Sunday, November 24, 2013

Love Your Eye Floaters!

Hi Bloggers,

I'm one of those unfortunate individuals who suffer from severe myopia.  I've been shortsighted ever since I was about eleven.  I remember those first times when I realised I couldn't read the blackboard and had to come and sit up front in class.  my eyes got progressively worse as a  teenager, but did then stabilise reasonably well for most of my adult like.

One side effect of being short sighted is that one is particularly prone to things called floaters.  They're bits of the vitreous gel covering the retina that break off and float around in the eye.  The reason for this is that short-sighted people have slightly elongated eye balls, which stretches the gel and puts it under a little more pressure.  Anyone can get them, though, particularly as you get older.

I first got them 15 years ago, but I learnt to handle them well.  In fact, after a while I stopped even noticing they were there.  But I recently got a new batch, some really big ones that float right across my central vision.  They can be incredibly irritating, almost debilitating at times.  And they affect your self confidence too. 

Apparently they can be treated by YAG laser, but this operation seems to be done only in America by a few specialists.  I may get around to going there one day, but, meanwhile, I've learnt to accept them rather than fight them.  The important thing is to not keep looking at them, but to ignore them.  Eventually their impact on you diminishes.  And soon you even learn to love them, like old friends.  After all they are a part of you!

Hope this helps any fellow sufferers.

Cheers,
Robert

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back in Thailand

Hi Bloggers,

As usual, haven't been blogging as much as I should.  Maybe it's because I feel obligated to put up good pictures on each post, and that can be time consuming.  But anyway, another major change has occurred in my life.  I'm now back in Thailand getting ready to purchase a teacher training franchise I bought.   I've never tried running my own business before, so it's a genuine case of uncharted waters for me.  Even if I'm not profitable I'm sure it'll be a useful learning experience for me.

I spent a month back in the Philippines with my family before coming over.  My wife and kid will join me as soon as I've got the flat ready and the visa sorted.  Very nice flat too. I'm in the same block of flats as I was before.  I'm high up with a great view of the pool.  It's in the thick of the entertainment area, but there are so many nice places to go to around here, cafes, restaurants, bars, malls and a couple of exquisite parks.  There's even a kindergarten for my boy.

While back in the Philippines, I noticed Manila was coming on leaps and bounds, even though those huge areas of sprawling urban chaos still abound.  It's got a way to go before it catches up with Thailand, though.

Will get pics up soon.

Cheers,
Robert

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jeddah

Hi Bloggers,














Luckily had a couple of weeks off last month, so I took full advantage of it to visit Saudi's second city, Jeddah.  It has a reputation for being much more relaxed than Riyadh and this certainly seemed to be the case.  Nevertheless, the basic no alcohol or cinemas rules still applied.  But women seemed less covered up and actually ready to communicate in some cases!

Jeddah's got a pretty nice location by Saudi standards, being by the sea, and  the Red Sea at that.  There's a lot of diving around here, though I must admit I didn't partake myself.  There's a 35 km long corniche, though not as idyllic as I'd hoped.  The Red Sea, being another gulf, unfortunately has virtually no surf, and it's those rolling waves that are the main thing I love about the sea.  But still it was nice breath of fresh air (excuse the pun).














Generally, though, Jeddah had a much more relaxed atmosphere than Riyadh, and people were around on the streets and much friendly, cf. Riyadh where every thing seems to happen behind closed doors.  Mind you, Jeddah is also a lot poorer than Riyadh and you really feel like you're in a developing country here.  Only a few of those swanky malls and towering skyscrapers.

One of the highlights was the fish market, which actually had sharks for sale, as well as some pretty exotic looking angel fish.  But the main highlight for me were the old traditional coral houses in Al Balad.  Most of them are just shells now, but apparently there's a project to restore them.  It's definitely worthy of being a world Heritage site.

I'll let the pictures do the talking,

Cheers,
Rob
 

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's a Boy !!

Hi Bloggers,

It really is along time since I last blogged.  I got so bogged down in my dispute with the British Council and my new job in Saudi Arabia that I completely forgot to mention maybe the most important event of my life, the birth of my son!  Well, he's five months now and growing fast.  In fact, he's quite big for his age and is already trying to walk.

