Thursday, 29 March 2012

Street view

We've been in our house for about five days now and so far we've had dinner in once. Not that we're social butterflies, but there is so much to organise that every day involves more stuff!  So much so that we have found ourselves eating at the shopping centres.

The general lifestyle is quite different, early starts and late finishes.  I can only assume that the mid day nap is a taken by most.  Coming home at 10:30 earlier this week everything was open and people everywhere.  So much so that I stopped at the local bakery and bought croissant for our forthcoming 0530 breakfast.

It might have been  mentioned that there is a mosque across the street and we hear the morning call at around five.  There's a series of other calls throughout the day, but unless the windows are open...........  Earlier in the week the actual mosque calls were preceded by kids practising their calls. We heard that from a series of mosques as we passed by.  Some of the kids sounded really excited.

Speaking of kids, our little street is teeming with them.  They're out and about in little groups, doing kid stuff. kites, bikes, general play and the ubiquitous soccer games.  Every afternoon it seems the local kids gather for their soccer match in the vacant lot across the street.  They range in age from under ten to around 20, but it's all in and in the way of these things everybody gets a fair go. The game only ends when the dusk call to prayer goes out at which point small clumps of kids break off to head home and the game peters out to a few kids playing kick to kick.  Then darkness and a silent street.

There is an interesting mix of clothing, younger kids in pants and shirts/t-shirts, teens in a mix of stuff (early teen dishdasha and late teen soccer strip) and male adults predominantly in the dishdasha and hat or head scarf.  The dishdasha is a single, simple garment that covers neck to wrist to ankle, think of a styled wee willie winky night gown.  Many have colour trim around the collars, cuffs and front opening, they all however have a tassle hanging out from the collar overlap onto the right breast.  Katrina tells me the tassle used to be scented, and the way many sniff them it would seem they still are.

In Oman whenever an official photo is taken the locals are required to sit it in traditional garb.  So it's the dishdasha and hat.  Drivers licences, resident id..........  The Sultan is keen to ensure that Omani culture is not swamped and blown away by integration with the world.  So at government workplaces the dress code is uniform or dishdasha and hat with scarf. In the evening the scarf comes off and it's just the hat.   Most women wear black outer garments in public and at a minimum a head scarf, running all the way through to full cover.  Although the last is in the minority.

As ever how you wear your clothes matters as much as the style. It's interesting observing the differences.  Somehow young males manage to make their outfits look "stylish" and there's that definite swagger/air of I'm hot stuff emanating from the young turks as they cruise in their little schools.  For some the dishdadha's have been tailored to emphasise body shape. Ahh youth it's the same the world round!

All this makes it easy to identify the expatriates, as we wear pretty much what we like.  Although given the conservative nature of society I am a little disappointed that so many of the Westerners seem completely oblivious to local sensibilities.  Some seem to flaunt their ability to show swathes of skin and in some cases they would be better not to! Kinda reminds me of a universal principle that should be enforced everywhere - ICBM (Insufficient Clothing for Body Mass).

Muscat is awash with expatriates, Indian, Bangaldeshi, Pakistani and the generic Westerner, sprinkled with the odd Chinese/Japanese.  You see them everywhere, and now we are part of them.

Driving is still a challenge, as my automatic reflexes are still firmly locked to the other side of the car, so there's been a few close calls.  But Omani's, despite manic driving and apparent disregard for road rules readily make way and flag you through.  Which is an interesting juxtaposition with the high beam flash from behind when the (high speed) queue of cars you are in isn't going fast enough for the guy that just wants to get on with it.  The general speed limit seems to be 80k, and on the express-ways it's up to 120k. Speed signs are few and far between and there are speed camera's at regular intervals.  But, I am advised these are set to 20k over the limit and that fact seems to be well known.

Yesterday we ate out before coming home to a movie and a late night (after 10), well it is the weekend.  Our meal at the Indian fast food place was filling and at about $8 for the two of us good value.  Mind you 3/4 of a tank of fuel in the little (tardis like) Mazda2 we have cost even less!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The first full work week

Well what a week that was. A full week of negotiations with vendors.  No need to bore anyone with the detail, but it was a hard slog.  But today I did get the key to my new office, a computer and access arrives some time soon.  In their words "the day after tomorrow" (that kind of means whenever it happens).

For three days it's been "overcast" which in this case was simply dust hanging in the air, apparently it was like that across most of the Middle East.

In the mean time my details have gone off for processing by the Immigration people so I will soon get the call to finalise the visa and resident card.

The week at work was an education.  The concept of doing business here is interesting and at times there were conversations underway in three languages.  Made getting agreement and finalisation of things interesting, not to mention that people were wandering and out of the room almost at will to take phone calls or whatever. Think of, well I can't really think of an example off the top of my head.  One of the things that will be a challenge here is getting process sorted, so that we have a methodology in place to get things on a professional footing.  gah!  Imagine going into a week of negotiations relying on two new arrivals, essentially because we're expats. Mind you I am thankful that the other guy was there, he represents a major consultancy on the project.

