Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Transparency: The Need of the Moment

You can't stop people from writing online. It's easy to regulate the press because 1) the press needs big expensive machines to print newspapers. 2) they need trucks to distribute. 3) they need shops to sell their papers. 4) they need advertisers to pay for all the above. 5) they are a business, and hence they need to make money. The government subsidizes the press both directly and indirectly. The newspaper owners would rather make money than be on the government's bad side, hence there is no freedom of press in Oman. In fact, even if the government allowed the press to write anything they want the will probably still self-censor themselves. They're not stupid to bite the hand that feeds them.

When it comes to the internet though, none of the above applies. People will say what they want and nothing will stop them. If the government shuts down Omania.net, people will find somewhere new to write. They will write in blogs. They will write in other forums. They will keep writing.

The main problem with Omania.net was that people used it for negative criticism more than anything else and they spread a lot of gossip most of which was untrue. Its administrators and moderators were extremely lax and allowed a lot of crap to flourish. More than that, it was obvious that the most active members of that forum had an agenda. They were obviously overly religious hard core ibadhi imamites, they doubted everything the government did, and for the most part they were quite racist to many of the Omani ethnic groups (in fact my family was attacked once for no reason at all). They believe that all the government's officials are corrupt. They named names and rarely ever backed it with evidence. Every single time the government announced a new project, you could bet there would be a new topic on Sablat Al Arab about it claiming that the minister behind it was making millions out of it. Who knows, it could be true, but where are the facts? Like it or not, Oman has a reputation for having a government where a lot of ministers have conflicted interest and benefit financially from infrastructure projects.

The way to counter this would be more transparency from the government, not shutting down an online forum. The average Omani is financially strapped. Unemployment is soaring and is probably in double digits but we don't know because the government never announces any negative statistics. Over 40,000 students graduate from high school every year and most of them don't go into higher education because there are no places for them. The country is in the middle of it's second biggest economic boom. The biggest since the 70's. Billions are being spent everywhere. People are getting rich, and yet the average Omani sees no benefit. Salaries have not been increased in 20 years. Do you blame them that they think every single high government official is corrupt?

Transparency. That's the need of the moment. It's been a week since the closure of Omania.net and yet I haven't seen anything about it in the press. Forget the press, we know that they'll never report about something about this, but where is the Ministry of Information? Have they not learned anything from last year's arrests whose coverage they totally mismanaged? Couldn't they have issued some sort of press release at least admitting that the government are questioning the four administrators of Omania.net and giving a brief explanation of the reason?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Omania.net under the government's investigation

Sabla busted

We've always known that it was only a matter of time until the internet clampdown would reaches Oman. It was never a matter of if, but how and when. Well, mark it down, folks, the when has just happened and now we wait to know the why.

Oman's most popular website, the controversial Arabic online forum known as Sablat Al Arab, has been closed down pending an investigation by the public prosecutor's office.

A message from the site's owner has been posted on the site simply stating the following:

رسالة إدارية
السبلة مغلقة بسبب تحقيقات جارية مع الادعاء العام
أشكر لجميع الأخوة تضامنهم معنا وقد خرجت من زنزانة السجن المظلمة اليوم مساءا
تحياتي .. سعيد الراشدي

The question is what was it that finally brought things to this? Sabla has always been controversial and it's been running for about 7 years now. In fact, I'd say that Sablat Al Arab has lost a lot of its past urgency and heat. It's simply not what it used to be and is no longer the first site that Omanis go to find out the latest rumors of what's happening in the country. I wonder what was the straw that broke the camel's back?

Said Al Rashidi has always been brave being the public face of a forum in which the biggest agitators all work behind aliases. I hope he comes out of this unharmed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Two Months

I had my stupid car accident on September 15th and I only got it back today!

I am so disgusted with the whole situation that I can't be bothered to write the whole story. To cut it short:

- I tried to sue the company that owned the wheel loader that tried to make pancake out of my car and was told that Omani law doesn't allow me to sue the company since they have insurance. So long as they are insured and the insurance agreed to repair my car the only claim I have is against the insurance company.

- I wanted to sue the insurance company because they refused to fix my car for 30 days. According to Omani law if you get in an accident the liable party's insurance company has to fix your car within 30 days. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a lawyer who was willing to take the case because they get more business from insurance companies and they wouldn't want to jeopardize that income stream (I'd be lying if I said that I tried very hard though, I went to a couple legal firms and then gave up in disgust).

- Al Ahlia Insurance is the worst insurance company in Oman. Period. If, God forbid, I ever get in an accident again, I will first ask the driver who s/he is insured with and if it's Al Ahlia I will take the blame for the accident even if it wasn't my fault rather than deal with these assholes again. The estimates for fixing my car were as high as 4000 rials and yet their claims department kept saying that the garages are trying to rip off the insurance company. They even brought in two garages from Wadi Kabir who no one has heard off and made them give bogus estimates of RO. 1400. These estimates were given without even inspecting the car. They only looked at pictures in the insurance company's offices and then wrote the estimate without listing parts or work to be done at all. The insurance company said that since there are two parties willing to repair the car for that amount the insurance company will not pay anything higher. I took the matter all the way up to their top management and nothing happened. The dude joked around, tried to sweet talk me and then walked me out of his office without committing to a single thing. I finally gave up and accepted to pay the difference if they transfer the LPO either Abu Hani or El Sukry, since at least these two garages have a reputation for being good at fixing German cars. I ended up having to pay 500 rials out of my pocket to get the car fixed and repainted at Abu Hani.

- After driving a Land Cruiser for 2 months I felt constrained and claustrophobic after driving my car home today from the garage. I parked it home and went out in the Land Cruiser again.

- I gotta say the car's looking good in it's fresh paint and brand new halo head lamps.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Environment Society of Oman - Job Vacancies

ESO job ad


ESO is the only environmental NGO in Oman. It is a young organization which has only been in existence for two years. It is now time for ESO to shift from being entirely volunteer run to a professionally managed organization. If you know anyone who's interested in taking up this extremely rewarding challenge, please get the word around. The second job is for Omanis only, but the full time manager is for anyone who fits the profile. The applicants need not necessarily be in Oman.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gulf Air Will Always Be A Second Grade Airline

Gulf Air screws up yet another holiday

We're just back from a short break in Bangkok. It was the first time traveling with the baby so we decided to fly on Gulf Air since they have the only direct flight between Muscat and Bangkok. The only other choice was Thai Air which costs just about the same but stops over in Karachi. On other airlines we would have had to change planes in a hub like Dubai.

Gulf Air's flight is brilliantly timed. It takes off from Muscat at 10.40pm and gets you into Bangkok by 8am. So you get on the plane, sleep 5 hours and land in Thailand with the whole day ahead of you. Excellent timing. Except that when we got to the airport at 8.45pm we were told that the flight got delayed to 1.30am. And then later it got delayed again to 3am. Why? Because while we were checking in the plane still hadn't taken off from Frankfurt. This is what happens when you fly with a bankrupt airline that doesn't have enough planes to serve its routes and hence uses the same plane for both east and west routes on the same day.

Because of Gulf Air's massive delay, we ended up taking off from Muscat at 3.30am and arriving in Bangkok at noon. By the time we got to the hotel it was closer to 2pm and more than half the day had been wasted. We were too drained to do anything other than a walk to a nearby department store for lunch. I was asleep by 7pm. Our 4 day holiday essentially got cut down to just 3 days.

Yesterday we showed up at Bangkok's brilliant new airport at 7.30am for our 9.45am flight back and whatdyaknow, the flight's been delayed to 12.20pm. But guess what, Gulf Air is kind enough to offer you a voucher for a free meal at Burger King. Needless to say, the flight was delayed again and we didn't take off till 1.

