Thursday, May 3, 2018

Another Party Fail

A couple weeks ago we had a friend over for dinner. His name is Light Brown James Bond. Light Brown James Bond is sickeningly handsome, has a sickeningly beautiful wife, and several sickeningly talented and gorgeous children. Light Brown James Bond's house is always clean, with tasteful art hung on the walls, expensive carpets on the floor, and a rack in the bathroom containing a programme from every single production the royal opera house has ever staged. Light Brown James Bond never swears, always smells good, and probably remembers to register his car and renew the insurance on time every year.

Despite the fact that Stone and I are basically the exact opposite of him, Light Brown James Bond lets us be friends with him and is one of my absolute favorite people here. Light Brown James Bond is also my absolute favorite employee of MI6, let alone any other secret intelligence service.

Light Brown James Bond knows the real identities and darkest secrets of every single blogger who has ever thought of touching a keyboard in Muscat, and immediately pointed out that I hadn't blogged in one year, three weeks, and 2 days at the time of his visit. I promised to do better, so here goes.

This is a story about going to a party.

We got invited to a party last month. All the cool kids were going, and I love the hostess, and there was a lot of free booze, and we were allowed to take the kid, and free dinner. So we went.

Stone and the kid immediately fell into peer groups, making conversation and laughing. I had several conversations with people I couldn't remember meeting, but whom I have known well for years, apparently. I also had several large beers, and no food, because eating in front of strangers makes me super nervous.

Eventually, there was an open seat at the table where the smokers were sitting so I moseyed over and lit a cigarette. There were about a dozen really cool women around the table, all artsy types, all impossibly pretty, all with posh accents. We are engaging in the usual small talk, how do you know the host, where are you from, why are you here, how long will you be staying, etc... ANd for once everything is going really well. People are laughing at my jokes, I'm engaging in polite conversation.


But then things got kind of weird.

This girl across the table from me says "Hey Suburban! I love your Boobs! They are fantastic!"

And I'm thinking ... um, you like my Boobs? Shit, what do I do now? that's so weird. What kind of party is this? Oh god, this cool girl is staring at me waiting for me to reply... Fuck it, I'll return the compliment...

So I take a deep breath, and reply with great excitement " I love your breasts too! They are so perky!"

The table falls silent. Everybody is looking at me.

The girl across the table says "Your BOOTS. I really like your Cowboy BOOTS."


"Oh, I did think that seemed like a weird compliment... But you do have really nice breasts!"

Just once, I'd like to go to a party and seem normal. Sigh. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The 2017 Other Oman Awards! Qurm Edition.

I feel like it's time to throw some praise on the people and businesses who are kicking ass here in Muscat. I also feel it's time to throw some Shade on some of the annoyances and businesses in Muscat that totally Suck. (Almost all of these are in Qurm) 

Hence, I give you the 2017 Other Oman Awards. 

Best Radio DJ
Talal, from Oman FM
(runner up: Faiq on the Mic, Oman FM)
This guy is fantastic. Keep it up Talal, we LOVE you.

Worst Radio Station
From the narcissistic presenters to the playlist curated by mentally disabled tweens, I just die. 

Best Turkish Food
Baba Salem Turkish, Qurm
Y'all, the Iskander Kebabs are legit there. 

Worst Tea and Cheesy Bread Joint
Tea Corner, Qurm
How is it possible to make your employees so unhappy and hostile? 

Best Bread
Le Petit Paris Bakery, Seeb and QCC
The sourdough is the stuff of dreams

Best Falafel
Al Tarboosh, Qurm. Near Al Araimi Complex
Not the falafel Sandwiches, the falafel platter. So Good. 

Best Mobile Phone Company
Oredoo (Nawras) 
Such nice people at the stores to help me and answer my stupid questions.

Best Veggie Garden at a Car Wash
Oman Oil, Al Harthy Complex
From Okra to Eggplants to Bananas to Sugarcane, these guys have an amazing green thumb

Best Florist
Caravans Floral, Al Asfoor Plaza, Qurm
The freshest flowers, the best designs. Give them your money.

Worst New Construction
CCC (currently called Qurum Commerical Center?)
What the fuck are the doing to their already microscopic parking lot? Can anybody explain this to me? Couldn't they just kick out their current tenants, renovate the existing building, and then get in some businesses that people actually want to go to? Seriously.

Best Construction that nobody ever thought would finish, but did.
Sheraton Hotel, Ruwi
Ten goddamn years to renovate. That's straight-up AMAZING.

Best Nail Place in an Unlikely Location
The nail place below the Borders / Travelator at Qurm City Center
Super nice folks, ample parking, intimate atmosphere. Wish I could remember the name of the place.

Best Eggs Benedict
Homemade hollandaise a must. 

Most WTF/ Failing at Hipster Decor in a Restaurant
Shakespeare and Company, Qurm
(Runner-up: Copper, Qurm)
It's like Pinterest threw up in there. 
Most Improved Restaurant
Chilli's QCC
I cannot believe I even wrote that, but they were so bad before. 

Most Tired Restaurant Cliche'
(Runner-up: Food served on tiles or cutting boards)
Enough with the Sliders / Mini burgers. 

Most Annoying New Arrivals
People From Dubai
No, we don't do Brunches. 
No, we are not impressed that you came from Dubai. 
No, in Muscat we do not wear THAT out in public. Doesn't your gym have a changing room?
No, we do not feel we are missing out on anything here except for IKEA.
No, we are not bored.

Most Inexplicably Empty Building
Al Al Harthy Complex, Qurm
I Love that building and the guys who own it. It would make a great location for an IKEA!
Whatever becomes of it, I have so many happy memories there, I hate seeing it empty.

Most Underused PR Communication Device
The nodding Donkey oil pump outside PDO MAF camp / Gate 1
That thing should be lit up and turned on 24-7 with a flashing LED sign that shows what percentage of Oman's GDP PDO produced in the last month. 

Best cakes and Desserts
Iranian Sweets, near CCC
Decadent. And they did a killer Zombie angel Barbie cake for the kid's birthday. 

Worst Investment Decision
Omantel (Worldcall deal)
For quietly blowing over 300,000,000 USD of a publicly traded company's money. 

Worst thing in the Entire World
KFC, Muttrah Souq
A KFC. In Muttrah. Is nothing Sacred? 

Most Improved Hotel
Al Bustan Palace
Wow... Just Wow. 

Coolest "New"  "Resort" 
Muscat Hills Resort, Qantab
Not for Poor People, tho...

Most Interesting Public works / Construction Project
 Pipeline replacement/addition in the Wadi between Al Harthy Complex and CCC and Al Araimi.
Y'all gotta go for a walk through the wadi from Qurm park up to Sultan center, It's fascinating, and gorgeous down there. 

Best VW Bus with an Instagram Account

Best English Newspaper For Oman News
Gulf News
How sad is it that I get the real scoop on what is happening here from a newspaper published in the UAE? 

Worst English Newspaper in the Entire World
Times Of Oman
From Bad to Worse. Do these people even Have an Editor?

Best Chinese Restaurant 
Kung Fu Chinese Restaurant, Fun Zone, Qurm
Ask for the real menu, or go through the secret door on the right and head upstairs. 
Try the water dumplings. 

* Lest you be concerned by my ethics, rest assured that I never accept freebies or offer paid endorsements, and blog Semi-anonymously so most of these businesses have no idea who I am. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Overheard in my house.

A while back, one of my neighbours posted something inviting people to list four words every woman wants to hear.

It looked something like this:

Isn't love beautiful?
What Four words would your wife love to hear you say?
Share and post below!

The responses were not particularly romantic, but they were hilarious.

  • The toilet seats' down
  • I brought you food!
  • I'd rather stay in.
  • It won't suck itself...
  • You don't look fat!
  • Brown is your color!
The "It Won't Suck Itself" line SLAYED us. You guys, we died laughing.  Stone has adopted the phrase, and likes to use it every time I give him the nookie lookie, seek out some morning wood, or request a Nooner. It never ceases to be hilarious. 

