12 Things I've Learned in Qatar: #12 - Walk, Ride and Drive at Your Own Risk

>> Sunday, October 28, 2007

In a month I'll be a year old in Doha. I thought I'd look back and list the things I have learned the past twelve months in what I wittingly call: 12 Things I've Learned in Qatar.

#12 - Walk, Ride and Drive at Your Own Risk

A confession: the first time I rode a taxi in Doha, the driver charged me QR50 for a trip that, I later found out, would've cost only 15 bucks. It was one of those old yellow taxis. The good thing is that they're all phased out now.

After that incident, I began walking. City Center to Suoq: an hour and a half. Al Sadd to Bin Omran: 45 minutes. Al Rayyan to TV Roundabout: one hour. TV Roundabout to Corniche: 35 minutes. At first I tortured my feet but it didn't take long to build up my endurance. I've walked during the winter at 15 degrees, and midday summer at 45 degrees. The two main reasons would either be lack of money or lack of taxis.

As the months passed I realized that some private cars would double as cabs. It's tricky though; you have to know the usual fare to a particular destination because some of these guys overcharge if they smell tourist. Fortunately or unfortunately, there were some instances that the driver wanted a different fee. A kind brush-off usually does the trick and you get a free ride. There were also good samaritans, but I always get cynical when I think about those people.

I thought that with all the walking and ranting about Qatar's public transportation system I'd be begging for a car. Nah. At least once a week (and I'm being kind here) there's an accident in the city streets and chances are it's a major one. Hummers flying, Land Cruisers in total wreck, and smaller cars reduced to a tin can ready for recycling. The body count is constantly ticking despite the strong campaign on road safety (further reading on Qatar Traffic Accidents at Qatar Visitor). I've only driven once in Doha and it was a weird mix of freedom and certain death with SUVs impatiently beaming their headlights behind you, ready and perhaps eager to crush you unless you get out of the fast lane in three seconds. Once in a while, road-related statistics headline the papers, begging really, telling everyone to SLOW DOWN. That's not all. At the end of the day, you go online, run your plate number on the government's e-Service site and find out you've accumulated fines way past your monthly salary (of course I'm talking about my measly pay). Ouch. So, no thanks, I'll walk or take a crowded bus instead.

Qatar is a fast-developing country but maybe some drivers misunderstood the 'fast' part. The roads here are generally wide and well-paved but it seems that accidents are waiting to happen just around the corner. Those with vehicles should be luckier than us commuters, but somehow I feel safer walking than driving. If only Doha has a better public transportation system--LRTs, more taxis and buses, and better pedestrian walkways and shaded bus stops--going around the city would be more fascinating.

Now, if you're the kind of driver who has a death wish, please, kill yourself in the confines of your own home and help keep the roads of Doha safe.OUT


Charge Me With DUI

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thursday night. I'm down to my last hundred and last few ounces of sanity. Self-proclaimed fag hag Johanna called; said a girlfriend is celebrating her birthday at Qube and they need a bodyguard. I'm thinking Kevin Costner and she's thinking Jap. It didn't take long to persuade me. I'm broke but I've got a quarter bottle of cheap vodka sitting in my closet. I told Johanna I'll meet them at the club after I pre-party in my room.

Sugar-free Red Bull, 7-Up Free, and bottled water on my table. Not much of a choice. I took two generous shots of vodka 7-up, straight, barely mixed in a paper cup. I was smiling silly as I brushed my teeth and waved goodnight to Khalid. I crisscrossed my way to the bus stop and counted the amused knowing smiles of passersby. I waited for a taxi. I wished a private taxi would pick me up before I wore off my high. And just like a manipulative scene from the Ocean's 11 franchise a private taxi pulls up in front of me almost immediately.

10 minutes and 10 riyals later I'm standing outside Qube trying to figure out the new entrance. Enter through the hotel lobby, a voice from somewhere. I started to walk and caught a glimpse of another lost patron; told him to join me. Tall, chubby, buttoned-up Lebanese picked up my pace and handed me a Red. Thanks, but no. I took out my Lights and as I lit, I saw a tattoo on his arm--a sorry little "F". Nice tattoo, must stand for your name, huh? He misunderstood because he said it means 'I love my mother'. He moved closer and there it was, just below the "F", a faint line of Arabic script. When we got to security check, I unbuttoned F's shirt, told him to loosen up and wished him luck with the girls.

