Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rich with creases

The Goat’s new residence is full of – appropriately – LG appliances, including a dishwasher, fridge-freezer and even a television. There was no DVD player, but there is now and, purely by coincidence, this is also by LG. Rather usefully, the magic wand that works the DVD machine also works the telly. The Goat has avoided that irritating spawning of remote controllers that afflicts so many households.

The Goat has been struggling with domesticity in the kitchen. At last, he’s worked out how to persuade the LG Direct Drive washer-dryer with 1200 rpm spin speed, inverter and “10 year Warrnaty for Motor” [sic] (according to a sticker on the unit) not only to turn soiled garments into clean ones, but also into dry ones. The said washing machine has numerous displays, and it bleeps, pings and flashes like a computer from a 1970s sci-fi film.

The one thing that this wonderful machine doesn’t do is the ironing. The Goat hates ironing and would normally spurn it as he would a rabid dog. But ‘business attire’ dictates that turning up at the office looking like he’s been sleeping fully-clothed under a hedge is completely unacceptable. Also unacceptable to the Goat are drip-dry bri-nylon shirts. It’s cotton, or polyester/cotton in an emergency.

And yet, despite putting much effort into wielding a steam iron, most of the Goat’s shirts remain obstinately rich with creases. A great problem is that clothing, although made from flat cloth, is made up of odd shapes so that it’ll go around a three-dimensional body, and therefore refuses to lie flat and be tortured with hot irons. So removal of creases from one area invariably introduces new ones to another.

Some shirts and trousers are better behaved than others. The Goat’s yellow shirt that is made of some pinstriped ridged material is 100% resistant to being ironed, except by someone skilled in the art. A standard test of someone’s skill with a steam iron is the Goat’s kilt, which has loads of separate panels. Nanny Goat can do a splendid job in about five minutes; it takes the Goat up to half an hour to yield an inferior result, and the part-time maid back at the Crumbling Villa made such a hash of it that she’s never going to do it again.

The solution to the Goat’s abject hatred of ironing is obvious. There is a laundry at the other end of the road. They might do an ironing-only service, and they might even undertake home delivery.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Staple diet

The Goat retrieved his passport, which is currently being passed around government departments as part of Qatar's Residence Permit process, so that he could spend a weekend in Dubai with his Beloved Wife. There's also the Goatmobile to re-register and insure for another year, because that still remains to be sold.

The Goat should like to thank whichever bright spark nailed staples through his new, electronic, machine-readable passport.

The said staples have now been carefully removed. It remains to be seen how much damage may have been done to the passport's delicate electronics.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

WiFi? Fie, MiFi!

So the MiFi of which I blogged earlier works just fine in my former apartment. It also works brilliantly in the Vodafone shop, just to prove that my complaints about dysfunctionality are completely wrong. And this morning I discover that it works in the office.

The only place I can't get a meaningful connection is in my apartment. This renders the device completely pointless, because the apartment is the only place on the surface of the planet where I actually want to use it. There's a good, strong phone signal; it's just the 3G bit that I can't access.

Vodafone's excuse was that "We are upgrading, and there are some occasional periods of outage or low signal." I suspect from the loquacity with which this was spouted that it's a standard tape-recording that gets played to every dissatisfied customer.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Permit me to exist

If you don’t have a Residence Permit, you don’t really exist.

I have already reported how the moment an expatriate in Qatar obtains a Work visa, he forgets how to drive until he gets a local driving licence. But not a permanent one. Those are reserved for proud holders of the RP.

I’m moving house on Friday. Unlike my temporary accommodation, the new place doesn’t have a phone line. So no internet until after I have an RP and ID card. You see, non-residents aren’t allowed to have land-lines. In Qatar, the ID card is irrevocably connected to the RP, and it’s impossible to do almost anything official without flashing the ID card. My old ID (with a hilarious 1996 mugshot, and a 2002 expiry date) has been invaluable, but it isn’t good enough for Q-Tel.

