31 July 2007

Creative ways to make Money

Don't ever mention again that you don't "make enough" money. If you have half a brain, you could probably come up with a better idea than this to make money:

China seeks profit from panda poo

Mon Jul 30, 11:35 PM ET
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese wildlife research centre has come up with a novel idea to profit from panda poo -- make Olympic souvenirs out of it.

Researchers at the centre in Chengdu, capital of mountainous Sichuan province, had sculpted photo frames, bookmarks, fans and panda statues out of the 300 tonnes of the stuff produced by 60 giant pandas each year, state media said on Tuesday.

Jing Shimin, assistant to the director of the base, proudly declared that the souvenirs would be relatively odour-free.

"They don't smell too bad because 70 percent of the dung is just remains of the bamboo that the pandas are unable to digest," he told Xinhua news agency.

"We used to spend at least 6,000 yuan (390 pounds) a month to get rid of the droppings, but now they can prove lucrative as half of them will be sold as souvenirs."

Not wishing to miss out on Olympic-inspired profits, the base is currently working on moulding the poop into statues of athletic pandas performing various Olympic sports to sell as 2008 Olympic Games souvenirs.

A Thai zoo already sells multicoloured paper made from the excrement of its two resident pandas.

Of course; why didn't I think of that first?

Let me turn this into an Arabian theme. I'm taking a few days off and going to look for camels...

30 July 2007

When will we adjust to the rest of the World?

I appreciate that we have traditions and values in our region, I really do. I understand that we have principals and ways of conduct around each other, especially in regards to contact between men and women (well, out in the open anyway; behind closed doors, everything goes, but thats not the point here).

It's not considered appropriate for a woman to talk to a strange man, or mix with him in any way; the people in the region appreciate this fact. In certain stores and banks there are separate women sections, the local law enforcement usually has an eye out on certain male/female ways of conduct, etc. The society is adapted to deal with certain situations upholding the values and traditions we hold.

But when you leave the region and visit a country with different customs, you should be prepared for the fact that they probably will not adapt their system to deal with your view of life; in fact, you should be the one to adapt to theirs. If you make a choice to visit another country, then you should have to deal with the consequences (ie, you don't visit Canada during the winter and demand that it be nice and sunny; similarly, you shouldn't visit a country and expect them to adapt their values to you).

So, here we have a totally (in my opinion) stupid stupid backwarded mentality of a person who refused (yes, REFUSED) to get on a plane because his female relatives were seated next to men. Yes. Not in their lap, not forced to go on a date with them, and not forced to interact with them in any bloody way. What's a plane after all; its a number of seats squeezed in a tight small space. Anybody in their right mind who wants to fly should at least have the brain power to expect that perhaps, just PERHAPS, you might end up sitting next to someone you don't know.

So this guy decides to throw a fit, delays the whole flight by three hours (I know all you people used to Gulf Air think this is a normal delay; its actually quite a long one in other parts of the world), gets kicked off the plane, and causes almost 50 people to miss their connecting flights.

Seriously, seriously, please, what have our mentalities come to? If you bloody well don't want your women "interacting" with strangers, then bloody well go buy your own damn plane! It wasn't even a long flight (Milan-London)! Bloody baboons! And then you ask why the international community thinks we're backwarded.

Qatar sheikh delays plane over seating

Fri Jul 27, 9:27 AM ET
MILAN (Reuters) - A Qatar sheikh held up a British Airways flight at Milan's Linate airport for nearly three hours after discovering three of his female relatives had been seated next to men they did not know.

When none of the other business class passengers agreed to swap seats, the sheikh, a member of Qatar's ruling family, went to the pilot, who had already started the engine, to complain, an airport official said.

But the pilot ordered him and his travelling companions, the three women, two men, a cook and a servant, off the plane. The London-bound flight took off nearly three hours behind schedule on Thursday evening and around 50 of the 115 passengers missed connecting flights.


Just go to Saudi for your next summer holiday and spare us the embarrasment!


Anybody ever register with them? I signed up with GulfBankers.com, among a number of other recruitment companies sometime around the beginning of the year. You basically enter your employment/education details etc, and they send you notifications whenever a job suitable for your qualification pops up.

How do these companies make their money? Well, they get a sort of commission everytime they find a suitable person for the job available. The amount of commission paid usually corresponds to the size of the position (ie, if they find the right person for a general manager job, they get paid a heck of a lot more than if they find someone to fill in a teller job).

This obviously makes it a lot more attractive for them to advertise the bigger positions, correct? However, being a search and recruitment agency, they are supposed to be able to provide all types of positions, whether high or low, unless they advertise themselves as otherwise.

Now, I have a good 6 years of direct work experience on my resume, i've worked in supervisory/team-leader positions in my last job, and even though i've managed to move up pretty quickly compared to others at my age, at best I could be considered a junior position, and pushing it you might be able to consider me middle-level. So after a good half an hour entering all my details, GulfBankers keep sending me email job notifications, which I assumed would be based on the data I have entered.

Subject? "Suitable Job from GulfBankers".

Why do I keep getting emails offering me things like "Chief Operating Officer" of a huge company, with requirements like 15 years of experience, with at least 10 in a Senior position? Or "General Manager" of a large bank, with a good 20 years experience and PhD?

I figured it might have been a mistake, and this was a unique situation. Guess not. Turns out another friend of mine working 2 or 3 years in a starting level position also gets these emails. AND another friend who just graduated and looking for a job, no experience, is also getting the CEO and GM position emails!

I've not seen an introductory, junior, or even middle level position job notification being sent out yet.

Come on GulfBankers.com, do your job properly. Tailor your database to actually divide up the applicants based on their education and experience, and get your system to send out emails accordingly! I know you're more keen on those high commissions for the higher level positions, but seriously, don't be lazy and just send them out to everyone who signs up with you!

29 July 2007

Fixing your Money Problems - 8

Part 8: (Credit Card Debt)

Credit cards have come a long way; almost every bank offers one, they generate unbelievable amounts of profit, make internet shopping possible, and they're the very basis for the creation of cashless societies.

So what's wrong with them?

Well, the fact that credit cards, when not in the right hands, can turn into something similar to a full scale train-wreck at high speed. That keeps going, and going, and going...

Their concept is very simple; you get a card with a credit limit (let's say 500BD). You can use that card to buy things upto that limit. So lets say you buy a sofa for 200, which means you have 300 more dinars you can use to spend on that card. Normally, you can't exceed the limit, and would have to pay back some of the debt to be able to use it again. Any amount not paid off at the end of each month, you have to pay interest on, which is deducted from your limit.

Interest rates seem pretty attractive as well! Some banks post rates of 2%, while others post rates of 1.8% or close to that. When you compare it to loan annual interest rates, of 8%, 9% or more, they look pretty damn attractive right?


The credit card interest rate is per MONTH. Calculate that and you're actually looking at something closer to 20-25%. Now, that's a LOT. If you had debt going at that rate, it would double every 3 years.

Anyhow; the way credit cards go, they give you the very attractive option of paying a minimum of 5% or so (depending on the bank). It seems attractive because you're not paying a lot - on 200 dinar new TV, you end up only paying 10 dinars.

It's a very clever system; you think you're paying off your debt with a small amount, and pay the minimum. However, remember the 2% interest? You pay 10 dinars, so your debt is down to 190. Then interest creeps up, and you get hit with around BD4 of interest, so essentially you've only paid BD6 off your debt (i'm rounding up figures). It keeps going and you end up paying huge sums in interest over a LONG period of time.

Then there's also the high charges if you forget to pay your monthly bill on time, as well as your card insurance fees, annual fees, or whatever else fees. All tiny small costs that add up to form a giant monster that feeds on your salary.

The other thing with credit cards is, if you have them in your wallet, thats incentive enough to spend money on something you don't really need. You see something in a shop; thats a nice TV, thats a cool phone etc, and then you end up with more and more debt.

Using credit cards reasonably needs a lot of self-constraint; a lot of people use them for impulse buys, etc. Again, small purchases here, small purchases there, they all add up. Don't carry them around with you - leave them at home otherwise you'll probably end up using them if you see something you like. If you need to use them for something like shopping online, use them, and pay them off immediately (its best not to get lugged with interest and late payment charges). Don't consider them as extra cash you have; leave them for emergencies and travel.

Even then, anytime you do use them, make sure to pay them off as soon as possible; credit card debt adds up QUICK if you leave it to grow; definately more serious than loans.

Another thing is, many banks offer you unbelievably high credit limits; your salary might be 500BD, and they decide to offer you a 2000 dinar limit. Don't go for it. If you want to take out a card, the best thing is to try and keep the limit somewhere at around half your salary. If you go overboard and spend it all, your still not in a very dangerous spot, and can afford to pay it off without much difficulty.

I guess thats a good basic intro to credit cards; just be careful and use them wisely :)

Fixing your Money Problems - 7

Part 7: (Loans & Credit Cards)

Most of the previous guides talked about very simple saving and spending issues; things most people don't really think about or consider, even though they are mostly common sense. Anyhow, in this guide I will start talking about borrowed funds; loans and credit cards.

