Time to Switch to Public Transit

12 October 2014 | 0 comments | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

With the ongoing development works under way, Riyadh is gearing to become one of the largest cities of the world.
Like any other city across the Kingdom, the concept of a world-class public transportation system is alien to Riyadh. However, due to the growing population and the huge expansion of the city from all sides, the need for a public mass transit system is being greatly felt.

Most of the streets in Riyadh witness massive traffic jams round-the-clock. It would not be an exaggeration to say that rush hours in Riyadh continue 24/7. The authorities are finally realizing the importance of a mass transit system across the Kingdom but the situation in Riyadh is very worrisome, as it can’t handle more than five million people and millions of cars roaming the streets.

Saudis are wont of owning cars and prefer to use their own vehicles to go to work and malls etc. Many people say that Saudis have adopted this habit from the Americans. However, this habit — good or bad — has become strongly associated with the Saudis nowadays.

The trend in the West has reversed due to expensive fuel prices and high insurance rates. People in most of the developed countries are turning to the use of public transport system. Keeping in view the burden on their civic infrastructures and public comfort, many countries had started developing public transport systems. In the United States, most of the major cities have a comprehensive mass transit system. Apart from the major cities, however, one has to rely on his vehicle to move around or rely on cabs and end up paying skyrocketing fares.

We, in Saudi Arabia, are also facing a similar situation. Actually, we have never thought about a public transport system due to obvious reasons: Fuel prices are very low and there is no import tax on cars, there is no parking fee in the cities.

Due to the above reasons, owning and maintaining a car is easier in the Kingdom. That is why the idea of public transportation never appealed the Saudis. On the contrary, keeping a car is very expensive in other parts of the world — fuel prices are high, one has to pay toll taxes and parking fee.

The transport authorities in the Kingdom should try to educate people about the importance of public transportation system especially in major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Keeping in view the growing population, it is imperative to plan mass transit systems across the Kingdom. This will not only help ease traffic congestions on streets but will also help improve the environment and check air pollution.

Riyadh can also use public transportation system, such as the metro, as a tourist attraction. The presence of metro system is a sign of development. It is true that nowadays Riyadh appears like a huge workshop as various uplift projects including, the multi-billion dollar Metro project, are under way. It is important to create awareness among the masses on the use o public transport. The authorities should launch a campaign in this regard at the earliest.

Riyadh should also have another mode of public transport i.e. public buses to help ease the stress of driving on the capital’s streets.

And at a time when the construction of this mega transportation project is in full swing, the traffic department should start serious measures to implement and change many traffic rules and regulations and must train their traffic personal to cope with the increasing number of cars on the roads. Driving and movement in Riyadh is becoming slower, more hectic and with it comes lack of patience. And it is important for the residents of Riyadh to start to learn how to use the public transportation. It is more fun and cheaper. Cheap energy and automobile driving in the Kingdom will not be here forever, so, we need to adapt to public transportation.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Time to Switch to Public Transit reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Sadara: World’s Largest Chemicals Manufacturing Facility Built in a Single Phase

9 October 2014 | 0 comments | Saudi Aramco News | by

Saudi Aramco News

The world’s largest chemicals manufacturing facility built in a single phase, Sadara Chemical Co., is in the home stretch toward the production of its first products in 2015. Reaching the finish line on time is crucial to the project’s overall success, and it will require the commitment of manpower and resources from every contracting company currently working on the project.

That was the message conveyed by Saudi Aramco president and CEO Khalid A. Al-Falih and Dow Chemical Co. CEO Andrew N. Liveris at the Sadara CEO Summit held in Jubail on Sept. 16. It was also a celebration of achievements, including news that the Sadara project is 70 percent completed. The next crucial stage is planning for future challenges in the weeks and months ahead.

With more than 40 CEOs gathered from some of the top global engineering and construction companies, Al-Falih, Liveris, and other company officials speaking at the event agreed it was clear the Sadara project was well on the way to delivering on its promise of being a game-changer for the Saudi economy.

Launched in November 2011 and scheduled to become operational in 2015, Sadara will be a big part of Saudi Aramco’s strategy to diversify the Kingdom’s economy, creating business opportunities for Saudi entrepreneurs and jobs for thousands of talented Saudis.