Johanna's troops weren't around yet so I decided to sustain tipsy, headed to the bar and had a beer in less than five minutes. Lights flashed and my smile widened. Who said I was lonely? No one could tell. The girls arrived, I counted four and I greeted happy birthday to two before I got the right one. Dance was their plan and with inhibition fading with each burp, I gladly strutted with them. We danced like a tribe, their big bags--in the middle of our circle--our bonfire. Almost an hour on the dance floor before the girls got drinks. They tabled me like a gigolo and gave me a beer, I'm losing it with each sip.

After another bottle of beer I was already laughing for no reason. Destination: dance floor, again, but I needed more fuel. I went to the bar and asked for Corona Extra. Loud music. Corona Extra. The bartender mouthed some words to confirm my drink. I said yes. I ended up with a big glass of vodka, some other alcohol and cola. Sweet! Back to the girls and go crazy.

Men from all over the world have already invaded my tribe and the girls kept chanting, brushing them off, the men got all the more challenged. This is where I come in, the reason why they asked me to go out with them in the first place--to protect them from men who won't leave Qube without pussy. Instead of pushing them out of our circle, I sexy-danced with each man who tried to score with my girls. They danced with me for a few seconds then moved away and decided to stalk another group instead. Lovely tactic, and everyone in my tribe is safe and happy. Everyone.

Lights on at 2:30 AM. The girls have left a little earlier. I barely made it to a cab, cursed every roundabout on the way home. Puke was threatening with each step to my room. I made it. Stripped, resigned to the spinning room, slept.

I woke up at 4PM, fresh, without the smell of alcohol (the wonders of vodka) and just minor cigarette stench. But I limped all the way to the bathroom. I probably tore a tendon from all the grinding, I didn't feel it while dancing under the influence.OUT


I'm No Kurosawa But...

>> Saturday, October 20, 2007

I find myself in a room, standing, watching busy people moving furniture. I have a blanket wrapped around me, I think I'm naked, I think I'm sick. Someone calls me and asks for a hand with a bed. We lift the bed; its posts hit the ceiling. The girl at the headboard starts to recreate a scene from a horror movie, I'm thinking The Exorcist but for some reason she registers like Monique Wilson with gray, muddy eyes and seaweed hair. We laugh and start lifting again. Any time now the director will shoot the scene. We put the bed down. They look at me. They're waiting for the blanket. I think I'm naked.

I'm walking, orange pillow in hand. I think I'm headed to a club. I arrive at an old building made of wood. Pillows are not allowed not even orange ones. I fold the pillow and turn it into a nice gift box with nothing in it. I suddenly have the urge to pee. To my right, a restroom sign—that way. I go to it and find myself on a rusty roof. This is the way. The restroom is on a roof. A wire fence separates the roof from the toilet. Climb over it and pee. I touch the chicken wire and get electrocuted. I squirm in my bed. I pull my hand from the wire and hit the dog beside me. The dog bites my hand, starts to chew on it. I struggle to save my fingers, sharp pins pricking my thumb. I flinch in my bed.

I'm taking a shortcut back to the club. The street is depressing, dark, gloomy. Peddlers line the streets, selling hope. A man is walking towards me. He throws something, a fan in red and white. It has feathers, it has wings, it's a bird. The bird flies in slow motion, four furry balls in different colors orbit it. The man snaps his fingers and the balls drop to the ground and bounce back to the air and turn into birds. The place fills with color from a continuous magic bird multiplicity. I want to buy one of those. I ask the man, but I look around and I'm alone.

I need to go to the club but I don't think it's a club anymore but someplace safe.
The street I'm walking on is deserted. I look back and see a giant slob of a man in caveman loincloth holding a giant mortar and pestle combo instead of the usual mace. It's an ogre. I think he's after me so I walk faster. He grinds as he walks. I'm back at the wooden building; the ogre is closing in on me. I enter slowly. I'm safe.

I'm in the suburbs. Some kids on bikes breaking chocolate milk bottles. I find a park with some colorful but peculiar looking small statues. The statues look like alien blobs with hints of a face but not much of a body. They start to move and play then stop still again. Move and play and then keep still again. Statue dance, literally.

