Games. What if they started pulling out of attendance? The Games, and the Ceremonies, could get cancelled. With all the build up, all the work so many have put into it, its almost impossible to imagine this machine not rolling on.

All this is bus gossip and not to be taken too seriously. But for the first time since arriving I did start to feel close to what's on the news. I watched a full half hour of BBC World News, which is dedicated almost totally to the war. I even got through some of the English version Saudi news, just to see their take on it. No-one seems to be discussing anything Syria or Iran are saying, so I can only hope they're not say or doing anything. And they stay that way.

Also found an interesting little snippet on the American Church TV Station (or some such). A peroxided and badly face-lifted Southern woman was reading out headlines from international publications, all supposedly showing that muslims were behind all the conflicts in the world. Her reverend pal qualified their blatantly bigoted comments with the classic 'I've got lots of friends who are Muslims' and 'Don't forget Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet too' and 'It's only the extreme ones (that cause all this havoc)'. I was stunned to see blatant pornography on the satellite television here, but how this gets through I don't know. They confiscate Bibles at the border FFS.

All this on the same day that see on the morning news that our Mel Gibson is apologising for an anti-sematic tirade when pulled over for drink driving. They showed an old clip from when The Passion was released and he was accused of creating an anti-Jewish film. His response was something like 'No, that's just not me at all. I pray for them!'. Presumably that they will come to their sense and covert to his particular form of old Catholic Christianity or else burn in hell.

The other funny thing is that Beirut has the reputation amongst all the DAE employees as the best destination to go for a holiday around here. It's cosmopolitan, it's lively, it's fun and historic. And this is from the same bunch of people who have been spending their time off in places like Oman, Iran, Morocco, Greece and Italy, none of which sound like dull destinations.

Hopefully not all of Beirut is ruined and the life will come back to it. If this war can end and if it can avoid escalation. I hope to hear nothing aggressive from Syria and Iran; but such silence is a little spooky; what are they playing at? What's the plan? Surely they must have more of a strategy than just to fire a few thousand missiles in villages close to the border? Although deadly, this isn't mush more than a nuisance for the Israeli army and people.

I'd like to keep my job and I'd like to think that all this work will not go to waste. Please don't bomb us kthx.

Now playing: Bioshphere - Dropsonde.
This is actually really top 'ambient' stuff, I'm enjoying it. Surely this is the same Biosphere who used to chat on Soulseek with us all a few years ago. He was actually pretty annoying if I remember correctly, a bit of a big-noter. Maybe it was all qualified; back then, to me, he just seemed like another random bedroom banger. Maybe I am confusing him with someone else, but I'm certain that there was a Biosphere, and i even downloaded a track or two from him on the trusty 56k. Must have them somewhere...

Well this is getting late for me, almost 10 o'clock. I'm worried that if I start getting into the proper local timezones I won't be able to continue waking up at 6:30 and going to the gym to burn off all this bolognese. Maybe this is my 'get fit' opportunity - I've got spare time, easy access to a gym, and few distractions like friends, a partner, the internet or even decent television. Here's hoping.

02 August 2006

1/8/06 - One day in Doha

9:12 pm

Funny how two beers after work will wipe your mind of all the things you wanted to record from the day. i decided to start a blog today, and to write my first entry tonight, now. But my flatmate and I ended up at out neighbours for a couple of drinks and by the time i have got to this I can barely be fucked.

Going around for drinks seemed like a good way to get to know some more people. In fact I ended up being bored as hell as all they talked about was workmate gossip. something to be avoided at the best of times, but when you don't know any of the people they're talking about it's truly a waste of time. I exited as soon as was polite.

*Nerd alert* A couple of people had said that the government here fudge the temperatures lower because if all the Indian workers knew it was about 40 (or something) they would be able to walk off the job. It seems plausible as the temperatures do seem hotter than the 38 or even 44 my weather widget tells me it is every day. So after another of these discussions today I took my little keyring thermometer (thanks Cel and Tess) and put it in a shady spot behind our offices. 20 minutes later it read 42 degrees, while the official temps said 33. Taking into account the high humidity (it really felt like a sauna today) and having to work in direct sunlight, and it's the kind of temperature no-one should rightly be out in. Let alone performing manual labour. For a pittance probably.

I took advantage of my continuing jetlag this morning by getting up at 6:30 and going out for a run. This was the first time I had actually be on the street at all since i arrived. In the heat and humidity (and supreme unfitness; I think I've jogged less than a dozen times this year) I didn't last long. But i did get to see the lanes around out 'Twin Mansions' apartments. They're nothing special probably, typical Qatari city suburbs, but I do enjoy the stark colours and brutal lines of the buildings, purely for their unfamiliarity. Everything is painted white or light pink (the colour of the earth/dust here), finished in rendered concrete and there are no trees to provide a respite. Whenever I get around to taking photos, they'll show a particular 'Arabic minimalist' style.

Tomorrow morning I will give some money to a guy in the office who is organizing a 'safari' 4WD trip on Friday night. This seems to be one of the few activities there is to do around here and my first. The idea is that you're driven into some sand dunes out of town after work in a 4WD but an expert driver. He fangs you up and down impossibly steep and high dunes for thrills (in the dark, it would be too hot to do it in the daylight hours). After that they put on a BBQ between the dunes and if you bring your own booze you can get pissed. Then come back to town. Should be fun and a good way to hang out with people.

According to those that have been here longer, the only other things to do are: fly to Dubai for the day and go shopping; do scuba diving (its murky and there is no coral or even features other than sand, except where they sink a boat or truck); visit the 'inland sea' which I think is a massive set of dunes; visit the Old Souk, which are the traditional markets (not actually old of course, they're new, but made to look like a traditional Arabian market with porticos and stuff. They probably never had markets like this as they were all nomadic bedouins up until the moment they all turned into millionaires). And that's about it. I'd go troppo too if I had been here more than a year already...