Last week, I decided to return to horseback riding. I found a great stable, had a couple rides, and asked about the prices for a package deal, where I can ride as much as I want, and have a particular horse that I can sort of call my own. Costs in hand, I went to Stone and suggested that he finance my daily riding adventures. Here's a quick transcript of the conversation. 

ME: Baby! Great News..... Saif has a horse that is the perfect fit for me! 
Stone: That's great news! 
Me: Yeah, I'm so excited! I can lease him so I can ride him every day, and have lessons on the school horses as well! I'm So happy! 
Stone: How much is this happiness going to cost me? 
Me: $XYZ
Stone: You are fucking kidding me.... 
Me: Don't you want me to be happy? 
Stone: Yes, but not that happy. 
Me: Happy wife, Happy Life? 
Stone: My life is already happy.  
Me: Well, It Won't Suck Itself, Baby. 
Stone: Touche'
I am really enjoying my new horse. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This week's serving of Journalistic excellence.

A couple weeks ago the much anticipated OMNY brasserie at the Hormuz Grand Hotel opened to the public. There has been a lot of hype about this place, but the Instagram and other media were pretty short on details as to what it would be like, what it would actually serve, price points, cuisine, etc... Basically, all the things you actually want to know about before you go to a restaurant and part with hard-earned cash.

The wait is over my friends, and I can now report to you a few details aboutOMNY. I can report these details to you because the Hormuz Grand PR team sent out the most exquisitely worded press release in the history of Omani Press releases. Below: the first two paragraphs:

- "A fusion represents the best of the component factors. Two vastly distinct identities come together to generate a product that has the best characteristics of the constituent elements. And such is the story of OMNY Brasserie, at the Hormuz Grand Hotel, Muscat.
An amalgamation of French, Italian and Omani cuisines, set up in a New York style, the OMNY Brasseri offers a unique experience to its diners."

What sort of English is this? The release continues:

- "The conflation of cultures that is reflected in the menu, permeates to the staff as well. For, according to OMNY’s objective, the team is a multicultural mix of members from India, Kenya, South Africa, Malta, France and Romania.
Even the music is a blend of jazz, lounge and ambient tones. The intention is to lend a holistic fusion experience to the guests."

We are not sure if the PR firm was having a laugh playing the thesaurus game and got caught out when Muscat Daily ran the release verbatim, or if the author of the piece is just a pretentious twat. either way, I cut the article out and filed it into my Scrapbook of Journalistic Excellence.

Aficionados of Middle East PR, look no further for this year's nomination for most thesaurus-tastic Press Release. You can read the whole thing in its entirety HERE

Gotta say that seafood tower looks good, though.
Photo supplied with Press Release

Sunday, February 19, 2017

UAE announces plans to build on Mars, local pundits pee pants laughing.

Just a quickie today guys, I'm' working on a couple of more substantial posts for next week.

I was amused to read that our esteemed neighbours to the north announced that they will build the first city on Mars.

No, I am Not kidding, you can read the article in the Gulf News HERE. The article was Accompanied by the usual Dubai glitter and hyperbole synonymous with UAE PR, and immediately brought to mind a vision of Duabi-type-expats trying to have brunch in spacesuits. Tragically, HE. Nasser Bin Tumoon wasn't quoted in this article, but I'm holding out hope we will hear from him on this matter in the future.

Photo Credit: Dubai Media Office

And honestly, who better to lend expertise and experience to help colonise an uninhabitable place where nobody actually wants to live? This mission was basically created for the UAE! This is also probably great for India, as the construction will likely require lots of Indian engineers and labourers. Expatriate escape opportunities would likely be limited due to the distance between Earth and Mars, and illegal immigration likely wouldn't be an issue for centuries!

The article goes on to state: "The plan showcased during the summit highlighted the expected lifestyle on Mars in terms of transport, power production and providing food, as well as infrastructure works and materials used for the construction of the city."    "Showcased"  & "lifestyle"    That is UAE PR at it's best, guys.

The timeline for completion is 100 years from now, so I don't imagine it's impossible, but I do question if this is the best possible use of the UAE's resources given all else that is happening here on Earth.

Where is Muscat Jet Driver when you need him? 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Omani Produce, Origin Oman, One Star House Party

So, I love cooking. I was once upon a time a fancy-pants chef, and although I have no desire to cook again professionally, there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than cooking for friends and family. I am doubly blessed because I have a wonderful cadre of friends who are happy to drop everything and pitch up to help eat dinner when I have cooked too much or have found something really special at the supermarket. It's my favourite thing in the world.

One of the things that changed most dramatically during the 5 years we were living overseas is the availability of stuff produced in Oman, specifically food. Local produce was generally limited to cabbage, tomato, eggplants, dates, honey, root vegetables, salad herbs, and fresh fish. If you wanted frozen fish one had to suffer the ignominy of buying frozen fish that had been caught in Oman, exported to the UAE, and then reimported here to be sold in supermarkets. It was RAGE inducing. Occasionally in season there would be a delivery of some perfect pomegranates or garlic from the mountains, or locally grown romaine lettuce, which was always exciting, and demanded a grilled Omani prawn Caesar salad to celebrate.

Getting to the point: You Guys, there is so much amazing Omani-Grown Produce available these days! a couple of days ago I found the most gorgeous candy-cane beets, grown in Oman. There are several organic farms producing lettuce, kale, red chard, different kinds of squash, fresh flowers and even heirloom tomatoes. I know this makes me sound like a total douche-bag-hipster, but I really do love red chard and kale. Additionally, we have Fish&co who are packaging and freezing local Omani fish here. Fresh fish is great, but sometimes you just want to whip something out of the freezer for a fast dinner. Sultan Center probably leads the market in stocking Omani Produce, but Carrefour has really upped their game in this department as well.

The Origin Oman Logo

Years ago, I was approached to contribute to an Origin Oman cookbook. The plan was to have various local chefs compile 3-7 recipes each using Omani ingredients and distribute the cookbook free or for a nominal charge in all the supermarkets during Ramadhan. It was a great idea, and with very little notice, I created, tested, and wrote a bunch of recipes to contribute. Origin Oman sent a great photographer to capture the finished plates, and people, that food looked the business. Seriously high-end shit, Y'all. We hit a snag in the road when Origin Oman helpfully suggested that I wasn't nearly Omani enough to be the author of the recipes, so perhaps we could credit my partner with the recipes instead, and stage photos of her cooking the food, so it would seem more "Omani" At the time, I honestly wasn't too fussed either way, but my partner kindly declined. I have no idea if the cookbook was ever published or not, but I was thinking maybe I should post a weekly or monthly recipe here that highlights Omani ingredients, and what is so great about them. What say you, Blogosphere?

This, belatedly, brings me to One Star House Party which is a Pop-up restaurant at the Al Bustan running for a week starting tomorrow night. It's the brainchild of some wanderlust-stricken chefs who have decided to do a 20-month, 20-country round the world trip, cooking a seven-course meal on the final week in each country. The meal will highlight Omani produce, ingredients, and the best that Oman has to offer. We bought tickets for the first night, and I am basically pissing myself with excitement. If you want to know more about the event, Sythe, over at Muscat Mutterings did a write up on the event HERE Tickets are a super expensive  USD 120 each, and do not include alcohol, though the website indicated that the booze is BYOB (an optimistic pipe dream here, I'm sure). I'll post a review of the experience, so tune back in Saturday.

More from here soon. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A couple of things that didn't work out quite as I thought they would.