Bahrain has a pretty big problem with loans and credit cards; a large part of the population have gotten themselves into debts they can't handle, and unfortunately don't have too much to show for it in return. A lot of people here take out loans and cards for the wrong reasons, and end up burying a financial hole for themselves; it's become a social dilemma, and as soon as someone works they 'HAVE' to take out a loan.

The whole situation with the problems of loans needs more awareness. If you're one of the lucky few who haven't yet taken out a loan or card, don't. Well, at least not until you know how to use them the right way; using them without being aware of the problems that can follow is just like pushing a self-destruct button. However, utilizing them the right way can do a lot of good for you.

Lets talk about loans specifically in this guide, and credit cards in the next one.


The concept of a loan is very simple; you borrow a certain amount of money, and pay it back with interest, divided over a period of time. Most personal loans can be paid back for over 7 years, while other loans (mortgage, business etc) can be taken for as long as 30 years (some countries even go up to 50). In other words, you're spending tommorows money, today.

Human nature thinks about the period that is 'now', and what they need today. Loans deal with much longer periods that most people don't consider at first; so automatically we have a problem.

When you take out a loan, lets say the bank tells you "We'll give you five thousand dinars NOW for only a small payment of 85 dinars a month", so you think, great! I get the cash NOW, and 85 dinars is such a small return. Overall, if you consider a payment period of 7 years, you realize that you pay a total of 7,140 (ie, that's an extra 2,140 dinars). That isn't a small amount of money (its paying back a little under half of what you borrowed, extra).

What makes it worse, is when people spend the cash from their loans on perishable items; say you buy a laptop that might stop working, or become outdated after 2 or 3 years, and pay the loan back over 7 years. So even after you dispose of the laptop, you're still stuck with payments for a few more years.

This concept is the same for cars; you buy a car, brand new. As soon as you drive out of the showroom, its value goes down, and keeps getting reduced. On the other hand, your loan, with time, increases in value with the amounts and interest you have to pay. Again, some people buy a car and get bored of it 3 or 4 years down the line, and then sell it. They're still stuck with the payments, though.

This concept of using loans to pay for perishable items, and dividing items over longer periods than are reasonable is one of the bigger financial problems we have in Bahrain. Also, you don't consider the installment amount to be very high; suppose your salary is 500 dinars, and you get an loan where you pay 150 a month. That's fine; you think you still have a good 350 dinars a month to spend.

But then, you have your phone bill (20bd), your internet bill (another 20bd), your monthly gas expenses (40bd), among others. Lets assume with those fixed bills, you have BD270 left. Not so much, but still reasonable.

Now lets say you got married, and need an apartment, so you find a really cheap one for BD120 a month (which is very unlikely by today's property prices). So you have BD150 left. Ok, you might be pushing your budget a little, but at least you have your own place, right?

Oh but wait, there's also the electricity and water gas bills, and municipality payments. Lets say they come up to BD30? So now you have BD120. Is that even enough to live a reasonable lifestyle?

That BD150 you pay for your loan doesn't look so small now, does it? If you weren't paying it, you would have more than double the amount you have now to spend. Truth is, your expenses WILL increase with time. Unless you have a really good reason, having an extra loan expense for the future isn't really a great idea.

If you're considering getting a loan, THINK. Why are you getting one? If its to buy a bunch of things you want (want, ie, not things you need) ie, laptop, new furniture, etc, then its a really bad idea. If you're really stuck and need those items, at LEAST get a loan thats going to last as long as the items are. If you expect a laptop to last 2 to 3 years, don't get payments over 7 years! Sure, the installments are lower, but you're paying a lot more interest in the long run, plus you end up paying for the item long after it falls apart. If the payment is higher than you think you can afford, then the item is too expensive for you to own. Leave it, save, and wait till you collect enough to buy it.

I personally don't think any loan is worth getting for perishable items - save up for those, and buy them in cash. If you want to get a loan, get one when you're buying a property (ie, land, house etc), where the value of this item goes up as the value of the loan goes up, and sometimes, the property value exceeds the cost of the land (so you can sell it, pay off the loan and still come out with a good profit). Again, even getting a loan for an investment is still risky; you might buy stocks that crash and end up paying your loan for years for nothing. Just really consider why you're getting the loan.

Buying something with a loan? If you don't need it, it really isn't advisable to spend that money on it, since the cost of whatever you are buying is increased with interest. Always look at the total value you're going to pay back, don't look at the monthly installment - thats just a decieving factor.

I'll talk about loans in more detail later, and focus on what to do if you already have a loan. Next post: credit cards.

27 July 2007

Seems we're "shockproof"

Yep; that was the headline bolstered all over the front of the local GDN newspaper today. Apparently S&P, one of the biggest international rating agencies out there, thinks our economy and banking sectors are pretty stable, and well guarded against any sort of internal or external shock. Sure, there are risks, but they have been mitigated and overall, the economy seems to be very secure.

Great news Bahrain! That's going to definately bring in more international investors, business, and companies into the country. We're going to keep expanding at the crazy rate we are already growing at, and more and more people are going to get richer and richer. At the same time, the rest of the locals, who manage to benefit little (if nothing at all) from the growing boom, are going to get comparitavely poorer; land and property prices, day to day living expenses, amongst other costs, are going to increase, and they're going to have a tough time dealing with it.

Also, other capitalist targets are going to be persued and focused on, while other political topics which are of great importance to many locals will get overshadowed.

Don't get me wrong; I think its a great thing for a company like S&P to give us A and A-1 credit ratings. I just wish the benefits from something like this flood through the top levels of everyone running this economy all the way down to the little people, so that everyone can have a drink. What we've seen up till today is strong filters all the way at the top. Everyone else down here is thirsty.

Anyway, I leave you with a copy of the front page headlines. I've underlined a few things. Just a few things to ponder about.

26 July 2007

Iraq beat S. Korea, but...

I was thrilled after Iraq won the game against S.Korea yesterday; i'm not really the world's biggest football fan, but this game meant a lot more than just one team winning against another.

This was the Asia-Cup semi-final game, meaning Iraq had qualified for the final on Sunday. Iraqi people finally had a reason to celebrate, finally had a reason to leave all their problems behind, their differences. Didn't matter if you were Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd; this was YOUR team playing. Iraq was one country once again, if only for a little while. Finally, one united country, once again. I was thrilled; this is what Iraq needed, something to unite their people and a good morale boost.

What really broke my heart is what I heard on the news last night; more than 50 Iraqi football fans were murdered as they cheered their team's victory, as two suicide bombs exploded. That almost brought a tear to my eye...

Day after day, you hear the news of suicide bombs going off in Iraq, violence, murders etc so sooner or later it just becomes a given that you expect to see something like that in the papers. But when the Iraqi people finally got a break, the chance to celebrate something together as one nation, and something like this happens?

When is the hate ever going to end... I pray for all the people in Iraq; may your sufferings ease, and I wish that your situation gets better with time.

الله يعين الجميع ان شاء الله

25 July 2007

Big Spenders

With the excess amounts of cash that have managed to flow into this region from oil revenues, investments, real estate etc over the years, we've had millionaires and billionaires spring up outta nowhere. Unfortunately, a poor past and a sudden very rich present leads to throwing cash around, and over-excessive spending on the most useless things. I think we've even gotten a reputation for spending like idiots (just see western movies and how they portray middle-easter princes and shaikhs etc).

But what you'll read below just tops the list:

Hey big spender, $210,000 drinks bill
Tue Jul 24, 12:26 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - A Middle Eastern businessman spent over $210,000 in a five-hour, champagne- and vodka-fuelled spending spree in a London nightclub at the weekend.

Fraser Donaldson, a representative of Crystal, a club favored by Prince Harry, said in 20 years working in the industry it was the biggest bill he'd seen from one customer.

The unnamed big spender entered Crystal at midnight on Saturday with friends -- nine women and eight men -- and ordered a $50 bottle of white wine, a spokesman for the club said.

But before long he was ordering magnums of Dom Perignon at $1,400 each and then called for a Methuselah -- eight bottles in one -- of Cristal Champagne at $60,000 and the party spread.

The festivities ended with a "night cap" consisting of a Methuselah of Belvedere vodka, which cost $2,800. "He basically just said, 'keep the drinks flowing,'" the club spokesman said.

When the party left at 5 a.m., the bill was 81,471.50 pounds, which with tax and service added amounted to 105,805.28 pounds -- $218,000. It included the cost of six Coca-Colas.
Original Article

Bloody spoiled brats...

Fixing your Money Problems - 6

Part 6: (Manage your monthly spending)

Ever had the situation where, after you recieve your salary, you go out and buy all the things you wanted to but couldn't from last month? And go out to restaurants maybe, or shopping, and generally spend quite a bit, because you know you have a lot of money in your account?

Has it ever happened that three, two or even one week into the month, you realize, oh no; you managed to spend most of your money, and end up living on a budget until your next salary? And perhaps you also realize that there are unpaid bills, so you end up waiting for the next months salary to pay last months bills?

A lot of people actually live this situation month by month, or a similar one at least. Hopefully this post will help you fix that. To manage your monthly salary and how to spend it, you should divide it into three things; lets call these 1- monthly bills, 2- savings, and 3- regular expenses.

Monthly bills should include anything that needs to be paid; electricity bills, phone bills, possible loan or credit card payments, rent, etc. Savings are amounts you want to put aside for the future, and regular spending includes everything else, such as food, gas, shopping, etc.

