Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Please help. Anyone got good wasta ???

This wednesday, 24 May 2006, my wife and had I gone down for a walk. It was around 8.40 pm and we were just below our building when a couple of guys in a white Nissan Altima (looked like a 94 model) slowed near us and the guy in the passanger seat grabbed my wife's bag and they sped away.

The bag contained our passports, original visas and original marriage certificates.

We immediately went to the cops and filed a report and also gave them the number of the car that one of the guys standing nearby was able to see. I could not get the number since there was no number plate on the rear of the car.

Thankfully, some guy found my wife's passport on the road this Monday and he returned it to us. It had the medical paper attached to it since we had it done just last week. Through that he was able to identify the name of our company and he called up and returned the passport. My passport is still not found.

The company has been really lax and my wife complained to my boss about it. The HR and Admin got a real scolding for this and are now playing hard nose with us because their ass was kicked. In general we are still pissed with the HR since it has been seven months since we have been working, but it was only this month that they started the procedure for our visas.

Our mandoob says that it will take ten days to get a letter from the immigration office that will state that we have lost our visa. From what the cops and other sources told us, this should take not more than one day.

We need this paper from the immigration office since without it I will not be able to apply for a new passport.
We are going to the immigration office tomorrow to get this letter.

That is not where it ends. The embassy will issue a passport only after doing verification. Since my passport was issued in Bombay, that might take atleast one and a half month. My visa is only till 13th June 2006.

In cases of emergency, the embassy issues a temporary passport with a validity of one year within three working days. But for that, the case has to be forwarded by a senior ranking official of the Indian embassy. Now we do not know any one in the Indian embassy who would do that for us. The officials are very choosy about this and we want to present the case to an official who we are sure will approve for the temporary passport.

If anyone has any wasta with a high rankning official in the Indian embassy (even with the ambassador while I am at it), please let me know how to get in touch with you.

As a victim, I would like to caution all of you that whenever you are walking on the road, make sure your bag is not held on the outside towards the road, but on the shoulder that points towards the footpath. At all times, walk on the footpath if possible. If you see anybody stopping in a car, just move away quickly and get on the footpath. Do not stop to give instructions to cars. And lastly, if you think you are being followed or if you suspect anythinig fishy, get inside a shop or a crowded place and call up your relative and friend and ask them to come and pick you up.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Draw your own conclusions


Really scary. Now the US wants to start another arms race. And how he must have controlled his laughter while stating "Our job is not to rack up sales. Our job is to help people get the capabilities they need".

Conspiracy theory...

This is Dan Brown week, and The Da Vinci Code is getting a lot of flack/publicity for being a scam!

I really got inspired, my brain juices started flowing, and I made my own theory about an issue that has taken India by storm. Yes, the quota raj.

This week has seen the OBC and SC/ST students also protest against the quotas. But are the politicians listening? I doubt. Now then, an issue that is splitting a nation apart, why are the politicians refusing to listen???

Here is my theory...

Education is an essential service. So, no matter what the cost, people will pay through their noses for it.

India is 'shining'...stock market is going ga-ga, real estate prices are hitting the roof, entrepreneurs are becoming successful.....and more importantly, the middle income people have never had it so good!

So, now these middle income guys are making money eh...so we can milk more money out of them, thought someone. Already due to the acute shortage of seats, students' parents are willing to cough up huge donation money to secure seats for their kin.

Demand and supply theory dictates that if you decrease the supply, the prices go up. And that is what will happen with the quotas. "Cause and effect", as Merilvinge said in "Matrix Reloaded".

What has all this got to do with the politicians turning deaf I hear you say? Ahem. Every politician worth his salt runs a college...

I think now you are smart enough to figure the point I want to make.

That, my dear friends, is how to define a conspiracy theory.

Thank you!

On similar lines, the rents in Kuwait also shot up immediately after the nurses had a pay rise. Some landlord must have thought, "Oh so now they can afford more rent. What demand and supply !!!"

As time goes by, slowly the concept of demand and supply are losing their relevance mainly due to the formation of cartels across. We had them in real estate in the Middle East, now we are having the same in education institutes in India.

