Friday, June 27, 2008

Ma' asalama habibi!

Well the Gnomads are out. Escape velocity was achieved at the planned time and the Gnomad is writing this from the comfort of the Silver Lounge of the Peninsular Gulf State International Airport.

Not, however, before the Magic Kingdom had pulled one last little prank. On attempting to check in at the departure airport of the Magic Kingdom the Gnomads were informed that the Gnomads and Gnomadettes flights to Peninsular Gulf State were confirmed, the Gnomad's onward flight to the Philippines was also confirmed, but the Gnomadette's was not. How can this be? The flights were booked at the same time, in the airline's own office, and paid for in cash at that point. How can one segment of one of the journeys not be confirmed? One of the airline check in staff went to check in the office, wherever that was, whilst the rest unconcernedly got on with the business of marshalling the Self-Loading Cargo. A tense 15 minutes later the expeditionary clerk returned saying that the flight was now confirmed and for some inexplicable reason, the Gnomadette had been scheduled to take the second leg of the journey on the 23rd August. Huh?

Perhaps they are in cahoots with the Gnomad's former cardiologist.

Now the Gnomads sit in some comfort in the Silver Lounge at peace with the world having consumed some very pleasant carrot and lentil soup, followed by bread and hommous and accompanied by some chilled apple juice. A minor influence on the Gnomads' current good humour is that in all the fuss at check-in their 12kg of excess baggage was overlooked. A much stronger influence is that on arrival at the Silver Lounge the Gnomads were greeted with the news that they had both received a complimentary up-grade to Business Class for the Peninsular Gulf State to the Philippines leg of their journey, a flight of almost ten hours duration. The Gnomads do so enjoy business class flying, so things could be a lot worse :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

At last....

Yesterday evening the shipper's called (only a day late) and the Gnomads' worldly goods are now winging (or, more likely, stumbling) their way to the Mundane Kingdom. The Gnomad's new employer very kindly agreed to accommodate the Gnomad's shipment temporarily until such time as the Gnomads actually had somewhere to live. This is very generous of them and is a huge benefit as far as the Gnomad's are concerned. It is very difficult to arrange an international cargo shipment when you don't actually have somewhere to send it.

An added bonus was that, despite the dinner arrangement having to be cancelled because of the late arrival of the shipper's, the Gnomads were still able to have a meal with their friends before said friends departed. The friends in question ordered in pizza once the shippers had arrived and the pizza very conveniently arrived just as the shippers left, which was a little over an hour before the friends were due to leave for the airport themselves.

There is a surreal feeling of calm in the Gnomads now rather spartan looking residence. The Gnomads leave the Magic Kingdom tomorrow and all is now ready. Flights and taxis are booked, a hire car is arranged for their arrival in the Philippines, flights from the Philippines to the UK are booked and pretty much everything to go to the Philippines is packed. Only two very minor things remain to be done, these are the last minute packing, which cannot be done until tomorrow, and the consumption of the remaining foodstuffs in the Gnomad kitchen, which is being worked on right now :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Normal" service resumes

Well, the shipping agent didn't show. Calling on the phone at first got an engaged tone, then no answer at all for several attempts (it must have been prayer time). Finally having got an answer from the agent, he told the Gnomad that he would have a price "After half an Hour". The fact that he had furnished the Gnomad with a price and indeed an appointment only the day before seemed to have slipped his mind. Oh well, they are now re-booked for tomorrow at 5pm

This is a nuisance as some of the Gnomads' chums were taking them for dinner at 6 tomorrow. This will not now happen. The dinner cannot be done later as the aforesaid chums fly out at 11 that night and need to get to the airport.

The Gnomads have the privilege of Filipino television, getting abs-cbn via satellite. Now the Gnomad, having completely flunked "polyglot 101", understands almost none of this, but it pleases the Gnomadette and this is A Good Thing.

One programme that the Gnomad's extremely poor Tagalog can usually cope with glories in the name "Adobo Nation"*. Partly this programme keep the Gnomads attention because it is a cookery programme, but mostly it is because it is intended for an Filipino-American audience and therefore has, comparatively speaking, quite a lot of English spoken in it. In a recent episode Lechon was the dish being discussed. Lechon is basically roast pig. To the Gnomads amusement the Magic Kingdom authorities had felt it necessary to blur out all the bits of animal that were identifiable as pig, whenever they came into shot.

Surely these people must have something better to do?

Only one more day of work and three more days in the Magic Kingdom to go until the Gnomads are back in the Philppines. Woohoo!

