Saturday, February 7, 2009

R&R in Qatar

I'm on my last full day in Qatar, so I figured it was time for an update. My downtime here has been pretty decent. The food has been great (among other things, they have actual green lettuce!), the plumbing all works, the air doesn't make me choke, and the other cars on the street are unlikely to explode.

On the one hand it's all pretty awesome. On the other hand, it's kinda sad that this registers as awesome. In fact, on day 2 I found myself sitting in the bathroom and I was so overwhelmed by how clean it was that I almost didn't want to leave. I actually started thinking of ways that I could spend my whole day in the stall, just enjoying the cleanliness. Clearly my head needs to be recalibrated.

But I digress.

Since I arrived at about 0300 on the first day, that day counted as a travel day and not one of my four alloted R&R days. Once we were bussed over to Camp As-Sayliyah from the Air Force base where we landed, we were all briefed on what we can and can't do while we're here. We are allowed to have up to three drinks per day. We are not allowed to take pictures of the base itself. We are allowed to wear civilian clothes. We are not allowed to buy knives out in town. There's more, but it's not important.

While I'm here I'm sharing a room with seven other officers. The most junior is an Army captain and the most senior is a lieutenant colonel, but I don't see much of them. There are a lot of tours that are available for the asking, but mostly I've just been glad that I don't have to wake up early in the morning and go sit in an office for hours on end. It's better doing nothing here than it is doing nothing in a combat zone.

Since I'm not allowed to take pictures while I'm out and about on the base, I've had to settle for pictures indoors as well as out in town. Here's the view inside the "Top Off" club. Essentially it's the back half of a warehouse with bars built inside. There's also a small bowling alley, concert stage, hi-speed wireless internet, and so on.

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In the same building they have the USO. It's loaded with high-end home theater setups, a whole host of video game consoles, a Green Bean coffee shop, and dozens of desktop computers and telephones so folks can browse the web or call home. It really is a pretty good deal.

One of the really impressive parts is the DFAC (Dining FACility for those of you who haven't been exposed to Army stupid) which is huge. By huge I mean a building that should be measured in acreage. There's every kind of everything you could choose to eat and lots of it. There's even a Breyer's ice cream bar inside.

I ended up sleeping through most of day zero of my R&R, but I was awake in time to grab my three drinks (they only serve alcohol from 1800 to midnight) and poke around online for a bit.

On day one I took the tour of the local "souqs" or markets. The first stop was at the gold souq, where they sell all manner of jewelry and gemstones. I ended up not buying anything there because I really didn't know what I was looking at and couldn't guess what any of it was worth.

The next stop was at the "old souq" which turned out to be pretty interesting. On the outside it was every bit the exotic, middle-eastern locale:

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And on the inside it did not disappoint:
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The whole place was an amazingly complex labyrinth, chock full of random knick-knackery, antiquities, and handicrafts. While it was all interesting to look at, none of it turned out to be anything I needed. While we were there, a couple of the guys and I decided to stop at a hookah bar and try some grape-flavored tobacco.
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I may be limited to three drinks a day, but nobody said how much hookah smoke I could have:
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There was also no limit to how much paint I could huff, but I didn't get around to that.

On day two I woke up in time for breakfast. Then I ended up camping out on base, wandering through the little base exchange and getting caught up on some reading. It was a pretty laid-back day and I had a good time. I also spent some time on one of the USO's XBOX360s and very nearly beat HALO 3 in the morning. While I've been gone the wife bought a Wii, so I may need to get myself a 360. We'll see.


