threading

What exactly is threading?  I’d never heard of it before and when I saw this barber doing it I was a bit curious and asked some of the men at the barber shop to explain it to me.  I was due for a haircut and found an Indian barber who only charged a few bucks and I thought I’d give it a go.  Some of the other men waiting to get their hair cut were friends of the barber and they chatted as he worked on an Omani man’s hair.  This young man was getting married that evening and he was getting the full workup: haircut, shave, facial, pedicure, manicure and he was also getting “threaded.”  The men next to me explained that “threading” removes unwanted hair by pulling it out at the root so that it takes longer to grow back.  For men it is used to shape eyebrows and to remove hair from the upper cheeks and other facial areas.

And so, it was quite a long wait as this Omani man was getting a full “makeover” for his wedding day.  We asked him if he was nervous and he just shrugged as though he had been married three times already.  Hmmm….  maybe he has been married 3 times already.  The men explained to me that a single piece of thread or string is held by one hand at the end of the string, the second hand takes a loop in the center of the string and the other end of the string is held in the barber’s mouth.  Using one hand, the barber turns the middle part of the string so that the middle portion of the string forms a twist or spiral.  Laying the wound string across the target area, the barber pulls one end of the string back and forth while holding the other string taut, in this way the string spins as it winds and unwinds.  As the string winds under pressure the barber aims the opening of the coil at hair to be removed and as the strings combine and corkscrew, the hair is pulled into the string.  Since the hair is now coiled inside of the string it is gripped very tightly and is pulled out by the root.

I asked the men if the process was painful and they said that it hurt a little bit but not too bad and later, after I got my hair cut the barber gave me a demonstration by pulling out some hair on the side and back of my neck.  It stung a little bit but not too bad, I’ve never had hair waxed before but I imagine it feels about the same.  I’ve not seen the procedure at other barber shops in the world even at Indian barber shops and I just thought that the process was quite ingenious.  While sitting waiting for my turn to get my hair cut I chatted with these Indian men and they told me all about their lives working as expat workers in Oman.  They told me that they were happy living here and that it was a good life, the salaries were much higher than in their home country and they were glad to be here.  The reinforced my belief that the Omani people were quite nice in comparison to some other Arab Gulf states (something I would come to learn later).


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Sutltan’s Palace

It isn’t very often that you can visit the King’s house while you’re visiting a foreign country.  Well, in this case, the Sultan’s house – the Sultan is the same as the King but he likes the title of Sultan better as it is more appropriate to this region.  After visiting some of the Omani forts built by the Portuguese some 500 years ago, I decided to visit the Sultan’s Palace.  I checked my guide book, drove around a bit, got lost, asked for directions, got lost again and then pulled over to ask for directions again.  While at this turnout near the military port I noticed some beautiful flowers and a great ocean view and just took a moment to enjoy the beautiful view (above).

I found a local policeman (who didn’t speak much English) and asked for directions to the Sultan’s Palace.  He explained – as best as he could – but I was still a bit confused.  I understood the general direction that I should drive and began driving.  I didn’t mind being lost as the roads wound around the ocean with beautiful views of the sea and mountains.  Just when I thought that I would never find it, I ran right into a palace guard (below).

I pulled my rental car over to the side of the road and approached the checkpoint.  The guard was very friendly and spoke a little bit of English.  I asked him where the Sultan’s Palace was and he gladly gave me directions.  We chatted a bit – he asked me about my travels and asked if I was in the military (I’m sure the haircut was a dead giveaway) and he told me about his “special detail” as a Presidential Guard.  He said that this was an elite unit and it was a prestigious assignment to guard the Sultan’s Palace.  We chatted for a while and then I wished him farewell and drove following his directions.

A few hundred yards down the beach road and after a bend in the road the Sultan’s Palace came into view.  I was quite surprised to see the retro-deco fashion design of the Palace – it looked right out of a 1960′s James Bond film!  The guards at the gate allowed me to approach and take photos up close – it seems that all of the guards were quite relaxed and seemed carefree about security, further adding to my feeling that Oman is a safe and comfortable country.  I’ve never seen a palace that looked quite like this one; I marveled at if for a while, shot a few photos and then said goodbye to the smiling guards.  What a country!


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The Sultan’s Visitors’ Book

Inside of the Muscat military harbor the sailors of visiting ships have taken to writing the name of their ship on the hillsides – in my guidebook I read that this tradition dates back decades and each year subsequent ships’ names are carved or painted into the sides of the hill.  As this harbor is the entrance to the Sultan’s palace the nickname for these ships’ paintings is the Sultan’s Visitors’ Book.   Some descriptions of the painted rocks date back several hundred years and are described in some some old texts.

I could tell that some of the sailors either had more time than other ships crews or else they just wanted to make a bigger statement as some of the letters were big enough to be read without magnification even from a mile away.  In the photo below you can clearly make out the marking left by the crew of the British ship Resume; this ship’s name was above and below a 16th Century Portuguese fort & I couldn’t help but wonder if the Omanis didn’t mind the tradition or if these sailors snuck in under the cover of darkness and painted this huge placard.

Further inside the harbor I could see a road or trail that leads up from the ocean to the top of the hill where yet another Portuguese fort rests.  The HMS Falmouth has the largest ship name on this hill and as it is painted above the crisscrossing trail I can only imagine that the sailors had easy access to paint this name.  All along the side of the hill I saw hundreds of ship’s names as each subsequent crew adds to this interesting tradition.  I read in my Lonely Planet guidebook that one of the names on the wall, the HMS Sheffield was painted on that ship’s last visit to Muscat.

The Sheffield steamed towards the Falklands War that England was battling with Argentina and was subsequently hit by a French Made Excocet Missile fired from an Argentine Mirage fighter jet (also made in France).  The Excocet hit just above the water line and destroyed the ship completely.  In a lapse of good judgment, the British Navy decided to save a few bucks and made their new class of destroyers out of aluminum rather than steel and the high heat generated by the missile melted the ship as it burned.  The entire ship burned down to the water line leaving nothing left above the surfcae of the ocean.  The British tried to tow the ill-fated destroyer back to England but it never made the journey.  In retaliation, a British submarine torpedoed an Argentine heavy cruiser sinking it in the cold Pacific Ocean killing over a thousand Argentine sailors.

Using the zoom on my camera I could see that the crew of the British ship Perseus actually created a huge copy of the King’s Cross next to the name of their ship.  The Persius was a British submarine that was sunk during World War II in 1941, its wreck was discovered in 1996.  It seems that this “graffiti” is as much a memorial to some of these ships as it is a naval tradition.  I asked if I could go over to the other side to see some of the ship names up close but I was told that it was a closed military area.


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