Friday, December 26, 2008
1. Bad branding
Oman Mobile has one of the ugliest logos ever and I can't wait till they get rid of it in 2009. I've been an Oman Mobile user since GSM first started in Oman back when they were GTO. As superficial as it is, if seriously think that if I was new in Oman now, I'd probably Nawras because of their better branding.
Another Omani company whose branding I don't like is Al Maha. Their logo is not bad, but the branding itself, the look and feel of their petrol stations, is a big turn off. In fact, I don't think I've filled in an Al Maha station in the past ten years. Earlier this decade they've refreshed their brand, but they didn't go far enough.
Q: Can bad branding turn you off a brand?
2. The cover story on this month's issue of BusinessToday is the Best Brands Survey Oman 2008. The survey's participants named the following as the top brands in Oman:
However, when asked to name the top Omani brands the top five were:
How can BankMuscat and Nawras be named among the top 5 brands in Oman but not the top 5 Omani brands? The magazines explanation is: "It appears that people have a better memory for products they use in their daily lives than for banks or airlines." Who are these people they interviewed and how come Oman Cables is a product they might use on a daily basis?
Q: What do you consider to be the top Omani brands?
Everyone's feeling the heat.
I guess for now they are hanging tough trying to maintain sales by promoting instalment schemes. I wonder how long before they start to drop prices.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Omantel is in the process of merging back into being a single company after their disastrous decision in 2004 to split the company into two separate companies. After the completion of this process, Oman Mobile will not longer exist, most probably not even as a brand. All the company's products will be sold as Omantel. Thankfully, Oman Mobile and its incredibly ugly logo and colors will disappear from existence. Omantel will rebrand with a new logo, supposedly by the first quarter of 2009.
Current market talk is that the government has differed the partial sale of their stake in the company to a strategic investor. Due to the current fall in the company's stock price, the government feels that the offers they get will be too low. I am not sure how true the talk is of the government expecting 3 rials per share as the sale price.
I don't understand how the company can go through so many changes, especially such as the new logo and branding, when at the same time it is being shopped around. Wouldn't the new owners want a say on the branding?
The interview is worth reading. He is canded on some things and typically political on others. On the subject of all the MVNO licenses that the TRA recently awarded:
I would say that a more prudent strategy would have been to issue two MVNO licences and then see how the market reacts. Maybe in one or two years’ time if the regulator wanted to introduce more competition, then issue a third or fourth licence. But to issue an MVNO licence to anybody who knocks on the door and fulfils minimum requirements? I think that is quite risky. We have to appreciate that throughout the world, failure of MVNOs is very high,”He also mentions that Omantel has approached the TRA for a WiMAX license. Nawras has received a WiMAX license along with their fixed line license. This gives Nawras an advantage in that they can provide broadband internet without having to build expensive cable infrastructure. In his words: "The regulator has offered WiMAX to the second operator, which does not create a fair ground to compete."
Link: All Change At Omantel
Monday, December 22, 2008
My son used to really love that small play area in the CCC and we took him there regularly when he was younger. Unfortunately, the play area is surrounded by small coffeeshops and by night time all of them would be full of smokers. It's great that the CCC management/owners voluntarily chose to become smoke free.
I remember 4 years ago I tried to start an email campaign to get people to write to Muscat City Center to ban smoking. At that time I received an email reply from the mall's general manager, Mr. Ibrahim Al Qasmi, telling me that they more than comply with all government regulations and that Muscat Municipality was planning to ban smoking indoors in all of Muscat by September 2006, to which MCC will gladly comply. Well Muscat Municipality never banned smoking, and now we have two City Centers, Seeb and Qurum both of which allow smoking. I emailed Mr. Al Qasmi again tonight to ask him if there's any chance City Center might voluntarily ban smoking. I'll let you know how he replies. If anyone's interested in emailing him his email is: email@example.com (this is not private, it was posted on Oman Forum at that time when we tried to do the email petition thing).
Mazoon Mobile's logo and slogan [link].
According to Wikipedia, the shaka or "hang loose" hand sign is:
associated with Hawaii and sports such as surfing, kitesurfing, skateboarding, skimboarding, snowboarding and skydiving. It consists of extending the thumb and pinky finger while keeping the three middle fingers curled, and raising the hand as in salutation with the back of the hand facing the person that is being greeted; sometimes the hand is rotated back and forth to emphasize the sign.All good, but what does it have to do with a company named Mazoon, the ancient name of Oman? I'm guessing that maybe locally that hand sign probably looks like a phone and it means "call me"?
Hawaiian locals use the shaka for various meanings, like "all right", "cool", "smooth", etc. Residents of states other than Hawaii who use the shaka may describe it as meaning "hang loose" and in California, the symbol itself is more commonly called the "hang loose" sign rather than the "Shaka" sign. It is also used to convey what locals in Hawai'i call the "Aloha Spirit," a gesture of friendship and understanding between the various ethnic cultures that reside within Hawai'i. It can also be used to signal a "hello", "goodbye", " 'till next time", "take care", "Alright!"
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Muscati's Confessions (AKA 44 things about about me)
Less than 100 things about me (AKA UmFaisal's 45 back when she went by the nick OceanDream)
Remember those days, back when this was actually a blog where both of us used to post? Good times...
I am an RSS addict. I have about 200 feeds which I am subscribed to on Google Reader. I don't post a lot on my own blog, but I subscribe to and read everyone else's. I add all the posts that I like to to My Shared items which you can see in the box to the right here on the blog, and to which you can even subscribe to in your reader, if such links interest you.
