Monday, November 28, 2005

Outta gas!

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Petrol stations have been running out of gas for the past few days. Yesterday I had to drive to three stations till I found one with petrol to fill in. We got a call from someone who works in one of the oil companies about ten days ago warning us that a shortage was coming up and we should't let our car tanks empty. I guess I should have listened to his advice, but a week had passed since he told us and things seemed to be normal till all of a sudden yesterday one station after another started turning away customers.

Apparently the three filling station companies are alloted quotas by Oman Refinery based on orders which they give in advance every three or four months. The last time they placed orders was before the UAE increased their fuel prices and now due to the large numbers of UAE residents in border towns like Buraimi who come in to fill their cars in Oman the petrol supply is running out before the end of the quota period.

I tried to find coverage about this in today's papers but neither the Times of Oman or the Observer had anything. You think maybe their reporters don't drive or are they just out of touch or waiting for someone to send them a press release to publish as if it was real news?

Whatever the reason is behind this shortage, the fact is they knew that supplies are running low and they didn't manage the crises. Who's to blame, the gas companies or the regulators? Are gas stations running dry for the same reason that we're told or is this some engineered scenario to eventually justify a fuel price hike in Oman?

(Related link: Wanna bet?)

Omantel booboo

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So Mux sees an ad in the paper for a position in Omantel which he thinks will suit me. Its for a Health and Safety Advisor. He starts skimming through the details. At first, all seems normal...


Position Objectives:

We are working towards building a strong people-focused organisation that strives to constantly improve. Everything we do is focused on strengthening our relationship with our customers, our personnel and their families, our suppliers and business partners. If you believe that pride, passion and a strong desire to perform, are the attributes which you have, then we invite you to apply for the position Health & Safety Advisor....

Okay, all is good so far. Then you get to the position requirements...

The ideal applicant will possess:

*Professional qualifications (Master or BSc) in any of the HSE disciplines or related fields from a reputed University.

*Proficient in MS Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook) and Windows.

*Minimum of 5 years work experience in a similar role.

*Possess a minimum of 3 years work experience in the Oil & Gas industry!!

*Work experience within the Telecommunications industry will surely be an added advantage.

Ha? Why??? Why would a position in Omantel require 3 years work experience in the oil and gas industry?

So my husband and I put our heads together and came up with two possible explanations:

1. People in the oil and gas sector have lots of experience in health and safety regulations, thus Omantel would prefer one of them for this position.

2. Whoever wrote this ad just ripped off an old ad posted by a petroleum company that was looking for a health and safety advisor and forgot to edit that part.

I think the latter is more likely.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Surrounded by idiots, part II

We finalized our house plans in May. Got the building permit in July. Floated a tender in August. Found a contractor, agreed on price, and signed a contract in September. And decided on a project start date of November 8th, 2005. The first step of the building process is for the contractor to go to the municipality and request for the handover of the land's markings (تسليم العلائم). This is a simple procedure where somene from the Ministry of Housing goes to the building site with the contractor and shows him the exact boundaries of the plot and makes him sign off on it to ensure that he doesn't build beyond the boundary. The paper is then endorsed at the local municipality. It sounds all quick and easy, right?

First of all the ministry said that they were too busy because of the large number of applicants and gave us an appointment one month from the date of application (We applied September 15th). No problem says I, since the construction won't start till after eid. The date came and went. I called my architect to ask what's happening and he says "oh you have a problem, one of your neighbors has built outside his bounds and now the ministry won't handover your markrings".

So I went to the municipality myself and took the engineer to the site and he showed me exactly what's happened. There's only one built house in the whole row of empty plots and its built wrong. It's 1 meter out of bounds in the back and 50 centimeters on the side. It sounded like a very simple thing to me. The guy has illegaly taken land which is not his so force him to tear down his boundary wall and rebuild it within the bounds of his land. Simple, no? The guys in the planning and survey department in the Ministry of Housing tell me that it isn't as simple as that. In fact if they were to order that it might take months. What do I care, says I. He hasn't built into the boundaries of my land. Give me permission to start building and in the meantime you can take as long as you want to make the guy break his walls. No, no, they say. It's simpler to just push the boundaries of all the plots on the left of that house by 50cm. How long will that take, I ask. Oh no time at all, we already have the new plan plotted out and all we need is approval from the head of the department. Two days the say.

That was around October 26th. Since then I've been going to the Ministry of Housing at least once or twice a week and those two days have been stretching forever. On the last day before the eid holiday they said the planning engineer wants to go to the site himself before he signs off on the new plan. Three days after the eid holiday they said that they were done. A week later I go to the department to ask if they're approved it and the dude says: we're almost done with the new plans.