Now, in order to not get yourself in financial trouble, you need to organize how to divide your money between these three. The reason most people end up in problems is because they prioritize the wrong way; they end up spending money on their regular spending first, then pay their bills, and reach a point where they realize, oops, I spent a little too much. Little or no money is left over to be saved, so they decide, maybe i'll save next month. And so on it goes.

The way you should be prioritizing your spending is as follows - Lets assume your salary is BD500:

1- Paying off IMPORTANT monthly bills

If you have any loans, then they most probably get deducted from you account automatically. If not, then make sure you pay them off. Next is any credit cards; you HAVE to pay off the minimum amount, and if possible, pay off more (more on these in a future post). Any other bills, such as rent, electricity, phone etc need to be paid off. The reason I highlighted "Important", is because you should try and get rid of any extra impractical bills; perhaps you have a subscription to a magazine that you hardly read? Or subscribed to a satellite channel but you're hardly ever home to watch it? Whatever it is, just make sure your monthly bills are paid off first and foremost. Lets assume your monthly bills come to a total of BD200, leaving you with 300.

2- Saving a reasonable amount

After paying your bills, you need to try and put aside a reasonable amount for saving. How much this amount is will depend on your salary, your expenses, bills, etc, and differs from person to person. Obviously the more you save, the better. If you really have no idea, I find it good to save somewhere between 25%-50% of whatever you have left (the higher your salary, the more you can save and still live well off). If you still have no idea how much to save, send me a message and i'll try to help out. Considering you have BD300 left from the above example, lets say you decide to save BD100.

3- Using any remaining amounts for your regular spending

Now, according to the above example, you are left with BD200 to spend over the month. If you keep this whole amount with you, its very likely that you will spend a lot more at the beginning of the month (when you know you have a large amount), and less at the middle (when you realize you spent a good part of it). Instead, you need to divide it in a way that makes it easy to even out your spending.

Take the amount, divide it by 5 (ie, 4 weeks in the month and a little extra), and withdraw that amount on the same day each week. Use that amount for the week, and try to budget yourself for those seven days (its much easier to budget a small amount over seven days, than it is to budget a large amount over a month). In our example; BD200 divided by 5 is 40BD. So you end up withdrawing 40 on Sunday, for example. You spend it over the week, and next Sunday, withdraw another 40, and so on. If you spend all of it before Sunday, DO NOT move the withdrawing date earlier to make sure you always have money. Just try to survive without spending on the last day or two, or in extreme situation, withdraw a very small amount (eg, BD10). Its better to be broke one or two days in one of the weeks, than be broke a whole week or two before the end of the month.

At first, you might find that you spend the money faster than in a week. However, don't change the withdrawing date. Just try to keep at it, and after 2 or 3 weeks of doing it, you'll get used to it. Also watch your spending, remember that you have BD40 per week, and try to divide it up evenly over those seven days. When the month is done, you'll also still have a little bit of cash left in your account when your next salary is paid (remember, we divided the amount by 5).

Another good tip is to withdraw on the first day of the work-week, instead of before a weekend. Most people end up going out and spending most of their money on a weekend, so if you withdraw just before a weekend, a good chance is you'll spend most of the cash in those two days, leaving you with not too much to get through the week.

You don't have to stick to this exact spending schedule, but in my experience i've found out it works pretty well, and a few people i've told to use it have found it to be useful as well.

Again, if you think you need help with sorting out your exact budget, send me an email and we can discuss your situation in specific.

Fixing you Money Problems - 5

Part 5: (Where to Save/Bank Accounts)

If you work, there are two ways you can get paid. First is getting your salary deposited into your account, and second is in cash. Every other way of payment falls into one of the two (ie, if you get paid in cheque, you can either get the cheque cashed, or have it deposited into your account). I found it pretty suprising that a lot of people and companies still deal in cash.

If you are one of the people who do not already have a bank account, get one. Bank accounts give you an easy way of tracking your money, how much you have left, how much you spent, and can give you a pretty reliable picture of where you spent and where. Opening an account is very simple; you'll need some identification (ie, CPR and Passport), to be physically present in the bank to sign the documents, and a small amount to deposit to actually open the account (between 20-100 dinars usually).

Banks offer lots of types of accounts, but the main two you need to be aware of are current/checking accounts, and saving accounts. Current accounts give you the facility to write checks, but unless you have a specific need to write checks (for a loan, rent, business, etc), do NOT get one. They do not pay any interest on your balance, and have excessive charges as compared to regular saving accounts (high minimum charge balance, returned check charges, etc).

My advice is open a plain savings account; you get an ATM card, which you can use to withdraw money from any of the ATM's around the country (and in the case of most banks, around the world). They don't need a big amount to open, and you don't need to keep a lot in the account to keep it active (and to avoid getting charged).

So which bank should you open your account with? Well, this is really a personal choice, since most offer very similar services. I'm not advertising here, but I think the bigger banks in the country usually serves best; National Bank of Bahrain, BBK, Ahli United, etc. They're wide-spread and have branches everywhere so they're easier to get to, and they have a lot of ATMs all over the place.

Anyhow; if you do not already have a bank account, open one, and make sure you deposit your entire salary in it every month. This is good for record keeping to know how much you recieved and how much you spent. In the next post i'll talk about organizing your money so you don't end up overspending in the first week or two after you get your salary, and end up with no money at the end of the month.

If you already have an account, great! Time to open another one. You need to divide up your money over two accounts to make it easier to manage. One is for your savings; as soon as you recieve your monthly salary, transfer a certain amount to it (ie, if you recieve 500bd, you can deposit 200 or 100 every month or so; this depends on your expenses, how much you can afford to save, etc). Your other account can be for your regular spending. If you try to save and spend money in the same account, chances are you'll end up spending part of, if not all of, the savings as well.

If you don't like the idea of a second account, you have other options. Some people prefer putting their money into saving certificates; a few banks offer these, such as Ahli United and BBK. Each certificate is a denomination of 50 dinars, so just buy a few extra certificates every month, and keep them in a safe place; you also get the chance to win a bunch of prizes throughout the year. Some people like to get together and start a saving scheme (جمعية), where they all pay the same amount every month, and the total goes to one of them, in rotation (make sure its backed by a legal contract though; someone might decide to be funny and run away with all your money).

There are lots of ways to save your money, just make sure its separated from your main spending account. Just leave this amount to accumulate month by month, and don't touch it, it will grow over time. Next, i'll talk about how to manage your monthly spending (so you don't end up broke one or two weeks into the month)

24 July 2007

Basketball Extreme

I personally love basketball. Just saw this video which is some sort of extreme basketball show, like basketball on steroids with a good shot of ecstacy to boot. There's a sort of spring board which the players use to jump in the air, flip around, pass the ball to each other and score, but hey, trying to explain it really doesn't do it justice. Take a look, it is just unbelievably and ridiculously fun to watch:

That's just amazing. How do you even start practicing something like this?

Fixing you Money Problems - 4

Part 4: (Motivation to Save)

The concept of long-term saving isn't very widespread in our country, and the region in general. Most people spend their entire salary every month on the regular day-to-day expenses, and anything remaining is usually spent on a new phone, TV, or perhaps saved for a few months and then blown on a holiday, or any of the other temptations life throws at us.

A problem is the general value of education and awareness around this issue; in some countries, Singapore for example, people are encouraged to save from a young age, with the benefits of good financial planning highlighted to them even while in school. Here, on the other hand, we lack awareness of the need to save and plan our finances. Add to that a fact about the region we live in; spending is actually encouraged, such as over-stocking of food (just think Ramadhan), buying the most expensive car we can afford to show that we are well off etc, and we start having a problem.

Instead of saving, people in our region are inclined to do the exact opposite; take out loans and credit cards. Need a car? Sure, just take out a loan. Holiday? Loan. Need extra cash for that new 42” LCD television? Ok, so we’ll get a credit card and pay that off.

The problem with loans and credit cards, however, is that they seem very attractive, considering you’re paying such a small amount per month for something that costs a lot more. When you think about the total, which most people don’t, the figures start to get scary; but again, that’s not what people think about. I’ll go into this in more detail in another post.

But back to saving; we just were not taught to save. But let me try and instill some common sense into you; take two situations. Person A doesn’t save, takes a loan and credit card to buy what he wants. Gets his salary full of deductions for bank payments, and ends up spending most of whatever's left before the end of the month. This is a regular monthly routine; a few years down the line, he’s still in debt and still living paycheck to paycheck. Now he wants to get married; he needs money for the wedding etc, but he hasn’t saved any up. He resorts to borrowing money, or getting another loan pushing him deeper into debt. Now he needs to get a place to live; obviously cannot since he has no money to buy a house, so he rents a place, meaning more of his salary is deducted. Sooner or later he has more expenses, children, education, buying a new car, a holiday, meaning he takes out more debt, and gets deeper and deeper into a hole he can’t come out of.

Person B starts working his life by saving money, instead of taking out loans. He collects enough money to put in a time deposit, which earns him interest, so his money is growing. The more it grows, the more he can purchase a small piece of land (which appreciates and he sells for a good profit). By the time he gets married, he has enough to pay for the wedding and honeymoon without taking any more debt, and still has a little left to spare. He keeps saving and as things go along, buys a small property (house, apartment, whatever), and invests some of it for more returns, and lives a pretty financially-stress-free life.

