A Month in the Desert

>> Thursday, December 28, 2006

Armed with courage, hope and my new (but rickety) Walkman Phone, I boarded Qatar Airways bound for Doha.

When I touched ground, everybody here said I came at the perfect time--Asian Games, cool weather, and fasting season done with.

That was November 27, exactly a month ago. I mentioned the walkman phone purposefully because I love music and I find it amusing sometimes that half the songs on my playlist have been accurate enough to speak a part of what's been happening in my life here so far. So here's the buzz on my first thirty days in the desert and the songs that helped rubbed my fate on my face.

"You say the word you know I will find you
Or if you need some time I don't mind
I don't hold on to thetail of your kite."
-"Sleeps With Butterflies" by Tori Amos

I've posted this song before (see "Fly Then Boy" post) and yes I know it's really about this girl who got laid and promised not to do a Fatal Attraction on a guy but I see it in a different perspective. I mean, on the guy's part--that I am leaving loved ones, family and friends, but I want them to be there when I get back. I played this song over and over again before I left Davao and played it one more time before the plane left Hong Kong for Doha ("Airplanes take you away again..."), talk about great musical scoring! (Oh and probably because this was the track I used for Apple's (Martin's sistah) wedding vid [sorry Apple, had to put that song in, hope you like it].

"Hey love,
I am a constant satellite
of your blazing sun.
My love,
I obey your law of gravity;
this is the fateyou’ve carved on me,
Your law of gravity..
this is the fateyou’ve carved on me.. on me."
-"Gravity" by Vienna Teng

My first few days here was terrible. Before I left my "comfortable" life in Davao I demanded from my mom that she make sure that I'll earn at least twice of what I earn in Davao, have my own room with toilet and have a car or a car plan. So imagine my big Big BIG disappointment when I found out that none of those ever existed, or would seem to exist as of now. The night I arrived here they left me in a newly renovated building that has around 16 rooms up and down. All rooms were empty and the Arabian interiors have that Cosmopolitan look (and I'm not talking about the modern city, I'm refering to the funeral parlor). And (pun alert) dig this ...my room had to be at the very end of the second floor so it's like a stupid horror movie setup where the audience asks: "why does the damn room had to be at the very end of the hall?". Creepy. Nobody stayed with me that night, my FIRST night and I just thank God that I was so tired cause I would've freaked out if I had the strength left to imagine even Casper the friendly ghost floating about outside my room.

My room is not that big. Technically it's not a room, more like a stockroom because it has no windows. A slave area save for the old rusty AC that's positioned exactly below a rain drainpipe so it gets really noisy when this desert gets a "blessing" ie rain. But it's not just MY room because I'm bunking with a 50-year old Chinese guy. There are two double decks so we assume that two more poorly accomodated people may soon join our happy little place in the desert. I remember my mom saying to me: "yes, of course you will have your own room, I made sure of that." Right. Strike One.

"It wastes time And I'd rather be high
Think I'll walk me outside And buy a rainbow smile
But be free
They're all free"
- "Maybe Tomorrow" by Stereophonics

It's become a habit of mine to walk here. Everyday I walk around the neighborhood just to entertain myself. Sometimes the walks are short, at times...let's just say at times people think I'm stupid for not taking a cab.
My first few days, I had to walk for miles like you won't believe! (well, except for PJ maybe) At least 2 hours of walking to get to a place then 2 more to go back. I had to . Doha is so rich that not so many people need public transportation. And gasoline is only 80 cents a liter--almost everyone would rather have a car than pay 20 bucks for a cab (which are as rare as the national animal Oryx). So I walked. And that's how I learned about the way of life in Qatar and saw for myself first hand that this place is in fact a gem. Simply beautiful in its own modest way.

Thus the song by Vienna Teng up there ^. It was on one of those loooong walks that I truly listened to the song and it humbled me. I forgot all my disappointments and just accepted my fate. Law of gravity, you can't do anything about it...besides, I heard those zero-gravity boots are way too expensive.