- Hold on.. you told me 2 weeks ago that the plans were already done.
- Oh no I didn't, he says, why would I say they were done when they're not.
- Not only did you tell me they were done, you even showed them to me on the screen, I tell him. And he just looks at me full of contempt.

Finally they were done with the planning on November 15th. Cool. Now we can build?
-No, we're done with them here in the planning dept, but now they have to go a committe that meets every Wednesday and they have to approve them. Once they approve they have go to another department that will make the site plan (krooky) for you.
-OK, today's Tuesday, does that mean tomorrow's committee would look into our issue?

-Nope, we didn't put up your matter for tomorrow's committee.
-Next week then?
-Well we don't know if they'll have any backlog before your thing, and anyhow it's not our job to schedule that.. go to to the committee's secretary.
-Right, so let's say I talk to the dude and get the committee to look into this and approve it, how long realistically till I have a new site plan. Is it possible it might take another month there?
-Well they are quite busy there too...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ever get the feeling that you're surrounded by idiots?

Seriously. I don't mean like your family or friends. But don't you sometimes feel like everywhere you go you're just dealing with idiots (like the people OD wrote about a couple days ago)? It's been getting to be a bit much these past few weeks.

10 days ago when Omantel's share price started to nose dive I went to NBO and paid off most of the IPO financing which I had taken from them and signed a sell order to sell 550 shares to cover the remaining amount. On that day the price of the share was around 1.98. If they had sold that day it would have covered my outstanding and left me with about 100 rials cash to spare. Two days ago I called the branch to tell them I want to close the account and withdraw the cash. They told it's not possible to close my account because there's an overdraft still outstanding. How could that be? I told you to sell a week ago? Oh we don't know, our brokerage department didn't execute the sale. By this point the share's price had come down to about 1.84 and the very next day it collapsed to 1.77 which means that if they sell now it won't be enough to cover my overdraft, let alone leave with me 100 rials of profit. In fact at 1.77 I would still owe them about 25 rials. I wrote a complaint to the head of NBO's brokerage. Two days later I still haven't received any word from NBO. No one's called to explain what happened or even to apologize.

To add insult to injury I just got the following SMS on my mobile:

Your Omantel IPO loan with NBO has expired. Contact your branch to repay/renew the loan or sell the shares. For more details call 800770077.


I swear, holding on to your sanity is a full time effort in this country.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bad Bad OmanTel Shares

I have never ever invested my money. Its not my thing. Actually I wouldn't know how even if I wanted to. I'm more what you'd call, the spending type. So is my husband really. For once, and after ALOT of though, not to mention encouragement from about every single Omani citizen, we decided to invest in OmanTel.

And look what happened.

Day after day, an entire population's dream slowly diminishes.

Maybe we all just had really high hopes.

Maybe it was just wishful thinking.

Maybe its bad luck.

Maybe I'll never ever buy any shares in anything again and be content with my rediculously low government salary.

Then again, maybe, just maybe, the price will go up again.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bad Bad Business Travels

(This is a semi old story but the ending is relatively new, so here goes)

We decided to go to Al Ain during the eid holidays. Why Al Ain of all places you may ask. Well, its because Mux refuses to take me to Dubai during any official holiday. He claims we end up spending more time in traffic getting from place to place than at the place itself. No argument there.

I call up Business Travels to make a reservation for a hotel room there. Booked one room at the Bustan Rotana for Mux, myself and Faisal. Then my mom and brother decide they'd like to come as well. Then we thought, ok we'll take the nanny also. Thus, we decided it would be more convenient to reserve a furnished apartment instead. I called up BT again but was informed that they don't deal with any hotel apartments in Al Ain . Anyhow, we managed to get a booking through our friends there.

So I cancel the reservation with BT. A week in advance. They said sure, but you have to pay the rate for the first night (RO 66). So I said, but I'm not cancelling last minute, this is a whole week in advance. They said sorry this is our policy, you should not have made a reservation if there was any doubt you would not use the room. To which I said, but I'm not psychic, how was I to know others would want to join us?? Not their problem ofcourse.

Years and years ago, ever since I started booking holidays for my myself and my family, we have changed our plans over and over again. Heck, Mux and I changed our entire honeymoon package from Australia to the Far East. Not once were we ever charged. I can understand if someone charges you if you cancel last minute, because they incur losses because of you, but when its one week in advance, its not fair.

Mux refused to pay on principle. But I begged him to because I know the girl at the agency and because she told me they would cut it out of her salary.

I asked if I could pay by Electron and they said sure but we charge you 2.5% on top of it. Mux hit the roof.