Ah the world of capitalism! How I eagerly wait for it, but alas, it shall never come.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Arbitrage! Arbitrage!

In b-school, we were taught that the chances of an arbitrage opportunity to present itself would be one in a million, and that it would last for a fraction of a second as the market would grab the opportunity, and the market forces would bring back a status quo.

What is an arbitrage? Say the price of apples in Kuwait is 10 dirhams per kg, and in UAE it is 20 dirhams per kg. Assuming there is no transportation cost, a smart guy would discover that he can buy apples cheap in Kuwait, only to sell them for a 100% profit in UAE.

Cool eh!

It is really foolish of all the ME countries to refuse revaluing their currency. It has presented an amazing arbitrage opportunity, where investors can buy dollars from Kuwait, and sell them across the ME.
(watch out Gulf News for the above statement in a couple of days hopefully)

The cost of such transactions is low for banks and exchanges operating globally online.

Reservations are not on

It is just not fair. 50% of reservations! Do Kuwait or Saudi Arabia ask India if she is poor and then decide to sell her crude? No!

It is increasingly getting competitive, globally. Japan has shown the fruits of meritocracy, and yet in India some stupid politicians want reservations, and more of them. If the ones already were not enough!

I scored 156 in the CET, and had to settle for a college that did not figure in the top 20 management institutes in Bombay itself! And I check the mark list for OBC and SC/ST students. Guess what? Their topper scored 108 marks! Smart he must be. Because if I had only attempted the written part of the CET, where I scored a neat 132, and refused to attend the group discussion and interview round, I would have still topped!

Man, and he got into JBIMS! Ranked amongst the top ten management institutes in India!

Even after more than 50 years of hand holding and reservations, if they could not uplift themselves, then hard luck. What else can I say?

With a 156, I am ranked out of the top 200. With a 108, he tops. Is this fair?

The difference between the toppers of my college and the remaining students was huge. And these guys were not even from the reserved category. Imagine the intellectual gap between the students at JBIMS.

And what surprises me most is the fact that these from the ‘oppressed class’ are nowhere to be seen protesting against the anti reservation stand.

For a fact, the 20% of Indians belonging to the general category contribute 80% of the individual tax collections. Have they not done their bit? They paid for your bus ticket, now you want them to get up and offer you their seat as well? Shame on you.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Profit is not a dirty word...

For schools in Kuwait,
profit is not a dirty word after all...

Number of students in each class

Number of divisions for each class 7
Total number of classes 14
Quarterly fees per student 75
Annual fees collected 1,029,000
Teachers in school 150
Average salary per teacher 250
Annual salaries paid 450,000
Electricity 500
Other miscellaneous expenses 500
Total expenses 451,000
Profit 578,000

And a few days ago there was a lady whining about why people whine about the increasing fees...the school is offering us a community servive.

Well, then why don't they open their books for public audits?

This is based on my observation. Obviously the school also has other means of making money...
1. Text Books (which are sold at atleast ten times their original price, and shipping would not raise their cost so much, I know that for a fact)
2. Note Books (again sold at prices higher than those available in stationeries, and not to forget, the better quality that you can otherwise get)
3. Kickbacks...from teachers and students. I'll keep it to that only.

I think running a school ain't that bad after all !!!

Half a million dinars in a year. Not bad eh !!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Confessions of an expat mind

I do not know why, but today all of a sudden I just realised something. Everytime, every where I go, all the expats are just whining and complaining about the complecent Kuwaiti locals.

All complain that they are overpreviliged, getting free lunch, wasting away their life. Then the conversation moves in the direction where everyone says, "...they should do this, do that, take away this previlige.....all for the future of the country."

For a fact, I can say that none of them, and confess not even I, am concerned genuinely about the future of Kuwait. There is no attachment. The only reason why we say all this "for the future of Kuwait" is simply because in some way or the other we all are jealous of the previliges enjoyed by them.

I mean, how many of us would want those previliges taken away from us, had we been given them? Nobody!

