Weekends in Doha

The weekends here in Qatar are on Friday and Saturday, meaning that the work week is Sunday through Thursday. I’ve gotten used to it by now, but this small change really threw me off at first. I’ve learned that Friday-Saturday weekends are common in Muslim countries due to a special prayer on Fridays. It makes sense, but it’s one of those things I never expected to be different.

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This is MIA Park, to the right of the Museum of Islamic Art. Every Saturday throughout “winter,” there is a Bazaar there, an outdoor marketplace reminiscent of the tradition of shopping at souqs. You can see the shops at a distance here.
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MIA Park also has its own little crescent, like a curlicue off the larger Corniche (the waterfront crescent area of Doha). There is a small café there with a view of the glittering West Bay.

I’ve made some friends here in Doha, some through the social travel site Couchsurfing and others from the tech talk I went to. Many have asked me, “So how do you like Doha?” adding, “There’s nothing to do here, huh?”

I can see how after years and even months, going to the same air-conditioned malls and few sights would get boring in this small city. Even Villaggio would lose its novelty eventually. In Sweden, I went to approximately 25 different museums in 3 different cities; here, I’ve been to one, which means I’ve seen half of the museums in the whole country (there are several more planned for the future).

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Another view from the MIA Park crescent, where old-fashioned boats take tourists on the water.
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A street in Souq Waqif, the renovated ancient marketplace with traditional shops and many restaurants (one of Doha’s main attractions).
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A small outdoor tourist shop in the Souq. I wish I could get rid of that flare when photographing at night, but I just love these Arabian lights.
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Me in front of the pretty lights. (Photo credit: Downna).

But my new friends, and the family I’m staying with, have showed me the attractions that Doha does have, and I’m happy to say that I’ve seen a more fun city than I was expecting. While I know that I wouldn’t want to live here long-term, I’ve learned that I could live here, and that in itself is amazing to me.

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With Downna and Sarah at a restaurant in Souq Waqif.
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Pure Lounge, the bar we went to one night at the Hilton. There are very few bars in Doha, and no restaurants serve alcohol. The only bars legally allowed to sell are those attached to international hotels like this one. I was surprised to find nightlife in Qatar, but honestly, it’s not as exciting as it looks!

Finally, I played Ultimate Frisbee with some new friends last week, and I’m going back tomorrow. There is a small group of expats here that get together every week to play ultimate, and I was lucky to befriend the social coordinator of the group. Since there is only one group, they can’t play against other teams, but they still work hard and scrimmage well. I was so impressed to see the same skills here that I saw in college ultimate.

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We went to the beach in Qatar! Luckily there’s a quiet beach here where you don’t have to cover your shoulders and knees. (Photo credit: Downna).
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Post-beach seafood at a casual Filipino/Arabic restaurant. (Photo credit: Downna).

I think playing ultimate here will be my Qatar version of swing dancing in Sweden. It’s now a goal of mine to find something fun like this in each country that I go to – a local, social event that I find all on my own and then participate in.

I’m glad that I’ve been able to find social activities here in between project meetings. My progress has felt slow; I’ve had about five meetings here so far, most of them with doctors. I wish there were medtech companies here the way there were in Sweden, though I knew that wouldn’t be the case. While doctors provide an important perspective for my project, my engineering background makes me more interested in medical gadgets and user-focused devices than big hospital machines. Still, it’s good to know, and it certainly teaches me something about the attitude towards medical technology here if there aren’t any medical technology start-ups.

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The Pearl, a fancy artificial island in north Doha (well, I suppose most of this city is artificial). There are shops, apartments, hotels, and restaurants here – and lots of yachts!
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The Pearl is essentially a curved strip encircling this small body of water.

Peaches and coconuts

Today I met up with Lisa’s brother, Henrik, who lives here in Malmö. He pointed out some parts of the city that I had missed on my walk the other day, so I saw new areas of the city such as the Triangeln Square, Möllan, and the old part of the city.

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The “Emigrants” statue.

On our way to lunch, we talked about social attitudes in Sweden, a topic that has come up in a few of my conversations now with various locals. I again heard the sentiment that Swedish people are uncomfortable with strangers and not very outgoing (never mind that I was hearing this from a friendly Swede I had just met, though perhaps it was different because we were introduced by a good friend in the US). It seems like something that Swedes in general are self-conscious about, especially when they mention the willingness of Americans to talk to strangers.

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Henrik told me that Swedes illustrate the difference with a metaphor. Americans are like peaches: sweet and soft on the outside, with a hard pit on the inside. They are friendly and easy to talk to, but it’s tough to get past that niceness and talk about deeper feelings. Swedish people, however, are like coconuts. They have a hard outer shell that is initially difficult to break through, but once you do, they’re all mushy on the inside and spill their secrets. I found this hilarious and probably quite true.

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A building in Lilla Torg, one of the oldest squares in town.

We went to the Slottsträdgårdens Kafé for lunch, a small café in the garden of the city’s main park. I’ll have to go back soon and take pictures because the flowers (and the food!) were beautiful. I had a dish that I’ve found to be all over Sweden, a salad with a ton of mini shrimp heaped on top (“salad med räka”).