سبلة عُمان: رفض مجلس الشورى مقترح تغيير الإجازة الأسبوعية إلى يومَي الجمعة والسبت المحال من جلالة السلطان المعظم عن طريق مجلس الوزراء، وكان المجلس قد كلف فريقاً لدراسة الموضوع ولهذا الشأن تمت الإستعانة بآراء المواطنين، وأصحاب السعادة أعضاء مجلس الشورى، وعدد من الهيئات والمختصين عن طريق توزيع إستبيانات مخصصة للإطلاع على الآراء المختلفة والإستماع إلى وجهات النظر المختلفة، وبناءً عليه فقد أخلصت اللجنة إلى عدد من النتائج الموضوعية، أجمعت إلى عدم وجود ما يبرر تغيير الإجازة الأسبوعية للجهاز الإداري للدولة إلى يومَي الجمعة والسبت وأعزت رفضها إلى أسباب دينية وسياسية وإجتماعية وإقتصادية متعددة .. كما أن التقنية الحديثة وطريقة الإتصال بالعالم الخارجي التي أصبحت سهلة وميسرة لا تستوجب هي الأخرى جدوى التغيير، ومن جانب آخر فقد حث المجلس عن طريق دراسة اللجنة القطاع الخاص إلى ضرورة وجوب تغيير الإجازة الأسبوعية لمدة يومين: الجمعة، والسبت تماشياً مع إعلان غرفة تجارة وصناعة عُمان لما فيه الصالح العام.
I've been following the discussion on omania.net. After 6 pages of discussions in the past two days the overwhelming majority there supports the Majlis' conclusion for the following main reasons:
1. Public sector has the day off on Thursday and can go finish their business at the bank (Omanis love going to the bank) and private sector gets the day off on Saturday and can go finish their business at the government (as if anything in the government can get finished while you wait). Friday is shared by all, and it's a day for prayer and getting together as a family.
2. There's no need for Oman to copy any other country in the world. We have our own weekend, we don't need any other country. If any other country needs us why don't they change their weekend to suit us.
3. Saturday off is "un-islamic". Saturday is the Jews' day off. By switching our weekend to Friday and Saturday we will be copying the jews and the christians.
4. Having the weekend distributed over three days reduces traffic.
5. We are too used to our weekend as it is, why change?
In 6 pages of discussion there are only three posts about the social aspect. It is obvious that most of the people posting there are unmarried, don't have families, or simply don't care about their families. Aren't they aware that in 2008, for the first time, more Omanis are employed in the private sector than in the government. Now more than ever, we have families (like mine) where the father and mother either both work in the private sector or one of the two does. How is it good for families to have days off that don't match their children's? If both parents work in the private sector and get Friday/Saturday off, what are they supposed to do with their kids who are alone at home on Thursday? Fill the fridge with junk and tell the kids to sleep till noon, fix their own lunch and then watch TV till the folks come home in the evening?
How are Thursday/Friday our traditional days off or how is Saturday un-islamic day for a weekend? First of all, Oman didn't even have a two day weekend till twenty years ago. Before that everyone worked Thursday. So tradition has nothing to do with weekends. And as for islam, in the olden days they used to work 7 days a week. In the Quran muslims are told to close shop and stop doing business on Friday for the Friday prayer. But once they are done with the prayer they are encouraged to "disperse in the land and seek the bounty of Allah" (Surat Al Jumu'a). In fact, if Islam is used as a justification then there would be no weekend, no day off in the week, because in the days of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), they did not take a day off.
Friday, December 19, 2008
It's Friday night. I'm sitting in bed typing in the dark because I've spent the past hour and a half trying to get my son to sleep because he has school tomorrow. And although Saturday is now part of my weekend, I'll have to wake up at 6.15am in the morning to wake him up and then once he's ready I'll have to drive him to his school drop-off where we wait for my sister's kids to pick him up to go with them. By then its 7.20am and I have no idea what to do next. Can't rush home and get in bed again. It's too early to go for breakfast and all my friends are either on their way to work or still sleeping. I can't go grocery shopping. I tried it once but apparently Carrefour doesn't open till 9. I went to Lulu once but the shelves were still being restocked from Friday's shopping mayhem.
(My wife having just read this would like me to add that I only started taking Faisal in the morning since she gave birth and before that she was the one doing the morning school run which allowed me to sleep in on Saturdays. I'd like to clarify that I believe that the morning school thing has now become my duty and will remain so even after she gets back to work after maternity leave).
Saturdays have been a whole lot more tolerable since Um Faisal is home on maternity leave. But that will soon come to an end. In fact, they've already asked her if she can cut her maternity leave short and come back to work a month early.
What we need is for the whole country to be on a Friday/Saturday weekend. Wasn't this supposedly how it was supposed to happen, that first the banks will switch and then the government will follow? It was assumed that the announcement would be made in August before the start of the school year. When that didn't happen, people said it will come before the second semester. Well it's almost the end of December and nothing's been announced yet.
Does anyone know if this going to happen?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
When we were at Qurum City Center during the eid holiday my wife went to the changing room to change our baby’s diaper while I went to browse magazines at Borders. Two minutes later my wife called me to come quickly. Turns out that men keep opening the door to come into the room thinking it is a bathroom. The changing room is located right in between the ladies and gents toilets. It has a large baby sign on the door so there's no way to confuse it with the men's room, but it does have a toilet in it so I bet a lot of people do come in to use it for that. I had to stand outside guarding the door till she was done.
