Saturday, October 29, 2005

Omani Queueing System

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Picture taken at the Ministry of Housing this morning. It took 2 hours to go through that mess just to get an invoice to take to the bank to pay for a plot which was already appropriated a year ago.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ramadhan car shopping

There's a city down there!

I don't know if it's the case in other countries, but for some reason Ramadhan is THE time to buy a car in Oman. Is it because they feel it's a blessed time of the year to buy a car or or is it just because the dealers keep their best offers till Ramadhan.. who knows. Car dealers go crazy, for example the Toyota dealer is giving away a Corolla a day for the whole month. I never understood the appeal of entering a competition when the price of entry is buying car. Why not give some real value to the buyer instead. I don't want to buy a car to win another car.

Anyhow, towards the end of Ramadhan for the past few years we like to play pretend and go car shopping like all our fellow citizens. Two years ago it was for a 4X4 to be used as a second car. The year before it was for a small econo-compact to use for work. Didn't buy either, but who knows maybe this year will be the one I actually bite the bait and actually buy one.

This year I've been thinking what to do about my car. If I were to sell or trade-in my BMW, I probably can't afford to go for another one- not that I like any of the current BMWs (except for the 6 series). I'd want my next car to have 6 cylinders. It should have good resale value which means I can use it for a few years and then sell it without losing too much value. But at the same time it has to be a trouble free car that's actually fun to drive. I'm surprised by how few the options are.

Basically if you want to a car with a good resale value you have to cross out all non-Japanese cars as well as Japanese cars which are considered by Omanis to be of lower quality or those which the dealer's reputation isn't highly regarded, like Mitsubishi. The options are: Nissan Altima 3.5, Toyota Avalon and Infiniti G35. I crossed out the Camry from the list because they're just too common and way too boring. Slim pickings, eh?

The Nissan Altima is a pretty good deal. It has 250 hp with lots of options. It's supposed to be a fun car to drive. The only downside is that the dealer here doesn't bring it with navigation or a premium sound system. The Toyota Avalon is a bigger car with 280hp. It comes out with all the options except for navigation. Say what you want about the Avalon, it's not a good looking car but it's value for money: It has leather ventilated seats, keyless entry and start, for almost the same price as the Altima. The Infiniti G35 is a smaller car, more the size of a BMW 3 series than a 5 series like the others. It's got plenty of power too, 289hp, and lots of options. Best of all it's rear wheel drive, which is a huge plus. Like the other two, it doesn't have GPS navigation. I guess car dealers in Oman think Omani car buyers are idiots who wouldn't know what to do with GPS.

The price of all three cars is approximately RO. 12000. Amazingly, 7 years ago when I bought my car the price of a BMW 523 was 12000 and a 528 was going for 15,500. Nowadays the only BMW you can get for 12000 is a 1 series.

Note: the pic above is from the basement of the new Toyota showroom which might turn out to be one of the largest showrooms in the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ooh that was a loud one, wasn't it?

Listening to Oman FM today the genius deejay had the brilliant idea of playing a Barbara Streisand ballad followed by the latest single from System of a Down. From the sound of it, she hadn't heard the SOAD song before she played it. "Ooh, that was a loud one, wasn't it?" she said.

Can't wait till I don't have to heard that kind of stupidity on the air anymore when private stations start next year. Imagine if when they do they go and hire the same idiots over there.

Deadly Omanization

Is it just me or has the recent "Omanization" of commercial driving jobs lead to an increased risk on our roads?

Sometimes it seems like the bigger the truck, the crazier the Omani driver inside it is driving. Don't these people realize that the dynamics are totally different when they're driving huge trucks and it's not the same as when they are in their Toyota Echos? You see huge fuel tankers overtaking cars on the third lane and gas cylinder delivery truck speeding with their rear gates open and the cylinders being held only with flimsy ropes while the driver has a bunch of his friends next to him with their feet up on the dashboard as if they were lounging at home. Even worse is that these maniacs know that we're scared of them and they use it to their advantage. They don't care about stop signs. They don't even slow down for roundabouts.. They just drive on. They know that you'll stop and give way to them even if the right of way is yours.