Apart from that we went and found ourselves a place to rent.  It's a little (ish) two bedroom villa with an external kitchen - yes you read that right - an external kitchen.  Katrina is reasonably happy with that as it means that none of the heat generated by cooking will be in the house.  Must admit that sounds just fine to me, in a place where nine months of the year are hot Australian summer hot, plus a bit. On some days that reported iPad3 fault of heating to 47 degrees just might provide a little cooling!

The main attractions of the villa are that it is in what looks to be a quiet area, is enclosed by a full height wall, it has a well established garden with an outside sitting area (under a gazebo) and rooftop access with reasonable views. And it's quite cheap, a bit of a win there, especially as we didn't understand about some critical aspects of rental here.  All leases have to be registered with the Government office. One month bond - fine, three to six months rent up front - What - and unfurnished means just that, nothing!  And by nothing I mean nothing. Tennants provide curtains, curtain rods, all white goods (including stove) and so on.  Last night turned into a mega shopping expedition, buying a stove, two fridges, washing machine, tv, bedroom suite and table.  Fortunately the previous residents left a few chairs and other bits and bobs lying around.  That's the essential furniture dealt with the rest can come later.  By the way you can't buy "off the floor" which means there's a few days between purchase and delivery.  But at least they then do the lugging and setup.

Unlike Australia the gas is bottled, and refills occur when you flag down one of the little orange trucks. There's also no rubbish collection, but that's fine as there are plenty of public skips scattered around the place.  The non Arabic TV is cable and internet while not cheap is not exorbitant, and priced on download speed not usage. Mind you slow speeds also require payment for download, so it wouldn't take long before paying for faster download was cheaper.

Finished off the work week with a luncheon for the team and the potential vendor.  My, my, my. There would be photo's but my phone decided to keel over as the small amount of tethering I had done earlier savaged the battery, but:  Lunch was served on enamelled and gilded plates - four courses and WOW it's two hours since I stopped eating and I think there may be the potential to move in another hour or so.  Omani Halwa, unlike what we see in Australia is gelatinous and often has nuts interspersed through it.  It's also made with (I believe) raw sugar and you can really taste that coming through.

And I still find the call to prayer rather lyrical.

A bit of our garden to be:

And I know Katrina posted it, but then I take em n Katrina posts em.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Camels Are Coming

Yes I know the title is a hokey Biggles reference.  But to be fair it is kind of appropriate.

Well we arrived in Muscat Oman on Monday morning.  Rather tired after the trip, mind you it's nowhere near as long as the haul to or from Europe, so there's really nothing to complain about.  Like all long haul flights this one had little to recommend itself.

It was rather pleasing to be met in the arrivals hall at the airport and escorted through the visa process, Customs clearance and provided with an airport attendant to manage our bags.  That was all good and Katrina tells me we were watched rather closely by all the other passengers as we ignored and cut across queues.  Now that's the way to do an international arrival.

When we got out of the Customs area it was straight off to arrange local SIM cards and pick up our hire car.  Although Oman Police had put on a driver and SUV as well.  So he took the baggage and we followed very carefully in his wheel tracks.  And another win here, I had ordered a Corolla, but the hire company fronted a Camry!  That's just fine by me, a little more sheet metal around us while we learn to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Tuesday was induction day.  Much of it spent sitting in the HR office and then the Police Hospital undergoing medical checks as part of the commencement process.  Unfortunately this co-incided with the induction checks for a trainee cohort of 100plus.  Mind you we had our friendly driver from the day before, Sultan, who seemed to know everyone and somehow our checks just seemed to miraculously occur much quicker than for the trainees.  They tell me that when this is all finished I will have the status of an officer within the Customs Division.

Katrina and I are staying at the Police Club, funnily enough in the same apartment that I had when I came over for a week in October/November.  It's adequate, but not digs we would want for long term.  Essentially a bedroom, lounge, kitchen and shower/toilet.  Mind you having daily service including laundry helps a lot.  There's also the benefit of the Police Club itself which includes gym, spa, sauna and a wet bar.  Good food at more than reasonable prices.  The lunch buffet for two with a juice and water cost a max of $5 a head.  Hope that we can get food elsewhere for similar prices.  What little shopping we have done seems on the whole to be significantly cheaper than in Australia. The one or two things that aren't includes internet access.

We got the full monty guided tour of the club, so here's Katrina with a model traditional Omani boat - rather significant as for some time Oman had a rather substantial trade empire, stretching well down into Africa.  They also have a wood panelled lounge set up to mimic a ward room of an old timber ship. Oh BTW the man standing to attention in the background painting is the Sultan, who is well beloved and appears pretty much everywhere.

On Monday afternoon we had just finished unpacking and setting up when Katrina heard the tortured strains of bagpipes and drums. Must have been her musical affinity shining through  That it seems was the Oman Police (Camel) Mounted Bagpipe Band.  So we took ourselves off to the gates of the mounted police training school for a look see.  Come back tomorrow morning they told us.

