Jan

1

Here's some scattered observations from my three week trip across the Middle East.

KUWAIT

Complete alcohol ban throughout country inducing Melvinian nightmare with realization that nearest Irish pub was two sovereign borders away by land. I had to drink this: Budweiser NA

The currency states, We Seek Gods Assistance, Central Bank of Kuwait

Like most of the region, Kuwaiti leisure time is largely spent at shopping malls in order to keep time spent outdoors to a minimum. In addition to other factors, the inactivity of the locals has pushed diabetes rates to 13% of the population in Kuwait but that shocking figure is less than 20% in UAE, 16% in Qatar and 15% in Bahrain! The Gulf diet is largely to blame for the health figures as well with the large influx of Western favorites like Applebees, Ruby Tuesdays, KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Krispy Kreme, Hardees, and TGI Fridays.

Its a common saying in the Gulf that the only nationals a visitor will meet are those who stamp your passport in and out. Although it doesn't apply in all cases, that's how it was in Kuwait as 90+% of Kuwaiti citizens are employed in some form by the government. Of the population of approximately 3 million, only about a third are Kuwaitis which is a pretty small pie to split 10% of world oil reserves amongst.

Moderate construction activity but generally focused on smaller housing as opposed to vanity office towers. Wealth is easily observed but nothing too flashy. Another view of the skyline. 

Offers little to nothing for tourists and with exception of visit to Kuwait Towers, most of two night stay was spent anticipating departure.

BAHRAIN

Its clear that Bahrain has large ambitions to enhance it's position as a financial center in the region with the development of Bahrain Financial Bay . The project remains largely in its infancy although I have doubts about it finishing before the cycle changes.

My basic sniff test of financial integrity failed numerous occasions with just trying to get an honest cab fare. All the taxi drivers are native Bahrainis which makes it worse and I think the experience on a five dollar transaction extends directly to larger sums as well.

Nothing of note to see as visit was over a holiday so it can be considered nothing^2. Made visit to halfway point of causeway linking to Saudi Arabia but only because of lack of other sights.

No Michael Jackson sighting.

QATAR

The building boom in Doha is as impressive as anything Ive seen in such a concentrated area, perhaps best described as the equivalent of building an entire downtown metropolis in five years. It boggles my mind on how they will fill the office buildings with enough productive workers to justify all the construction but I definitely plan to return in a few years time to follow up once this phase is complete. The entire population of Qatar is just under a million people and of that figure, only about 20% of the population are Qatari citizens so I'm under the assumption that a large surge of professional expats are expected.

Here is a panoramic shot from my hotel: foto1 foto2 foto3 foto4 foto5

As with the prior two countries, I found very little to do for the visitor and I imagine that luring foreign professionals will be an expensive endeavor. Its often been a concern of mine that the talent pool of expats is quite shallow to being with and once the buildings of Doha get completed, finding competent workers is going to be very difficult. However, the region will present great opportunities for young and aggressive professionals to get responsibilities and opportunities far earlier in their careers than they would in their own countries.

Qataris are forbidden to get lower end jobs and perhaps all these buildings are just meant to be part of the great government employment agency. I have no firsthand experience working with Gulf Arabs but have heard from others that they have a terrible work ethic and that is why the government has to absorb the workforce rather than the private sector. An otherwise chatty expat I spoke with clammed up regarding Qatari work ethic, knowing to keep his mouth shut, but prior to that spoke of how family and prayers come first in the workplace.

Tourist highlight was desert excursion but found landscape and tour far inferior compared to similar excursions offered in Dubai.

Qatar has unique alcohol restrictions according to wikitravel: There is one liquor store, Qatar Distribution Centre, in Doha. To purchase things there, you must have a license that can only be obtained by having a written letter of permission from your employer. You can only get a license when you have obtained your residency permit and you will need to get a letter from your employer confirming your salary in addition to paying a deposit for QR1000. The selection is good and is like any alcohol selection of a large supermarket in the West. Prices are reasonable although not cheap.

ABU DHABI, UAE

I was prepared from all the warnings that there's not a lot to see or do but didn't care as I came to stay in the Emirates Palace . The hotel is rated with the mythical seven star status, which I've heard compared to Spinal Tap turning their amps to 11, but enjoyed the two nights I spent there and feel it fully deserves the rating. At a cost of over $3 billion to build, its not at all economical but the government of Abu Dhabi built it as a showpiece which is meant to overwhelm anyone who steps inside.

The journey from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is slightly over an hour by taxi and it was the first time I've made the drive. There isn't much to see between the cities and that was actually a nice break from the orgy of construction taking place all over. The break was short lived however as the first sign we were closing in on Dubai was when we reached Jebel Ali on the far west side of Dubai. In addition to being one of the worlds largest ports, it has a huge future once the new airport gets developed to become one of the busiest in the world.

DUBAI, UAE

The real deal! In my opinion, Dubai is the most interesting city to visit in the world and will continue to be for the near future. I think Im getting harder to impress but with my fifth visit in four years, my opinion of Dubai continues to grow. To see Dubai is far beyond description and every effort I've seen others make doesnt do accurate justice to what's unfolding.

The blank slate of desert allowed the ruling clan to create a sort of SimCity and every new plan is bolder than the last. Just driving around and viewing the audacious projects being constructed gave me sensory overload. Ive been inspired on each visit by the city as it challenges every notion of possibility and shows the limitless potential some visions have.

One of the extensive infrastructure projects is creating a metro rail which I find absolutely amazing since Ive never seen that before in a city. In the past Ive encountered horrible traffic congestion but avoided it entirely on this visit.

The most audacious project is the Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower ) which has topped out as the worlds tallest building (foto ) and has an immense amount of construction (foto ) going around it as well.

From what Ive heard, the Jumeriah Palm already has residents on it but as a visitor, I couldnt get past the security gate since the hotels havent been finished on it yet.

I had my first stay at the Emirates Towers and feel that its the definitive place to stay in Dubai. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, has his office in the adjoining tower if that tells you how great the view is. 

JORDAN

The country is in a tough spot with accommodating Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, leading to official unemployment rate at 15% but likely double that. Very nice and welcoming people though!

Amman is a bit of a mess and has no redeeming qualities to it that I could find. City was known as Philadelphia in Roman times and is burdened by lack of proper planning. foto1 foto2

Petra was much better than I imagined and really enjoyed the one kilometer walk through The Siq before encountering The Treasury.


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