A couple days earlier at Muscat City Center, the wife went to the changing room and it was locked. She thought it was occupied when all of a sudden the cleaning lady came and unlocked the door for her. She told her that too many people come to use the toilet in the changing room and make a huge mess out of it so the management decided to keep the room locked until its needed.
Why not just have a changing room with a changing table, sink and no toilet?
Bareeq Al Shatti has a changing room which is basically just a toilet. It doesn't even have a diaper changing table. My wife had to go to the ladies toilet and change her on the counter between two sinks. Good thing she carries one of those folding changing mats in the baby's diaper bag.
(Can you tell we went out a lot during that 6 day holiday?!)
Monday, December 01, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
My brother wanted to go too, but he was at the mercy of the German embassy. You see, the standard procedure for getting a visa to Germany usually takes about two weeks. With the use of wasta, including official letters from the government here to the embassy requesting them to issue an expedited visa, the procedure was still going to take 5 working days. My brother asked for a meeting with the German ambassador to see if maybe he can get him to expedite the procedure. He took with him copies of medical records and explained to the ambassador why he wanted to travel to Germany. The ambassador replied to him that this isn't really an emergency because my father is there with my mother in Germany. If she was there alone, then it would be considered one. Apparently, my brother could be using my mother's situation as an excuse to get into Germany!
Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Long story short, my brother got the visa four days later and arrived the night before our mother's operation. Everything went well, al-hamd lillah, and she's back in Oman now.
The reason I'm writing this post is that I am pissed off that Oman has a visa on arrival policy for countries that don't have quick visa procedures for Omani citizens. A German can step off a plane at Muscat International Airport and get a visa to stay in Oman for 14 days at the affordable price of 7 Omani Rials. Whereas we Omanis have to subject ourselves to all types of poking and prodding to be "allowed" to visit their country. We have to show bank account statements and get letters from our employers and salary statements. We have to show our hotel bookings. If we are going on business we need letters of invitation from the companies we're going to visit. And even after we receive the visa, when we arrive in their country we have to go through a whole other barrage of questions and answers. "Why are you here? Where are you staying? Have you been here before..."
As an official in the German embassy told me last year when I first went there to get a visa: this is policy, it is not just for Oman. (I heard this sentence from officals in the US, UK and French embassy as well). Policy is policy, fair enough. The German government does not want people to get easy visas. It's their country and it's their choice. They have a problem with people coming to Germany and then seeking asylum or staying on illegally. I haven't heard of any Omanis migrating to Germany, but as the woman in the embassy said, "this is policy", and I swore at that time to never let myself go through their crap again. And when I had to go to Germany again, I applied for a Schengen visa from the French embassy.
But why doesn't our government apply a policy of equal treatment? Countries that don't give quick visas for Omanis should have a similar policy applied to their citizens by the Omani government. If it takes two weeks for an Omani to obtain a German visa, German citizens shouldn't be given visas on arrival here in Oman. Will that stop Germans from visiting Oman? I don't think so. They'll just have to plan their visits and allow for the time it takes to get the Omani visa. After all, we still go to their countries even though we have to go through a hassle to get their visas.
Friday, November 14, 2008
I have a backlog of things I want to blog about. I'll begin with this, which is a quick summary of a news item I found in one of the Arabic dailies (I think it was Oman newspaper) on October 19th.
According to the newspaper, this information is taken from the Ministry of National Economy monthly statistics. I have no reason to doubt them. There is no information on whether the data is based on basic salary only or full pay. It's quite reasonable to assume that in the higher pay levels, the numbers are low because of deliberate misreporting. Also, the data probably doesn't include the pay of self-employed Omanis as well as the owners and partners in businesses. Regardless of that, the figures are incredibly depressing:
In 2007 the number of Omanis employed in the government dropped from 139,000 to 133,000. Meanwhile the number of Omanis in the private sector increased to 131,000 (it increased by a further 10,000 in the first six months of 2008).
The pay distribution for Omanis in the private sector is:
Up to RO. 120 a month: 60,270 employees
RO 120-140: 20,082 employees
RO. 140-160: 17,075 employee
RO. 160-180: 7,615 employees
RO. 180-200: 5,529 employees
RO. 200-300: 14,161 employees
RO. 300-400: 6,549 employees
RO. 400-500: 3,384 employees
RO. 500-600: 2,038 employees
RO. 600-700: 1,247 employees
RO. 700-800: 813 employees
RO. 800-900: 571 employees
RO. 900-1000: 519 employees
RO. 1000-2000: 1394 employees
Salary over RO. 2000 a month: only 470 employees.
To conclude: out of 131,000 Omanis in the private sector, 110,000 of them are on pay of RO. 200 a month or less. That's about 84%.
This is why I oppose Omanisation in its current form. It is a policy that forces Omanis into the lowest paying jobs for the sake of dressing up statistics. It sounds great when the Ministry of Manpower announces that 10,000 Omanis were placed in jobs in the private sector. But the truth is that 8 out of every 10 who are employed are getting paid below 200 rials a month. And that's not much of a living.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
View from my office at 2.15pm today. I never seen traffic so bad before in the CBD. It was like this from around 1.45 till 3. It was like the CBD turned into one big parking lot.
This morning my commute to work, which usually takes 25 to 30 minutes, took a whole hour. It's getting really bad in Muscat and there will be no relief in the coming year. The new expressway wont be ready till the end of 2009 and congestion is going to get worse in the coming month as 3 bridges are going to be constructed in the Qurm area in front of Al Harthy Complex and Sultan Center. Also, next year they are planning to convert the major intersections in the CBD and Wadi Al Kabir into underpasses. Traffic is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Are magazines flown to us on first class seats on British Airways?
