Monday, July 28, 2008

Ferry to Khasab

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

Defies logic

Now that we are firmly entrenched in our bourgeois lifestyle, we decided to get an all-around-the-house guy/driver. He's been with us since January and so far he's been all all-around-the-house and we never got around to the "/driver" part. I woke up this morning and decided today would be the day that my guy would begin his quest towards attaining that most elusive of prizes, an Omani driving license. A process that could take him all next year

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

I was going to do a review of The Great Kebab Factory but Kishor beat me to it. In fact it looks like he was there the same time Thursdsy night that we were, sitting just a couple tables away from us. For pictures and an a full review complete with the actual names of the dishes we ate please read his review [link].

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 MQ

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.

Three day weekend.. two weeks in a row

Wow, a three day weekend this week because of 23rd July "Renaissance Day", then back to work for just four days before another three day weekend next week due to a religious holiday, Al Isra' wal Mi'raj. Unprecedented.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Internet upgrade rant

Samuraisam has written a 10,000 word painstakingly detailed rant about his quest to get Etisalat to upgrade his internet connection. Read it if you dare.

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

AIDS, anyone?

So I'm back at work after a blissful holiday. The first time off I have had since the start of my pregnancy.

And I'm back to blogging after an even longer siesta.. Could my husband's threats to remove my name from the blog altogether have had anything to do with it? Perhaps...

I thought long and hard about what my comeback topic would be, and I have a million and one things I would like to discuss, but now that I'm actually typing ,I can't seem to stick to a single, comprehensive topic.

Staring across my desk I see the book I'm currently reading titled The Wisdom of Whores. Sounds sleazy ha? Its not actually. Its a book my husband bought me knowing I'd be hooked from page one. Its a book about by an HIV/AIDS epidemiologist named Elizabeth Pisani and her venture into the world of brothels, sex workers and injecting drug users. Its author tells us of a career in the UN at the very start of the AIDS epidemic. A time when researchers tried to make sense of numbers that represented something the rest of the world was in denial about.

Its a book that gets you thinking.

In the world of HIV/AIDS, Oman is considered low prevelance. We have under 1000 registered cases. The key word here is registered. Thats the number of people who have actually been tested and found to be positive or the number of people who have seeked medical attention. Multiply that number by 3 or 4 and you are more likely to get a clearer idea of the existing scenario.

All stats re HIV/AIDS in Oman are published. We are even one of few countries in the Middle East that have a National AIDS Strategy. Every year, on December 1st, the Ministry of Health celebrates (not sure if that is the correct term here) World Aids Day and distributes thousands of information leaflets on HIV/AIDS in a bid to raise awareness amongst the public.

Yet, your average joe does not speak about it. Taboo? Maybe.....

Food for thoughts: All GCC countries, do not allow HIV/AIDS positive ex-patriates to work in their countries. Medical tests are required prior to hiring and if you are found positive, you are deported. Human rights activists usually have a field day with this, however our governments are adamant and view this point as one of the preventative/control measures available to them.

What do you think?

Grocery hell

My wife gets Thursdays off, and she spends those mornings chillin with friends and family having nice relaxing breakfasts out. I get Saturday off, when the only other people who have the day off are other bankers, i.e. people I see everyday at work. No D'arcy's Kitchen breakfasts for me on Saturdays- at least not yet. What do I do Saturday morning? Well, our maid seems to think that the banks of Oman collectively lobbied the government for three years to get this additional day-off only so that she can greet me every Saturday morning with a neat long list of items for me to get from the supermarket. Aaaaargh.

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

New Oman Mobile BlackBerry packages

Oman Mobile have introduced three new BlackBerry pricing packages.

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.

Details here.

An attempt

Now that I have an extra day off every week I should have no excuse not post more frequently, right?

Let's see how this goes.