Now tell me, which situation seems more attractive to you? The only thing that it takes to get on the good side of this example, is a little bit of willingness.

Something you have to really be careful from is procrastination; the easiest thing in the world is to say 'I have too many expenses this month, so I’ll start saving next month'. If you fall into that hole, you’ll keep making excuses to yourself time after time, and you’ll never get around to it. Saving isn’t easy if you’re not used to doing it, but you should start as soon as possible (and by as soon as possible, I mean starting with your next salary, not the one after it, or the one after that…)

Next post i’ll talk about where you can save your money, and basic saving accounts/schemes you can have.

23 July 2007

The Saudis Love their Cars!

No comment?

Fixing your Money Problems - 3

Part 3: (Tracking your expenses)

No matter what your salary is, you need to know approximately how much money you spend per month, and where you spend it. Ask a lot of people where their salary went at the end of the month, and you would get replies like: "I don't know! I didn't even buy anything this month!" and so on. Obviously, your mind doesn't remember every single thing you spent money on during a whole month, especially the smaller purchases (cup of coffee here, quick snack there, etc), but the small things together can wipe out your salary. Again, "Money adds up"; a small purchase here, a small purchase there, and soon you realize you've spent a lot more than you thought.

Now, if I asked you right now exactly what you spent your money on this month, would you know how to answer with a good degree or reliability?

Most probably not. You could probably try to calculate; this much on gas every day or week, means so and so per month. That much on a meal per day in thirty days is... etc...

Your mind can't easily process your exact spending over a period of thirty days. You probably know what you spent today, or yesterday, and maybe even the day before that, but the longer you go back, the more you start to lose track of your spending. Point in case here; this is what humans created paper and pen for.

Here's an excercise you can do for the month; keep a small notebook with you, or a little daily diary. Write down everything you spend your money on during the month (make sure you note down every single purchase, whether a new laptop, a cup of coffee from Starbucks, or a pack of gum). If you don't want to carry the notebook around with you, just save your purchases in a draft SMS on your cellphone, or keep reciepts from everything you buy, and copy them into your notebook at the end of the day.

You might think its a little excessive writing down every last purchase, but keep doing it. At the end of the month, you'll have an exact list of where every single dinar went. To make sure you did it right, add up all your expenses, and any cash you have left. That should equal your total salary.

Divide all your purchases into categories and add up the amounts; for example, snacks can be one category, clothes can be another, gas, food, and so on. Then you'll get an idea where you're overspending, and where you can try to make a change to your spending habits.

Writing down what you spend isn't something you need to keep doing for ever; just one month is enough to give you a good idea of how you spend your money, and the chance to change some things. You might find out that you spend too much on Starbucks; perhaps its time to start cutting down on those trips to the coffee shop, and start making your own at the office. Maybe you spend a lot on clothes; again, are you buying too many clothes, or are you always buying really expensive clothes? The situation is different for each person, but this allows you to figure out what you need to do.

Most people find out their biggest expense is usually food; spending too much on eating out, so perhaps its time to start eating more at home, or stop going to those top joint restaurants? Either way, figure out what it is you spend so much on, and come up with an alternative plan.

Another use of this list; you can figure out what expenses are for things you NEED, and what are for random things you WANT. Eg. the gas you fill up your car with to drive to work every day is something you need, while that new red pair of shoes to complement your red dress and bag is, in fact, not (I know many women will disagree, but its not! Get over it!)

You don't necessarily need to cut down drastically on everything, and put your spending on an extreme diet; just enough to be able to spare some money to save up. A lot of people, especially in our region, spend more than their budget can afford; I know someone with a 400 dinar salary, who has a car loan for around 160BD, rents an apartment for 120BD, and still wants to go out to classy restaurants every night - well, that just doesn't make sense. He goes out for the first week or so of the month, and spends the next three weeks at home, broke.

Well, hopefully were trying to get out of being in a similar situation; so keep a look out for your spending habits, and see what you need to fix. we'll talk about that a little more in future posts.

Fixing your Money Problems - 2

Part 2: (Money Adds Up)

In part 1, I spoke about how it takes a small flow of money that keeps coming to build up wealth for you. This takes time, so don't expect it to happen overnight, and needs a little bit of persistance. Here I will give you a few tips on how to build a way to actually save; again, i'll be giving lots of random information here, but i'll definately go back over everything and summarize later on.

First thing you need to realize is (this is true for most people), no matter what salary you get, you're probably going to end up spending most of it by the end of the month. If you recieve a 300 dinar salary, and you manage to spend most of it, then suddenly you get an increase to 500 dinars, you won't actually be left with the extra 200 at the end of the month. Most people automatically increase their spending to match their income; visit more expensive restaurants, buy more things, etc, and so, even with a pay rise, you still end up with little or nothing at the end of the month. Its just impulse. What you need to do is be aware of this fact, and use it in your favor.

Most people have one bank account in which their salary is paid. Others get paid in cash. Now, without separating the amount you want to save beforehand, you're probably going to end up spending it, even if you plan/try not to.

Here's a VERY useful tip; open a new separate savings account with whatever bank you deal with. Figure out the amount of money you want to save from your salary, (lets say 100 dinars); as SOON as you get your salary, take out 100 and put it in the new account. Now, you need to totally ignore this new account, forget it even exists. Just use it to deposit money, and don't even think about withdrawing anything from it. You don't even need to check the balance; if it comes with an ATM card, just cut it up and throw it in the bin, or at least don't carry it around with you. You need to make sure you make is as difficult for yourself to withdraw any money from this account. Over time, it will collect value. Use the remaining salary to do whatever you want.

Some people prefer putting their money into saving certificates, such as those by BBK or Ahli Bank. Or perhaps stash some cash under the bed. Same idea. Just make sure you save up the same amount every month as soon as you get your salary, before you spend anything. If you keep it mixed in with your regular spending money, you'll probably spend it, even if you try not to.

With time, your money starts adding up, and you'll realize you've collected quite a bit, which you can either re-invest into something bigger, or spend on something you need (ie, car, deposit for a house, etc).

Of course, all of this is assuming we know how much we need for spending every month, or approximately what amount we want to save. We'll go over this in the next post.

Fixing your Money Problems - 1

I’ve always been pretty good at handling money; besides an education based on business and finance, I guess I was one to figure out how to not over-spend, save a lot, invest in a semi-reasonable way etc. The same situation doesn’t seem to apply to most people in today's world, unfortunately. With the increasing cost of living, massive debt through loans and credit cards among other things, a lot of people have managed to get their financial situation a little out of hand.

I get people every now and then asking me what they can do to manage their monthly spending, save up more money, and in general let go of the living paycheck-to-paycheck syndrome; so here I’ve decided to bestow some of my judiciousness and wisdom upon the common folk with a series of guides towards ensuring a better financial situation, or fixing it if you’ve managed to screw it up already. Most people complain about their salary not being enough; in reality, salary isn’t the biggest factor in being financially stable. Sure, it does play a part, but it’s not the most important one - i’ll highlight this point later. It doesn’t take much more than a little bit of common sense, and a lot of self-discipline; but that isn’t always very obvious, especially in the case of money – a very twisted and perverse entity that is here to either make our lives hell, or full of bliss depending on how we make use of it.

I’m not sure how many guides I will post here; I guess it will depend on the feedback I get and if people find them useful. Anyhow, let me know what you think, I'll try to make them as light as possible; I will be starting off with the most basic information on how to save more money, not spend as much, putting a plan for sorting out any financial messes you’ve managed to get yourself into etc, and then move on to more complicated ways of making your money work for you, investing it, etc.

So, Part 1:

Very basic start here; To understand the concept of being rich, or getting there, you need to understand the theory of how money works. Money adds up; plain and simple. How much income you get every month isn’t always the biggest factor to saving a lot of money; it's how this money is saved month by month, and what total it comes to. All those small amounts of money you save or spend are going to affect the big picture, and one of the illusions of money is that extra dinar or so you spend won’t affect your total saving/spending, actually has a big result on the aggregate.

Think of it this way; I’ve seen people earning 300 dinars save up enough money to buy a new car in cash, while I’ve seen others earning 1,500 not able to put enough money together to go on a short vacation without taking out a loan. That’s very simply because of how they combine together the amounts they receive month by month.

Example; Person A gets a salary of 300 dinars a month; he saves half of it every month, so by the end of the year, he manages to put together 1,800. After 5 years, he’s collected 9,000 dinars, enough to buy a new car, go on a trip, buy some new furniture, all in cash and without taking any loans. Or if he wanted, he could place a down-payment on a house.

Person B gets 1,500 a month; he spends most of it, paying off his loan and credit cards, rent for his luxury apartment, buying new DVD’s, going out to restaurants, coffee shops, etc. He’s left with about 200 dinars every month. A few months later, he’s saved enough to buy a brand new laptop, so he spends whatever he’s saved up. Again, same routine, and whatever he saves up, he ends up spending on a laptop, vacation, etc. Now, 5 years later he needs a car, and has only managed to save a few hundred dinars. To buy a car he needs to take out a new loan, and getting a mortgage for a house is not even an option.