Two days ago I saw a school buses zoom through a red light at the busy intersection next to Star Cinema. It was overfilled with kids at twice or three times the actual bus capacity and when the bus got near me I noticed that the driver wasn't even wearing a seatbelt. The dude has no value on his own life and yet he's being entrusted with the lives of about 50 kids on a daily basis. Yesterday OD was almost driven by off the road by a mini bus belonging to a Quran school!

Where are the police in all this? What are they doing about this problem?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Snip snip

Remember this:

Censored

A royal decree came out yesterday that transfers "
the prerogative of endorsing “classified arts”" from the Ministry of Heritage and Culture to the Ministry of Information. In other words all forms of art censorship will from now on be in the same ministry. The people with the big black markers for censoring magazines will now be working with the people with scissors who chop the movies we see in the cinemas.

It makes sense to have one ministry in charge of all censorship. But then again, you presently have people in the Ministry of Information who think that a picture of a woman in a bikini is obscene and try to cover it in black ink. The film censors at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture have been a bit more lenient and merciful with their scissors though they sometimes go crazy and start cutting arbitrarily just to piss us off. However, all the existing staff who do this job in the Ministry of Heritage and Culture will be transferred to the Ministry of Information so we shouldn't expect any radical changes except if the Minister of Information has a mandate to change how things are.

10 years ago the Ministry of Information fought hard to be given control of the internet before access was launched in Oman. They lost that fight because Omantel voluntarily chose self-censorship, which turned out to be worst than imposed censorship.

Let's wait and see.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Did you know .....

That you can pay for gas (or petrol as most ppl say) at Oman Oil using your Visa Electron? I'm so excited by this new and wonderful discovery. I get the feeling that this revelation is probably old news to many, but, I'm excited anyways.

I never ever have any cash on me. If I'm out shopping, then I use my Electron. If I'm going for coffee or to the tailor, etc, then I just stop by the ATM machine on my way and withdraw the amount I want.

Today I was on my way out when I discovered that my car needed petrol. So I call Mux to double check the piece of info I kind of remember him giving me regarding using my Electron at some petrol station (apparently it was Al Maha station that he was refering to). Me being me, I am already at Oman Oil before he has even had a chance to tell me that I have the wrong station. I thought I'd take a chance and ask the attendant. To Mux's surprise, the man said my card was welcome there.

Tada!
Filled my car. I was happy.

Mux was upset. Hates people who don't advertise their services. Insists they should put up a sign.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Charity Fair at City Center

NBO is organizing a charity fair at City Center tomorrow and the day after (October 18 and 19). A bunch of charity organizations and NGOs will be participating. ESO will be there too. We have a stall where we will be selling our items like coffee mugs, t-shirts, wheel covers, and of course our world famous canvas shopping bags. Timings are mornings 10am to 1pm and again in the evening from 7pm till midnight.

Come by if you can. Learn more about the different charity organizations and volunteer groups in Oman. Help out by buying from their products or just by becoming a member and donating your time.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Muscat

A few days ago, I sent an email via the Shangri-La website enquiring about the opening dates of their Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa. I was very impressed when I received a reply from them today (impressed by the immediate reply as well as the detailed email).

So I though I'd post it here for all of you incase you are wondering how much it would cost you to spend the night there :)


Dear Ms. (OceanDream)

Thank you for your email request for information about Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

Currently we are finalising our pre-opening preparations and training and will be welcoming guests to the 'Al Waha' and 'Al Bandar' hotels from the 6th January 2006 and anticipate that 'Al Husn' and our 'Chi' Spa Village will be opening a few weeks later. (Further details of the resort's hotels and facilities can be found on our company website, www.shangri-la.com)

Should you plan to stay on or after January 06, 2006 for either Al Waha or Al Bandar Hotel and after March 01, 2006 for Al Husn Hotel we are pleased to offer our value rate with following benefits to make your stay memorable at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa;
  • Complimentary breakfast every morning (maximum two persons)
  • Free buffet dinner or equivalent credit on room service or any of the resorts dining facilities (maximum two persons)
  • Free Laundry Service (excluding dry cleaning)
  • Free non motorised water sports
  • Free broadband Internet access.
  • IDD calls and faxes at cost and free local calls
  • 6.00 pm extended Check out time