Here is a short list of recent things that did not work out as planned. Perhaps someday I'll compile all of these into a book called "Good Intentions, Disastrous Outcomes. How to think about things before you do them"

1) The first car we bought when we moved back to Muscat was a cool Off-Road toy for Stone. It's Loud, has chunky tires, everything on it is probably illegal, and it's a stick shift so we can just leave it unlocked because that pretty much guarantees it won't be stolen.  We bought the car from a nice young man who works with Stone. The kid is an engineer and has outstanding taste in cars, to the point that I think maybe I married the wrong guy and should have married this classic-car-loving engineer guy instead.  A while back I opened the glove box and found a bottle of cologne that Classic-Car-Loving Engineer guy had evidently included in the sale. Other items were an impossibly soft and furry gearshift cover, two fancy mussars, an Aux cable, car air freshener, and a box of tissues. I figured any man cool enough to have such a great collection of cars would probably smell AMAZING, and I would like to smell AMAZING too so I uncapped that fucker and sprayed it all over myself. Stone described the smell as a cross between something a bouncer at Rock Bottom would wear, and the scent of impending date rape. We ran the rest of our errands with the windows down, and it was two days before the scent was fully banished from my skin.

2) Stone got invited to a dinner thing at the big bosses' house, in order to welcome visiting top brass from the home office. The invitation said spouses were invited, so we booked a babysitter. In a moment of extreme confidence, I grabbed my craziest high heels, my oldest, dirtiest, holiest, most favourite jeans, and a lacey tank. The look I was going for was "I am definitely a former rock star and you guys all want to be my friend because I am exciting and vivacious" The look I achieved was more along the lines of "I am a recovering drug addict with such limited normal life experience that I am unable to dress myself for a dinner party with adults" In order to cope with my nervousness  at being at a party for which I was inappropriately dressed and surrounded by strangers, it seemed like a great idea to get extremely drunk. Fortunately, our hosts didn't have a pool, because given my already stellar decision-making skills, it wouldn't have been too long before I suggested skinny dipping.

That's it for today. Later in the week, we are maybe going to discuss why the guys at Tea Corner are so hostile towards me, even though I am super nice to them. Perhaps you guys can weigh in on that one, because I am baffled.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Small Annoyances

I have several small annoyances, local to Muscat that are probably worth writing down, if only because it will serve to distract me from the shambolic debacle of bad policies spewing forth from the White House.

Before we get onto my various grievances can I point out how amazing the weather is? They are doing some excavation in the wadi  that runs from Sultan Center to CCC and then under the highway to the park, and as a result are pumping lots of underground water to the surface. It's like a small river flowing through there right now, and it's the perfect place to take your kids, spouse and / or dog for a stroll. I would love it if the Municipality could keep the river flowing and make a open park area, and maybe put down some soccer fields and maybe space for a community garden. Nothing that would be impacted if there was a flood, but when it's not flooding would provide a lovely place to walk and grow things.

  1. Being female in public: I don't know if it is because Bangladeshis now outnumber Indians as expats (A whole blog post on that coming soon), or if things have changed, or if I have just forgotten the total hassle of being female in Public here. Like, stop staring at me, please don't touch me, please don't ask where my husband is, or if I have one, or perceive that because I have the audacity to take my vagina with me wherever I go that that is somehow an invitation for your skeezy-ass come-ons or excessively touchy feely personal interactions. Gentlemen, raise your game.  
  2.  Parking everywhere, specifically the Beach One building near the children's museum. Y'all this is just bonkers. How are we still allowing buildings like this to be constructed with so little parking? you see the same thing in Bousher, Ghubra, and pretty much everywhere else where there is construction happening, someone proposes a giant building, and the powers that be approve it to be constructed despite a total lack of adequate parking. Is it Incompetence or Corruption? I have no idea.  Apparently all the approvals require the same amount of parking that would be required in the UK. This would make sense if our country was anything like the UK, with a temperate climate, good public transportation options, safe pedestrian thoroughfares, and people living near by where they shop and work. It doesn't work here. Over the past 10 years we've had the chance to build a thoughtfully laid out municipality, with good transport infrastructure and adequate parking / safe pedestrian access. Instead, greed has got the better of everybody, and so instead we have a total clusterfuck anytime you try to go anywhere or buy anything.  
  3. Have you all been through the newly constructed neighborhoods at PDO camp? If you want a master class in how to build a multi-cultural housing community right, look no further. Protected side streets, sidewalks, pocket parks, adequate parking, just the right number of speed bumps, good lighting, and construction sympathetic to the existing terrain of where they are building. Any future developments in the capital should be required to follow whatever design and density principals they used at PDO, it's just so gorgeous, and all the omani and expat families look so very happy playing together. Hence, by my bringing up the following, you will think I am being super pedantic. As you drive through the PDO construction areas, there are these pretty signboards hiding the view of construction activities. These signboards show pictures and silhouettes of men doing fun things, safety reminders, men working at PDO, men working in the interior, cute kids, men playing sports, men barbecuing, men having business meetings, renderings of the houses, palm trees, etc... People what I want to know is, where are my bitches at? The only women I can see on any of the boards is one silhouetted woman pushing a baby carriage, and one silhouetted woman doing traditional Omani crafts. I am sure this was not a deliberate thing, just an issue with availability of clip-art or file photos from whatever, but it annoys me just the same. Can we have some pictures of the ass-kicking female directors and managers and scientists and athletes and grill masters up on there please? 
  4. Taxi Drivers: When you think about it, a taxi driver basically has one job. To drive. So like, how is it possible that taxi drivers as a group are such abysmal drivers? Like, you only have one thing you need to do, and yet, rarely a day goes by without a near death experience courtesy of a taxi driver driving terribly. How do these guys even keep their licenses? The fleet of metered and monitored taxis cannot come soon enough. 
  5. When the muscat Municipality tried to shut down Souq es Sabat a few weeks ago, in order to basically steal the event for themselves and make it run under Muscat Festival. Why can we not have anything nice without some officious twat from a ministry trying to fuck it up?
  6. Why are the cashiers at Lulu so angry? 
  7. Will the cruise liner tourists ever leave so I can shop relatively unmolested at the Souq?  
In other news, the weather has been amazing, and I have a lot of stuff to write about in the coming weeks, and the time to write about it. I just had to get all the above off my chest first. Hope Muscat is being good to all of you!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wagyu Hamburgers at the Crowne Plaza

If you have ever been to Japan you might be familiar with Kobe or Waygu beef. It is basically the most delicious thing in the entire encyclopedia of edible Mammals. You might have to mortgage your house or sell your children to afford it, but your taste buds will thank you, and when you think about it, you might actually be saving money because College is really expensive these days.

OMG, look at that marbling! 
Eat it once, and like an opioid addict you'll be chasing that original high forever. Every single bite contains the flavor of an entire ordinary cow, and the flesh is so tender that you hardly need to chew. It's my favorite thing to cook and to eat.

So Much Tasty Fat!!!!
Sultan Center reliably stocks Wagyu beef, and although it totally blows the budget, once or twice a month I'll buy some and bring it home to cook. And it's AMAZEBALLS. The flavor of Wagyu is incredibly distinctive. Seared rare with a little brandy and soy sauce it's like Beefy heaven. So delicious.

Thus, Imagine my delight last night when I saw Dukes bar has Wagyu burgers on the menu. I'd actually forgotten about it, but I had one there a few months ago and it was really good. I was feeling celebratory after a good day and out with one of my oldest friends so I thought why not, and ordered one of those bad boys up, Medium rare. After much back and forth with the wait staff regarding did I really want the burger medium rare or not, they came out and asked me to sigh the following :

Yes, there is such a thing as a "Hamburger Policy",  evidently...

This is the best picture my dining companion and I could take since it was dark. It's a FULL PAGE release indemnifying the crowne against future legal action should they poison me with poorly prepared meat. I have literally signed shorter indemnity papers for motorsport activities, bungee jumping, and medical procedures.  The whole vibe was not exactly confidence-inducing but YOLO! So I signed it and got ready to eat an amazing Hamburger and then possibly die a slow and horrible death from salmonella, hepatitis-B or E-coli.