Now, this may be an extreme example, but it illustrates how the whole concept of putting money together works. Maximizing your saving, and minimizing your expenses, especially those small things you don’t really need.

How is this relevant to you, and how can you make use of this concept? I’ll talk about that in part 2.

22 July 2007

Best YouTube video EVER

Now, i've ALWAYS been a fan of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. I would go as far to say as it is probably one of the BEST music videos out there, ever!

And now this; a detention and rehabilitation center in the Philippines gets their inmates to re-act the Thriller video! Looks amazing, and a really good laugh too! Watch the girl!

Good job!

20 Dinars

Well, someone seems to have a sense of humor. I got this today withdrawing some money from the ATM:

Don't know whether its funny or alarming. Hmm..

19 July 2007

I am your slave

I am your slave.

I work in the streets; I build your houses, buildings, and towers. I pave your roads. I pick up the trash off the side of the street in the morning. I clean your sewage systems. I work in your homes; I watch your children while you are away. I watch your children while you are here. I clean your houses, tidy your beds, pick up after you. I serve your food. I clean your garden, wash your cars. I work in your supermarkets, work in your shops; I come out to serve you while you sit in your car. I bring your what you want, and you don't need to lift a finger. I work in your banks, your ministries, your companies; I serve your tea and coffee in the morning, I clean up after you leave in the evening.

I am far away from home; a stranger in a strange land. I leave my family and friends, wife and children, all to come to you, to serve you, to be your slave. To earn a little, a modest income to send to my family; enough for them to survive, to make it through the day. I do this for my family, yet I do all of this with your best interest at heart. I work long hours, I work hard. I try my best to please you, yet you are never pleased. You shout at me, you punish me, and you expect me to do more work. I work from the early hours of the morning, till the late hours of the evening. If I am lucky, I have a few hours to work a second job; I have to, because the money you pay me is hardly enough. I earn a little, not enough to live a good life, not enough to even live a lousy life, nevertheless, you pay me. But sometimes you don't. Sometimes I work for months, and you don't pay me. And I can't complain. I can't retaliate, I can't object. Yet, I make a living, and whatever I make, I send to my family. I try to survive on inexpensive food, I try to save as much as I can. Not much, but I try.

You look at me, yet you don't look at me. You don't see me; I am not there. You pass me by like I do not exist, you do not care. I am packed with other slaves like me, like sardines in a can, in the back of a truck. Your car stops right behind me; I see you, comfortable in your air conditioned luxury vehicle, while I sweat out in the heat, yet you avoid looking into my eyes. Does it embarress you? Why do you turn away? I am on the side of the road, working in the heat, and you pass by me, drinking your cold beverage. You avoid me. You don't acknowledge me. When you do acknowledge me, its with looks of disgust, you detest me. You say i'm dirty; I work your filthy jobs. You dislike my strong odor; I work in the sun all day for you. You are the one who sends me to do these jobs, then you look at me in disgust from what it has produced. I am the result of your actions. You take me out to a restaurant, to watch and take care of your children while you eat. You make me sit on another table, you give me inferior food. I am not your equal. I am your slave.

I built your society, I made it what it is today. Without me, your children would have no one to take care of them, your buildings would have no one to build them, your mess would have no one to clean it. No one to do the dirty work you despise. The dirty work we take, so you can continue living in your lazy, luxurious existence.

I am your slave.

Yet without me you are nothing.

For more post on slave labour, maids etc, click here

18 July 2007

Went for a Walk

Decided to do something different today; between the amount of work I have to do at the office, extra tasks that life decide to throw at you, and the regular headaches you get along the way, you start to get lazy. You start looking for more "relax" time, whatever you can get to brush off any excess fatigue clinging on to you from a tiring existence. Food also makes a great reward for all that hard work you've been doing, so the occasional drop by that fancy restaurant, or snacking on some fast food always feels good.

Doesn't have a great outcome on your abdomen though. Guess its time to start exercising again; after leaving work yesterday, I changed into a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers, and headed to find somewhere to walk. Not many choices, really, but I decided to go to the corniche between BFH and the Muharraq Bridge.

It's been a while since i've been here. I remember days when I used to pass by, probably a good ten or twelve years ago, sit by the sea as the breeze comes in, and admire the buildings in the Diplomatic Area. Most buildings in Bahrain weren't much higher than 2 or 3 floors, so the Diplomatic Area was a bit of a spectacle.

I guess I feel similarly now, as I walk towards the corniche. The buildings in the Diplomatic Area haven't gotten much higher, but a few hundred meters down, the WTC rises above with its twin 50-story towers and over-sized fans, while the Bahrain Financial Harbor gleams a tropical shade of emerald green. They totally overshadow the NBB Tower, which just a few years ago used to be the tallest building in Bahrain.

Walking here is pretty refreshing. The weather, although a little hot, was actually bearable due to a nice cool breeze coming in from the sea. I guess the fact that I managed to finally be around some greenery also cools the immediate atmosphere down; again, it has been a while walking around somewhere that hasn’t been completely concretized (ie, all plants removed and replaced with concrete). It does feel fresh; the air feels cooler, the breeze crisp and clean.

The corniche is pretty lively; people of all nationalities here, some walking, some jogging, some just relaxing on the grass, having a picnic with the family. Some children are playing, a little beach ball bounces in between them, while others line up to run a race. It’s busy, yet somehow quiet and serene.

Something that has been ‘destroyed’, however, is the sea. There’s no more sea here. The construction for the Bahrain Bay and the rest of the BFH project is turning this corniche into another inland walkway. The breeze is still a sea breeze, since we haven’t been pushed too far inland just yet, but the view isn’t exactly great. Where there used to be a sea and a nice view, is now a bunch of rocks, landfills, and red and white tape with no-go signs.

Well, at least we can still catch sight of the sea from here. Lucky us. Still, walking here, even though a partly damaged experience, is still pleasant and calming. The noise of traffic pile-ups and angry car-horns seem diminished, and the breeze manages to drown it out. From here, even the towering behemoths ahead, WTC and BFH, seem tranquil and quiet.

It wasn’t a long walk; a good 45 minutes going and coming across the corniche, but it’s good for the mind and soul, and takes you away from the hectic existence we have to go through day after day.

I’m definitely doing this on a regular basis; wanna join?

15 July 2007

Tallest Tower in the Smallest Country

Well, not exactly.

Bahrain isn't really the smallest country in the world. But the way the reports are going, we just might have the tallest tower (or almost) in the world right here.

Yup; you heard right. Seems the new fad has turned to which country has the tallest tower. Dubai started it in the region by building the Burj Dubai, which some estimate will reach somewhere between 800 and 900m. Also in Dubai, another tower is being planned; Called The-Burj, which should hit something a little past a kilometer. Kuwait is also planning its own tower, at 1,001m, Mubarak Al-Kabeer, and Bahrain will also have one, not yet named but blueprints state it will reach 1,022.

So yes, we just might have the tallest tower in the world here (nose twitches)

Excuse me if I don't like the sound of that too much. First of all, listen to the tone; Dubai will have two, Kuwait will have one, Bahrain will have one etc... You know that Qatar will definately join in the "whose got the bigger one" game, and then Saudi, not to be outdone will come up with a 10km high tower or so.

Guys, calm the hell down. This is NOT a game; but obviously some people seem to think it is. It's always been in the gulf countries' blood; they love to show off how much money they have, how developed they are, etc. But don't do it this way. It's so obvious something is going to go terribly wrong here.

Just because you have the money to build it, doesn't mean you can support it. Heck, Al Moayyed Tower in Bahrain was built as the tallest tower in the country a few years ago and it didn't have enough car parks; that caused a total mess. Do you think we have the expertise or the facilities to combat a fire or a disaster should it happen?

Sitting in the 12th floor of NBB tower, I could hear creaking, and the windows shivering as the wind hit them. That didn't sound safe at all, and pretty scary actually. I was also told that NBB tower wasn't exactly the best engineering feat in the world. Hmm...

Warsaw Radio Mast was completed in 1974 as the worlds tallest building at 646 meters. It collapsed in 1991. Yes. Things like this DO happen. But its like kids playing with dynamite here; they don't realize how big a deal this is.

These new towers being built now are just status symbols; trying to show off to each other, or stand out to the world. My personal thought is, when we finally build our own Bahrain tower, Bahrain is going to sink. Or maybe that's just my personal wish, but whatever.

Another thing; when I was a kid my mom used to tell me stories about the signs of judgement day, and how we could tell when it was approaching. Now I look at a few things around me a little closer, and it starts to get freaky.

Example; almost 20 years ago, my mother told me about people talking to their hand to other people on the other side of the world, as if they were infront of you. I had no idea what that meant back then, but now I see the 3G telephones with cameras and you can talk to "your hand" and speak to someone on the other side of the world. She talked of so many different signs, that now I see start to pop up here and there.

But one of the signs (probably the scariest one since I see it now and i'm sure no one could have predicted it 20 years ago, let alone hundereds of years ago when these prophecies were made) is "The Shepherds of Arabia will compete in the construction of tall buildings"

This sounded ridiculous back then. But now, the Middle-East, once a desert full of shepherds, are not only competing in building tall buildings. But the TALLEST.

