Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Service with a Smile

Apologies for the interruption, normal services shall resume shortly.
This post is one I have been meaning to write for some time, but had not got around to it for one reason (excuse) or another and, is dedicated to Suburban, because she asked so nicely.

Has anyone been to Al Ain Airshow? I have,.................twice.
Originally I thought it would be pretty cool to take the boys to the Dubai Air Show extravaganza, but then I found out it was trade only – How stupid is that???
Well, last year without knowing anything about it, I took Jacob (Oscar was too small) and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t big or glitzy by any stretch of the imagination, there was precious little on the ground to keep you interested (kind of reminded me of the farmer’s market in my home town), but the pilots put on some wonderful displays and there was a decent play area available for when the children got bored or restless.
Well, one year had past and Oscar, being a confirmed petrol head and wannabee fly boy, was in need of his first real fix, so I decided to take the boys up to Al Ain for the day. We were joined by one of Jacob’s friends (Will) and his father for a decidedly boy’s day out and by eight o’clock we were on our way.
It takes about two and a half hours from Muscat to reach the border at Buraymi, nothing interesting to report with the boys plugged in to their respective gadgets and the normal antics of taxi drivers and driving instructors raising the occasional eyebrow, that is until we reached the border crossing.
For the first time ever, we were directed to park up and go inside the building, I have been so used to breezing through without getting out of the car I was taken somewhat by surprise. The Royal Omani Police were as gracious, warm and friendly as ever, and other than pointing out that their computers said Jacob was Irish (I checked, he's not), there was nothing to report and we were soon on our way.
We quickly crossed no-mans land and pulled up at the appropriate UAE border post window (Insert metaphorical screeching of brakes), when we were asked to park up and go into a second building. Here we had a retina scan and were then directed to go back to the first building to get our passports stamped with an entry visa.
On arrival at the first building we were informed that he couldn’t stamp our passports (???) and we needed to proceed to a third building.
On arrival at the third building the guard told us to go back to the first building.
On arrival at the first building we waited for ten minutes until one of the guards decided that he would rather not have three bored boys anywhere near him and took me back to the third building. Here, he kicked the guy out from behind his computer and did the whole immigration thingameejigg himself.
Having now got appropriately stamped passports, we bundled ourselves back into the car and headed off to the customs building…….but that’s another story.
So FINALLY, we arrived at Al Ain airport just in time to see the first display of model aircraft. Now, before you ask I’m not talking about the little things that you get from LuLu’s or Toys’R’Us , but really BIG boys toys (The sort of thing that would ensure you had a really bad day if it hit you).
I remember the previous year walking in from a distance and seeing these aircraft perform all manner of aerobatic tricks, knowing that something was not quite right, but not knowing quite what. It wasn’t until I saw concord fly past in a slow nose up maneuver that I relised I was watching models…………….Doh!
So we had a walk around and the good new is that the air show is maturing. There is still the farmer’s market feel, but way more to see than the previous year.
There was a Ferrari F1 car on display with Etihad, a Citroen rally car, a UAE F16 Falcon, Apache Helicopter and a Dassault Mirage, oh and a certain Oscar who was beside himself with excitement.

The fire fighting services had a display but was unfortunately unmanned (Fireman Sam would have gone down a storm) and a Bedu tent complete with falcons for the children to get up close and personal with.

The real winner though, were the three (real) cockpits brought over by a couple from Yorkshire in which visitors and more importantly boys could sit. I’m sure Oscar would have spent the whole day there given half a chance.

There was a English Electric Lightning, a Harrier Jump Jet and a Hawker Hunter to choose from and at one point, whilst I was helping Jacob and his friend Will clamber in and out of the Lightning, Oscar took himself off, circumvented the security, climbed the ladder and managed to get himself half way into the Hunter before I or anyone else had spotted him.

The show itself was great fun with jets, single prop aerobatic planes, pylon racers, bi planes and parachutists all doing their bit to thrill the crowds. Many Ooo’s and Aah’s ensued, culminating with a wide eyed WOW!!!! When a Buccaneer proceeded to do a bombing and strafing run on the airfield (Courtesy of some discreetly placed pyrotechnics, shsss!......don’t tell the children!

Soon enough it was time to head home, and with the boys all in commemorative T-shirts we drove back to the UAE border.
On arrival at the first building our passports were withheld and we were asked to park up. We duly did so and collected our passports and returned to the third building. On completing five sets of exit forms, I proceeded to hand over our passports at the very desk that our entry had be recorded five hours earlier.
Everything went swimmingly until they got to the last passport, mine.

Guard: Where have you been?
Me: Al Ain Air Show
Guard: No, since 2009
Me: ????? and ? eh, Oman
Me: I came for the air show with my children, my entry was approved at this very desk five hours ago.
Me: I live in Oman and my children can’t drive yet!
Guard: The computer says you didn’t leave the UAE in 2009, do you speak Arabic?
Me: Yes I did and no I don’t

At this point a kindly Omani gentleman decided to intervene on my behalf and listen to the conversation between the Guard and his colleague.
I am convinced that the question as to my knowledge of Arabic was for no ones benefit, but solely to allow the guards to verbally abuse me without my knowledge, for in the words of my new found Omani friend, “They are not saying very nice things about you.”, the look on his face told me so much more.
I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart that the UAE border guards come second only to the USA for being miserable SoB’s. A great first impression for visitors to your country, way to go guys!
Word of advice, if you are planning to bad mouth a person in the belief that they won’t understand you, make sure there are no translators on hand. Better still STFU (excuse the profanity) and then no one gets upset.

The only other comment to be made about the day is the arrival of a strategically placed service station on the Muscat side of Sohar.
I think it is a shell petrol station, which is only important in identifying the location from a distance. Attached to it is a building with a Khimji’s Mart at one end and a pizzeria on the other. On entering the building, one finds themselves in a quadrangle of eateries, with a couple of enclosed play areas for the children.
Given that we usually pass this way early evening (ie. the boys tea time), it makes for the perfect opportunity to stretch ones legs and feed the family before embarking on the final leg of the journey home. Well done to whoever thought of building it!!

Oh, and one other thing whilst I am on the subject of service stations, am I the only one that compares Muscat service station convenience stores to the Cold War??
What is it with the Al Maha ‘Souk’???
On one side we have Oman Oil and Shell convenience stores, well lit, clean and well stocked shelves (everything you would expect of a ‘convenience’ store), whilst on the other we have the Al Maha Souk with untidy, grubby, ‘new’ inconvenience stores, shelves predominately empty and, the goods available appealing to the desperate only.
I half expect to see a bread queue of ancient eastern European women patiently waiting outside.

Come on guys, why are you even bothering?


bahman2000 said...

I've met Oscar. He and my daughter are in the same nursery.

Owners of Souk in Al Maha are changing, Al Fair is taking over the management, this was in recent newspaper.

Suburban said...

You are soooo right about the UAE border guards. The Worst.

Some daft twat turned me around at the border, because the Omani stamp in my passport wasn't "Dark Enough"

On my return, with a new and sufficiently dark Omani Exit stamp, we had the following conversation:

DT: You are back?
ME: Clearly I am. (handover passport, she stamps it)
DT: How Long you stay?
ME: two days. Excuse me, but are you by any chance Bidou? (Big Smile)
DT: (patting Hijab, smiling) No, Why?
ME: I just thought, since you have that Mustache and Unibrow.... Anyway, Have a nice day!
DT: (Stunned silence)

Great Post James. Write more.

expa mummy said...

Oh crap if Al Fair are taking over double the prices ad everything will be ut of date!

Expat mummy said...

Sorry I'm typing on an old and tempermental keyboard!!