Cleaner Look for Amman

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

According to this past week's Jordan Times
The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) started enforcing the first phase of its new regulations on billboards and signage to remove the clutter of advertisements covering building facades.

According to Ali Hadedi, director of the GAM advertising department, "The goal of the new regulations is to give Amman a cleaner look by removing the hundreds of signs all over buildings. Owners have until March to comply [with the new regulations] or we will have to remove the signs at their expense."

The new policy, which regulates the size, quantity and location of billboards, complements a preexisting city bylaw established in 1966 concerning signage.

Critics argue that the new regulations are focusing only on aesthetics and are not taking into account the needs of small business that rely solely on billboards and signage to attract customers. Raed Qaqeesh, and MP with a PhD in urban design, said that while he agrees with the new regulations, he believes they don't take into account the needs of small businesses and aren’t comprehensive. “There is an idea that Amman is a visually-polluted city,” said Qaqeesh. "But I'm worried about small businesses... we need to apply a whole vision to this city."

Many residents, however, argue that the city needs a face lift no matter what the cost, and it has been a long time coming.

The GAM is also developing a new address system for Amman whereby every building will be numbered so citizens can find buildings more easily. According to Hadedi, "With the [new] system, we won't need the signs on the buildings."

I’m telling you, the government is either reading our thoughts or reading our words.

Source: The Jordan Times, Jan. 26-27, 2007

Are Jordanian Bloggers Making a Difference?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sometimes I wonder if the Jordanian government doesn't have a small department of people stashed away somewhere...people who's sole job is to read the popular opinion of local bloggers and report to a task force in charge facilitating change for the betterment of the Kingdom.

Perhaps this is just an overblown theory, but let's look at some of the more recent (and welcome) changes that have previously been the topic of conversation in the blog-o-sphere.

The nasty black and yellow striped curbs that border Amman's streets
The result? All the curbs are now in the process of being painted gray.
The unknown factor when it comes to determining dates of holidays, especially when it comes to having to physically visualize the moon.
The result? The king has recently requested that government holidays and other occasions, such as daylight saving time, be scientifically determined and announced in advance.
The hindrance of trees and other obstructions in the public sidewalk
All trees are supposed to be trimmed to a specific height. Smaller trees are to be transplanted to another location.
The lack of a city-wide master plan, resulting in poorly planned construction and infrastructure.
The result? The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) has adopted a 30-year master plan which should set greater standards for parking needs, road construction, water, electrical, and sewage placement, as well as proper zoning restrictions throughout the city.
The mandate that all buildings in Amman be constructed out of white stone.
The result? Buildings of varying construction types are being erected throughout the city. (So far, I've been impressed with much of the new constructionnwith the exception of that blue-tiled monstrosity on Zahran Street between 3rd and 4th Circles.)
These are just a few examples of issues that have mysterious been addressed after being lobbied over by Jordanian bloggers. Other issues that still need addressing, however, include:

Garbage bins
Those ugly, gray bins are still lying disheveled in the middle of the streets. And bi shan Allah, stop putting wheels on those things; they're always bent and folded up under the bin anyway!
Smoking in public places
Darn you, America, for introducing tobacco to the world! And the fact that the Jordanian government still hasn't enforced a non-smoking policy in public places, shame on you.
Double (and triple) parking
Why hasn't the government been doing anything about this? If the government needs some extra income to make up for all of the excessive amount of holiday days taken in January, they should just task all of the police officers to go around writing tickets for double parking. And I'm not talking about those lousy 10JD tickets, which apparently don't have any effect on the populace.
Jordanian currency's third decimal place
I haven't mentioned this one before, but I thought I would throw it in for good measure. After all, the thrid decimal place serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever, other than to confuse foreign tourists visiting the country. Why not pull a monetary system reform, Turkish-style, and just do away with it once and for all?


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I contacted Wanadoo over a month ago to notify them that I wanted to upgrade to their new 2Mbps service.

Wanadoo gave me the run-around, referring me to Jordan Telecom. Jordan Telecom gave me the cold shoulder, telling me to call back later. I called the next day, only to be told that a technician would have to come out to the house sometime in the week to physically upgrade the line. It didn't make any sense to me, but then again, I've learned to accept many things that don't seem to make sense.

About a week later, Wanadoo called me to let me know that Jordan Telecom could not verify my address (they ran a phone line to my house, didn't they?), and could I please fax them a request for service, which should include my location and contact details. I informed them that I didn't have a fax machine (what is this? 1989?), so they told me that I could send the request to them from my Wanadoo e-mail account.

The problem is that I don't ever use my Wanadoo e-mail account. I don't even know what my password is to access my online Wanadoo customer care account. Instead, I sent the request from my usual e-mail account, explaining the situation, and requesting service.

