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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 67, Tuesday - Doha

I went to school today, literally. I went up to Education City where Terry works as a professor of Chemistry.

Education City is one of the initiatives of Sheikha Mozah, one of the wives of HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad of Qatar. The idea is that several universities have a sort of shared campus, each housed within its own building and specializing in a particular field. Some of the represented universities include Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Northwestern, and Georgetown, among others.

I was interested in learning more about this system, whose goal is to brig quality education to the Middle East through a unique method, so I attended a couple of lectures today.

One side of the Carnegie Mellon building
Terry goes to work rather early, so I went with Trish and Dave who also work up at Education City. Trish works at Northwestern and Dave works at Texas A&M. Northwestern is the newest university in the system and so, while they are waiting for their building to be constructed, they are sharing with Carnegie Mellon.

After taking me on a little tour of the building, which is beautiful, Trish dropped me off at Terry’s office so that he could introduce me to Professor Alan Montgomery, whose lecture I would be attending first.

This first lecture was a Marketing class and the topics for the day were International Branding and Business Ethics, two of my favorite subjects! The students were really nice and I got to chat with a few of them before class started.

After the lecture, I went up to chat with Professor Montgomery. We talked a bit about my trip and how Carnegie Mellon operates in Qatar. He was very nice and we had a good conversation until it was time for me to try to find my next class.

From one of the bridges in the CMU building towards outside
The second class was smaller, more like a seminar. The topic of this class is Entrepreneurship; but today, Professor Tom Emerson, also of Carnegie Mellon, was talking about how to give a good presentation. He has coached numerous entrepreneurship teams in case competitions and several of his teams have been top finishers. It was definitely one of the best presentations on how to give a presentation I have ever heard, and I have heard a lot of them in my business classes. :) Bad PowerPoint’s (and presentations) are one of my pet-peeves, so I appreciate a professor who can give a good lecture on the topic.

Once I explained who I was (beyond just being a friend of Terry and Mary Anne) and what my educational and professional focuses are, Professor Emerson asked if he could pick my brain after class, I was happy to oblige. He is interested in conducting research on how culture has impacted the economic development of regions, which I think would be a fascinating project, so we had a great chat about the subject.

We both had somewhere to be at noon, but since I didn’t know exactly where I was supposed to go, he showed me the way. I actually had been given a couple of options for what I could do at noon, and I thought it might be interesting to attend a talk which I believe was about Qatari Arabic. However, when I got to the room, either the talk had already started or something else was going on, so I headed back towards the auditorium where Professor Emerson had gone, and where Terry said he would be at noon, to watch a film.
The main hall in CMU (from one of the bridges)
The film, which was done by PBS and presented by Nova, was about engineering teams trying to program vehicles (cars, trucks, even a motorcycle) to have the ability to drive themselves through a tricky desert course using only pre-programed hardware and software to navigate their way.

I thought it was incredible what the teams were able to accomplish and what the technology was/is capable of.

I said hi to Terry and Professor Emerson after the film and then headed over to the library to check out a study book for the GMAT. After getting the book, I went over to the café to grab a cup of tea before heading off to my last appointment of the day.

The last class I attended was a Logic class taught by Professor David Gray through Northwestern. He was quite funny and I think being in his class would be really fun.

Looking down on the common area
Trish also decided to sit-in on this class. She knew I would be there but she was also hoping to meet Professor Gray’s dad, who was also supposed to be there but whom we didn’t see. Trish is a Writing Counselor for Northwestern and often observes the different classes. Since she had a little time after the class before her next appointment with a student, and I had some time before Mary Anne came to pick me up, we walked back to her office and talked about Education City and its educational environment for a bit.

I noticed that within the campus, the atmosphere feels very American. Most of the professors are American, I believe, and many of the students dress exactly the way American students do in the States, though others dress more traditionally. The interaction between the professors and students also seems more Western. This is difficult to explain, but I can say that the back-and-forth discussion between them reminded me very much of a typical class back home.

In the afternoon, Mary Anne and I went to the grocery store, Carrefour, which is everywhere in the Middle East. I took this picture to demonstrate a point in a previous post about the signs telling you which country the different types of produce come from.
Grapes from the USA!
In the evening, Mary Anne and I went back to the Pearl to see some friends of hers. These friends were having a little gift sale of items which they bring over from Jordan and I think also Lebanon. The items are largely made by people with different disabilities who have a hard time getting other steady work, like the title-work place I visited in Madaba, Jordan.
From the apartment

The proceeds from the sales either go back to the companies where the items came from, and therefore back to the workers, or go to social organizations which work to provide safe environments for women and children who might otherwise be struggling.

