Thursday, March 31, 2005

Dhofar Power IPO

I was wondering if anyone reading this blog is active in the stock market. I know that many who don't actively trade stocks participate in IPOs. What's the word on this one. It's being offered at RO. 1.42 per share. A lot of people keep asking me what I think of this IPO, but I don't invest in the stock market and all I know is what I hear from others. I first heard it might go to 1.65 but lately I'm hearing it might be as high as 1.8.

What have you heard, and are you planning to put any money in it?

Update (2/4/05)

I got my hand on an investment research analysis of this IPO. They've crunched the numbers three ways: discounted cash flow method, dividend discounted model, and dividend yield. They conclude that the fair value of the share is over RO. 1.8 and possibly as high as 2 rials. If it turns out true then that's a return of anywhere from 27% to 43%. Not bad. Now if only the allocation turns out to be as nice as AES Barka where everyone got a minimum of 1500 shares.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Omanization Challenge

I was at a supermarket buying magazines and I could hear the Omani checkout girls talking amongst themselves behind me. One of them said that last month x rials were deducted from her salary because of cash shortages in her till. The other one replied "oh I wish I can get my full salary if even just once. My cash never balances with the till." I couldn't believe it. How can you have a cash shortage when the supermarket till actually tells the girl how much change to give back. I've never been given too much change back, have you? I went home and told this story to my family and my mom told me about her friend's daughter who works in a bank as a teller and can never balance her cash either so the bank deducts all the shortages from her salary. This is meanial labour. It doesn't require any skill. And yet people still find ways to screw up at it and not lose their jobs over it.

Today I was at Al Fair buying a sandwich when the cashier stopped me to ask if I work in a bank. She said her bank was refusing to give her a cheque book because her salary is less than 200 rials. She wants to buy a car and the dealer insists on post dated cheques to cover the installment. I asked her why don't you take a car loan from the bank to buy the car and she said she doesn't want the loan, she just wants the cheques. With 30% of car installment cheques bouncing, it's understandable why banks are so cautious about giving out cheque books. But why's a person with a salary of 120 or 150 rials a month thinking of buying a car in the first place?

As far as the Ministry of Manpower is concerned all the above examples are success stories because they are employed. Statistically, the ministry's doing great forcing companies to hire Omanis. And yet the statistics tell two stories. Earlier this week at Majlis Al Shura, the minister of manpower presented some staggering statistics. He said in the first 4 years of the present 5 year plan, 48,000 Omanis left their jobs. Of these, 30,000 were fired- mainly for lack of commitment to their jobs. A study was conducted to find the reasons for this. It was found that it was mainly due to "poor wages and lack of a promising career, or the job is incompatible with family and social commitments. Secondary reasons include failure to adapt to work environment, imposing hours of work on workers, and difficulties moving to and from places of work."

Firing an Omani worker isn't an easy task. You can't just say "you're fired" and tell the accountant to prepare his final pay cheque. It's a massive effort which includes a series of verbal and written warnings. The warnings have to be justified and when you reach a certain number of warnings then you can fire the worker. And usually even if the company was right in its decision the worker would go to the labour department and file a complaint or sue the company requesting re-instatement in his job. You have to be an absolutely horrible worker to get a company to fire you. And yet 30,000 of them managed to do just that- get themselves fired. What a shame.

Monday, March 28, 2005

So out of touch it ain't funny

I took a look at the Top 20 albums chart both in the UK and the US and couldn't recognize a single one of the new names. I went to a CD shop to buy some of this new music that I haven't heard and they didn't have a single one of them. But they have lots and lots of new copies of the new 50 Cents album. I like 50, but not enough to buy his albums. So I ended up with a bunch of older stuff like Korn Greatest Hits and Rage Against The Machine Live.. Slightly off topic: my iPod has been playing a lot of RATM lately which got me thinking what in the world happened to Zach de la Rocha? It's been close to 5 years since he split from Rage and still no solo album. I searched online and no one knows what Zach's up to- not even his fan club.

I'm so out of touch it ain't funny. But looking at the album release schedule for the next three months it looks like there's a new Bruce Springsteen album coming out end of April. There's also a new one from New Order. Oasis has a new album coming out in May. I haven't bought their last one but if the reviews are good I might change my mind. My most anticipated album of the year is the new one from Coldplay, coming in June. Can't wait for that one. And while browsing NME.com yesterday I found out that The White Stripes might have something out by summer.

Incidently, the New York Times had an interesting story about Guns 'n Roses the other day calling their work-in-progress album "the most expensive album never made." Total cost $13 million at last count.

If you want to browse the NYT site (or any other website which requires you to register) and don't want to register you should check out this really cool website: Bug Me Not. Just type the URL of the site you want to enter and Bug Me Not will give you a username and password if they have one for it.

And finally talking about websites, my favorite blog of the moment is The Impulsive Buy which has the funniest product reviews you'll ever read. Goes well with Consumer Whore, if only that site would get updated more often.

To be inspired

So we finally went to watch Ray yesterday at Shati. Jamie Fox was so good! That Oscar is definitely well earned. It was a really good movie, but towards the end I got a bit restless. Feels weird going into a movie at 530 and coming out after 8.

Whenever I watch a movie that’s based on a success story I immediately get inspired! I came out of Ray thinking I can play the piano and produce hit singles! When I left Million Dollar baby I thought I could probably win the featherweight championship belt in boxing! When I was really young, I saw a program on Nadia Comaneci and decided that my future lay in gymnastics!