I never heard back from Wanadoo.

Then yesterday, out of the blue, a Wanadoo salesperson calls me and informs me of their new 2Mbps line and asks me if I would like to upgrade for free. Eh? Have I not been bugging them about this for over a month? And is that even a question: would you like faster internet for free? Do people actually turn that offer down?

So according to the salesperson, my line should be automatically upgraded sometime in the next three days. I'm not holding my breath.

Update (Jan. 21): Well, it happened. As of this morning, my internet speeds have doubled. That's not to say that I am getting the advertised full 2Mbps, but then again, I was never really getting the full 1Mbps, either.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Last week I visited Petra for the tenth time. And counting.

Most of my trips to Petra have consisted of taking friends, relatives and/or visitors down for the "standard tour" — one or two days seeing the typical highlights. For this most recent trip, however, I went down with a buddy in order to explore the roads less traveled. After all, how many people can say they've looked down upon the hoards of tourists from the top of the Treasury (al-Khazneh) or climbed up to the Monastery (id-Dayir) urn?

Come to think of it, it's amazing how few Jordanians have actually been to Petra. I have several Jordanian friends who have never been there. A few months ago, I met a group of teenagers (seniors in high school) from Amman atop the High Place of Sacrifice who were visiting Petra for the first time.

It's hard to believe that a veritable world wonder is located just a couple hours away and so many have never taken the opportunity to visit it. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised; there are too many Americans who have never been outside the State in which they were born.

So, how many times have you been to Petra? Don't be shy.

I Don't Care How Many Parking Spaces They Have...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I made the mistake of going to Carrefour last night. As I approached the only main entrance to the City Mall complex, I found myself in a long line of cars, which I assumed were also heading to Carrefour. After sitting in the line of cars for about a minute, I decided that this might not be such a good idea, but just as I was preparing to swing out into traffic, I discovered that I was blocked in on both sides by impatient, terrible drivers who don't know how to queue and are oblivious to the laws of the road. (Laws of the road, who am I kidding?)

Ten minutes later, I finally entered shoved my way onto the ramp that leads down to the parking garage. Due to the heavy amount of traffic, the garage security guards were ignoring the traditional "trunk check" and were waving cars along.

Another five minutes and I had descended to the bottom of the ramp and was about to enter the garage. All I could see in front of me was a line of cars, each one pausing as it entered into the garage. I couldn't determine what the hold up was, or why each car was being forced to stop.

Two minutes later, I rounded the garage door only to be stopped short by a parking attendant. I rolled down my window to receive this very important piece of information: "Park in Area 2."

What the heck? A huge traffic jam simply because the Carrefour parking attendants think that we're too stupid to find a parking space? Talk about insulting our sensibilities! And on top of that, the parking level was practically empty. Why do they care where I park? If I want to park half a kilometer away and walk, that's my business. Why not allow people to enter in a timely manner and find their own parking spot?

I finally parked my truck and entered through the lower entrance. Security was lax, as they were funneling people through the metal detector like cattle through a chute. People weren't being stopped and checked, even when the metal detector would screech in protest. They did, however, require me to remove my mobile phone before entering the detector. I feel safer knowing that all of the people in Carrefour aren't wielding explosive phones.

Half and hour into my venture, I was finally making my way up the escalators to the ground floor. I just wish that people would learn that the escalator isn't an attraction at an amusement park, and that you're supposed to exit the escalator in a timely manner since the oncoming traffic can't stop. You should have seen the pileup at the top of the escalator simply because some idiots just stood there looking around, deciding what to do. I'll tell you what to do: start walking!

I write all this to remind myself that next time I want to visit Carrefour in the evening — especially on a Thursday or Friday evening — I should just go soak my head in the toilet. It would probably be much more fun.

Steve Jobs' Lost Marketing Ploy

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Apple iPhone
Steve, Steve...what's wrong with you? You mentioned that it's an iPod, a phone, and a breakthrough internet device. You mentioned that it has a built-in accelerometer, a proximity sensor and an ambient light sensor. But the one thing you forgot to mention, the one thing that would have pathetic geeks scrambling to cough up $499 (or $599), is this: it has a chick magnet built into it.

And of course I want one.

A Long Break

Friday, January 05, 2007

The following editorial was printed in the Friday, January 05, 2007 edition of The Jordan Times. I couldn’t agree more.
Many of us wonder why the country had to go through a ten-day holiday break on the occasion of the New Year and the Eid Al Adha.

In these times of globalization, when most relationships between countries and peoples are closely dependent, to be cut off from the world for such a long period of time must have cost Jordan quite an amount of money. Were one to calculate the cost of a ten-day holiday on the GNP, the results would be high, no doubt.