An excerpt from the email I sent on August 9th:
The drivers rarely wear seat belts. The speed they drive at is extremely dangerous, especially since they are crossing a public road and continuing onto a gravel road. The high speed on the gravel road causes large clouds of dirt and dust throughout the day. Midway through the day, water is sprayed on the road to reduce the dust but that also has the effect of turning the road into a large puddle of mud. The gravel road itself has deteriorated very rapidly because of the weight of these trucks and has now become very rough and bumpy. As residents of the area we have no choice but suffer through the dust and dirt. But now the deteriorating roads are damaging our cars as well.There was no response from the company to acknowledge receipt of my email. At first I thought they had simply decided to ignore me, but then on August 16th, I received the following email from the company:
I am writing to you as a concerned citizen and resident of the area. I appreciate the effort that the government is making to develop Oman, and I am proud that Galfar, a local company, has the responsibility to build the prestigious Muscat Expressway. However, I am concerned for the health and wellbeing of the residents of South Ghoubra, and also your own drivers. I am sure that your company invests a lot into health and safety training for these drivers. You should know that many of them are not following their training. Safe driving does not allow for high speed driving on dirt and gravel roads, especially when driving a huge tipper truck, filled to the brim with sand or gravel. The most basic aspect of safe driving is wearing the seatbelt and many of the drivers don't even do that.
I hope you give serious consideration to the safety practices of your drivers.
We thank you very much for highlighting the HSE concern to Galfar drivers and the public at large.
Please see the actions initiated to ensure that mistakes done by the drivers are not repeated again.
We would appreciate your continued feedback to further improve our commitment to all stake holders, with particular emphasis to HSE and Environmental aspects.
Enclosed with the email were forwarded copies of the entire chain of forwards and responses from various people within the company, culminating with the following from the Preject HSE Advisor, Mr. Sandeep Nambiar:
The graded road being addressed in this letter refers to the Haul road from backside of Slaughter house (in Bausher) to IC # 07.
This road is being used by other Galfar Heavy & Light Vehicles as well as some Third Party Heavy & Light vehicles.
Reasons for the dust cloud and pot hole formation on these roads were due to:-
- Irregular sprinkling of water observed due to off-road status of Water Tanker on that section
- Regular plying of Loaded Heavy Vehicles (Galfar & Third Party) in speed on these graded roads
- Sprinkling of excess water on the graded road covered with fine dust (generated due to continuous pounding of graded roads under the wheels of Heavy vehicles)
- Irregular frequency of grading
Action Taken Status to correct the above deficiency
- The entire section of the road would be periodically graded everyday in the evening and fine dust generated on the road throughout the day would be cleared off
- Controlled sprinkling of water is be carried out regularly twice a day after grading
- Awareness Session on Safe Driving was carried out for all the drivers plying on that road in Bausher (attached attendance sheet)
- Traffic sign boards were installed along the road & at road crossing. (attached photographs)
- Increased frequency of RSMT (Road Safety Monitoring Team Inspection) on that particular stretch of road is carried out.
In addition continuous monitoring would be carried out to ensure that safe working environment is maintained near our working area.
Not bad, eh?
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Without knowing the details of Oman's laws, I knew that keeping the topic on the forum would probably expose me personally, as OmanForum's administrator, to responsibility for publishing the article since similar to the case of Ali Al Rasdhi a few years ago, people who were attacked on the Sabla complained to the Public Prosecutor and the PA held the site's owner responsible. I took a quick decision and deleted the article in full. By the morning of the 20th of July, the article had been copied on other forums, most importantly Sablat Oman (www.omania2.net).
Last night I read on the Sabla that the public prosecutor's office had called in Ali Al Zuwaidi (known online as Bin Daris), the moderator of the Sabla's politics and economy forum, for investigation charging him with responsibility under Article 61 of the Telecommunication law (قانون الاتصالات) which makes website owners as well as moderators and administrators of forums responsible for the content published by their users. It's not clear if he's being charged or if it is really for this particular topic, although everyone assumes that it is. I would assume that if it is for the Omantel topic, then it would be because of a complaint by the company or it's CEO to the Public Prosecutor alleging slander or defamation. I am not a legal expert, I hope Blue-Chi can tell us more about the law, and whether the Public Prosecutor can begin such an investigation without the person being defamed's own complaint.
Regardless of the technicalities, I have dodged a bullet. I think I was right to delete the topic. If the article was entirely about facts, I would have allowed it. Instead, it was full of direct attacks on individuals accusing them of gross misconduct without giving any facts to support the allegations. If I had kept the topic, would I have been under investigation as well? I'm not sure. I believe that English forums and blogs aren't given importance and don't come under scrutiny like those which are in Arabic. Having said that, I wouldn't want to be the test case.
We need to know more about the law. That's for sure.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
We were there a little early so Faisal was the first one to arrive in his class, Early Year 1. Slowly the other parents and kids started to arrive. Except for two or three, every single family that arrived were people we know. Almost all of us, Sultan's School alumni, so it was a bit like a reunion.
I don't think I started going to school till I was about 5 years old. There was no nursery or KG in my years. Faisal is only 3 and he's already been going to playschool since he was one and a half. That's half his life. And now with the Sultan's School switching to the IB system, it's going to be Early Year 1, Early Year 2 and then 13 years of school!
Only two kids cried this morning, but the mothers were another story.
Good luck to the next generation. Class of 2023 began its journey today.
