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No 16

I leave Pakistan & Oman early...

So I wandered down about 400 metres and presented the ticket to the guy in front of the computer through a small hole for that purpose, he looked at it and told me to go to check in, I explained I was not allowed there unless he wrote something on the ticket, which he did, I presented to the armed guard, the allowed me to go through, and then it was security, everything had to be examined, x-rayed, and I had to go through the metal detector, normally I am organised for all this, but travelling as I was on this excursion, I realised later how easy it was to become unprepared.

I then went to check in, the guy explained that the next plane was full, the next plane was five hours later at 7 p.m., I said fine book me on that, he fiddled around, suggested I upgrade to business class, then found me a seat of a plane that was about to leave, and told me to hurry.

So was on to the departure lounge, through another lot of security, what I normally do at security, is to have all of my cameras and computer in my carry on bag, my all-weather jacket I place my wallet and all other metal objects into the Velcro sealed pockets so I sent to items through the x-ray machine whilst I metal free, except for my knees, go through the metal detector. To cut a very long story short, I left my wallet at security and was sitting on the plane beside a Beijing accountant who was working in Pakistan when three security men burst onto the plane as if they were looking for a hijacker.

They stopped my seat, and I thought, at last they have found me, and indeed they had, they had my wallet and they presented to me and asked me to make sure everything was there. I did not know exactly how much in the way of rupees I had but to please them I counted it and said yes all there. They urged they not to do that again, and a Beijing accountant sitting beside me, after all this had happened, asked me…. did I leave my wallet at security, I cannot remember the intellectual reply I gave him, it's a pity because I'm sure I would have been good.

This goes to show if you have a procedure to go through security trying not depart from that procedure under any circumstances.

All after that excitement the rest of the trip was humdrum, arrived in Karachi, there was the usual amount of people outside the door with hotel signs, I asked for my hotel, was directed to guy in after I explained to him several times why I was not on his list, he phoned the hotel, and eventually put me in a taxi that brought me to the hotel where I proceeded to check in, again haggling over the room rate. They upgraded me to the executive suite at no extra charge so is good to get back into civilised surroundings.

The next thing was to put my camera bag back together again, and I stress on you all not to let me touch your motorcars, has no matter how I fiddled with the bag on the dividers that I originally had in it I always had about two pieces left over which would not fit any where. In the end I made a compromise and decided that will have to do.

The trip in retrospect.
What should I have done, in retrospect I should've flown to Islamabad, spoken to a travel agent in that city, or several travel agents, met my English-speaking driver, to make sure you could speak English, considered flying to Gilgit, instead of driving both ways. At Islamabad they had a better perception of what was safe and what was not safe, for example in Karachi the agents said it was not safe to go to Peshawar yet my guide had been led the previous week with two Americans.

I noted that I was almost the only tourist in any part of my travels in Pakistan, I saw occasionally Japanese and about three other white faces but that was it

Thursday 20
Yesterday I went to and had lunch with a friend, he took me to his private club and soon as I entered the club, looking around I said to my friend this building is from the day's of the Raj. He smiled and said yes come and have a look at the past presidents, they were all Lieut Colonel's, or Sir such and such through till 1963 when the first Asian name appeared.

It was a delightful lunch, and they've retained the atmosphere and ideas of service at the table from the turn of the last century.

While I was waiting my friend at the hotel, the hotel foyer was full of young students there to set their exams run by an English College. There was male and female, some of the girls had their heads covered but the majority them were uncovered in most of the girls were wearing high heels shoes.

I noticed one attractive young girl approach a good-looking guy, he stood up and they had an animated conversation, and she was really flirting with him, giving him the full treatment. It is interesting how the larger the city it is the more liberal it becomes.

My friend tells me that his club in the evening has lots of social events and it is usually full of young people who have obtained more freedom than their cousins in the North.

