Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Curious Case of Casey James

If you haven't been watching Amer1can Id0l Season 9, and do not know who Casey James is, please go ahead and google.

Casey did not have a good start on American Idol. During his audition in Denver, Simon said he didn't have a good voice, Kara thought he did, Posh Spice made him untie his ponytail and said he had a 'good look', and I think Randy had to say yes because the 2 lady judges got him (Casey, not Randy) to take off his shirt.
So you would be forgiven if you thought he was just the male version of the bikini-girl.

During Hollywood week though, he wow-ed everyone with his bluesy voice and guitar playing. Suffice to say he got through to Top24. First week, he made all the girls swoon with his rendition of 'Heaven' in a white cowboy shirt, and he continued to do so, week after week, culminating into the emotionally electrifying performance of 'Jealous Guy' during Lennon-McCartney week.
Tall and lanky in tight jeans and cowboy boots, with his flowy blonde hair and shiny smile, he would surely be a favourite among the ladies. His talents are nothing to be scoffed at either. Randy called him "the best guitar player this show has ever seen". But is he good enough to win American Idol?
If the past 2 weeks' performance is anything to go by, I think not.

Contrary to popular belief, Amer1can Id0l is not merely a singing competition. Looking at past winners, you will notice that they had more than a good voice and star quality. They had talent in turning any song into their own and making us believe that it is their own. Doing that is not as easy as it looks or sound. You have to pick a song that you not only can perform well, but that you believe in, so that when you perform it, you perform it with your heart and soul, and audiences will not only enjoy it, but they will believe in it.

Take David Cook for instance. Every single week, irregardless of whether it's his 'genre' or not, he manages to pick a song that he can work with and that he can sing with all his heart, and you can see it in his eyes when he does put his soul in it. That's how he made Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby" become a David Cook song, and not a Mariah song.

Has Casey James done that? Maybe on a few of the weeks. Several times, he has chosen songs that were kinda obscure, so no one could really tell. His latest performance of "Don't Stop" was perhaps his most disappointing because, even though I hate using this Simon Cowell catch-phrase, it sounded very karaoke. There was nothing unique, nothing that was identifiably 'Casey' in it. I have an inkling that Casey might be a little scared and is playing it very safe. He would rather choose songs that he knows he can perform well, than choosing songs that he believes in with all his heart but is a little difficult to pull off.

Everyone knows 'playing it safe' will not cut it anymore. Not after they've seen Adam Lambert. I'm not saying Casey needs to start wearing eye make up and trade his jeans for leather pants, but he really needs to realize that after people have been wow-ed week after week by Adam Lambert's ever changing persona and passionate performances, it would be what everyone expects from future Id0l contestants. It's not enough to entertain. They want to be knocked off their seats. Casey doesn't even dance when he plays fast songs (probably the most 'passionate' thing he ever did was roughly pull out the amp jack out of his guitar at the end of a song). He needs to be more rawkin'!

Comparing Casey James to Crystal Bowersox, I think MamaSox has a better chance at being the Id0l this year. We see her changing things up week after week. We see her baring her soul week after week. Her emotionally charged rendition of 'People Get Ready' brought me to tears.
I think, if Casey really wants to win , or at least wants show the audience all he's got, next week (if he's still around), he needs to put down the guitar. Pick up a tamborine or something. Pick a song he believes in, then sing it with all his heart.
And for gawds sakes, move around a little!

Good Luck, Casey!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One man's loss is another man's gain

"One man's loss is another man's gain" is very true to me, because I have benefited a lot from other people's losses.
Sounds very sinister, eh? Let me explain.

After the March 2003 terrorist attack in Khobar, there was an exodus of expats from that small oil town. PokCik Sm1th decided to turn their Saudi office into an all-muslim one, so they started pulling in folks from other regions to replace the westerners that were now leaving. One of folks that were pulled into Saudi was my husband. I don't know whether Taufik would have been offered something similar if the need for a specific type of replacement were not required. (Given his performance, I'm sure someone would've offered him something eventually, but I don't think it would've been that soon).
The exodus of westerners also resulted in lower house rents and availability of places in the already limited number of international schools in Khobar/Dhahran/Dammam area. When we were leaving Khobar after 5 years of living there, our house rent had increased by 50% (with possibilities of further increases in the future) and we heard numerous stories of children of friends who were not accepted into their school of choice due to it being full.

We believe that we are experiencing the same thing in Dubai. As we are all aware, Dubai is also currently experiencing a downturn. If we were to move here a few years ago, the rent would've been much higher than what we are paying now. There would be less houses available. I don't think we could have even had the chance to look at a villa like that we are currently living in, much less rent it.
In terms of schools, even though Dubai has so many international schools, a few years ago they still could not cope with the large number of expat children in the city, so a lot of new international schools started popping up. Due to that, when more expats started leaving, more places are available at more schools (even though the schools would tell you they were full if you asked).

