Friday, December 23, 2011

Heading home for the holidays

And, we're off! Wrapping up a few loose ends this morning working from home and then we schlep to Heathrow on what is apparently one of the busiest air travel day of the year. Ugh. Of course, one of the "loose ends" is code for "packing." Luckily BA has a helpful guide for what you can and can't pack in your luggage: below is a screen grab of the essential information, which means I can go ahead and take those Christmas crackers home for the family – if I can fit them in the suitcase!

Good luck in traveling wherever you're going, and have an amazing holiday break with loved ones near and far.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Metal thieves

In a sad and depressing sign of the times, the UK's burgeoning trade in stolen metal has reached its nadir with a Barbara Hepworth statue stolen out from Dulwich Park a few days ago.

Apparently commodity prices for industrial metals like copper and iron are soaring, giving petty thieves an incentive to steal metal from railroads, plaques from statues - basically, anything solid metal has a decent resale value and they're going after it. The Hepworth piece is just the worst – and most high profile – example of the crime. Police are cracking down on the crime, as it is not only just sad to see art being stolen but it's contributing to commuter train disruption and costing the country millions.

At this festive time of the year full of goodwill and cheer, this epidemic is making me despondent. Obviously because public art should be safe through a commonly accepted code of decency in society, but also because the economy is still so bad that more and more people are being driven to crime to try to make ends meet (I'm a fan of believing people are inherently good, and that motives for stealing a beautiful sculpture aren't purely mercenary).

Anyway. Here's to hoping this is the first and last of such crimes in the world, and that the thieves find some Christmas spirit in their hearts to return the sculpture to be restored.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My week in Doha

So I'm back in the office, sitting at my desk, trying to get photos from 5 different places into one blog post. Apologies for the weird posting!

Anyway, here it is - a week in the Middle East, working, exploring, and trying to understand this fascinating region.

It started with a flight mid-day last Saturday, which I started with a glass of bubbly. Underneath the glass was a bottle holder for my water. I was served a 4 course meal and my seat had massage settings that I used for the majority of the flight in a state of semi-consciousness. Brilliant. Ryanair this was not, and I am now dreading my flight to America on Friday in row 7,000 of BA economy class. Bleurgh.

Part of my job in Qatar involved visiting museums, and this is by far one of the most amazing museums I've ever visited. Designed by I.M. Pei, the Museum of Islamic Art sits on reclaimed land in the middle of the bay. It is absolutely beautiful from the outside...

And seriously stunning on the inside. This view is looking up to the skylight in the middle of the building's roof.

We also visited the New Old Souk, or Souq Waqif. As with everything in Doha, it was rebuilt recently ("restored") so it is not the original structure. But you can still get spices, animals, and clothing in addition to touristy tat.

We also went to one of the ginormous malls in the city; we were invited to a very swank opening while we were there that was being attended by the Emir and his royal entourage so we had to spruce up the gladrags. It's a good thing that Zara was there, with a very similar pricing structure to that of the UK. But the mall was something straight out of Vegas - complete with a river and gondolier that would take you from one of the mall to the other.

