31 March, 2008

My Good Name

When I returned my rental car at Doha International Airport this morning, the gentleman at the car rental agency asked me for my good name. It took me a good five seconds to realize that I am talking to a south Asian and that by requesting my "good name," he is simply asking for my first name.

I got in to Doha International Airport at 19:20hr last night. Processing through immigration was a snap. I paid my QR 100 (roughly USD $27) and quickly proceeded to the city with a rental car. People I encountered were kind and helpful. My occasional use of "salaam alaykum" got me plenty of good will and lots of smiles from the locals. I checked into the Doha Ritz Carlton (gratis with points from my credit card. Woohoo!) and had an uneventful walkabout at the City Centre Shopping Mall. I checked my email when I got back to my room and watched Good Will Hunting on the tube until I passed out at 01:00hr Doha time.

One may ask why would an American in Qatar spend his only night at a mall? First, I wanted to get a carry-on luggage with wheels. So I went in search of dinner and my bag. I found a rather likable luggage and also ate a chicken whopper at the City Centre Carrefour. It was a bad meal, but mission accomplished. Further, unless I have the time to visit the desert, it seems that shopping is what the locals do for fun here. So when in Rome . . .

But back to my impression of Doha. I feel like I am in an Arabian version of Las Vegas (sans alcohol to facilitate business and fun). Doha is lined with newly-paved and broad boulevards; the new skyscrapers are fantastic!. As a big fan of modern architecture, I'm highly impressed.

But the city is about more than the buildings. Although I see Qataris with elegant and flowing white robes and keffiyehs walking and driving their SUVs about, I see more Asian service workers and North American and European business travelers.

I'm not sure what the future holds for these migrant workers. While they volunteered to be here for work, it seems regretful that they are not a part of the Gulf region's identity. Their status reminds me of the Turks in Germany; they're there but there's no there there. But who knows, maybe they don't want to stay and prefer to make a quick buck before returning to India, Pakistan, the Philipines, or China. But it is indeed quite a contrast. While Doha depends on these imported workers to function properly, it was striking to see the legions of migrant workers herded onto buses like cattle - their faces hardened by days of hard labor under the hot Gulf sun.

I don't mean to sound so down. I just typically get reflective and melancholic as I approach the end of a good trip. A good friend once commented that I get melancholic when I am drunk. So perhaps I'm intoxicated from the pleasures of traveling.

Tomorrow is back to Washington, work, and studies. But I remind myself to be upbeat. After all, I just booked my air travels for my plan to move to Buenos Aires in January. I am very excited about the Argentine plan L. and I hatched in Aqaba!

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