Sunday, September 14, 2014

Comforts from the remote mountains

Just so you know I have not been eaten by cannibals in Papua New Guinea, here is an update from me with pictures of my new home away from home.

The chartered flight operated by Air Niugini. I was the last one to board even after trying my best to make the transit in the shortest possible time–it will always be like that due to the Qantas schedule for flights out of Melbourne. The sky was clear when I left Cairns but I was greeted by a gloomy rainy scene when the plane landed in Moro, where it kept raining for days.
 We are apparently coming to the end of the monsoon season so we should be seeing more clear days but most of the time it is still this misty within the camp (it can get quite cold at night sometimes). These are pictures of the newer accomodation blocks where I stay. It is really quiet at this end of the camp (which is great). There is just this occasional annoying tapping sound coming from upstairs but it's still bearable. When I move into my permanent room in the next rotation, I will be situated upstairs–a hassle in itself but hopefully the tapping will be gone. Also females live in separate blocks and all female toilets have number-combination locks on them. Sexual relations between males and females are not allowed in the camp (even for couples) so I don't know how well they take to gay sex (a not-so-cute local told me he was going to visit me in my room but he didn't show up in the end). HIV is apparently a serious problem here and I had to prove I was HIV-free before I was given my visa. To avoid complication, I will try not to be out whilst on this assignment ("try" being the operative word).
 This is the temporary room I have been staying in (as I am currently overlapping with my back-to-back). In the next rotation I will be sharing the same room with him which explains the two locked sections of the wardrobes. We get Australian as well as cable TV in the room with the essential channels (CNN, BBC, Discovery, National Geographic, Cinemax, Star World and HBO) and an ensuite toilet. Laundry services are provided (we send stuff to be washed in the morning and we get it by the time we come back from work). Except for the air-conditioning unit being pretty noisy, I am very satisfied with the living conditions.
 Pidgin is the language all locals know (English still being one of the official languages–apparently there are over 850 different languages in PNG). Pidgin is basically broken English/German and is a legacy from colonial times. I find it fun reading Pidgin and noticing how similar it is to English. Expats here try to learn Pidgin so as to strike a bond with the locals in an attempt to level the inequality (not sure how successful that endeavour is). Villagers earn royalties for the land the company uses and they get really aggressive (think guns) when they don't get their share (and if you run over their valuable pigs on the road).
 I was quite impressed with the gym as I was expecting a small one like those found in hotels. There is not a lot of people using it so it never gets too crowded even during peak hours. On and off I do see some hot guys (both locals and expats) working out there but there is nothing I can do about it (see only and no touch). I do weights and cardio 4 and 3 times a week respectively (ie. I use the gym every day). Because of the very restricted meal times, I always have to plan my gym sessions around it. I also grab every free time slot I can find to squeeze in a quick workout. This is also why my after-work weight sessions (work ends at 6pm) have to be halved in length as I don't really want to gym after dinner (dinner ends at 7.30pm). As a result I do only two body parts per session instead of four.
This is the stadium (called Iagidome as the camp is called the Iagifu Ridge Camp) where people play indoor games like tennis, badminton, basketball, volleyball, cricket and soccer. It is also used for conducting group circuit training sessions and tai bo. In addition the Iagidome is the main muster point for the camp. Seeing that there is a disco ball, I reckon the stadium is used for other social events as well.
 For the first time in my working life I have my own office! Right now I share it with my back-to-back but come next rotation I will have it all to myself. One very big issue here is stationery or the lack thereof and you need to wait very long for stationery orders to come in (I am still living without a pencil, highlighters and binding clips which are so abundant in the Melbourne office). One solution is to bring in your own stuff, which is what I will be doing.
I will not bore you with the other major issue here (ie. work-related) but suffice to say they recently found a use for the gas they were extracting from the wells and had to upgrade the facilities to ensure that the plants continue to run for at least another 20 to 30 years (they were left to rot along with the operating systems and philosophies as they were about to close them down). Because of this we are constantly faced with systems that are not working with no one knowing exactly why that is so or how to fix it. An indication is the huge flare that is constantly burning (pictured). In other normally-running plants, this would be totally unacceptable. But then again people and rules are very lax here and it is accepted culture that things do not work (I am slowly getting immune to WTF moments). As long as I continue to be paid and get my days off, I couldn't care less.
In my opinion the only area that really works is the catering department. Food is so good (a little red-meat especially beef-heavy) and plentiful (buffet-style) and the mess (where meals are served) is clean and spacious. Food variety is great as well (the menu repeats weekly but I do see new side dishes that don't follow that cyclical menu). Every Sunday there is a BBQ and I have been to one on site so far (I am not sure how the BBQ is run in the camp). There are 2 strange rules that are strictly enforced in the mess though–washing of hands before entering (for disease-control but many people end up going through the motion) and no usage of mobile phones in the mess (to encourage more face-to-face communication ie. a bullshit rule).
I was surprised to find ice-cream and popcorn machines in the mess. The desserts-to-mains ratio served in this camp is very skewed towards desserts but surprisingly I don't see a lot of obese locals here (only expats). People take little bags of popcorn into their rooms after dinner as they watch movies on TV.
This is a sample of what we get in the camp. The cocktail prawns (top right) are impressive and I heard they serve raw oysters in another camp. If you are willing to wait, you can order steak or fish cooked the way you want. The barramundi (bottom right) is excellent and is definitely worth the 5- to 10-minute wait. The bottom left picture shows the typical breakfast I have. My only gripe is that food tends to be on the oily and salty side (the locals salt their food like nobody's business). I tend to only have the fresh fruit cocktail as dessert and not the other sweet treats that are available (eg. cakes, pudding, cookies, éclairs and tarts). Perhaps good food is used by the company as a way to keep the morale up as it knows everything else is in shambles.
 As mentioned above, the Iagidome is also used occasionally for various functions. This is a fund-raising event where locals bring their crafts to sell to the rich expats. At 100 kina per bag (AUD$40-50), it is really expensive. The choice is limited so I did not buy anything.

