Thursday, December 30, 2004

Food for both body and mind

Whatever happened to Shiraz?

We went to dinner last night at Shiraz, the Iranian restaurant in the Crowne Plaza. Shiraz is usually always a safe bet with good food and the best view in town. Not last night.

The food wasn't just bad. It was inedible. We got our food, took a bite each from our kebabs and that was it. We asked for the bill. The waiter didn't act surprised. Never asked "is there something wrong with the food?" He just got us the bill as if it was perfectly normal for people to leave without eating their food. Thank god for the Privilege Club card which gave us 50% off the tab.

We didn't let the bad experience ruin our night and headed to Second Cup which was packed as usual. The coffee was good. The atmosphere was great. We made the most out of it and managed to salvage the rest of our night out.

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Al Fair

Al Fair used to be my favorite supermarket chain in Oman, but unfortunately they're in a very bad state right now. It's surprising that since they've given the management to the people who run the Spinney's chain in Dubai the stores didn't improve. In fact they got worse. The MQ store looks great. Asthetically, it's probably the best supermarket in Oman. But it's not a place to do your full grocery shopping anymore. I go there to buy bread and cheese, plus some European products that I can't get anywhere else. There's no variety of anything else anymore, and the prices are much higher than the competition. And don't get me started on the weird magazine stands.

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Books

The reason I mentioned Al Fair is because I was at their CBD store yesterday and I ended up buying 3 books. Of all the places to get a good selection of book! I was so surprised. I dunno who their supplier is. The price stickers say JAS Books. Why doesn't JAS Books, whoever they are, open a proper bookstore of their own if they have such a nice selection like what they display in Al Fair? The prices weren't too bad either. I'll write about the books later. I've been back in a reading groove lately and I have a few of books to write about.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

So not lovin' it

I left work just a little early because of the rain yesterday. Traffic was bumper to bumper going slower than walking speed. It took me an hour to get from the CBD to Qurum. A distance of probably 6 or 7km, but it took an hour. Still, I was calm. I had the U2 album going at full blast. I was enjoying it. When I saw the off-ramp at Qurum I thought to myself, "why not take the beach road.. see the waves.. nice!". So I got off the highway and headed towards the beach road. Traffic in Qurum was just as bad as the flyover. Bumper to bumper. Snail's pace. Past the Natural Park roundabout as the two lanes merge into one, I was side by side with a white truck. I was in the left lane and he was in the right. I was ahead so I thought he'd slow down and give me way to merge ahead of him. But he accelerated instead. No problem, I'm having a good day, so I slow down and let him go infront. All cool. Until his rear accident guard snatched into my car's right front wing. He kept going and tore through the wing from the wheel arch right in front of the door all the way till the bumper. And he drove away. I honked the horn. Flashed my lights. Waved for him to stop. Dude just drove away. All I could do was take his number down and call the police. Except the police wouldn't pick up the phone. Imagine that? No one picking up 999. Not even a recording to place your call on queue.

If the police can't come to the accident scene what do you do? I drove the nearest police station. The police procedure is enough to drive you insane. I ended up being at the police station for 2 hours. And that's not because they were busy with anything else. It took them two hours to process my one accident. I can't imagine how it would have been if they had others to deal with. The first policeman sat me down in a room and asked me to tell him what happened. He wrote it all down and asked me to sign. Wrote it by hand of course, because the police department still isn't computerized. They're still working on carbon paper. Anyhow, I read it and it was totally the opposite of what I said. This is the essence of what he wrote: I was driving down the road, there was a truck at the end of the road. I hit it. How nice!

I blew my top off. Even the accident wasn't enough to spoil my mood. But this idiot took me over the edge. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and another policeman came in to calm me down and tore up the previous report. Then I had to go to the scene of the accident and wait for a police patrol to come by so I can show them exactly where and how it happened. Then this morning I had to waste the whole morning first going to the police inspection yard where a police mechanic inspected my car and decided what parts would be fixed and which would get replaced. Then I had to come back an hour later to pick up the report. Then I drove to the police station from yesterday to get the accident report, but the police - get this - still haven't been able to get ahold of the guy from the truck. The poor guys, they called his listed number but found out it's been changed. They called Omantel to get his current number but it turned out he doesn't have one. So "please give us two days to find him and come back again on Saturday."