Much, Much later, my burger arrived, and it was a thing of beauty. Perfect bun, perfect cheese, perfect beef bacon, perfect veggies, crispy chips, and a little tiny pot of roasted onion mayonnaise. The food at the Crowne Plaza has been improving by leaps and bounds over the last year or so, and my companion's steak sandwich* was a thing of beauty to taste and see. Seriously, guys, I was so pumped to eat that massive, bloody, fatty, wagyu flavored burger.

But then I ate it, and it wasn't made of Wagyu. The meat was lean, bloody bright red, no fat or grease, and had no flavor of Wagyu. What I had was a reasonably tasty burger made from grass-fed beef of some description. I'm figuring they either pulled a regular grass fed burger from the fridge, or ground up some fresh beef, or ran out of Wagyu but figured nobody would know the difference, or the Wagyu burgers were nearing the end of their shelf life so the kitchen knew they couldn't get away with sending out questionable meat cooked mid-rare.

And whilst I'm honestly grateful that the kitchen or management erred on the side of caution in order not to kill me or have to admit that the wagyu they were serving that night was well past it's prime, when you are charging just under 10 OMR (26 USD) for a burger that is made out of the most delicious cows on earth, I would like to buy a burger that contains pieces of the most delicious cow on earth.

I ate it, paid and left. It is hard to imagine a scenario where I would show them the burger and they would say "oh, gosh, you are right, we will go get you a wagyu burger now" What would have happened, inevitably, was me saying that this wasn't wagyu, and them insisting I must be mistaken or don't understand beef.

So, I guess I'll just go back to cooking my own Wagyu from now on, and leave the Crowne Plaza to serve up their legally indemnified liability-free mystery meat to others. Bummer.

* My companion's Steak Sandwich tho... I would eat that for my last meal, it was so good. Seriously. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

American elections, Sexual assault, and consent.

Firstly: On the subject of obtaining consent before one does something sexual to or with another Human being, one of my favorite Ex-boyfriends said it best:
"Consent is a good thing, Don't get me wrong... But personally I would hold out for Enthusiasm" -Ex-Boyfriend Matt, an outstanding human being. 

Is anyone else fantasizing about slitting their wrists if they have to watch any more of the American election? November 8th can't come soon enough.

One particularly rage inducing aspect of the election has been watching the backlash against the women who have come forward with accounts of being fondled or sexually assaulted by Donald Trump. Various snippets of the backlash show up on my facebook news feed, where several men whom I previously held in high regard, say that the accusations are all made up. Their rationale for this is that if these women were in fact assaulted or groped, why didn't they speak out about it sooner? Every time I see a comment to that effect, I want to scream, or hit something, or not be a woman anymore, or die. I am not alone in this feeling, as the hashtag on twitter #Whywomendontreport shows. Reading the tweets on that hashtag is therapeutic in a re-living every sexual trauma of my entire life sort of way. Which is to say: not really all that therapeutic.

What might be therapeutic is actually talking about my rape (It's all Mine! I'm so cool, so hip, so lucky that I have my very own rape!) and all the reasons I didn't report it, why I didn't tell anyone  about it until 11 years after it happened, why until now I have only told a handful of people in detail what happened, and then maybe examining why I can't bring myself to say this to my own family, or on facebook, or directly to the people I actually KNOW but instead have to write it down here in the safety of quasi-anonymity in blogland. Before that, I'm going to list a few of the responses I got from the people I DID tell.
  • Why were you even there? 
  • You shouldn't have put yourself in that position. 
  • Were you drinking?
  • Maybe you gave him the wrong idea. 
  • You are way too friendly with people.
  • He's not that big a guy, you could have fought back.
  • You are way to naive, you need to protect yourself more.
  • That doesn't seem like a "real" Rape-y sort of rape.  
And this was when I told the three closest men in my life, one of whom I am ACTUALLY MARRIED TO, about being raped. Do you really think that total strangers, the police, industry peers, or co-workers would be more sympathetic?

These responses above are a selection from three different and genuinely wonderful men: From my own husband, from a good friend, and from my partner at work. There were two notable outliers in the responses who should be thanked by name. Parmy and Mans:  You are both gentlemen above and beyond measure, and I'm eternally grateful to you both for listening to me, for responding so kindly and appropriately, and for loving me. Thank You, Guys. 

I don't know if I will follow this up with a post that details the HILARIOUS nitty-gritty account of my own rape. More to the point, Whilst I could recount to you every detail of that one time I was genuinely, definitely, and totally raped, I could not possibly tell you about the absolute countless times I have been groped or assaulted or fondled and had to brush it off as "flattery" "he was drunk" "he's just a bit like that" "You were basically inviting it" etc... I couldn't write that because that kind of shit has happened so many times the post would be like 20,000 pages long. You guys, it's fucking bonkers.

To recap the words of Matt, my absolute favorite Ex-Boyfriend, you can grope or assault a woman against her will, and hey, there isn't much she is likely to do about it, or you could beg and plead and guilt trip her into giving consent, but wouldn't it be better if she WANTED you to do that? Guys, hold out for enthusiasm.

More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rant: Radio in Oman

Mr. Sythe, over at Muscat Mutterings is running a poll about radio in Oman, which you should go and fill out because I am asking you nicely.

Mr. Sythe sent me a facebook message today asking me nicely to fill out the poll. I did so and then replied with something akin to the following:
"There is not a space in your survey for me to put in how much I hate every DJ in this goddamn country except Faiq on the Mike and that Canadian guy they fired and also why in the name of god are there still expat people on the goddamn national radio station who cannot actually speak English please someone explain this because jesus fucking christ we have been trying to achieve Omanisation for like 20 goddamn years I mean what is this even. furthermore I want to light all the annoyingly chipper british dj's on fire and I will buy the petrol if you think we can get permission to do it in the interest of public service "
So Mr. Sythe said maybe if I had such strong feelings about the radio I should blog it. That is a good suggestion since I have little else to do with my time except for trying not to fall to the floor screaming in the grocery store because EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE and I feel like I am living in some sort of extremely boring expat housewife version of groundhog day.

What follows is a rant, where I am going to say mean things. If you don't feel like reading it you should go somewhere else now. OK?

So, Radio Listeners of Oman, here is everything that I wish there was a space to put in Mr. Sythe's survey about English Language Radio in the Sultanate:

  • What happened to that Canadian guy on 90.4? He was the best thing that happened to radio here in Oman since 2003 or 2004 when there was a very funny lady who would sometimes co-host the morning show with Faiq.
  • When you really really really think about it, Faiq on the Mike is an incredible DJ. I will love him until the oceans dry up and the earth is a cold, dead hunk of carbon circling a burned out star. 
  • The music is the worst, presumably chosen by a 12-year-old girl. 
  • The music is all the same. I suspect the director of programming at all three stations is the same 12-year-old girl. 
  • How can there be so many annoyingly chipper people who sound exactly like a narrator in Minecraft videos and how did they all get here and are we paying them ACTUAL MONEY and are they all mildly retarded because I think they would have to be in order to engage in chatter as banal and mindless as that and lastly how can we persuade them to please go away? 
  • No, really, the chatter is so vapid that I feel it is an insult to the intelligence of the entire nation. 
  • Actually, the best thing that ever happened in Oman radio was back when HiFM didn't have any on-air talent and they were just broadcasting music from Eihab's iPod. The mix of music was great except for one day when the Electric 6 song Gay Bar came on. It played for almost a minute before somebody managed to skip forward to the next song. THAT RIGHT THERE, was the single most entertaining minute of radio in the history of the sultanate. 

