Monday, January 31, 2005

To recline or not to recline

The argument goes like this: Why fly first or business class when you can fly coach and use the money you save from the difference on the holiday itself? It makes huge sense until you find yourself cramped in your seat in coach class and you start cursing yourself out a million times in your mind for doing it.

What's the worst part about flying in economy class?

To me it's when it's when the person in front of you reclines his/her seat and you find a total stranger literarily in your lap. You're in position with no breathing space at all and you can't even hold a book in front of you to read. Now comes to the tough decision: Should I continue to suffer or should I be an asshole, like the guy in front, and recline my seat all the way back too?

I just can't get myself to do it. I can't be that oblivious to others as if my behaviour doesn't affect them.

What about you, are you one of those people?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

We're back.. and Seeb Airport still sucks


We're back from KL. We had a great time and I have a million and one things in my head that I want to write about. I'll start with where the trip started, Seeb Airport.

Our flight from Oman was at 1.40am. It would have been unfair to ask anyone to take us to the airport that late so we went extra early thinking we can buy books and magazines from Turtles and then hang out at the Costa Coffee in the duty free. So there we were all checked in and already past passport control two hours ahead of our flight. We headed up to the Duty Free only to find out that the whole floor was designated as a smoking lounge. How considerate of our airport management to give a whole floor for smokers complete with Duty Free, Costa Coffee, a bar, and three fast food franchises. And how super considerate of them that those of who don't smoke and want to breathe clean air can have the whole ground floor which is strictly non-smoking except that it doesn't have any of the shops or ammenities. While airports around the world confine smokers to tiny glass rooms, Oman gives them half the airport. They've satisfied the smaller portion of their customers by alienating the bigger one.

We tried to brave the smoke upstairs but gave up quickly. The air was full of smoke and we soon found ourselves choking. There must have been hundreds of smokers there. I looked all around for a customer service counter or anyone who I could complain to, but there was no one. We had to give up and head downstairs to the boring area and just wait for our flight by the "gate".

By the way, Muscat Duty Free is a huge rip off. Other than cigarettes and alcohol, there's nothing there which isn't cheaper in town. I looked at CD's, DVD's, electronics and mobile phones. Everything costs more than the price in town or the same. Nothing's cheaper. The place S U C K S. I met a British guy there looking to buy cigars who told me that cigars were 30% cheaper at Bahrain Duty Free. Two things struck me: 1) Bahrain Duty Free is known to be expensive, and 2) Both Muscat and Bahrain duty free shops are managed by the same company! (it's an Irish company called Aeranta or something like that) Are we destined to be ripped off forever?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Caught!

The first rumours started around January 10th that around 50 Omanis had been arrested because they belonged to a religious/extremist organization. Was it Al Qaeda? Were they sunna or ibadha? No details. By January 15th, some Omani blogs had already mentioned it. The first hint of legitimacy to the story came on the first day of Eid when one of the Arab news channels first mentioned it. Then the rumor machine went into overdrive: They wanted to blow up the opening ceremony of Muscat Festival when all the ministers would be in attendance.

On the first day of work after the eid holiday, OmanForum got buzzin' about the news too. As usual they did their bit (they don't call it the Local Gossip forum for nothing after all) by jacking up the figures: 600 Omanis Caught!!!

A few days later the news agencies and the international news got on the wagon too. Oman 'arrests hundreds over plot' said the BBC and added to the story that they were planning explosions that target Muscat Festival. The very next day Rueters came through with real news reporting instead of the BBC's gossip mongering, Oman detains a group of Islamists - sources which said that 1) Only around 30 people have been arrested, and 2) they were not "violent extremists". (The Reuters story is also interesting because it mentions an Omani human rights activist who I had never heard of before). Yesterday's KhaleejTimes has an article 'Academics among 100 held in Oman' which is significant because it includes a quote from the son of Ali bin Hilal Al Abri, the professor who all the other articles referred to without ever mentioning his name.