In a league of its own

“Sadara is probably the planet’s most complex engineering undertaking — not just now, but at any time,” Al-Falih said. “Whether it’s scale, complexity, advanced technology or economic and commercial impact, it is in a league of its own.”

Al-Falih said that the project has come a long way from last year. Last year at this time, Sadara was at 30 percent completion. This year, it is above 70 percent complete. “The next 30 percent is what people will remember: how we finish, when we finish, and what the result is of the facilities we finish.”

Al-Falih urged contractors to redouble their efforts and work together as a team to ensure that Sadara remains on schedule. “What we do want is to bring Sadara to life in the best, most effective and safest manner possible, and the key to that is teamwork,” Al-Falih said.

“We are right now rounding the corner and entering the home stretch, and while our objective is closer than it was, our steps forward are even more critical, requiring greater determination and a higher level of cooperation among all our partners,” Al-Falih said. “If we can achieve that, we will establish an industrial landmark that will contribute to prosperity for generations to come, and put your companies’ names and our names in the history books.”

Once built, Sadara will have the capacity to produce 3 million tons per year of high quality chemical products such as polyethylene, propylene oxide, elastomers, glycol ethers, amines, isocyanates and polyether polyols, many of which have never previously been produced in the Kingdom. The creation of Sadara will not only create hundreds of jobs for Saudis at the plant itself, but it will also create an environment where Saudi entrepreneurs can establish manufacturing companies using those chemical products to make everything from paints and sealants to insulation and auto parts and even toothpaste.

Even at 70 percent of completion, Sadara is a marvel.

By completion, more than 160,000 tons of steel will have been be used in its construction, enough to build two Golden Gate bridges.

Also by completion,1 million cubic feet of concrete will have been poured, enough to build the equivalent of three King Fahd causeways to Bahrain.

2,500 kilometers of pipe have been laid, enough to stretch from Jubail and Jiddah, twice.

All of this has been done with a keen eye toward Saudi Aramco’s corporate value of Safety. As of Sept. 16, a recorded 228,968,755 man hours had been conducted without a reportable injury.

“The world is watching us,” said Liveris. “Customers around the world are watching; they have already signed letters of intent matching more than 100 percent of planned capacity.”

“Our industry is watching as we construct the most incredible industrial complex of our time,” Liveris said. “They know about Saudi Aramco’s incredible reputation, and they know about Dow’s. They believe that if anyone can pull this off, we can.

“Once in a career, once in a lifetime, you have the opportunity to do something truly special,” Liveris said. “I will always remember that I was involved in this special something — that we, together, built Sadara into a force for human progress.”

Saudi Arabia has unique advantages for entering the chemicals business, said Warren W. Wilder, vice president of Chemicals. And Saudi Aramco and Dow are uniquely capable of bringing a project as large as Sadara up and running.

“There’s nothing that stops Saudi Aramco from being successful,” Wilder said. “We have the hydrocarbon resources; we have the capital; we have the operational know-how. Now, it’s just a matter of getting after it.”

Joseph Brewer, the chief program officer for Sadara Chemical, told the audience, “Last year, we were on the verge, it’s like we saw a very large mountain in front of us, but in the past 12 months, as Khalid said, we have accomplished more than 50 percent of the back-end construction, and we should be proud of that.

“But now is not the time to declare victory,” Brewer added. “It’s the time to focus even more and deliver on our commitments.”

The Burgundy Bonneville

9 October 2014 | 1 comment | Brats | by

Tim Barger

After I graduated from college, I worked in film and TV for six years before I returned to Arabia in January of 1974 to start up the television department at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. I was one of the first 20 American employees, and the hospital was still being built when I arrived. Housing was tight, so I lived with my brother Michael, who had been there for two years and lived in a unit of three villas — actually spacious, one-story bungalows — surrounded by the usual god-awful cinderblock wall facing the street.

Michael worked for Citibank as an account executive; one of the perks was they’d finance any car he wanted, so he bought a new burgundy Pontiac Bonneville with one of those vinyl landau roofs that were so popular then. It was a sweet ride with comfy seats, dynamite air conditioning and a killer built-in 8 Track with surround speakers. Unfortunately, it was heavy and low to the ground with soft suspension — great on the strip in LA, but the mean streets of Riyadh immediately chewed that Pontiac up. I doubt if it ever had all four tires properly aligned since it left Detroit.

