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October 28, 2009

Surprises of a 26-Hour Trip

Tom McLaughlin

Doha, Qatar – What happens if you are a small country and have billions and billions of dollars located on top of the largest gas field in the world? Building the largest most modern commercial airline on the planet is one goal.


Qatar (pronounced (kah-tahr) Airlines has purchased the most modern fleet of Boeing 777’s and Airbus’s with several hundred more on order.


Lavishly equipped with amenities for passengers, especially in steerage where I always sit or live given the 27 hour flight, the airline has been named the best in the world for those flying economy. And, heavily subsidized by our cooking and heating gas, the fares are relatively cheap.


My travel was 26 hours one way broken up into one 12 hour segment and a 7 hour section with a 7 hour layover in between. The flight begins with the stewards passing out hard candies and then fresh hot wash cloths to wipe off the grime. Food, comparable to a mid-priced restaurant in the states, is served often.


Soft, attractive cloth bags holding socks, eye covers a tooth brush and paste is distributed at the beginning of the voyage. The touch screen built into the headrest of the seat in front, features over 150 movies plus television re-runs, satellite feeds, news, flight maps and information, games, music and a children’s section. Soft drinks, juices, waters, booze, sandwiches, ice cream and cookies can be acquired from the galley or served by the stewards during the journey.


During layovers, I always seek out people to interview and to learn about the country and Qatar was no exception. One American in his 20’s sat in the position that told everyone he wanted to be left alone and not be disturbed. I, of course, ignored all of these non-verbal displays and proceeded to sit down next to him and start a conversation.


After introductions, giving him my card and telling him he could visit me in Kuching, we settled into a conversation about his employment in Qatar. He works for Exxon selling gas; and I don’t mean like a station on the Golden Mile. Ignorant of how anyone buys and sells this commodity, I wondered if he sold it by the balloon full or by those little tanks I attach to my grill.


He informed me that the gas is sold by the tanker load, and peddled as liquefied natural gas to companies all over the world. He sells the product by the ship load. Southeast Asia has the lowest demand because the area lies in the tropics and not needed for heating. Japan, Europe and North America purchase the most. By the law of supply and demand, my only understanding of any economic theory, countries like in Southeast Asia pay the most while North America pays the least. (Now, he could have been putting me on so anyone out there who has real knowledge, please e-mail me with corrections.)


Another American I bothered works for the Qatari government and accumulates material for what has been billed as the largest repository of Islamic knowledge in the world. Included are obscure works from Muslims in China, Japan and other areas are not well known within the Moslem world.


I also met teachers at the Universities and a Canadian French teacher who is working at the local International school. A secret American Military base (don’t tell anyone) transfers soldiers to Afghanistan. The personnel are allowed to visit Dhoa but not in uniform. There were a few wandering around in buzz haircuts and combat boots.


A seven hour lay over from D.C. to Kuala Lumpur allowed me time to explore Dhoa, the capitol, a port and the only town. I asked the taxi driver to take me to the old souq, a traditional Arab shopping area. Most of the city seemed under construction. Towering cranes, lighted building sites and men with hard hats worked late into the night. Huge modern buildings lined the waterfront. Most American companies were represented.


I expected the old souq to have donkeys wandering around, dusty and a Casablanca-like atmosphere. The whole area had been made to resemble an American colonial town made over for shopping. The roads had been changed to walk ways paved with bricks. The narrow alley ways, well lighted, housed modern art galleries. Tailor shops, cloth concerns, jewelry stores, Oriental rug displays and a host of other shops selling clothes and knick knacks all wound there way along ancient, albeit rebuilt modern, pathways. The only donkey provided rides for children. I really didn’t see anything to buy as most items were available in the states.


Restaurants featured outdoor tables and chairs most with large Arabian pipes. They bubble smoke while the customers passed around the end of the cloth covered tube that extended outward. Each person took a hit and I assume achieved some sort of buzz.


There is really not much to see in this Arabian capitol, but it is worth a wander as opposed to sitting in the small airport. I have a feeling I will be back again.


…life is good


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