And yet despite the fact that the son of one of the arrested has come forward to comment, there is still no official comment from the government. In fact, there has been a denial of the news by the police in the UAE Arabic newspaper Al Bayan:
نفى مصدر مسؤول في الشرطة العمانية نفياً قاطعاً خبر اعتقال مجموعة من المتشددين في مسقط واعتبره من قبيل الاشاعة والاثارة.


وقال المصدر الذي فضل عدم الكشف عن اسمه لـ «البيان» امس ان سلطات الأمن العمانية لا تعلم بوجود مثل هذه الاعتقالات والتي اعتبرها شائعات ملفقة محملاً المسؤولية للجهة التي قامت بنشرها من غير الاعتماد على مصادر رسمية

Since it has now become clear that all the arrested are ibadhis, then that puts to rest all the talk about Al Qaeda. The salafis of Al Qaeda hate Ibadhis almost as much as they hate the shi'a (I think they call them rafidha). So what could all this be about? I'm hearing lots of talk about the re-institution of the Imamate.

As for the bombing of the festival, that's probably untrue too. The weapons in this alleged case were caught by the authorities before they even got to them. What kind of weapons were they. The way they're described in the press, it sounds like guns not bombs. Have any arms really been seized with the people who were caught, or is it just the truck from Yemen bringing guns which never got to them?

I've heard that some of the people arrested were the type of idiots who thought that the music concerts were the biggest threat to our country. I think they should torture them by putting them in a cage in the front row of Elissa's upcoming beach concert.

Vanquish from OmanForum has started a shared blog and in it he's raging against what he calls "Traitors!! Cowards!!". In a way I share his anger at them. I don't understand what is it that they don't like about Oman. I think we have a perfect balance. But I disagree with some of the other stuff he wrote.

If the idiots really did have intentions of killing people, which I still seriously doubt, then yes they do deserve the harshest sentences. But, just because they are being accused of heinous crimes, does that mean that they have no rights to defend themselves? Can't there be some innocents among those caught? And even if there wasn't, how could transparency hurt the process?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Off we go

Today's our second wedding anniversary.

I'm taking my beautiful wife and our unborn child for a vacation in Kuala Lumpur.

See you in a week.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

So this was our day

So we went to watch Ladder 49 today. I bawled my eyes out. I'm such a sucker for any kind of drama. Not to mention I really like Joaquin Pheonix. Whilst wiping the tears from my eyes, I turn to my husband to see if he was sharing the same emotions I was. Big surprise: NO! (note: that was sarcasm). All he could think of was how much weight Joaquin Pheonix had gained. While I struggled to control my emotions in public, my husband was trying to figure out how many big macs it took for the poor man to reach this state of bellyness.

Bygones.

Afterwards we decided to grab some take-away. So off we go to Taza. Which is this new place that opened up a few days ago here in Muscat (chicken. yumm.. love chicken). Anyhow, that was big mistake. In Oman, we get excited over anything that opens up. Heck, there are people here that would attend the opening of an envelope if it were possible! Its sad, but does have a funny side to it. Who am I to talk, we went to the place even though it was opening week.. We stood in line for 15 minutes, when we finally reached the front of the queue, the person at the cashier informed us that there were no more sandwiches left. He even said it with a smile! That must have been the trigger, cause all of a sudden my husband is yelling at him for not making an announcement to the people waiting regarding this matter. We left with not food. Thank God for Hardees next door.

Feeling sleepy.. thoughts not clear.. I should say goodnight..

Good news for the no-life freaks

Have you ever watched one of the million Arab music channels that have SMS chat streams at the bottom of the screen? Are you one of those sad souls who always lamented "how come they don't have a number for Oman so I can send a message too?"

Well you can rejoice because Oman Mobile has two big ads in todays papers listing the local SMS numbers for all the channels in what they call SMS2tv. You can now vote on Star Academy 2, flirt with guys in other Arab countries who send messages to channels pretending to be girl, show off your sense of humor, or just make a total ass of yourself like all the others. Oh and don't forget to get yourself a brilliant nickname.