When I finally get the police report I'll have to start chasing after the insurance company. If I am lucky they'll let me fix my car at the dealer. If I am super lucky they'll actually pay to fix the car. Otherwise they might even depreciate the part and give me the equivalent of its current value and I'll have to cover the difference myself. If all goes according to normal schedule my car would be fixed around a month from now.

Lovely.

Monday, December 27, 2004

This and that

1. Rain!

Wonderful weather today. I'm definitely not in a work mood. If I had a four wheel drive car i'd be outside right now just driving around and taking pictures.

It seldom rains in Muscat anymore so we appreciate every drop that we get. It wasn't always like this. I can't pinpoint when it was exactly that rain started becoming scarcer. It must have been in the early to mid 90's. I can't remember the last time we had a good rainfall that lasted continuously for a few years. What we get these days is "drive by" rain. Clouds suddenly appear. It rains hard for an hour or so, then it goes away like nothing had happened. It always amuses me when it rains in the morning. Most people don't put up their sunshades, ever opitimistic with the hope that the rain would last all day. It rarely ever happens. Usually within two hours the sun would be out again, blazing as ever.

2. I got excellent pictures from the stadium the other day when we went and did the patriotic thing to cheer our returning football team. I'll figure out a way to post some of them soon as I can.

3. I finally got the U2 album. Cheers to my excellent wife who asked her friend to get it from Dubai for me. Big thanks to her friend too, though I can't let her by so easily for what she said when she listened to it in the shop: "I wanted to dismantle my own body from all the yelling." Bono will not be pleased.

4. I need books. Can someone please guide me if there's any option other than Amazon for books. Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk have both increased their shipping rates for books and outpriced themselves out of my market. Besides, with the British Pound at around 0.74 you think twice before buying anything from the UK regardless of the shipping rate.

5. I passed by the Ministry of Truth the other day to follow up on something and had the honor of meeting a censor. A person with a room and a desk and a big stack of magazines to censor for my protection. Next time I buy a magazine and find a page missing or a picture blacked-out I'll know who to thank for it.

6. Speaking of magazines, what's up with the crazy prices we're paying? And how come magazine subscriptions are so much cheaper in the US than in the UK? UK magazine subscriptions rarely save you any money while in the US subscriptions often save you as much as 70% off the cover price. The price of Empire magazine is now almost 5 rials an issue in the local market. I thought I'd subscribe to it to save money but the subscription price turned out to be close to 80 pounds which doesn't save me much at all. In the meantime, Premiere magazine (which is shit compared to Empire) sells for just over 3 rials here. I got a one year subscription for $37, which brings the price per issue to around 1.2 rials.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

I'm here, I'm alive!!!

And I'm pregnant! YAHOOOO!!!! Could you tell I'm over the moon? I know I haven't been blogging for ages, but, like my better half said, I have been busy being pregnant. Oh and by that he means I am asleep all the time. I swear, that is ALL I do. I fall asleep just sitting in my place. Anytime, anywhere. For the first two months, they only saw me at work when I punched in, then when it was time to leave again (I'm lucky I work in a place where there is hardly any work this time of the year and where the library is never used). I just went all the way to back and collapsed on any chair/table/floor. I'm just thankful I'm not puking nonstop like some of my friends. Gimme sleepiness any time of day!

They say you don't show at 3 months, but for some reason I do, which is kind of worrying! If my clothes are too tight at this stage, I dread to imagine how fat I'm going to be. Actually, i'm kinda lying, I wanna be fat and round and give birth to a fat baby, hehe.

Ok, i better change the subject, or you'll never hear the end of it!!

Can I just mention that I managed to get my husband the U2 album he's been b****ing about? Luckily a friend of mine went to Dubai this weekend and managed to find it, he can stop complaining now!