On day 3 I went to the Villagio Mall, easily one of the most ridiculously ostentatious monuments to capitalism I've ever seen. Supposedly it's based on the Venetian in Las Vegas. I've never been there, so I'll have to take their word for it. All I know is that it's been a long time since I've seen such an overwhelmingly flamboyant display of affluence:
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I need one.
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For the most part, the stores inside are your standard collection of readily recognizable Western stores. Like Louis Vuitton:
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The whole place is designed to give you the feeling you're actually walking around Venice. I've never been there either, but I do like the idea of building the outdoors indoors. I'm not sure how, but I plan on using this concept somewhere else sooner or later:
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This miniature version of Venice even included canals:
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Complete with gondolas:
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If that wasn't goofy enough, there's also a full-sized ice-skating rink in one end of the mall. I sat and watched a few minutes of a hockey game there while I had some Coldstone ice cream. It wasn't exactly what I'd've anticipated doing during my vacation in the middle of the desert, but it was a good time all the same.

Just like any mall in the US, they had cars for sale by local dealers on display in the concourses:
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Of course, theirs are a little more exotic than ours:
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This is a Swedish-made Koenigsegg. I want one of them too.
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It's not the 4,172cc, 806hp V8 engine that makes me want it though. Nor is it the 4,450,000 Qatari riyal (about $1.22million) price tag, or the 3.2 second 0-100 km/h accelleration. It's the all carbon fiber body with the visible laminate that really caught my eye. It looks like a really shiny grey color in the above pictures, but the real beauty of the body is only apparent when you look closer:
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The down side: carbon fiber composites like this usually turn yellow and look pretty nasty after prolonged exposure to UV radiation. So the car will be gorgeous until it sits in the sun for too long. At that point, the only way to make it pretty again is to replace the entire body. I suppose that's really not a problem though unless you plan on leaving it parked outside for a few years.

There was a lot of other expensive stuff to be had there though. Like this $4,000 mirror:
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It didn't take long to decide I didn't need the mirror, but I almost decided to buy this $400 checkers set (probably just because it was shiny):
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In the end I settled for a cup of Starbucks coffee (21 Qatari riyals, or about $6 US) and called it good enough:
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To be honest, as interesting as the place was, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I stopped in the Carrefour store (essentially Europe's answer to Wal Mart) and was overwhelmed by the crowds. The locals are more of a cologne people than a bath people and they don't seem to have the same regard for personal space that we do in the US. So after squeezing my way through the throng to pick out a few things I decided I needed and waiting in line with a bunch of stinky folks who weren't shy about pushing or leaning against me, it was time to go back to the base. At this point I've got about a hundred dollars worth of Qatari riyals in my pocket and absolutely no desire to go out and spend them.

Day four (today) started whenever I woke up (around 1400). It's been pretty low-key so far. I'm halfway through my third glass of wine and I've just found out that I will be flying out tomorrow evening. This gives me most of the day to putter around, get packed, and so on. It also means that I can stay up late tonight with no concern for when I need to wake up.

Since I flew here on a jam-packed C-130 and the whole crowd of us are flying back at the same time, tomorrow will be another opportunity for a really jacked-up air travel story. Fun.

Stay tuned.

4 comments:

  1. Yes, the mall looks exactly like the Venetian in Las Vegas, right down to the fake clouds. I've stayed there several times for the annual AutoCAD conference.
    You may not be enjoying this interuption to your life - but you will have amazing stories for all of us when you get home!
    Be safe, son-in-law! We're planning one heckuva party for you this summer!

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  2. It really does look exactly like it, it's incredible. And ridiculous :) haha.

    Sorry for my prying curiosity, what did you drink at Starbucks? Did they have a full menu?

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  3. I love the DFAC. What more could one ask than for a Milkshake bar and a TCN barista at the ready.

    Dude, I had no idea you were going to Qatar for RnR, you're only a few hundred miles from me....If I had known we could have totally not met up.

    Yes, swimsuit mags are now illegal here in Bahrain too, along with tons of interesting websites.

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  4. Brenda, While I won't claim to have your thorough familiarity with the menu, they did seem to have everything I'd normally expect at the Starbucks. I wasn't looking all that close though, I was busy being angry at the jostling locals.


    Brock,
    If you'd like, we can not meet up in Afghanistan or Kuwait or Mississippi too. Possibly even a couple of places in Europe along the way as well. However, we will not be able to not meet up in Seattle come July.

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