Speaking of playing the piano, my dad plays real well, and since I’m the eldest the poor man always had high hopes of passing on his talent to me. I had my own piano teacher come home in addition to after school piano lessons with the music teacher. I didn’t get very far no matter how much I tried! I can play a bit, but its grade school stuff. So, when baba decided to pass on one of his other talents (drawing) to his kids, he ditched me and concentrated on my kid sister. Wise choice. She is so much better than any of us could have hoped to be. She has a teeny artistic streak. Made him happy :)

The one thing I got from my father is his love of reading. I am an absolute book worm. Oh and when I was young, all he read to me were famous political speeches by all the different leaders around the world. I knew them by heart!! Freaky childhood ha? Hehe.

I wonder what I’ll be reading to our baby…One thing I know for sure, I don’t have any talents that can be passed on! He/she will hopefully inherit those from somewhere else.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

If they build it, will they come?

Following up on my earlier post about Sh. Mohd bin Rashid buying large chunks of Oman...

Dubai International Properties (a company owned by the Dubai government) today signed an agreement with the government of Oman to develop a huge project in Yiti on an area of approximately 2.6 million square meters.
The multi-faceted resort will have several major segments and will be a city within itself, offering unrivalled luxury designed to provide a varied range of entertainment, leisure and tourism options. These include a set of three luxury hotels, one on the beach for water sports enthusiasts, one in the mountains that will offer the majestic beauty of the Omani mountains as well as all activities associated with them.

Keeping to the theme of offering a resort lifestyle, the development will house a world-class health and wellness centre with a spa and other facilities to cater to the well being of its guests.

Villas will be built and offered on sale alongside the sandy beaches, in the mountains and around an 18-hole Championship Golf Course and Club.

To complete the community lifestyle, there will be a Souk and a Marina, apart from serviced & furnished apartments and all the amenities and facilities that have become the hallmark of the major developments promoted by Dubai entities.
Full article here. It will be all over the press tomorrow. I wonder when details of the other project in Shinas will come out.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

This and that

I was so bored at work today. Ohmygosh it was real bad!! I finished everything that was pending by 930. After that I worked on my house scrapbook (which contains cutouts of all these different interior decorating ideas for our future home..I'd like to add that Muscati says most of the stuff isn't feasible and needs a fortune to implement, meaning I won't be getting any of it!). After that I spoke to my husband who was equally bored so didn't really help much. One of my collegues was reading a book on how to raise a leader (she has real high hopes for her son. Her son is 3). Wasn't of much use to me since I don't have kids yet. All I read these days are books on fetal development and stages of labour!

ANYHOW...I got an email from a friend of mine in Glasgow who was telling me that she finally read our blog and loved it :) I was actually blushing.. She even mentioned all the different posts..She actually read the whole blog in one go! Ruthie if you are reading this I want you to know you made my day!!! Oh and everyone say congrats to Ruth she just became an aunt for the first time *waving at baby Nathan*.. I love the name Nathan...If it was Arabic I would have considered it for future babies!

I miss Glasgow. Its not exactly a pretty city, but we had a good time there. Everyone was so nice (probably cause they were drunk all the time, hehe). I miss Gap. Why don't they open a Gap in Oman!!! I miss Edinburgh.. I luuuuv Edinburgh! Its so beautiful..

This is probably the most boring post I have written, but, hope you understand, it has been a boring day! I hope to come back to you all tom with wit and humor :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Seen today

beef

I was at the tailor today dropping off some cloth to make new dishdashas when I saw this sign on the butchershop next door.

Journey through today's headlines

The Legend of the Blue City


The big story today, despite the small amount of space given to it in the papers, is on the "latest in a long line of huge tourism projects," a massive tourism project in Sawadi to be called The Blue City which will cover a 35km site and eventually house as many as 200,000 residents. The writer assumes that everyone reading the text knows about the previous Sawadi project which envisioned over a billion dollars worth of investment to develop an entire city tourism resort funded by German investors. That project never got anywhere. The story in today's paper refers to it in the briefest of terms: "the consultants of previous schemes are no longer involved." The new project has the same Omani shareholders as before but the new partners are from Bahrain and the sales will be handled by the same company that's doing the Bahrain Financial Harbour project.

The story is reported in both the Times of Oman and the Oman Observer. Both credited to A Staff Reporter and other than a few flourishes here and there and the flipping of a couple of paragraphs, the two articles are identical. Could it be that Mr. A Staff Reporter works in two rival newspapers at the same time, or is A Staff Reporter the pseudonym of our friend, Mr. Press Release?

Dunno about the name, Blue City sounds a bit pervy to me.


Power outage

According to today's Times of Oman there was a power outage in a large area of Muscat yesterday. Mr. A Staff Reporter says that there was an "unprecedented power cut." Unprecented how? Was it bigger than any other power cut in Omani history? Did it last longer? No explanation.

What was the cause of the power cut though? Mr. A Staff Reporter didn't bother to call the Ministry of Housing, Electricity and Water to find out. He just reported the reactions of different residents, shop and business owners, and schools in the area. All Indian off course. He asked them what the reason for the power cut. And they each gave their explanation or story of how they tried to call the ministry but couldn't get through, couldn't get an answer, or the answers the explanations that they got.

Quite intriguingly, the story also mentions that a "top shopping mall in the MBD area shut down entry to their entire building and sported a sign noting that it was closed ownign to the power cut." I didn't know there was a mall in the MBD in the first place. I'm so excited I want to leave work right now and go look for it.

update: Gulf News has a reporter with a real name on the scene in Muscat, and he actually bothered to call the Ministry to find out what's going on for his report.


MSM 5000

In the Times' business section, their main business reporter reporter likes to give exact quotations from his sources, which he places inbetween quotation marks, but then attributes them to groups instead of inviduals. For example: "analysts and economists opine" or "a group of shareholders and investors told.." Is that right? Shouldn't direct quotes be used for individual quotes, not an amalgamation of what different people have said?