Oh we went to the stadium yesterday with a group of friends to greet our national football team. It was a blast!!! Except for a few wierdos here and there. The team were ecstatic at the standing ovation they received! They deserved it, poor chaps, they really worked hard, I honestly think we have a shot at winning next time *fingers crossed*

Whatever happened to the "she said" part of the blog?

By some miracle, someone the other day decided to waste some of his precious time reading this blog.

Inzain, in case anyone's wondering how come this blog hasn't had a single post from my better half since we got back from Glasgow, we have some good news. She's been busy being pregnant.

Al7amdlilah, the first trimester's over and I guess that's when you're supposed to start telling people. Not in Oman though, people tell from the first week here. She's very happily pregnant and we're expecting our first born towards the end of June, 2005. She's got more important things to do than blog.

No he didn't

Oman's loss to Qatar in the penalty shootout of the Gulf Cup championship match brought a deafening silence to the crowd. Three times Oman was one shot away from the cup. Three times they missed. THREE TIMES. It was a direct message from God telling Oman that He shall not allow it to win the cup. "You shall play like you've never played before. You shall reach the finals. But you shall not win." So close that you can almost taste it. Close, but no cigar.

And that sums up the entire history of Oman. Has there ever been such a miserable country? Are we destined to always watch from the sidelines as everything passes us by. Ok, so things could be worse. We're not a natural catastrophe like Bangladesh. We have no sectarian problems like Iraq. We're not dirt poor like some African countries. But come on, for how long will we be the people who have to be thankful for what they have and for how much better off they are than others, instead of for that they've actually achieved.

In elementary school history and islamic studies they taught us about Mazin bin Ghadhooba, the first Omani to embrace islam. Mazin heard about the new religion, so he traveled to see the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and became a muslim in his presence. The legend goes that Mazin asked him to say a prayer for Oman so the Prophet gave a prayer which basically asks God that Oman prospers forever, etc. Note that I called this a legend. I quit believing that this story is real a long time ago. There's no way Prophet Mohammed would pray for a country and it ends up as miserable as Oman is.

This is a country where nothing goes right. It's a world of its own where everything works the opposite of how it should be. If the world was like Jerry Seinfeld, Oman would be George. We're still waiting for the time Oman goes "opposite" like George did. A friend of mine used to say that the perfect example of the Oman situation is McDonalds. The most popular restaurant chain in the world, but in Oman it's barely profitable. But at least it's making money. Burger King, Wendys and Subway all shut their doors and left a long time ago.

A few weeks ago they managed to get Michael Porter to give a couple of private lectures about Oman's competitiveness. He gave a lecture that basically said "Oman could be the best country in the region if it changes the following.." and then he listed almost everything that was wrong in Oman. He basically said "change everything". Of course our press the next day had the headlines declaring that the world's top management guru says that Oman could be the best. That's what we're good at. We can put a spin on just about anything and make it sound like a compliment. But can we build a competitive advantage on that?

I know a bitch a lot. That's what I do. I see things happen around me. I read a lot. I go online a lot. It comes to a boil, I bitch. It lets out a little steam. It's like a natural pressure valve/blog. What good will it do? Absolutely nothing. I will not go away and live in Dubai like others I know. Not for the pay, and definitely not because "things actually work there" like a friend who's taken the jump told me. Deep inside me, I still believe that Oman will work one day. And then will I stop bitching?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Oman..

1. It's almost surreal when Oman starts a football tournament as the favorites to win. It's hypersurreal when Oman follows through and actually reaches the final. Will they win? I don't care. We'd all love it if they do, but having grown up with Oman always being last or before last for close to three decades of Gulf Cup tournaments it's more than enough just getting to the final this time. They can pull it off. It's a great day to be Omani.

2. On the flip side, when it comes to music it's absolutely positively not a good thing living in Oman. It's been a month since U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb album came out and it's still not available in Oman. Meanwhile, Robbie, Kylie and Blue's greatest hits are all already available in all the stores, along with any kind of crap pop album you can imagine. I had pre-ordered the U2 CD from CD Wow in the begining of November but then they kept delaying the shipment. When they sent me yet another delay notice on Dec 5 I got mad and cancelled the order thinking that by now surely all the stores in town must have it in stock. How wrong I was. Now I'm Oman's resident miserable U2 fan.