It might be a bad policy by the Government to protect its locals, but then which Government does not have a policy that does that? UK has got the work permit shmooze, US has the visa quota merry go ride...and on and on.

So why do we complain?

If we really are "concerned", then we should just shut up and instead push for political reforms where we expats not only have a say in Government policy, but also are given a reason to call Kuwait 'our motherland' - in a genuine sense.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gyan Prapti - Session 3

Gyan Prapti Session 3: The Markets...

Today I would like to talk about the stock market. I know it is not a really wonderful time - especially when the markets are crashing all across the ME. But then, hey, that's life.

I was really irked, intrigued and shocked to read a statement made in yesterday's Kuwait Times. The headline read that "There is no need to panic." Another read "Investors sell in illogical panic."

Ok, first things first. I am not on mission Kuwait Bashing.

The following is just my insight and my opinion. Having seen much of the development in the Bombay Stock Exchange as a spectator and a student, I just felt like it is my moral duty to point out the gaping differences.

For beginners, I am very uncomfortable with the P/E of the ME markets. The existing P/E for the BSE is around mid 20 ish.

A few months ago, the markets in the ME were trading at PEs around 30 – 40. Wow! Now, all I ask is one question – what have they got going in their economy that is bigger than what India has got?

I wait for the answers – some say investment in infrastructure some say development of the economy.

I say – “Bah!”

Investment in infrastructure – most of the economies of the ME are busy either – constructing more roads or constructing mega cities. Add with this some flavoring – there is now law in place for land property rights. The roads are leading to nowhere. The only industries benefiting from it are the automobile industry and the construction industry.

With no rights to own property, what is the point of buying property? Yes, it might be coming in Dubai. But, as of now, nothing is on paper.

Compare this with how India is doing – they are building roads that will form the backbone of inter – state logistics. And recently, foreign REMFs/REITs have been allowed to enter India. Wonderful!

Some would say that crude prices are hitting a high – so naturally the ME economies will do well. Yes, they will, I agree. But, how many oil companies are listed on the stock market? How much weightage do they give to the index? Find that out yourself.

The fact that most of the ME economies import everything from condoms to diapers, means that higher crude will lead to higher transportation costs (read shipping), which will be transferred to the end consumer – read higher prices for our daily use commodities.

The depth of the BSE is huge. There is a large number of companies listed on it, and the number of investors is also very high. Unlike the ME, where around 3 – 5 investors would be responsible for around 80% of the market trade. The markets do not have sufficient companies listed on it either. This makes them very risky. Therefore, a slight fall in the developed equity markets like the BSE will see amplified falls in the ME markets, as money would flow from one market to the other. Ask any investment banker, and he will willingly place a bet on the BSE rather than on a ME market.

There are many reasons for that. Here are some that are more prominent:

1. An active market regulator, SEBI

2. DEMAT – fast, efficient, paperless transactions

3. No entry or exit barriers. Currently in Kuwait, there is a minimum investment cap of KD 3000 (USD 9000 approx.) that an investor has to bring in to enter the market. In India, I can invest in the lowest denomination of the currency and can enter the market by merely buying one share worth 10 paisa (the lowest denomination is 1 paisa). 100 paisa = Rs. 1 and Rs. 43 = USD 1 (approx).
Get my point?

The point I am trying to get to is that the ME markets have very less to offer. They are very speculative. Thus, high volatility should be accepted as a norm.

No matter what economy, it can never justify a P/E of 40!
Note: Somewhere around October 2005, the Dubai Stock Exchange was trading at a P/E near 40.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Which car?

Soon it will be time for me to buy a car.

It being my first car, I am so confused.

Right now I am torn apart between deciding whether to buy a sports car or an executive saloon.

It will be atleast two months before I actually get my license, so there is plenty of time left. But since the last month I have been reading online reviews and checking out prices. I just realised that the prices quoted at Edmunds is atleast $500 - $1000 more than what I can get here.

My budget is capped at KD 1500 ($4500).