So that was an experience.
But mostly I spent my days calling our driver, waiting for our driver, or being driven somewhere – usually to meetings or important sites that our client recommended we see. No one walks in Doha, so even if your destination is literally around the corner you wait for a driver to take you. Our driver was lovely, a man we called Mr. B, and we found out a little bit about him - a Nepalese immigrant working there for a few years to make some money. 
That's another hard realization: everyone there is an immigrant. Qatar is a small nation, with a relatively low population of native citizens. Everyone else is either a Western expat there to work, or an Asian immigrant there to work. And te servent culture in the Middle East is strong. So many times I wanted to say "that's okay, I don't need you to bow/call me m'am/explain the difference between the 9 steak knives you have for me to choose from" (seriously). But when you're a guest in someone's country, you have to live as they do to some extent and effusive service is the easiest to accept.
The team that I traveled with to Doha was an all-woman project team. That's not unusual in my industry, but before leaving we did have a few people raise their eyebrows about it with regards to the region. Qatar is part of the GCC and one of our clients explained to us that all member states of the GCC have adopted similar dress codes for their citizens including the white thobe for men and the black abaya for women. Apparently abayas used to be bright and colourful, kind of like saris, but now they are black and somber in a Iranian Shia tradition. Women wear these in public, with their face either exposed, half veiled, or fully veiled. It is difficult to be a Western woman, dressed conservatively, but still feeling exposed when sitting in a room with women half veiled. It's the most awkward and self-conscious feeling you could ever have.
Beyond these cultural differences, Doha is experiencing an extreme transformation. The entire city is under construction, and the skyline you see today wasn't there 15 years ago. Everywhere there is something being built, and the ambition and energy were palpable. I've never witnessed a city with such a drive towards progress; everyone there was there for the single reason of contributing to the future of Qatar. It was inspirational, to be honest, and made me think that the Gulf is someplace to watch in the future – sort of like India, it is a region where the youth are organising themselves into a new generation with a lot of things they want to achieve. Returning to London felt like going back in time to an older world that maybe hasn't quite kept up with the economic / political times. I think that we will hear more about the transformation in that region over the next decade, and it will be more positive and exciting than not.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hello from Doha

Masa El Khair! It is nearly 7pm and I'm about to dash off for dinner but I thought I'd say hi. I've been desperately wanting to post a few pictures but my iPhone is on the fritz and keeps continuously turning itself on and off – so the thought of me uploading some photographs is but a pipe dream.

Anyway, Doha is a) sandy, b) on a beautiful blue sea bay, c) under constant construction, d) fascinating, e) repeat all of the above. I'm overwhelmed by the cultural nuances that continuously emerge throughout the course of a day and two days in, I am curious as to what will come next. 

Hopefully I can share some photos soon and there will be a good long post about women coming up, both specifically in the Middle East and internationally in general, as well as just a fuller update. But until then, work calls so Ma'assalama!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

One more big push until Christmas

So it is Christmas and London is decorated, Angel is decorated, my office is decorated, but my house is not. Why? Because of course, as per usual, the marketing industry is trying to earn every last cent of revenue for the year and get as much done as possible before 2011 comes to a close. In my case, that means heading off to Qatar for a week on Saturday to kick off a project we've been waiting to do since June. WHERE you ask? I had the same question myself.

View Larger Map

Qatar is a tiny little kingdom near the UAE and alongside Saudi Arabia. My project there is confidential, but essentially we will be helping to define the nation's cultural legacy. No pressure then.

So I'm giving up my weekend and all of next week to immerse myself in Qatari culture and business. I'm already facing challenges as I begin to think about what to pack! Qatar, like most Gulf states, has a completely different attitude towards women and how they should dress, act, etc. As a Westerner entering their culture, it's on me to conform and not to challenge their societal norms (even if they are at odds with my own culture). I found this really helpful post on Lonely Planet, written by an Arab woman, outlining how to dress and act in business situations, but I still feel a bit anxious. I think that until I get there, see the lay of the land, it will all be very up in the air and slightly stressful. But that's okay - the whole reason for me moving abroad was for the challenge and excitement of doing new things, widening my experiences, and this is penultimate! Especially since I get to fly Business Class roundtrip - my first time ever!!! SO THRILLED.

I'll try to blog here and there while I'm in Doha and I get a minute spare, even if it's just some photos. I'm back next Friday evening and go straight to my Christmas party, after which I will just be SO READY for Christmas and going home to the US it won't even be funny.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Deck the Halls

Over the past few weeks, I've been loving Christmas in London. Here's a selection of my favorite shots from across the city.

Oxford Street

Liberty's Christmas Shop

Carnaby Street

Burlington Arcade

Fortnum & Mason

My office!