And it's all at the super affordable price of 300 baisas a message. How cheap! And to incentivize you further, Oman Mobile has a special offer of just 200 baisas a message till Feb 28. What excuse do you have not to use this fabulous service?!!

The biggest selling Hayyak (SMS prepaid) top-up card goes for 3 rials. Ten SMS chat messages to one of these tv station and there goes your credit. Time to top-up again. How soon is it going to be before we start hearing stories of kids driving their parents crazy with their out of control SMS addiction. I wonder if kids are gonna steal from their parents to buy Hayyak cards. In my days the biggest vice was smoking and a pack only cost 350 baisas. A pack of Marlboros with a lighter and a roll of Polo would set you back half a rial. Leaving you with the other half to buy a couple of hotdogs or shawermas and a cold drink.

Thank you Oman Mobile. I will no longer be ashamed that there are no Oman numbers listed at the end of all the music channel ads. What a proud day it is to be an Omani.

On the subject of Omani blogs, again

I've bookmarked every Omani blog that I've come across and I go back to check every single one of them as often as I can. The good news is that the number of Omani bloggers is increasing rapidly. The not so good news is that for most a blog is just a scribble pad on which they write random thoughts or otherwise use as an online diary. I am still waiting for the arrival of Omani commentators who have something to say to all of us, not just random strangers and close friends.

A very large percentage of blogs I see confound me. What is it with the fascination with poetry that everyone has? They all fancy themselves as poets or else like to fill their blog with their favorite poems and song lyrics. Where are their thoughts and opinions? Don't they have any views on the world around them?

Yesterday I found myself on Arablogger.com home of the Best Arab Blog Award. From BABA I found a link to Zayed Al Saidi's blog. I had a quick read of Zayed's blog, which is entirely in Arabic, and some of it is too technical. He's a computer science student at SQU with diverse interests, but he's mostly interested in the IT world. One thing I liked about Zayed's blog is that it's the first to mention the recent wave of arrests. There's been a rumor in town for the past week that around 50 islamists were arrested in Oman. The rumors say that they've aligned themselves with Al Qaeda. Zayed says that's not true and has posted an entry in his blog saying that they are arrested in a manner which contravenes with the Oman's basic law. I won't go into the details. You can read it all on his blog.

Another Oman related blog that I check out often is TheDesertTimes. This is written by an America woman who's married to an Omani guy. Apparently they were married in secret for years until he finally told his parents and managed to get a government approval to bring her to Oman. Her blog brings an interesting foreign perspective of Oman. Sometimes I find some of the stuff she writes a bit offensive. Maybe I'm just being protective of my precious Oman, even though I slam it often enough on my own. Is this a double standard of me, it's ok for an Omani to be sarcastic about his country but not a foreigner?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Random ramblings

Rambling One:

WOW! Yesterday was so much fun! The turnout for the lecture was so much better than we had hoped! I just wish more Omanis would show up!! Most of the Omanis there were either board members or friends that we harassed with nonstop requests to show up. Yet, I am very optimistic and honestly believe that they do care but just kinda need someone to push them some more *sigh*

As Mux said, we really do have a problem with the Arabic press. There isn't anything I haven't tried. I emailed them, then I called them. After which they asked for faxes cause emails just don't cut it with them, so I faxed them. In the end: NOTHING! None of them showed up for our plastic bag launch and no one showed up for yesterday's lecture.

We are thinking of luring them in by inviting some VIP hotshot as a guest of honor for our next lecture, that seems to always work with them. Sad, but true..

Anyhow, I refuse to let them put a damper on our night!

Rambling Two:

We went for a scan last week, and it was sooo much fun (except for the ice cold gel thing they slap on your tummy)! I swear if I was offered a scan every day i'd go for it! This one was a kind of detailed scan, where we got to see fingers and toes.. AWWWWWW!!!! Its amazing how much I love this baby. Heck I fell in love with it when it was just a small black dot on the scan. Personally I think the baby is gorgeous, hubby says I'm full of **** and that all babies look ugly in the scans, but, I don't care, I'll believe what i want!

