Saturday, 26 May 2012

My Week "Abroad"

One of the attractions of my temporary European assignment was the opportunity to visit a region of the world I had never seen before. My employer secured a project in Doha, Qatar and as the local Program Manager it's mine to manage. So, early last week I left Germany on the Qatar Airways flight for my first ever visit to the Middle East.

I think that Qatar was a great introduction to the region. I consider it one of the more moderate countries in the area. As a North American I felt very safe and with a few amusing exceptions it was very easy to do business there. But make no mistake about it. You are constantly aware that you are in a different place. So here are a few observations:
  • It's trite to say it but Doha is hot. Unbelievably hot. And I didn't see anything like the worst. I believe we had a high of 43 when we were there. The previous week it apparently hit 53. It's only going to get hotter for the next month or two. The experience is hard to describe. I've been in Phoenix in summer and that didn't even come close. I liken it to severe winter cold at home. You move as quickly as you can from the air conditioned hotel lobby to the air conditioned car and then to the air conditioned office. Repeat in reverse at the end of the day. Evening temps dropped to the mid 30s which was a major relief. I can't imagine what life must have been like for the country's original inhabitants before the appearance of air conditioning.
  • Construction is everywhere to an extent I have never really witnessed before. I remember thinking similar thoughts in Sydney prior to the 2000 Olympics but again this was another level altogether. Unfortunately the abundance of construction combined with the hot dry climate created a perpetual dust haze in the air. In the course of 4+ days I never had a clear view of anything in any direction. I was told the air quality is not always like this.

  • The level of service in the hotels and restaurants puts most North American and European countries to shame. The only comparable experience I can recall was Hong Kong in the mid 80's. I had better not get used to it.
  • The variety and quality of food in restaurants - at least what was available to foreigners - was just outstanding. I deliberately steered towards "Middle Eastern" establishments. But here is a little perspective. In one concentrated area of restaurants on the waterfront we had a choice of Lebanese, Armenian, Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian in addition to some more westernized (and Far Eastern) places. I think that saying "Middle Eastern" there is like lumping French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Dutch, Hungarian, Portugese and Belgian together and calling the result "European" cuisine. I loved the food.
  • We stayed in one of the few major luxury hotels that doesn't serve any alcohol. Most do. Standalone restaurants generally do not. I didn't have a drink from the time I left until I returned to Germany. Honestly, I didn't really miss it. And also, honestly, I really enjoyed the beer I had with dinner once I got back to Nuremberg.
  • I think there is a reason why I don't know of any world class Qatari triathletes. For me, in those temperatures, running outside was not an option. I saw no bicyclists at all. I think the texting drivers have taken care of the few remaining ones that may have survived the heat. Luckily the hotel had an excellent fitness facility with top of the line treadmills. I got two runs in which was probably a minimum given how good the food was.
  • In case you're interested the price of gasoline works out to about $0.20/liter. It's not posted on the signs because apparently it's not all that important.
I'm going to be changing apartments later this week and I'm super stoked about it. Maybe more in my next post.

Thanks for reading,

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