Day 3: Mark Does Doha Shopping
Our first day at Qatar University highlighted the differences between computing education in the Gulf States and in the West. We learned that the gender balance is a huge issue here – their classes are over 70% female! Computer science is considered a "lesser" degree here. "Well, it's not engineering," as one faculty member told us. Computer engineers (and computer engineering faculty, as was mentioned on the sideI get paid much better. I got to talk one-on-one to some faculty at Qatar University and CMU Qatar. They consider the "boys" in their class to be the "slackers." "The girls are just better at it. They read more, they study more." They said that a real challenge for their students is to see computing as a building field. One professor from QU told me that he gave his students a problem, then they came back complaining that they couldn't find the solution on the Internet. He explained that they were to build something new, and they didn't understand. They saw their education was about learning what was already known, not building something new.
Lunch was finger sandwiches, with fruit juices and little bonbons (like little cups of custard), with coffee. (I'm finding I really like Nescafe.)
Homes seen on way to/from QU
Beautiful skylight in our meeting room
When we got back around 5:30 pm, I called the Qatar airport. Yes, they knew where my luggage was. Yes, it was on the flight to Doha, and it would arrive Monday at 4:50 pm. MONDAY, after the big day with presentations, which was going to be covered by Al Jazeera. I'd be the Ugly American wearing jeans and sneakers/trainers (and dirty ones at that). I decided I had to go shopping.
I went downstairs where the shops in Ritz did sell men's clothing. None of the shoes were less than 2100 QAR, which is over $570. I decided I had to shopping in Doha.
You can't take a cab from the Ritz – you have to take their (relatively high-priced) limo. We were supposed to take a tour of conferencing facilities (for a future meeting) and eat at the Four Seasons at 7 pm. I called Andrew (Ed Board Chair) to tell him that I'd catch up at the Four Seasons, then left with the limo. The only mall open at 6 pm was the City Centre mall, so I got dropped off there.
Driving into Downtown Doha
The middle of the mall is an ice-skating rink!
In general, the mall looked much like any other mall. Lots of roving packs of teenagers. Lots of twenty-somethings. Lots of mothers pulling along little kids. Clothing was only slightly different. There were lots of jeans and t-shirts. I didn't see camisoles-as-tops that are popular with my girls and their friends. No bare shoulders or midriffs. There were shorts, but few. Lots of traditional garments – lots of women in dark veils with only eyes visible.
There's a supermarket in the middle of the mall, and big and long escalators without steps on them so that people can take their shopping carts up with them. I never did find a shop that sold the male Arabic garments (otherwise, I might've been tempted!), but did find a few that sold the female garments.
First store I went to had jackets starting at over 2000 QAR, which was way more than I was willing to pay. I should've taken a cue from the salesperson who told me "75% off! There's 75% off that one!" In general, the price tags seem to be merely suggestions. I gave up there, though, and went to Shoe Mart. I found the 100 QAR shelf, and discovered (with help from a salesperson) that my size was "45" in their units. I got the only pair on that shelf that was my size. Not my style, but they work. I also got socks there.
There was a Debenham's there! I knew that brand from the UK. I really helpful salesperson there guided me towards clothes that fit ("I don't think you're 16.5 – did you try our sizing shirts?") and the right fabrics ("Polyester is way too hot in our climate.") I bought slacks and a dress shirt there, but they didn't carry jackets.
I kept shopping until I found a shop with jackets. A salesperson there started putting jackets on me. I asked what the price was: "530 QAR." Since the price tag said "1800 QAR," I could see that this was all up for negotiation. I tried on various jackets, paired with various ties. At one point, another customer walking by tapped me and gave me a big thumbs-up with a big smile. I agreed and bought that jacket and tie.
I found my way back out of the huge mall, and figured out where to stand in line for the cabs. Turns out that the Four Seasons was walking distance away, but there were no real sidewalks there. It cost 10 QAR (less than $3). I rushed in, changed in the bathroom, and caught up with the group around 7:15 pm. Whew!
Dinner was Italian. We had been told a priori that we'd have no wine, which was fine. But the waiter recognized that we were Westerners, and kept asking us if we'd like some. "We can charge you separate, or list it on the bill as 'soft drinks.'" Nobody bought in, but the offer from the waiter visibly miffed our hosts. We shared some great antipasti (more excellent salmon and beef carpaccio). I ordered handmade asparagus ravioli. I sat near the QU CS dept hair, Wendy Hall, John White, and Andrew McGettrick, which was a fascinating conversation. For dessert, I ordered their top recommendation: Strawberries covered in balsamic vinegar and honey, with vanilla ice cream. Yeah, you read that right – balsamic vinegar. It was so weird that I decided to try it. It was awful. I ate the ice cream.
We got back about 10:30, and I crashed. I woke up at 3 am really hungry. I ate the cookies that had been left for me, and went back to sleep until 7. I weighed myself on their scale and converted to pounds – looks like I've lost two pounds, despite sitting most of the time and eating too many cookies.