Friday, August 22, 2008
In the past two months, I've been getting lots of inquiries out of the blue from people who want to buy the car. People stop me in parking lots to ask me if I want to sell the car. Apparently, the value of good condition used Land Cruisers has gone up since the new shape came out. Lots of people don't like the new shape and the top of the range new one now costs about 25K, so people are willing to pay higher prices for good quality used old ones. After a couple of months of getting lots of unsolicited offers, I finally decided to sell the car while it still had value higher than what I paid for it. I wasn't totally happy with it, so why keep it?
I bought the car for RO. 15K in December with 44,000km on it. Put new tires and V-Kool on it. Had it polished and detailed at ProTech. Drove it 25,000km over 8 month, and sold it for RO. 15.5K. I could have probably sold it for 16K if I looked around for a better deal but I sold it to the first person who offered.
So yeah, I'm car-less now. Driving my wife's old Volvo. So if you see a big guy driving a beat-up Volvo S40, that's me.
Looking to buy a new car. Don't know which direction to go so I'm taking my time. Should I go the "approaching mid-age crises" route and buy a sports car? A sensible executive sedan (BMW 5 series, Audi A6, Infiniti M35)? Or another gas guzzling SUV like maybe the GMC Yukon, which I absolutely love but which I have been hearing nightmares about its dealer? Or maybe, an impractical not really an SUV and not a sports car mash-up like the Infiniti FX? A monster like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8?
Friday, August 15, 2008
In the About Us section, there's a link to the Saud Bahwan group website, and there you will find a single email address for the entire group. Otherwise, in the Sales Network section, you can get the phone numbers of all their showrooms. That's it.
Conclusion: Saud Bahwan Automotive doesn't want to hear from you.
You call a company and the person who picks up the call simply says "hello", doesn't make you think maybe you misdialed the number of got someone's house instead? Why can't they say the name of their company in their greeting?
You go to a shop or a showroom and you can't tell the sales people from the shoppers. While you're browsing someone comes up and stands next to you and hovers. How in the world are you supposed to know that this person is actually a salesperson who's there to help you and not another shopper who's stalking you?
What the hell is wrong with customer service in this country? I mean, how hard is it to put on a name tag?
Monday, July 28, 2008
Trying to make plans for the second long weekend which is coming up this week. The announcement on Saturday by mass sms of the start of the new high speed ferry service to Khasab, I thought it would be the perfect fit for a three day weekend. We would take our car on the ferry to Khasab. A six hour high speed cruise along Oman's beautiful coast. Faisal would love it. Arrive in Khasab, check in at the Golden Tulip and cruise around Musandam for a day and a half then maybe go to Dubai for a day or come down the coast by car. I was really proud of myself for coming up with this plan. Well, until I was told that while this new ultra expensive world's fastest ferry is indeed capable of carrying cars, they haven't built a ramp yet at the port to load cars into it.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
We went to the 24 hour ROP place in Seeb next to the Expo center. I won't bore you with the details of the boring process. Two interesting bits. I was told to go directly to the eye test room. I went in and asked the guy for a form, he was a nice young guy, probably 20 years old. But he was in way over his head. Poor guy was doing it all, giving and accepting applications, doing eye tests, and filling out the learner's permit booklets for everyone. He looked at me and asked if I can wait but he called me "al walid" which is what people in Oman call old people (literarly translated as father). Me? Ana? Alwalid? I accept that my hair is now more grey than black but come on, I'm 35 years old. All I could do was smile and sit down to wait my turn.
When my turn finally came he handed me the application to fill. I thought I could fill it right there, but in typical bueracratic fashion he insisted I should go and come back. Why? "you need copies of x, y and z". Done, here there. "The sponsor has to come here himself or else someone with a tawkeel". No problem, I'm his sponsor. Then he says "we need a letter from his sponsor stating that he has no objection that this guy gets a driving license". WTF? The guy is here in Oman on a visa that cIearly states his occupation as private household driver. I took the passport from my pocket and showed it to him. Besides, I'm the sponsor, I'm here personally to get him the permit, why do I have to go home and come back with a letter? "If you want an exception maybe you can go see the officer in charge and request him to give you an exception". Is there a logic to this? I had to calm myself down and leave the room. My record with the police is not so good. Situation like this usually end up with me being threatened with jail and having to writing pledges to not get in trouble with them. It's been three and a half years since the last time I wrote one of those pledges and I've been avoiding all contact with the police ever since. I was a good boy today. I wrote the letter and submitted it with the application. Walked out an hour later with the permit. Now I need to find a driving instructor who's up to the task of turning my guy into a hyphenate.
The Great Kebab Factory (TGKF) is apparently a known chain in India which was recently brought to the GCC by Bahrain's Jawad Group who already operate Costa Coffee, Papa Jones and Dairy Queen in Oman. The high concept at TGKF is that they have over 180 different kebabs on the menu but serve just 6 giving them a very large variety to shuffle form on a daily basis. They have a fixed price menu with your only choice being Veg or Non-Veg. We went for Non-Veg which was RO. 7.9 per person plus tax. The waiters are all dressed in overalls like a factory, but the interior of the restaurant has absolutely nothing industrial about it. Why have an industrial name and uniforms and not go all the way?
The waiter who served us first came and asked if we want the concept explained to us. He proceeded to tell us that the restaurant is basically an all you can eat buffet which is served at your table. Salad, followed by six different kinds of kebab, then some lentil dishes and finally a biryani. Then you can choose to start all over again or go for desserts. A couple of friends who've been there before had told me that they were so full after the kebabs that they never got to the biryani. Another friend told me that the biryani was the best she's had in Muscat. Since I am more of a biryani than kebab person, I asked them to reverse the course and start us up with biryani. The biryani was so good that we asked for a second helping before we proceed with the kebabs. At that point we were too stuffed to actually eat much of the kebabs. I soldiered on and managed to try 4 of the 6 but my wife and her brother both gave up before the third.