  • Finally, can anybody explain to me how it is possible that we have not fully Omanised 90.4 FM, and if we have failed to Omanise it why we have thus far been unable to staff it with expats who can actually speak English, or who are able to provide more entertaining content than asking questions my kindergartner can answer, and reading shit from Wikipedia verbatim? Why? Why? Why??? 
  • Slightly related to the point directly above, I give you the real, actual, very best moment in Omani Radio History: This happened on 90.4 FM in maybe 2006 I think. I was driving home from work late one night and the DJ was asking questions and callers were calling in to answer the questions live on air. 
    • DJ: A, E, I, O, and U form what part of the English Alphabet? 
    • Caller: Those are Vowels.
    • DJ: I'm afraid not, would you like to guess again?
    • Caller: VOWELS. A-E-I-O-U are vowels. 
    • DJ: I'm sorry, but that's still not right, Would you like to know the correct answer?
    • Caller: Um, I guess? 
    • DJ: It's Waavvles!  A-E-I-O and U are WAAVLES!!!!
    • I ran my car off the road and nearly into a tree because I was laughing so hard. 
  • OK, that was the ACTUAL best moment in Oman Radio History. 
I feel surprisingly better having got that off my chest. Thank you, Mr. Sythe! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Economics, Omanisation, Brain Drain, and a Blog you need to follow

Sorry if it's been a bit quiet around here lately. Local & international politics have put something of a damper on my desire to write, and lets not even talk about their effect on my desire to continue living. Cough (Brexit, ISIS, MSF Hospitals Being Bombed, Oman Arresting Journalists, Donald Trump) Cough... Ahem.. Moving on.

A Real Live Economist Returns to the Omani Blogosphere and Talks About Omanisation!

Back when I first started reading blogs there was a small but vibrant commuinty of English Language Omani Bloggers. What was cool about the community was that it really was something of a community, and over time I came to think of my internet "friends" as real friends. One of my favorite internet friends to bounce ideas off of, was this guy Abdullah who was studying to be (or perhaps already was?) an economist.

Like the rest of us, Abdullah moved on from blogging to twitter, and then eventually lapsed into silence. I suspect his reasons for stepping away were similar to mine, in that the internet is less fun once everybody has the internet, and careers, marraiges and kids get in the way of sitting around late at night typing things for your imagainary internet friends to read and share with thier imaginary internet friends.

But, I have the Best News EVER: Abdullah started blogging about Omani issues again last month! He's doing it now from the USA where he works as a real live Motherfucking* professor of economics. His Latest post, "Understanding the Omani Labor Market" is well worth a read, and I'd reccommend following him on twitter, or subscribing to his blog if you have an interest in Economic policy presented by someone better looking and smarter than me, who swears a lot less.

You can follow Abdullah on Twitter HERE
You can read his whole website HERE
You can listen to an interview with him on a website called EconomicRockStar.Com (yes, for real)  HERE

You might wonder why a guy like this is slaving away as a professor of economics in the USA and not working here in some sort of cabinet level position or heading up a team of Ass-kicking economists at the MONE**. I don't know, but I would fancy a guess that there are a number of compelling microeconomic and sociological reasons for that. Abdullah, an article I would LOVE to see in the future is the impact of Brain-Drain on Oman's economy, and how do we measure the economic impact of the many highly qualified Omanis who go abroad for work, and how the government is or is not incentivising those folks to come home.

*probably not actually fucking your mom...Economists can get way hotter chicks than her these days.

** Is it not the most Ballin' coincidence that the Ministry Of National Economy's Acronym can be shortened to MONE???? 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Unsurprising News: Oman Air suspends Sohar flights

Today, in news that shouldn't surprise anybody, Other Oman reports on the announcement from Oman Air that they will suspend flights between the Sultanate's capital Muscat, and Sohar, a thriving port city located a vast 190 kms from Seeb Muscat international airport. Certain members of the Majlis Ashura are apoplectic  Somewhat concerned about the cancellation of this thrice-weekly service and the loss of vast economic benefits that the service, which averaged ONE PASSENGER PER FLIGHT was bringing to the city of Sohar and the surrounding region.

Those were outstanding run-on sentences! Thank You.

I don't think anyone can or should be upset about the cancellation of a glaringly unpopular service that served basically nobody. On the other side of the coin, I don't think the criticism that is being heaped onto the Authorities for building a decent airport in Sohar is justified. The airport might be a few years ahead of its time, but I do think it's an asset to the North Batinah region and the northernmost suburbs / outlying areas of the capital.

Look at our national carrier's blue, silver, and gold livery!
 I was a skeptic at first, but now I think it's so pretty.
 Photo credit: Muscat Daily

So what's the back story on the Sohar airport? How did we get here?  I'm not 100% sure, but below is my understanding of the situation. Perhaps our resident aviation experts Muscati or Muscat Jet Driver would like to chip in with better facts of data? Your contributions are most welcome, Gentlemen.

Anyway, back in early 2008 or so, the government decided that Sohar needed a proper airport to handle cargo (great idea) and lots of passengers (not such a great idea). Tenders were issued, speeches were made, everybody I think was patting themselves on the back. Whether this had anything to do with the hubbub surrounding the now dead Blue City development, or the high hopes for Shoar's future as a port and industrial city is unclear to me. Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

At any rate, the Airport in Sohar opened sometime in maybe 2014 /2015 with the fancy-ass jetway equipped passenger terminal still unfinished and a quickie temporary terminal in its place. One assumes that the government was initially unsuccessful in getting international carriers to utilize the airport and so Oman Air was basically strong-armed into starting these flights in order to test the feasibility of using Sohar airport as a commuter hub, or something...

The problem with this is that one can drive between Sohar and Muscat in 1.5-2.5 hours for significantly less than the cost of the ticket. This might be useful if you are travelling onward to an international destination, but again you'd need the arrival and departure times to jive, otherwise it's faster and cheaper to grab a taxi between the two cities. Oman Air even went so far as to give away FREE flights from Sohar to muscat for passengers travelling on their connecting international flights. Sadly, No dice. The flights averaged a single passenger per flight, and must have caused the airline and Oman Aviation services to hemorrhage money trying to keep the service afloat.

BUT, BUT, BUT, I don't think it's a bad idea to have a good airport in Sohar, and I think there is likely a lot of viability to using the airport for charters full of Russians or tourists from Europe, or low cost reigonal airlines, perhaps offering a connection to muscat via bus. Kind of how Sharjah airport used to be (still is??) back in days of yore.

I think it is likely that Air India could operate a couple of international flights a day out of Sohar, given the number of Expatriates working in the region.

The other thing that MIGHT be viable to float the idea of a commuter service using tiny or smallish turboprops that would run a commuter schedule a couple of times a day up the coast from Duqum to Khasab, with stops in say, Qalhat, Sur, Muscat and Sohar on the way. I've used similar commuter airlines that fly from small towns in the American northeast into larger cities like Boston and New York. You don't even buy regular tickets, you buy a coupon book and use the coupons to exchange for flights. Lots of (usually pretty wealthy) people use these services as a daily or weekly commuter service, like a Mawasallat bus, but with wings. My daughter have taken a few thrilling flights in little 8 seater planes between Boston and elsewhere, and when I am not busy thinking about the ways I am going to die from the turbulance, the views are amazing, and an hour or so in an airplane saves me 5 hours of driving.

And Cargo, we could ship a shit-ton of Cargo out of the airport, and it would make great sense to have a robust airport cargo hub there since the port in Sohar is now handling all the cargo that used to come into Muttrah.

Anyway, there's my two cents on that matter. Your opinion or understanding of the background may differ from mine. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments below!

Later in the week I think I want to write about my newest addiction: Waygu Beef.  If you guys are not eating this beef, you need to start. It is so amazing.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Automatic Car Wash and other staggering failures in Omanisation

I am a really really really lucky girl. Whilst you all were here starving in the oppressive heat and humidity, I opted out of Ramadhan for a week and instead attended a conference on critical care medicine in Ireland. I don't care how much you love the holy month, there is absolutely NO WAY any of you guys had a better week than I did. Here are some ACTUAL presentations and workshops I attended

  • The magic of remote ischaemic preconditioning.
  • Rethinking adrenaline in cardiac arrest.
  • Acute care of the elderly.
  • The Aorta will F*!&K you up.
  • Neurosurgeons are not idiots, honestly.
  • Oh SH^*T! They're bombing the hospital. 
Match that sort of academic / intellectual content with Dublin's amazing restaurant and bar scene, 2,000 of the smartest people in critical care, a handful of old friends and you have a recipe for AWESOME.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so last night I returned home brimming with optimism and full of  ideas and motivation to improve patient outcomes here in Oman. I am going to be a catalyst for positive change, dammit. 