You don't really need to spend any money living in the camp if you don't buy snacks, soft drinks and cigarettes from the gift shop (they call it canteen). All I have spent so far in my first rotation is a local micro SIM card (which I had to cut into a nano SIM for my Android phone) and data credit. As reception is so poor in the remote mountains (with network connectivity cutting out very often), you don't really get to use much data. I was greedy and topped up too much (the credit apparently doesn't expire despite having an expiry date). The canteen as pictured is where you can also buy soft drinks and hygiene products and the recreation room is just in front of the canteen.

As you can see, I am living pretty well in PNG (every non-work aspect here is above my expectations which were purposely kept low) so there is really nothing to worry about (in case you are). One huge pain about living in a camp is you can never get to switch from "work mode" to "off-work mode" as your colleagues are there all the time and by the time work and dinner ends you have very little alone time as you will be almost ready for bed. As an anti-social person who hates small talk, I find the constant need to engage in endless chit-chat (ie. the inability to switch to "off-work mode") really stressful. I think one way to relieve that pain is to call boo more often (it will be much easier when I have the office all to myself) as I can then act all silly and talk in our own special language. Hopefully these little respites from "work mode" can get me through entire rotations.

And in 3 days, I will have a 2-week paid vacation (ie. the biggest plus of fly-in/fly-out assignments) when I can hug and kiss my boo anytime I want! I really really miss him so I can't wait for that to happen!


Chris said...

I'm sure the cannibals would get quite a treat if they were to take a bite or two out of you. It look like a cushy posting but I hope that once you've been in it for a few months it still seems as good. Glad you got there OK!

Kim said...

Well, I don't think I have seen the worst of how things don't work here so I will continue keeping my fingers crossed. So far so good.

I was hoping to get some "action" in camp as a friend who did the same rotation told me he got some. I'm still waiting...

Greg Laurie said...

Glad you arrived safely and that the living conditions are better than expected. The rotation concept should keep the boredom scale under control, hopefully.

Chris said...

Well, there you go. Hope you'll get that "action". Going abroad shouldn't mean celibacy.

Kim said...

Greg, I am already finding it hard to adjust bodily now in Melbourne after just 14 days on rotation, I can't imagine how I will feel after 28 days.

I am also quite worried about the first few days back on site after having 28 days off -- I have heard so many bad stories from others.

The things we do for money eh?

Kim said...

Chris, I totally agree with you but it is hard when you can't really cruise outright. I basically just wanked to get me through (at least I have some visual aids with me that are supposedly banned in this country).