"Any minute now,
my ship is coming in
I'll keep checking the horizon
I'll stand on the bow,
feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me...
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin"
- "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin" by Colin Hay

I was walking along Doha's bayside Al Cornich one night when this song played exactly when I reached the spot where the old Arabian boats docked. So now you see how man forms a religion. It takes proper timing (song with "ship" for a metaphor + a boat visual = proper timing) and I'm left with two options: either I call it coincidence or divine providence.

The Al Corniche walk lasted for over an hour. That was my last long walk so far. Those walks helped me accept my fate and formulate a plan while I'm here. The plan is to just go with the flow and aggressively step up the ladder once in a while. Get a job, have a business on the side, build that business slowly and hopefully hit it big someday.

Which brings me to a rather sad note.

"You've got your love online
You think youre doing fine
But youre just plugged into the wall......
Well I know what Ive been told
You gotta know just when to fold
But I cant do this all on my own
No, I know Im no Superman
Im no Superman"
- "I'm No Superman" by Lazlo Bane

The song sounds happy but I get a big lump in my throat everytime it gets to the "I'm No Superman" part. I am strong (I think) and I have big plans but I can't do this all on my own (for lack of a better phrase).

Anyway, my first two weeks was basically touristy-sentimental-get-over-it episode. Two weeks is all you need to establish a routine. So basically, my "work" is this...I wake up at 7am. I have to because the only shower room is downstairs and people come in to work at 8am (it sucks living in the same building where you work).
Doha has its way and here work stops at noon then resumes at 4pm to 7pm (that is if you are working at a normal workplace).

But here in this building, people leave at 10pm-12midnight. We can't sleep until everyone has left cause we need to lock the doors. No, Im not a security guard, but staying up a little late affords me to watch the only access to television that I have: YOUTUBE and of course the chance to get connected with the people I love, cause I need love, I'm no Superman.

I'm no computer technician either!

My boss told me that the occupation written on my Work Visa says "Computer Technician". What?! How the hell did that happen? The only technician-ish thing I can do is clean the dirt off the mouse ball. The deal was for my amo to get me into Al Jazeera Network for a training at least, and now it looks like I'm never going to land a job that is remotely close to my expertise, not with a "computer technician" tag! And until now it looks like nobody plans to give me any sort of compensation here. Strike Two. So yeah, I can also forget about the car. Strike Three. Out? In a different sense but no, I'm still in the game. (That's the spirit!)

And what the hell?! I'm no security guard!

Like I said, I'm not a security guard nor a janitor. Sometimes I wish my occupation was as clear as a guard or janitor because right now, I have no idea what I am doing here. This building is a newly opened Education Center. It's weird because my amo and his comrades are leasing out the rooms in this building for those who are interested to run a training school of some sort (so that's what all these BBs are for harhar). So I'm stationed at the reception area because apparently I'm a "computer genius", after all I'm a "computer technician". Yey, I get to use the computer! But I also get to stand up and shake hands with every single Arab who comes in. Since I don't know these people, I assume they are important businessmen and offer them a big smile. The next day the same people come in and bring cans of paint and used rollers. Some people in the
office are annoying and think I'm their secretary they ask me to do emails and letters for them, print out reports and teach them how to surf the net. Some people also think I can make them tea or coffee, but I smile and say "you want to make tea? go make some, it's for free." Yes, I can dare to say that because nobody pays me a single cent until now.

"So I turn to you and I say
Thank goodness for the good souls
that make life better
So I turn to you and I say
If it wasn't for the good souls,
life would not matter"
-"The Good Souls" by The Doves

