The Middle East: Oman & Dubai

To go from Mumbai, India to Muscat, Oman is like going from one end of the order/cleanliness scale to the other! Oman is a pristine, spotless city plunked down in what used to be desert. Oman is located on the Straight of Hormuz, at one of the most strategic spots in the world.

My wife, Nikki, and I both grew up in the Reformed Church in America, the denomination in which I am ordained, and our fathers were ministers. So we grew up with visiting missionaries talking about Oman. The Reformed Church in America began schools and a hospital in Oman in 1893 under pioneer missionary Samuel Zwemer. Oman was a relatively poor desert sheikdom and the church provided medical care to former slaves [Oman had been deeply involved in the Arab slave trade], lepers, established the first women’s hospital in the mid East, and established schools where often members of the royal family studied. That mission continued for 81 years until the discovery of oil suddenly catapulted Oman into enormous wealth and the medical and educational institutions were absorbed into government systems.

Oman is a country of great contrasts: endless deserts, high mountain peaks, lush oasis settlements, and a huge coastline. Famous in antiquity for frankincense and myrrh, it’s likely that the Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus were carrying gifts that originated in the area around Oman. Entering Muscat one immediately notices the large monument of an incense burner that dominates the skyline.

Oman controls one side of the Strait of Hormuz, the other side being Iran. Get the picture? At narrowest point the Strait is only 29 miles wide (54 km, since I’m becoming bi-system). Daily 15 giant tankers carrying 17 million barrels of crude pass through the Strait of Hormuz. This represents 40% of the world’s seaborne oil shipments, and 20% of all world shipments. Oman therefore spends more than any country in the world on its military (as a percentage of GNP).

 is an absolute monarchy and almost totally Muslim, but a more moderate style of Islam than its neighbors. Women dress very conservatively, but the King, Qaboos bin Said al Said Sultan is divorced, a religious liberal, and very progressive.

1972 is when money started flowing in from oil. Today Oman pumps 900,000 barrels of oil per day. That’s about $64 MILLION US per DAY flowing into the country! So life is good for the Omanis. There are no taxes period. Nada. Education is compulsory and school is totally free. Anyone with decent grades gets a university education free. When Omanis are 24 years old they receive 700-800 square meters of land from the government, men and women, as a gift. While many women dress in conservative Muslim dress, men and women are equal, and receive equal education. 4 government ministers are women, and 25% of the elected parliament members are women. Gas is $1 a gallon, but drinking water is $2 a gallon.

Everyone on DAWN PRINCESS left Oman wanting more. The people were warm and welcoming, the culture was fascinating, and most people were anxious to return.

 Dubai, United Arab Republic, on the other hand . . . was like Las Vegas on steroids without gambling, women and booze, in other words just sand blowing in the wind, ostentatious everything and more money flowing, at least amongst the 800,000 highly privileged and pampered natives. The height of Dubai culture . . . the latest shopping mall. For most of us Dubai was a giant . . . and dirty, dusty . . . disappointment.

Yes, like junior high school boys in the shower, they can boast the biggest erection . . . and Burj Dubai IS impressive, make no mistake about it . . . but its function seems to be nothing more than another excuse for Dubai to brag and show off. Yes, the malls are spectacular, and since there is nothing else to do . . . And why these folks would want to go to the mall to sky when they could hop in their private jets and be off to the Alps is beyond me. No taxes – big advantage, but the price of doing business in Dubai is that you must have a lazy native who gets a piece of the action, for doing nothing. Most native Dubai folk have their names on five or more foreign companies and do nothing but collect their percentage of the profits. The beaches are hot and like the rest of the country, rather bland. The water makes you wet, but doesn’t cool you off. There are men’s beaches . . . just for the guys . . . how sweet, and women’s beaches, just for the women to lay out in their bikinis without any men to appreciate, or ogle, the goods. Whatever!

Cruiser Beware!

I just ignorantly paid Princess Cruises $35 to change $300 US to 215 Euros – 244 Euros should have been the actual exchange rate. So Princess charges 29 Euros or $35 to change! Since the ship is based in Australia, DAWN PRINCESS uses Australian dollars. So they insist on changing money from US to Australian, pocketing one charge, then to Euros, pocketing another charge, so dinging you twice on their lower-than-the-going exchange rate. A hotel ashore would have the same lousy exchange rate, but not force you through two currency exchanges. But, needing Euros and being a busy crew member taking care of Princess guests, I didn’t have opportunity to get ashore and try yet another HSBC cash machine. My past two attempts at HSBC ATMs, in two different countries, were unsuccessful. Yes, the kiosks were there, but both times the ATMs were either broken or out of money. HSBC may tout itself as “the world’s bank” . . . but, so far at least, it appears to be about the same abroad as in Panama. Although I must say that whenever I’ve used HSBC in the US, in Fort Lauderdale, Beverly Hills, and Seattle, I have experienced excellent customer service. Too bad the rest of the HSBC world can’t take a clue from the US operation.

Yet again, the LOUSY INTERNET on board ship, strikes . . . and I have to do this same, costly operation twice!  I hate the company that provides Internet to almost all cruise ships!  They blame everything on the satellite connection.  I blame it on just not buying a big enough pipe to handle the traffic, or old equipment.    So I have to do this whole thing twice, while they rack up the money.  Quick, reliable, dependable Internet on board cruise ships shouldn’t be a luxury.  The Internet is as important in a stateroom as a flush toilet.  Get with it folks!

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