Rambling Three:

For some wierd reason I have decided that I want to invest my nonexistant income in the stock market. Why, how or when, I have no clue. I just informed my husband of this wonderful new idea and he just laughed in my face and said i was so cute ( I'm so sure cute wasn't what he meant). I don't know what IPOs are but I have decided its time to acquire some. I think it must be my brother in law's ideas rubbing off on me. Whatever it is, I have my mind set on it. Wish me luck!!

ESO first lecture a huge success

The first event of the Environment Society of Oman was a tremendous success. Close to 100 people showed up for the lecture today. We had booked a room with 50 seats. By afternoon we already had around 40 people who had emailed saying that they're coming so we called the hotel and increased the seats to 75. By the time the lecture started at 7.30 there were already 75 people in the room and we had to keep bringing in more seats until the room was full and then we had people standing in the back and on the sides.This was just a quick intro to the society. Our future lectures are going to be more exciting and more detailed. We have lots of events lined up for the next few months. And the more people who join up and volunteer, the more work we can do.

I am so glad we pushed to have the first lecture in January even though some others thought it would be better to wait till after our official launch event.

Of course as usual most of the press didn't show up even though this time we emailed, called, and sent official invitations to all of them. Once again only TheWeek came through for us. I hope they give us good coverage in next week's issue. But we really need more coverage in the Arabic press. Plus we've planned an Arabic lecture next month and without Arabic press we wouldn't be able build on this success with the non English speaking Omanis. What do we have to do to get some coverage in this town?

Our tentative calender of events is now online:

ESO Calender of Events

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A reminder: tsunami disaster donation

Due to the coming of eid, most of you will have your salaries with you next week between the 15th and 18th of January. What better occasion than Eid Al Adha, the festival of sacrifice, could there be to give a little for the victims of the tsunami disaster?

Most banks have accounts set up as I have mentioned in another post here, or you can give directly to specific countries through their embassies and social clubs. Your help is still needed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Shahtoosh

Since I am an Omani, I wear the traditional Omani dress to work every single day, which includes the mussar (turban). The Omani mussar is basically a square shawl which is folded in half diagonally and worn as a head-dress. The shawls are mostly made in Kashmir. There are various types of mussar shawls and they are usually made from cashmere-like wool. Those of decent quality are called "turma" and cost around 50 rials. The very best ones are called "shahtoosh" (Persian for "king of wools") and usually start at over 100 rials, often going for as much as 400 rials and more. The shahtoosh shawls or mussars are also known as "ring shawls" because they can easily be passed through a finger ring. I don't have any of these shahtoosh shawls, but I do have a few turma blends which could have some percentage of shahtoosh in them. I never paid attention to this before, but the other day I was out shopping and saw a shawl which I really loved. I asked and was told it was 25% shahtoosh. Good right?

Not really. You see, shahtoosh is illegal. Trade in Shahtoosh is illegal just like ivory. Shahtoosh is made from the hair of the Tibetan antelope, known as chiru, which is three quarters the width of cashmere and one fifth of a human hair. 3 to 5 Tibetan antelopes die to provide wool to make a single shawl. This is an endangered species whose population has come down from around 1 million in 1900 to less than 75,000 today. China's State Forestry Administration estimates that 20,000 chiru are killed every year to make shahtoosh shawls. At this rate, the species will soon be extinct. The chiru are never caught and shorn of their hairs. They are always killed, usually with automatic guns.

Trade in shahtoosh is banned according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which Oman is a signatory. And yet you can buy shahtoosh shawls from most sellers in Muscat, which shows you how lax we are when it comes to stopping this kind of illegal traffic. In fact, shops often advertise in the paper here saying they have the finest shahtoosh shawls. Of course, Omani shahtoosh buyers probably constitute a tiny fraction of the total trade. The major markets for shahtoosh are Europe and America where prices begin at over $1000 and go up to as much as $4000.

