So I'm here. I think. Hard to tell I've arrived because, well, Doha can look pretty familiar to an American. On my street alone I've got a heart attack of US franchises, flashing bright red neon signs in two languages. Chili's is considerably more appealing in Arabic, I'll have you know. You've got your McDonald's and Burger King, Hardee's and the like, but the group includes a few I wouldn't expect (Dairy Queen? Johnny Rockets?? Ponderosa?!). The streets are relatively neat and tidy, the buildings dutifully scrape the sky, the doormen are deferential and the bars are filled with beer-swilling, sports-watching professional types.
So you stroll into H&M to look into some duds and you notice a group of veiled women waiting in line to buy their clo...Wait. Where am I? Oh, right, the Gulf. Where all of these cities -- yes, I'm looking at you, Dubai, and you, too, Abu Dhabi; Sharjah and Manama you can join in as well -- are competing to be the most seductive port of call for international bankers and glamorous stars of sport and film, media power players and wealthy businessmen of all stripes. The Gulf may be the only region in the world where the leadership is consciously and purposefully building castles not for the use and improvement of its own citizens but for the delectation of the foreign hordes. Not a moment too soon, either -- about three-fourths of Doha is foreign-born. And here I've come. Am I impressed? Am I enjoying it? Has it bowled me over? Eh.
Which reminds me, what am I doing here? Oh right, the journalism, the reporting, finding stories and sniffing out leads and making contacts and getting the answers. I've done a little of that:
And I'll do more. But for now I'm just trying to get my bearings. What helped most we're the eye-rolling, drool-inducing, try-one-and-you-must-eat-ten kebabs in Souq Waqif. Al Hateem restaurant you have rescued Doha from every-place hell, and I thank you heartily. Shabu W Masa you can take a bow as well, but your franchising ways have me doubting your authenticity. I'm watching you.
Some more images from the first fortnight (I took these with my phone, apologies for the poor quality -- I'll be busting out my camera soon enough):
A shot of "The Mummy" in Souq Waqif, a fantastic old Egyptian flick screened during the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in a great open square abutting the old market in downtown Doha.
A view of West Bay, or the Towers, as their known, from across the bay. Like little boys, they grow taller every day.
At the supermarket Carrefour, above each produce selection is a sign telling you the country in which it was grown. European varieties, you can see, are a bit more costly than those from the developing world - three times more expensive in this case. Predictably, immigrant laborers take the cheaper varieties, and Western expats go with what they know. Qataris? Well they do like their status symbols.
The Villaggio Mall replicates a Venetian street scene. This is indoors -- see the H&M to the left, and you might be able to make out the clouds and blue sky painted on the ceiling, in the upper left corner. This canal is plied all day and evening by what may be the world's only motorized gondola. Even in Vegas the gondoliers actually propel the boat. Not here. But that doesn't deter the steady stream of ride seekers.