Hello, (a Different Part of the) World

Last week I traveled to Dubai and Qatar, a vacation with my spouse and an opportunity to see the Middle East.

Dubai was luxurious, a center of wealth and commerce, a spot where my spouse wanted to indulge in some well-deserved pampering. But I got out often, mostly on foot, and explored the environs (Deira City).

I really enjoyed the Middle Eastern cuisine, and foul medames is going to be rotated into my carb-free diet. Of course, it being a Muslim country, you’re out of luck if you’re craving (pork) bacon – I wasn’t – but it was interesting to see the alternatives: had I access to a kitchen, I would have loved to try the veal bacon we found in a supermarket. And beef bacon, which I did have, could also rotate into my diet, it being much less greasy (that’s a feature) than pork bacon.

Being an aficionado of tall buildings (my when-I-grow-up goal from the age of 12 to 16 or so was to be an architect), I had to go up the Burj Khalifa, at 2717 feet the tallest building on Earth. It was almost comical how tall it is, literally towering over the 1000+ foot buildings around it. A beautiful piece of architecture, and well worth the price.

We stayed at the Park Hyatt, a western-style hotel, but one matching the design of the older Middle East, as opposed to the glass-and-steel buildings in the area that could have been in the skyline of Chicago.

A couple of matters about Dubai: I’d read online that they’re very strict about bringing things into the country, specifically alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, including prescription medications. So I spent some time beforehand, getting copies of my prescriptions, then anxiously awaited the full-body and cavity searches when I arrived.

Hah. It’s simpler to get into a Smithsonian museum than to go through customs in Dubai. In fact, I wasn’t really sure that I was going through it until I was done. That’s it? Much worrying for nothing, and I guess for the first time, there was incorrect information on the Internet.

Note: Dubai is dry, i.e., alcohol isn’t sold, except in hotels, where it is insanely expensive, at five to ten times the cost in a store over here. But at the Dubai airport, you can go through the duty-free shop on the way out of the airport and bring up to five bottles out. So, for all my readers who are going to Dubai and want to drink wine while you’re there, that’s my helpful tip. You’re welcome.

Dubai is also very orderly. I noticed that people don’t even jaywalk, even at night with no cars around, and just patiently wait for the pedestrian signal to switch to green.

On to Qatar, to the west. I traveled there alone, while the missus left in the opposite direction, back to where she is currently working. I had an overnight layout in Doha, so I took off, on foot, and walked up to Souk Waqif, an outdoor (mostly) market to the north of the city. Getting up there was no easy feat, since my own feet were frequently ensconced in a nice thicket of mud, left there by the recent rain. Evidently when you almost never get rain, you don’t build drains for the roads, so much of the water went onto the “sidewalks”, i.e., the area, possibly but not necessarily paved, alongside the roads.

And Qatar is not orderly. I had a couple of close calls with cars: there evidently is no right of way for pedestrians. More like “you can get right out of the way”. That might be one reason that I encountered nearly no one else during my five or six mile stroll around the city.

Souk Waqif was fascinating. I love being a fish out of water, and as a nearly-stereotypical North American, I didn’t fit in at all. Perfect. Nearly everyone there was Arabic, but there were enough written and spoken English that I didn’t have any difficulty.

I saw and listened to an outdoor performance, and Middle Eastern music is becoming a new favorite, especially since I tend to like music that others abhor (metal, old country and western, and disco). On the plane I listened to El Liala’s Khalina Lewahdina, a very catchy mixture of Arabic music and disco (sorry, I mean “hip-hop”), and I must have listened to it ten times.

At Souk Waqif I went to an outdoor cafe and had an excellent dinner: lamb and chicken kabobs, moutabai, fattouch, and a couple of (non-alcoholic) drinks, whose names escape me. I also enjoyed, for the first time, a shisha, of grape and mint. I need one of those. (Off Jeff goes to Amazon … ). I guess that’s what is otherwise known as a hookah. Well, consider my horizons broadened.

After I ordered my dinner (and yes, this blog entry is about to have a reference to programming, so those of you that have stuck this far will have your patience rewarded), I got out my phone and decided to do a little Scrabble practice. See, I’ve been writing an Android app (my first) to help me (and anyone else) practice Scrabble words. I’m a big-time Scrabble fan (jpace317 on Origin), and
although I’m decent at bingos, I’m trying to up my game with the three- and four-letter words. (I’m looking in your direction, zax and chay.)

So I fired up my app, XuMoQi, and the first query was: “.uq” (as in, what is the missing letter). Answer, “suq”, a variant spelling of … wait for it … “souk”. As in Souk Waqif. Holy freaking moley.

(I seem to have a bit of a weird-timing record with serendipitous moments like that, such as my car finally giving up the ghost (actually, its transmission, at 175,038 miles), while I was driving out to the dealer to buy my new car. Oh, and adding to the weirdness is that it was on my birthday.)

Anyway, that’s the story of my travels.

Oh, and back home: after fourteen hours in the air, at the airport there was no question about when I was going through the passport check and customs. I wanted to apologize to those in the non-U.S. citizens queue, given that it looked like they would be waiting for at least an hour to get through. So to all my non-U.S. citizen readers who landed at Dulles airport the afternoon of 12 January 2014, on behalf of the entire United States of America, I offer my most profound apologies.

The reading material of choice during the trip: Sway, Evolution of Useful Things, Code, and Don’t Put Me In, Coach. The last book was light reading material, and perfect for unwinding on the plane. If you ever spent time as a bench-warming basketball player (I’m looking in my own direction here), I highly recommend it.