In the first few years after the 1973 oil boom, hundreds of European and American technocrats, construction superintendents, management experts and outright speculators had come and gone. An odd consequence of this phenomenon was that many of them left their dogs behind. I went to the Riyadh Zoo in 1974, and one of the enclosures displayed a pair of Great Danes, given to the zoo by some departing Scandinavian dignitary. So, I’m more than willing to believe the legend of the Dog Gang known to all in the expatriate community.

In those early days, these high-level consultants and managers, their families — and their dogs — would fly into Riyadh only to be removed or replaced for a variety of reasons within a year or so. Sometimes it was just easier to turn Fido over to the gardener and give him 100 riyals. The Swiss broker in a failed bauxite mega-deal just ejected the tiresome Dalmatian into the alley and flew to Zurich. But of course too, there was seven-year-old Lucy. Just two hours before she and her family left for the airport, Spunky, her dear dachshund companion, “escaped from the yard,” and she waited and waited for him to come back, until the family had to drive off from their villa to the airport. Lucy crying for Spunky and pounding against the rear window the whole way.

In those early days, these high-level consultants and managers, their families — and their dogs — would fly into Riyadh only to be removed or replaced for a variety of reasons within a year or so. Sometimes it was just easier to turn Fido over to the gardener and give him 100 riyals. The Swiss broker in a failed bauxite mega-deal just ejected the tiresome Dalmatian into the alley and flew to Zurich. But of course too, there was seven-year-old Lucy. Just two hours before she and her family left for the airport, Spunky, her dear dachshund companion, “escaped from the yard,” and she waited and waited for him to come back, until the family had to drive off from their villa to the airport. Lucy crying for Spunky and pounding against the rear window the whole way.

Apparently the foreign breeds were not accepted by the resident packs of feral dogs. Actually, it was quite dangerous for the Yorkies and Pomerians of this world. Eventually, a German Shepherd met a wild, unshorn Standard Poodle abandoned by a Belgian bond trader. They encountered a Sheltie and a Bull Dog. Soon an Irish setter, a golden Labrador, two terriers, and a lazy, old Cocker Spaniel joined up. They careened around the outskirts of Riyadh, scraping along as best as they could, learning that food didn’t come in cans anymore, until one day they met their Alpha male. And the Expat Dog Gang began its reign of terror.

It’s about five in the morning. The air is damp and cool, a soft haze hovers over the asphalt just before the dawn. The dogs are silently slinking along both sides of the dark street. The Cocker Spaniel gets distracted by a cat’s hairball and trails behind. Their victim is in sight, but they can’t afford to be careless, so they sneak closer. Waiting for the signal.

They are about five yards from the prey when there is a sharp “Yip! Yip!” and Spunky leads the attack on my brother’s burgundy Bonneville. He leaps up to the bumper — twice, scrambles over the trunk like an uncoiled Slinky and mounts the landau roof. The feral dachshund emits a wild, spine-tightening howl and then slashes the vinyl with his claws. Seconds later, the entire pack, terriers and all, is crowded on to the top of my brother’s car slicing the faux Corinthian leather into ribbons.

By some entirely unanticipated design flaw, the top was bonded to the entire surface of the inner steel with an organic based glue probably made from rendered race horses, but secured around the perimeter with fancy trim. Mother Nature will always find a way. It turned out that the glue area between the vinyl and the steel — a thin layer subjected to fantastic temperature extremes in the Arabian sun — bubbled up and just happened to provide an ideal feeding ground for a species of grub that was full of protein and apparently quite tasty. The dog pack shredded off long burgundy strips and licked the steel roof clean, as if they were crazed socialites at an all-you-can-eat caviar buffet. Spunky saw headlights down the block, growled twice, and the pack evaporated into the shadows.

As the dogs faded off, just as the sun rose to thrust a low-lying stab of light down the street, Spunky returned to stand 20 yards away, casting a long shadow on his victim. He yipped twice at the violated Pontiac, barked to himself a soft congratulations, and then waddled off to join his gang.

