mcgillianaire: (Default)
(via [profile] jhall)


Create Your Own Visited Countries Map


28 countries which include Bahrain, Ireland, Netherlands, and Qatar where I didn't exit the airport and I know most people wouldn't count them, but I do so. :-P The closest I've been to the southern hemisphere is Singapore in the summer of 1989 (1.17N). And I've yet to hit up Latin America, Africa and Oceania.



Create Your Own Visited States Map


19 states + DC which includes Tennessee which I've just flown through and a couple that I've just driven through. I'll be spending a weekend in Nashville this month for a stag-do so I guess this list will be more *legit* than my countries visited.



Create Your Own Visited Provinces and Territories Map


Four years in Canada but just the three provinces visited. I'll be returning to Toronto (and Canada) for the first time in 11 years this September for a college mate's wedding.



Create Your Own Visited European Countries Map
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
There's no doubt the highlight of my trip to Oman was spending time with dad's 7-month old pooch. He's grown quite a bit since dad brought him home three months ago. I grew very attached to him and it took me at least a week to get over him after flying back to London. Even though dad, sis and I loved dogs, mum never let us keep one. She used to say we'd all go off to work/school, leaving her to look after the dog. Then years later our best friends left their Japanese spitz with us for one weekend. I remember mum telling me that looking after the dog wasn't such a terrible experience. She was never fond of dogs but I'm sure she would've grown to love Nero. He's such an adorable puppy, even if he refused to obey me most of the time! But like dogs in general, he never failed to follow my every movement. That's one thing everybody loves about dogs, loyalty. Wish I'd smuggled Nero out with me!



3 More Pics of Nero )
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)

A photostitch of the exquisite interior of Muscat's new Royal Opera House.

Best buddies from high school.
Beach-side shisha cafes.
Football.
Gorgeous weather.
Home-cooked food.
New "family" members.
Indian satellite TV.
Dinner parties.
Chilled-out badminton sessions.
Bargain-priced new clothes.
Cheap nights out.
Swan Lake by the Mariinsky Ballet in Muscat's new Royal Opera House.

Remind me, what is it about London that trumps all of that?!
mcgillianaire: (Ari G)

Last night's New Year Party theme was Tangerine.

Lose weight, eat less, get a training contract, date more girls, manage my money better... bloody hell, if I'd not known better I'd say it's just like 2011 all over again. Here's to less of more of the same. Hope you're all well and wish you the very best in 2012!
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)

My sister arrived in Oman a few days ago and is having lots of fun with our puppy. I can't wait to join them at the end of the week!
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
A year ago, the Sultanate of Oman was celebrating four decades of His Majesty's rule* and everything looked rosy. A month later Mohamed Bouazizi's self immolation in Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring. What an eleven months its been since then.

The question of His Majesty's successor assumes even more significance than it did before. Who will it be? And will he receive the wholehearted support of his Omani subjects, in the same way as his predecessor, the incumbent Sultan? GOK.

(* Although November 18 is celebrated as National Day, it is actually the Sultan's birthday. His Majesty came to power on 23 July 1970.)
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)

A recent picture from Al Madina Plaza in Madinat Qaboos where some cheeky chappy re-arranged the letters of the shopping centre entrance sign. Apparently it went unnoticed for a week! (via Muscat Mutterings blog)
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
Little known nugget: thanks to Oman and the UK conducting their censuses within weeks of each other, I have been officially counted in both. The final results of the Sultanate's population were released on Sunday.

Since the last census in 2003, the total population of Oman has grown 432,664 from 2,340,815 to 2,773,479. This includes 1,957,336 Omanis (71%) and 816,143 expats (29%). The country is split into four governorates and five regions, which are further sub-divided into sixty-one wilayats. The capital area of Muscat makes up one governorate and recorded a population of 775,878 followed closely by the adjacent Batinah region with 772,590. The top ten wilayats were Seeb (302,992), Bausher (192,235), Salalah (172,570), Muttrah (150,124), Sohar (140,006), Ibri (116,416), Suwaiq (111,711), Barka (96,407), Saham (93,438) and Nizwa (84,528).

Apparently 20,000 copies of the final results have been issued in booklet form but none of the four English dailies shared much detail beyond what I've typed above, and the official website has yet to be updated! It would've been nice to know the demographic breakup on the basis of gender, occupation, family size, geographic distribution of Omanis and expatriates etc. I'm sure this information will be made available on the official website in due course. This was the third official census to take place in Oman, with the first in 1993 counting a population of approximately 2.1 million - a tiny number of people for a country of its size (100,000+ sq mi)!

