Not the Same

A snowman who dreams of the sunshine, changing plans, world records and pickled sharks…it’s just another Christmas in the desert

If expat life has taught us nothing else, it’s that plans change.

So no sooner had I written a paean to all things work-related a couple of weeks ago, than my contract was put on hold, at least for the time being.

Olaf dreams of the sunshine in winter. He should pay Qatar a visit

(Developments will no doubt follow in future posts, but at time of writing I have no idea what the outcome will be.)

That wasn’t the only change of plan. We were due to be spending Christmas here in Doha with my in-laws, but for various reasons they postponed their trip. So hopefully we’ll have the pleasure of giving them a little winter sunshine in a couple of months’ time.

That left the four of us here in a very quiet city to celebrate not just the holidays, but Kid A’s birthday as well. We always go out of our way to separate the two celebrations (and are ever-vigilant to the threat of the deadly Joint Present), even more so as this year was an actual milestone: her 10th.

Ten Years Awake

It seems like only a second ago that the beautiful, inquisitive young girl she is today was a screaming bundle of grump (Kid A was not, it would be fair to say, the happiest of babies). It still boggles my mind how much has changed in that decade.

Happy birthday
Where did that decade go?

I would have sent emails announcing her arrival out via a 56k dial-up internet connection (retro flashback sound alert!) and in the decade since we’ve already become blasé about broadband, Wi-Fi, e-readers, smartphones and tablets. By 2023, I reckon we’ll be treating Gattaca as a documentary.

As if to emphasise just how different the world they’re growing up in is, Kid A chose to kick off her birthday celebrations by going ice skating – in a shopping mall.

It was about as wintry as it gets here, so you can understand her thinking. Conveniently, Mrs LC had to work on the big day, which meant that the role of wobbly parental chaperone fell to me – with emphasis on the ‘fell’.

So while Kid A successfully worked on improving her poise and balance, I tottered around the ice like a port-soaked sailor. Graceful it was not, but it made her happy, which was the main thing.

After a quick pit stop for me to mainline arnica for my bruises, we continued the wintry theme with a trip to see Disney’s Frozen which is a wintry, irony-free delight from start to finish.

There’s an actual twist, a clever spin on the idea of true love’s kiss (which, this being Qatar, we never actually saw lest we be corrupted) and, in Olaf the snowman, the birth of classic character. Poor deluded Olaf daydreams of the beach, blissfully unaware of what happens to frozen things in summer; the irony of watching this on another sunny day in the desert was not lost on any of us.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Frozen is about choices and relationships, but most of all it’s about siblings.

It is my duty to warn you therefore – mainly because no one warned me – that in its opening minutes, Frozen packs an emotional punch not seen since Toy Story 2’s When She Loved Me or, you know, this.

Maybe it’s a younger sibling thing, but Do You Want to Build a Snowman?, as sung by a girl who only wants to play with her big sister and doesn’t understand why she won’t (she’s cursed, and has been banished, as you do) is quietly devastating.

In fact, the whole soundtrack is addictively singalongable, a conclusion I have reached after a week of almost continuous exposure. Ahem. (Join in!)

And it got me thinking about Kid A and Amnesiac, and how their relationship has become even closer since we relocated, because the expat exodus at major holidays means they’ve mostly had to rely on each other for entertainment. It’s another big difference of being here for the hoilidays.

Yes, we made mince pies, and decorated a tree, but being hot, and far away from family means Christmas here is not the same.

Making the most of

Our response was to make the most of the situation and play tourist in our own Little City, and in doing so we managed to find a uniquely Doha version of the festive spirit.

Having spent our first Christmas as expats here last year as well, the holiday was even more visible this year, with shops not slow to spot a retail opportunity – even if a lot of stuff was being sold under anodyne ‘Seasons’ Greetings’ banners.