I can't say much for the kebabs, but like I said the biryani was one of the best I've had in Muscat. A bit spicy, but extremely fragrant and full of flavor.
I recommend Kebab Factory, but you need a huge appetite to experience it. We only had soft drinks and three bottles of water but our overall bill came out to be about 32 rials for the three of us. Not expensive for an all you can eat restaurant, I suppose. I wonder if they do those biryanis for take-out.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
D'arcy's Kitchen opened a second branch in MQ last week. Went there for breakfast today. The set up is really nice with lots of light. Food, as usual, was excellent. My only gripe is that I wish they had used bigger tables. The tables are the exact same design and size as the ones in their Shatti branch. Way too small, especially relative to the size of the portions of the food at D'arcy's.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I went through a similar ordeal with Omantel but I won't bore you with the details. The short of it, I applied for a speed upgrade on April 30th and didn't get the upgrade till around June 23rd. They even billed me for a month at the new price while I didn't even have the increased speed. As usual it turned out that the had changed my plan in their billing system without actually implementing the change in the actual line speed. This is very typical of Omantel. Whenever I called their customer service line they gave me the same story of how the system showed that I have a 2Mbps line. It was only after I went to the head of internet customer service in Zakher that he checked the system and confirmed that I don't have the additional speed. I got it two days later. It took another three weeks till the billing system was adjusted to refund the excess amounts charged.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I am never going to be one of those people who are really efficient at getting their groceries. No matter what I do, I end up taking way too long in the supermarket and buying more items than what's on my list. I used to be ok with going out for groceries because it was more of an outing. I didn't have responsibilities, grocery shopping was just another form of shopping, i.e. buying stuff that I like. Or earlier on in our marriage, grocery shopping for my wife and I was more like snack shopping because we never ever cooked our own food in our first year of marriage. Now that I'm responsible for my own household, it's become a stressful task: I am buying these things because I have to. I have to go get these things because they have run out of them at home. Can't not have milk. Can't not have water. Can't be out of bread.... And if I leave aside the not-so-necessary things, I'd end up eventually having to go to supermarket and fill a shopping cart with all the things that I kept out of the previous short trips to the supermarket.
So there I was queueing at the check-out at Lulu Saturday morning with a shopping trolley so full that it can barely move straight. I used to get embarrassed when I have so much in my trolley, but it doesn't bother me anymore because all the others in all the queues have even more. Some even have multiple trolleys. I pass my time standing in queue catching up with blogs and RSS feeds on Google Reader on my phone. Best invention ever. (By the way I got the Nokia E71 last week, but I'll tell you all about that in another post).
As it gets to be my turn at the register, I looked at the person behind me and it turns out to be some poor soul with just a handful of items. How come it's always like this? Now I felt compelled to get through the check-out as fast as possible so this person behind me can get through. Like always, I luck out with the one check-out that doesn't have a bagger. No problem, I'll bag my own- less plastic bags wasted. But, it also means that I have to first wait till all the million items in my trolley have been unloaded onto the belt before I can move to the other end of the check out and start bagging.
The total comes up and I decided "maybe it's time I use my Basma points to pay". They just keep accumulating and whenever I want to use them to pay at Lulu the damn machine doesn't work. It keeps saying "Line busy". I don't understand what line is busy when Basma is supposed to be a so-called "smart" card with all the points stored in the chip that's embedded on the card. It's such a scam. I think ever since they came up with this Basma card scam I have only been able to use it to pay for stuff once. You can accumulate points all you want, but actually use those points? Never. This time, to compound my embarrassment, the cashier told me "it says you have no points on your card." No way. I get stubborn and insist that she has to accept the card. I'm not going to accumulate these points forever. She calls the supervisor who goes on to demonstrate to me how I have no points by taking me from one Basma machine to the other on other cashiers' stations, with all of them showing the same thing. What a scam, I have about 100 rials of point accumulated on my card. I reached my stress and public embarrassment quota for the day, so I gave her my debit card, "'7ala9, I'll pay from my account". She comes back and tells me, "it says insufficient balance." I feel like I've been holding up the queue for an hour and all the people are staring at me. I can see the the ATM machine not even 10 meters behind me. I tell the supervisor "Ok, I'm gonna go withdraw cash with this same card which you says there's no money in my account". I say it knowing I could be setting myself up for an even bigger embarrasment. The ATMs at Lulu supposedly have the worst uptime ratio of any other ATMs in Muscat. "Please please don't humiliate me. Please work..." And it works! I came back in less than a minute with cash to pay for the groceries. I walked away pushing my trolley and stopped at the customer service counter and asked the woman there to check for me if there's something wrong with my Basma card. She puts it in the POS machine and it quickly gives the balance of all the points I have accumulated on the card. Welcome to my grocery hell.
And the worst part, I'll probably be back there again next Saturday morning.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Now light users can go for a Lite package for just 9.9 rials a month which includes only 3mb of BB data use. It doesn't sound like much but for users who only use their BBs for email and messaging it's a great deal.
Heavy users can go for either the Local Unlimited or International Unlimited packages at RO. 18.5 and RO. 29.5 which have unlimited data (international use is subject to a fair use policy).