Freaky stuff.

One kilometre high and counting

Skyscrapers are back, with a vengeance. Stephen Cauchi reports on the race to construct the world's tallest building.

EVEN now, only half-finished, it looks staggering. Just last Wednesday, it became the second tallest skyscraper ever built, surpassing Taiwan's 509-metre Taipei 101. It will overtake Sears Tower in Chicago, CN Tower in Toronto and television masts in North Dakota and Warsaw to be the tallest structure ever built by mankind.

Burj Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, will usher in a new era of skyscrapers. Although its final height is being kept a secret, it's conservatively estimated it will reach 818 metres. Some tip it will be 940.

Burj Dubai will break records for height in a way not seen since the Eiffel Tower, which on completion in 1889 was nearly twice as high as the next tallest structure, the Washington Monument. It will be hundreds of metres taller than the Warsaw Radio Mast, which at 646 metres held the record as the world's tallest structure until its collapse in 1991.

But Burj Dubai may not hold the record for long. Another Dubai skyscraper, Al Burj, is slated to begin this year with a rumoured height of 1.2 kilometres. More tentatively, two other kilometre-tall towers are planned in the region: the 1001-metre Mubarak al-Kabeer in Kuwait and a 1022-metre tower in Manama, Bahrain.

These modern-day Towers of Babel — an apt comparison given their Middle East location and multicultural construction crews — are driven by symbolism rather than necessity, according to the managing director of Australian construction company Grocon, Daniel Grollo. "They like to build tall as a sign of the prosperity of the country — they have the money to push the boundaries."

Grocon, which was to have built the now-abandoned 560-metre Grollo Tower in Melbourne, has been a consultant on the Al Burj tower and may yet be involved in its construction.

The 818-metre Burj Dubai is impressive enough. Will the 1.2-kilometre Al Burj become reality? "My experience after having travelled to the Middle East over the last six to seven years has been that when they put their mind to something and say they're going to do it, they do it," said Mr Grollo, who said Al Burj had yet to receive planning approval. "Dubai is a very can-do city."

Indeed. The city's recent projects include several man-made archipelagos harbouring ultra-luxurious hotels; the biggest shopping mall in the world; the longest fully automated rail system in the world; massive theme parks and a colossal airport. Impressive for a town of only 1.5 million. And now, restoring a title to the region once held for millennia by the Great Pyramid of Giza, the world's tallest building.

Burj Dubai's 160 floors will be filled by hotel rooms, private apartments, and corporate offices, and serviced by 65 km/h lifts, the world's fastest. They'll need to be. Lifts, according to skyscraper architect Henry Feiner of Harry Seidler and Associates, are one of the major constraints on skyscrapers. "If you try to put in enough lifts to service 150-200 floors, you'll end up with no floor space on every floor. It's all taken up by lift shafts," he says. The solution — although time-consuming for those on the upper floors — is to design the building as one skyscraper stacked on another.

"It becomes a series of 50-storey buildings stacked on top of each other where you have express shuttle lifts taking you to sky lobbies — a platform at the 50-storey level — and then you start all over again."

But, says Feiner, there is no technological reason why skyscrapers could not go to two kilometres or even higher.

Kim Dovey, Professor of Architecture at Melbourne University, said high-rise buildings were economical, but only to a point. "The economies of scale go up dramatically in buildings up to about 10 storeys, and they continue to go up until about 40, and then they turn the other way — they become very inefficient buildings.

"After about 40 it becomes faintly ridiculous." That's because, Professor Dovey said, more and more of the building was taken up by lift shafts and servicing tunnels needed to transport people, utilities and goods to ever-greater heights.

But practicality is not the point. "It's an attempt by Dubai to put itself on the world stage."

He admits he finds such buildings inspiring "from a distance and inside looking out" but otherwise is not a fan.

"I think they're kind of stupid. The little kid that really wants to be noticed — trying too hard."

An Urban World

A UN-Habitat report stated that in 2007, for the first time in history, more than 50% of the world's population will be living in cities. By 2030, this will have grown to more than two-thirds. This report came out a while ago and I have been planning to write about it, but I kept thinking it over in my mind.

An urban world. Never again will it be the 'natural' habitat for humans to live in rural or non-urbanized areas. Farms. Green Fields. Open skies. Mountains. Deserts.

Nope. We're all inhabitants of the big urban jungle. Which gets me sort of worried, truth be told.

Thousands of years ago, humans used to eat fruits directly off trees. Vegetables directly from the ground. Meat used to come directly from the animals, and cooked. And over time, we've managed to stop eating fresh foods. We're buying everything in cans, buying frozen meat and vegetables, getting everything packed in boxes.

That's not natural. That can't be good.

And slowly, we moved from living in environments with trees, grass, rivers, to concrete roads and buildings. Smoke everywhere from cars, buses, trucks, spitting out all sorts of pollutants, screwing with our health, our lungs, out attitudes. Sewers underground, breeding nests for rats and all sorts of other filthy creatures; smoke rising through the sewer covers as the sun sets; dark corners and alleyways, dark yellow street lights give off a depressing shade and giving the homeless in the corners hiding some light to see where they are, and garbage bags on the sides of the roads, with more rats feeding off them, and flies having a feast.

The city life gives rise to a faster life; more businesses, banks, insurance companies, black market trades; everything has to move quicker, faster. More telephones used, cell phones, computers to communicate. More stress. Less face to face communication even though people are squeezed closer together than in rural communities. Squeezed together like sardines in a brand new tin can; yet they don't communicate. They see each other as faceless people. No soul. No hope.

Faster life means faster food. We quit eating the healthy stuff; its all fast food meals, each more tastless than the next. They become our staple, and we start to enjoy them; we forget what real food means, and use them to revitalize ourselves, even though they damage our bodies. A lot more than we think. Cigarettes as well; our anti-depressant. Although when were not on them, they cause our pressure to rise, they cause harm, and they mess with our moods, they make us more anxious, depressed, under pressure, and amplify our stress. We're rude to each other, relationships aren't as important. You see someone in trouble on the side of the street and don't want to help. You have your own problems after all. We're not living naturally.

These urban environments give way to new millionaires. People are making unbelievable amounts of money. The rich classes grow richer and richer. They drive up prices, prices for day to day goods, food, and accomodation. The prices rise, and this makes it difficult for some people to keep up. Many people. They grow poorer as others grow richer, and the gap grows; turns into a chasm. The difference between the poor and rich is astounding; as the rich live in penthouses and high rise apartments in their luxury building, the poor live in the alley behind the building, made homeless by their inability to keep up with the growth. More homeless; wrapped in a rag hiding behind the alley, trying to hide away from the rest of society. Looking for a meal in the garbage, looking for an unneeded dollar from the next passer-by.

And it turns into crime; starts with petty theft, just to keep themselves alive. But sooner or later it turns into something bigger; robberies, assaults, rape. Murder. Murder in dark alleyways in the middle of the night. But the city is too big for the authorities to be in the right place at the right time. Too dark. Too dangerous.

During the day, the sun doesn't shine. Its blocked by the huge buildings, so there are shadows everywhere. Bacteria grows in the areas where theres no sunshine; more diseases. More people falling sick. Its a big plague; a big disease, this city.

But they label it development. They call it growth.

And when you look at it from far away under the night sky, the lights, the buildings; it seems all so serene. So right.

What a facade.

(Though this article might seem a little extreme and far-fetched, the truth is all around. Take a look at New York, the prime example of this type of society. Even in smaller cities world wide, its all happening; Hong Kong, London, Cairo, and developing countries everywhere else. It's scary to think where we will be 20 years from now)

12 July 2007

Solutions to Having Too Much Money

In today's news:

Bundles of cash found in public toilets across Japan

Envelopes containing ´10,000 (BD30) and well-wishing notes have been discovered in municipal toilets across Japan, media reports said, baffling civil servants and triggering a nationwide hunt. Local media have estimated that over ´2 million worth of bills were found at men's rooms in city halls in at least 15 prefectures in recent weeks. Each package of ´10,000 bills, some wrapped in traditional Japanese washi paper, was accompanied by handwritten letters that read "Please make use of this money for your self-enrichment," and "One per person," according to reports.

Good to know that people are just giving away their money. I wonder how rich this guy had to be to decide, hey, let me do some good and give people free money. And he was obviously so rich he didn't need a job and wasn't working, because ideas like placing money in random toilets around the country only come from someone who obviously has too much goddamn free time.

Mr. FreeToiletMoneyDude, if you got any more of that bread to spare, you can always visit Bahrain. We have a beautiful country with a lot of nice public restrooms, placed in various strategic locations around the country; go nuts. And you can be assured i'll spend a lot of my time in them if you ever decide to show up.

The whole situation actually brings a new meaning to "throw your money down the toilet"

10 July 2007

Bahrain & Preserving World Heritage

I read a report in the GDN today which sort of alarmed me; it seems that Bahrain is bidding for a seat in the UNESCO World Heritage Commitee. The aim is to make Bahrain the regional hub for cultural and natural heritage preservation.


Cultural and natural heritage preservation?