I bet most people in Oman would take a stand against buying ivory. Most probably support the ban on whaling and support our government's membership in the IWC. So how come no one cares about the shahtoosh shawls. Is it because it is convenient for us to ignore it? After all, it's easy for other countries to enforce the ban since it's not part of their national dress. What do you think?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Randomize

Bring Your Own Bag

The Environment Society of Oman (ESO) will officially launch its anti-plastic bag / Bring Your Own Bag campaign tomorrow (Monday January, 10) at the Al Fair in MQ. There will be a stand outside the shop manned by volunteers from the ESO selling reusuable canvas shopping bags and hopefully recruiting new members from 9am till 8pm. If you want to do your bit for the environment come by and buy a bag. They're available in two sizes and prices are quite reasonable. Don't just buy it and forget it. Buy it and take it with you everytime you go shopping. Next time you're out shopping you can say "no thanks" to plastic bags.



My car situation

I haven't been writing about my car accident because my wife is convinced that I'm gonna be thrown in jail for the stuff I write on this blog. If it was up to her she'd delete half of it. Anyhow, I finally finished the runaround for getting my car fixed and now I wait for a couple weeks or a month till the car actually gets fixed. As expected, the police blamed the accident on me and hence didn't even try to locate the bastard who had crashed into me. Simple logic: it's your fault so why do we have to find him. How convenient. The wife-imposed gag order prevents me from venting any public anger about it on this blog.



How come no one thought of this before?

Philips and Remington have both come out with beard trimmers that have built-in vacuums that suck the trimmed hairs in. It's not one of those "how come no one's thought of this before" products because just about anyone who uses a trimmer has been wishing for this since forever. Still, better late than never. I'll probably buy one the next time I'm out shopping at Carrefour.



Possible solution to the book situation

Big up to my man Alex who has come through for me one more time. Apparently there's a company in Oman that get your Amazon.co.uk stuff for you for about 1 rial per book. You order from your own Amazon account and put their UK address for the delivery. The company has the stuff shipped from their UK to Oman once a week. Cool solution. I hope they're still around and never go out of business. 1 rial per book is an excellent deal, especially if you go for the free UK delivery option. The website is: www.almanahil-books.com

I won't be able to check out their service for a while. We're going away for Eid and I'm hoping to buy a whole lotta books on this trip.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

It's Environment Day, let's run!

Today is Oman Environment Day. The ministry responsible for the environment has planned a bunch of events including the obligatory beach and coral cleanup and a seminar on the role of women in protecting the environment. Cool. But how come the main event is a marathon? It is barely 8 days after the Olympic Day run. Can't anyone try to be the least bit creative and plan better events instead of organizing a walk or a run a for every single occasion regardless of how appropriate it is?





Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Riddle me this

I am catching up with my magazine reading and I finally got to the December 2004 issue of BusinessToday magazine which has an interesting article on the leasing business in Oman. Interesting because it has quite a few eye opening facts that I didn't know about, and also because in true Omani journalistic manner it gives so much more information between the lines than it does on face value. Check this out.

"If you take the instances of the first cheque bouncing, the rate of default is as high as 30%, in the interiors it is higher." - CEO of Muscat Finance. In other words, one out of three people in Oman who buy their cars with credit from a leasing company defaults on the very first payment. Unbelievable.

So why does this happen? The CEO of Al Omaniya Financial Services puts it this way: "This is because people do not plan their finances and their debt obligations are higher than their ability to pay back." True. Makes sense. But then again, earlier same article mentioned that "the time taken to disburse loans in case of cars has been brought down to as low as half an hour if the requisite papers are in place." The required papers are: "payslip, employment ID and bank statements for the last six months." OK, so despite the fact that you have such high default rates you are still able to give a guy a loan of thousands of Omani rials to buy a car so long as you know his salary and you've seen his statement for six months and have a pretty good idea of his spending habits. Something doesn't compute. Hmmm.. let me try to understand it again. You know how much the guy makes. You know how much he usually spends. You give him a loan and still in one out of three cases he'll default from the first month. What exactly are your lending criteria? United Finance's CEO explains the lending criteria: "The criteria is that after servicing all his loans, the customer should have RO. 120 with him, as this is the minimum sustainable amount for living, according to the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act." And there you have the crux of it. No further explanation needed.