The Pearl at night
They were playing Christmas music in the apartment and it made me excited for the approaching Christmas season. It has been a little hard for me to keep track of the progression of the year without the customary weather indicators which I am use to having at home. Here, it just feels like summer has sort of been put on repeat.

All in all, it was a pretty busy day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 66, Monday - Doha

I did my first job shadow in Doha today, at the Qatari Financial and Business Academy which provides training programs in different business skill sets. This seems to continue along my path of “continuing education” job shadows which has been an unintended side-focus of my trip.

View from the elevator
It is a company which has been growing quickly and is in the process of separating from its parent company, so while I am here for a couple of days, I will be helping them novate some of their contracts (move the ownership of the contract from the parent company over to QFBA) as well as do a few other things.

I was taken on a tour of the offices, and on two of the floors, they have some of the largest televisions (and I mean regular televisions, not jumbo-trons with giant pixels or projections on screens) I have ever seen: custom-made 99inch screens. They were too big for the elevators so it took something like half a dozen workers to carry them up the stairs over three days. They make for awesome presentations though.

It seems like a really interesting company with good programs, so I hope to learn more about it.

In the evening, Mary Anne took me to the housing development known as “The Pearl.” It is only partially complete with residential sky-scrapers, villas, marinas, and high-end shops. It was perfect weather for walking around a bit.

In case you want to pick out your new Ferrari or Mazerati, you can simply step out of your apartment building and voila!

Inside one of the the mall areas

I also got to pick out my new yacht:

Though I may have to save for a few years before I can actually buy it…

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 65, Sunday - Doha

*Thank you for your patience. And now...*

Today was a busy one.

The main street 
Mary Anne and I started out the day by going to the souq, Souq Waqif. We first walked down the main stretch and then through the small side streets. The souq is organized by what they are selling, so there is an area for textiles, another for repairs, another for food stuffs, etc.

One "sidestreet"

The first area we visited after the main street is one of Mary Anne’s favorites, and now one of mine as well: the falcon shops.

That’s right, there is a cluster of shops which sell falcons. Hunting with flacons is a popular pastime of Qataris and so the market for good birds is strong.

When we walked into the first shop, I was surprised to find the birds sitting in an area, surrounded by a short wall, just a few feet from us. The birds had hoods on, of course, to keep them calm. We walked through a few of the shops and saw gentlemen discussing the birds and possibly negotiating a sale.
Birds inside

Some were also outside in a courtyard

I love this picture:

I even got to hold one!

After the falcons, Mary Anne took me to a shop where a gentleman makes model dhows (boats). His shop was also full of other random and antique looking objects, such as old cameras and sewing machines. We also walked through the jewlery making/reparing area and the textile repair area.

Then we headed over to a gentleman known as “The Old Pearl Diver” who owns a pearl shop where he sells jewelry but he also was happy to tell us about his days as a pearl diver and then a body builder. Apparently he is quite famous for his talks about traditional pear diving and has a photo album full of newspaper articles written about him and pictures of him with all sorts of famous people, from athletes to politicians.

He told us all about how he and a bunch of guys would all go out on a ship for a couple months during the good weather of the year to harvest the pearls. On board the ship were the captain, the divers, and the divers’ helpers. The divers would put a clip on their noses and then each one would jump in the water with a heavy rock on a rope slipped around the foot to take them down. They also had a knife to cut the oysters and a basket tied to a rope in order to collect the oysters and to be used as a signal and a way for the helpers to pull the divers back up. The divers would typically stay down for about two minutes at a time.

Pearl diving was, and still is, an important part of the Gulf region’s economy.

After the pearl diver it was over to the spice section. The smell of the spices permeates the air so it is impossible to miss once you get anywhere close to it. I love the way they pile the spices. It reminds me of pyramids.

Next, we found ourselves in an area where the stores were selling pets. There was an amazing number and variety of birds as well as fish, lizards, bunnies, kittens, and turtles. I want one of these little turtles, I think they are adorable.

This kitten was also especially cute:

After our tour of the souq, we headed back to the car for our next stop: the sheep, goat, and camel market!

So, Mary Anne had warned me that if the sales guys at the market got too friendly, we would just get back in the car and drive away. I wasn’t too worried, but it is better to be prepared.

As we started to drive through the area (by the way, it was a slow time of day in terms of sales, I think most people do their livestock shopping in the morning or maybe the evening as well) the young men waved at us to try and flag us down in order to sell us something.