Thing is, this wasn't a unique situation. Apparently this happens quite often on the Muscat-Bangkok route.

Gulf Air will never be a world class airline. Period. It had one chance under the management of James Hogan, and he has recently quit his job. He's given up on Gulf Air and joined Etihad. Can you blame him? There's only so much you can do with an aging fleet like Gulf Air's. You can have the best food and service in the air (and they actually do), but the fact remains that until last year even first class didn't have sleeper seats (and even those aren't on all the planes). In economy class they still don't have seatback entertainment screens. Everyone watches the same entertainment on the shared hanging screens.

It doesn't matter how good the crew are, and honestly Gulf Air's crews are generally some of the best (trust me I've had my share of encounters with Emirates uber-bitch air hostesses). To be a world class airline you have to be able to present a total package, which Gulf Air has consistently failed to achieve. An airline that can never run its flights on time is second class. When the planes are old and decrepit and don't have facilities that are now offered even by budget airlines these days, that's second class. It doesn't matter if you have a sky chef cooking meals on flight for first class passengers, because even though it's a brilliant service (I tried it on a flight from London two years ago), the fact remains that you can't recline your seat all the way to the back, and for just about the same price that you paid for your ticket you could have flown on BA, Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways and had a private compartment. of your own. The only advantage Gulf Air has for anyone flying out from Oman is the direct non-stop connection, and with our delay the other day we actually arrived in Bangkok after the Thai Air that took off before us and stopped in Karachi.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eid Mubarak everyone

Eid mubarak to everyone.

Once again Oman celebrates eid on a different date than the majority of muslim countries. But you know what, I think it's cool that we're different. We're not different just for the sake of being different. We're different in a completely transparent and methodical way. Our government has a clear policy on lunar sightings. They follow both astronomical calculations as well as moon sightings with the naked eye. The process is entirely televised with remote feeds from all the locations where committees are set up to get reports of moon sightings. Plus they have astronomers with telescopes on all the highest peeks in the country. All live on tv. Plus they show a documentary on the resulting calculations of what exact time the new moon was born, at what particular hours it will be possible to see it in each of the different parts of the country, how many minutes it will be visible, in what direction it will be moving, and how to differentiate between it and other astral projections. On top of all that anyone who calls in with a sighting is tested on what s/he saw to ensure that it is correct. What more do you want above that? The only way the system could be improved is if the sighting itself is eliminated and the date is fixed entirely by astronomical calculation. In which case, yes today would be the first day of eid. Either way it beats going with Saudi Arabia regardless whether they are right or wrong.

Have a great holiday. We're off for a few days of R&R.

Jaunted.com

I clicked on the Technorati "blogs that link here" link on the side bar, which I hadn't checked in months, and found Jaunted.com among the blogs. Here's what they have to say about us:
The Muscatis covers the vagaries of life in Oman. It's perfect entryway into the world of Muscat, (the capital) and the daily life of a resident there. The blog is pretty in-depth; there's stuff about the higher education system and zoning, for example, but don't let that scare you off. There are posts about iPods and toothpaste, too. Anyway, check it out, so that when you get to Oman, you'll know a lot more about it than the Amazing Racers did. (link)

I guess we should work harded on updating this blog.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Car Shopping

It's become like a tradition for us to go out every Ramadhan to visit car dealerships pretending like we're buying a car. In last year's Ramadhan car shopping post, someone commented that 40% of cars sold in Oman are sold during Ramadhan. So you see, it would be un-Omani of us not to join our fellow citizens in their march. Except this time, I might actually end up buying a new car, if only I can find one that I like within my budget.

First thing I noticed this year is that the automotive world has changed a lot in the 8 years since I last bought a car. For one thing, car salesmen are no longer the annoying, persistent creatures that they used to be. Nowadays, with the economy booming, cars sell themselves. If the salesman finds you to be taking too much of his time, he doesn't want anything to do with you. He'd rather just move on to the next customer, who'd probably buy the car without all the questions that you're asking. In the past I'd try as hard as I can to resist giving my phone number to a car salesman because they'd annoy you with their phone calls asking if you made up your mind about what car to buy. This year, I've given my number to maybe a dozen salesmen, and none of them has called me. Not one of them. Quite surprisingly, most people buy cars without test driving them. Some dealers don't even keep test drive vehicles, or only offer short 5 minute drives around the block. And the age of the affordable car is over (or maybe that's because our salaries in Oman never increased while the world around us kept moving). There's absolutely nothing out there below 10K unless you buy Korean. Otherwise, almost all Japanese 6 cylinder cars are above 10 grand. The Lexus ES350 which is a glorified Camry goes for over 15K, and the GS300 is now around 20K. Japanese luxury cars like Lexus and Infiniti are now almost toe to toe with BMW on price. They're no longer more affordable.

So what are the options out there these days for someone looking to buy a 6 cylinder family sedan?

The new Toyota Camry has a face only a mother can love. It is one of the ugliest cars ever from the front, but is quite nice inside and back. It only comes in a 4 cylinder at the moment, not that I'd ever buy one. The reviews on Edmund.com

Nissan Altima: Not exactly a good looking car, but nicer than anything Toyota makes. I really like the 3.5 liter V6 for its power but the model's getting changed soon and the one sold here is really thread-bare when it comes to options. The car is available as is. You can't order anything extra like navigation or even a premium sound system. I liked it last year, and I still do this year. But with the new Altima coming out in November in the states with a ton of new features and a brand new shape, it would be pointless getting one now. I didn't wait 8 years to buy a car whose shape will change in a few months.

Toyota Avalon is a shapeless whale of a car. Very powerful, comfortable and quite well equiped. A great car if you don't care what your car looks like. It's a car designed specifically for retired Americans.

Infinti G35: An excellent car with an insanely powerful engine. It's a car that begs to be driven fast, yet is extremely comfortable and comes standard with an amazing sound system but again, navigation is not even an option. A bit outside my price range, and the model is being replaced next month in the US- probably by March next year here.

Subaru Legacy: Strange, I stopped at this showroom only because it's next door to Chevrolet where I wanted to see the new Tahoe but it was out of stock. I ended up loving the new Legacy. It's really nice both inside and out and is available with a 245hp 6 cylinder engine. Unfortunatly they've only brought the 4 cylinder now and the guy at the showroom says it might be 4 months till they get the top of the range model which should be priced around 11K.

Mitsubishi Pajero, nice car but it's been the same shape for eons and the new one was announced just yesterday in the Paris Motor Show which looks almost exactly like the current model. Dunno when it will arrive in Oman, and how much over budget it would be.

I didn't look at any American cars except the GMC Yukon which I really like but costs 17K and with my lead foot would probably suck up 100 rials of fuel a month. The Chevy Lumina might be an option that I should consider.

I still need to visit the VW and Honda showrooms but from the looks of it so far, it might not be the best time to buy a car with some many models about to be changed.

Car update

Two weeks since my stupid car situation and the garage the insurance company sent my car to (Abu Hani) only got around to completing their estimate yesterday. They said it's going to cost RO. 3700 but then revised down to RO. 3200. However, apparently it's not a lump sum estimate, and what that means is that the insurance company has to go through a very detailed list of parts and repairs and approve them one by one. In other words, they might not approve all of it. And since the amount is quite close to the actual current book value of the car, they may choose to decline the repair and just write a cheque for the amount and write-off the car.