Fortunately the weather is improving there, so the flights should be OK. Thank you to everyone who enquired after the loss of the "MV Princess of the Stars". None of the Gnomad's or Gnomadette's family or friends were involved in the disaster, nor were any adversely affected by the typhoon that caused the tragedy.

*depending where you are in the Philippines this can be translated as "Cooked-In-Sauce Country" or as "Fried Food Land". The Gnomadette makes a particularly yummy Chicken Adobo, which is chicken with onions and garlic stewed in a rich, peppery sauce.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More progress

In addition to all of the legal requirements for departing the Magic Kingdom, the Gnomad has a number of contractual obligations to fulfil. These need to be done, documented and signed off by the administrators concerned but also by the Gnomad's supervisor before the Gnomad's employer will release the his final pay check (being 3 months salary).

The Gnomad's employer requires all of the following;

Student records to be in order
Classroom prepared for the vacation (all flat surfaces clear, all machines/computers covered, all computer files backed up, etc)
Housing inspected and inventory checked
Mobile phone bill settled and line closed
Landline phone bill settled
Internet line and account settled and closed
Departure forms filled in and submitted
Forwarding address submitted
Exit interview conducted
Exit questionnaire completed and submitted
Keys surrendered
ID card surrendered
The Gnomad's site supervisor must countersign all of the above.

All of these, bar the last three items on the list, are now done. These last three will be completed on the last working day and so all of these hoops have now been jumped through.

Even with all this done, the Gnomads employer (soon to be former employer) still with-holds 500 USD from his final salary for five months to cover any "unsettled financial business". Bearing in mind that for the legal requirements to be complete the car must be sold and all bank accounts and credit cards have to be closed, the Gnomad would be interested to know just exactly what these potentially "unsettled financial matters" might be.

The end is definitely in sight now. The only big thing now remaining is the dispatch of the Gnomads' goods and chattels. This is scheduled for tomorrow, Insh'Allah

Sunday, June 22, 2008


The Gnomads' Final Exit Visas materialised today!


We can now exit the Magic Kingdom. The visas have arrived just five days before we are due to depart, which is actually a reasonably comfortable time frame. Some of the Gnomad's colleagues have had theirs delivered on the day of scheduled departure! In the past the Gnomads exit and return visas have actually taken so long to arrive that the Gnomad received them after the intended date of return, so the Gnomads are very much relieved.

Things are now picking up speed in the Gnomads' preparations to leave. Flights are booked, destination visas are secured, currency has been purchased and almost the entirety of Gnomad-dom is packed into boxes. The shipping agent was at the Gnomads' apartment and will quote tomorrow. The agent is the same one who dealt with the Gnomad's last two moves (reasonably efficiently, which is very good for the Middle East) and so will almost certainly get the contract to relocate the Gnome habitat to the Mundane Kingdom.

A second shipping agent will call later today (Insh'allah). The second carrier, recommended by a colleague as very cheap, is by way of insurance to make sure that the Gnomads get the best price. The first agent knows that there is competition (but not who the competition actually is) and has already agreed to beat whatever price is offered by them. All in all, a win-win situation, which is about as rare as rocking horse droppings, or even porcine aviation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Progress and Pressures

There is yet more progress, Wednesday of last week saw the Gnomad, accompanied by one of the Government Relations staff successfully make the application for the police report. This only took about 3 and a half hours, practically greased lightning for the Magic Kingdom.

Not that it went completely smoothly of course, there were a number of hurdles on the way. The first was actually our very own government relations bod, lets call him Al. The Gnomad dutifully turned up at the GR office at the appointed time and Al arrived only five minutes later. Al's boss and Al's bosses boss reminded Al what it was he had to do, paper work was collected and we set off in Al's car. Not before Gnomad had asked Al "Do you have all the necessary papers" at least three times and reassuring Al that the Gnomad has his ID just as often.

Security in Saudi is such that any Western compound or place of work is surrounded by armed security. Private contractors, usually in blue, and National Guard in Desert DPMs all armed, with pistols, assault rifles, and crew-served machine guns in evidence. Being right next to the American Consulate there are also grey clad armed security that belongs to the US and when things are a little tense there are even US Marines*. Vehicles are checked in and out including interior searches and underneath inspections. All this takes more than a few minutes. In these minutes the Gnomad decided to make one last check
"You have got all the papers Al?"
"Yes Mr Gnomad"
"Have you got my passport?"
"No Mr Gnomad, don't you have that?"
"No Al, I have my ID, you at GR have my passport"
So back we go through security to the car park and Al calls on his mobile for someone from GR to bring the Gnomad's passport down from the GR office.