One gentleman’s waving seemed rather insistent and we thought that perhaps we weren’t supposed to be in that area. Mary Anne stopped the car and lowered her window. The guy walked over and asked what kind of sheep we were looking for.

Mary Anne told him that we didn’t want anything but that we were just looking. By this time several more guys had surrounded the vehicle and a few came over to my side of the car and were tapping on my window to try to get me to lower it, but I know better than that. :)
I took this later: can you see the finger marks on the car?

The guys on Mary Anne’s side started asking if I was Arab and if I was married. A couple more guys even brought over an adorable black baby goat for me to see and I really wanted to take a picture of it, and the guys, but I knew better than that as well because it would have only caused more of a scene. I think that by the time Mary Anne rolled up her window and started to drive away, there were about a dozen guys around the car. I’m not kidding. I thought it was funny. :)

May Anne said, “Well, it looks like we won’t be getting out of the car.” But, we did end up finding a sort of “alleyway” of the pens so that I could get out a take a couple of pictures.

From the sheep and goats we went over to the camels. There were lots of camels and a variety of colors:
Traditional "camel" color

Another black one for my mom (okay, so technically dark brown)

A white one
There were also baby camels:
Baby camel and its mom!
Next stop was the plant shop where Mary Anne wanted to pick up a couple of things for their house. And here is a picture of her at the store:

Then we went to see the fruit and vegetable market:

Mary Anne tells me that this is where the produce comes first before it is distributed to the stores around the city so this is where it is freshest. It is sort of arranged in a square pattern where the middle is open, one half is mostly fruits and then the other is mostly vegetables, then there is a second ring with more stalls that sell both.

After that it was off to Mega Mart, which is where you go for American products and where we stopped to pick up the turkey that Mary Anne had ordered for Thanksgiving! (She had actually ordered it several weeks before because I think they are not an easy thing to get, but they had been storing it for her since it is hard to keep a bird that big in the home freezer for very long.)

The last stop was “West Bay Petrol Mart” or something like that, which is like a gas station with a few little stores for different food items, a pharmacy, etc.

By this point it was time to head home.

Living at the Murphy’s is a cross between American and Middle Eastern culture; so, we had a more typical sit-down dinner, instead of the Middle Eastern sit-down lunch. We also ate at a more American time and I only ate as much as I felt like eating without feeling afraid of offending anyone by not eating more.

I have also been acquainted with the location of everything I need to make my black tea with low fat milk and sugar, and I have been assured that I can make it as often as I like. :)

And that was my first full day in Doha.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 64, Saturday - Dubai to Doha

Travel day!

After breakfast at the hotel, Asma took me to the airport for my flight to the last stop on my Middle East tour: Doha, Qatar. As always, it is hard to say goodbye to friends, but not so hard when you know you will see them again. :)

Entertaining Interlude:
Taken while waiting at the airport
I totally had a movie moment in the airport today: the Dubai airport has those moving sidewalks which are common in large airports. Now, every so often, there are breaks where you have to get off of one and onto the next one so that people can get to the different gates. Well, I had gotten off of one and was walking towards the next one when all of a sudden my heel got stuck. Turns out, there was a hole in the seal which connects the metal plate right in front of the moving sidewalk to the floor, and I had put my heel right in it. I tried to pull it out with my foot but it was too stuck, so I actually had to step out of my shoe, pull it out of the hole and put it back on my foot.

Then I continued on until I reached my gate where I sat for about an hour before I could go through the last security check to sit for another half hour or so before boarding.

While in Doha, I will be staying with Terry and Mary Anne Murphy who have been good friends of my parents for years and who come to Seattle about once a year to visit. They have been living in Doha for about nine years now and lived in Oman for many years before that.

Mary Anne met me at the airport and brought me back to the house.
"My" room
After settling in a bit, we went to visit their friends, David and Trish Seepy (I need to check the spelling of their last name so my apologies if it is really off at the moment, I have only heard it, not seen it written down) for coffee/tea.

They are all such kind people but it is a little funny for me to be back around so many Americans.

Doha will likely be a sort of “half-way house” for me in terms of transitioning back to American culture. ;)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 63, Friday - Dubai

Today I met up with Todd Leyland, who I met when I was here three years ago and who has known my father for years, and his wife Sonia. 

The market at JBR Walk

They took me to this beautiful area known as the Jumeriah Beach Residents Walk which is right along the coast and has lots of little restaurants and coffee shops along a boardwalk type path.