Anyhow, we paid. In cash.

We are not happy.

Never going back to Business Travels again.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Omani Blog Awards 2005



The nomination stage of the Omani Blog Awards 2005 has begun. [link]




Wednesday, November 16, 2005

How much lower?

Michael Jackson's here in Muscat since yesterday on some undisclosed private business. One rumor has it that he's here as a guest of the developers of the Blue City to get home to invest in the project. Another is that he's here to be part of something to do with National Day.

Whichever it is, isn't it proof that the guy's hit rock bottom.

Post #250

Minor milestone: this our blog's 250th post. Who would've thunk, ha?



Monday, November 14, 2005

1991

Staying on a musical theme. Yesterday I was at a music store looking at CDs and the only interesting new release was the new Depeche Mode album which I refused to buy because it has Copy Control. The shop has one of those loyalty cards where you get a free CD whenever you buy 10. I was looking at my card and I've bought 7 CDs since last December. It's not me, it's just that the music isn't as good as it used to be. When was the last time we had a year like 1991? All the following albums were released that year:

Nirvana - Nevermind
Metallica - Metallica (the Black album)
Pearl Jam - Ten
U2 - Achtung Baby
R.E.M. - Out of Time
Sting - The Soul Cages
Massive Attack - Blue Lines
Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion
Prince - Diamonds and Pearls
Electronic - Electronic
Michael Jackson - Dangerous
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Primal Scream - Screamadalica
INXS - X
Seal - Seal (the first album)
Simple Minds - Real Life
Spin Doctors - Pocketful of Kryptonite

Was that a great year for music or what. Which year would you choose and why?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

80's music

Why is it that even though we're more than half way through the 00's no one talks about 90's music the way 80's music still has a hold on people? What is it about the 80's musically that the 90's didn't have? I don't think I ever heard anyone use the term "90's music" at all.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Oops

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If you've been to Qurum from the beach road you've probably seen this partially torn down house. In case you're wondering about it, here's what I know. It's the kind of story you never read in the Times of Oman or Oman Observer. If I get any of the facts wrong, please correct me. What I know is based mostly on what I heard from various sources who may or not be biased (though they are from both sides of the story).

The picture above is of the late Sayyid Faisal bin Ali's house as it stands today. Sayyid Faisal was Oman's Minister of Heritage and Culture from 1976 till his death in 2003. He died without heirs and his house, which is located on prime location right next to the Crowne Plaza hotel overlooking one of the most beautiful views in Muscat, was sold last year by a group of investors. I don't know the price but I the smallest price I heard was 3 million rials. After tossing around many plans including either re-selling the land for a profit or developing into a resort, the partners decided to develop the land themselves into a combination of villas and apartments. The properties were snatched up by investors, some of whom quickly flipped their investment by selling again to others. All this while the original house itself was still standing and no development has taken place on the property itself.

Right next to this property there's an old apartment complex which is occupied mostly by European expats who are horrified at the thought of a large apartment building coming up next to them and blocking their view. As the scope of the development next door kept changing and the number of units increased, they began to grumble about the increased traffic in the neighborhood as well as well as their loss of privacy due to having a building overlooking their complex. Soon talk came out of how to stop the development.

At first there was talk of trying to accomodate them and even offering them partial use of the private beach in the new development. Then it became known that there were ancient graves on the Sayyid Faisal's property. These apparently weren't newly discovered graves, they've had been properly excavated by archaelogists in Sayyid Faisal life. The residents get up in arms: "how can the government allow the building of an apartment complex on top of an archeological site?" The story was spun to make it sound as if the archaelogical site was a new discovery. And who is it that owns their housing complex?
None other than the present under-secretary of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture. They've contacted anyone who'd listen to them. Enter Al Roya magazine, which took up their cause and published an article calling for the government to stop the development.

It's become a huge mess and apparently the project's presently on hold. You have investors who've paid millions of rials to buy a property and others who've paid to buy into the development that will come up on it. Is it really about preserving our archaelogical heritage or has it been used simply as an excuse? Who knows, but if you pass by the beach road you will see this eyesore.

Anyone know more?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

reBlog: Drowing is Popular




You know how fond I am of messed up translations on official Omani signboards. This one was taken by Round Peg at Wadi Dayqah. [link]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Today

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Couldn't get out of bed this morning. My back was stiff from a combination of a bad bed mattress in a hotel we stayed at in Al Ain and all the driving over the eid holidays. So I stayed in bed pretty much all morning and was finally mobile by noon. Around 1pm I grabbed my camera and a new cheapo 70-300mm lens I bought a couple weeks ago which I still haven't tested and went for a drive looking for things to photograph. By 2pm I had already clicked over 130 pictures and was back home for lunch. I wish I had taken a smaller lens with me as well but I got some nice pics of fishermen at Shatti Al Qurum (right off share3 al 7ob) while they were loading off their catch of sardines.