Without Comment

From the same article:

A new ruling states that a person cannot be tried twice in a criminal court for the same offence.. According to the new ruling, if a person availing of a car loan bounces a few cheques and a leasing company files a criminal case against him, the leasing company cannot take him to court again for a similar offence. It then has to resort to a commercial court.. where getting a judgment can take up to three years.

Tsunami Relief details

At last, a public announcement about how we can help. In today's Times of Oman:

The Oman Charitable Organisation (OCO), in a notification, said yesterday that it has initiated efforts to help the people affected by tsunami in southeast Asia.

Those who wish to join the efforts — individuals, organisations, companies and other establishments — can rush their donations to the OCO’s accounts with the following banks.

BankMuscat account No. 021418000081016

BankDhofar account No. 0141100940000

National Bank of Oman account No. 1049337798002


Relief goods will be accepted at the OCO headquarters at Al Khuwair, near Said bin Taimour Mosque (Tel. No. 24487998, Fax: 24487997). Boxes are placed in leading commercial centres in the governorate of Muscat to collect the relief materials, it said.


Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunami relief

Where and how? If you know, please tell me.

I've heard that the Indian community in Oman has been quite active in mobilizing donations. And since our local English press is primarily Indian, they've given it some coverage including a big article in today's Times of Oman. I haven't seen anything about how I can help disaster relief in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Usually as soon as a disaster of this kind happens the embassies of the countries which are afflicted announce bank account numbers for accepting donations. At the very least, the Oman Charitable Org usually set up something to guide people. But this time I don't see anything. I don't know why, but we don't have the Red Crescent Association or the International Red Cross in Oman. Are they not allowed to operate in Oman, or is it that no one has come around to setting up a local chapter?

I read that in Italy a telecom company set up an SMS service where you just send a message and you get charged something like 1 Euro which goes directly to the tsunami relief fund. Wouldn't it be nice if Oman Mobile had something like that here in Oman?


Sunday, January 02, 2005

Oh-Man, part deux

"Research findings have shown us that newspapers are read largely in the capital area and most of the local population leaves for the interiors on Wednesday evenings to be with their relatives and families. It is believed that even if the target audience reads an advertisement over a long weekend, it will not have top-of-the-mind recall, come saturday." - an automobile marketing manager from one of the largest dealerships in Oman, quoted in BusinessToday magazine's November 2004 issue.

I've always been fascinated by the reverse trend in Oman. Throughout the world, the weekend papers are filled the brim with advertising and extra features. Even when I didn't buy daily papers, I used to buy the Sunday paper every weekend. In the UAE, both the Khaleej Times and Gulf News have a huge target audience on Friday. But in Oman if you buy the newspaper on Friday it has less pages, less features, and sometimes doesn't even include a single advert. Is it really because people go to the interior? Or is it because Omanis don't buy the paper and usually get it for free at work. No work on the weekend = no free paper ------------> huge drop in newspaper sales every weekend.




Saturday, January 01, 2005

Environment Society of Oman

So I'm really excited because we are planning an Environmental Fun day for Children. And by we I mean the Environment Society of Oman (why its called Environment Society rather than Environmental Society is a long story). After over two years of begging and pleading, we are finally official. A real NGO!!! People that know me know that I'm very passionate about the environment. My husband claims that that piece of information is not completely true, as I tend to consume more kleenex, kitchen rolls and wet wipes than an entire nation (I have a thing about germs and cleanliness, shhhhhh). But I do make up for it in other ways (yeps, I do carry a resuable shopping bag when I go to Al Fair and I never ever throw anything in the street or on a beach).

About this Fun Day for children, its going to be held in March and it aims to educate kids and raise their environmental awareness in a fun way. I'm really looking forward to this. I'm in charge of the Education and Awareness committee in our society, and we have some really good plans for this year. Plans I shall not reveal at this moment!!

If anyone reading this is from around here, do visit our website
www.environment.org.om. It doesn't have much on it right now, BUT, you can fill out a membership form ;)

As corny as it sounds, do your part for the environment!