So we did and got a guided tour through the complex and personal introductions and performance from some of the camels.  They maintain camel patrols through the more inaccessible parts of the country as well as using the camels and horses as PR exercises. Camel mounted tent pegging??  Gotta see that!

 Katrina being "presented" with a flower by a camel.
Me feeding the newest recruit, who is one to two months old.

As we wandered around the mounted training school they fed us local coffee (spiced with cardamon). That may have helped elevate my blood pressure which the doctor picked up during the checks and then sent me off for an ECG.  All good they said.  Apparently I have a heart and it's in good condition. Of course they may have just said that and...........

This left hand driving lark is a bit of a challenge so far.  It's the middle of the Gulf Co-operation Council road safety week.  Brochures in the shops and so on.  Don't seem to be making much of a difference as the general attitude to driving seems to be rather lacksidaisical.  What's this indicator caper? Lane change no problem, see I just did it.  In a country of three million they topped 1000 in road deaths last year.

So defensive driving seems the order of the day.  The biggest issue is getting our heads around the navigation thing.  So far we've learnt that general practice seems to be to go past where you want to go and turn around at the next roundabout, that freeway entrances are counter intuitive and all roads seem at some point or another to lead to the Sultan department store, which is not very big! Oh and Katrina keeps thinking things are in the opposite direction to where they are.

Not a bad start all in all.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

There was movement at the station,

For the word had got around.....

Yes we are cleared for launch,...  Just got formal confirmation overnight and have been making travel arrangements, but for various reasons we were unable to finalise the booking  last night. So on our way into town this morning to finalise things.  All this means we should be on the road this Sunday.  The next installment will be from "over there".  YAY, had enough of this waiting lark.

Anyhow late last week I arranged for us to spend a couple of days in Daylesford.  We picked a hire car up on Thursday and drove down to Daylesford to spend a couple of days at Mum n Dad's bush retreat.  We took residence in "Heath Cottage" alongside the main house.  Mind you the drive down was interesting - not having lived in Melbourne for 20+ years my navigation was a bit up the spout, and as we were both getting a bit short and scratchy it made for an interesting drive.  Further heightened by the filthy weather, I'd reached the point of questioning the wisdom of not paying an extra $24 a day in insurance well before we rounded a corner to find a tree down on the road.  Only delayed us a few minutes, as this being the country there was a 4wd with tow rope attached to said tree and ready to go.  Of course me being me I had to get out and break branches and straighten roadside markers before driving off.

(Road's clear, markers almost straight)

We did however make it safely through to Porcupine Ridge.  At which point we retreated inside and stayed there until Friday morning.

Mmmmm.  Time out and relaxation, something we both desperately needed - or was that simply a new environment where we were uncontactable.  Yep there aint no mobile reception out there for us city slickers.  Vodaphone country coverage - nuff said.

(Heath cottage with post spa togs drying out back)

(And across to the main house)

Not bad for an owner builder project, using rocks from the block and fittings from clearance sales.  It's even more speccy inside!  Ok if you insist, here's an inside photo as well...

So a day was spent trawling "antique" shops, which I have to say resulted in purchases.  I upped my Biggles collection by two!  Unfortunate all the others are in storage.  And then the main event, we went to the Hepburn Springs bath house and spent a rather relaxing couple of hours soaking in spa water.  The big pool, the spa pool (with spa lounges - strategically placed over water/air jets), the salt pool, the monsoon shower, the steam room - rinse and repeat!  Some time later two bedraggled and rather wrinkled critters emerged from the bath house and wended a rather boneless way back to Mum n Dad's.  Well and truly in time for a dose of Miss Phrynne Fisher's Murder Mysteries.  Rather topical this week as we were in fact somewhere between Melbourne and Ballarat, for Murder on the Ballarat Train.  A rather pleasant evening with Mum N Dad.

On the way back to Melbourne we stopped at Macedon to visit Antoinne and Lara, old time SCA people we hadn't seen for a few (maybe add a few) years.  A pleasant interlude and much to catch up on.  We were a bit surprised the following day when being loose end we cycled from Ashburton across to John Knight Memorial Park to to watch the Monthly Bash and much to our surprise ran into Antoinne and Lara who had decided to attend their first event in years.  Mind you we did catch up with quite a lot of other people there as well.

Would seem that I have neglected my stretching for a little too long as the combination of that, the spa and walking (more being towed by) the dog has resulted in my lower back going out.  Ahhh ouch came on big time as I walked around bits of Melbourne with my father in-law Ray, while Katrina went to a quilters meeting with her mum.  Katrina won a raffle prize - a little quilting kit, well she did need things to do in Oman once the thesis is finished.   So back to Ashburton and a slow afternoon with the back and some stretching.  It is on the improve.

And so finally we are on the brink of the move..... And once again just in time for me to not realise my ambition of going to an F1 Grand Prix.