Everyday it's Babel in this building. A Chinese guy, some Arabs, a Sudanese, a Syrian and a Filipino, any other race interested to join the discussion is welcome. It's fun at times to exchange languages but it's often frustrating. Even the sign language gets confusing. One time I asked this Sudanese woman if she has eaten already signalling with my hand and she just stared at me blankly. I found out later that in Aladdinland that hand gesture meant "wait". I must've looked stupid. The good thing is, even though he hasn't given my salary (yet...I hope), my amo treats me like family (I sleep at their house on weekends, whew! Thank goodness for the good souls). He has a 14yr old son but he takes me to his weekend lunch instead cause the kid doesnt like to wear skirts in public (the boss speaks arabic of course so I have no idea if he's introducing me to friends or just bragging about his new slave, kidding! hehehe). I
stay in his son's room on weekends by the way, and it's cool cause the kid speaks English so after a week of silence with a 50-year old Chinese, I get to have interesting conversation with a 14-year old kid! Back to the lunches--facinating. I've been to one that had 30 guests, all men of course, cause females are in hiding. We all sat and had tea in this big sala and ate in this really long table. And I've said this before but I'll say it again, though the food is good, there's just something weird about how Arabs eat. Let's just say that for people who don't eat pork, they certainly make up for it with the way they eat...gives pig-out a whole new perspective. Don't get me wrong, I don't see anything wrong with how they eat, it's just different and they seem to love eating, like it's not a meal if it's not a feast.

But Arabs are really cool guys (there are rude Arabs but then I'd like to call them rude people) They all look like Jesus. Every time they talk, it's like from the heart, so just imagine how sincere sounding they are. It's common knowledge of course that Arab men speak softly but carry a big stick. But let's not get into that. However, I will testify that I haven't met an Arab nor even passed by another one who stunk. Unlike what we always thought, Arabs are actually nice smelling (but they say wait till the summer when the desert heats up, then say "nice smelling" again in one breath). They love designer perfume and I even have a mental guessing game as to what scent they are wearing when I get a hint.

I'm getting off track. It's supposed to be all about the routine. On routine days, I wake up at 7, do normal office work til noon, have a quick lunch, YM from 1pm-4pm, back to work at 4pm, have my nightly stroll around the block at 7pm, entertain visitors who keep coming in and out from 8pm til 11pm, have a late dinner and watch Youtube til I get sleepy. Some days I get to go out, on birthdays, meetings, errands, etc. On weekends (Thurs-Friday) I spend it at my amo's house with his kids. I usually watch a movie before going back to work on Saturdays. And yes, I do my laundry and ironing without the help of a maid.

The month went by fast but it was very eventful even in the most boring days.
The highlights?

  • The extremely long walks.

  • Giving the Chinese guy the silent treatment.

  • Exploring the culture.

  • Meeting interesting people and friends.

  • Meeting the Mentor Tim Tayag (on foot haha yourself).

  • Having a taste of the Doha party scene.

  • Buying Robbie Williams' Rudebox.

  • Getting Qatar-style medical check-up.

  • Soaking in the Souq (old downtown).

  • Not-so-impressive but fun buffet at Ponderosa with the foster family.

  • Processing my Qatar ID.

  • Watching the Asian Games soccer finals Qatar vs Iraq.

  • Watching the boss' internet Cafe for a day.

  • Sealing my first month with two cans of Heineken on a cold night at Al Corniche.

That's about it. This has been a long one. I'll probably blog more from now on since I'm fairly settled. Not fully settled, but settled enough.

"I know I can be colorful,
I know I can be great.
And I know this loser's living fortunate
Cause I know
you will love me either way."
- "Colorful" by Verve Pipe

Oh I could just cry with this song. It starts with "Show is over close the story book". My show is far from over I know but guess what, a month has passed and if my stay here in Qatar is a story, then Chapter one just rolled by. Eleven more chapters to go before we close this story book. In the meantime, I know I can still be "colorful" in an otherwise anti -"colorful" society. The best line in Colorful is "you stayed for drama though you paid for a comedy". I say that to all who stuck with me even when times were and are tough. Thank you all. Love you all. Miss you all. OUT.


Shabu-shabu, the fattening kind

>> Monday, November 27, 2006

My visit to Hong Kong this year is more pleasant. The last time I was here my mom and I used to fight and argue about almost anything and I showed my rebel side by smoking in front of her. But that was a good couple of years ago and while the buildings here remain the same, I have changed. I quit smoking and after coming out to my mom she has understood me better. So now we're just enjoying our time together, like pigging out on buffet hot pot or shabu-shabu and snapping greeting card worthy poses at the Christmas displays in Central. I love my mom and tis the season to be merry. I Can't wait to be back...and do some serious shopping.