We discussed Pakistan reasonably broadly, and as seems as if it is restrained by the incredible amount of corruption there is at most levels. He was unable to suggest any way of overcoming this, and I asked what would happen if Pakistan adopted a muslin type of government. He felt that probably that would remove the corruption, and I asked well what about the women? He said they would have to stay at home and wear the full veil.

It is almost a no-win situation and I left the lunch feeling rather sorry for the country.

During a discussion my friend suggested that since the troubles that have been happening in Karachi since the bombing of the mosque it really wasn't safe for a European to be in the city, we stand out so well, with the spate of kidnappings that have been happening, any European could be a prime target.

So when I got back to the hotel, I telephoned the airline to see if I could fly out the following day, however there was no flight, but there was one that night and the next one was three days away which I was booked on, I looked at what I had to do and decided that moving on was better than sitting in the hotel for three days.

So packing was uneventful, only left behind my portable to clothes line, which I have to replace somewhere, went through the first lot of security without losing my wallet, waited for an hour for the airline counter to open, checked my luggage through on was given invitation to the business class lounge, and a little Pakistani to guide me there.

First point was through customs, and the guy asked to look at my ticket, and he became fascinated with it, looking at each ticket to see where I was going and as there were 20 tickets that took quite a time. Eventually it he had had his full, and I was passed on to the next counter, my little guide took me to the top of every line, I'm not quite sure what we would do in the West to such blatant queue jumping, but there they did not even blink an eyelid.

We are through all of the government barriers and were ready to go up to the lounge, when I remembered the Pakistani money I had in my pocket, and asked my guide where the money changing counter was, he looked embarrassed and told me it was on the other side of customs. I remembered passing it and thought well I should change the money there, I thought no because there is probably going to be a departure tax and I'll need some rupees for that.

So I had over 5000 rupees which I assumed would be useless once I stepped outside the country. There were whole line of shops there, so I went on a shopping spree, or tried to, in the end I ended up with a camel leather, bomber type, leather jacket. They startled off at 5000 rupees, so I went on to another shop in his starting price was 4200 but he did not have my size, so was back to the first shop and asked him for is best price. He went on to explain to me that as this was his first sale today, and my guide was his friend, he had already given me it is best price, I said that okay I go to the other shop, his best price then became 4500, I said no, I go to the other shop, so we came down to 4200 which was still probably 2000 higher than it should have been at that price I was happy with that being equal to $US73 or $NZ120. It did however mean however it was another parcel to carry, so I will have to work out a system to handle that.

I sat in the lounge for a little while, and thought of the 1200 rupees I still had in my pocket, and thought I'd better get rid of that, so I picked up all my gear and wandered downstairs, or I attempted to, because the steward came dashing out, grabbed my suitcase off me, to carry it downstairs for me. I went and spent the last my money, back upstairs, and eventually the steward came and told me it is time to go to the plane, and again he grabbed my suitcase to carry it downstairs, when he got to the bottom of the stairs I took the case and started walking towards the gate, and the steward said, Tip, what about Tip?

I told him I had spent all my money, what I did not tell him was simply grabbing a suitcase to carry it downstairs, unasked, is not worthy of a Tip.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, the arrival in Oman had no hitches, New Zealanders do not it needed a Visa, which I find out after queueing for one, and the guy passport control had to be told, he was a little concerned with my passport, it is looking a little that the worst for wear, not sure how I will get on with America, but at least I have a Visa so they should have my photograph on file so hopefully that will keep me out of jail.

By the way if you ever wondered what ever happened to Lifeboy soap, it is alive and being well advertised in Pakistan, some days when I got downwind from some people I came to the conclusion that there was incredible market yet to be tapped.

Friday 21 May
So I am in Muscat Oman, I've just been down to the front desk to try to organise a tour while I am here and find that a one-day tour of eight hours will cost 175 American dollars, that to me, is expensive, he has just telephoned back this moment to tell me he is found another company that will only charge 165 American dollars, you can imagine what I told him about that.

to top right....