Value room rates;

Al Bandar Hotel ( 5 star):

Deluxe Seafacing Room : RO.125.000
Deluxe Seaview Room : RO.145.000
Deluxe Seaview Room with Patio : RO.155.000
Premier Room : RO.170.000
Regular Suite : RO.200.000
Deluxe Suite : RO.235.000

Al Waha Hotel ( 5 star):

Superior Seafacing Room : RO.110.000
Superior Seafacing Room with Patio : RO.120.000
Deluxe Seaview Room : RO.120.000
Deluxe Seaview Room with Patio : RO.125.000
Executive Room : RO.145.000
Premier Room : RO.155.000
Regular Suite : RO.180.000
Deluxe Suite : RO.195.000
Premier Suite : RO 210.000

Al Husn Hotel ( 6 star):

Deluxe Room : RO.190.000
Regular Suite : RO.220.000
Deluxe Suite : RO.280.000
Presidential Suite : RO.350.000
Royal Suite : RO.1500.000

All above rates are per room/suite, per night on double occupancy and subject to 17% service charge and tax.

Okays, so I hope Muscati gets the hint and starts saving for our anniverssary from now!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Moblog

Here's a sampler of the weird, funny or just downright mundane stuff you're missing if you haven't been checking out the muscatiblog flickr photos.

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I had a corn the size Musandam removed from my foot last Thursday. I've been trying all sorts of over-the-counter treatments with no results. All this time I thought it was a wart. Finally gave up on it because it was begining to hurt so I went to the clinic and asked them to take it out. I thought they'd freeze it out with liquid nitrogen but the doc said that's only done with warts, since this one's a corn it had to be shaven out. Sounded easy to me so I told him to go for it. Didn't know that "shaving" it out actually means more like using sharp razors to cut all around it, put a pin through it and then pull it out and cut underneath it. They used a local anasthetic so there wasn't much pain except for the injection of the anasthetic into the corn. But once they were done.. boy that's when the pain began. Hurt so much I couldn't go to work the next day. Oh well, it's gone and I'm all fixed. Doctor says there's a 5% chance the fucker will come back though.

F'in Copy Control

I usually refuse to buy any CD which has Copy Control on it, but I couldn't resist this time. Couldn't boycott the Stones especially with their new album getting such rave reviews (four and half stars in RollingStone magazine). It copied alright into my iPod. All I had to do was keep the Esc button pressed when I put the CD in my laptop and there it was on iTunes.


Moleskine


Back to analog. Forget about PDAs. I've had my share of them begining with the original Palm Pilot almost 10 years ago. I finally found a solution: the Moleskine Cahier pocket notebook. When I ordered mine I thought I was just following a fad and it would join all the other crap I buy and never use. Quite surprisingly, I use it all the time. It's small enough to fit in my pocket and I carry it with my wallet all the time. Keep notes, write reminders, put down thoughts and ideas, etc. I got mine from Mojo London.


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Ok, you either get why this name is funny or you don't. I've been taking a medicine called Zyrtek on a regular basis for the past 7 years for an allergy. The other day I had a really bad allergy rash so I went to the pharmacy across the parking lot from where I work and asked for some Zyrtek. They said they only deal with generic drugs and gave me this one which is identical in composition. It worked fine but wow.. what a name!

In today's mail

This Ramadhan we decided to skip all the stupid shows on TV and we're just watching TV shows on DVD. We're about three quarters through Lost now and when we're done we'll get into Desperate Housewives and then Scrubs season 2.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Brain Drain

I wrote this almost a year and a half ago on OmanForum. I'm bringing it up again because this yesterday a friend visited me at work to say goodbye because he's moving to Jeddah to work for SAMBA at about three or four times his present salary.
1. brain drain (n.) -
The loss of skilled intellectual and technical labor through the movement of such labor to more favorable geographic, economic, or professional environments. (dictionary.com)

2. When the Omani educational system was getting on its feet, many Omanis opted for schools in the UAE and elsewhere in the Middle East. This exodus deprived the country of valuable brains and riyals. Omani students' tuition fees and other expenses were not being invested in domestic institutions, creating a net outflow of educational money. Students that study abroad often stay abroad too, stripping Oman of some of its brightest citizens.