But rent and schools are not the only thing we are benefiting from. With expat families leaving almost every week, there is an abundance of used furniture, and *that* is like candy to bargain hunters (read: kedekut taik hidung masin) like my husband and I. Through our used-furniture hunting escapades we had met a few very interesting folks with different and interesting situations.

Adrian, who organizes polar expeditions (yes, believe it or not), sold us a set of 3+2 seaters and a what-i-hope-is-milo-stained sofa bed, for Dhs300. He had to downsize, send his family back home and move to an apartment.
Jill, who sold us a set of like brand new red 2+3 seaters for Dhs800 and 2 gigantic desert rose plants for Dhs100 each, was going back to South Africa because that's where her husband's work is taking him.
John (Actually, I can't remember his name), who sold us an extremely like brand new Ektorp 3-seater with matching stool (with storage space) for Dhs750 and his TV cabinet for Dhs200, had the saddest story of all. He was retrenched from his bank job. They had to empty the house by end of the month, and his family has to rent an apartment while he tries to look for another job. Failing which, he would have to go back home, survive on his savings and stay with his brother while he gets things together.

Sometimes I leave these houses with mix feelings. I feel sad for the situation that they are in, but I also feel grateful for the cheap stuff that I got. So it's like, "I am sorry that you are leaving, but I am glad that you are leaving me your stuff".

Not if you see who else benefits from the numerous garage sales that pop up around this area every weekend.
Garage sales usually starts around 8am, and as early as 7:30am, you could already see people hanging around the residence's gate. Most of them would be filipinos and indians/pakistanis/srilankans and 2 malaysians (*raising our hands*). Apart from the 2 malaysians, most of them are what one house-owner we talked to would call "Professional Garage-Sale Buyers". They come in, go through the stuff, grab what they want, pile them in front of the seller, and place their price. It is then up to the seller to agree or not agree and bargain for a higher price.
Most of them would buy used clothes, kitchenware and cutlery, decorative items and sometimes furniture and toys. I am guessing some of them would buy them for their own use, and some would buy them to bring back to their home country on their next holiday (I know my cleaner buys used clothes to give to an orphanage in her hometown). So I guess it is a good thing, because unwanted items do not go to waste and people who couldn't afford (or don't want to pay the high price) to buy certain types of items could have a chance to own one (albeit used) at a more affordable price.

As I said, one man's loss is another man's gain.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dubai Drama : House

I just realized that I have had it easy when it comes to moving.
When we moved to Saudi, Taufik had gone 6 months ahead of us to look for houses. He had the freedom to look wherever and whenever without having to haul all of us in the car. Plus, most of the houses were in a compund and came fully furnished. When we finally arrived, he had had everything ready - a fully furnished house, washer&dryer, even a television. We only had to put our clothes into the cupboards and I remember cooking rice and making omelletes for dinner on the very first evening we arrived.

Moving to Dubai is a totally different story though.
They don't have compounds just like in Saudi, and with PokCik Smith's budget, all we could afford was an empty villa. We had to start looking from scratch, scouring through advertisements in the property section of the paper, calling up whoever advertised their number. We also drove around the area we were interested in, looking out for 'To Let' signs. (Even now, the kids and I still perk up whenever we see a 'To Let' sign). While doing this, we were also looking for schools. We had to find a school that is close to residential areas and then find a house that is close to the school.
When the kids got accepted into Jumeirah College and Jumeirah Primary School, we set our sights on a few villas in the neighbourhood.

Our first choice was a 4-bedroom double-story villa located 5 minutes (15 minutes walking) from school. We called this house "Villa 118". The first time we looked at it, we liked it for the huge backyard and mature garden. Taufik was already seeing himself doing lots of gardening in it. The house was a little dilapitated though. A few doors were old and rotting, the walls had nail-holes in them, a few marble tops and tiles were broken in the bathrooms and some parts of the concrete fencing was crumbling. We left the house feeling dissapointed that it wasn't in as good a condition as the other houses we saw.
The second time we looked at Villa 118, we went with Sharliza (whose house is 5 doors away). She pointed out its good points : All bedrooms had built-in wardrobes and ensuite bathrooms, the fittings were relatively new, the kitchen had built-in cabinets, a washing machine and a fridge and the living area is quite a huge space. We really didn't need much convincing actually, because despite the dust and dried leaves on the floor, we felt at home the moment we stepped into the house.
Taufik called up the real-estate agent, Mohsen, who was unfortunately away on vacation, but was able to negotiate rent via phone calls and emails. We met with Khaldoon, the maintenance supervisor to itemize what needed fixing and he assured us that the villa would be ready by Feb 1st.
We thought our house is settled, but a day later we got a call from Mohsen's associate who demanded that we pay the rent in full before they proceed with the repair work. We refused, of course, because they have not given us an agreement in writing on whether they were going to fix anything and we have not even seen any lease contract. What is the guarantee that we won't end up living in a dilapitated house? Taufik tried to discuss and negotiate with the associate but he was so rude (shouting and not listening) and insistent that Taufik decided to CANCEL renting the villa right there and then!

