Qatar: Quick stopover

27 January 2017

The flight landed in Doha at 6am. I took a short break before receiving the free visa and quick city tour. Seeing Doha is much better than staying inside the airport.  Along with 30 other travellers, the coach made its way around Doha- the economic centre of Qatar with a population of 1.5 million ppl. It was a short ride yet signs of renovation and construction were everywhere. Qatar is set to be the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup so the country is making a mad dash to complete stadiums, residential blocks, new hotels and the metro line. They plan to ensure that 6000 hotel rooms are available for the big event.

DSC07554Like many of her neighbours, the State of Qatar (previously known as  Catharrei – Catara and Cataraei) became a British protectorate after Ottoman rule. With a total of 2.6 million people, only 12% are Qatari Nationals. Qatar’s oil reserves and gas fields accounts for more than 13% of the global resource ( the third in the world) thus it is another country with a high income economy.

Found in 1820s, Doha (which meant either “the big tree” or the Bay) is often dubbed as being boring since there isn’t anything historical. In fact, like Kuwait and Bahrain, many would not associate these three countries as being a treasure chest for those who love history and culture. Oman is a different story. Yet, to completely overlook history in these countries is wrong since they are within the Arabian peninsula and once part of Mesopotamia. Humans habitations dates back 50,000 years ago. Christianity was introduced but in 628 AD, many of the Arab tribes in the region converted to Islam. Artefacts were found along the coast which indicates that trading was common. In fact, Qatar started trading with Bahrain in 224 AD. Qatar’s central position in the Persian Gulf ensured that pearl trading and fishing became the center of Qatar’s economy as well as purple dye. During the 9th century, horse and camel breeding also became prominent. Ancient maritime voyages where trade boats travelled as far as China made stops in Qatar. Many empires ruled over Qatar until 1916 when she fell under British rule. This British influence continued but diminished after 1947 ( particularly after the partition of India and Pakistan). In 1950s, pearl and fishing was no longer the main source of revenue since oil took over. Like Kuwait and Bahrain, oil quickened the pace of the country’s modernisation.

DSC07540My favourite spot in Doha

The shiny buildings that form the skyline of new Doha stayed to my left and the Museum of Islamic Arts was on my right- yep that is the spot that I love the most about Doha since it offered a nice contrast between the modern and artistic side of the country. Opened in 2008 and designed by I.M.Pei (Louvre, Paris), the Museum overlooks the corniche and is located at the south end of the Bay. With a huge collection of Islamic Art, Pei went on a six-month quest to study Muslim architecture to ensure that his work reflects the history and art of Islam. He drew inspiration from Muslim texts and declined many of the proposed sites for the museum since Pei preferred a stand-alone island to ensure that the museum will not be blocked by any other structures. Surrounded by a park, the eyes on the building ( the eyes of a Muslim woman) watches on …..

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 11.15.20 PMIn 2017, I stared at Doha’s Museum of Islamic Arts and back in 2009, I spent a whole day at the Louvre Museum.  Designed by my favourite architect, I realised that despite all the visa ordeals, nonsense and occasional stress that comes with travelling, one of the main reason why I love it so much is that I’m able to make such very personal connections. It might not mean anything for anyone else but oh well- travelling and the experiences that you gain from it is always personal. The world shares so much in common. Humans like to highlight the tiny differences that we have because some have nothing better to do. 

The bus made its way along the 7 km waterfront promenade. As the country developed, more buildings popped up along the once empty waterfront. More than 50 towers were built in 2011 and 3 years later, officials announced that Qatar would be spending $65bn on new projects for FIFA and the country’s National vision 2030. After ten more minutes, I arrived at the second stop- The Pearl-Qatar.

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Entrance to the Pearl
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Cranes, constructions and the Pearl

Constructed to meet rising demands for housing and no doubt a great way for real estate companies to cash in big bucks, the country forked out $2.5 bn to build it. On this 400 ha of reclaimed land, it will eventually house 30,000 ppl. The guide mentioned that after its completion, prices will show no sign of easing due to FIFA and increasing number of expats snatching up properties in this expensive city.

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Before ending the city tour, I took one last glimpse of the Souq. A tad small but still filled with great restaurants and shops, I started to feel super excited for my  former colleague- Bo or Gu JieJie. As the producer of Al Jazeera in China, she is set to spend a couple of weeks at the headquarter……very lucky indeed. I hope that during the weekends, she will stroll around this souq then go to my favourite spot to check out the skyline and that pretty museum. How I wish I could go with her and work with her again…ok starting to get clingy.

Off I go to Egypt.

Some facts about Qatar:

  • Gained independence in 1971.
  • No income tax. Low tax rates.
  • Corporate law mandates that Qatari nationals must hold 51% of any venture in the Emirate.
  • Expats and foreign labour helps to grow the economy. 86% of the population are no Qatari locals.
  • Often dubbed the richest country in the world behind Luxembourg.
  • Sharia law forms the main component of Qatar’s legislation. 67% are Sunni Muslims.
  • Flogging is often used as a form of punishment for alcohol consumption and illicit sexual relations (adultery is 100 lashes and alcohol consumption is 40 lashes). Stoning is also legal.
  • Qatar is a fairly dry country. on average, there are only 8 days of rain every year.
  • 6 million of containers are set to pas the port every year by 2030.
  • 4.67 billion USD have been spent on reservoirs to ensure adequate water sources. 99.9% of Qatar’s drinking water is desalinated. 595L of water is used per person per day.

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