(From the Oxford Group's Oman Weekly Briefing dated July 4, 2004.)
________________________________________________________

Every year more people I know move out of Oman and get jobs elsewhere. At the moment two of my cousins work for multinational companies in Dubai. In the last couple years some of my Omani colleagues at work left and went to work for banks in Dubai. 2 of my closest friends have told me in the past few weeks that they have job offers abroad.

Q: Are Oman's best and brightest talents moving abroad?

Do you think that Oman is indeed suffering from a brain drain and if so what effect do you think it will have on us? (link)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

3aza

I went to give condolences to a friend over the death of his grandfather yesterday. It was really croweded and as usual most people in the 3aza were talking about the same subject: how much they hate the present Omani way of mourning. It's just too tiresome for everyone, especially the bereaved family.

For those who don't know, in Oman when someone passes away the men from his/her family accept condolences for three days in a mosque from morning till dhuhur prayers and again from asr till maghrib. When you go to pay your respects at the mosque, you enter and shake hands with every single person in the mosque begining with the people closest to the door on your right. If the person who's passed away is well known, well loved or had lots of friends, it means that there would probably be a constant flood of people coming in. As a result the people in the mosque never sit down. They will be standing on their feet for the most part of three days. It doesn't get better if there are less people, because they sit on the ground not on chairs or cushions. And everytime someone enters the mosque everyone gets up again. So the routine is constant sitting and standing till your legs go numb.

Some groups in Oman have it a bit different. For example the shi'a have made the process more efficient. You don't shake hands with everyone in the mosque. You enter the mosque and go straight to the bereaved family and give condolences to them. This system is more efficient for the people going to pay their respect, but it doesn't do anything for the family themselves because they're still constantly having to stand up whenever someone enters the mosque. One thing I like about shi3a mourning is that as soon as you sit down in the mosque someone comes and gives a small section of the Quran to read in respect to the deceased. It's better than sitting around chatting with other people there which seems a little disrespectful to me.

I don't know how it is in other countries, but surely there's got to be a better way. I remember reading about it in a Kuwaiti blog last year and it didn't seem any better than it is here except over there it's usually in a diwania and they sit on chairs instead of the floor. But still there's the same aspect of the bereaved family being on their feet for three days.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Traffic part 1

Stuck in traffic last week because when roads were closed because the Sultan was going to address the Oman Council with his annual speech I had a flashback of memory from around 20 years ago. We were stopped at a traffic light by Bait Al Falaj. I looked at the right at the car next to us and I was shocked to find the Sultan driving on his own. The light turned green. He waived and went on ahead of us. I thought I had imagined the whole thing but when I turned back and asked my mom and dad it turned out I wasn't. Back then HM used to go out quite often in public like that. How things have changed.

A couple days later the roads were closed again. This time it turned out that it was because the Tunisian prime minister was in town. Can't they just put whatever visiting dignatary on a helicopter from the airport straight to wherever they're putting him/her up? Must we always suffer the consequences for ensuring the safety of these people. Muscat is a city with just one main highway connecting all its different parts together. You close that one road and you bring the whole city to a standstill.

Monday, October 03, 2005

TV halal, cinema haram?

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Ramadhan's here again, well either tomorrow or the day after, and as usual all the Arab television channels including Oman TV will turn into full-on 24/7 entertainment with wall to wall soap operas. Somehow that's all ok, but watching a movie in the cinema is a big no-no.

As per tradition, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture today issued its order to cinemas that they are prohibited from showing movies before 9pm during Ramadhan. Of course in typical Omani fashion we should always learn to look at those worse off than us lest we wish to improve, hence, I am going to say at least we're better than Kuwait where last Ramadhan the company that owns all the cinemas decided to voluntarily stop showing movies during the last ten days of Ramadhan.

I wonder if someone actually takes this decision in the ministry every year or if it's just happening because one of the past ministers made that decision and it just keeps getting implemented every year without any thought going into it because it really is ridiculous.