I'm not sure whether to move to the Local Unlimited or stick with the Standard which is 19.5 rials with 10mb, but it includes all my mobile data use in the 10mb, so all the browsing which I do with my phone comes under BB use.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
You've been tagged. The task:The closest book to me was Wallpaper* City Guide: Bangkok, which unfortunately is only 103 pages long. I had to cheat. I usually circulate between to three books at the same time so this excerpt is from The Blade Itself - The First Law: Book One by Joe Abercombie. It's the first fantasy novel to get my attention since high school.
# Pick up the nearest book.
# Open to page 123.
# Locate the fifth sentence.
# Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
# Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.
Hope you can play! Come on, I bet you're reading something super interesting right now.
She smiled weakly and offered out her limp, white hand.
He brushed with the most perfunctory of kisses "Charmed," he muttered without relish. "I must apologise for my appearance, I've just been fencing."
I thought of a bunch of others to tag but then I found out that between UD and Amjad, they have all been tagged already.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Nothing posted on this blog in close to three months. I'm spending less time online. I catch up with stuff by browsing on my phone during short breaks throughout the day, thanks to Google Reader. But when I come home I just don't feel like doing much. I used to write notes on things I want to blog about but then I stopped even trying to keep track. I've surrended to the fact that this will be more of an occasional blog rather than one with regular posts.
Since the last time I posted on this blog, I've:
- been elected to the board of a publicly listed company- my first non-NGO board membership. Finally getting paid for my opinions, though technically with 100% personally liability for my choices.
- also been reelected on the ESO board, but with scaled down responsibilities.
- been on my annual business trip to Salalah (nothing's changed in the city but business is booming.
The two day weekend for banks has come through like I told you it will and now it's time for the government to switch their weekend to Friday/Saturday which might happen in September.
The house is slowly getting furnished. A sofa here, a coffee table there. It's gonna take a while more, but we're getting there. We now have a fully furnished study where Um Faisal can finish up the work she brings home while I browse on the work station next to her, or vice versa.
Last but not least, we kept the biggest news for last: we're expecting! Um Faisal is now 20 weeks pregnant and finally showing.
See ya in a couple weeks.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
"An immediate intervention by the Omani government is now crucial, seeing as the minority shareholder is currently in full control of the project and has actively and independently started sales, disbursements and generating revenues - the whereabouts of which still remain unknown to AAJHC," Mr Janahi told a Press conference at the Mšvenpick Hotel yesterday.
"We have been wrongly and completely shut out with all references and our logo unduly removed from the project."
Prior to AAJHC entering into the project as a strategic partner, investment rights to the 32sqkm project were granted to Al Sawadi Investments and Tourism Company by the Omani government on an exclusive 75-year basis.
Mr Janahi said Al Sawadi failed to develop the land for almost five years, which is why AAJHC was brought in.
"It approached AAJHC, which developed the project concept by preparing the necessary business, feasibility and architectural plans with phased development implementation programmes and tapped into its international network of banking relationships to secure the $925 million required to fund phase one of the project," he claimed.
"Since then, AAJHC was the major stakeholder in the project - being the registered owner of 70pc of the shares of Al Sawadi Investments and Tourism Company, which it has acquired through documents legally registered at the Commerce and Industry Ministry in Oman.
"Cyclone was the Omani shareholder owning the remainder of the shares."
Mr Janahi claimed the dispute between AAJHC and its Omani partners began after phase one funding was secured.
"This funding resulted in the escalation of the project's land value from $83m to over $1bn for phase one alone and is further expected to increase to $20bn over the remainder of the life of the project, which in turn dramatically increases the value of the shares," he said.
Mr Janahi also claimed AAJHC would have negotiated with its Omani partners to sell 20pc of its shares, meaning it would become a 50-50 venture.
"Our investment, including the money generated from various sources for the project, will come to more than $100m," he added. [source]
Blue City shareholders lawsuit
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Fortunately, the Chamber of Commerce is now run by a new proactive pro-business board of directors. I hope the rumor turns out to be true. I'm tired of having only Friday off every week for 12 years now. However, even if we do switch to a 5 day week, the weekend will be Friday-Saturday while my wife's job remains on a Thursday-Friday weekend unless the government switches their weekend as well.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
It must be fun to be a country just opening up to tourism, with all the excitement of tacky souvenirs and tourists getting in your way still to come. That's the position the people of the Middle Eastern country of Oman find themselves in at the moment. The tourism ministry had been aiming to increase visitor spending to 3 percent of the GDP by 2015, but it looks like they'll meet that target by the end of this year instead.
But don't hurry to book your Oman vacation just yet. There are just 9,000 hotel rooms in the country, currently enjoying close to 100 percent occupancy rates, so there's not much room at the inn. The plan is to double the number of rooms nationwide in the next seven years.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Ever since Muscat Municipality introduced paid parking in the CBD area I've been buying 3 or 6 months permits to avoid the hassle of having to have coins for the parking meters. However, when I'm not driving my car, I use Oman Mobile's SMS Parking service, which I think is one of the best services ever. Unfortunately it has one major shortfall: if you send the message to pay for parking during a free parking period it will just send you a reply "this is a free parking period." There's no option of sending the SMS before the paid parking period begins.
Ever since I changed cars in December I've been procrastinating in getting a new parking permit because I want to first re-register the car under my old number from the car that I sold. Otherwise, I'd have to get a permit under the present number and then go back again to the municipality when I change the number plate to amend the permit. I've been using SMS Parking every single day for over two months. But in the last week now that I've moved to the new house, I've been leaving home extra early to beat the morning traffic and I arrive at work before 7.30. Paid parking begins at 8am and I forget to send the SMS at 8am to pay for the parking. I got three parking tickets in the last week.
