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.