Friday, September 15, 2006

Drunk and Dirty in Doha

Well, folks, I have now seen another place in the Middle East. On Wednesday I took the 7am flight from DXB to Doha, Qatar, for a meeting about the Big Hole in the Ground (which is supposed to turn into the Tallest Building in Doha). I was, as ever, over-cautious and boy-scoutish in my preparation, and got up at 4.15am to get to the airport. I arrived just after 5am and had a long, sleepy wait for the plane, taking in the delights of the crowded departure lounges (even at that time) and the crappy service at Costa (Bomb for a ) Coffee. The flight itself was only 45 minutes, about the same as Teesside (sorry, Durham Tees Valley) to Heathrow, if not shorter. Barely enough time to get nervous, but I still managed it.

I arrived in Doha at 7am, Qatar time. The passport control involved some brusque questioning about the nature of my visit and the payment of 55 Riyals by credit card. With time to kill, Costa bleeding packet was my only option, so I had another drink and sat there wondering what day it was and what my name was.

Eventually I got a taxi to the site office, which the taxi driver seemed unable to locate despite 20-foot-high hoardings bearing the name of the project being placed along the road we were driving along. On the way, I took in the delights of Doha, Qatar. It is much more Middle Eastern that Dubai (which isn't hard, frankly). There isn't anywhere near the amount of building work going on, even though they are busy preparing for the Asian Games which start in 2 months or so. There aren't half as many huge, over-designed buildings sprouting from every available scrap of land. There isn't as much neon. They still drive like maniacs, yes. There are lots more what you would call Arabic buildings there. They seem to be obsessed with a horned animal called an Oryx, and even have a cuddly animated version as a mascot for the games. The other local obsession seems to be pearls and oysters, with references galore in bar names, development titles and giant sculptures sitting in the middle of roundabouts. Oy, mate! Your Venus is missing!

And yet, and yet...the influence of Dubai is slowly coming to the fore. There are new building projects, including the one which I am involved in, and they are building a Pearl Island, rather than a Palm Island, just off the coast. It still has a lot of catching up to do, and I sincerely hope they reign this ambition in a bit, because if everywhere turns into Dubai, the whole Gulf region will turn into a giant Vegas wannabe. Who wants that?

Maybe some people do, actually, because the expat people I met there seemed to be somewhat bitter about the fact that they were in Doha rather than Dubai, which meant they had the choice of a handful of hotels and bars to frequent, and not much else. It was difficult not to feel smug about the fact that I was going back to Dubai. As it was, I ended up staying more time than I was meant to, because the meeting about the Big Hole in the Ground ended up spawning more meetings about the Big Hole in the Ground, and the client decided I was needed there the next day. Oh, joy. So they changed my flight and booked me into a well-known chain hotel.

I was given a lift to my hotel by the chain-smoking South African site QS, and then I had to spend an bizarre, exasperating 20 minutes in the hotel gift shop, buying a shirt and some socks and pants and the like. Another notable difference - there was airport style x-ray machinery and a metal detector to go through when I entered the hotel. Slightly disconcerting, to say the least. To me it said, "Western Hotels are potential targets". A bit like when I was in the USA and had to go through similar levels of security to enter a Social Security office.

So, a night was spent in this hotel, in the company of a few hardened expats, and we ate and drank heartily and talked about Big Holes in the Ground until my day caught up with me and I headed for my room, only for me to do what I always do in hotels and turn on the telly. I laid and watched The Fast Show on BBC Prime (a real gem of a channel for expats), then the first hour of the film Gladiator (which I've seen many times, but I still love it) on another channel, before my heavy eyes made it impossible to watch any more, and I gave in to my need for sleep.

Next day, after a leisurely breakfast and shower, I put on the ill-fitting clothes that I'd bought in the gift shop and jumped into another day of intrigue. Our meetings concluded quickly, and I was conveyed back to the airport where I watched the surprisingly busy Doha airport runway, where planes of all sizes took off and landed to and from various exotic locations, including Bahrain, Kuala Lumpur and Manchester. On boarding my plane I wondered why they were using an Airbus A340, which is a large plane for such a short flight, but it soon filled up, mainly with sub-continentals who seemed to have incredible trouble with taking the seat they were allocated. This, along with the late arrival of about another 50 people, meant we took off about 20 minutes late. Oh well.

I found myself glad to be back in Dubai. And despite the searching questions of the passport controller and the temporary loss of my car, I drove away feeling quite good about stuff. I even went back to the office for half an hour and caught up with the boss before he left for 2 weeks holiday in the UK. I'm worried about it all. I'm enjoying the job. I'd almost given up on QSing, but coming here has shown me that it can be (reasonably) exciting and dynamic, especially when you're dealing with jobs of this nature, and you get to jet round the region. I think I'm doing OK. The boss seems happy with me. Fingers crossed, or Insha'allah as they say here, it will continue!

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