Then this morning Stone took me to the petrol station and decided to run the car through the carwash. During the 37 minutes we were in line / going through the car wash I realised that my local car wash is a pretty good analogue for why a lot of things in Oman are so totally screwed up. My views on this may have been somewhat coloured by the fact that I was hungry, Jet lagged, Hungover, and hot, but bear with me here and if you disagree you can have you say down below in the comments. 

Here was our "Automatic" car wash experience this morning: 
  • Pull up to the car wash, we are third in line. 
  • Watch time grind to a halt as each car ahead of us takes a full 10 minutes to make it through the wash cycle 
  • Arrive at the front of the que. 
  • Communicate with understandably surly car wash attendant via various hand gestures and broken Hindi / Arabic that we would like a quick wash, just the outside.
  • Surly car wash guy confers with the other car wash guy, takes 2.5 Rials from me, and goes to a window where he communicates with yet another carwash guy who slowly accounts for the money, produces a hand-written receipt, and sends Surly guy back to us. 
  • The receipt is placed on the dashboard, and we are motioned into the car wash. 
  • The car is now on the rails where the automatic car wash will drag it past various fixed and moving nozzles that will spray water, soap, or whatever onto the car, making it clean. I figure we will be out of here in under two minutes now. 
  • Not So! First, the guys use a manual powerwasher to pre-wash the car.
  • Next, the car is advanced 8 feet past the "Automatic high-pressure wash" and the "Automatic Soap" 
  • The line grinds to a halt and two guys appear out of the mist to manually scrub the car using the automatically applied soap. 
  • The line starts up again, dragging us past a genuinely automatic rinse, and the automatic dryer nozzles.
  • Stone can see the look of murder in my eyes and politely declines the hand drying stage of the "automatic" car wash We are free to go. 
  • It is 38 degrees outside, we merge onto the highway and the car is completely dry within 10 seconds. 
Photo credit: Times of Oman

I think, first and foremost that if you are going to call something an "Automatic Car Wash" then it should involve automation, and therefore efficiency, in at least some elements of the experience. It's not like this is a revolutionary new technology that's just in BETA testing.  Automatic car washes have existed at least since I was a little girl, and have been tried and tested in various climates worldwide to effectively get the grime and grit off dirty cars in an expedient and cost-effective manner. I cannot imagine that our everyday dust and dirt is that much different from anybody else's dust and dirt, and therefore requires the addition of 3-6 brown guys from poor(er) countries in order to get my car to an adequate state of cleanliness. 

So here's the crux of why the automatic car wash guys matter, economically, to Oman: We are paying armies of imported workers to do jobs that should probably not exist at all. It's not just the carwash guys: How about the guys who pump gas? Let's assume, conservatively, 4 guys pumping gas per petrol station, and 600 petrol stations nationwide, with a salary of OMR 80 per month. That's OMR 2,304,000 per year in salary payments alone, before we even account for accommodation, healthcare, flights, visas, etc.. I do not know how much they spend on remittances, but I would expect the vast majority of the money earned is remitted elsewhere. 

There is some data to support this idea: did you know that Oman is in the top five for countries losing GDP as a result of remittances by foreign workers? 12.5 percent of our GDP here in Oman is sent home by temporary workers. That's like, roughly 2and a half billion dollars a year leaving Oman and never coming back. Here's the link to the article in Times of Oman  

It's not a made up number either, it came from a world bank report which you can read in its entirety HERE

The only graph I am aware of where Oman is in the same league as Luxembourg

To take the idea a step further: How about the little corner stores and restaurants where you pull up outside and Honk to get service? There are armies of imported workers who's only job is to take things from an establishment to your car, basically because you are too lazy to find parking and walk. 

How about the guy who sits at a desk at MCC and QCC renting out shopping trolleys shaped like cars? How about the guys who bag your groceries and then push the trolley out to your car, and then load the groceries into your car? 

Are there Omanis who would do these jobs? Probably a few, if we paid them enough, but in reality, these are jobs that should not exist, or should not exist in such great numbers. We are not a rich enough country to afford these sorts of luxuries, and this sort of dependence on expensive imported labor to do all the very basic things we can already do for ourselves leads to a culture of helplessness / apathy. It also Fucks up the already dire ratio of Omanis to expats in muscat and elsewhere. 

Whilst gradually reducing or eliminating the totally unnecessary Expat jobs would not do much for creating jobs for Omanis, I do think it would do a lot for starting to normalize the ratio of Omanis to expats, as well as  reducing the impact of remittances outward from Oman. 

More from here soon. Hope you all are well. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Suburban Reviews Things: An Inexpensive Burkini

Today on Suburban Reviews Things, I'm going to tell you all about a 3.8 OMR burkini Conservative Swimsuit that I found last week in Carrefour. Having never tried one before, and intrigued by the competitive pricing, I grabbed a large and threw it in the cart. For a mere 3.8 OMR this burkini Conservative Swimsuit comes in a variety of sizes, a variety of hideous floral prints, and includes a matching hideous floral swimming cap. Ever wondered what it's like wearing one? Read on, and be enlightened.

You can have it in Black with Flowers, Black with Flowers, or Black with Flowers. 

Great, but why exactly do you need one of these, Sub?

I'm glad you asked! My daughter adores swimming, and given the choice would only leave the water to eat and sleep. Unfortunately for her, I do not much like swimming. There are several reasons for this:
  • Swimming pools are disgusting. You are swimming in a bath of filtered chemically neutralised urine. Add to that the boogers, drool, dead bugs, bird poop, fecal matter and long stray hairs floating around. Ick. Ick. Ick. 
  • The ocean is full of seaweed and other floaty things and possibly raw sewage or toxic contamination.
  • Fish are unpredictable and scare me. 
  • Jellyfish
  • The water in either the ocean or the pool is almost never the right temperature, so I am either too warm or too cold. 
  • The whole swim suit thing. Think about it: You are basically wearing your underwear in public, except it's ok because this underwear is made of lycra. Weird, right? 
Anyway, almost every afternoon I suck it up, put on my skimpy-ass swimsuit, grab the kid, and face the horror that is the ocean, unpredictable fish and all. I take her snorkeling because when you are snorkeling, it's impossible to talk about Minecraft.

With Ramadan in full swing, I wasn't sure how I wanted to address the snorkeling / skimpy swimsuit issue. The beach we go to is part of a private facility where western beachwear is the norm, but conservative dress is recommended during the holy month. What's a girl to do? Enter Carrefour and the 3.8 OMR imitation Burkini. The first thing I noticed was that the size LIES. I'm somewhere between a medium and a small size, but I bought a large to ensure it would be extra baggy / conservative. The large size just barely fits me, (defeating much of the point of modest swimwear) and is a struggle to get in and out of. That however, is really the only major drawback I could find with the swim suit. Below is a list of Pros and Cons of the imitation Burkini. 

  • No more awkward moments when you run into your kid's teachers or husband's boss at the beach and you are like, basically in your underwear. 
  • Excellent value for money
  • Protects against jellyfish stingers 
  • Protects against other floaty crap and seaweed in the water that might drift past my skin and freak me out.
  • Provides some protection against sunburn
  • Has little padded disks over the breast area to prevent pooky-outy-nipple issues if the water / air is cold. (If you are my husband Stone, this lack of nipple potential would go in the "cons" category)
  • Since it completely covers your armpits, legs, and V-Jay, you may never need to shave or wax again!!! (Stone also thinks this should go in the Cons category)
  • Enables me to avoid having to hear about Minecraft for at least an hour every afternoon, even in Ramadan
  • New awkward moments when you see your friends who are used to seeing you in a bikini and they are all like " WTF is wrong with you? Why are you wearing that? You look like the curtains in my auntie's house."
  • Slows you down when swimming. Lots of drag. 
  • Terrible sizing
  • Hot as hell outside of the water. I don't know what sort of cheap-ass fabric they made it out of but it's like a magnet for humidity. Everything except the flowers is black, which makes it like, crazy hot in the sunshine. 
  • Difficult to get into or out of. Would benefit from a zipper. 
  • Not really as conservative as I had hoped due to the scoop neck and aforementioned sizing issues. 