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Wheelbarrow benches! I love this design.
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More of the historic Swedish architecture in Lilla Torg.

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These bike racks continued all along the street! Malmö cyclists might just outnumber the pedestrians.
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Berry bushes for sale at a flower shop? Never seen that before.

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At one point I asked Henrik if he thought that Swedes were generally healthy (probably the vaguest question I can ask that relates to my project). He said yes, maybe, but health has been declining in Sweden lately. He thinks the main cause of the decline is increased economic inequality. Even though a lot of healthcare is free in Sweden, there are still some small fees to pay, and not every aspect of health is included. For example, dentistry is not covered for adults above 18 years old. Thus past the age of 18, if someone is only making about $300 per month and a single dentist visit costs $250, they won’t go. With increasing economic inequality, then, fewer people are going to the dentist.

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This is Möllevångstorget, the main square in the Möllan neighborhood. Apparently it’s the “worker’s neighborhood,” as depicted by this statue of workers building the city.

Even Swedes who could easily afford going to the dentist and other doctors do not necessarily do so. Henrik estimates that about 5% of Swedish citizens make an effort to get annual check-ups with a general practitioner even though this would cost no more than $40 per visit.

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This is no mosque, as I thought from a distance, but rather a nightclub in Möllan!
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In back of this rose fountain, you can see the nightclub. This is all in the Folkets Park of Möllan.

Henrik gave his recommendation for solving the problem in Sweden: create a law that requires companies to make sure that each employee has a check-up at least once a year. This sort of law would move Sweden’s health care policy to be more in line with that of the US, where your health care package depends on your employer’s generosity. Interesting.

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A beautiful day in Malmö. Many people had rented this little blue paddle boats and were paddling along in the water.

Weekends in Sweden

With the Watson, there is just so much time. I think that is a blessing that can manifest as a curse. Especially now, I have even more time, as many companies and stores are shut down for part of the summer – it is definitely vacation time in Sweden. That said, I can use this time to adjust myself, to get to know Sweden. I initially thought the Watson was so anti-tourism, but it’s not entirely so. The fact that I’m spending months in each country, thinking about sim cards and meeting locals and what time the library opens, already means that I’m doing something different than the average tourist.

But it’s also okay to do the touristy thing, as previous Watson Fellows gently reminded me after I reached out during my initial freak-out. Part of getting your bearings in each country is sight-seeing and learning about important areas and buildings. One walk – even a 10-mile one – isn’t going to cover all that.

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Feeling more like a local with this library card! It gives me access to free wifi all over the city.

I decided to spend the weekend being a bit of a tourist while trying to figure out what Swedish people do during the weekend. I found that many museums in Sweden are free if you’re under 25 years old. After walking up super late and having coffee at the super-hipster Café Biscotti, I decided to check some of them out. What do Swedes do on the weekends, anyway? First I went to Sjöfartsmuseet, the maritime museum with an aquarium.

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Ship models floating in the void – this was one of my favorite parts of the museum.

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When an octopus visits your living room…
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They didn’t have any fish for this tank, so they put water pokémon! Turns out Pokémon Go is just as popular in Sweden as in the US.

I highly recommend Sjöfartsmuseet – it was a blast. Next I went to the famous church Masthuggskyrkan, where I ran into a Swattie! I had heard that despite Swarthmore’s small size, graduates have a tendency to run into each other all over the world. I didn’t think it would happen so soon, and at a Swedish church no less!

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Masthuggskyrkan. “-kyrkan” means church. The inside of this church was fashioned to look like an upturned boat, with wooden beams all along the length of the concave ceiling.

My next stop was the city’s main museum, the Stadsmuseum. It was in the center of the city, with a very regal exterior, giving me the impression that it would be like the Met in NYC. Well, it wasn’t. Except for a dark, creepy Viking room, there wasn’t a whole lot of interesting things in this museum.

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When there’s nothing to do at a museum, take selfies with the old telephone props.

Luckily my trip to the Stadsmuseum got me to “inner city,” the center-city neighborhood of Göteborg, which I realized I had somehow missed before. It’s surrounded by the “moat,” a small body of water that separates the center city from the rest of Göteborg. It’s a mostly pedestrian area with fun shops and lively cafés and restaurants. I felt like I had finally found the Swedish people! The rest of the city had felt so quiet that morning. (Keep in mind that the population of the whole city is half a million, and probably fewer than that in the summer months).

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Found this hilarious tourist train in “inner city.”
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Tons of people waiting outside the Elite Plaza Hotel to see Bruce Springsteen, who is performing in Göteborg this week.
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I really can’t get over the cute trains here.
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I found the people! Check out this glitzy shopping center. I was telling a Swede about it later and she doesn’t like it.

 

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This is Homan – we shared a table under the awning at 7-Eleven when it started raining. I asked him what Swedes do on weekends and he said “Nothing! This city is dead!”

Lastly, I accidentally bought a rice pudding thinking it was yogurt, so I need to learn some more of the language!