Rex

Apr. 21st, 2011 02:00 pm
mcgillianaire: (Default)


Dad's given him away to another family because he was too aggressive. It's been a steep but eye-opening learning curve. Ultimately, we've decided to go back to Plan A and settle on a pure breed black labrador or boxer.
mcgillianaire: (Muscat (Sultan's Palace))
Muscat is currently hosting the 2nd Asian Beach Games but really, who cares? You can't take an event seriously with the name beach in it, especially not one in which you can win medals for tent pegging! It's a popular sport in these parts. Apparently the opening ceremony was flash. Not surprisingly, the crowds have been thin except for the beach soccer in which the hosts are defending champs. Coinciding with the Games but not related to it is the World Fireworks Championship also being hosted in Muscat as part of Oman's 40th National Day celebrations. Six teams from USA, France, Italy, Australia, UK and China are taking part. I've seen some of it but honestly, there's only so many displays you can watch till you get bored. Even if you add a soundtrack. Today beach and pyrotechnics, tomorrow the World Cup?
mcgillianaire: (Ministry of Sound)


On Friday evening I went to a South Indian/Carnatic classical music concert with my dad and some of his friends. The star attraction was U. Srinivas (see video above) who plays the mandolin. He was accompanied by his brother who also plays the mandolin and four others on traditional South Indian percussion instruments, including three of my favourites: the ghatam (an earthenware pot), the morsing (played between the teeth!) and the mridangam (the South Indian tabla). They played for over three hours and it was held at Muscat's open air amphitheatre. The event was organised by the Tamil Wing of the Indian Social Club and over a thousand people attended. There were four types of tickets, two of which cost 5 Rials ($13) & 10 Rials each, while the others were complimentary and split into VIPs & VVIPs.

We had VVIP tickets which meant we sat in the front row, but to the extreme left side. I would've preferred to sit a few rows back in a more centrally located seat. In any case, it didn't really matter as long as the performance lived up to its hype. And that it did. I'm not well versed with the intricacies of Indian classical music (North or South), but even I could appreciate the mastery of Mr Srinivas. And his accompanying troupe were not too shabby either. Each South Indian classical work usually runs 15-20 minutes and of the 8 or 9 performed, I recognised about half. A couple of them were crowd favourites and elicited finger-whistling from the rowdier sections. There were even calls for more.

All in all, a very pleasant experience. I got twitchy towards the end but I'm glad I went. South Indian classical music is even less unknown than North Indian/Hindustani classical but is just as good, if not better. I've always been fascinated by how western (classical) instruments have often been adopted by South Indian musicians into its classical fold and to great effect. The violin is by far the most popular choice but the most notable is the saxophone, exemplified by the maestro par excellence, Kadri Gopalnath. He's worth a YouTube search.
mcgillianaire: (Muscat (Sultan's Palace))
Nicholas D. Kristof thinks education can solve the world's problems. He's only partially right but it's still worth a read. (via my sister)
mcgillianaire: (Oman)


Oman rarely makes BBC headlines. It's rarer still when they make it to the Beeb's 10 most popular stories. Mais quelle surprise? The country with one of the world's highest military expenditures as a percentage of GDP, has *knocked* on 10 Downing St for some fighter jets. There are just so many things wrong with this story, I can't even be bothered to get into it. But the best bit is where the PMs spokesman says the sale will help secure British jobs. Though it seems he forgot to say whether these would be for British workers. An oversight perhaps? :)
mcgillianaire: (Golden Gate Bridge)

The last time we celebrated my mum's birthday as a family, and a special occasion it was - her 50th! (10 June 2008, Muscat)

On the night of 9th April, my sister and her team of volunteers will camp overnight and take turns walking around the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life track to raise money, awareness and save more lives from cancer. It would be nice if you could make a donation towards their cause and the still larger cause of a cancer-free world! Thanks a lot for all your support, both before and after her death. :)
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)


In the midst of my exams I failed to notice a road bicycle race that has descended upon the shores of the Sultanate for the first time this year! The Tour of Oman is a part of the UCI Asia Tour, is classified as a 2.1 and is run by the Amaury Sport Organisation. Held between the 14th and 19th of February, the race consisted of six stages, mainly flat ones with some hillier parts. Some chap called Fabian Cancellara won the first event. Not bad Oman, first this and next the Asian Beach Games later this year. For a country almost unheard of in many parts of the world not too long ago, you are slowly but surely making your presence felt on the global stage. Yalla Oman, keep it up!
mcgillianaire: (Oman)


You don't normally associate Oman with firsts but there's always a first for everything! Next month Oman Air, the Sultanate's national carrier, is to become the first airline to offer full in-flight access to mobile phone and internet via WiFi. And it's not just for First or Business class, but also for us plebs in Economy. It's all thanks to the EU's approval to in-flight mobile phone calls in April 2008 and the new Airbus ALNA V2 system using Honeywell's SwiftBroadband (SBB) solution. But the system has only been installed onto Oman Air's A330 fleet which assumes special significance for me because later this summer, I will be flying non-stop between Heathrow and Muscat on those exact aircraft! And what's more, the connectivity follows the introduction of Oman Air's latest in-flight entertainment system that offers four channels of live TV, audio-video on-demand, an iPod connection and USB ports. So not only is it the only airline to fly non-stop between London and Muscat, but it has live TV, USB* and WiFi connectivity. Oman a global leader. The mind boggles.