Now I know Bahrain is a lot of things; we've managed to produce a great big deal of Aluminium for the rest of the world; we've managed to create a huge financial and insurance sector, arguably the hub for the region; we've managed to create great strides in tourism and economic devlopment; yada yada yada.

But when talking of culture and heritage? We've done all but completely destroy it. This really doesn't make sense to me; how can a country that has not only neglected but purposely destroyed a large part of its own heritage be considered for such a committee? Don't get me wrong, I love my country. I would love to see it advance and grow on the global map, but the way things go, you don't get a fat kid to work in a cake shop.

Lets push this situation to the extreme; here's an example of what could happen if Bahrain is put in charge of ALL world culture and heritage:

- The Colloseum in Rome, Italy, will be taken down to make way for a brand new Financial Center

- The Amazon Rainforest in South America to be wiped out in order to built a brand new luxury tourist resort

- The Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, to be filled in to create land to build a full Insurance sector

And so on... And you might ask why i'm looking at this issue so negatively. Well, when we look at Bahrain, we see that Ain Athari, one of the biggest and most famouse natural springs in Bahrain doesn't exist anymore. It's been replaced by a big swimming pool, which probably isn't even filled with water at the moment. My guess is a lot of the land reclaimation in the surrounding areas has blocked all routes of fresh water to the spring.

Ain Athari Back in the 50's:

Ain Adhari a few years ago:

Bahrain, the land of a million palm trees (or so it used to be called), used to be all green, no matter where you go. Now, its all grey; most of the trees and palm trees have been cut down in order to make way for new developments and construction. So you have roads, highways, towers and shopping malls everywhere. But hardly any more palm trees.

What Bahrain USED to look like:

And now replaced by highways and shopping malls:

The tree of life, a natural wonder being a tree thats existed for almost 400 years in the middle of the desert, with no apparent source of water. Yet now it is a spot for people to go and drink, or to graffiti on, etc.

The Tree of Life...

Covered in Graffiti...

So, yes, my final word on Bahrain the UNESCO seat? Don't do it!
Bahrain vies for global heritage seat

BAHRAIN is bidding for a seat, which would put it on the world heritage map.

It is standing for elections to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Committee later this year.

Elections take place on October 24 and 25 at the Unesco headquarters, Paris.

The aim is to make Bahrain regional hub for cultural and natural heritage preservation, promotion, training and expertise, officials said yesterday.

Bahrain's election campaign is being spearheaded by the Information Ministry's Culture and National Heritage Sector.

"We feel Bahrain should be elected because it has the most professional expertise in the Arab world at the moment," sector heritage management and Unesco affairs counsellor Britta Rudolff told a Press conference at the Bahrain National Museum yesterday.

"Morocco and Tunisia are already on the committee but we feel the Gulf region should be presented as well.


If Bahrain is elected, there are plans for training in the preservation and management of World Heritage Sites and activities to promote international discussion on the challenge or urban development in or adjacent to World Heritage Sites.

"Bahrain is aiming at being the centre of expertise at the regional level and this campaign is just the beginning," noted world heritage and archaeology adviser Karim Hendili.

"For Bahrain to be known at an international level, it will give visibility. The impact it will have on Bahrain will be 10 times that of F1."

The Press conference was also attended by Information Ministry assistant under-secretary for culture and national heritage Shaikha Mai bint Khalifa Al Khalifa, Bahrain's deputy permanent delegate to Unesco Adnan Al Hamadi and sector natural conservation adviser Dr Saeed Al Khuzai.

Bahrain's election campaign was presented at the Unesco World Heritage Committee's 31st session, which concluded in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this month.

The presentation was delivered by Shaikha Mai and other officials.

9 July 2007

The Joy of Paying Traffic Fines

I just noticed the most awkward thing. On the Bahrain E-Government webpage, theres a little poll visitors can vote on. Now, most polls ask questions that have more than one obvious answer. This was pretty funky though:

See that little red circle? Lets zoom in on that poll:

"Do you like to pay your traffic contraventions?"

Ok.. a bunch of things here. NO ONE, and I mean no one in full mental capacity who hasn't been hit on the head with a shovel recently, likes to pay fines, especially traffic fines, you pay them because you have to! Second of all, Contraventions? Contraventions?! Did the person who came up with this question write it down on Microsoft Word and then go through the Theasaurus to try and make it sound more clever?

But thats not the funny thing. No, not at all. The funny thing is by the time I checked, almost 480 people has voted, 44% of them actually said yes! Who are these people?! And 7% of the people turned out to be total idiots and had no idea whether they enjoyed or didn't enjoy paying their traffic "contraventions". Probably because they didn't know what those words mean.

Ah, whats the point anymore...

Not so "Smart" Card

Wow, Bahrain is advancing pretty well, huh? We now have 'smart' cards to be used for identification, instead of our regular old (idiot?) cards. But obviously, putting the matter of launching such a project in the good ol' hands of the Bahrain Ministries means something has to be done wrong. Or at best done pretty innefficiently.

So, my quest to get my brand new Smart Card started off about a month ago, when I got a new job, and my employer needed me to replace my current CPR. They mentioned that I had to contact the CIO (Central Informatics Organization) which sounds all brand and fancy, so I decided to give them a call. The conversation went a little like this (translated into English for readability purposes)

-Me: Hello, CIO?

-CIO Employee: ......
(distant chattering in background)
Huh? Yeah,

- Me: Umm... Ok, I need to get a new card, whats the procedure?

- CIO Employee: ... One second...
Yeah, come to our offices in Isa Town and get an appointment.

- Me: Ok. What paperwork do you need?

- Employee:
(distant chattering in background)
Yeah, umm...
one second
Yeah, we need your passport only.

- Me: Nothing else? Are you sure?

- Employee:
Yes, nothing else. Only your passport.

Ok, so after approx 4 or 5 minutes on the phone, I went away with these basic facts; take your passport and go to the CIO office to get an appointment. Fair enough.

So I went over the next day at around 8am, and the employee at the desk looked like a cross between a hairy camel and a dead plant. I wondered to myself if this is the best representation of our "Central Informatics Organization". I also figured, hey, looks could decieve, he might actually be a very bright individual. So I decided to test out his education/personality/whatever it is and asked him where I could get an appointment. In English. Right then and there I found out, looks don't always decieve, as he looked at me with discontent and replied; "no abbointeh-ment here"

Me: "Umm... Ok, the guy on the phone told me to come here.. Can't I just get an appointment now since i'm here?"

Him: "No aBBoinTEment here. NO ABBOINntEMent hERe!"

Whoa, calm down dude. "Could you be as so generous to let me know where I can get a (bloody?) appointment."

Him: "You go weBEsite and But your C.B.R. number."

Me: "Whats the website?"

Him: "Outside on Boster."

Ok, I just wasted an hour or so going and coming to the CIO according to the instructions I got from the employee on the phone, but no big deal. So I took down the website, went home and got an appointment. Simple site to work on, but the nearest one was a week away. So a week later I go down with my appointment at 5:00pm, and I decided to go a little early to get it over and done with. So at around 4:40 I was facing another camel/plant hybrid creature telling him I have an appointment. He looks at the time. I'm 20 minutes early. The hall is empty besides one or two parents and their children, and the actual card processing staff look like they have a lot on their hands (ie, chit-chat, solitaire, scratching their heads etc). But the employee tells me to take a seat, wait until it is exactly 5pm, and then come back to him.


So I think, ok, whatever, and take a seat. So at a minutes to 5, I go back to him, and the guy already has a line of about 6 people. I look at him thinking "WTF". But hey, if his intelligence level is to be judged by his looks, then there's no use in trying to communicate with him. I stand in line and when I get to the front, I talk to the other person on the counter who looked more human, and he gives me a number to wait my turn.

A few minutes later, my number is called, so I go over to the counter and it turns out that they need (remember the guy on the phone who said you only need your passport?) 1; my passport, 2; my CPR, 3; copies of both my CPR and passport (which they aren't willing to take even though they have a semi-unused photocopier in the corner) 4; A certificate from my new job to be able to change my details and 5; two dinars processing fee. I had actually planned all this regardless of what the guy on the phone had said, and brought them all along, just incase. However, they couldn't process my paperwork, since they wanted a resignation from the job I left a little over 3 years ago. Darn it! And no, my new contract and employment certificate didn't cut it. Ok, i'll admit thats probably just the procedure they follow, but I was worried about having to line up and get a new appointment all over again, but the guy at the counter asked me to come back directly to him, and I did around 2 hours later. He wasn't there. I asked a few people and they told me he left. No one else would take my case, for which all the paperwork was ready. After explaining it all to their manager, he said I had to take a new appointment, meaning I have to go back home, apply again on the website, and come back again NEXT week and do it all over again.

Bloody CIO...

Anyway... A week later, I am back, again for another 5pm appointment with all my paperwork. Sat down, everything went as planned. They also take an instant photo of you, which almost always comes out looking like you were up all night after being thrown out of your house and got caught somewhere in between a gang fight and a car accident. So now after its all over, they ask me to come 2 days later, and go to the little office on the left of the hall to pick up the card.

I look there; the lights are off inside, and the doors look locked. "Is there anyone in there?"

- "No."

- "Umm.. Ok.. How do I get my card exactly?" As thoughts of breaking the door and climing the side of the building to sneak in through the window crossed my mind.