Incidently the big headline in the business section is Will MSM 30 Cross 5000-Mark? Should Not! - a big three quarter page article of which only the first three short paragraphs very briefly explain why the market would be overheated if the index goes that high. But the remaining article actually talks about how sound the present market valuation is.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Oman Mobile rises up to the competition by increasing the tariff

Yesterday I was chatting with a colleague at work about Nawras Telecom. I said I wouldn't mind trying out their service, except I don't really have any problem with Oman Mobile. I don't see why I should go through the hassle of getting a new number, carrying an extra phone, paying for a new connection, etc. I said if Nawras give me a free kit to try out then maybe I will, otherwise no.

Well, Oman Mobile has decided to fight back Nawras by increasing my calling prices. They had a big press conference yesterday and have:
risen to the challenge of stiff competition posed by Nawras by making 13, or more, exciting, new offers, which are set to take the telecommunications market here by storm. Of the new services — some of them have already been in the news — at least 10 are totally new and are ready to bowl over the subscriber, top Oman Mobile officials said at a well-attended launch of these new offers at Grand Hyatt Hotel yesterday.
More importantly:
Subscribers (post-paid) can also say goodbye to distance-based charging, because from now, they can call anywhere in the Sultanate from 35 baisas and the new pricing plan is cheaper and simpler, with the peak price offer being put at 45 baisas a minute and off-peak prices put at 35 baisas a minute.
Sounds great, but the truth is for most of us this is a tariff increase, not a reduction.

It used to be that Oman Mobile calls were priced according to the distance between you and the person you're calling. Of course you can't really tell where the person you're calling is gonna be, but for the most part they're at home or in their office, somewhere about town and you never really worried. They were mostly within 20km of you which is cool since the tariff was:

Upto 20km 25 baisas per minute in daytime (6am to 8pm) and 12.5 baisas at night.
20 to 100km it jumps to 83.3 baisas per minute daytime and 41.7 at night
Over 100km 100 baisas per minute day and 50 baisas at night.

Now the new tarrif is a flat fee without regard to distance of 45 baisas per minute in the day time, and 35 baisas per minute at night. Pretty cool if you call people who are more than 20km away from you. But for the majority of us who call friends and family in the same town it means a steep increase of as much as 280%. Simpler maybe, but definitely not cheaper.

All my calls are within a 20km radius. Thus all my calls were at 25 baisas a minute in the day and 12.5 at night. Now my day time calls will cost me 180% more (almost double!!) and at night they'll be close to triple the cost. Companies will now have to increase the phone allowances for their staff, or otherwise workers will start paying from their own pockets for work related calls.

Meanwhile, Nawras' tariff is 39 baisas for the first 5 minutes every day and after that it becomes a flat 19 baisas per minute regardless of distance. If you talk more than 5 minutes all your calls get charged at 19 baisas, even those first five minutes of that day.

I guess Oman Mobile just gave me the reason to switch to Nawras.

Friday, March 18, 2005

ESO lecture tomorrow

ESO lecture

This month's Environment Society of Oman lecture will take place tomorrow Saturday, March 19th at the Cultural Club in Qurum. The lecture will be on the subject of Nature Reserves in Oman. For the first time, the lecture will be entirely in Arabic. In the past we had gotten complaints from people that our lectures are all in English and that we're caterign to expats more than Omanis. Well this time, they can't complain. I hope our fellow Omanis don't prove us wrong by not showing up. In the past as much as 80% of those attending have been expats.

French Film Festival



Quick note, the French Embassy ,in association with the top-secret Omani Film Society, is presenting a mini film festival this coming week at Shatti Plaza. There will be six films shown between Saturday and Tuesday at different times. The one I want to see the most is Patrice Leconte's Confidences Trop Intimes unfortunately its showing conflicts with an Environment Society lecture that same day.

Entrance to all movies is free. The movies will be shown with both Arabic and English subtitles.

Schedule and film details: here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Expecting a mob?



After a very long wait, Oman finally has a second mobile phone operator. Nawras Telecom launched yesterday. I went by to their main stores to check out what's on offer, but here's what I saw.

Why does Nawras require 4 security guards at the entrance of their flagship store at Al Araimi? Looks quite imposing and off-putting to me.

HBP

You don't want to be in my head right now. I've had constant headaches all week and then I got a scare that got me panicking and my blood pressure shooting up like a thermometer in the Muscat summer heat. Did all the lab tests and al7amdlilah, nothing wrong with me that losing a couple dozen kg won't fix. But still, my mind's buzzing with a million things and every body keeps asking me if I'm stressed out- which I'm not. In fact other than the bp thing, which had me scared out of my skin for one night, absolutely convinced that I was about have a stroke or a heart attack, or possibly a tag team of both, the past few weeks have been really good. I guess sometimes you need a shock to your system in order to wake up and take serious decisions in your life.

I'm surprised by the number of people who read this blog. I deliberately try to keep things simple here, though I do have the occasional slip when I lose control of my senses. I'll blame it on the blood pressure. Fact is, when I write the more serious stuff I don't get many comments. Apathy or just non-interest, I don't know. I write a silly little list, an idea that I blatently ripped off from other other sites, and I get not only a dozen comments but a bunch of other Omani bloggers come through with their own lists too crediting this blog with the idea, as if I've ever done anything creative in my life. The other day in a night out with the guys a friend tells me that he was in a gathering and this blog got mentioned by someone as one of their favorites. Flavor of the month: Muscati and OD? I am touched. I am not being polite. I really am. But then I remember that when we went to see Hitch last weekend, the audience actually cheered and applauded at the end of the movie. I thought it was above average entertainment. Worth my 2.5 rials, but come on.. nowhere close to being an excellent movie.. And Eva Mendes, oh my God what the hell happened, she used to be such a knock out and now she's just blah.... oh my thoughts wandered again. Anyhow, am I stretching too far when I connect the dots and think that if the same people who think Hitch is a work of art are the ones who like this blog then maybe this blog isn't all that?