The pics are in Flickr set if you wanna check them out.

Cinema (mis)Management

Forget censorship, what we need is good cinema managers. Last night my mother in law invited all of us to go see the new Adel Imam movie together at Shatti Cinema. We got there super early because we were told it was going to be a full show. We got in our seats in time. The cinema was full of Arab families. The lights dimmed. And the first movie trailer was for a movie called The Keeper which was definitely not made for showing in cinemas. The trailer was full of four letter words and even slight nudity. You could feel the discomfort in the cinema rise. The trailer ended and a second one began for a low budget straight to video horror flick called Man-Thing. This one was worst. It began with moaning sounds and then there were a couple having sex on a boat in the middle of a swamp. Next thing you know, the woman's boobs were exposed to the extreme horror of a couple hundred people sitting with their families in the theater. People in the cinema were wondering if they had entered the wrong cinema hall.

What's up with this stupid cinema's managers? Except for the nudity, this is quite typical of Shatti cinema. This is the kind of cinema that would show trailers for action and horror movies before a Disney animation so a fuck up like this isn't unusual. How can parents trust an incompetent management like this to enforce film ratings when their kids go to the movies alone if they're willing to do crap like this even with the parents in attendence?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Eid semi-rant

Mattrah family house

First of all, eid mubarak everyone. Best wishes to all readers of this blog. Hope you're all having a great time.

Before I begin this semi-rant let me start by saying that most of what I'm about rant about isn't my own view. The eid holiday has brought some controversy and I'm just blogging about it.

The eid holiday as announced mid-week was a bit unusual. It was a conditional announcement: the holiday for the public sector was to begin on Wednesday and if eid fell on Thursday the go back to work on Monday, but if eid fell on Friday they take the whole next week off. As for the private sector their holiday starts on Thursday and they go back to work on Monday regardless what day eid was. This lead to a lot of ranting on behalf of private sector employees, particularly the lower paid ones who are already fuming at the "makruma samiya" (royal gesture/grant) that Sultan has ordered to government employees on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of his rule.

Come Wednesday night, Oman TV put on quite a show. They had tv crews in all corners of Oman including Jabal Shams and Musandam with astronomers live on the air with high powered telescopes and all sorts of high tech shit. We had all sorts of explanations about how the moon will only be visible for 8 to 12 minutes after sunset and how if no one can see it in that brief window then eid will be on Friday. So there you had it, a live presenter in the tv studio switching back and forth between a bunch of remote locations and no one has seen the moon. After an hour of all that it looked like they were about to throw in the towel. Switch to another tv presenter at the Ministry of Awqaf outside the minister's office and just as he goes on the air someone from the ministry hands him an official announcement to read. He starts reading in a subdued voice thinking he's that the moon was not sited in Oman, but next thing you know he's announcing that the moon was sighted in so many different locations. Hello, was it all a charade? You just explained in ever scientific way how no one could have seen the moon after 5.40something pm and now you're telling us all these people saw it? Oh, well I'm private sector so it makes no difference to me.

Was the eid deliberately announced for Thursday to shorten the holiday? Some people thought so. But conspiracy theorists didn't have much time to build on this because by 10pm the news suddenly came out that HM has announced another royal gesture: the holiday is extended till next Friday for the government but the priviate sector will go back to work on Monday as previously announced. Private sector employees cried foul. "Are we second class citizens in this country?", they said. How come we work two shifts a day, get only a one day weekend, get less annual leave every year, are paid less by our employers than the public sector, we are always short-changed in public holidays, etc. How come the Sultan's ordered a special bonus for all government employees but we get nothing, are we not Omanis? The Kuwaiti government last year paid a bonus to all citizens, it didn't discriminate by giving it to just the public sector, etc etc.

Of course you can't argue with a royal decision, but it appears this issue has widened the divide between the public and private sectors. It has lead to controversy in the middle of the celebration. This will probably die over soon, but since National Day is coming in two weeks it might be a while before we hear the end of it.

Anyhow, we're off to enjoy the holidays. Seeya in a couple days.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

iTrip R.I.P.

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My iTrip's gone kaput. No more iPod music in the car for the time being. Since the new 5th Gen iPods no longer have a remote socket on the top I've decided to wait till the new iTrip which connects on the bottom of the iPod comes out before I buy a replacement. No use buying a new one now and then having to buy another in a couple months if I buy a new iPod.