Kite flying
When we tried this in Aspire Park, we got told to stop

There was the Christmas Eve ‘carol concert’ at a hotel on the other side of town. It may been lacking actual carols (unless Last Christmas counts these days?) but there was a visit from Santa, hot chocolate and gingerbread houses, and suddenly the season didn’t seem so far away.

So whilst our families back in the UK were lashed by storms, we picnicked in the park (where this man flew a kite in direct contravention of Fun Bylaw 76a).

Instead of trying out new hats, gloves and scarves, we put the kids’ new pool toys through their paces.

And we obeyed Expat Law 29.b(1) which decrees that anyone here for Christmas must report to their nearest international hotel for brunch. As if to apologise for being terrible at ice skating, we did our bit for the Canadian economy by hightailing it over to the Four Seasons.

The record breaking flag
It’s the size of 15 football pitches

Once there, I made fast friends with a martini fountain and ate a thousand delightful things, none of which were turkey.

We went to see the world’s largest flag. The fact that they saw something which will be in next year’s edition was a massive treat for our Guinness book-obsessed kids.

Tourist trappings

We took a thought-provoking trip to the Damien Hirst retrospective Relics (on till Jan 22 at Al Riwaq, next to the MIA). Some of the pieces were obvious wind-ups, but there’s always been a degree of sarcastic fun in Hirst’s best work and the extensive exhibition highlights plenty of that side of his career, too.

Damien Hirst - Relics
Amnesiac ponders the eternal question: But is it art?

Some exhibits may be a tad grisly for juniors, but they generated some very lively conversations with our curious kids.

Overall, ours were fine with the sharks, flies, cows’ heads and bisected sheep, but both were completely freaked out by the artist’s diamond-encrusted skulls which I thought were some of the more benign objects on display.

For our part, we were too busy being impressed at the fact we had such an extensive exhibition from a genuine superstar of the art world right here on our doorstep, for free.

The next night we found ourselves (almost by accident) at a concert by Nigel Kennedy, the fist-bumping British violin savant.

Nigel Kennedy
Nigel Kennedy, for one night only

The whole event was so typically Doha: from the almost total lack of advertising, to the amusing confusion on seating inside Katara’s beautiful main theatre (I’m not sure if any of the ushers we spoke to actually knew how to get to the balcony – but thankfully a regular pointed us in the right direction), to the timey-wimey nature of the show itself, which started bang on the dot of 8pm.

Which wasn’t too bad, given that our tickets said 7.30.

This week we have the football friendly between Qatar-owned PSG and Real Madrid to distract us for a night from Messrs Murray and Nadal at the Men’s Open Tennis.

The Qatar Tourist Authority is doing its utmost to promote Doha as a visit destination. Household names from across sport, music and the arts will certainly help. But attention to the basics like ticketing, stewarding and timekeeping are needed now if any visitors they do attract are to leave with the impression of Qatar as a serious prospect in the international tourism stakes.

With Christmas now over, we are now looking forward to whatever 2014 will bring – and about the only thing I can safely predict is that we won’t be able to predict half of what’s about to happen.

PS Thanks for all your comments, likes, shares, replies and support in 2013 – from whichever of the 101 countries you visited me from.

Wherever you are, I wish you a very happy new year.


6 thoughts on “Not the Same

  1. zmounsey January 9, 2014 / 5:27 am

    Great post, especially after experiencing our first Christmas here as a family and enjoying the delights of Frozen

    • littlecity January 11, 2014 / 8:35 am

      Thanks, Zoe. Hope it didn’t feel too strange for you all!

  2. Emma January 10, 2014 / 12:00 pm

    Another excellent blog Nat. Although Steven would like to point out the spelling mistake that he joyously spotted (knowing you’re as grammar-obsessed as me). I’ll leave you to find it, heh heh 😉

    • littlecity January 11, 2014 / 8:35 am

      Pretty sure there’s only one p in pedant 🙂 But thanks, if I had a staff, you can be my copy editor

      • Matthew Steven January 18, 2014 / 7:21 pm

        I wasn’t going to point it out either sport.

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