Desert Island Boy sent me an email yesterday thanking me for supporting the Bahrainonline Trio. I appreciate his email, but it gets me thinking do I want that kind of responsibility? I get the feeling whenever I write about the Omani detainees that people think I am a sympathizer, or worse they might think I oppose the government. I am neither. Unfortunately being a believer in civil liberities means I have to speak up even when I don't like the people I'm speaking up for. I said before that I hate getting into political discussions. I am a big time forum addict but I rarely ever go to the political forums on either Oman Forum or English Sabla. Yesterday I got into a bit of a discussion with Pretender on ES about this same issue, but after his last reply I just gave up. Am I too old, too cynical or too weary? Am I a pessimist, or is is it because I'm a child of the seventies?

Ali Abdelemam was actually interviewed in the Bahraini press and talked about his detention. Imagine that happening in Oman. Possible? Maybe in the future? Never?

While our governments either treat online forums and blogs as threats or totally ignore them as if they don't exist, Catherine Novelli , Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe and the Mediterranean, who was in Muscat for three days this week leading the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with Oman has supposedly contacted Omania.net and asked them to start a discussion about the FTA and she's replying to their questions (I guess through a translator) which is currently ongoing here. Amazing. Imagine if our ministries start using these sites to get their thoughts across. It doesn't have to always be just finger pointing for all sides.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Released

Bahraini blogs brought the news today that the Bahrainonline Trio have been released without bail. However, charges against them have not been dropped.

Meanwhile here in Oman, quite weirdly, the government itself decided to bring the Omani detainees to the forefront with the following statement from the Deputy Prime Minister:

His Highness Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmood al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, has criticised the unjustifiable exaggeration of the issue of arrests which took place in the Sultanate recently. “There is nothing worthy of arousing the apprehension of any person or fears that improper action would be taken against anyone on this land,” said HH Sayyid Fahd. In a statement to the local media yesterday, HH Sayyid Fahd scotched the gossip, describing it as unwarranted. He pointed out that, “if it is proven that any of the detainees have not played a negative role in this country or (targeted) its potential or its citizens, such detainees would have no problem.”

“We do not consider the action to be the first of its kind in the world because it happens in any country,” said HH Sayyid Fahd, explaining that the detentions had nothing to do with terrorism or external parties. He said that some people committed mistakes and it is being checked why these mistakes happened. People should understand that this country comprises all Omanis and that it has its ambitions, its authentic infrastructure and that no one is allowed to negatively impact its capabilities, its stability or its future.”

Have these detainees been formally charged of any crime yet or are they still detained under investigation? It must have been two months already. As alarming as the Bahrain arrests have been, at least there was some semblance of due process. The people were charged, the news was reported in the press, the general public knew what was going, the detainees were offered bail, etc. It might be all bogus, but at least someone is trying to make it all look genuine.

But what do we have here with the detainees in Oman? The only news we can get about them is from omania.net (our version of bahrainonline.org). So I went searching there to find out what's the latest and it turned out that 4 of them were released on Monday. Good news, but still this whole shroud of mystery is a bit too much. So how many people are still in and what are they being accused of?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Less than 100 things about me

So my husband sends me a text at work and tells me how much fun he is having writing the stuff he knows about himself and suggests I do the same. Being the ever so obedient wife that I am, I immediately get down to it. He was right, it was fun. In fact I think every blogger should have a similar post on their blog! Thanks to bloggers who came up with the idea originally!

So here it is, 45 things about me:

1. I'm 29 years old
2. I'm pregnant and married (not in that order)
3. i luuuv ice cream
4. I don't enjoy my job but can't get another one at the moment (I think my belly is a turn off for many).
5. I have straight hair which I try, every week, to curl or wave. Been failing.
6. Every time I see a Lexus RX330 I think its a sign from God that I should buy one.
7. It doesn't take much to make me cry.
8. My new year's resolution was to be stronger and not cry as easily. Been failing.. Again.. But still have hope, its only March!
9. This year I will learn to park my car (both in reverse and parallel).
10. I'm right handed.
11. I love my husband very very much but decided to put this comment here because it would appear too corny if I placed it as #1.
12. I'm very corny.
13. My fave flowers are white roses, daisies and lillies (hint hint).
14. I think Jennifer Aniston is crazy and outta her mind to not want to have Brad Pitt's kids!!
15. I used to want to be a diplomat and work for the UN when I was younger.
16. I also wanted to be an air hostess.
17. I'm actually a marine ecology specialist.
18. I want to quit one day and concentrate on my charity work (perhaps when my husband becomes an AGM).
19. I really do believe that I will, one day, win one of those massive bonanza prizes given away by banks.
20. I love mangos.
21.My fave cities in the world are Kuala Lumpur, Paris and Barcelona.
22. Everyone thinks its time I changed my mobile phone. My kid sister is threatening to smash it to pieces.
23. I have small feet. Shopping for shoes in the Far East is heaven.
24. I don't eat mushrooms. Ever. when I was young, I believed evil humans kicked innocent smurfs from their homes in order to use them (the homes) as toppings on their pizzas.
25. I stopped wearing brown over 2 years ago.
26. I'm considered the nerd of our house.
27. I like Japanese products. I use Kanebo and Shiseido on my face.
28. I find the way my husband researches everything under the sun to be very very cute.
29. I started eating fish last year. My father in law made me.
30. I'm considered stubborn.
31. Loud voices scare me.
32. I'm not the greatest judge of character.
33. I love airports. Except Seeb International Airport which I find to be a huge embarrassment.
34. I worship the ground my nieces walk on (all 4 of them).
35. I like British humor.
36. I hate British weather.
37. I'm very good at organizing events/parties/dinners etc..
38. I have selective memory. Or so HE says.
39. I'm scared of needles.
40. I love the colors purple and blue. I don't like red.
41. I don't have any red clothes.
42. I collect Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts. We visit the HRC in every country we go to.
43. I have never used my credit cards. This greatly pleases my husband.
44. I can't whistle.
45. I won't be attending Kaza's sister's wedding because by then I will be extremely fat and no dress could possibly look good on me!!