3. It must be a sign of growing old. I'd never have kept waiting for music I like. I'd have downloaded it. Pirated it. Called people who are traveling and asked them to get it for me. Oh God..

Apathy Nation

I stopped at shop in the morning to buy some juice and biscuits for the office. While I was there a kid of about sixteen came in and lifted a single finger to the shop keeper. The shop keeper reached under his desk and got out a single cigarette from a pack and gave it to the kid. The kid paid and was out in no time enjoying his morning smoke before school. This scene repeats almost every time I stop at one of these shops.

This time, I asked the shopkeeper, "I thought you're not allowed to sell single cigarettes".
He instantly replied "he's light smoker, better he buys a single cigarette than a pack," like he's doing the kid a favor by selling him the smoke.

I smiled to the guy, didn't want to intimidate him, and asked "wasn't there a law a couple years ago prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to kids under 18?"

"Yes of course," he says, and points to a sign on the wall behind him that says "We don't sell cigarettes to under 18's". A nice fancy sign - incidentally printed and distributed by the tobacco lobby in the gulf.

"But that kid's under 18!"
"No, no.. he's over 18. He must be on his way to college right now."

There you go, Oman strikes again. Yet another law that resides strictly on the books. Nobody even knows who's supposed to enforce the antismoking law. They announced the law. Made a big fuss about it for a day. And then they forgot about it.

Smoke when you're young. Drink when you're under age. Drive under the influence every single day if you want. Just don't break the speed limit. That's the only law they enforce. And I guess if they didn't have camera radars they wouldn't have enforced that one either.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Omantel finally sees the light

In 2004 the number of US households with broadband connections surpassed households with dial-up connections for the first time.

And on December 18, 2004 Oman's best-loved company, Omantel, finally announced broadband for the masses. Of course, we don't know how much of their announcement is real and how much is just vapour. Broadband has been available in Muscat on a "trial basis" since around March 2003. I know people who've been using it over a year. In fact, Omantel has officially launched their broadband product around March of this year but the price was too high and they didn't have enough lines. They couldn't bother to go connect everyone's homes.

So here we are nine months later, and guess what? It's like it's never happened. They're launching it as if it was something new. Huge launch event at the Bustan Palace. Billboard ads all over town "Have you got the power?". Etc, etc. But as Omantel goes, it's a good deal. For household use, the price is just RO. 12 per month plus 1 rial per GB. You worry that those gigs will pile up quick? Well the price is capped at RO. 39 a month max. Ok, so 100 bucks a month for internet is a lot, especially when the speed is just 384 download / 128 upload. But hey it's a start, and come on how many people gonna download that much anyhow. Most people won't go beyond 5 to 10GB a month, if even. And who knows, if the service does take off maybe we can dream of flat rates or maybe even faster lines within a year. Oh how I miss my 1 megabit line from Glasgow.

PS. I'm posting this by email. First time I use this. Hope it works.

Talk Talk

Here's a quick list of the rumours circulating in Muscat at the moment:

1. The government will pay all public sector employees a bonus salary because of increased oil prices.
1b. New update: The bonus will be RO. 145 per person only.
2. Carrefour haven't been approved a license to open in Qurum so they're shifting the new location to Ruwi.
3a. BMW is unhappy with Suhail Bahwan and is thinking of withdrawing the agency and awarding it to Moosa Al Aruri with a Saudi partner or,
3b. The new BMW agent will be Majid Al Futtaim.
4. Suhail Bahwan is negotiating with Majid Al Futtaim to sell the Nissan agency for Oman along with the new showroom that's under construction.
5a. The NBO-BankMuscat merger won't go through.
5b. The NBO-BankMuscat will go through but in April 2005.
6. PDO will lay off as many as 1000 of its employees (actually this one might be true).
7. The Ministry of Manpower is trying to force Nawras to lower its staff salaries.
8. Markaz Al Bahja is for sale for RO. 10 million.
9. The minimum wage for high school diploma holders will be increased.
10. OIB wants to merge with Bank Dhofar.