Todd and me
The weather was absolutely perfect, like a sunny summer day in Seattle. There was a little outdoor market going on and lots of people were out because it was the weekend.


We went to a nice sushi place for lunch and then strolled around a bit more. We also stopped in a Starbuck’s:
Todd and Sonia

We also went over to Dubai Creek:

A little later in the afternoon, we went back to their apartment and I met Sonia’s son and the four of us visited well into the evening.

It was a beautiful and relaxing day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 62, Thursday - RAK to Dubai

*Sorry but I can't upload more pictures until I buy space (turns out there is a limit of free space and I have used it all up :) ). I will work on that, but right now it is very late so I will work on it tomorrow. For now, you will have to use your imagination!*

*Yay for pictures! So, if I go back and compress the images I get more space, but as this is a very time consuming process to copy, compress, and replace the images, I will try do only do as much as I need. Anyways, enjoy!*

Today (November 18th) is a big day for three reasons:

1.) It is the 40th National Day of Oman! Happy National Day to all my Omani friends!

2.) It marks the two month point of my trip.

3.) It is my birthday. :)

So hooray all around! Asma and I had decided that because I had to fly out of Dubai, we should go a couple days early so that I could see the city a bit.

After breakfast, and my pot of tea of course, we finalized our packing and headed out late morning. This requires another map:
Look! It's a complete triangle!
Our first stop in Dubai was the Gold Souq (market). After a bit of driving, we found it and I got out to walk through the area.

After the souq, we drove into the city a bit more and I took a couple pictures of a few buildings for you:
Through a tinted window which is why it's kind of bluish.
Then it was time for lunch with a friend of Asma’s who took us to a place called Shakespeare & Co. next to the Burj Khalifa (formerly known as “Burj Dubai” and currently the tallest building in the world. It’s tall. Really tall. By the way “burj” means “building”).

I really enjoyed the restaurant which had a sort of British mixed with Middle Eastern feel. I typically think of English places as being very cozy with lots of little details to fill up space, while Middle Eastern design tends to be more open and fewer bigger things. This had the tables and chairs in a British style but with a Middle Eastern open-air arrangement.
Oh, I also learned that you can't smoke inside in Dubai. Not that I smoke, just an interesting fact, and coming from a city where smoking is also banned indoors, I appreciated the smoke-free environment. You can still smoke outside though.

The menus were like old, hard-backed books and I had the most amazing chicken with a mushroom sauce, and I’m not even that big a fan of mushrooms.

Burj Khalifa
The restaurant is in a sort of mall type place which leads to the plaza in front of the Burj Khalifa. This plaza boasts the largest “dancing water display” timed with music in the world. We caught the tail end of the show and I only snapped this picture before it ended. I have been told that it is really something at night. I thought it was impressive during the day so I am really hoping to see it at night.

The indoor "souq"

Burj Al-Arab

After checking into our hotel, which was a bit away from the center of town, we arranged to meet up with a few of Asma’s friends and go to the Burj Al-Arab for coffee/tea/light dinner. One of her friends is an Emirati psychologist while the other is an American guy whose mother became friends with Asma after she, Asma, gave a talk at a college in Alaska. It’s a little tricky to follow, but it helps if you know that Asma has traveled quite a bit and has friends everywhere. :)

After a bit of an effort to get in to the Burj Al-Arab (turns out you need a reservation, which is a newer rule and one we were not aware of before we arrived), we went up to the “coffee lounge” area where we chatted while listening to a beautiful classical quartet.

After our light meal, the hostess brought over a dessert with a candle in it and the string quartet played happy birthday for me, it was really nice and I enjoyed it very much. After “Happy Birthday,” they played “Time to Say Goodbye” which was not a request, but happens to be one of my favorite classical crossover songs.

We took a little tour of the building before heading out. Keith, the American guy, invited me to hang out with some of his friends for the evening so we went to his place to meet his friends and then to a “beach bar” which is kind of like a “beach club” in my opinion. There was an upper area where you enter and then stairs down to the beach where there was a live DJ.

I got a bottle of water from the bar, I know, exciting, but it reminded me that I have forgotten to make an important note in my blog. I have been drinking a lot more water here than I do at home, mostly out of necessity as it has been so hot (that wasn't the important note by the way). The thing I have forgotten to mention, is that it has been cooling off lately. When you step outside in the morning, it is often cool now. Don't worry though, it still warms up quite a bit during the day.

At the end of the evening I hopped in a cab back to the hotel and had a good night’s sleep after a very fun and busy day. :)