It makes no sense for any country, developed or developing, to take such a long break from economic activities.

Most nations avoid holidays for more than four days, including the two days of weekend. If the rich countries cannot afford the luxury of ten days off, the Kingdom surely cannot either.

True, the New Year celebrations and Eid Al Adha overlapped, but the holiday season could have ended on January 3, and not on January 7.

Schools, universities, banks, corporations, factories and state functions were interrupted for ten days. Do we really need such a long time to mark events?

It is hoped that next time holidays are decided upon, officials stop to examine the cost. It is also hoped that all will endeavor now to make up for the lost time. After so much rest, there is reason to believe that productivity will increase.

And since holidays are mentioned, one should bring up the matter of lack of consensus among the Muslim and Arab nations on when religious holidays begin or end.

We still insist on crescent sighting with the naked eye to proclaim the beginning of Eid Al Fitr at the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. But some Muslim nations see the crescent before others. This creates confusion and that has got to end.

When and for how long a religious holiday should be celebrated is a matter that could be agreed upon well ahead of time on. Resorting to astronomy to declare the start of a holiday and to good old common sense to decided how long it should last could do it.

Update (Jan. 18, 2007): Kudos to King Abdullah for realizing the ridiculousness of a 10-day holiday and the adverse effects that it has on the economy. The king has canceled two public holidays this year: the observances of his birthday on January 30 as well as the late King Hussein's birthday on November 14. The king wishes that "Jordanians can celebrate the two occasions by enhancing national economy".

The king also asked government to set a clear calendar for the next 5 years, outlining public holidays and daylight saving time observances in order to "help public and private institutions set well-defined and long-term plans".

Carrefour: Shock and Awe

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I visited the new Carrefour in Amman last week, but I’ve held off writing about it until after reading other reviews. Here are my impressions.

The Good:

  • Everything is in one place. Sure, most of their products are the same as the ones carried by Safeway, Cozmo and C-Town, but instead of traveling from store to store, you can get it all in a single stop.

  • Everything is clearly marked. This was probably the biggest shocker for me. Until now, I have yet to see a store where everything was organized and clearly (and accurately) marked. All the signs are written in both Arabic and English.

  • Prices are comparable. They’re not drastically cheaper. They’re not extremely inflated. They’re average, and that’s fine by me.

  • Some new products. Crisco, sauce packets, greater Pop-Tart variety. The list goes on for another minute, but not much longer (see "very few new products" below).

  • Ample parking. I didn’t take advantage of the underground parking, as I managed to find a space outside directly in front of the store. I hear that there are around 3,200 spaces down below the complex, although this will be shared by all City Mall customers and is not exclusive to Carrefour, so I’m not sure this counts. With the absence of parking spots in Amman, however, this a giant leap in the right direction.

The Bad:

  • Very few new products. Even though they have everything, by everything I mean all the products currently carried in Jordan. There are a lot of good products out there that never make it here. I would expect a huge French conglomerate like Carrefour could afford to bring more goodies to the masses.

  • Pay-per-cart. In order to retrieve a cart out of the queue, one must (snugly) insert a 10 piaster coin into the slot. When you return the cart, your coin is returned. I have a hard time griping about this after spending the summer in England and having to insert a 1 Pound coin (nearly $2) in order to retrieve a cart. However, I can foresee a couple caveats to this. What happens if I don’t have any change? I can imagine how put out the staff is going to be when I try to make change in order to collect a cart. Also, what happens when all of my bagged groceries don’t fit in a single cart? (This tends to happen to groceries after they are bagged.) With the new pay-per-cart system, baggers cannot grab a second cart and start loading it with my stuff. I just don’t see cart theft as a huge deal in Jordan, not enough to warrant this hassle, anyway.

  • Variety is a bit slim. I guess I can’t ding Carrefour exclusively for this problem, since it plagues all stores in Jordan. They have 6 types of stand-alone grillers in the appliance section and not a single waffle iron. The electronics section carries Sony Playstations and PSPs, and that’s it. No X-Box, no Nintendo. In-line skates for anyone over the age of 4? Forget it! Men’s house slippers that aren’t clog style? Zero. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The Unknown:

  • Can the Carrefour maintain its cleanliness and orderliness, or will things slowly degenerate into the status quo over the next 8 months?

  • Will we begin to see a greater variety of products with reduced prices, or will Carrefour be swallowed up in the sameness of other Jordan supermarkets?

  • Will I need a shopping cart attendant to help me jam a 10 piaster coin into the incredibly small cart slot each time I visit the store?

Only time will tell.