Near the park is a tall tree. It's almost like a balete but its ropes are thicker and they move like an octopus' tentacles—fluid, calculated movements. The tree is full of fruits that look like tennis balls but in dark green felt. There's a perfect hole on the ground beside the tree and the ground slopes down to that hole. A tentacle gently picks a fruit and softly rolls it on the smooth ground. The fruit rolls into the black hole. Silence. Then a rumble. The ground starts to shake and sea waves blast through the edge of the park and flood the alien statues.

Another tentacle grabs a fruit. I think I have to stop it from rolling into the hole. I run toward it, I fail. There's a cupboard full of toys beside me. The toys come to life as the ground shakes. I grab a garbage bag and wait for the toys to jump into it. I trap them. I think I need a huge amount of glue. When the toys are all in the bag, I'll fill it with glue, they'll stick together, I'll be safe.

Wake up, I think I hear me say. Lying on my bed, I open my eyes and see myself kneeling in front of me. I'm inches away from my own face. I switch views, I see myself on my bed, groggy, drunk; I'm the sober one. I switch views again and I see the sober one say something. I can't hear the words. I hope it's not something bad. I see myself smile at me. I wake up.OUT


Out of Type

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sometimes I tend to box a person into a certain character. Once in a while, a never-before-seen trait jumps out of that box and it's either pleasant or disgusting, but it's always a surprise.

Like how Mustafa insisted that I let him drive me to Villagio even if it's far and out of the way. I was ready to wait in the sunset and spend 15 QRs on a taxi fare when Mustafa saw me near the office. He told me to get in the car without even asking where I'm headed, which made him either genuinely generous or downright stupid. He didn't flinch when I told him I'm going to the mall--the far one--but I think I felt that we both braced ourselves for a long uncomfortable ride. The trip wasn't bad. The conversation we had was trivial but it wasn't forced.

He was leaving that evening for Saudi Arabia for a sort of pilgrimage. He may be an ass sometimes but you got to give him props for being religious. I was mildly interested with the topic and found that I had enough questions for him until we reached Villagio. At the entrance, and in between religious discussion, he asked me which gate I wanted to be dropped off, without blinking I told him "Virgin". He smiled as if he smelt instead of heard the word.

As I got off the car I thanked Mustafa and told him that his driving greatly improved from life-threatening to minor-injury levels. I wasn't kidding either because it was the first time I sincerely felt comfortable with him as the driver. He said it was his pleasure, and it felt like he sincerely meant it too.

Meanwhile, I've discovered something dangerous about Edmar's character. I thought he's just annoying sometimes with his brand of 'small talk' that blindsides you just when you were thinking how lovely your day was going. I do try to ignore that, err him, and I can live with it no matter how hard he tries to magnify the mundane into a catastrophic problem (ie no sleep = cancer, too short haircut = chemo therapy).

But to make up stories about people? I think he has crossed the line from boredom to insanity. He told me that Mustafa and Hosam, had a brawl in their room one evening. My journalist instincts started to ask him questions, and while he couldn't answer most of my questions to save his story from the trash--how he saw it, who told him about it, etc.--I still believed it enough to be worthy of tabloid space.

So I told the same story to Khalid and he told me that Edmar had told him the story already but claimed that it was only a joke, something he made up. Two things bothered me: 1. Why didn't Edmar retract the story when he told it to me, and 2. Why would he cook up something like that in the first place?

He knows that Mustafa and Hosam are two figures in the office who are least liked. Pitting them against each other would make an interesting fight on MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch. Still, a 27-year-old guy doesn't make up such bogus story in a supposedly formal office setting. Unless, he has an agenda. Could it be that he only wants me to smile? Could it be that he wants me to react and quote me on that for the Egyptians?

His motive is still vague. For all I know, he might be bored. But like I said, maybe he has crossed that line already. He does have a history of drug use and who knows how far gone his brain cells are now.

It's surprising how you discover more and more about a person even after several long months of being around them. I wonder if I also surprise them, too. I'm sure some readers have been surprised about my posts or comments in this blog.

Maybe it's too soon to put a person in a box. You never really know a person until you really know him. What I hear, see, and read about a person is only what he wants to reveal about himself. But what I should be in the lookout for are those unguarded moments when more good or bad traits spring out of the character. Nobody's perfect, but it does make a person interesting. I'm writing about two guys, and you're reading about them. Yep, interesting enough even when they're acting out of type.