The medical examination and hoofprints aren’t going to happen until the end of July, after which it’ll take around a fortnight to get the RP stamp in my passport. But even this isn’t good enough. One to two weeks after the RP, I get my Qatar ID card. Only then may I apply for a telephone in the new apartment. And installation (which is the onerous task of switching it on at the exchange, because the wires are already in place) will take “up to 15 days”.

Now add Ramadan into the mix, and it becomes obvious that I’ll be on the internot until September. Unacceptable.

Enter Mobile Broadband. Ouch, the expense!

Q-Tel offers QAR80 per month for up to 2Gb of data, apparently on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. Going over 2Gb costs QAR10 per 1Mb, which seems a lot of cash. Is 2Gb a lot, assuming email, Facebook, blogging and some Google Talk? I know to avoid downloading movies and spending protracted hours gazing at YouTube. Unfortunately, this QAR80 option is only available to RP holders. If I had an RP I’d have ADSL and wouldn’t be asking about mobile broadband!

Or there’s QAR250 for ten days of ‘unlimited’ broadband; QAR450 for 30 days. And this is plus another QAR300 for the USB dongle. ‘Unlimited’, as defined by Q-Tel, is 15Gb per month. An unlimited package with a limit. Freedom is slavery.

I went into Vodafone Qatar, about four doors down and for QAR150 I got myself a MiFi. Essentially, this is a mobile phone without a display, keypad, speaker or microphone. Alright, it’s a box; a musical box, wound up and ready to play. It connects to the interwebs through the 3G mobile phone network and behaves as my own portable, private WiFi hotspot. Of course, it’s really expensive for heavy use, but crucially because it’s Pay-As-You-Goat, I didn’t need to produce my non-existent ID card in order to buy one.

To my delight, I discovered that it runs at an actual 3Mbps, which is over four times the speed of the 1Mbps ADSL. If connectivity turns out to be pants in the new place, I’ve invested only QAR150 and not QAR750.

I also downloaded BitMeter, which enables me to monitor how much bandwidth I’m actually using.

What might be useful is to avail myself of Q-Tel’s QAR80 per month once I have my ID card, and to stick this into the Vodafone MiFi device. The Universal Law of Sod suggests that the MiFi will only work with Vodafone. An experiment for later, perhaps.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do you 'ave a leecence?

Today I discovered that I’d been breaking the law for the past week. Purely by chance, I discovered that I’m only allowed to use my UAE driving licence for seven days (not three months as previously asserted by my employer), after which I completely forget how to drive in Qatar, my motor insurance ceases to be valid, and if some idiot decides to drive into the back of my rental car when I stop at a red traffic light, I’ll collect some Black Points, a massive fine, and also a very short haircut and some time in Al Slammah.

The actual rules seem to vary, dependent on who you ask. Also the phase of the moon and your grandfather’s inside-leg measurement may have some effect. But in summary:-
    GCC nationals can drive ad infinitum in Qatar with impunity.

    Expatriate holders of GCC licences may drive in Qatar for up to either two weeks or three months, depending on who you ask.

    Holders of International Driving Permits may drive in Qatar for up to six months.

    Holders of various brands of foreign driving licence may drive in Qatar for up to one week.

    BUT the moment an expatriate’s visa turns into a ‘Work’ visa, as opposed to a ‘Visit’ or ‘Business’ visa, the said expat has to obtain a Qatar driving licence.

So there I was, happily driving a rental car. But last week my visa was converted from ‘Business’ to ‘Work’ as part of the slow process of obtaining a Residence Permit, and so I came over all driving unlicensed and uninsured. The rental company was indifferent. As far as they were concerned, if I drove without insurance I’d be trapped in the country until I bought them a new car to replace the one I’d pranged. Hardly a responsible attitude, I think.

I made several phone calls and emails, explaining that there was no way I was getting into the car again until I was legal. I do not relish the prospect of attempting to explain from the comfort of a Qatar gaol cell how I’d been misled by my employer. Anyway, ignorantia legis non excusat.