It would be ok with me to be paid the book value if I were planning to buy a new car. I could take the money and put it down as a down payment on a new car. Then again, if I had wanted to buy a new car I'd have gone ahead and bought one already instead of driving the same car for the past 8 years.
Why should I end up paying for a new car because some idiot construction company worker decided to reverse his onto my car? His brain decides to shut down for a minute while he's driving a massive piece of heavy equipment and I end up paying car instalments for the next five years?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Crushed.. but we're ok

mofo

This is a Fiat Kobelco wheel loader, commonly simply known as a "shaiwal" here in the gulf. It weighs around 15,000kg. In no sane world should such a massive piece of machinery be allowed to drive on the road, but here in Oman, they are driven from site to site all the time. This particular mofo in the picture above, is owned by the company doing the road expansions by the Sarooj crossover, construction of which is has been causing a massive bottleneck of traffic for the past three weeks.

Friday afternoon, I was driving with my son and the maid from Madinat Qaboos to Qurm for Friday lunch with my inlaws, and this guy was driving in front of me. Despite its slow speed which was causing a long line of cars to tail-gate behind me, I was having fun with my son who was strapped in his car seat in the back telling him to look at this massive machine in front of us. So we drive out of the MQ service road and on towards the traffic lights by Masjid Asma and then take the turn towards the highway, all the time with this wheel loader ahead of us. Then he signals that he wants to turn and we slow down behind him. But he misses his turn and yet continues to slow down and so do we till we're at a complete stop right there on the road.

And then the idiot started to reverse.

It took a second to register, "what?... no way!". But yes, the 15 ton monster was reversing. And it was clear he didn't have enough space to reverse to get to his turn. But he kept coming. So I started honking, and then all the cars behind me started to honk as well. But he kept coming. It was like he couldn't hear us at all. It was like slow motion. What did I do when a massive piece of heavy equipment as big as house was driving right toward my car? I froze, that's what I did. I didn't think to grab my son and run out of the car. I didn't think of possible escape routes. I just froze. Next thing he was over my car's bumper, then on top of the hood. The windshield cracked and my son burst out crying. Just when he was about to drove through it, he finally stopped and drove forward to get off my car. I looked at the back to calm my son. "It's ok.. it's all right.. look we're all fine, al7amd lilah.." Tried to call the police emergency line and you wouldn't believe it, 4 times I got hung up without anyone saying a word till I finally got through. I went out to look for the driver and it turned out to be a guy who didn't speak a word of Arabic, English or Hindi. Screaming at him did no good. And quite amazingly, I didn't do anything to him. I was just so happy that we're ok. So I called home and asked for someone to come take Faisal and his nanny while I stayed and waited for the police.

150906-2

20060915 -3

The car itself wouldn't move, of course. The radiator has been crushed. The engine itself has been dismounted from its place and pushed to the back. No idea if the gear box has been effected. There's extensive body damage to the entire front. Even the sun roof got pushed open a bit and jammed in its place. I spent all morning yesterday at the police inspection yard because here in Oman you can't fix your car after an accident except after the police inspect it. They determine what the insurance has to pay for fixing and which parts should be fixed and which should be replaced. Then I spent all morning today at the police station waiting to get an accident report, which I didn't get because, get this: they were understaffed because there was a VIP guest who was going to pass so most of them were on convoy duty. Which means I have to spend another morning tomorrow with the police and the insurance company. And that takes care of the last day of my short holiday.

Someone told me that I should consider talking with a lawyer to see whether there's grounds to sue the company over their driver's negligence, the damage done to my car, and the endagerement of our safety. I don't know if you can sue over circumstances like these here in Oman. If anyone knows, please drop me a line.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Internet at work

Does your workplace allow you unfiltered internet access?

Where I work we have a very strict internet access policy where you have to fill a form justifying your need for internet access and get it recommended by your boss and approved by the department head. The security gurus in the IT department then go through the application and decide your level of access before setting you up. Even then the access is regulated by an industrial strenghth filter called WebSense which blocks access to web-based email sites, online shopping sites, entertainment sites, blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums, etc etc. Despite that, and particularly WebSense's slogan "Securing Productivity". I'd be lying if said that I have never wasted time online at work. It's just that instead of wasting time on OmanForum, it's BusinessWeek.com or Google News. It's amazing how when you're left with no options for deviating from work, you'd still find ways out no matter how boring they are.

So I was over at the Emirates Economist blog yesterday and read a very interesting post about this very same topic. A few snippets from articles quoted in his his post:
Jobseekers will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access, a senior Microsoft executive said today.

“These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day,” said Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist.
However,
About one-quarter of employee terminations are due to misuse of workplace Internet privileges, according to a recent survey. In a case that gained attention earlier this year, a New York administrative law judge found Internet use no worse than using the phone or reading a newspaper at work.
And:
Of the 2,700 people quizzed in the unscientific survey, 52 percent said they wasted more time online than any other way. (The survey, by the way, was conducted online, and some responded: "I waste my time filling out surveys like this.")

Hope you're not reading this at work.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I'm off!

No, not going anywhere.. but I'm finally off from work for the first time in thirteen months. Thirteen months, God dammit!

It' only 14 days, which are going to be cut short to 10, but hey something's better than nothing.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Neighbors

We moved into this neighborhood in the late 80's. Back then there were only one or two other houses in this whole area which is now almost full with only a few empty plots remaining unbuilt. Basically we've lived with construction activity around us for close to twenty years. We've been patient and understanding, and luckily most of the neighbors have turned out to be great folks. A few years ago the land right next to us and the one opposite us were bought by the same guy, who went ahead and built three massive houses for himself and his children, plus another two for rent. The construction went way over schedule and we had to live with their construction noise, dust, and lack of privacy for well over two years.

After a long delay, they've finally moved in a week or two ago. You'd think that they'd come to say "hi we're your new neighbors, sorry you had to put up with our mess for the past two years". Guess again. The first communication between the neighbors and us, is them complaining to the workers who are working on adding a majlis to our house (a majlis which, by the way, we are only building because their house is so huge that it overlooks our garden and we can't sit in it anymore without feeling like we're being watched) that they are too loud and that they can't sleep from their noise!

They're lucky I wasn't around when they said or someone would've gotten _______________ (edited for the sake of future neighborly relations).

Something tells me that things aren't going to be very cordial with our neighbors.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On the subject of weekends

Earlier this summer the UAE announced that the government will switch to a Friday-Saturday weekend in September. Last week Bahrain announced that they too are switching to a Friday-Saturday weekend starting September 1st. Qatar already made the switch since July 2003 (in fact there's talk that Qatar is currently considering a switch a Saturday-Sunday weekend). This leaves Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia the dinosaurs with the Thursday-Friday weekend. Incredibly, Saudi Arabia is apparently in the process of making the change as well. Would Oman follow and make the switch or will we continue to be the odd one out?

Many companies, especially those which deal with countries that have a Saturday-Sunday weekend, refuse to have a two day weekend. If they close on Thu-Fri, they get out of touch with the outside world for four days leaving them just Mon, Tue and Wed to do business. If they go for a Fri-Sat weekend they have one extra day of business with the outside, but one less with the government. It was a lose-lose situation. Hopefully
companies that are still operating on a one day or one-and-a-half day weekend would be more encouraged to switch to a two-day Fri-Sat weekend if it means that they would be synchronized with the government.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I want my two day weekend, dammit

I took the day off today and in a single morning I managed to complete all the errands which I had on my to-do list since last week. They're all house/construction related. I started out at 10am and zipped up and down town twice asking for quotations from a security/alarm system company, two airconditioning dealers, and the window/double glazing. Surprisingly all that took just an hour and a half so I also passed by architect/consultant's office to pick up some extra copies of window and door designs and schedules. I was still left with enough time to choose whether to go visit the construction site or shop at Qurum till lunch. I chose shopping and I was back at home by 1.15pm.