LINKS:
-Oman Air launches onboard phone and Wi-Fi (Arabian Supply Chain)
-Airline offers in-flight mobile and Wi-Fi (WebUser.co.uk)
-Oman Air launches full mobile phone and wifi connectivity (Global Arab Network)
-Oman Air to roll out mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity on new Airbus A330 aircraft (TMCnet.com)

(* Though, I did first experience an USB port and electric socket in Economy on an Emirates A380 aircraft last month. That was sweet!)
mcgillianaire: (Default)
Since August last year I have made three trips to India (via Bahrain, Dubai and Mumbai) and two trips to Oman (via Bahrain and Doha). I started each journey from four different airports (Heathrow Terminal's 3 & 4, Gatwick, Muscat and Chennai). In all those journeys the thing that stood out the most was the sharp contrast in security checks in each airport. It stood out for three main reasons.

Firstly, London's two biggest airports had been in a heightened state of alert since 9/11, 7/7 and particularly 10/8 (The August 2006 Transatlantic Aircraft Plot). Secondly, India had been victim to several terrorist attacks in recent years and were in the midst of an intelligence crisis involving a potential conspirator in the Mumbai Attacks of November 2008, who had allegedly made several trips to India, including one to Mumbai days before the attack. And thirdly, that the so-called police-state dictatorships of the Middle East had a more than passing interest in the current climate of the global terrorist threat and significantly, its implications on their security.

You'd think that most, if not all the airports I flew through would have had a fairly standardised (ie, stringent and thorough) system of security checks. Wrong. The gulf in security particularly that for hand-luggage, between the London airports and their Middle Eastern and Indian counterparts struck me as ironic. Here was a liberal democracy inconveniencing and invading the privacy of every passenger in the name of security, while in the authoritarian East there was a comparatively negligent and indifferent attitude to security.

In London, pat downs were performed on every single passenger, regardless of whether the metal checker detected anything or not. Rarely was one allowed to walk through the detector with their shoes and belt on. All liquids/sprays had to be in 100ml (or less) containers and scanned separately by the X-ray machine. Laptops and jacket-like clothings also had to be taken off/out and scanned separately by the X-ray machine. And following the alleged incident on Christmas Day, the authorities now want to rush in the body scanners. Civil liberty campaigners have challenged the government on whether the scans will contravene our child pornography laws.

In comparison, the security in the Middle East and India was almost non-existent. Few pat downs, hardly any of them as thorough as the ones in London. If the metal detector beeped and the security area was not teeming with passengers, the security guy would perform a token check with a handheld detector, but most of the time they seemed uninterested. None of the airports necessitated liquids/sprays to be held in transparent ziploc bags and not once did I see any container above 100ml disposed of. On every transit journey via Bahrain, Doha and Dubai, I was able to keep the 500ml+ bottle of water with me that I had picked up in either Mucat, Chennai or London Duty Free. And until Heathrow nabbed my 150ml deodorant on my latest trip last month, not even London's airports detected its illegitimate passage across the world and back in twelve separate journeys between August and November.

Unfortunately, I'm still not sure how strongly I feel about airport security. On the one hand I want air travel to be safe, especially as my family, friends and I frequently use it. On the other hand, I don't feel true to my liberal ideals by accepting these erosions into our personal spaces and civil liberties for the sake of protecting air travel. I'm not even sure the security in London's airports are as effective as they are made out to be necessary, especially when one considers that the more relaxed security regime in the Middle East and India has not resulted in any incident till date. Yet I get the distinct impression that the halcyon era of stress-free air travel has disappeared forever. Each new attack will erode the few existing liberties that remain and it could have a huge impact on global travel.
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)

Eating breakfast, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper before heading to work. (August 2009)

The difference between Dubai and Muscat is ambition. Yet so much has changed since my last visit in June 2008, that there are parts of Muscat which are barely recognisable. There are a lot of new roads, and changes to existing ones. Most, if not all the flyover roundabouts have been replaced with traffic signal intersections. Two new freeways are under construction. A second CityCentre (the Dubai-based shopping mall) has opened in Qurum. A new Royal Opera House, the Sultan's pet project, is under construction next to the Intercon. A huge new building is coming up by LuLu Shopping Centre in Baushar. My school of twelve years has a new High School block and a new Multi Purpose Hall that is connected to the Sports Hall. Inside the Multi Purpose Hall is a collection of photos displaying the school's early history. My parents put it together. And then there's the two big buildings coming up outside the school. Congestion alert!

But unlike Dubai, there are no skyscrapers because strict Omani planning laws only permit buildings of modest height. Not so long ago, these laws were relaxed ever so slightly, and in the midst of the construction boom, several landlords/developers exploited the situation. Except the global economy went tits up and construction came to a halt. Several buildings remain embarrassingly bald at the top.

I'm not sure how I feel about the changes. Part of the charm about coming back was to reconnect with a place that seemed to take pride in ignoring Dubai's lightning growth. Almost nothing ever changed and it was easy to feel at ease and at home. Not anymore...
mcgillianaire: (London Weather Forecast)
It's 2am and it feels 41°C with 83% humidity in the shade. Some things never change...
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
"He's right - ignore it. Mr. Gandhi will find it's going to take a great deal more than a pinch of salt to bring down the British Empire."
~ Lord Irwin in Gandhi (the film), referring to the Dandi Salt March in 1930 ~

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