- "You have to come in the morning, before 2:00pm"

Aha... So, according to your brochures and advertisements, you're offering people the option of registering for their card at anytime between 7:30am and 8:00pm in order to make it accessible to everyone, such as the people who "work" in the mornings. But to actually pick up your card, you still limit the timings, even though its in the same building and it wont take more than an extra one or two employees to hand out the cards. Ah, I guess i've found a solution to the high unemployment rate in Bahrain; give them jobs!

Anyway, I recieved the final product today, about a month from when I first tried to apply for the card. The card lists your CPR number, name, photo (not the best!), what your gender is, and your place and date of birth. Everything else is stored inside a little chip, and needs to be read by a machine. Now, my assumption is that not everyone is going to be carrying around one of these readers, and that would make it a little more difficult to verify a persons address, job, or even nationality. I'm not trying to be a smart-ass about it, but I really think those details are actually pretty useful on an ID card; ie, most banks need some sort of address verification to open an account; if you were sneaking around looking shady in an area in the middle of the night and the police stop you, you could prove that the house youre standing infront of is actually your house, and not your next target; and so on.

So is the smart card really that smart? And whats the point of the smart card if all the CIO employees are stupid?

8 July 2007

It's So Salik

Or so goes the commercial for the new toll booth in Dubai (named 'Salik', meaning open/clear). Now, I don't currently live in Dubai, and neither do I go there very often. However, the implications of this system to all of us in the surrounding region are probably bigger than we expect.

If you aren't aware of it yet, Dubai is a booming city. People are flocking in from all parts of the world, and even though the Government of Dubai had forseen this and built a pretty darn good infrastructure system to handle the incoming crowds, they really didn't count on the influx reaching the level it currently is at. And with that, comes a list of problems, one of the most obvious when you land in Dubai and drive around (try to?) is the unbelievable amount of traffic.

Back during the 5 years I lived in the UAE, I saw traffic problems turn from mere annoyances into outright "bang-your-head-on-the-dashboard-and-hope-to-die" situations. Hell, when I first arrived in 1998, a drive from Sharjah to Dubai in the mornings used to take around half an hour or so. Before I left in 2003, it used to take closer to an hour and twenty minutes. I'm pretty terrified (yes, terrified) to think what it would be like now.

And obviously in the past 4 years since i've left, traffic has blown up even more, and the Dubai government has started to think of alternative ways of battling this.

So here's their quick-fix; introduce toll-booths on the biggest sources of congestion, currently Shaikh Zayed Road and Garhoud Bridge. The tolls started 8 days ago (July 1st) and it seems to have worked actually; a few days after introduction, the unbelievable congestion usually existent on Garhoud Bridge has been considerably reduced, but the benefits on Shk Zayed Road are still to be felt.

You would assume more piling up traffic as people stop to pay the tolls, but the way the booth works is pretty clever too; you sign up for an electronic badge affixed to your car, with a prepaid balance, and the toll is automatically deducted as you drive through the booth - no need to stop and look for change to pay a booth attendant. You top up the badge as the balance gets low (you can check your balance on the website, or recieve SMS alerts when it reaches a certain level).

Negative points? As drivers start to spill into the surrounding roads and areas in order to avoid the tolls, those areas have started to get more and more congested. A problem is of course the residential areas surrounding Shk Zayed Rd, which have started to get pretty jammed. Also, some of the alternative routes to get around have not been completed yet, so people are either forced to pay the toll or take much longer routes.

Another problem is the registration; although a pretty advanced system overall, the registration is not done online, or through a computer. No, its actually done by filling out a paper form at one of the local gas stations near the highway, and submitting it to recieve your badge. This has caused jams as people queue up to recieve their badges, either to find out they have already run out of them, or to find no photocopier to submit their vehicle registration card. Add to that the fact that the authorities now have to manually input all the forms, estimated at a few hundered thousand and growing.

Now, how is this relevant to us in Bahrain, or anyone in the surrounding region? Well, if you haven't noticed, Dubai is the model city that all countries around it try to follow. Dubai jumps, they jump. Dubai ducks, they duck. And now, Dubai, the tax free haven, has finally introduced a pretty direct tax on people using its roads. Sure, its there to reduce congestion on the main roads, and generate more income for new infrastructure projects, but its a tax nonetheless. And you can bet your sweaty GCC passport (or visa) that that the surrounding countries are going to introduce taxes pretty soon. Not necessarily taxes on major roads or highways, but any form of tax is applicable.

Yes, Salik has been criticized by many commuters, claiming that it hasn't fixed the problem, shifted it to somewhere else, or only created more problems. Some claim that it isn't fair, having to pay the same toll if you had 10 people in one vehicle, or one person, whether you were driving a tiny 2-seater or a truck, or if you were a poor labourer trying to make it to work to earn a living or a rich billionaire going to Dubai to spend a few thousand dollars for a good time.

Either way, I think it was a good start, and even though it wasn't launched as well as it should have been, it is still progress. Other measures need to be implemented to bring down congestion, and speaking of Dubai, Bahrain also needs to start moving on some strong traffic-control measures before we start turning into the next Cairo. Aside from the other available solutions for congestion, and I have a LOT in mind, we need to start looking at this whole tax situation, and start to prepare for it.

Toll booths are just the beginning.

7 July 2007

The Old Man on the Side of the Road

I was on my way home late last night, around 2:30am, driving on the semi-empty Sitra Highway back to Manama. Me and the guys had just finished having a good time; we rented a big swimming pool; invited a lot of friends over, a stereo on, good food, a really nice pool, etc. So after a long evening, here I am driving back, windows down, the cool breeze being a welcome change from the regular summer heat and humidity, and i'm fiddling around with my iPod trying to find a song i'm not yet sick of out of the 2,000 others that i've played over and over again. I spot someone on the side of the road through the corner of my eye; an old man, dressed in the traditional thobe, but somehow it seemed a little worn out and shabby. He was probably trying to hitch a ride, but as I was going at almost 120km/hr when I passed him it was pretty tough to make the car stop near him without causing a Hollywood-esque sort of scene.

So I drove on, my mind torn into two. Its only been 2 or 3 seconds since I spotted and passed him, but both sides of my conscience started to play their part (you know, the little angel and devil personages that talk to cartoon characters when they have a strong moral decision to make); “So, you in your luxury car, cruising along listening to music and on your way to a nice comfy bed, not even thinking twice about this poor helpless man pleading with anyone to drop him home?” said the good side of my conscience. By then it was already too late to stop for him and I was too far away, so I kept going. I knew there was a turn coming up along the road so I could make my way back to pick him up, but that would mean me wasting another 2 minutes or so going around the same way I came. “Just go home, don’t bother” said the bad side of my conscience. But with a swift kick, the good side kept the bad quiet and I decided to turn back.

A few minutes later I’m next to the old man, offering him a ride. He gets in, and asks me where I’m headed; I figure that doesn’t matter since I don’t have anything of an urgent nature to do at the moment, so I’ll just drop him all the way to wherever he’s going, and he says ‘Soug Markezi’ (central market) in an unclear voice. He’s probably in his late 60’s or so, his clothes are tattered, and he didn’t look like he was in the best shape. I ask him what he was doing there, in the middle of nowhere at 2:00am; his words are a little garbled, so I can’t make out exactly what he’s saying but I try to comprehend as much as I can. He says he just left work at a factory, and how this factory wouldn’t provide him with transport so most of his salary usually went to getting to and from work. He was trying to catch a ride to save up a little bit of money for something to eat later on.

He kept pretty quiet after that, but I could tell there was something going on in there and I ask him what he was going to do in ‘Soug Markezi’. He mentions that he has a second job that starts around now, and goes quiet again, but he still looks like he has a lot of buried sadness, exhaustion, maybe anger? I prod to try and get something out of him, and he seems to enjoy actually having someone to talk to, so I listen as he starts to whine about his three sons; I keep nodding my head and even though I don’t pick up everything he says, I guess he feels better in letting all his woes out. His first son seems to be embarrassed from him; he’s working a good job making good money, and has his own family now, but he won’t come to see him or let his wife or children meet him. His second son lives and works abroad, and doesn’t stay in touch with him so he has no idea how he is or what he does. The only son who really took care of him had passed away a few years ago, the reasons of which I couldn’t make out. His wife had also passed away recently, so he lives alone, his daily routine being working one job to another to put enough money together to eat.

So now we’re at his destination, and he opens the door to leave, expressing gratitude. I ask if there’s anything else I can do, and he just smiles and thanks me once again, and then walks away…

I drive off with a million thoughts and questions. After years of living, working, contributing to society and raising his children, why would his sons do such a thing and run off. Embarrassed from their father? To completely lose touch with him? Do they know that he’s trying to make a living working multiple jobs, probably physically demanding ones from the way he looked, and having to hitch rides in the middle of the night just to keep enough money to prevent himself from starving?

And why was he on that road in the middle of night? Why can’t a company provide sufficient transportation for its underpaid staff? It was a little over 5 minutes of minutes to drop him off, is that too much of a cost for the company? And even if they didn’t, why were cars just passing by on the highway, seeing him and not stopping? Is that what our society has come to? Doesn’t anyone have the decency anymore to help out an old man on the side of the road?