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

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