Two hours later, my brother, who is fluent in many languages, came out of his villa, opened the gate to the street and began swearing in a bewildering string of obscenities ranging from traditional Anglo-Saxon to colorful Arabic words and off into allusions to Zoroastrian deities. Worn out, he called the office to say he wouldn’t be in and listened to Wagner playing loudly on his Hi-Fi long into the night.

ARABIAN SON: 21 Stories by Tim BargerARABIAN SON: 21 Stories
by Tim Barger

E-book: $4.95


Paperback: 142 pages ~ $12.95

ISBN: 978-098820505-5

Play Ball! Memories of Udhailiyah Revisited

9 October 2014 | 6 comments | Special Interest | by

Udhailiah Falconsca. 1981 – Udhailiyah Women’s Softball Team – ChampionsFront Row: Annie Hourie, Sherry Jarvis (Schumacher), Cheryl Simpson, and Cindy Werner Gates.
Back Row: Karen Huggins, Sylvia Ahearn (deceased), Brenda Taylor, Myron Fogle, Trish Major, Vicci Turner, Mary Lero and Valarie Head (deceased).
Missing from Photograph: Jane Stead, Laurie Swanson, Carolyn Baker and Doris Jarvis

My fellow Aramcons no doubt remember how sports helped bind us together during our time living in oil patch camps scattered across the Kingdom. High on my list of favorite memories from those years are the softball games that filled so many of my hours away from work. I played on a stellar softball team, Udhailiyah Falcon’s, as short fielder in my heyday in Udhailiyah, for those of you who wonder—all sixty-six formidable inches of me. Added to that in my memory bank are the countless little league games I attended, watching my sons Rusty and Brad cavort on the diamond with friends and friendly foes. Teams from the Arabian Little League have competed numerous times in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In short, baseball has long been an integral part of the Aramco ExPats’ experiences living in Saudi Arabia.

Henry CookHenry Cook waits for his pitch at Dodger camp

Now living in Bellingham, Washington—an hour-and-a-half drive north of Seattle—I have adopted the Seattle Mariners as “my” team. Rarely do I miss a televised M’s game, and several times a year I take in a game in person at Safeco Field. A few weekends ago, in fact, freshly returned from the annuitant’s reunion in Asheville, I caught a game between the Mariners and the Oakland Athletics that had play-off intensity, with both squads battling for a place in the post-season. However ardent a Mariners fan I may be, my devotion pales when compared to the passion that the late Henry Cook showered upon his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers. Henry’s dedication to overseeing drilling for Aramco was unquestioned and his devotion to his family unparalleled, but his absorption in all things Dodger was nearly as powerful. Henry was “Dodger blue” through and through—just ask Bonnie.

Safeco Field

Cricket may be the national game of Britain, Pakistan and other countries, and soccer (“football” to non-Americans) may be the world’s game, but baseball remains unquestionably America’s game. During my recent visit to Safeco Field, I witnessed the phenomenon first hand as a voluble participant in the ritual.

Courtesy of a friend, we secured Diamond Club seats for the game, placing us six rows up from the visiting team on-deck circle with a direct view straight across home plate and first base down the right field foul line. I’m certain it’s not a reflection of my age when I say that I can’t believe how YOUNG the players appeared. They all seem bigger than life on television. Amazingly, however, when viewed up close from spitting distance, they’re actually life-sized, not the giants of the earth I had supposed.

Our Diamond Club tickets came with all the fixin’s—free food, free drinks, free everything, with personalized service that saw servers bringing our orders to our seats during the game. Pre-game, we feasted indoors at an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord offering a dizzying array of food choices. Our biggest challenge was not eating and drinking too much before the first pitch was thrown. Otherwise, we would not have had room to sample the full range of ballpark foods (hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, nachos, peanuts, popcorn, you name it, it was ours for free!). By the time the game ended, neither one of us had a room for another bite or sip.

Mariner Moose

Sports teams are well known for their colorful mascots, and the Mariners are no exception. Their mascot is a moose—or, to be more precise, an amazingly agile athlete dressed in a moose costume. Starting during batting practice and continuing non-stop over the length of the game, the Mariner Moose entertained fans with his antics. Somersaults, back-flips, wild and wiggly dance moves and more—he was a hyperkinetic dynamo expending boundless amounts of energy.