Having worked my entire ten-year career since graduation in the banking sector where we only get Friday off, I was surprised how much a difference a two day weekend can do. As far as I know plans for a two day weekend in the banking sector are dead and burried. It ain't gonna happen any time soon, and that just sucks.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's about time!

Qurm and PDO

In the 1960's Oman's capital was a wasteland except for Muscat, Matrah and the farms in Seeb. Oil was discovered and PDO came into existence. It was decided that Mina Al Fahal would be the main terminal for oil exports and hence PDO built its offices close by. PDO was also given a mountain (Qurm) and a beach (Sei7 Al Mala7) close by and told to use it for their staff accommodation and leisure facilities. In the 1970's when Oman changed, the other side of Qurm, which wasn't used by PDO, became the area chosen by the crème de la crème for their houses.

For the next thirty years we've had a contrast where one side of the mountain had huge extravagant houses and the other side has a scattering of PDO employee houses which are basically just a step above porta-cabins. Click on the picture above Google Earth image of Qurm to see how one side of the mountain is densely packed and the other is sparse. All these years this oil company has been sitting on some of the most expensive land in the heart of Muscat. If it was up to me I'd have the entire area taken from PDO and given over to some Emaar style tourism or housing development. Of course the people who run PDO are much smarter folks than me, and they're a step ahead. Yesterday PDO signed an MOU with the government-owned Omani Tourism Development Company to undertake a study on how to transfer PDO's housing area into a tourism complex in a way that PDO gets to keep a percentage of the new houses for its staff. So it's win-win for PDO. They get to be part of the redevelopment of the land before someone in the government wakes up and says "hey how come PDO's still sitting on all that prime real estate?" and they get to keep brand spanking new houses for the expat staff (as far as I know Omanis aren't eligible for company housing). [link]

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mr. Mom

This was the plan: OD is off to Denmark for a ten day course by her new job, and I am going to take advantage of her time away by working extra hours and finishing off all my pending work.

Here's what happened instead:

Sunday night she flew out to Copenhagen and the very next morning our maid got a call from the Philippines telling her father had passed away. She called me at work sobbing hysterically. She didn't say anything else but I knew soon as I get home she'll ask to go home. Tuesday night she was off on a plane to Manila. Oh, I forgot to mention that OD's family had left on holiday Saturday as well. So basically here I am with no one but my mom to help me out with looking after Faisal. And by "help me out" of course I mean do just about everything for him, because while I can take a few days off from work, I can't take a whole ten days. And even if I did take ten days off, I am totally useless when it comes to preparing his food and feeding him. So basically my poor mom is all of a sudden a full-time mom which means doing everything that both the maid and OD used to do. And now I am out of the office every single day at the end of official work hours on the dot. I try to do as much as I can, but I know it's not enough.

Back to the subject of the maid. My colleagues at work keep scaring me telling me that she's not coming back. It seems like everyone of them has a story of at least one maid who said her father or mother had passed away and went back home never to come back. They've become jaded because of their experiences and now they believe that they're all liars who make up stories to get free tickets home. I can't be that way. The poor woman was sobbing all day. That couldn't have all been an act. Still I asked her "are you coming back? If not just tell me and I'll book you a one way ticket." She insists that she's coming back so I paid for a return ticket. I hope she comes back.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

World Cup

My first football memory is of the 1978 World Cup final. Argentina beat Holland 3-1. I was 5 years old and didn't understand much about what was going on, but I knew it was something special. I've been watching the World Cup ever since. Until this year. This World Cup has now been on a week, and I've only seen 5 or 6 games so far. I just can't get myself to sync with the timings, especially of the late night game. I usually end up falling asleep around 11pm. And most days I can't be bothered to leave home to go watch the games outside. It sucks not having the games available on free to air television. Last World Cup the first matches were on during work hours and we used to leave work to watch football. I used to go to work at 6am so that I can go out for the games without feeling guilty. This time the football's not even in office hours and I'm missing them.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sign at the entrance of the Ministry of Manpower

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Translation: Foreigners not allowed to enter.

Thing is, it's not just foreigners who are not allowed; even Omanis must have proof that they are authorised to represent the company or organization that they've come for. For example, when the ESO hired its first employee, who by the way isn't Omani, we asked him to go finish his paperwork in the Ministry of Manpower. He couldn't because he wasn't allowed to enter. I had to leave work and go there myself just submit his paperwork. Then a few weeks later when everything was done and we had to pay a small fee for his medical check-up, they wouldn't let him to go in just to pay the fee at the counter. He tried to get an Omani guy there to go pay the fee on his behalf but they wouldn't accept from the Omani either because he didn't have proof that he works for the ESO. I had to leave work again, go to the labour dept, stand in queue, show proof that I am an authorized representative, then go to the manager to verify my papers, then come back in line again and pay.

A night at the opera

Apparently one thing this city's been needing is an opera house.

From Meed.com:

Applications for prequalification have been invited by 10 June for the main construction contract on the New Concert Theatre Muscat project, which will see a concert hall and opera house built close to the Intercontinental Hotel in Al-Khuwair. The client is the Palace Affairs Ministry.

The estimated RO 50 million ($128.2 million) scheme calls for the construction of an 848-seat auditorium, built over seven levels, including a roof terrace, upper and lower balconies, and a royal and VIP tier.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Busy busy busy

As my husband said in the previous post, there really aren't enought hours in the day! Ok this is a brief summery of whats been going on with me:

I quit my job, I turned 31 and we are preparing for Faisool's 1st birthday!

Not in that particular order ofcourse!


I can't believe it but I finally finally quit my dead end job! I got two offers from two really good places! Anyhow, I picked one of them, signed the contract then drove straight to the ministry and submitted my resignation. All 4 lines of it! They tried and tried to get me to change my mind, but I have been wanting out for quite some time now.

I start my new job next week inshallah (wish me luck)!

Oh and yes I turned 31 as well. It wasn't as scary as turning 30 I must say. It was actually quite ok. Hmmm. I'm 30 years and 20 days older than Faisool. Thats alot! My mom is only 20 years older than me. Oh well, whats done is done!
As for whats been preoccupying my mind since before our son was born: The 1st Birthday paaaaaarty!!! Mux thinks its useless to have one since Faisal doesn't really understand whats happening and will most likely end up not enjoying it. I beg to differ. I think it is of great importance to have a wonderful 1st birthday. I'm sure he'll appreciate all the hard work when he sees the pictures in the future. Mux is ofcourse accusing me of having this party for myself not for Faisal :) But despite all these remarks, he's been a great sport about it all ,and I've appointed him official photographer of the event. (Lets not get him started on the fact that I was thinking of hiring a photographer for the party......)

Party is tom inshallah and I hope it turns out well. Will post picture!

And thats a wrap for now!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Not enough hours in the day

Apologies to all this blog's readers, if in fact there are any of you still left. It's been about a month since the last post and even that was nothing more than a cut and paste job. I'm sorry, between my increased responsibilities at work, the staff shortage, the house currently under construction, the soon-to-be 1 year old son, etc, it just seems that there aren't enough hours in the day to be blogging. Heck I don't even read other people's blogs that much anymore. Even the ESO, which I am now supposed to be giving more time to since I'm now the executive director, is getting less and less of my time. And now with the World Cup upon us, things will only get worse.

I can't promise to write more, but I will do all I can to keep this blog alive.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Omagine



















In August last year I blogged about a project called Journey of Light which is supposed to come up in Seeb just down the beach from
The Wave. The project has never been in the news here in Oman and though it's been close 10 months I haven't heard anything about it locally. I decided to look it up online and once again it turned out that there's lots of news about it.