Just Like Family

It's very rare that you find friends who make you feel at home. And with a bunch composed of virtual orphans and stowaways, it's not hard to instantly form a bond that's almost as strong as family. It's touching enough to know they'll miss you when you leave...wait til they cry. sniff.

Gonna miss you guys. Just hang in there, I'll see you again soon.


Red Team

>> Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's not often you get to see 15 year olds in a 4th grade class, so when I entered P4 at UMAH International Primary School as a substitute teacher I didn't know whether to be shocked or be pleased with the potential hahaha!

The kids' teacher resigned so I had to take over. I asked them what they were doing before I came in and they said they were busy preparing for the coming sportsfest. Then I asked them which team I belonged to and they shouted "Pink!" hehehe kidding! Red team! Cool, I'm pitted against Diane and Espie. Anyway, the children proved to be a tough bunch so I took out the camera and started taking team photos just to calm them a little bit.

Seriously though, it's my first time to handle a class and even though there are only 18 of them it was hard. It's hard because most of these kids know little English. Even harder because P4 is notoriously the nastiest batch in the whole school (Teacher Zoe, the Cantonese teacher, broke her glass in anger while teaching the kids Chinese lessons that day!) Well, I survived my first day anyway with a little strain in my throat.

I taught them comparatives '-er'. And here's the best example and my tactic for the rest of my stint here: 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer'


Green Team

>> Monday, November 20, 2006

Dianne and Espie. My mum's pals. They're teachers at UMAH primary school and they're proud to announce that they're members of the school's green team (for the sportsfest), that they once met and were amused by Ariel and Maverick este Anthony and Derf, and that they have Brit national husbands.

Amazingly patient folk, these two waited for 30mins in the resto. The Chinese waitress brought in a different dish and they had to wait 48 years more. No thanks to the language barrier...else the waitress would've gotten the 'award' of her life. Ü


Burger now, bar later

Antonio's restobar may not be Yeric's but I have faith that we'll soon have our own merry place. With Antonio's burger biz in its peak even Spongebob will give up flipping burgers and dine in Yeric's fancy resto...soon.


In good hands?

I know it's not clear but the TV in the background was playing Doraemon my favorite cartoon ü

We were eating in this Chinese restaurant (of course here in HK they drop the Chinese part and just call it a restaurant) when I noticed my familiar blue friend popping gadgets out of its pocket. Suddenly I'm all smiles! Never mind the dirty utensils and sloppy service, never mind the long wait and the overpriced food, and never mind the smokers because Doraemon will find ways to make life easy. If only they didn't put it on mute, I've always been curious of Doraemon's real voice.


Fly then boy

The flight to Hong Kong was the start of the journey into the unknown. Unlike my previous trips this one was the one I was least excited about.

In a little over a week I'll be in a strange land with sand and oil and no one to run to in case temporary insanity kicks in.

On the plane, the only thing that kept me in the comfort zone was Tori Amos' Sleeps With Butterflies on loop..'You say the word you know I will find you, or if you need some time I don't mind. I won't hold on to the tail of your kite. I'm not like the girls that you've known but I believe I'm worth coming home to. Kiss away night this girl only sleeps with butterflies. So go on and fly then, boy.' Well, it's really a song FOR me not BY me.

Oh, if the blog entries seem short, it's because I'm doing this on my phone. Multitap can be so discouraging ü


Fare thee well...

...trading all our words for tea and sympathy...

Or coffee. So this was how we looked like on my last night out in Davao City (the last few nights before my departure we hung out in more 'grown-up' places, more talk less bump and grind). It was a confirmation of sorts--friends are family, family will be less friendly, and destiny does not know the meaning of 'perfect timing'.


Cofi guys

>> Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Yeric and ezer hangin out at D'Barista,a new coffee shop in Davao City.




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Thirtysomething educator who holds the secret to the meaning of life. =P

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