Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mid-East Blog # 1

February 25, 2016

There is the classic final exam question on a philosophy test:
The answer?

Friends and family continued to ask us why go to Qatar, Oman and UAE.
The answer?

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We're a little worn out and not quite recovered from an unexpected, intense and lengthy Asian trip. And now, to find ourselves in the Mid-East? The whole situation is a little weird!

Checking in at the Qatar Airlines counter was somewhat surprising. First of all, it was in Terminal 2 rather than Bradley. But more importantly, we were checked in by a woman agent wearing a Moslem scarf. Also, most of the women passengers checking in with us were wearing moderate styled a
abayas. Many of the Qatar counter signage included Arabic. It was quite clear to us that we were not returning to Asia.

A New Experience

Once in the lounge, there were a couple of women wearing full abayas (aka burkas). Also, we encountered another surprise in the lounge. One hour before departure and while both of us were doing some work on our laptops/i-pads, there was a "last call to board the plane" announcement. 

What happened to the first call? It seems that Qatar Airlines wants passengers on board earlier than normal. We learned that most of the passengers are "regulars" and know the drill. Also, the communication system in the lounge doesn't always work.

We rushed to the gate with a handful of other surprised, "first time" passengers.

As we exited the lounge (second floor of the terminal), there was a man kneeling on the floor. He was praying to Mecca. There was only one problem. He was facing the wrong direction. His prayers were headed toward West Los Angeles rather than Orange County which would be somewhat in the direction of Mecca. Oh well...

Our Home For The Next 16 Hours

During our hurried walk to the plane, we started to talk to a mother (wearing a head covering) and her son. We made "friends" (we like to talk to strangers). It turned out that they would sit next to us on the plane. The are Pakistanis and would be returning to their home via Doha. What a great opportunity to learn how people live in such a hostile country as Pakistan. This is what she told us:

·       They live in the south part of Pakistan, near the coast which is "less of a problem area."
·       It appears that she is a "minority" - more like a mid-east Moslem than a Southwest Hindi Indian.
·       Her family (clothing industry) has two homes in SoCal: (Fullerton and Mission Viejo).
·       She has four sons - oldest will be a doctor, the next just enrolled into Duke University.
·       Their Pakistan neighborhood is "upscale" (whatever that means) with neighbors from different parts of the world, ex-pats, etc.
·       In addition to the car that will pick them up at the Pakistani airport, there will be a hired body guard in another car.
·       Many wealthy people are kidnapped. (Body guards are now more of a necessity).
·       Children's lives are "controlled" - they can only go to certain areas and with supervision.
·       Businesses have to pay "protection" money
·       We got the idea that children "grow up fast" and understand the danger that surrounds them even though there is a lot of supervision,
·       The news media exaggerates the situations. However, a terrorist bomb blast killing scores of people still is a bad situation.
·       Malaysians come to Pakistan to work - better jobs, more money, benefits, etc.
·       As in many third world countries, the majority are controlled by the minority.
·       While introducing ourselves, Jerry confirmed that it was not okay to shake her hand. Jerry did a "knuckle bump" with the son (about 10 or 11). Jerry also gave him a PMI Frisbee.
·       She, and her family have learned to "live smart" (if they want to stay alive), "always be on guard" and "live life as best as possible."

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The "Safety Announcements" on the were fantastic. Qatar sponsors world class soccer teams. Famous soccer players were used in the safety messages. Some of the situations were hilarious!

Qatar Airlines was voted # 1 as compared to Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emerits, etc. We're not sure what makes an airline # 1. Perhaps the ranking has more emphasis with what the airlines will do in their hub area rather than in an international setting. Overall, on this flight, we would give the our experience an 8.5 or 9.0/10.

Looking Down At The Rockies

There were some interesting and unique/positive aspects to this flight:

·       Comes with pajamas - one size does NOT fits all

·       Flight graphics (audio-visual system) were very advanced as compared to other airlines.

·       In fact, as we were flying over a particular area, a picture would appear on our TV screen showing what was below us i.e. national park, mountainous terrain, a desert, some "icon" of a particular country, etc. 
A Little Bit of History

Familiar Places!

    There were simulated cockpit shots:

From The Cockpit - getting Closer!

Making A Turn Toward Doha

·       One of our plates was removed/exchanged -  it had a "spec" of something on it.
·       The flight attendants (as much as possible) did their best to ensure that there was a paper seat cover over the toilet seat.
·       Food was good although the flight attendants did not help us understand how to order. We got the entree ahead of the appetizer.
·       Champagne and wines were quite good.
·       The well designed flat bed also gives massages.
·       Bedding (something like a light weight mattress/sheet combination) came with nice blanket.
·       There were scores of movies, music, the internet and other activities to keep the passengers entertained.
·       Not only is a small, wet towel offered at the beginning, throughout and end of the flight, we had a choice of the towel being hot or cold and nicely scented. Nice touch!
·       We could dine at our leisure - there was no prescribed time when business class passengers had to eat

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Sometimes, when we arrive in a new place, there is nothing truly distinctive that indicates where we have landed. It could be any where in the world. Airports are airports.

Doha's airport was quite unique.

First, several large airplanes landed at the same time. At least a thousand passengers would disembark. There were only a handful of passengers that actually went though immigration.  All the others were in transit.

Second, and highly unusual, was that business and first class passengers, after getting off the plane, would go through immigration via a VIP lounge. Food and drink were offered (along with couches and chairs to rest or to wait)  should their be a need. Unreal!!  There were no lines and the immigration folks actually smiled and welcomed us as they checked our passports.

Qatar's Immigration Lounge

The Hamed International Airport is an architectural wonder. It is less than two years old. 

Most incredible was that next to the main terminal was another, almost as large beautiful terminal that was used strictly for the royal family. Well, if money is no object...  

Let's Learn About Men's Clothing, Styles and Formalities!

More later...

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