Ummm, I don't have a F#*# you part. Asti7ee :)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Muscati's confessions

Inspired by: Jowhara's 101 things about me.. , Natasha's confessions and Metal or Die's f#ck you.

1. I can tell my wife's mood from the first word she says, even if it's a text message.
2. I'm no good with kids and tend to talk with them in grown-up speak.
3. Despite that I can't wait to be a father.
4. I will never go into a movie theatre if the lights have already dimmed, even if the movie hasn't started.
5. I can never sleep in an airplane no matter how long the flight, unless I'm in a seat that reclines fully.
6. I stopped watching the news since 1997.
7. My ears turn bright red when I get mad or embarrassed.
8. I tend to trip a lot.
9. My biggest phobia is public embarrassment.
10. I tend to shuffle reading as many as 5 books at a time.
11. I wish I could read faster.
12. My voice gets really loud when I get excited and it scares a lot of people off.
13. I have a really horrible temper but I control it so well that a lot of people think that I'm too quiet and passive.
14. I can never remember the details of past events that upset me or fights that we've had.
15. I rarely ever remain upset more than a day.
16. I have to have at least one Diet Coke a day.
17. I can't stand London.
18. I think a lot of people think I'm an arrogant, cold-hearted S.O.B.
19. Most people don't get my sense of humor.
20. I think the world would be a much better place if more fathers would hug and kiss their children, and not just when they are kids.
21. I rarely ever dream in my sleep.
22. When I do, I have the weirdest most cinematic dreams and I'm rarely ever in them myself.
23. Political discussions bore the life out of me.
24. My politics are too far out for most Arabs.
25. Low expectations theory is a way of life for me. Always expect the least and hope to be pleasantly surprised. Much better than expecting the best outcome. You end up disappointed more often that way.
26. I cried when Oman's basic law (our constitution) was announced.
27. 7 years later I don't know what that was all about.
28. My next computer will most likely be a Mac, for the first time.
29. I believe all terrorists are cowards.
30. I love researching stuff and learning all about new topics, but I usually lose all interest once I'm done.
31. I am the worst conversationalist in the world ever.
32. It takes me forever to get comfortable with new people.
33. My hair's turning grey at an alarming rate.
34. I started using a face cream last year, though I'm not sure why.
35. I don't have a favorite toothpaste.. I keep two or three different kinds at all times.
36. My feet have the biggest arches ever, I have to buy shoes at least one size too big.
37. I hate McDonald's burgers.
38. I actually like BK's fries.
39. The year we spent in Glasgow was probably the best year of my life.
40. I love Diet Irn Bru, especially in the big bottles.
41. In one whole year we lived in Scotland, I never had fish & chips.. not even once.
42. I don't eat tomatos.
43. I don't drink milk or eat most dairy products... most white and cream colored foods.
44. Or most fruits, actually.

And now, the F#ck You section..

F#ck you:

1. Arab musicians, for being such whores.
2. Aramex, for charging twice as much to ship to Oman as you do to the UAE and Kuwait.
3. Arab journalists who get their pics taken when they interview stars and have them published in the articles. Nobody buys magazines to see the picture of the journalists.
4. Guy in the post office who steals my issues of RollingStone.
5. Metallica, now that I know what assholes you are after watching Metallica Some Kind of Monster.
6. BMW for making me tremble in fear everytime I take my car to service.
7. George Michael, will you please stop whining and retire already.
8. Al Waleed bin Talal, with all your billions you still can't dress worth a damn.
9. Roger Waters, for leaving Pink Floyd and your shitty shitty solo career.
10. George Bush, as if Afghanistan and Iraq weren't enough, now the weak dollar's killing us too.
11. Magazine distributors for the ridiculous prices of imported magazines.
12. Michael Jackson, regardless whether you're guilty or not.
13. Gulf Air for flying some of the oldest airplanes in the world.
14. Emirates, for having the rudest stewardesses ever in your economy sections.
15. Osama bin Laden and anyone who actually thinks he's a hero, f#ck you all.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

H2G2

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favorite book series of all time. I can pick up the book any time, open to a random page and just read. I wasn't too excited when it was announced that they were making a movie out of it though. It's author Douglas Adams spent about ten years trying to get a studio to make a movie out of it, but died before he could see it happen.

Today I was checking the trailers on apple.com and came across the trailer for the movie, and man did it blow me away. It's one of the most original movie trailers I've ever seen. I don't know if the movie itself is going to be any good, but I sure had a blast watching this trailer:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie trailer

Bugs @#&%ing Bunny

Remember the Looney Tunes Makeover ?

Here's a take on the new "extreme" Bugs Bunny. Don't click this link if you're easily offended, it's definitely not for the faint hearted:

A New Bunny

We're Number 2!

