Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Dear diary (part 4)
That is a picture of me in my messy office at 6am. It's not too flashy I know but it is put here in case people want to see me clothed for once. Hehe. Let me now share more of my everyday life for this last week of my second full rotation in Papua New Guinfea.
OK, two hostages have died in the Martin Place siege in Sydney, which is not a good outcome. I am keen to know the fallout of this tragic event especially around why the man was not put on the terror watch-list and out on bail despite allegedly committing so many offences (he has not been formally charged for a single one of them). Workwise, the visitor left early this morning (good riddance! I can finally get my life back). In the last few days, we managed to correct almost all the bugs and cleaned up the errors in the application's database. I also managed to load in all the alarm changes and all I have to do is to work with the production team to execute them little by little. I am well on track to deliver what I have promised my boss. Phew! I also have to train the operators as part of this change, which will be a breeze because they are really nice and friendly people. On an unrelated note, I finally moved the mouldy chair out of my room to the far end of the corridor and placed a note to ask for camp services to dispose of it. I can't believe my back-to-back was fine with a chair covered in mould in the room. Also, you might not be aware that I take my little bolster everywhere and it is now with me in my room. I make it a point to keep that locked in the cupboard so that the cleaners who enter the room daily won't find that extra bedding item strange and out of place. However I forgot to hide it before I left the room today and the cleaner placed it nicely on the freshly-made bed. Eek. That bolster has stains on it and is quite unsightly (but oh so comfortable) and now my secret is out—I cannot live without it, something that has been with me for many many years. The Christmas decorations are now up in the mess together with very old-sounding Christmas carols on repeat over the PA system. All this and yet not a shred of Christmas mood in the air—this is quite a feat. I guess the locals have lower standards as they are quite easily satisfied just like how easily amused they are—it takes very little set them off laughing without a care in the world. I envy them.
Alright, yesterday wasn't very productive (it was supposed to be my rest day after a hectic week fixing software issues, manipulating spreadsheets and databases and taking care of a visitor) but today is a different story as I formally begin the background work for the alarm management program that will be kick-started at a new site in my next rotation. The best thing about this is I am totally in charge of this site meaning I don't have to work with materials that have already been pre-developed by my back-to-back (some of them are not working correctly or in the way they should be). There is a lot of work involved and I am not going to rush through it. I am going to go into detail and do it well—people will remember a project if it was done well, not because it wasn't delivered on schedule. Quality not quantity applies here. I also had an opportunity to talk to the new boss that just came on site (the back-to-back of my site boss) and highlighted the challenges I am currently facing in this project. I don't expect anything to come out of it but at least now he knows (well he only knows of the main issues, there are lots more under the surface). I guess he will soon find out that this PNG site is nothing like the other established facilities. It is business-as-usual here everyday despite nothing really working well. Today I completed the background work for only one system out of thirty but still I am satisfied with my progress for a least I started the ball rolling. Tomorrow will be D-day—the alarms that have been loaded into the software will be enforced onto the control system, whether the production team likes it or not. I will make sure that it happens. On a different subject, my room will undergo spring-cleaning tomorrow (I suspect this is done annually) and I have been told to lock everything away to facilitate this. I left a note asking the cleaners to dispose of everything that has not been locked away as they are pieces of junk left by the previous occupants. I know the cleaners won't do it immediately (they did it five days later) but at least they will know why there are so many unwanted loose items in the room.
I got quite a scare this morning when I encountered a fresh bug in the application just when I was about to execute the alarm changes. I couldn't believe that after so much work, the application was going to fail me on D-day! I called the vendor of the software and he suggested I reboot the server and I did just that. The problem went away thankfully and I managed to execute 446 alarm changes. It felt so bloody good to be able to check this off my list. I will make sure I milk this major progress to the max so that everyone knows I was the one who made it happen! Now that that is over and done with, the rest of my five days on site will be a breeze. All I need to do is more of the background work required for the meetings I am facilitating in my next rotation. You'd think that with a relaxed workload ahead, I would have more time for gym right? Today something that never happened before happened—I actually worked all day in the office and then moved on to dinner like a zombie only to realise I was supposed to be doing cardio after work just when I got my food in the mess ie. it was too late (I didn't want to gym after dinner as that is my quiet "me"-time when I veg in front TV watching news on the cable network). This means that I would have to do both gym in the early morning and then cardio in the evening before dinner tomorrow. I can't believe I have become one of those people I never understood—people who allow work to replace gym. Even though I did it inadvertently, I still can't "forgive" myself for this. That is what ten years of gym routine does to your mind. However this is an addiction that I am willing to continue. And on a totally separate topic, today marks one year of married life for me and my boo. It is such a non-event that I actually am writing this on 21-Dec as I totally forgot the date. Ision forgot about it too as he also didn't mention this when we talked over the phone. The thing is we "celebrate" the anniversary of us getting together ie. 06-May and we think this marriage anniversary is not really a significant date. Maybe if we had a grand wedding then we might think differently. Here are the pictures we took at the British Consulate in Melbourne one year ago.