Now dear reader, you will remember that the whole point of the GR bod going with the Gnomad is because the Gnomad, being an ex-pat, is not allowed to hold both his Passport and his Magic ID at the same time, on pain of a 10,000 USD fine.

so now Al actually does have all the papers Al and the Gnomad set off (again) to the Police Station.

At the Police station the letter from the embassy is not acceptable.

It must also, apparently, be stamped by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)**

The Gnomad and Al the go off to the MFAI, just less than an hours drive away. At the MFAI there is almost no Queue***! Alhamdul'Allah! This is almost unheard of! The Gnomad only has to wait half an hour! The Highly Trained and Efficient Civil Servant looked at the paper for about two nano-seconds, stuck a postage stamp on it, cancelled the postage stamp with a rubber stamp and handed it back, with a curt "Halas" ("Finished").

Al then drove the Gnomad back to the police station where the document, having now quite obviously been approved by the MFAI after exhaustive security and authenticity checks, was immediately accepted.

Twenty minutes later the Gnomad was on his way back to work, slightly inky from having given fingerprints, but satisfied that the process was now under way.

When could the Gnomad expect to receive the report? "Two to four weeks, Insh'Allah" which actually means one or two months. "Why does it take so long?" the Gnomad asked Al. Al explained that the Magic Police are not actually 100% computerised yet****, so the report request must be taken around the different police regions and checked against paper records.

A letter has duly been left with GR asking them if they would be ever so kind and forward the report, with an Enlgish translation, should the Gnomads have left the Magic Kingdom before it arrives, which is an entirely likely circumstance.

As a side note, GR has not yet started processing the Gnomads' Final Exit Visas, we are all waiting on confirmation of the change of ownership of the Gnomadmobile, which so far has taken 4 days longer than stated. No surprise there.

The Gnomad has a tendency to be hypertensive, and so keeps an eye on his blood pressure. As you might imagine, trying to get a Final Exit Visa does not help this one little bit. Being prudent, the Gnomad booked in to see the cardiologist to get a check up before departing the Kingdom.

On arrival at the hospital the Gnomad was informed that his appointment was actually tomorrow, not today. The Gnomad was less than courteous to the reception staff as this is the third time this particular hospital has done this. On the first occasion Gnomad allowed the hospital to convince him that he, the Gnomad, had got it wrong. The Gnomad is not one to be caught out twice and has been very careful since. On the second occasion Gnomad lodged a formal complaint and pursued the same until it resulted in the admission that the particular specialist concerned (not, on that occasion, the cardiologist) had only a few appointments that day and so had cancelled the clinic and put the appointments over to the next day. "Did the hospital tell anyone"? the Gnomad had asked the rather besieged customer relations chap who was the recipient of the Gnomads ire. No they hadn't, he finally admitted, but they would be sure to do so in future if it such a cancellation were to happen again, which of course it wouldn't, the Gnomad was assured.

No, they didn't tell anyone, and yes it did happen again.

The Gnomad could see from the appointments screen on the computer at reception that the entire clinic had been cancelled.

Perhaps this is a sideways kind of way of drumming up more business for brother cardiologists. The doctor cancelling appointments without telling any of the clients is really not going to help anyone's blood pressure, and even though it has lost this individual cardiologist one source of revenue, the Gnomad is definitely going to see his cardiologist in the Philippines, who is professional, courteous, knowledgeable and always in his office when he says he will be.

The Gnomad suspects that departing the magic Kingdom will do more to steady his blood pressure than any amount of meds ever will.

*Usually, though, if things are tense enough that the Marines are in evidence theGnomad and his colleagues stay at home in their fortified and equally guarded compound.

** the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is often referred to by ex-pats as the Ministry of Mucking About the Infidel (MFAI), or something very, very similar to that.

*** relatively speaking of course, "almost no queue" in the Magic Kingdom means less than ten people falling in line at each teller.

**** in fact about 20% computerised, as far as the Gnomad could tell.

Monday, June 09, 2008

softlee softlee catchee monkey

Another step forward in the up-hill struggle that is attempting to secure a Final Exit Visa. This morning the British Trade Office informed the Gnomad that his letter, requesting a police report showing that the Gnomad had no criminal convictions in the Magic Kingdom, was ready for collection and for only the local equivalent of 72 UKP (142 USD)

This is just the letter requesting the police report of course, the Gnomad now needs to actually request the police report itself, which will likely cost more. This Police report is for the Gnomad's new employer in the UK and is not actually part of the Final Exit Visa process, but it requires that the Gnomad's passport and ID are presented at the police station. Both of these documents must be surrendered when applying for the Final Exit Visa and so this must be done before that application is made. the ID will never be returned and the passport will be handed back on the final day of the Gnomad's contract.