I guess sometimes it's good enough just being No. 2.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Blogger.com acting funny

Is something wrong with Blogger.com today? I can't post comments on anyone's blogs today. I keep getting:

The blog you were looking for was not found.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I want it right now now



All of a sudden sometime last week, my brain decided that I need a digital SLR camera like right now now. I tried to be rational about it. I bounced it off in my head a few times and decided to buy a Canon EOS 300D. It's "relatively" affordable compared to other DSLRs plus I already have a regular Canon EOS 300 so I can share lenses, etc. it's the biggest selling DSLR at the moment, Canon's been selling about 100,000 of them a month for the past year. One nagging problem: late last month Canon announced that they're coming out with a newer version, the 350D which has 8 mega pixels, better quality electronics, smaller size, faster start up speeds, and a lot more, all at the same price of the 300D. Great news, but how long will it take for it to get to this side of the world? After all, I want a camera right this moment.

The waiting wasn't doing me any good. My dreams got bigger and my brain decided that what I really need is a Nikon D70. I was actually stupid enough to contemplate this thought and went to Khimji's to check the price. The mother****er costs like 520 rials!! I don't care what kind of signals my brain's sending, ain't no way I'm spending that much money on a camera. But then it started playing tricks and using all its powers to convince me that the price is reasonable. With the baby on the way you'd think it would tell me that I should save every penny, right? Instead it's telling me that I need a better camera so I can take better baby pictures. I swear to God it must be the same kind of signal that a heroin addict gets when he's craving a fix. (I guess it's also how a woman feels when she sees that super-expensive bag that she really really has to have). Stupid brain.. never been much use to me.

So I decided to do look around online. Maybe I can get a good deal online and have something shipped over. While looking at Nikon and Canon prices I found a Pentax DSLR called *ist DS which is quite comparable. I have no idea how to pronounce the name, but the specs are good. The reviews are excellent. And the price is lower than both the Canon and the Nikon (most online stores sell it for about $899). I thought I struck gold. I know the people here who have the Pentax agency. I was so sure they'll give me a sweet deal. Went in the other day, they told me they don't keep expensive cameras in stock so they'll inquire from Pentax and get me a price. They called this morning sounding quite happy with themselves offering it to me at a special price of 505 rials (that's $1300!!). I almost choked on my Diet Coke.

Back to square one. I ask the Canon dealer here how long will it take to get the 350D and they say it should be 3 months. Then they try to sell me a more professional model, the EOS 20D, which I would probably wouldn't even know how to use, at a special price. The body alone without a lens will be around 600 rials. Do I have a tatoo saying SUCKER on my forehead or something?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Subway makes a comeback

Subway

Subway, the world's fastest growing fast food chain, closed its Omani outlets late last year. Quietly, and without any fanfare, they closed their outlets one after another until there was just the one at CCC left. And then that one closed too. There's still the one at the food court in City Centre, and that's because it's owned by a different franchisee than the others. I don't know why Subway closed. I heard that they weren't doing well, which is not surprising since McDonalds isn't a roaring success here either. Other stories say that it wasn't because of low sales, it's just that franchisee decided to get out of the food business. This one makes sense too because it never gelled with me why the Royal Guard of Oman decided to run a fast food franchise in the first place. Their job is to protect the big dude, not sell foot-long subs.

We were in City Centre (by the way I hate spelling Center the British way but I can't mess with the name of the so-called mall) last week and I stopped by Subway for the first time in at least six months. The guys who work there are extremely nice and very chatty. The big piece of information that I got out of them was that their owner is planning to open one in Sarooj and take over some of the closed locations. Good news for fast food lovers. How about someone take the Burger King frachise and bring them back to Oman too.

Chicking

We don't go to food courts very often so I don't know how long this ChicKing place has been there, but it's such a total KFC rip-off. They even have a sandwich exactly like a Zinger which they quite creatively have called Zinker.

Going Klepto at City Centre


On the subject of City Centre, a few weeks ago we were at Mother Care doing some baby shopping. After we finished paying, the lady at the counter went and opened the packing of all the clothes that we had bought and took out security tags from inside them. These were in addition to the security tags which were visible outside. I was surprised by this added security. Shoplifters? I asked, and she said "too many".

This past weekend we were at Promod, and the clothes had double tags too. One on the outside, and another inside. I asked the lady how come, and she said they have a huge problem with shoplifters. She said they have no idea how people do it, but at the end of the day they find some discarded tags in the store, usually in the changing rooms.

I remember a few years back when Starbucks opened their first cafe in Oman - curiously also in City Centre- I was surprised that they were serving their coffee in paper cups even when you're sitting in the store. I didn't ask why, but then a few days later I read on Oman Forum that reason was because they lost too many cups in their first week. Apparently people took the Starbucks mugs home with them.

I haven't felt this myself, but do you ever get the urge to nick stuff when you're in City Centre?

Maybe they'll do a better job of it

It's no secret that Omanis have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to Dubai. It's a love/hate relationship. We love it, but we love to bitch about it. Most common things you hear about Dubai in Oman: "I go there to shop but I'd never live there" or "it's a bubble, it's not going to last." Anyhow, the inferiority complex grows when news comes of Dubai companies investing outside Dubai, but not in Oman. Like for example this news here:
UAE-based property developer Majid Al Futtaim Investments launched a $400 million (Dh1.47 billion) Bahrain City Centre project, expected to be one of the largest shopping, entertainment and leisure complexes in the Middle East.

The project, costing 150 million dinars ($398 million) is to be completed in early 2007. The complex, which will house the Middle East's largest 20-screen Cineco Cinema and more than 350 stores, also features a 54,000 square foot family entertainment centre called Magic Planet and two hotels with a total of 700 rooms which will be linked directly to the mall . (source: gulfnews.com)

Afterall, when Majid Al Futtaim first ventured out of the UAE, he built a City Center in Muscat, but it turned out to be a tiny pebble shit mini mall with just a large supermarket and a few shops, a food court and a Chili's. It did no favors for our inferiority complex.