Seattle Mariner's

The Mariners came away with a 4-2 victory, adding to the afterglow that lasted late into the night. Sports bring us together, whether it’s Aramcons tossing softballs on a sandy field in Abqaiq or million-dollar super heroes like Robinson Cano blasting hard ball home runs at Seattle’s Safeco Field. I’ll long remember my night at the Diamond Club; I’ll never forget my nights shagging softballs on Udhailiyah’s well groomed diamond or the ones hit nightly into my backyard!

SAEEA Monthly Progress Meeting Minutes – October 2014

8 October 2014 | 2 comments | Pakistan | by

The monthly progress meeting of Saudi Aramco Ex-Employees Association (SAEEA) held on Oct 01, 2014:

The attendees were as follows:

  • Kamal Ahmed Farooqi (KAF)
  • Engr. Iqbal Ahmed Khan (IAK)
  • Ghulam Qutubuddin Khan (GQK)
  • Mohammad Abdul Matin (MAM)
  • Muhammad Salim Hamid (MSH)
  • Shafiq Ahmed Khan (SAK)
  • The highlights of the meeting were as follows:
  • KAF thanked SAK who provided his house for the meeting and arranged a very delicious lunch for all the attendees.
  • KAF highlighted the activities occurred during the month of September 2014. KAF signed a reminder letter addressed to Saudi Aramco asking their assistance in running SAEEA activities smoothly.
  • During SAEEA 11th Reunion, a leading newspaper announced certain giveaways items for the children attended the picnic. Furthermore, the newspaper announced good number of giveaways items for ladies, gents and children during the forthcoming SAEEA’s 12th Reunion. SAEEA will distribute children items during the forthcoming 12th reunion. SAEEA will also distribute other give away items thru LUCKY DRAW during the 12th reunion.
  • SAEEA’s Ladies Representative, Mrs. Younus Shaikh is planning to settle down in the United States. GQK contacted Mrs. Qamar Khan seeking her intention for working in place of Mrs. Shaikh. She agreed to perform the duties of Ladies Representative and will meet SAEEA Representatives upon her return from the United States.
  • KAF with the agreement of other Attendees approved SAEEA Identification Cards for PAID MEMBERS only. SAK will work on this project and the IDs will be distributed among all during the forthcoming 12th Reunion. SAEEA will shoulder the expenses of the Cards.
  • SAEEA noticed that certain SAEEA Members have been taking less interest in SAEEA activities. To rebuild their interest, SAEEA decided conveying SAEEA message with current activities thru CDs. The same CDs will be distributed to PAID SAEEA Members. SAEEA Office Bearers will personally visit to reachable Members and deliver the CDs at their residences. SAEEA will shoulder cost of the CDs.
  • SAEEA 12th reunion will tentatively be held during the month of November/December. KAF requested all Office Bearers to visit certain Restaurants and provide their feedback during the next SAEEA meeting.
  • IAK informed all the attendees that SAEEA website is updated. He is in process of creating space for inserting an advertisement, received from one of SAEEA Members. Members and others persons may visit the website https://www.saeea.com.pk
  • GQK will contact those Members who had confirmed their attendance for 11th reunion; however, could not attend because of their own reasons. SAEEA always makes arrangements for confirmed persons only and bear the losses if the confirmed person could not attend the event.
  • MSH updated the attendees about SAEEA account and paid members.
  • SAK with the assistance of other SAEEA Office bearers surveyed the market to have SAEEA’s own personal sound system. KAF approved one of the best systems and requested MAM and SAK to purchase the system.
  • MAM presented updated inventory for SAEEA wall clocks and valets.
  • KAF prayed for fast recovery of all sick people, especially for MSH’s mother, Iftikhar Ahmed, Anwar Mirza and Mohammad Ashraf.
  • Two relatives of SAEEA Members passed away (1) Engr. Iqbal Ahmed Khan’s Sister-in-Law; and (2) Ovais Akram Ali’s Brother.
  • If you have any questions then please call Engr. Iqbal Ahmed Khan on +92-321-701-4929 or write to him on iqbalkhan.2010@live.com