This is further complicated by the fact that it is actually illegal in the Magic Kingdom for an ex-pat to be in possession of both their passport and ID at the same time, their sponsor must hold one of them at all times. This means that to make the application for the police report involves a member of the Government Relations Office* accompanying the Gnomad to the police station to make the request.

With any luck the letter can be picked up and the visit to the police station can both be accomplished tomorrow, or failing that the next day, Insh'Allah

Yet another step, the selling of the Gnomadmobile, was accomplished today. Hands were shaken, cash was exchanged and papers were pushed. The administration involved may only take another two days (Insh'Allah) and then that is a fait accompli too

There are now significantly more hurdles behind the Gnomads than remain in front.


* The Government Relations Office: This is one of the administrative departments of the Gnomad's current employer. For a staff of less than a thousand people it is necessary to employ six people full-time to deal with all of the administration that the Government of the Magic Kingdom chooses to inflict on the ex-pat population, just to make them feel welcome, valued and appreciated.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Futures, Changes and Injustices

The Gnomads are preparing to move house. Not one house but two. The Gnomad has secured a job back in the Mundane Kingdom. The Gnomad's are looking forward to a sanity restoring stay in Mundania for a while, and the Gnomadette is particularly excited as she likes the UK very much and both Gnomads are looking forward to being able to apply for a right of abode and probably citizenship for the Gnomadette. One never really appreciates just how good a travel document a British Passport is until one tries to travel with someone who doesn't have one.

The Mundane kingdom is an expensive place to live and to be able to afford this the Gnomad's are giving up their home in the Philippines. The Gnomad's dwelling in the Magic Kingdom goes with the job there, and since that job is going, so will the apartment.

Fortunately in the two years they've been married the Gnomads have not had much chance to accumulate the vast amounts of clutter that seems to appear out of nowhere. Not too much packing and not too much junk needing disposal.

What is more problematic is the bureaucracy that must be gone through to leave the magic Kingdom. The resident and work visa does not give any right to enter or leave the country, these are separate, and the resident and work visa's expiry do not in themselves give a right of exit either. The Gnomads must therefore apply for a Final Exit Visa. To do this requires an array of documents including but not limited to:

A letter from your employer confirming that you have fulfilled your contract and that they agree for you to go.
evidence that your phone (and mobile) is cut off and phone bill(s) paid.
evidence that your bank account has been closed and you have no outstanding debts.
if you happen to own a car this must be sold too before applying for your Final Exit Visa as it will not be granted if you still own a car
Any fines (parking or speeding tickets etc) must also be settled.

The Gnomads had a buyer for their car, a splendid fellow, of Pakistani origin who has been working in the Kingdom for many years. Finally his employer agreed to let him bring his family over to join him (after only 12 years of asking) and so have given him permission to buy a car too (you need permission from your Arabic sponsor here to do just about anything) Having looked at this car and decided to buy it imagine his, and the Gnomad's, disappointment when his employer said that the Gnomadmobile was "not a suitable car" for him to buy and withdrew their permission on those grounds.

I had wondered why you so rarely see 4X4s driven by people from the sub-continent in the Magic Kingdom. It seems that such cars are only considered "suitable" for Westerners and Arabs, not appropriate for people of Asian descent. Mmmmm, what a very fair and egalitarian point of view.

The delay in the sale of the car, of course, delays everything else. To sort out the paperwork involves the production of the Gnomad's Iqama (internal passport and ID card equivalent) several times on each occasion, but to apply for the Final Exit Visa requires the submission of the passport and the surrender, never to be returned, of the Iqama.

Theoretically the Final Exit Visa can be processed in only one day, however in practice it is usual to allow a whole month. the Gnomads travel plans involve leaving the Magic Kingdom in three weeks and would be expensive to change, so the sale of the car (the last hurdle) is becoming imperative.

The Gnomads' current plans involve leaving the Magic Kingdom in the last week of June, going to the Philippines for about seven weeks and then relocating to the Mundane Kingdom for a stay of several years. That all this should hang on the sale of a car worth less than 1,000 UKP is a little frustrating.