People who get pissed off at the slow pace of development in Oman compared to our next door neighbors often say things like "they should give Muscat to Sh. Mohammed bin Rashid, he'll build it right." I wonder how they would feel if rumors turn out to be true that the Sheikh is actually buying huge chunks of land in different areas in Oman, but not Muscat. A few weeks ago a rumor came out that Emaar Properties was coming to Oman. But more recently I heard that it's not true. It's not Emaar, it's Mohd bin Rashid himself who has bought very large areas of Shinas and a large percentage of Yiti for development by Dubai Holdings, a company owned by the government of Dubai.

How do you feel about that?

Monday, March 07, 2005

When in doubt go to Ruwi

Ever wonder what makes people open shops that sell the same items right next to each other? I remember from college economics class that there's a perfectly logical explanation for it but I just can't be bothered to look it up right now. The other day one of the speakers in my car started to make a weird sound (more on that later). As anyone who lives in Muscat knows, when in doubt go to Ruwi. And there's nowhere better in the world to make you scratch your head and wonder, what made all these people open the same kinds of shops right next to each other, and how come they're all successful?

Ruwi is the one-stop shopping destination for quite a few things. First, you have Oman's own Silicon Valley. On the two roads bordering Ruwi Cinema there's nothing but computer shops. There must be at least 20 in total. Be it assembled PCs, computer parts or accessories, these shops sell it all. And of course if they don't have it they will bring it for you from Do-Buy. Right after the computer shops comes a roundabout. If you take a left, as if heading to Al Nasr Cinema, immediately on your right there's about 6 or 7 car stereo shops. You'd be crazy to take a brand new car to one of these guys since they all look like Pakistani butchers, but amazingly quite a few people trust their cars to them. If you keep going straight past the cinema, the road turns and all of a sudden you're in Satellite Alley: a 200 meter alley with nothing but shops that sell satellite equipment and receivers on both sides of the road.

Ruwi is also home of Honda Road which is still known by that name even though it must be at least 20 years since the Honda showroom moved out of it. This one's a 1km stretch that goes from Wadi Kabir to Hamriya. On the WK side the road is lined with tire shops. You name it, these guys have it. If not in stock, they'll go buy it from the dealer and sell it to you cheaper than the dealer's price. Once you get past the traffic lights, there's about half a kilometer of building materials shops. Hardware, sanitary ware, electricals, light fittings, tiles, construction materials, etc. Shop after shop after shop. Tens of them.

Also in Ruwi: Mazoon Center, the one stop destination for ladies' fabrics and cheap abayas. Ruwi high street itself is almost entirely dedicated to gold and electronics for Oman's more than half million Asian workers. If it's yellow gold you want, Ruwi's the place to look. And of course, at night Ruwi is where to go to buy pirated DVDs- though recent crackdowns have reduced the number of sellers significantly.

Rewind

In case you're one of the 2 fans of this blog who actually knew of its existence more than a week ago, I remind you of this post from January: Good news for the no-life freaks , in which I wrote: "I wonder if kids are gonna steal from their parents to buy Hayyak cards". No, it hasn't happened in Oman yet, but check this out:
A seven-year-old Jordanian boy stole his father's hard-earned salary to buy prepaid phone cards to vote for his favourite female candidate on a TV reality show, Petra news agency reported. Jamal was so enamoured by Algerian candidate Salma al-Ghazali, who appears on the Star Academy reality show on Lebanon's LBCI satellite channel, that he decided to steal his father's salary to pay for his declaration of love. (source: Jordan Times via Natasha Tynes)
Of course this can never happen in Oman. For one thing, no one here actually gets their salary in cash. Everyone has their's assigned to the bank since they have loans and they only get a fraction of it left.

Maternity post that turns philosophical

None of my clothes fit. Just like that! 2 weeks ago I could still wear my fave jeans. Now they won't even button up. Naturally, I became depressed. So I looked and I looked for maternity shops. Surprise surprise!! There aren't any in Muscat!! Solution? Off to dubai again! Armed with my list of maternity shops in Dubai, Mux and his credit cards, I made my way there. I found heaven in "Great Expectations" & " Jenny Rose." Yes.. Clothes that look good and fit just right. Nice things that i would buy even if I wasn't pregnant. Aaaah, I'm a happy woman now.

(NB: Maternity clothes are not cheap)

So how come we don't have any maternity shops here? I heard there was one in City Centre a while back but it closed down. Someone told me to go to Mothercare's maternity section. Umm, I don't even want to comment on what I found there.

Anyhow, during lunch I get this brilliant idea that I should open a maternity shop in Muscat. With just a few words, my husband informed me that my project was doomed to fail. So much for optimism ha? Why will it flop I ask. Because people here will not that much money for funky maternity wear, came the answer. Women here go and make their own maternity clothes. SO NOT TRUE, I say. All the pregnant women I know have bought clothes from the same shops I went to in Dubai. People who can afford it don't shop in Oman, he said.

I thought about it.. He is right. Its so sad but its true. I don't know why that is. I know for a fact that I wouldn't have gone to Dubai if what I wanted could be found in Muscat.

If Gucci or LV opened a shop here, it would most likey close down within a few months. Why? Because, for one, most Omanis can't afford to pay RO200 for a bag, and second, those who can would rather buy that bag from London or Paris when they go on vacation.

Hanayen are opening a branch in Muscat City Centre soon, do you think they will be as big a hit here as they are in Dubai? Many many Omani women make their Abayas in Hanayen in Dubai for a minimum cost of about DH800. Will they pay RO80 for one here? Or will we come up with more excuses of why the Dubai branch is better? Is it posher to buy the same things from another country? Does it give us a false "better than thou" feeling?

