Juhae Chae, trainee, Denton Wilde Sapte
16 September 2010
9 December 2010
3 November 1997
28 May 2007
27 March 2013
8 September 2006
As far as exotic secondment locations go the Land of Frankincense definitely deserves the top spot.
It was a dark and dreary day in December when I was told the happy news that I should pack summer clothes for my next seat. Sunshine greeted me upon my arrival in Muscat and I knew that it was going to be a great six months.
Muscat is the capital city of Oman, the most eastern country of the Arabian Peninsula. It is incredible to think that Muscat as we know it today did not exist even 20 years ago. Those who have been here long enough recall rolling sand dunes where low-rise, white washed buildings now stand. Old Muscat itself sits on the coast, sheltered by a ring of mountains protecting it from the inland, accessible until 1970 only by foot, donkey or boat. Today, the city has developed further west along the seafront and in between the nooks and crannies of the foothills, all connected by a world-class highway system.
The recent growth of the city, and general development of the country, reflects a new chapter in Oman’s history, penned since the current ruler, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, overthrew his father in a bloodless coup forty years ago. It marked the beginning of Oman opening its doors to commercial activity, and most significantly tapping into its rich oil and gas reserves. No surprise that the energy sector is the heart of commerce here and the majority of our clients have a connection with it, directly or indirectly.
Denton Wilde Sapte has an extensive and integrated network of offices across the Middle East and the Muscat office is a key part of this. As Oman’s largest international law firm we enjoy a client base made up of the country’s major players in the energy, corporate and banking industries, as well as the public sector. This means there are plenty of opportunities for trainees to be involved with complex and often pioneering projects. Working in a smaller office than London means that trainees are expected to play a larger role within the teams, and with more responsibility also come greater rewards.
Working in Oman certainly is not without its challenges - aside from familiarisation of a new jurisdictional framework, I have also had to get used to a different way of doing business in a society where taking time to build friendships is valued above everything else. I was intrigued during my first meeting with a ministerial official that at least the first ten minutes were spent drinking coffee and exchanging greetings between him and my Omani colleague. Only then did they begin to discuss business. Now I too can greet people with ’as-salaam alaykum’ and enquire not only after their health, family and business but also their tribe. Although most Omanis speak English to a very high level, I nonetheless made an effort to learn some Arabic. Even a meagre attempt is warmly received and certainly makes bartering in the soukmuch more fun. It is these conversations, the friendly faces and the hospitable culture that I will remember most.
During my seat I have been able to pursue two of my favourite hobbies: travelling and photography. Oman is a great playground if you enjoy the outdoors. In the north, I saw playful wild dolphins in the ’fjords of Arabia’; in the east, watched giant sea turtles lay their eggs under the full moon and hatchlings struggle towards the sea; experienced the phenomena of monsoon rain in the south (the only place this happens in Arabia) and in the west, slept under shooting stars in the desert and rode camels over the gentle sand dunes. Many weekends have been spent swimming in emerald lagoons of a wadi, enjoying the coolness of the mountains and snorkelling or diving off the shores of Muscat. I have also travelled to Dubai, Thailand, Malaysia and volunteered in an orphanage in India. It has truly been a busy six months both in and out of the office and a most fulfilling experience as a result.