The three points that I will not sacrifice:
1. Excellent and reliable air conditioning. Kuwait gets really hot during summer.
2. Low road noise
3. Comfortable ride

I have shortlisted the following cars:

Executive saloon

BMW 735i, 1992 model
I was really impressed by it in The Transporter

Lexus LS 400, 1994 model
I have seen a lot of them on the road, and a lot of old guys at high posts riding them. This must be comfortable.

Sports car

Toyota MR2, 1991 - 95 model
Looks good. The price looks good too.

Mazda Miata, 1997 model
I am not too keen on a Mazda, and this car looks pretty small. Would prefer the MR2 over this anyday.

I do not want to race off in the sports car. I just want to cruise and enjoy the ride.

I know for sure it will be difficult finding the sports car that I have shortlisted. Simply because I have seen only two MR2 s till date on the roads of Kuwait. And I am yet to see a Mazda Miata. Optimistic though I am.

If none of these are available at good deals, I might opt for the Honda City (1999) or Mitsubishi Galant (1999), both available at KD 1250/=

If money were no objective, I would have choosen either the Honda NSX ('95) or the Corvette (2000). Alas! It is an objective. LOL

My choice for an exec saloon is because working as a consultant, I would be embarassed if my client saw me getting out of a Nissan Sunny :oP

It is mainly because of the additional two seats that I would be able to accomodate. In a sports car, it would be a two seater. So, I might not be able to accomodate more than one friend at a time. Not that I go out too much. For a fact, I know that Kuwait is the only place where one can afford to drive a sports car, since the petrol is real cheap. Since I am not planning to hang out here for more than a couple of years, I thought that I might as well drive a sports car while I am 'young' and can afford it.

Decisions! Decisions!

What car should I take?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Now this is really funny...

Yesterday I was just going through some articles on the website of Arab Times, and I found something very interesting. There was a section that reported the various topics discussed and proposals made in the national assembley. Now look at this:

Also discussed earlier in the day were plans to hike the monthly Kuwait University student allowance from KD100 to KD 150, on account of fees, books and transportation costs. “We need an answer from the government regarding its views on the subject. If they seek to postpone, we agree, but need to know of their intentions,” MP Saleh Ashour said. MPs Dr Waleed Al-Tabtabaei and Jamal Al-Omar said transportation costs alone amounted to KD100. “Students require a minimum of KD30 monthly for petrol and another minimum amount of KD70 for car installments. Is it right for them to ask their parents to drop them to college?” Tabtabaei questioned.

“We ask the Finance Committee to treat this as a matter of urgency,” Al-Omar said.

From the Arab Times, dated 02/05/2006

Now then, would'nt that be so bad? Asking mommy to drop you to college.

Oh so bad. So we should give them money to buy a car. Oh, KD 70 in installments each month! Oh poor child! Awww. Why don't you drive a second hand Honda City or perhaps a Kia or a Toyota Echo for that matter? No, no, my child wants to drive Hummer 2 and Corvette. He wants to zoom past traffic and senseless speeds and do wheelies on his Ducati to impress girls.

I do not want to sound sarcastic, but back in India I used to travel by train. And I paid nearly 700 fils for a three month pass.

Kuwait has really changed a lot. I really feel worried about its future. The older generation had guys who were hard working and honest. And look at the MPs today, what are they trying to support? I do not even want to waste any of my energy thinking about tomorrow's MPs.

I don't have any attachment with the country (I know you will tell me so pack up and leave. Up yours, I say.) Though I was born and brought up here. I find it hard to call the country mine, especially when I am denied a lot of rights and opportunities. I am not cribbing about that. I know I am sitting here and earning my money. So I am exploiting the country as much as it has decided to exploit me. I will make my cool million and ride off into the sunset. But what will happen to this country in the future?

You can not keep feeding and pampering the child. You need to kick his butt and make him see and realise the real world.

Just for the record KD 150 is:
- the combined salary of two Bengalis who clean the road
- nearly the combined salary of two guys working in a fast food joint
- the quarterly fees of an Indian school
- the annual fees of an Arabic shool
- a 1988 chevrolet...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Oh no I can not watch the World Cup! :o(

This post is for everyone that is chanting the same due to arm twisting tactics of Pehla.