On to plan B, which was another 4-bedroom double-story villa a little bit further away (10 minutes by car, 30 minutes on foot) from Villa 118, which we called "Uzma's house". This house was almost as big as Villa 118 and had almost the same emnities, but the backyard was tiny and the yard was void of plants except for a coconut tree in front. Unlike Villa 118 though, Uzma's House was fixed and cleaned while waiting for a tenant, so we could move in right away if we wanted to. Taufik managed to negotiate with Uzma, the real-estate agent, to rent the house at a lower price than Villa 118. So, we flew back to Saudi with a secure feeling.
Unfortunately, a few days later we found out that PokCik Smith has a problem with Uzma's House. Uzma wasn't really a real-estate agent with a real real-estate company. She was just an individual acting on behalf of the landlord. PokCik Smith (or actually, the finance folks) were a little nervous about writing out a cheque to an individual. After days of discussing back and forth, we had no choice but to agree with PokCik Smith.
So, cancel Uzma's House.

There we were, packing 5 years of accumulated stuff into 81 boxes, with no idea where to put them when we get to Dubai.

Cue an SMS from Mohsen : "Sir, are you still angry, and are you still interested in Villa 118?"

Mohsen was back from vacation (and I hope he fired his associate's ass), and he managed to convince us to reconsider Villa 118 (We didn't need much convincing, really, but of course we didn't show him that). He said they will start working on the house, and that he only needs the refundable security deposit (which we can pay once we are in Dubai), before he draws up a lease agreement upon which, the full rent will be due. We agreed, but only after he sent us an email commiting to the list of items that needs to be fixed. When we returned to Dubai and visited Villa 118 again, we were happy to find people working on getting the interiors of the house ready. The supervisor present assured us that work will be completed on the 1st of February.

Oh Happy Joy Joy?
Not quite yet.
(Today is the 1st of February and I am still living in a hotel)

For the workers to complete the cleaning of the interiors, they need water and electricity. DEWA (Dubai Water & Electricity Authority) services are applied and paid by the tenant, not the landlord, so the moment the previous tenant left, the water & electricity was cut off. We needed to apply for DEWA services, and that requires a signed lease agreement and proof that the latest bill was paid up. These documents will only be provided to us by the landlord when we have paid the rent due and sign the lease agreement. Since PokCik Smith is paying the rent, we have to wait for a cheque from the PokCik Smith Finance department. Some joker in finance 'forgot' to sign the approval form, which delayed the issuing of the cheque, which delayed everything else. We only got the cheque on Thursday afternoon, therefore we could only get the lease agreement completed and a copy of the last paid bill after the weekend wasover (read: Sunday).
Yesterday we went to DEWA with all the required documents to apply for water & electricity. After waiting for 2 hours for his number to be called, Taufik discovered that he needed more than the required documents that was stated in the application form, something that someone (or a properly printed form) could have told him 2 hours earlier. They could build the tallest building in the world, but could not think of having an information counter (or at least a notice board for instructions) in government offices. Go figure.

So here we are, still living out of a hotel, which is seriously overrated, if you ask me. At this point we are so fed-up that we are thinking that the moment the house is cleaned and liveable, we're gonna get mattresses and pillows and move right in, with or without furniture.

I don't think I can handle anymore drama.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's Going On?

These stuff:

1. I am not going back to Malaysia for good.
2. We were originally planned to move to Oman.
3. A few days before christmas, we received a call that we're moving to Dubai instead.
4. Since Christmas, I have been frantically searching for schools and potential homes online (thanx Dayah for loaning her laptop and broadband thingamajig). ALhamdulilllah, we managed to enquire and get responses from a few schools even though some of them were closed for the holidays.
5. We drew up an action plan for the move. (you know me... control freak)
6. 30th January we flew back to Saudi, got necessary documents copied/printed and ready for submission.
7. 4th January we flew to Dubai and started school visits and Ilham took his placement tests.
8. After visiting 2 schools, we decided on Jumeirah College and Jumeirah Primary School for its location more than anything else. Alhamdulillah all of our applications were accepted! yay!
9. After viewing at least 6 houses a day for several days, we finally settled on an independent villa that we liked, but the agent/owner was horrible, so after a few days of quarelling, we decided to scrap that house and picked another one, 1.3 kms from school. (I'm gonna walk to send/pick up the kids from school on good weather days. Taufik is hoping I can kurus. Yeah right.)
10. Yes, the villa has a guest room. Please do come and visit! :)
11. We're now back in Saudi to settle some stuff with school and do last minute shopping (I am STILL eyeing that kitchenaid tee hee) and PACK & MOVE.
12. We will fly to Dubai on the 20th, and kid will start school on the 24th.

I'll write more later, like what I think of Dubai and that drama with the real estate agent.