To begin with the project has a website: Journeyoflight.com even though the project's name has apparently been changed to Omagine. According to a press release by Alfa International Holdings which owns Journey of Light, Inc:

JOL is continuing to move ahead with its plans for the U.S. 1.2 billion dollar OMAGINE real-estate development project in the Sultanate of Oman (``Oman''). On August 1, 2005, the Ministry of Tourism (``MOT'') of the government of Oman (the ``Government'') and JOL signed a memorandum of understanding (``MOU'') memorializing key legal and commercial aspects for the development of a tourism related project (the ``OMAGINE'' project). On March 1, 2006, JOL made a formal presentation of its plan for the OMAGINE project to a committee of several ministers of the Omani Government. The presentation was favorably received by the committee and JOL management promptly thereafter began discussions with Government officials, the objective of which is to arrive at the terms and conditions of a Development Agreement between the Government and an Omani based Project Company to be formed, of which JOL will be the majority shareholder. JOL management is presently back in Oman continuing such negotiations.

OMAGINE is proposed to be developed on 1 million square meters (equal to approximately 245 acres) of beachfront land facing the Gulf of Oman (the ``OMAGINE Site'') just west of the capital city of Muscat and nearby the Seeb International Airport. OMAGINE is planned to be an integration of cultural, heritage, educational, entertainment and residential components, including: a ``high culture'' theme park containing seven pearl-shaped buildings, each approximately 60 feet in diameter (the ``Pearls'') and associated exhibition buildings (collectively, the ``Landmark''), a five star resort hotel, a four star hotel, a boardwalk, an open air amphitheater and stage, a canal and enclosed harbor area, boat slips, commercial office buildings, shopping and retail establishments, restaurants and open space green areas. All of the foregoing are expected to be owned and/or leased or operated by the Project Company, except that ownership of the Landmark is expected to be transferred to a new company (the ``Landmark Company'') which will be jointly owned by the Government and the Project Company. It is further expected that the Project Company will be hired under a fee based contract by the Landmark Company to operate and manage the Landmark. Additionally, OMAGINE, as presently conceived, includes the construction and sale by the Project Company of approximately 2,000 residences consisting of a combination of villas, town homes and apartments.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fines that shocked me

I stand before you ashamed. Embarrassed. Its a miracle I'm even standing before you at all after Muscati saw my traffic fines.

Fines Incurred


Tuesday, February 07, 2006
14:32 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

14:33 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Sunday, February 12, 2006

14:30 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, February 13, 2006

14:32 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

14:32 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Saturday, February 18, 2006

14:30 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

14:28 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Sunday, March 05, 2006

09:24 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Saturday, March 18, 2006

14:38 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, March 20, 2006

14:38 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

14:36 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

14:34 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Saturday, March 25, 2006

10:11 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Saturday, March 25, 2006

14:32 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Sunday, March 26, 2006

14:36 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, March 27, 2006

14:37 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Saturday, April 01, 2006

14:38 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, April 03, 2006

14:34 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

14:34 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, April 10, 2006

14:34 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Saturday, April 15, 2006

14:35 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Sunday, April 16, 2006

09:32 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Sunday, April 16, 2006

14:34 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, April 17, 2006

14:33 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

14:36 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

14:31 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Sunday, April 23, 2006

14:32 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Monday, April 24, 2006

14:33 Wadi Kabir 10.000 Exceeding the speed limit by 15 to less than 35km

Total (in RO) 280.000

*gulp*

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wish I could

Woke up perfectly rested this morning having slept early last night. Suddenly got a terrible headache on the way to work and it just kept getting worse as the morning progressed. Kept thinking to myself that maybe I should take the rest of the day off and go back home but I knew that wasn't an option. Things have been really hectic and they are about to get a lot worse in the next few weeks due to staff shortages and the begining of the holiday season. Just as I finished reasoning with myself that I have to stay in the office one of my staff walked in and told me he's going home because he has a bad headache. Aaaaargh.

It was the same last week. I woke up every single morning feeling tired and had to push myself out of bed. Every day I had to convince myself that I shouldn't take a "casual" day and instead go to the office, finish off the most urgent work, and then take the rest of the day off by coming home before noon. Instead each day turned out to be busier than the day before. I never got home before 3.

Looks like the earliest I'm gonna be able to afford a day off is mid June.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Spring cleaning

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Yesterday I finally got around to doing something that I was planning to do for the past year and a half but never got around to: I finally unpacked the boxes that have been holding my CDs and DVDs since we moved out of our rented house 2 years ago. Before getting to that I had to clear out closet space for them which entailed going through some stuff that had been accumulating dust for close to 18 years. For example: piles of Sultan's School yellow math notebooks and pink English and other subjects' notes, a Canon Bubble Jet printer which I bought when I was in uni 12 years ago, stacks and stacks of floppy discs, a Yamaha acoustic guitar which I had made my dad buy for me when I was in 5th grade afterwhich I took about 3 or 4 afterschool guitar lessons with Ms Barbara before abandoning my musical dreams (God, that was in 1983!!) and most pleasantly, my 20 year-old Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ computer preserved for history in its original box in its full 64K glory. All except the guitar went straight to the trash.

I liberated all my DVDs and my favorite CDs, but there's still one more huge box of CDs which I still haven't gotten around to opening.

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I don't have the space to organize the DVDs so I just put them in stacks in the top part of my closet.

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Stacked three deep, so i don't really have access to the ones in the back rows. Oh well.. At least they're out of their box.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Rip Off

I saw an ad for this phone in one of the Dubai newspapers a couple weeks ago and I liked it. Looks like a nice basic clamshell phone. Nothing fancy, but perfect for me to use at work where I don't need anything like a megapixel camera. I went to the shop I usually buy phones from and they said they don't sell the lower-end Sony Ericsson because there's no market for them. I went to a couple other shops and they didn't have it either. I finally went to Bahwan Electronics who are the agents and they shocked me by quoting a price of 95 rials. I scratched the idea from my mind and never bought it. Yesterday I was going through Gulf News and saw an ad from Jumbo Electronics. They're selling it for 645 dirhams. Unbelievable, the Omani dealer is trying to get away with a profit margin of 30 rials on a phone. No wonder there's no market for low-end SE phones in Oman when the agent's acting like that. They're basically giving the market away to Nokia.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Higher education follow-up post

Some people found my previous post to be confusing. I started to write the following as a reply to the comments but decided to expand it and post it as a topic of its own.

My personal view on higher education is that governments should make it available to all. It doesn't have to be totally free but then again I don't think that a university degree should be privilege only for the best of the best, which unfortunately is the situation in Oman right now. Presently, close to 60,000 students graduate from highschool every year and our one free university has seats for less than 5% of them. The way I see it, that's just elitist. The government does provide 2400 internal scholarships every year mostly to low income students to study in private colleges. They also take in students into vocational colleges, teachers colleges, technical colleges, and so on. All put together that still brings the total at about 10 to 15% of high school grads. Let's face the facts. In some countries you can make an OK living as a brick layer. In Oman even college graduates have it hard. Jobs are scarce and pay is low. A person with nothing but a high school diploma is lucky to find a job and when they do they have to make do with salaries of around RO. 120 to 150 a month.

