Monday, September 27, 2010

Another 24 hours...the Doha Sequel...

With my blockbuster post from 2 days ago, the director asked if I would write a sequel to my runaway hit.  I graciously agreed on the caveat that they do something about the heat and humidity.  Well, if 99 degrees and a heat index of 107 degrees is better, then life is good.  Surprisingly, the temperatures did feel a bit better on my return walk to the Movenpick Tower and Suites this afternoon...I only felt 3/4 drained more than Qatar normal.
As discussed in my last post, Saturday was my day of R&R from the long plane ride halfway around the world.  Sunday was my Monday as it were.  I have a class of 14-15 students in my class and the cultural differences are interesting to observe.  The males occupy the front of the classroom and are fairly active in discussions.  The women occupy the back of the classroom and "generally" not as active in discussions, but they will ask questions if I walk near or they quietly get my attention to assist them.  For cultural and/or religious beliefs, women in the Islamic world dress in an abayas - some veiled while others are not.  As described in my hotel magazine, women wear abayas "to shroud their identity from the outside world."  It's very effective...

One difficulty in teaching this particular class is the abbreviated Qatari work schedule.  It's common to begin one's day around 8 AM, have a 30-minute brunch from 9:30-10 AM, a call to prayers at 11:45-12:15 PM and then depart for one's home by 2 PM.  This class is designed around an 8 hour work day so losing nearly 4 hours a day to teach is problematic at best.  One has to speed up delivery of instruction and skip exercises in order to complete the required materials.  Even with that, I'm rushed to get done what I can.

Following class, my principle lead for CGIS and I discussed work details afterwards and then drove me to another part of Qatar for an Arabic sandwich - basically a falafel chicken sandwich - very tasty from the local falafel store.  The great thing about this trip is I saw yet more of Doha while traveling in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle.  Beats walking in the hot, humid sun - but....

Walk I did as the sun was setting yesterday.  The corniche is a many kilometer water promenade that goes around the Doha Bay.  From my hotel, I began my hours long walk past the newly constructed skyscrapers of West Bay taking many pictures.  I have to say, the architecture of these modern skyscrapers are unlike anything I've seen before.  For the most part, they're very sleek, very progressive, very modern, and very impressive.  Not knowing what to expect of Doha before my trip, I've been very impressed by the design of it's future and intrigue of it's past.  Doha is a very modern 21st century city with a centuries old past that is rapidly disappearing in the older areas of town to rubble and new construction.

After my return to the Movenpick, I ventured downstairs for dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Granted, in the US I would never do such a thing, but as I have no car and I was the Indian style buffet with amazing desserts had to suffice.  The prices are a bit much for such a meal so Monday night, I plan to return to the Souq Waqif via a taxi and enjoy an inexpensive and much more enjoyable night.

I wrapped up my day with a Skype video phone call to my girl and the boy.  First time I used this technology and it was great.  My day was nearing an end (9 PM Qatar time) and Karen's was just beginning (12 PM MST).  It was great to see her and the boy and get to talk to them - learned yet more about a new Beyblade that Ethan purchased - L-Drago!!!  Halfway around the world is a bit harder than 450 miles north of ABQ - but the result is still the same - not in the same town and missing each other.

Well, Tuesday is my last full day in Doha to conclude my 3-day class and then off to meet an ESRI colleague for dinner.  After that, get packed and ready to go for my return flight to the States - it will be a bit longer than the outbound flight due to going against the jet stream.  Gggggrrrreeeeeaaaaaaatttttttt....

Until then, climb on my friends!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Day in Doha...

My first full day in Doha, Qatar and I believe I maximized my immersion into this hot yet beautiful country.  A bit of a back story - I was selected by ESRI-Redlands 2 months ago to teach a 3-day class in Doha, Qatar.  As the course is now retired and the number of available staff to teach it decreasing, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore another small part of the world.  My trip began on a beautiful Colorado Thursday afternoon from Denver to Washington DC.  A brief layover in Dulles allowed me to wolf down a buffalo burger and enjoy a fine brew from the Old Dominion Brewing Company before boarding a 777 Qatar Airways jet direct to Doha, Qatar - 12.5 hours non-stop.

