Jan 1, 2023

Travelogue - Doha

This was actually my second trip to Doha. The first was during the time when Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup 2022 back in 2010. I still remember the cacophony of Vuvuzelas (made famous during the 2010  WC in South Africa) when the bid result was announced back then . I had wished back then that I could come back to see the tournament in 2022. 

Two World Cups and 12 years later, we made it.  Back in 2010 in Doha, Messi had scored to win an exhibition match between Brazil and Argentina. Fitting to that, the cup went to Argentina after a thrilling final. We went to see a pre-quarter match between Portugal & Switzerland.  The match was a goal fest, the festive atmosphere at Lusail was indeed an experience.  The fact that World Cup was in Middle East also gave a good opportunity for lot of Indians to see it.  

Much has been written about World Cup in different contexts. I choose to write this in a different context. In 2010, Qatar was a small city drivable in under an hour with not much traffic. There were a few big oil centric businesses, a few banks back then. 

Today, Doha has a swanky metro system with four lines criss-crossing the city - arguably the best in the region . Quite a few large stations are built underground. Hamad International Airport is a Goliath in itself. Qatar Airways has grown atleast 5X from those times I think.   The money that has been pumped into infrastructure investment here has been humungous.  

Can a country or city build its way to prosperity backing on an event like World Cup ? This is the first time that the tournament is being held in a single city. Olympics typically happens in a single city. Just like hosting Olympics, the run-up to the tournament, demand for hosting of the teams , spectators etc caused an infrastructure boom centered around hotels, rental accommodations etc. Even cruise ships were pulled into Doha port to provide temporary accommodation options.  

Will all this infrastructure & investment cause more businesses to come to Doha ? That's the true test of this World Cup extravaganza.  The metro systems have resulted in commute being much easier . There is surplus properties in the market that will make stays affordable. Would this result in businesses relocating to Doha from cities such as Dubai & Riyadh ? That's something that I'm perplexed about. The country had petro-dollars . The rulers placed a bet on this event, not just from 2022 perspective, but also from another 10 or 20 years perspective. The bet is that the infrastructure investments for the tournament will accelerate new businesses coming here and will make it easy for Doha to catch up with Dubai in terms of economy & businesses.  That's a tall ask. After living in Dubai, I admire about their boldness of  "build it, they'll come" strategy even without the backing of petro-dollars.  Qatar has also placed a strong bet in that direction with World Cup being a launch pad.  

Let's see where it takes. I wish I can come back to Doha after another 12 years to see where the city has moved to !!!

Jun 22, 2019

Travelogue - Ho Chi Minh City

Never before have I been in a country where people from two cities spoke so different politically over their country. Ho Chi Minh City, erstwhile Saigon, showcased as the ultimate triumph of will of people over the sinister American imperialism has a subtle reticence in anything and everything. There is a defiance against American atrocities & chemical weapons usage, there is a murmur against the rich ruling class that has emerged just like China inspite of communism, there is an undercurrent anger in the generation that was made to live outside of Vietnam for their parents being sympathetic to the old South Vietnam regime.

The famous Napalm girl photo in Original
Anybody who gets a chance to be in Ho Chi Minh city (HCMC) should see the war remnants museum. Infact, the three places in the world where are the extremist and war mongering people should be sent, even for a paid holiday are - Berlin, Hiroshima and Ho Chi Minh city . Just like Hiroshima, agent orange after effects are beyond words. Generations that were born after the war still suffer the after effects of this poisonous chemical that was indiscriminately used during the Vietnam war.

Cu chi tunnels that tell the story of how Viet-Cong rebels fought and won against an overwhelmingly superior opposition is a tale not to be missed. Just like pyramids are a testament to human endurance during Pharaoh's rules, Cu chi tunnels show us how much a determined group of people can fight on with limited means.
Agent Orange Horrors - War Remnants Museum

Vietnamese food has a healthy mix of rice, fish and vegetable. HCMC being a commercial hub, has a variety of modern food joints from McDonalds to traditional varieties. The puppet shows in HCMC are a great cultural mix of their Buddhist and Hindu origins .
With Viet Cong Guerilla Models

Present day HCMC is a thriving metropolis. More than 8.5 million motor bikes keep the city of almost the same population chugging on. Recent China - America trade spat has resulted in an economic boom for Vietnam. Scores of Chinese businesses now export their wares to the west registered as Vietnamese businesses. Indeed, this economic prosperity has resulted in accusations against Vietnam that they are artificially keeping the currency undervalued.

HCMC will leave you with an uneasiness. A tinge in your memories that will make you remember them whenever you hear about a war in any part of the world. They are not very different from an average Indian in terms of their daily struggles to live. Yet they smile at you, host you very well and would make you feel that you were a part of them.

Travelogue - Barcelona

"Allow me to state here how much I love Barcelona , an admirable city, a city full of life, intense, a port open to the past and future"   -- Le Corbusier

Barcelona Port Area
The port cities that I have visited, always has a charm. Hanseatic City of Hamburg, The Dutch megapolis of Amsterdam, Istanbul - the cocktail of East and West,  Alexandria - the yesteryear's gateway to the world - All these have a distinct culture which has been morphed by the sailors and traders who frequented to these ports for years. Barcelona is no different. Although the trading centric maritime traffic seems to be giving way to cruise liners and luxury yachts bringing more and more people to the town. 

I was here for Mobile World Congress - events like this represent the equivalence of yesteryear's maritime traffic, bringing people and companies from across the world to Catalunya.  The week of MWC represents a time of the year when Barcelona is at its Zenith - perhaps only rivalled when a champions league final happens at Camp Nou with their arch-rivals Real Madrid.  

Realtime 3D Avatar rendering @ MWC

From Chinese companies trying to battle the perception (reality ?) of IP theft to Moroccan IoT startups that crossed the Mediterranean in search of a wider market, Automotive majors exhibiting how the car has become a computing device to management consulting companies that have invested in technology startups like never before, the scope and breadth up on show at MWC is really unparalleled.  In that essence, the diverse mix of technologies and ethnicities would have closely mirrored the entropy of Barcelona caused in historical times due to maritime traffic. 

The signature dishes of Sangria and Paella gives you a sense of its entropy. The cuisines up for grabs in Barcelona restaurants are just awesome in its taste and variety. Unlike typical European food, Spanish cuisine has a decent dose of spices as well as olive oil. The liberal use of Olive oil, vegetables and fish as well as the physically active lifestyle is paying good health benefits for the city. Spain is supposed to knock of Japan from the top position of Life expectancy by 2040

Paella - The signature Catalunya dish
My earliest memories of Barcelona is of the first Olympics that I followed in TV in 1992. It is said that the tourist inflows started in a major way from that point. The historical quarter of the city is so much full of tourists that it gave rise to the anti-tourist movements, perhaps the first city that saw such a movement   Barcelona made news couple of years back by fining Airbnb as well for this tourist inflow. The city has tremendous infrastructure for supporting the tourism sector though. An extensive subway network and public buses makes commuting pretty smooth. The airport is pretty large and impressive. Most shop keepers know English as well. And I didn't come across any visible symbol of Catalonia Independence movement as well.

The city's future lies in technology and tourism though. Catalan companies were quite active in scouring startups across the world present in MWC and embracing innovative solutions from them.  MWC was a trademark show to any event organising cities as well. Score of volunteers at every entry point like airport & major metro stations helping the visitors, signboards at strategically important points. Indeed the organising efficiency of the city seems to have been a major factor in MWC sticking to this city for sometime. 

So, till I get a chance to visit this city next time,  hopefully to see as a tourist, "hasta luego"

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