>> Sunday, October 14, 2007

I know I said that I'm not doing tag games anymore but what can I do? "So unimpressed but so in awe, such a saint but such a whore. So self-aware, so full of shit. So indecisive, so adamant." (Come Undone by Robbie Williams). Trust me, I sing that song with all my heart.

Gypsy tagged me. She said something like get a screenshot of your desktop and show and tell. Here is the show part:

Here is the tell part:
There's nothing much to say. It's a mess. I get a dozen emails a day for my boss and most of those emails have attachments. It's easier for me to locate the attachment on the desktop. The attachment stays there for a week before I move it to a "Desktop Items" folder which means it's been a month since I moved anything.

The wallpaper is quite obvious. I'm currently on the fifth season of Six Feet Under. I am such a fan when I'm into it. I'm not satisfied with my Six Feet Under theme ringtone; I need a visual.

One thing I like about my desktop is the Yahoo! Widgets toolbar. It's on auto-hide mode so you can barely see the black strip on the right side of the screen. It pops up when you hover the mouse on that area and you can get instant access to weather reports, horoscope, international time, and calendar among other things. My favorite is a comic strip widget that generates my daily dose of funnies.

That's how lame my desktop is and how messy, too with icons literally over the top. The tag game ends here, by the way. I'm burying it, six feet under ground.OUT


A Mouse's Trap: Ramblings of a Domesticated Rodent

>> Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Hole New Beginning

The new hole rendered the room an entirely different view. I had to find my way again. New scents—citrus and mint—made it even harder for me to retrace my tracks. I made new ones, wary that there would still be booby traps on my old trail.

The human was smarter than we thought. Or maybe my cousins were just stupid. Mice can be stupid that way, giving in to urge rather than to reason. I have been raised well enough to know that I have to earn my meal. A piece of cheese doesn't just happen to stick out of nowhere. If life were that easy, then it's not life at all, it's quite the opposite actually and I have seen my relatives' insides splattered on walls because of this. And the cheese? It became the sole witness to the gruesome event. Another thing I hate about my breed is that, more often than not, we never learn.

That is probably why I found myself inside the human's room again. Uncle always reminded me that humans are the enemy. The curse of the middle-class mice. Rats in the ghetto have to watch out for cats, while we in the suburbs have a bigger enemy. I would've preferred cats myself because they're stupid. But humans are the thinking kind. Weaponry is essential in their home. BB guns, traps, glue, poison, flip flops, and basically anything they can get their hands on. No wonder our kind jumps with a mere snap of human fingers. But like I said, while humans are smart, it does not help us a bit that we are stupid. We smell cheese and we abandon all fear.

Forgive me if I speak lowly of my kind. I feel that I am above them. I'm educated and I found a way to control my urge. Every time I cruise the human's territory, I stick soap crumbs up my nose to sanitize whatever seductive smell that dares to entice my animal instincts.

The human had every right to abduct my cousins anyway. I told them to take only what is due to us. Anything outside the bin was off limits. I knew that if we stuck with this, we would have had an unwritten understanding with the human. He might have gladly watched us feast on delicious green bread if we only followed the rules.

But my cousins were arrogant, uneducated, rat-bred monsters. They ate packed food, they left feces everywhere, and worse, they disturbed the human while he slept. That probably did it for him. I too would be annoyed if some ant decided to run up and down my tail.

The last time I saw my cousins, they were stuck on a piece of cardboard, trying to claw their way out of glue. They were shouting apologies to the human and while he heard, he didn't listen.

I hate to admit it, but now, I'm glad that my cousins are out of the way. I have a new hole and I am the only one who can enter the human's room. To be honest, the reason why I am here is not because of food. If I may be direct without being accused of being a hamster, I have a certain admiration for the human. I feel that we have a lot in common.

We both love to read. I'm no bookworm, but reading Nutrition Information excites me the way paperbacks excite the human. We both love films. Art house films to be exact. None of those crap that Mickey and Jerry star in, but films that depict rodent life truthfully. Flushed Away remains to be my favorite, it's so accurate I almost thought it was a documentary.

We also both love to eat. Needless to say, mice are walking digestive systems. It is our luck that humans have larger egos than stomachs. More often than not, they buy too much food that end up in the bin. They think they're hungry, but what they're really hungry for is attention.