From bottom left

At breakfast this morning it was in a very nice setting, of course the Sheraton hotels are normally very nice, there is one thing of course I had forgotten about the Sheraton is that it is usually full of fat Americans. There were three such people in the restaurant this morning, they were not just fat, they were enormous, they almost put me off my food, of course looking at them I think nothing would put them off their food they were shoveling it in so fast.

I could not help thinking of a situation, whilst I was watching them, You have a 10 hour flight to an important destination, is that the last-minute and you go to the airport and you get the last seat on the plane, as it is quite late you have to run to the gate getting through all of the security, and you board the plane exhausted. The smiling hostess welcomes you and says you're the second to last person to arrive yours is one of those two empty seats down near the back. You make your way your seat and collapse into it exhausted, an announcement comes across the PA saying that we will be departing in a moment and that we are waiting for the one last passenger. You register that that will be your companion for the next 10 hour's.

You glance up to the front of the plane and you see this person that fills up the aisleway making their way towards you. At this point of time hopefully you wake up from the nightmare you having and you can get up and have a good slug of whisky.

Saturday 22 May Oman
Well it is all very well to decide to fly out of a country but first you have to make sure there is a plane flying, and that there is a seat on it. I will not be departing Oman until Monday night, technically Tuesday morning at 1215, and then I may have a problem in Dubai, originally I was going to transferred to Singapore airlines and fly on to Cairo, then I decided to stop off, now am wanting to fly on through again they have no spare seats on the plane until the 31st

So it looks like I am coming in for a few interesting days, and I have 1 or 2 ideas which I may pursue, but time will tell.

I revisited the concept of taking the guided tour, and thought, I will probably not be back in this country again, so I should see a little bit of the landscape that is beyond the hotel and airport, so I booked the tour, and then found out it was the tour for one person which made it more realistic in price, and so today I went out on the tour, and realised that this country is a great country if you want to go to the beach and get plenty of sunshine, they have plenty of both, today it was up to 41°, and some of the coastline looks absolutely incredible as far as open beaches, nice sand, and nobody to share it with, except whoever you bring with you.

There's 1 or 2 forts about, but believe me when you have seen one you've almost seem a lot. The most interesting one I've seen in this category, and really it was a castle, was in the Czech Republic and it was basically still furnished as to when it was occupied, instead of what you normally see a near empty shell with a few token pieces of history scattered throughout it.

Oman has a lot of rock, mountains, date palms, barren arid land, and not much else. It has a wonderful highway system with hardly any traffic, very nice houses, I did not see much exotic and the way of housing, a lot of mosques, and that's about it in the area north of Muscat that I visited. There may be other areas that are better, and if so I was not told about them.

I did get a few interesting photographs, however I will not cost them out on the basis of what it cost me to get them.

There is a large shopping mall I've been told about out beyond the airport, that it is a $US35 taxi ride each way, which is a reason the expensive way to fill in a day.

Oh two of the fat Americans that I saw at breakfast the other day turned out to be German. I wonder if America will ever forgive me?

There is a rule that you should always avoid talking about politics and religion. I often break both of these rules when I'm talking to somebody of a different culture to find out just how different people think from different backgrounds.

I had an interesting conversation with my Arab driver/guide whilst he was showing me some of his country, he is evidently been a guide for the last 18 years, learnt his English in Egypt at university, has lived in England, has visited the States on several occasions.

Of course most of his beliefs have the benefit of hindsight which of course if you have a belief, this particular format really makes a strong.

First on Hussein of Iraq, he agreed that he had to go because he was busy making war's against all of his neighbours for no real reason. Colonel Gaddafi he felt was unbalanced because he was always changing his allies for no real reason. He felt a large problem with the Arab countries was that their rulers were old men out of touch with the current world. I then thought of the new ruler of Jordan who was a young guy, and asked him for his impression on that, his comment was that the king of Jordan's wife used to be his girlfriend when he was at university in Egypt, I asked him did he lose her to the current husband because of his looks or his money. He laughed.