How low will they go?

This is the front page of today's Times of Oman.

front page

This is not a "fake" front page. There's no other front page behind it. You turn the page and you're in the local section.

I can't believe they've stooped so low. They sold their front page!

Charities and charitable giving in Oman (Part II)

I wonder if charitable organizations and NGO's in Oman are obliged by law to make their audited accounts available to the public. For example, say I want to become a member of a charity and I want to help them by giving a monthly amount, am I allowed to ask for their accounts so that I can get an idea how much money they got in donations last year and what they spent it on?

The reason I ask this because I have nagging suspicion that some charities are spending too much on unimportant items, or are hoarding money that should be spent on immediate projects. I am also incensed with some charities whose management are paid salaries even though they can afford to be full time volunteers.

Another issue that bugs me is when certain charities become hip and become the focus of all attention when it comes to fund raising. For example in the past few years the Early Intervention Center for Children with Special Needs has been the beneficiary of quite a few events. In fact there's even a fashion show next week which will benefit the center. I have nothing against this center, in fact I think it's a great cause and I'm buying OD tickets for the show too. But is the center getting a disproportionate amount just because it's the charity of the moment or is it all happening just because the people behind it are more active and more creative than the people behind the other charities?

Finally, there's the issue of charities and NGO's which aren't doing enough to further their cause. For example, in Oman we have a  very large number of disabled people. This is due to different factors both genetic and also the extremely high number of car accidents. How come in all the years of the Oman Association for the Disabled (OAD), they haven't managed to lobby the government into making accessibility laws for wheel chairs? I was saddened a few years ago when I was told that one of the board members of the OAD showed up at the opening of Shatti cinema and found out that it wasn't wheel chair accessible. They found a way to get him in through the back door, but there were as no place for wheel chairs inside the cinema so they had to put him in the front row. Much as I was pissed off at the news, my first question was "what is OAD going to do about it?" Sadly, whatever it is that they did, wasn't enough. Nothing has changed.

Charities and charitable giving in Oman (Part I)

I am a strong believer in corporate citizenship. I also believe in charitable work. I try to do what I can and give to causes whenever the opportunity arises when I can afford it. It bugs me that I don't think enough is being done to encourage the spirit of philanthropy in this country.

I understand that purchasing power is low in Oman, and most families have very little disposable income. They need most of what they make just to get by. A very low percentage of the population can afford to help charities financially. If they want they can support by donating either their time and effort, or by donating their used household items and clothing. But even in this aspect, we are still lacking. Most charities complain about a lack of volunteers, which is quite perplexing given the tens of thousands of unemployed high school graduates who are just sitting at home complaining that they can't find jobs. I wish someone would start a volunteer programs for highschool leavers where they can be sent around the country, or even abroad, to help out where needed- sort of like a peace corp but not entirely. 

After December's tsunami the Oman Charitable Organization asked people to donate clothing for tsunami survivors. They received thousands of bags of used clothing which was usually unsorted, dirty, unwashed, and quite frequently unwearable. It was like people just brought large garbage bags and filled them with all the clothes they didn't want at home. The charity had to spend most of its time sorting through the clothing and throwing away the items which can't be accepted. Can you believe some people even included their used underwear with the clothes that they donated? Just because a person lost everything he owned in a tsunami, doesn't mean that he lost his dignity too. Tsunami or no tsunami, no one wants your used underwear.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

When you're happy to hear that your car's service is gonna cost "just 234 rials"

BMW Showroom

The other day I took my car for service for the first time at the new BMW dealer at their huge- supposedly largest in the middle east- showroom. I was away that year when the dealership changed hands from Al Hashar to Al Jenaibi who is confusingly a Bahwan not a Jenaibi. (If anyone not from Oman is reading this, the Bahwan family are the exclusive agents in Oman for Toyota, Nissan, BMW, GM, Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru but are somehow not considered a monopoly).

I was really dreading this service. You see when my car was being fixed for the accident I had in December, the garage that fixed it told me there's a small oil leak in the engine. That news sent shockwaves of fear into my spine. You see my cousin, who's car is identical to mine but a year older, told me that last year he spent close to 2000 rials servicing his car and I've been dreading the day when my car starts to cost me that much to maintain.

I don't know if it's the case in other countries too, but BMW in Oman has some of the worst sales people I've ever met. While I was waiting for my turn at the service, a salesman came and chatted with me- trying to scope out if it might be time to trade-in my car for a newer one. I asked him what's the price of the cheapest BMW these days. To my amazement, the new 116 is around 11,000 rials. No wonder they haven't sold a single one of them. So I asked about the new 3 series and found that the 320i, which is coming next month will be 13,500 rials. Four years ago, the 318 uses to sell for around 9.5K. When I bought my car in 98, a 528i used to go for around 16K, today a 530i is around 21K. This madness can't all be due to the Euro.

Anyhow, I was joking with the guy and said that my car is living on borrowed time since it's 7 years old and BMWs don't last much longer than that. Guess what? The guy actually agreed and said you should only drive a BMW for 4 or 5 years and then get a new one. Way to talk up the quality of your cars, buddy

Long story short, I got a call late the next evening telling me that the oil leak needs just a couple new gaskets and covers. Nice, how much will that cost? Oh just 40 rials, but the labor will be around 90 rials since it's a big job. And the regular oil service? Add like another 30. And the jammed driver's side window whose motor has already been changed before? Approximately 50 rials. But wait, when we took it for a test drive we noticed some vibration so we need to check the drive shaft and maybe change a few bushes and re-lubricate.

The total came out to about 234 rials (around $600). Looking at the bright side, at least it's not a thousand like my cousin's case. Now I can push the age of my car to the back of mind for another 10,000km and worry about bigger things.