So, there you go. I think that as far as swimsuits that cost less than 4 Rials go, it's an excellent value and a great weapon for your summertime wardrobe. I like mine so much I'm going to keep a lookout for a really nice one that I can make a permanent part of my ocean-phobia toolbox. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Round Two

So, We're back. 

We got back late last year and have been catching our collective breath, trying to find our place in the newer, larger Muscat that grew up around our house while we were away. It's one thing to come home for a visit a couple times a year, but completely different to move home and readjust to a changed city as a changed person. I would like to think Muscat and I have grown for the better, but only time and hindsight will determine if that is indeed the case. 

Anyway, it's good to be home, and we are all doing OK. None of my children are taking their clothes off for money or selling drugs, so as a parent I feel I am meeting my Key Performance Indicators and am unlikely to get fired anytime soon. Stone is happy in his work, but counting down the last few years before he can retire and do something other than be a nerd all day. The baby has grown into a frighteningly smart child, and I rarely contemplate selling her into an arranged marriage in Saudia anymore, though I have not yet informed her of that. I am surviving here, although it is very weird not to be working. 

Since I have a lot of spare time I joined a craft group, which has been a great way to meet a lot of amazing people, and learn now skills. It has also been an adventure into the depths of expat wife politics and drama, and only a few short months in I already have enough material for a dissertation on unmedicated social and psychological disorders in the ageing western female expat population. If anyone would like to fund or co-author my paper hit me up.

On matters relating to Local Journalism: You might have had to be dead to miss this, but the Times of Oman ran what was probably the single worst piece of English language writing in the history of English language writing. Entitled "Oman's Image of Pacific Grandeur" and authored by Gautam Ghosh - Dastidar, it was thesaurus spaghetti. I'll paste a couple of highlights below, but feel free to go over HERE and read the whole thing in its entirety. 

"A branch of physics and engineering coated as electronics rather microelectronics reached us pretty ahead of our times.

Indebted to informatics we are well-informed today; we are yet to know whether and when we are well-off, though. Anyway, most factual information we proudly take into custody today are but the worst examples of heartlessness against ourselves. They rather cause discomfort to us. They are those intentional but irrational irritations of ours.

Some theories ascertain that the unearthed fossils of Neanderthals were mostly the leftovers of what their ‘comrades in arms’ had in a banquet. This may be prehistoric anyway, but our history says, the survivors of the Andes Mountains (South America) plane crash (1972) ate their dead companions."

I mean, Jesus christ, what is that? By the fact that this was published, and front page, I can only assume that there a company in the Sultanate that is paying this guy actual money to do a job. Maybe he's your boss? 
Not that I am going to win a Pulitzer or anything either, to be fair.    

Anyway, the plan for the blog is what it always was, part personal diary, part highlighting the extraordinarily terrible standards for writing in the Times of Oman, partly public sounding board for unanswerable questions, Diatribes on our ongoing failures at Omanisation, and rants and raves. Whilst my spelling and English has improved immeasurably after five years in the states, my swearing is still problematic. You've been warned. 

This blog will be 10 years old in November, and it has been really interesting for me to go back and read the archives. The insecure 20 something struggling with a new marriage and a new baby has been replaced by a fatter but more self-assured 30 something struggling with marriage and children. I thought about starting a new blog, and wiping the slate clean, but I think that it is more transparent and perhaps more interesting to let the archives stand, warts and all. Should your life be so boring that you choose to peruse the archives, remember that the young person who wrote those words is gone now, replaced by a smarter but more wrinkly adult. Be kind. 

Next week, Would you like some healthy vegetables with extra pesticide? Are you an Entrepreneur or a Parasite? And a review of a very fast Mercedes. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Used Cars of Unknown Merit: The Volvo XC90

We need a new car. Well, we need several new cars, which means it is time to test drive hundreds of rolling shitboxes in search of a few diamonds in the rough. We don't buy cars new because I refuse support most of the dreadful automotive monopolies here, I don't want to carry debt on a car, and also because I can't stand the thought of the write-down on value that occurs the moment I drive a new car off the lot. Buying used also means I can forgo comprehensive insurance, which saves us a lot off of our monthly budget as well. Anyway, here's the first in a recurring series on buying used cars in Muscat. 

 According to Wikipedia, Volvo means "I Roll" in Latin. Despite the awesome Latin meaning, Volvo to me sounds like a word for something from Ikea, or perhaps your genitalia or some sort of punctuation mark or maybe that dangly thing that hangs down at the back of your throat. Volvo. Not a sexy word, not a sexy car.

But I digress. Despite a name that sounds like it's referring to somebody's junk, Volvo has been making some damn fine cars for the last decade or so. A few slick sedans, A station wagon that doesn't too dreadful, a hot hatch that goes around corners really fast, and the XC90, a semi-luxury crossover designed to compete with the VW Touareg and the top of the line Subaru Outback. These are not your mother's Volvos. They are slick, competitively priced, well-engineered and carry on the legendary safety that Volvo is synonymous with. What they are not, is Boring. 

This brings us to today's Used Car Of Unknown Merit!  We will be reviewing a 2007 Volvo XC90 with 175kms on the clock.  Asking price is in the vicinity of 2,800 OMR. The XC90 came with three engine choices, and this car has the smallest, a 2.5 litre turbocharged petrol engine. The original owner went for all the bells and whistles, so the car has leather seats, power everything, DVD Player, Sunroof, and many other nice accessories which one can break, and then pay astonishingly exorbitant fees to have repaired at your local monopolistic dealership. Got it? On to the review!

Woah, look at that fabulous shade of Orange! 

You guys, I fucking LOVE this car. I cannot believe I had it in my heart to like, let alone love a Volvo, but I do. My love begins with the key, it's weighty, with big buttons you can find without looking, and contains inside it an actual key that you can stick into a real live ignition lock assembly and use to start the car.None of this push-button-start proximity sensor bullshit. You will never, ever, accidentally drop your keys in a parking lot and drive away without them, leaving yourself stranded 30 miles from your key fob thingy which, by the time you realize where you dropped it, has been run over 15 times and crushed into oblivion. Because you have to actually stick the keys in the ignition and turn them in order to go anywhere! Genius, I tell you. 

I am highly averse to cars with technology. I think power windows are the work of the Devil, and that any car should have the absolute minimum of accessories that can break. I do not want automatically retracting mirrors, adjustable headlights, heated massaging seats, dual climate control, or a button that gives me a Blow-Job. I want all the shit that worked when my car was brand new to still be working when my car has half a million kilometers on it. Hence, you can imagine my trepidation when I saw the laundry list of accessories that this car came loaded with. I was expecting mechanical and electrical gremlins galore, wiring harness issues, mysterious shorts, and broken power windows. To my astonishment, absolutely everything works as it should on this 8-year-old car. Stone remarked that even the cigarette lighter works, which is AMAZING, because neither he nor I can recall ever having a used car where the cigarette lighter still works. I would like to send the engineers at Volvo little gold stars for designing car accessories ALL that still work  8.5 years on. Bravo!

The console is well arranged, with no unnecessary buttons, and all the buttons are large and positioned to be easily accessible to the driver. The visibility from the cockpit is excellent, allowing you to see everything and everyone trying to kill you on the roads. The interior is quiet on the road, and the stock sound system lets you hear every note of the Abba Gold album you just purchased to accompany your Sweedish-Built car. (Sorry Stone!) The car seats seven, with the back two seats folding flat to allow for shit-tons of cargo space. Everybody has a cupholder, and when the car is configured for five, seats five Adults with generous legroom. 