So at 3pm I was given a lift up to the driver and vehicle licensing centre, where an eye-test and QAR150 later I had a temporary Qatar driving licence. Another QR150 for the motorcycle licence, because the nice lady behind the counter seemed incapable of ticking two boxes on the same form. The temporary licence is valid for three months. Once I have my Residence Permit I can upgrade to a full Qatar licence for an additional fee. I think the technical term is ‘tax’.

In summary, the licensing process was easy. But it was fraught with unnecessary concern and risk on my part, all because of the vagaries of the rules and a lackadaisical attitude of others to keeping me on the correct side of the law.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Nefarious practices

How much does it cost to move money across international borders? More than you might imagine, once Red Triangles Bank gets involved. I read the Schedule of Services and Tariffs before punting money across the Gulf, and it appears that Bank will charge Dh50 to move my money from my Red Triangle in Sharjah to my Red Triangle in Doha. This is provided that I tell a computer to do it rather than a person.

So it was to my dismay and annoyance that Dh100 was deducted from my account about two seconds after the money was moved. As is entirely predictable, I complained. Less predictably, someone from the bank actually called me as promised, and explained what was going on.

  • Essentially, if the Dh50 charge is paid by the receiving bank, the price you see is the price you pay.

  • However, if the Dh50 charge is paid by the transmitting bank, there’s an additional Dh50 fee.

At the bottom of the page of tariffs, there’s another entry that states:

    “Additional charge to send payment in full within [Red Triangles] Group (Charges “OUR”) - Electronic / Manual" AED50”

I put it to the Bank that arranging the Schedule of Services and Tariffs in this way constitutes devious practice. Most people would look down a table to the item they’re interested in, and then across to the fee. There’s no indication to a customer that, having found the fee, he should refer elsewhere for additional fees. Be aware that Red Triangles’ customers should read the entire ten-page document in case there’s an additional fee buried elsewhere.

Of course, the Bank hides behind “It’s on the form in black and white”, so there’s no chance of a refund. At least they didn’t make any money out of the transaction. Sorting out my complaint cost the Bank Dh77: the cost of a 36-minute international phone call.


Monday, July 04, 2011

Electric string

The thing about my luxurious temporary accommodation is its luxury and also how temporary it is. Despite my only being in a one-bed flat in West Bay (there’s posh!) for up to a month, I nevertheless was disappointed to discover that the internet wasn’t working. I complained to HR, who told the computer geeks.
Then IT told the Alderney,
And he told the Dairymaid,
Until I was advised
To make a formal fault report.

I phoned Q-Tel.

As promised, Q-Tel contacted me within 48 hours, and I was obliged to drop everything and rush to the other end of town to let the technician fiddle with my router. The verdict was that there was a problem with the electric string connecting the telephone to the wall, and I would need a different cable. So as the technician left, I had a working internet but was missing the correct phone cable.

I know precisely zero about the inner workings of telecommunications equipment. How naïve of me to imagine that, if I bought a phone cable in Qatar that had the right plug on each end and was labelled as being suitable for telephones in Qatar, that it would be the correct cable. Once plugged in, the phone remained as dead as flared corduroy trousers, and so I logged another fault complaint with Q-Tel.

Sure enough, within 48 hours a technician phoned me. “No, actually I’m not sitting at home on the off-chance that you might happen by. I am in fact at the other end of town working and earning the money that enables me to stay here. Yes, of course I’ll drop everything and head straight home to let you in. For the second time this week.”

It turns out that the cable I’d bought was the wrong type. It looks identical to the correct type, but has four internal wires instead of two. And Q-Tel is allegedly special: unique in the Gulf in using the two-wire system. So much for “fully compatible with the Gulf” as it says on the box.

I wasn’t going to let the technician escape without leaving a working land-line. He snipped off the wrong plug from the original cable and crimped the correct plug on to the end. Everything now works. Why, I ask myself, did the first technician not do that? Changing the plug took approximately 20 seconds.


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