My longest plane trip ever was from Los Angeles, CA to the Big Island of Hawaii many years ago.  That was only a 5 hour trip - very manageable.  This one...well...there's not a lot to do for 12.5 hours but one manages.  I met two college students in my row that were returning home to Islamabad, Pakistan after spending 6 months on a college visa to Indiana State University.  They were studying agriculture as well as touring a small part of the USA.  As the plane departed Dulles, we chatted for a while before donning our headphones to watch some movies.  I selected the latest Robin Hood (with Russell Crowe) - not a great movie but not a bad one either - the second movie I watched - Shrek IV - also feel into this category as well.  But the service on Qatar Airways is top notch - good food, free drinks, and plenty of attention to keep one comfortable on a long trip.  For 12.5 hours it was needed.

I attempted to sleep in my coach seat for a period of time but that was not exactly comfortable or successful.  One dozes more than sleeps.  I watched the computer map tracking our path across the Atlantic, over the UK, over northern Europe, over Turkey, skirting down the border of Iraq/Iran and down the Persian Gulf to Doha, Qatar.  My first impression at the 6:10 PM touchdown - a steamy 95 degrees in the face.  Mind you when I left Colorado, the temps fluctuated between 58 and 75 and low humidity.  How one forgets about humidity...ugh.

I sailed through immigration, grabbed my suitcase and found my limo driver with a sign "Welcome Robert LeClair."  We jumped into the car and it was off to the 5-star Movenpick Tower and Suites in West Bay, Doha.  The West Bay area is the newest construction in town and is a jungle of beautifully designed skyscrapers.  This part of Doha is very modern and very expensive - a lot of new found oil and natural gas wealth in the past 5 years.  After an Indian Buffet in the hotel restaurant - I crashed hard for the night.

7:30 AM on Saturday...what to do...well get a good workout in the gym first!  My body was screaming at me for sitting so long on the plane.  Then a good breakfast of waffles, hash browns, fresh fruit and coffee.  Afterwards I spoke with the concierge and arranged transportation to the Souq in old Doha and the nearby Museum of Islamic Art.  Originally I thought it would a nice day to walk the 4-5 miles along the water front to this area, but after seeing the weather report of 99 degrees and heat index of 113 - no way!  The Souq is the traditional Arabic "shopping mall" if you will where vendors sell everything for traditional Muslim garments, to trinkets, to spices/candy/dates, to birds and cats.  I wandered for 2 hours taking refuge in the air conditioned hallways before going back outside in the oppressive heat.  After a 1 hour break to check the training facility with my work contact, I returned downtown to the Museum of Islamic Art - a very modern building with Middle Eastern art back to the 5th/6th century - pretty cool stuff.

It is now middle afternoon and I'm starving!  I figured the 10-minute walk back to the Souq wouldn't be too bad - it was.  The heat/humidity is brutal!  A taxi driver pulled over - but I only had 5 minutes to go.  I poured myself into a Lebanese restaurant for chicken kabobs and a traditional Lebanese salad - incredible!  Afterwards, I followed up my meal with a traditional Turkish coffee - beats Starbucks by a mile!  Feeling refreshed I went the Corner Cafe to try a shisha - apple flavored tobacco in a Arabic traditional water pipe.  Cool experience - with plenty of people watching to do.  Westerners, Asians, Indonesians, Qatari, non-Qatari, veiled women, non-veiled woman - I'm not in Colorado for sure.  Spoke with Karen for 10 minutes on my ESRI global phone - she would enjoy this place but not the humidity.  By then, my apple tobacco is done and I'm hungry again.  It's off to an Indian restaurant for baryani chicken - the flavors oh so incredible!  By this time, I'm hot/tired/sweaty and ready for the hotel and air conditioning!  A $6 taxi ride and I'm now back looking over the West Bay of Doha from the 22nd floor updating my much neglected blog.

That's it for now.  I'm teaching classes for the next 3-days and then return to the states on Wednesday AM.  Climb On my friends!