I think that there should be a two-tier system, maybe similar to the US where they have junior colleges feeding into full four-year colleges, and state colleges and universities. Likewise in the UK they had the top unis and the polytechnics which were later converted into being universities of their own. In Oman we have something slightly similar with the technical colleges now giving bachelor degrees (some not all, I think). It just needs to be expanded. You can have a system of each region having one or two "junior college" style colleges which give associate degrees and the best students from there getting admission to full unis, also regional. Instead of having just SQU in Muscat being a university for the best of the best. You can have a system of 4 to 6 other universities in the regions offering college degrees as well to those not fortunate enough to be admitted to SQU or who can't afford the private colleges.

SQU is an extravagant one-off experiment. 20 years ago when it was built, it cost over 200 million rials. We don't need more state of the art universities. What Oman needs now is efficient universities that deliver a quality education to the maximum number of students at a competitive price. For the price of one SQU, you can now build 4 excellent regional universities or even 10 large campuses all around Oman of a state university-type system. Of course beyond the set-up costs there will be huge overheads for running the universities, staffing the, operating, etc. But if you won't spend on educating future generations, what will you spend on?

The universities don't have to be totally free. Students can be partially subsidized. The availability of choices to students should end up improving the quality. Presently private colleges have no incentive to improve the quality of their education. They operate in a system where students are strapped for choice. If more free colleges are available, private colleges will have to improve the quality of their offerings to justify their 2 to 3000 rial per annum prices. Higher quality of education will lead to better quality graduates and translate into better job prospects for the graduates.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Higher Education (for all?)

The annual Gulf Higher Education Exhibition (GHEDEX) started yesterday and thousands of students and high school graduates began swarming to the expo center looking at their higher education options both in Oman and abroad. At the opening of the exhibition, the personal representative to His Majesty the Sultan and the undersecretary of higher education both made statements to the press which clearly spelled out the government's view on higher education.

"I would like to encourage everyone (diploma and secondary school certificate holders), including employees in the government and private sectors to complete their higher education," said Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq. "This is necessary to be competitive in the gulf and international job markets and on a long-term basis. You can now learn and work. There is a chance and you must not miss that chance," he said.

Asked if there were any plans by the government to start another university, Sayyid Asa'ad said: "I have not heard of anything of that sort. We have four public universities, and there is scope for them to expand. If, for example, they can teach 2000 students, they can easily teach 4000, and they teach 4000 they can go up to 6000. Nizwa University will be teaching around 4000 to 6000 students in the next 5 or 6 years."

But Nizwa University is a private university, not public. As we all know SQU is the only public university in Oman. The other 3 "public universities" that His Highness referred to are in fact all private universities: Dhofar University, Nizwa University and Sohar University. From what I hear, the government has been actively promoting the merger of the existing "university colleges" in Muscat such as Majan College, Muscat College, etc, into one single multi-campus university to be called Muscat University. But the colleges themselves are resisting.

Dr. Abdullah Al Sarmi, undersecretary of the ministry of higher education, yesterday made it clear to the press that the higher education council has stopped issuing licenses for setting up private universities and colleges. He also said that there is no mismatch between demand and supply with respect to the number of students graduating from secondary school and the number of seats available in higher education insititutions. He echoed Sayyid Asa'ad's view and explained that the institutions are operating at their minimal capacity and that they could probably accomodate four times as many students. Dr. Abdullah further explained that it was only the lack of proper means to educate themseles on the higher education segment, and not lack of awareness or any other reasons, that have stopped a segment of young Omanis from pursuing higher education.

And yet the government insists that there's no need for more public colleges?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Nothing in Life is Free

Blast from the Past:

Three years ago, as the Muscatis were getting off the plane on the first stop of their honeymoon retreat, the flight attendant comes over with a cake wrapped in a box and says:" Congratulations on your marriage from all of us!"

Awwww, I say! How sweet! Now that's customer service for you! Muscati just smiles. When we get the hotel, we open the box and look at the cake and say we'll have some later. We never do, and end up throwing it out.


Back to the future:

I was at a travel agency recently for something. It was crowded. Long cue. Four people ahead of me. When there was only one person left, I moved ahead and sat on the chair behind him. It was someone who was working on a honeymoon package for him and his future bride. He asked for some changes. They said they need 10-15 minutes. He said he would come back later and left. The travle agent asked me to hold on for a bit. Made a call. Asked them how much it would cost to make the changes the man had asked for. Before hanging up he said: I should add RO. 5 for the cost of the cake onto this, right? Aha. Nods head. Hangs up. Smiles at me and says: "How may I help you?"

I stare at him speechless.

I wish we had eaten our cake.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Here's something we don't experience very often

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I got this book at Family Bookshop yesterday. It's the new Lee Child novel which like all his other books feature the same character, Jack Reacher. I started reading these books last summer and they're good quick reads. What's interesting here is that I didn't know there was a new book out in the series. I saw it and bought it immediately. I then checked out Amazon.com and it turns out the book comes out in mid-May in the US and early July in the UK. It's only out now in Australia and Singpapore, and some WH Smith airport bookstores. For once we're getting something here ahead of the rest of the world.

So I went to Salalah

I stayed at the Hilton which was full of Swedish and Austrian tourists. The Hilton Salalah used to be a business hotel. Last time I stayed there it was quite empty and the only people who stay there are business people who choose it because it is close to the industrial estate. It is now marketed as a resort.

The Swedes come on charter flights direct from Stockholm which bring as many as 250 tourists to Hilton every Thursday. Some stay a week, some even stay two weeks.
I asked a cab driver about how business is these days with the hotels full of European tourists. He complained that there isn't much business from them. There's not much to do in Salalah but these tourists don't even venture out of the hotel very often. They mostly bake in the sun every single day morning till dusk. The guy in the hotel's souvenier shop echoed the same feelings. He said that these tourists don't spend much, they just come to relax. Most of them are retirees and they are on very tight budgets. I was surprised how everyone says that, especially since the Salalah Hilton is not exactly a budget hotel. Rooms usually go for around 80 rials a night. But I was even more interested to know why a European tourist would want to come and spend a couple weeks at a hotel right next to one of the busiest ports in the world in the world and an industrial estate. In fact from the view on one side of the Hilton's beach is of the cranes from port. One of the shop owners in the hotel told me that the Hilton sells its room in bulk to a Swedish tour company in advance for a year for just RO. 10 per night. I asked some business people in Salalah about this and they all said it's true. Just 10 rials a night! (though one of them claimed that they rate is actually 13 rials of which 3 rials is a subsidy from the Ministry of Tourism). The hotel gets the tourists cheap and then makes money from selling them food and beverages during their stay. Not a bad business model.

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The hotel has internet access in all rooms but it's at 5 rials an hour. Ouch! I went to their business center thinking I might get free access there to check my email but there it was 3 rials per 15 minutes.

Anyhow, if you're ever in the Salalah Hilton, you just have to try the food at the Palm Grove, the restaurant outside by the beach. It gets quite packed and you need a reservation, but the food is very very good.

I passed by the Crowne Plaza Resort the next day for luch and wow, it is definitely where I would stay next time I'm in Salalah. Last time I was in this hotel 8 years ago it was a dump. It's been totally redone and upgraded. I can't say anything about the rooms but I doubt they'd be as spacious as the rooms in the Hilton though the hotel has a true resort feel unlike the Hilton.


Interesting side story:

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I called house keeping to get a two-pin adaptor for my laptop. I asked the guy who brought it how come they don't keep these in all rooms since most of their guests are Europeans and most of their appliances are probably two-pin. He said they used to but most guests took the adaptors with them when they checked out. They lost two hundred adaptors before they decided to take them out of the rooms. How come people feel it's ok to take things from hotel rooms?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ten

I think I must have at least half a dozen incomplete blog posts since the last time I posted on this blog. I just can't get my mind around anything blog-wise so I'm just gonna lay them all out here.

Where do we begin...