And that's another thing that I have in common with the human. We're both lonely. We're lonely because our hunger for attention is never fed. There is no one to watch a movie with; share a bag of chips with; and at the end of the day you sleep alone and the pillow does not hug you back.

This new hole is a new beginning for me. I hope to introduce myself to the human. And to do that, I must first establish trust and understanding. I have to respect the limitations and take care of the room as if it were my own pad. It's possible to be friends with humans. My mother knows that, too. Why else would she name me Ben?


Indian Invasion

>> Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Two cups of yogurt. Creamy, almost sour and cold. Layered with preserved blueberry and good bacteria. A minute of happiness when I eat it and 24 hours later, 30 seconds of blissful bowel movement. Two cups of yogurt were waiting for me inside a locked refrigerator to which only I held the key. Right after the Indian school dismissed their noisy students, I rushed to the peace and quiet of the second floor, unlocked the ref, peered inside, and found a light bulb and lots of chilled air.

I stood there and wondered what kind of monster devoured my precious. How am I supposed to defecate now? I looked at the bin and sure enough, the yogurt cups were there, along with my two cans of Pepsi Max and a bottle of milk all empty, cheap stuff I put in the ref to save me from a five-minute marathon to the store. I narrowed my suspects to the Indian school students (and / or teachers). The only other people who have access to the ref are Khalid and Edmar. It couldn't have been Khalid because our friendship has reached charity level. And Edmar doesn't like yogurt.

A quick experiment proved that the ref lock was as tight as Paris H
ilton's vagina. Anything that fit in it did the trick. And those rowdy students could have done it on a dare.

This isn't the first time that Indians made their presence felt. I get my laundry done at the shop next door. Kala
wrote about her experience with Indian laundry shops so I was already expecting their 'system' which is basically: dump your clothes and come back a day after tomorrow. No listing, no counting, no weighing. Just your name so they can bill you correctly. The rest of the business is put to good faith (and a couple misplaced socks every now and then). What I didn't expect though was that they'd label my clothes, not with my name, but with the name of the guy who handled my laundry. My wardrobe is now owned by a certain "VAN".

I can see it now, me spending extra time in the can because some Indian guy ate my ticket to a satisfying dump. So I sit there, longer than usual, staring at the seam of my pants and figuring out if Van is short for Vanesh, or Vanij, or Vanadev or Vanamalin.OUT


Forget Her

>> Monday, October 1, 2007

I wasn't sure if it was a full moon already. The park seemed aglow in florescent light, almost like dawn in fact, quite unusual for a place that's notorious for its dark corners. I glanced at the moon to be certain. It's not a perfect circle, its halo also premature. Still it was fine enough for a walk along Corniche--an escape disguised as an exercise. I found a spot and decided to master the lyrics to a new fascination: Jeff Buckley's "Forget Her". His voice is like no other. Too bad he's singing with angels now. I sat there watching the faint waves of the sea, singing in a concert in my head but A capella to the world. I wondered who broke Jeff's heart when he wrote the song. Now that he's gone, I'll never know. But for me, the lady in question is none other than Qatar.

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Forget Her by Jeff Buckley

While this town is busy sleeping
all the noise has died away
i walk the streets to stop my weeping
‘cause she'll never change her ways

Don't fool yourself
she was heartache from the moment that you met her
my heart feels so still
as i try to find the will to forget her somehow
oh i think i've forgotten her now

Her love is a rose pale and dying
dropping her petals and men unknown
all full of wine the world before her
was sober with no place to go

Don't fool yourself
she was heartache from the moment that you met her
my heart is frozen still
cause i try to find the will to forget her somehow
she's somewhere out there now

Oh my tears are falling down as i try to forget
her love was a joke from the day that we met
all of the words all of the men
all of my pain when i think back to when
remember her hair as it shone in the sun
the smell of the bed when i knew what she'd done
tell yourself over and over you wont ever need her again

I have to be honest. As my Qatar anniversary approaches, I'm more confused than ever. After my vacation, I don't know whether I should come back or move on. Maybe I'm just "fooling myself" into thinking that I like it here. But maybe I do like it here. I think I do like it here. Maybe I don't want to go through another adjustment period. There are so many things to consider, all pointing to a way out. The only thing holding me back is of a selfish nature--I'm holding on to the familiar, the expected, the routine. A year is quite short to be starting all over again. Should I really forget her?OUT




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