Warning: This is a long post and contains some technical discussion.

Now, I am not, I repeat NOT going to rant about Pehla. Don't need to. But, what I am going to do is let you on to a little secret...

Here is how you can ensure you get your much needed dose of football during the world cup to stay alive - and that too WITHOUT having to subscribe to Pehla.

Here goes:
1. Invest in a good TV antenna. There are two - three types, take the one which has a net kind of a feature in the front, with twin claw shaped receivers instead of the usual cylindrical bars. Confused? Just ask the shop guy that you need an antenna with which you can get reception of Kuwait and Saudi sports channels.
These guys are showing the World Cup, and for free that too. The only cost attached is that of bearing their commentary (where they screw up big time - Theiry Henry is pronounced as "Theiry Horny", and no, they do not advertise parental guidance). Also you will have to bear with the half time analysis by a panel where everyone is a former foobtall player, plus is addressed to as 'captain'. But for free, this really does not matter.

2. This is a pay option. But a lot cheaper than what Pehla is charging. It is a bit complex, and you might have to do it yourself or get a really expert chap to do it. Subscribe to Dish TV in India. I know, their website says that the broadcast is for India, but then if you put up a 6 - 8 foot dish antenna, you will recieve their signals. But, here is the tricky part - you need their decoder and sim. The decoder you can find for anywhere, but the sim - you will get only in India. They have an offer where you pay Rs. 6000/= (around USD 135, AED 500) or so and you get the full stuff - receiver, sim and one year free subscription. Make sure to subscribe to Goal TV, Star Sports and ESPN Star Sports. This is a pricey thing, but then you get quite a lot of channels. Note that the overall cost can be lower - it all depends on the channels you subscribe to. Rs. 6000 is for all the channels. The basic package costs only Rs. 100.

The tough part is setting up the dish to catch the signals. You will have to set it up to catch signals from NSS-6 a satellite by NSAT. The satellite co-ordinates as well as the list of channels are available here. More info on the satellite is available here as well. The satellite's orbital position is at 95.0°E.
With the help of Google Earth, find out your latitude and longitude location (it takes time, but I found mine after two weeks of search. Just pray that Google Earth has a detailed map so that you can spot your building). Another way is identify some landmark near your house, say "Taj Mahal", go to google and enter this in search "Taj Mahal coordinates" without the quotes.

Once you have your house's location, go to this website.

In satellite orbit, enter 95.0

Then in the next two, enter your latitude and longitude coordinates. Then press calculate. This will give you 'dish azimuth value'. You need the 'relative to magnetic north' value. Now, say for example it says 172 degrees East to relative magnetic north. Draw a line pointing towards the magnetic north. Place a compass on that line and go 172 degrees towards the east i.e. right hand side of the line. Now draw a second line pointing towards 172 degrees east (in case it is 190 degrees east, then draw a line at 180 degrees east, from that line draw a line 10 degrees east. 180 + 10 = 190).

You should point your dish towards the second line. Make sure its LNB is directing in the exact direction as the second line drawn (or third or fourth as the case may be).

Now there is the elevation tilt. This is just through trial and error. But you do have a fair idea. Suppose it gives a value above 90 degrees, you have to point your dish straight upwards. If it is lesser than 90 degrees, its slant will be lesser. Just tilt it up a little by little and check.

The technical way of doing it is again holding a compass and seeing the angle. Try to match the tilt of the dish with the angle. How? Say it gave elevation of 75 degrees. Draw a line on a paper, then draw a 75 degree angle on that line. Hold this paper and see if your dish is elevated at the same level or not.

I know the second method looks very daunting and difficult. But it is not. It is pretty simple. It is just that we do not do something like this every day. I have done it twice earlier, so I know how to do it. I am no expert technician or anything, plus I did this the first time I was 15. So there, it really must be very easy.

The only tough part would be getting the exact coordinates of your house. Unless you have GPS or something. As an alternate, as I said, you could use the coordinates of the nearest land mark (which you will get through Google).

After you do all this, call up Pehla and say "Hahahahahaha !!!! Bwahahahahahaha !!!"