He then went on to expound his theory how Washington was run by the Jews. He had no argument with the American people, only with Washington and of course Bush. (I have just remembered about the article in a Paki newspaper about the Paki Muslims are wanting to raise one million to help Kerry win the presidential race…….guess that will be five minutes of TV time)
He claimed the majority of the American senators were Jewish, and that the whole problem with the world was caused by the Jews, and that it was a Jewish conspiracy. He went on to say that he had nothing against the Jews personally (really) and that he had many Jewish friends (how to see explain that at the mosque).

He then went on to make the incredible claim that the Jews knew that September the 11th was going to happen on that day, because he said that normally 4200 Jewish people worked in the trade centre and none of them were at work that day (interesting, I sure that made headlines somewhere), (Where?).

I said if the Jewish people have so much power in America why do the muslin people not exercise their power, I said or are they not enough of them? He said no there are more muslin in America than there are Jewish, I then asked him why these muslin people did not look after the Arab interests, as usual with this class of person, when you get to the bottomline, they become speechless and have no answer. They are merely good at repeating, parrot fashion, things that they are told, I assume by their clerics, who they are taught not to question.

Having exhausted that discussion, I then moved on to the way in which the women are treated in his society. He started explaining a lot of the Koran to me, and I short-circuit that, by telling them I had read that, along with most of all of the other religious writings of the world. So I was saved the lecture, and the went on to explain that in a household he believed that the man was the master, or manager, and he had to make the rules for the good of the family, because they could only be one person in charge.

I told him that was ridiculous and that marriage was a partnership, and not a dictatorship, his comment was we both have our own opinions and customs.

I asked what system of government they had here in Oman and was told that the Sultan has basically unlimited power. He appoints all of the ministers, which to me was not too bad an idea has at least you could get somebody that had some qualifications for the position, in theory, instead of having a doctor of history as a finance minister like we have the New Zealand.

Evidently there is also an election of the Parliament, and they have the ability to question any of the ministers, call any of them to task, draft and submit laws to the Sultan, who has the ability to either approve or reject any of the laws (nice).

Evidently 30 years ago there was none of the infrastructure that we see today, they have about two kilometres of roading, and most people were nomads living in tents. At that point the current Sultan seized power from his father and things started to modernise until it is as we see it today. Currently there is a population of 2 million with four million guest workers, or expats.

Sunday 23 May

Not much activity today, on my behalf that is, the muslin week runs from Saturday through till Wednesday night, with Thursday and Friday their weekend. Friday is the holy day in most shops at closed except necessary services like grocery and petrol.

I discovered that there was what they called a very large shopping centre out past the airport called City Centre, and after walking outside and walking about 400 metres, I decided that to wander around the hotel area, but with the air temperature of 47° and 50% humidity it proved to be a little bit ridiculous, so decided to go out to be large mall to walk around in comfort.

Large mall, you're got to be kidding, it was what I would call a normal Size mall, with a little bit more space in the whole layout but not altogether that many shops. It was very interesting looking at some of the posters and show cards, showing European models in skimpy dresses, skimpy underwear and all of the other illustrations we are used to in the west, then observing all of the women walking through the shopping centre, covered in black with half of them having just their eyes showing. It was quite a contrast, of course underneath all of this black, they could be wearing microskirts with some of the skimpy underwear displayed on the posters, we'll never know!

So I came back to the hotel, went to my room and started watching a couple of movies, after the second one finished at about 9 p.m. I decided it was time for dinner So I went up to the restaurant and helped myself to the buffet then went to reception to tell them that I be checking out 5 p.m. Monday. When I almost reached reception I saw some Lufthansa crew getting ready to go to the airport, CLICK, the guy reception made all the notes so that was okay, I then walked to the elevator and saw Lufthansa crew again, CLICK, CLICK, got into the elevator pushbutton five, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, finally it hit me, 0015 hrs is actually Sunday night, not Monday night as I had thought.

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