The car has one of the highest safety ratings, even scoring well for pedestrian impacts. Everybody gets an airbag, seatbelt pre-tensioners, anti-roll technology, and a reinforced roof for when you do roll it over. It's a tank, but doesn't drive, look, or handle like one. 

The driving is fantastic, even with the smaller turbo-supported engine, the acceleration is sharp and aggressive. It has just enough power to get you out of trouble, and not quite enough power to get you into it. The engine is mated to a 5 speed Automatic with power distributed through front and rear differentials for full time all wheel drive. Despite the mileage and hot climate / difficult driving conditions the Turbo, transmission and differentials are still working flawlessly, with solid traction on any surface, and smooth up and down shifting and plenty of oomph when I put my foot down. That said, I would love to see one of these things with a V6 or a 3.5 litre turbo, as I still feel it is a bit underpowered with the 2.5. I wouldn't take this dune bashing, for example, or off road camping. I just don't trust that little engine to manage. 

The suspension is firm, but not too firm, giving the car really tight handling even on awkwardly banked curves. The firm suspension and stiff body mean you get very little body roll on corners, and can really attack the chicanes on the school run like the badass racer mommy you know you are. The steering is very positive, well dampened, and amazingly light. You don't need any muscle power whatsoever to turn the wheel, it's almost like you just think about turning and the car does it for you. Sadly, The front C/V joints are almost shot, which is a bit disappointing given that the car is still under 200,000 kms. That's going to be an expensive repair. 

The styling is lovely and doesn't look dated in the slightest. It's not a sexy car, but it's no pig, either. It looks like the sort of car a responsible executive would drive, and the styling is far better than what's available on similar cars from Subaru / VW/ Toyota etc... The leather seating has held up surprisingly well, but the head liner and other cloth or thin plastic interior finishes are showing their age. 

After having this thing for just 48 hours I am seriously considering buying three. One for me, One for Stone, and one to modify to use off road. I am going to go ahead and say that it's the best Used car I have ever had for a long test drive, and I am really impressed with the reliability shown at 8 years of age. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

this and that

More On Omanisation: 

A few months ago the CEO of some steel company in Oman had to resign for saying aloud what lots of bosses here say in private. I don't work for the company, so I have no idea if what he said was factual / fair/ unbiased/ bullshit/ or what. It WAS a bit weird that his apology was published as an advert in the papers. Was that because what he said was wrong, or was it because what he said was too close to the truth to make the powers that be happy? You guys tell me, I'm at a loss.

This leads into  an article in the Times of Oman titled

The first thing I thought when I read this (with a growing sense of rage and disbelief) was that I cannot believe that the OCCI has come out with an argument that holding one's employees hostage is fair practice and excellent labor policy. My second thought was that the OCCI is doing an outstanding job of serving their corporate masters protecting the interests of the businesses in Oman, who would clearly much rather hire a foreign worker than an Omani worker.

One need only look at the comments section at the times of Oman to get some idea of what a contentious issue this is for both sides. One also gets an inkling of the sort of intellectual horsepower employers are dealing with, and it is DIRE on both sides. Honestly, looking at the TOO comments section one would think that half the Omani and Expatriate population  have taken up competitive lead paint licking or undergone voluntary lobotomies. You get a real taste of what HR managers in the country are up against.

I have already written endlessly on the subject of Omanisation,

  1. Here,
  2. Here,
  3. Here,
  4. Here,
  5. Here,
  6. Here,
  7. And Here, 
So I think you guys know why I think the 2 year ban is not only not beneficial, but outright harmful to the Omani economy and our drive towards Omanisation, but one thing I failed to mention in previous RANTS articles is the importance of having a country where as many people as possible are really fucking good at what they do and are really fucking good to work with and for. The A-team, vs the B team, if you will.

As I mentioned before, a quick browse of the comments section at TOO should make it very clear that;

  1. We already have a lot of B-team expats and Locals. 
  2. These B-team individuals have opinions, and like the Tea Party in the USA, they won't let facts or data get in the way of a poorly articulated argument. 
  3. Some fuckwit has gone and given these morons internet and facebook accounts. 
  4. We need better people crafting our economic and labor policy.

Now that Expats, Omanis and the Chairman of the OCCI hate me equally, let's continue, shall we? 
  • For all the Expats out there saying "we are invaluable, and the country would fall apart without us" please remember that you can be replaced at the snap of a finger by someone more desperate for your job. You are not a special snowflake. 
  • For all the Omanis who are saying "If you don't like it, Leave" rest assured that the expats that will inevitably replace the existing ones will be even less talented, and have fewer options outside Oman, and will likely be even more desperate to hang onto their jobs at any cost. Don't expect an improvement in knowledge sharing or interest in the future of the country, much less the future of you or your fellow Omanis.  
  • There are expats that are good for the country, and expats that are bad for the country. We need our labour law to be designed to make the country and working conditions MORE attractive to the A-team foreigners. The two-year ban means we are less likely to attract top-notch foreign talent and instead get the B-team. 
  • We need to find a way to make it less attractive for companies to hire a foreigner, possibly using economic incentives, across the board minimum wages based on job classification,  and allowing foreigners to change jobs as easily as Omanis. 
  • We need a complete and total reform of the Omani Educational system so that it produces kids with the skills needed to enter the workplace, and some actual perspective on what entry-level work is like.   
  • We need a labour market that levels the playing field so Omanis and Expats can compete, based on performance and experience, for the same jobs, with the same benefits, without nationality coming into the equation. 
As it stands, nobody really wants to hire Omanis. And why would you, when all the labor laws make it so much more attractive to hire a foreigner?

Second, regarding current events over in neighbourly Yemen:
You would literally have to be dead to have not noticed the proxy war in Yemen, where the key players appear to be (in no particular order) Saudi, Iran, UAE, Bahrain, hired mercenaries, Houthis, Qatar, Al Qaeda, People who back Hadi, Dead women and children,  and Assorted Unfortunate Yemeni People. It is a complete shit-show.

Oman has the noble distinction of being the only sensible country in a 700-mile radius, and has smartly refused to participate in the GCC military offensive. We are not sending troops, and as far as I am aware, we are not allowing our airbases or naval ports to be used to support either side in the conflict. Whilst rumours indicate lots of grassroots and financial support for the Houthi faction coming from individual Omani citizens, the government has been admirable in their role as mediator and peacemaker in this conflict. I hope the Muscat Talks prove that we, as Arabs, can occasionally see the big picture. Well done, guys. The whole world should be proud of the example we are setting for diplomacy.

So here's the shit that really scares me stupid: There have been quite a few war casualties coming from the emirates and if you read the papers out of Abu Dhabi, the hyperbole is astonishing. 3 days of mourning, lots of quotes from important people calling these poor kids "martyrs" and stating outright that they died in Yemen "Defending the UAE" Just like the US soldiers in Iraq are "Defending America's Freedoms"

Bullshit. The UAE, Saudi, Qatar and the rest and  are sending our young men (and whatever hired mercenaries they can recruit from Africa / Pakistan) off to die for a political and religious war that has nothing whatsoever to do with "Protecting Freedoms", "Restoring the Democratically elected president" or "Defending the Sovereignty of the UAE".

No, really, stop laughing. These were actual quotes in the papers about how these autocratic Gulf Monarchies are "Defenders of Democracy!" Defenders. Of. Democracy. You can't make this shit up.

Our glorious GCC leadership is sending our young men off to die because we don't like Shias, We don't like Iran, and fuck those crazy Qat-Chewing Yemenis anyway.

The rhetoric coming out of the UAE and Saudi media sounds scarily like the rhetoric coming out of the Bush Administration circa 2004. Let us not be as stupid now, as America was then.