About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

24 February 2015

Hamad International Airport

The newly opened Hamad International Airport in Doha is very impressive. It is not fully operational, and it has not yet become the shopping mall (like Dubai) but it is quite clear what the intention is! It does have some great facilities, including free WiFi, media stations, kids play areas and even a large teddy bear installation. As a functional mass transit hub, it is quite efficiently designed but it is not yet in the league of Singapore.

Migrant Workers

Since Qatar won the right to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022; there has been a lot of focus on migrant workers building the stadiums - and generally migrant workers in the Gulf. Migrant workers are prominent in almost every sphere of Qatari life - on landing at the airport, the first Qatari I met was the immigration officer; and thereafter the policeman at the front of the closed Museum of Islamic Art. In between, flight attendants, airport attendants, shop attendants, hotel staff and even the majority of shop keepers in the souq were migrant workers.

The hotel staff were almost all Filipino. The driver for my transfer back to the airport worked for a hotel in the Philippines before coming to Qatar 3 years ago. He didn't seem to be particularly happy - his salary is not much more, the costs of living in Qatar is high, and he hasn't seen his family (including 5 kids) since he got here (since all his savings are sent back home). He told me that this was the same scenario for all his colleagues - and he (and other colleagues) are even considering going back to Philippines. 

I suspect it is the same story for many of the migrants working in Qatar. Ironically, the face of Qatar is the migrants, and not the Qataris. So it is difficult to work out what the real Qatar is.

Around Doha

I had a long layover in Doha, and Qatar Airways organised a hotel, visa and hotel transfer. Unfortunately, it was not long enough to see a lot of Doha - especially the newer parts of the city; but it was still a nice city break.

The initial impression was sand - every building seemed to be of that colour. And, while the highways and main roads were very organised; the side streets felt like a completely different country! Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any public transport scheme, so I was constrained to walking around instead.

The highlight attraction in Doha, The Museum of Islamic Art, is unfortunately closed on Tuesdays; so I mostly walked around the souks and the seafront promenade (Al Corniche). The Corniche has glorious views of the futuristic skyscrapers of the new part of Doha. The contrast between the old (fishing boats) and the new is particularly striking.

Overall, it's a clean city; and despite the volume of cars, it is not a particularly vibrant city. Something is missing - but I am not sure what it is.

Doha Souqs

A large complex of traditional shopfronts (although often staffed by immigrants instead of locals), the Souq Waqif is a far more pleasant experience than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. In some places it retains the older mud brick architecture, although it seems more like a facade than actual construction. Given the rapid rise of modern buildings all around, the older style, complete with crowded passages has a lot of charm.

The opening times are a bit strange - opening around 10, closing at lunch; and then opening in the evening around 4pm. 

The Souq Waqif is flanked by two specialised, and more modern complexes - the almost deserted Falcon Souq (specialising in falconry) and the  Gold Souq (specialising in jewelery). The Gold Souq featured a lot more workig craftsmen, although it was near closing time when I was there.

At another end of the Souq Waqif, there is an art centre with a fair amount of contemporary artwork (and artist studios). 

Qatar Airways and The Dreamliner

The Dreamliner seems to be small, especially when the other aircrafts around it are A380s. It is amazingly spacious, so much so that many passengers seem to have trouble reaching the overhead luggage bins. The large windows are amazing, but the lack of window shutters are annoying; especially with the sun streaming in as the plane took off. After a while, the electronic tinting took over and the soft lighting took over - a very strange  environment; with the sun reduced to a foggy orb in the horizon. Eventually I discovered the tinting controller, which works slowly, but has quite a wide range. Compared to the A380, the Dreamliner feels more modern, more futuristic. But how much of that is due to the airline vs Boeing; I am not sure.

Economy class on Qatar Airways is surprisingly spacious - my knees didn't even hit the seats in the front (don't remember the last time I had a flight in economy with so much space). The entertainment system is cool; with a touch screen remote system that changes controls based on the screen context; with running commentary on the flight status. There is on board cell signal, but the on board wifi is extortion - USD 2 per 5Mb!

Every announcement seemed to have the words award winning; and the service and was food certainly of high quality. It was an amazingly cheap ticket; and so far it has been amazing value for money!

23 February 2015

Movie: The Judge

Long before Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man, I remember him as a smart ass lawyer in the TV series Ally McBeal. In the Judge he reprises the role of a smart ass lawyer, but with a far defter performance as he takes up the defence of his ailing, estranged father - a judge who is accused of murder, played by Robert Duvall. The performances of the two central characters are amazing; although the legal case itself is only a side show. 

Movie: Fury

Set towards the end of WW2, Fury manages to portray both heroism in and the dehumanising nature of warfare. There are some amazing scenes with tank battles; but it is the grinding, brutal nature of war itself that is the centerpiece. And while each side seems to believe it is righteous, it is really only dehumanising and brutal.

Chinese New Year at Nan Hua Temple

A few years ago, O, gushed about the Chinese New Year celebrations at Nan Hua Temple. For one reason or another, I didn't go until this year.

The passages around the temple were set with stalls - from cheap electronics to vegetarian food to a lot of bubble tea. It was packed; and a variety of people were lighting incense in front of the giant Buddhas in the main shrine.

The cultural performances were equally diverse - martial arts, music and dance across Asia (including Bollywood), and African drums - but we didn't stay long.

It actually felt quite sedate - more like a large fete than a cultural celebration. Perhaps it was the hot weather, perhaps it was unrealistic expectations; it just didn't feel that amazing.