1. The Wave didn't manage to sell all their properties in their first offering. Can't be a good sign. My name never came in the draw not even in the reserve list but I got a call from them asking me if I want to come have a look at one of the available properties. They sent an email saying that they sold 90% of the offering, but a friend told me last night that 79 properties remain unsold. That's more like 30 or 40%. Looks like the highest demand was for the most expensive villas and the cheaper ones weren't much in demand. I dunno if Waterfront Developments is going to change any of their plans because of this.

2. I hate it when bloggers quit.

3. Basma Al-Kiyumi's article article on Women in Oman (Arabic) for Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper has caused quite a stir over the past two weeks. While I think Basma's views are a bit extreme and over emotional in some parts she does have a point for the most part. However, my agreeing with her won't take her and Oman's women neither here nor there unless the majority of them actually want more rights and fight for them. Unfortunately from what I read most of the female bloggers are defending their status in Oman instead of agreeing with Basma. The empowerment of women begins with their own realization that they have the power to make a change.

4. Dogs on the beach (no, not the name of an unplanned sequel to Samuel L Jackson's upcoming masterpiece, Snakes on a Plane). This issue is really hotting up especially in the letters page of The Week. A certain blogger who recently announced an exit from the blogosphere first brought this topic up a couple months ago but the specific blog that was started about dogs on the beach has mysteriously disappeared. It's a touchy topic. I totally understand why people wouldn't want dogs on the beach, especially unleashed. But then again if I had a dog (which will never happen) I would probably want to take it with me to the beach. The thing that's surprising me the most about this issue is that the local law very clearly prohibits dogs on the beach and there are signs clearly saying that at all beaches. And yet the expats (and one particular one actually who's apparently in the center of this controversy) have been very vocal about opposing this law. People are really passionate about their pets, I suppose. I wouldn't know, I've never had one.

5. I just can't get the DP World controversy out of my mind. It just keeps pissing me off everytime it comes up again in the news. If the Dubai government had balls they would have immediately cancelled one of their mega Boeing orders to make a point to the US. Unfortunately they danced all around the issue and tried to make it look as if they are ok with it.

6. I'm finally back to reading after a six month break away from books. I picked up The Shadow of the Wind right where I had put it down back in September and slowly managed my way through it. Despite all the praise and high recommendations, I found it a bit of a tedious read. Way too many flashbacks and character recollections that sometimes go on for 20 or 30 pages at a time. Didn't hate it, didn't care like it that much either.

7.
If you want to see regular folks losing their manners and turning into total assholes just go to the nearest hypermarket (preferably Carrefour or Lulu) on a Friday afternoon. People who are probably well mannered and considerate on all other days of the week turn into greedy animals with absolutely no consideration for anyone but themselves. It's like a destruction derby in there. The only way around it is to turn into an asshole yourself. And guess what, it works.

8. Music: They say that Kate Bush can sing listings from the phone book and make it sound good. Not entirely true, as evidenced by disc one of her double album, Aerial - her first album in 13 years! But disc two, entitled: A Sea of Honey, is absolutely sublime.

Got Prince's new album 3121 last night and after listening to 3/4 of it in the car today I can safely say that he's finally got the funk back. It's no Sign O' The Times caliber masterpiece but for us poor fans who have been making do or just plain giving up on his work in the past decade, this is definitely some of the best stuff coming from him in close to ten years.

Arctic Monkeys - Usually whenever the British music press hypes up a new band as the next big thing I end up dissappointed. Not these guys.

James Blunt - sorry, despite the good singles the album just didn't jibe with me.

9. Munich. Finally got to see this movie today and saw for myself what all the controversy is about. Good movie. Very well made. And oh so very pro-Israeli. At one point when the main character's wife told him that she loves him I expected him to reply "I love Israel more". The scenes that supposedly humanize the Arab terrorists are so short and yet somehow they were enough to make zionists hate the movie and worse make Arabs rally around it as if Spielberg had made a pro-Arab movie. How much more pathetic can we get as a people?

10. I bought a new laptop last week. It's an HP Pavilion with 15.4" widescreen, 2.0 GHz Centrino, 2GB RAM, 100GB HD, ATI 128MB graphics.. In short, it's hot shit. And yet here I am blogging from my old laptop because with the weak signal from our home WiFi network in my room this old laptop picks up the signal and sticks with it while the new laptop and searches and searches and when it finally logs it barely stays logged on more than a few minutes before it loses it again. Also, I still haven't gotten around to moving all my files to the new laptop, especially my mp3s and my iPod playlists. I got this program called PodUtil that was highly recommended by iLounge. I tried to copy direct from my iPod more than 5 times and it never once got all the files. The most successful try I got 7000 out of my 7450 songs and none of the playlists was complete. Sucks when technology doesn't come through for you.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Residential zoning, anyone?

When Mux and I decided it was time to buld a house, we couldn't at first make up our minds on the location. Idealistically, we wanted MQ, but that was waaaay over our budget. In the end, we decided on Boshar /Ghubra ( I don't know where one ends and the other begins). We were taken to see many plots but in the end we loved one particular area and decided to buy the plot on the spot.

We bought the plot last year, and are just starting to build now. So whats the problem you might ask. The problem is, from the time we bought the land to this day, I have lost count of the number of 2 or 3 story apartment buildings that have come up in the vicinity of our future house. They are awful! And they are everywhere.

I have nothing against apartment buildings in general. I do however have something against an apartment building sticking out between two regular houses. I also have a problem with opening my window and having my view obstructed with a miniature building. Why does the Ministry of Housing allow this? If this is a neighborhood for villas, it should remain for villas. If higher buildings are to be allowed, then perhaps they should be on the outskirts of the area or on the sides.I'm no landscape expert, but I know something that looks wrong when I see it. And this sure aint right.

Its the same thing when your neighbor decides to rent his villa to someone who wants to use it to house a tailor shop for example. The area infront/behind/ and next to your house turns into a parking lot for his/her customers. What happens next? Your neighbors on the other side decide that they would benefit as well from renting out their house to some other business. So what do you do? You either put up with all the new " added life" in your neighborhood, or you go with the flow and rent out your house as well and move elsewhere. Its like being run out of your home. There should be regulations for this as well.

I think there should be more stringent laws on whats allowed where.

I know that recently a law came out regarding my first complaint in this topic, but I can't remember the specifics (Mux can write about it in his reply :) ) But I remember I wasn't too happy with it.

When I think of all the money we are going to spend on our house, and then think of the two empty plots next to us, I have nightmares thinking of what might be built there...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cashing on caesarian births

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Are private hospitals cashing in by preforming unneeded C-sections?

The decision on where to give birth to your baby is taken very early in the pregnancy. Here in Oman, for example, Muscat Private Hospital doesn't accept late term registrations. If you want to give birth in their hospital, you have to decide right from the begining and sign-in for their package which includes the birth as well as the prenatal visits during the pregnancy.

At the time that we were making this decision a lot of people told us that private hospitals are more likely to go for a C-section because they make more money that way. I was inclined to believe it just on the basis of all the women I know who gave caesarian births at private hospitals compared to the others I know who gave birth in government hospitals where the ratio of natural birth was much higher. In the end we chose to go for a public hospital for various factors including our choice of doctor who said she would be more comfortable working with her team at Khoula Hospital rather than with a team she's not used to at a private hospital.

The statistics in the graphic above are based Sharjah hospitals. It shows that in 2004 82% of births in public hospitals were by natural delivery, going down to 81% in 2005. However in Sharjah's private hospitals the figures show that only 73% of births were by natural delivery in 2004, going down to 67% in 2005.