By the way, I've been to the police twice to do the number change and both times they found excuses not to do it. Now it looks that the only way to get it done is to have the car's ownership transferred, registered, and then transferred back to me without it's current number and registered under my old number which is reserved for me in the system (for just two more weeks or I lose it). Sounds to me like an excuse to make me pay registration fees for the car twice (thrice actually). What a hassle.
The mind boggles!
Friday, February 29, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Oman Air unveiled it's new corporate identity today. I can't put my fingers on it, but I just don't like it. I don't understand it. What's this new color, what's it got to do with Oman? And what's with this new logo that's vaguely similar to Gulf Air's falcon. They say that it's a "contemporary rendition of frankincense smoke." With wings? And why in the world would you want smoke painted on an air plane? Nothing symbolizes Oman like the Omani khanjar. Oman Air's old logo was probably the ugliest khanjar ever. All they had to do is update the logo with a funkier khanjar and change the colors to something more contemporary.
The Oman Air website hasn't been updated yet with the new "corporate identity".
Old (ugly) logo:
What do you think of this branding?
1. Arun Rajagopal was part of the team that worked on some aspects of the rebranding. You can read about it on his blog.
2. The logo was done by TBWA's local team in Oman, TBWA/ZEENAH. The aircraft color scheme was designed by Airbus Industrie. The first plane with the new logo and colors is to arrive today. I think they should have waited till the plane arrived to do the launch instead of doing a launch at the Shangri-La.
3. According to Oman Air's press release:
The new logo — a gold and silver swirl — represents the contemporary rendition of frankincense smoke. Much sought after by the world since ancient days, Omani frankincense is one of the most powerful and evocative expressions of the nation’s vibrant history, culture, heritage and people. Gold represents excellence and achievement and embodies the timeless traditions and the bountiful natural wealth of Oman. Silver represents the enduring and vibrant heritage of Oman, which has been reflected in intricate and exquisite silver artifacts such as the khanjar, jewellery and more.
The turquoise blue: "Symbolic of the infinite blue of the sky and sea, turquoise blue denotes the legendary hospitality and welcoming nature of Oman to travelers since ancient days."
Update 2: From the Filton Airfield Enthusiasts blog, a picture of the first Oman Air plane with the new colors as it left Air Livery after undergoing the repaint. Interestingly, according to the blog the plane arrived there on the 16th of this month, so a repaint takes about a week.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
- I sold my trusted and beloved car of 9 and a half years (the one that I didn't give up on even when it was almost made into a pancake) and bought a used Land Cruiser. I sold it to the first guy who made an offer on it for 2.5K. Six weeks later I found out that the dude had sold it for 3.3K. Oh well, no regrets. I wish the guy driving it all the best.
- Went to Al Nahdha Resort & Spa for eid. Not bad at all, except for the horrible location. I liked the rooms. The food was quite good. I like the idea of having bicycles thrown around all over the place for the guests to use to get around or exercise, but the bikes were in pretty bad shape from the humidity. There were no children's activities available at all. And worst of all, the pool wasn't heated so not only was there nothing for Faisal to do, he couldn't swim either. With a little work this place could turn into a really great weekend retreat kind of place. Maybe they should lower their price a little though.
- I answered some of life's most difficult questions like "plasma or LCD", "curtains or blinds", "gas or electric", and other really perplexing and time consuming questions.
- I gained new knowledge, like for example I now know that all the transport companies that people use to bring furniture from Dubai like Road Runner Transport, are in fact not insured for any damage that they do to the furniture you buy with your hard earned money. Unless the damage was caused by an accident.
- I also learned the hard way that although Serta have the slogan "We make the world's best mattresses" and hang a giant poster in their store which says "Our customers are our most valuable asset", the people who run the company's operations in Oman and the UAE (Dubai Furniture Manufacturing Co) are assholes and don't give a damn about you once you've swiped your credit card and signed on the dotted line.
- I booked some time off from work in January for the purpose of moving into the house, but ended up instead traveling to Paris and Frankfurt. Paris is my favorite city in the world, but it actually sucked being there in the cold of January when all I could think of was home. On the plus side, massive sales everywhere so I picked up just about a year's supply of clothes for Faisal from Galleries Lafayette and lots and lots of brownie points for the Mrs from Gucci (50%) and Louis Vuitton (never on sale).
- I was away on our 5th wedding anniversary :(
- I got examined by a Professor of Neurology in Germany who told me that neurologically I have nothing wrong with me and then advised me "don't take medicine, and stay away from doctors". Fine advice indeed.
- We drove up and down town so many times that I put close to 8000KM on the car in the two months since I bought it. With it's thirsty V8 engine, I sometimes have to fill up the Land Cruiser every third day.
- Despite the above, we still haven't finished furnishing our house. We've still not found a sitting room set which we can satisfy our taste and still fit our budget. We have a dining room without chairs (didn't like the ones BoConcept was displaying with it and thought we'd find something nicer at IDdesign here, but the ones at IDdesign don't match in color). We're also looking for a carpenter to do the two person desk for the office, but that's another story.
- By some freak coincident I found myself on the jury of a major award thing which is going to be announced soon. (I'm not sure I can talk about it just yet).
- We went to the Desert Nights Camp for V day. It's supposed to be a luxury camp in the Wahiba sands. I liked the concept. The tented rooms were really well set up. But the whole experience was a bit lacking- "Wahiba Lite", I guess. The food was a huge let down. Like Al Nahda, I think with a little more work they can turn this project into something much better. They should add more activities and make it into a more authentic experience.
Yeah, it's been quite busy around here lately :)