 
Of course, I'm a pretty late runner, and one thing that really surprises me now is how I spent so many decades being single.  Getting married and having a son has really given me something to live for.  In fact, really my whole life is geared towards them now.  I certainly wouldn't want to go back to the narrow self-focused life style of a single man again.  I think to justify being single you need to make your life highly meaningful in some other way, either through some large scale philanthropic or altruistic activity, like some of the world's richest are doing now, Bill Gates, etc.  Or through becoming a monk or great spiritual teacher.  Otherwise, what would your legacy be?

Unfortunately, I'm temporarily separated from them, working here in Saudi Arabia.  But to be honest I wouldn't want to bring them here to such a boring and repressive country.  Luckily, I've had what I hope is a good business idea, being to buy a teaching franchise in Bangkok.  If all goes to plan we can all reconvene there as a happy family within a few months!

My legal case against the British Council is now basically over.  It ended as a kind of draw.  Neither side can really claim victory, but at least I made a few points.  I doubt if anything will change within the BC, though! In some ways it was a blessing in disguise losing my job at the BC, as it really galvanised me into action.  I've discovered there's a whole world outside the BC, which isn't always obvious when you're in it.

So thinking and moving forward again!

Cheers,
Robert

Friday, December 28, 2012

What a Year !!

Hi Bloggers,

It's been a fair while since I last blogged, but certainly not because nothing has been going on in my life.  Rather the opposite, the problem has been not knowing where to begin.  But now that the year's coming to an end, maybe it's a good time to try and make head and tail of things.

They say that time slows down when major events occur and that's certainly seemed true for me.  I can hardly believe it's only 11 months ago that my mother died.  Obviously that was the major event, but equally strong contenders must be getting married and having my first child.  Not to mention being unfairly dismissed by my then employers, the British Council, and eventually moving to Saudi Arabia for work.  In between I also managed to spend two months working in Thailand, and about three and a half living in the Philippines, where I bought a house, another first for me.  Finally, I brought a case against the British Council at the Employment Tribunal, which is still continuing now.

I documented my ever-caring mother's sad passing away in earlier blog.  Bless her soul.  I hope she's now in the kind of heavenly abode that she deserves to be in.  I've also said a fair bit about my marriage in Bahrain to my lovely Filipina wife, Rhoda.  So I'll take up the plot from my amazing dismissal by the British Council, briefly mentioned in my previous blog.  Then in my next post I'll say something about my son and my new job.

Things had gone from bad to worse in my relations with the British Council, first from the absurd suspension I was put on in February (suspected political activity in the classroom), through the Performance Improvement Programme (PIP), which was in no way related to the original problem (Arabic in the classroom), to the damning End of Year Record of Performance (EOYROP), based simply on a series of casual observations, which finally resulted in Malaysia revoking my contract just nine days before I was due to travel.  It was an unbelievable downward spiral, in which it was easier (and more convenient) for the management to treat and assess me as a sub-standard teacher, rather than look at the possibility that there was something badly wrong with their own procedures and way of handling things. 

I won't bore you with details of the above, but suffice it to say that I felt so aggrieved by the way I had been treated that I actually brought a case against them at the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal.  Unfortunately, legal matters move very slowly and it's still going on.  I'll say more in a later blog about that.

The most significant feature for me, though, was the sheer callousness with which the British Council dealt with me, at almost every stage.  For example, they suspended me just after my mother had died, and I remember the centre manager didn't even offer condolences.  Enacting the suspension was far more important.  Also, just having a chat with me before making that incredible decision might have clarified everything.  But no.  Then during the PIP I was treated like a guilty man.  There was a certain inevitability about the outcome - it was going to be bad.  And, finally, the revocation just nine days before travelling.  I didn't even know what country to go to! 

You have to be pretty heartless to do that to someone, but, then, that's what I now say about British Council managers, they're like androids or automatons, who simply apply procedures in a completely impersonal, unfeeling way, with absolutely no regard for the human impact they're having.  Clearly, the humanity has been lost somewhere along the line.  It's such a pity because there are so many good things about the Council too.  It's the quality of the managers that spoils what could be a fine organisation. I always think the British Council nowadays is rather like a beautifully ornate wine bottle, but filled with rubbishy wine.