Could it be because private hospitals are more likely to give the choice between natural birth or caesarian to women (which some women prefer), or are these private hospitals really taking advantage to make a profit?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ESO Annual General Assembly: March 28, 2006

The Environment Society of Oman's first Annual General Assembly (AGA) will be held on Tuesday March 28th at the Mumtaz Mahal restaurant's event hall. There will be a dinner and presentation by the Oman Whale and Dolphin Group (now part of ESO) detailing the findings of their Annual Survey in Masirah.

It is extremely important that as many of our members as possible attend this meeting as it is when our board members are elected so we need at least 50% of the members to show up. In order to attend the AGA you must be a paid up member so if your membership has expired please pay your fees before that date or else bring the renwal fee with you.

An Extraordinary General Meeting (EGA) will be held prior to the EGA to change the following in our constitution:

1. Reduce Board members from 12 to 8 allowing for a quorum of 5 rather than 7.
2. Reduce individual membership fees from RO 15 to RO 10 starting Jan 1, 2007.
3. Reduce the required suppor backing members for board nomination from 25 to 10.

If you are an ESO member please make the effort to attend the meeting or else send a proxy on your behalf. If you require a proxy form contact our office on 24482121 or email: admin@environment.org.om.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Toothpaste

Unhealthy toothpaste obssession

I suppose most people would only have one or two kinds of toothpaste. Can't be normal that I have about ten.

Where does the iPod cover art come from?

Can someone please explain this to me. I finally replaced my two and a half year old 3G iPod with one of them nifty 60GB iPod video ones (actually it was OD who got it for me). Inzain, according to what I read if you want to add album cover art to the iPod you have to do it manually or get a program that does for you. I've done neither and yet I have cover art appearing on the iPod for at least 30% of the albums. These are albums which I own and which I had ripped years ago. Long before iTunes. Does iTunes automatically get cover art for your albums, and if so why didn't it get the art work for all of them?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Movies

I honestly can't remember the last time I went this long without seeing a good movie at the cinema. Used to be that not a week would go by without going to the movies at least once. True you end seeing a few turkeys now and then, but there are always good movies, and every few weeks you watch something better than just good. That's not the case anymore. It's like the bozos running our two movie chains here in Oman have conspired to keep away the good movies. They do bring some well reviewed movies now and then, but they play them at awkward times to make it semi-impossible for discerning viewers to get to see them. And then they yank them from the theaters in almost no time with the excuse that ticket sales are low.

A couple weeks ago I wanted to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it showed for a week only and the latest showing of the day was 7.30pm which is impossible for us. The week before that they played Walk The Line. That one too played for exactly seven days and there wasn't a single show past 8pm so we couldn't see it either. We ended up going for The Pink Panther that same week. It was stupid, but I have to admit I laughed a lot. Sometimes you just need a change and go to the movies even though there's nothing there worth seeing. We went to see Derailed like that even though all the reviews online were bad. It had a 23% tomato rating. We ended up walking out less than half an hour into the movie.

Movies I'm interested in seeing like Munich, Howl's Moving Castle, the new Pride and Prejudice, Match Point, The Constant Gardner, A History of Violence all played in other gulf countries (or at least Dubai) but our stupid cinema owners in Oman never bothered to book them. One of the movies I was really excited about, Syriana, might not play in the gulf at all so I'll have to wait for it on DVD. Apparently it was submitted to the UAE censors 3 months ago and it's still not approved. Ironic when a large part of the movie was actually shot in Dubai.

I don't mind watching movies on DVD, but it's just not the same as going to the cinema. Especially when you have a baby sleeping with you in the same room. You can't put the volume up. You have to put the subtitles on. And you have to keep stopping the movie every now and then because when you're watching a movie at home you actually answer your phone calls, unlike when you're in the cinema. When you go to the cinema you watch the whole movie in one sitting. At home, it might take a couple days to go through a movie.

*Sulk*

The Wave


We had registered our names for the The Wave a couple months ago hoping that our name would come up in the draw and we could book a property as an investment and sell it at a later stage. Neither of our names came up in the primary list but OD was lucky to come in the tail-end of the reserve list. We were told by the people in The Wave that the reserves' only chance is if people in the primary list don't make a purchase. Other than that there was hope that maybe for the next lot of properties they might put the present reserves as a primary list. So far so good. We asked about the procedures, payments, etc. They told us that if you're buying as investment you can't transfer the ownership until you've paid 40% of the price of the property. Thing is, even though they are selling the properties now, they are not planning to begin construction till early 2007. Ya3ni in other words, you book the property now and pay 10% advance and then you don't start paying for another year. Once they start building and reach the first milestone you pay another 15%, then wait till the next one and pay another 15%. And that's when you can sell your property. Considering that The Wave is the first large project available for freehold ownership by foreigners, if you're buying as an investment you're betting that about a year to 18 months from now the demand for the properties would have gone up giving you the opportunity to sell for a profit.

Today out of the blue we got a call from The Wave saying that they've decided to merge the main and reserve list and that sales day is Thursday. Oh and that when you come bring 3000 rials with you because if you book a property you have to immediately pay that amount on the spot as a "non-refundable deposit"!. For real. Just like that. Come Thursday and bring a big wad of cash.

Is this standard operating procedure for large, high profile real estate projects?

Update:

I was telling someone whose name was actually drawn on the main list and he was surprised because he was told to go on Sunday. His exact comment: "I don't get it, I'm in the top ten in the main list and you're reserve. How do you get to go choose your property before me?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

French Film Week 2006


French Film Week is back March 18 to 22. Movies are being shown at Shatti Cinema at 8pm every night. Details of the movie showing can be found here (or in French here)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Please stand by for incoming transmission

No we haven't given up on this blog, not just yet. We've just been very busy with other.. stuff. The main happening these past few weeks is work, and as you know I don't blog about my job or anything related to it.

There are a couple things bouncing around my head I want to write about. Should have some fresh posts up real soon.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

iopblogs banned?

Omantel has blocked the I'm on a plane blog aggregator website which includes the Omani Blog Aggregator.

Mistake from Omantel's side or fully intended action? I emailed them on Friday and still haven't received a reply. I hope it's a mistake. Omantel's proxy usually concerns itself mainly with porn and sex and nothing else.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bad call

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Picture: The Executive Director of the Sanad program "inaugurating" a Khimji Mart supermarket in Madinat Qaboos.

According to the Oman Chamber of Commerce website and Omanet (the government's official information website), Sanad is a fund for supporting and developing small projects. The fund provides loans to unemployed Omanis between the ages of 18 and 40 to develop and own their own businesses. The fund works with the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Manpower, and in fact both ministers are on the fund's board of directors. To put it in simple terms every year the Ministry of Manpower adds certain professions in certain areas to the Omanisation list, and the fund trains and finances Omanis to takeover those jobs. This has been most visible in one particular area: grocery shops.

As I have written before, the Omanisation of grocery shops has forced most of the Indians who used to run neighborhood grocery shops and corner shops to close down. Unfortunately, at least where I live, I haven't seen any Omanis take up the opportunity to open shops where the Indians used to be. This has become a boon to supermarkets and gas station convenience stores. And now, some of the supermarket chains have decided to open smaller stores in the middle of residential areas. For example Al Fair has announced plans to open a few small stores in 2006. And here we have an example of Khimji Mart, a supermarket that only had a handful of stores for more than a decade but which in the last year has expanded at a very fast pace outside the capital in areas where the Omanisation of grocery stores has eliminated competition. And now they're in Madinat Qaboos. And they have the head of Sanad opening their store! Good PR for Khimji Mart, very bad PR for Sanad. Bad call, dude.

You might want to read this)