Anyway, so much for my worst ever work experience.  Luckily, I have found a good job in Saudi Arabia now, though there is still the problem of holding my family together.  My next blog will be about one the happiest experiences of my life, the birth of my son in October.

What a rollercoaster of a year !!

Cheers,
Rob

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Riyadh

Riyadh skyline
Hi Bloggers,

Well, I'm now in the capital of Saudi Arabia after a delightful two month return spell in Thailand.  Riyadh probably isn't a place you'd choose to be if there wasn't a lot of money to be made.  Yet at the same time it's nothing like as bad as I'd expected it to be. I haven't been harrassed by the police or "muttawa" (the religious police) yet, and most people have been pretty friendly.  And the university I'm working in is superbly modern and beautifully designed.

Dita Square















Even the general atmosphere of Riyadh is pretty nice, particularly in the downtown Olaya area.  Generally, there's a feeling of real spaciousness and most places you go there seems to be hardly anyone around.  Before coming I had been worried that you'd have a feeling of always being watched, but actually I haven't felt like this at all.  The absence of women is, of course, a noticeable feature of the place, though you do see a fair few of them in the shopping malls.  Most wear the full head gear with just a slit for their eyes, but I have seen a few with no covering at all, so things can't be that bad.  The only thing I really dislike is that whenever prayer time comes, everything closes down.  By law all shops have to shut.  And there's also the extremely irritating 4.15 am prayer session, which invariably wakes me up.  I've now adopted a strategy of going to bed at 10.00 pm so as to guarantee myself at least 6 hours sleep!

The main positives of Riyadh seem to be the shopping malls.  They're all pretty spacious and stores like Marks & Spencers and Debenhams really make you feel at home. Needless to say, Starbucks and McDonalds have their usual presence.  There are some good supermarkets, like Carrefour, where you can get most of the kind of things westerners like, like your favourite brand of marmalade, etc

Anyway, before coming here I had a great two months back in Thailand.  It was so nice to be back in my favourite country again. In fact, I even stayed in the same condo block, Saranjai Mansion.  I was almost living my old lifestyle again, going jogging in the Queen Sirikit and Lumpini parks, cycling around on a Trek bike, eating in the food courts, watching football in Gulliver's and enjoying the ubiquitous state of the art shopping malls.  In fact, there's a new mall called Terminal 21, which has the theme of a different country on each level.  I was quite impressed.

Al Battha souqs

Of course, the missing factor that has spoiled everything for me has been the fact that I've had to leave my wife in the Philippines, as her pregnancy is too far advanced to travel freely.  This is the main outcome of the BC's decision to revoke my contract, the disruptive effect it's had on my family.  It's such a pity there's almost no work for foreigners in Manila.  Nevertheless I spent the whole of June there.  Eventually, though, I 'm confident we will be living again as a happy family should.  In fact, I'm going back to Manila in October for the birth of  my son.  After that, we will see.

Masmak Fortress

Cheers,
Robert

Friday, May 25, 2012

Leaving Bahrain - and the British Council !!

Hi Bloggers,

Well, I'll finally be moving on from Bahrain, but not to Malaysia as originally planned, but direct to the Philippines where my wife is.  In an incredible turn of events the British Council decided to revoke my contract for Kuala Lumpur exactly nine days before I was due to travel.  Nice one, BC!

It created complete turmoil in my life, as my wife was getting ready to join as soon as I arrived there.  Of course, I appealed against the decision, but the bureaucratic ways of the Council prevailed.  They could get someone of higher calibre than me, so I was sacrificed at the altar.

Fortunately, though, they are going to give me three months pay in compensation, which should work out at about $10,000.  That may seem a nice payout, but when you're approaching 60 and suddenly find yourself homeless and unemployed you'd probably plump for the job security.  I may have more to say about what I think of the BC in a later blog!

Meanwhile, I'm hoping to make a new start in the Philippines.  It'll be quite an adventure for me, because I've never worked there before. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed something comes up.

Update on my next blog!

Cheers,
Rob