Locals here are friendly but they tend to have a hidden motive. For instance, one kitchen worker asked me to buy a cheap touchscreen phone for him from Australia (he would pay me first). I had no choice but to say ok as I was taken by surprise (he asked me at point blank). I will try to drag this on till he forgets about it. Why must they approach me?! URGH! Anyway, I mentioned in one of my earlier entries that if I could participate in the karaoke competition held on site on the eve of 2015 I would surely win. I said that from the perspective of locals being very shy and therefore not good at performing in front of an audience. But I do know that some of these locals have really nice voices (think rich tones typical of black singers) and I am sure they will not miss the chance to share their gift. If that happens, I might very well lose but there is no way to find out when I cannot join the contest. Workwise, things have been quiet. A lot of meetings here have to involve people in the Brisbane and Sydney offices and teleconferencing is heavily relied upon. The network is not always reliable and the signal breaks now and again so I had to stress to people today that if remote support is the only way to go for those meetings I am chairing in my next hitch then I would have no choice but to highlight any consequent ineffectiveness and inefficiency to the managers (I will be holding those sessions at that faraway site ie. remote dial-in is required if people can't make it to that location). That lazy person who is required to support my meetings first have to commit to providing that support before I can start worrying about it being remote or not. The big challenges I face at work here are usually things like that that are non-technical. If only things work smoothly here... On the exercise front, I did weights (biceps and back) at about 7.30am and then 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill at 5.30pm to compensate for the missed session yesterday. Looks like the estimated amount of protein powder I brought to PNG from home based on a projection of I needed was spot-on—I would run out of it after my last weights session for this rotation tomorrow. My carry-on luggage when I left PNG last time weighed exactly 7kg on the scale at customs. My guesstimation skill is very good it seems.
I just discovered that Oil Search employees who do rotation work on site get their public holiday entitlements paid to them in March every year as well as get their annual bonuses in April which means a fat pay cheque for two months in a row. With such high salaries, you still get expats lazy to the bone and you can't help but look at them with even more disdain. And it is this unmotivated attitude that causes so many incidents on site. As I go through the incident log, I am surprised to come across many rather over-the-top cases that would never have happened in a normal plant elsewhere in the world. Here are some examples: lightning hit atmospheric vent that constantly emits flammable vapour into the atmosphere and caused a fire (this can only be rectified with a re-design of the system though); a cook doubling up as camp maintenance personnel while clearing vegetation around the camp lacerated his own leg with a bush knife (what the hell is a cook doing that?!); while performing a lifting operation, the crane boom hit the roof of a building (WTF?!); uninterrupted power supply switch that ensures seamless power supply to the process control and safety systems found in the 'off' position for an extended period of time (another WTF?!). Luckily I don't need to go out to the plant that often (nor am I interested at all in improving how the plant is running, unlike my back-to-back) and in this way I am less exposed to these potential disasters. This place is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and it seriously needs a major incident or fatality in order to wake everybody up. The scary thing is I am starting to feel that even if that happened, everyone will still carry on with their lackadaisical business-as-usual attitude. I think as long as the fat cats on top still get their massive salaries, there will not be major improvements on site at my level. I am afraid that is the modus operandi of all major companies nowadays—no one cares for their employees and what really happens at the bottom rung of the ladder anymore (my company WorleyParsons is a prime example). Christmas gifts have also been given to employees only on site—it's a freaking battery-operated lantern so thank goodness I am not missing much!
I don't know if it was the heavy rain or the fact that the generators were being worked on but there was a blackout last night (unplanned) at about 8pm. It was a tad too early to sleep but I guess with a blackout in camp where there is already very little you can do after work, the only option is to go to bed. I took a peek outside and it was eerily-pitch black (because of the remote location). The only light came from the huge constantly-burning flare at the refinery about 1 km away. And this morning, there was a planned power outage in the office for half an hour or so. Luckily I have a laptop so I could continue working. Food wise, papadums were served in the mess today. It seems that they serve them only once every four weeks as I also only had it once in my previous rotation. It is so yummy and I wonder why they don't have that more often (I'd choose to load myself with calories from that over dessert any day). Also, the internet connection went down again today due to a downed link from here to Port Moresby. This happens VERY frequently and it affects the entire business. I wonder if they factor this loss in productivity every time that happens into their budget plans and site performance statistics. It is because of this unreliable network that I have given up on the local SIM card I bought back in September. It was chewing up credit (which is not cheap for a place like PNG) without actually providing any connection and it expires so quickly! It's not long more before I get on that early morning flight leaving this home away from home. Let me start thinking of what my first outside meal at the airport would be (the meal is reimbursable)—this always makes me feel super excited. It's too bad there is such a limited food variety on offer at Cairns International Airport. Also it's been raining quite heavily in the late afternoon these few days, I wonder if it is the monsoon season again (I can never figure out when exactly this monsoon season is).
The network went down again today! &^$#%^#&*(@*! Anyway, I must have slept wrong last night as I woke up this morning with a sore back on my right side as if I have pulled a muscle. Fortunately I am done with weights and it is only cardio I have to do until I leave for my break. Thank goodness for the fact that you can freeze your Fitness First gym membership back home and pay only $8 every fortnight. Too bad you can only freeze it six times a year (I will try to "negotiate" out of this restriction and threaten to leave Fitness First if they can't make an exception for me as a last resort). The Christmas program is out and looks like there is carols by candlelight tomorrow night at the indoor stadium (known as "Iagidome" because the camp is called "Iagifu Ridge Camp") and a day service on Christmas Day at the same location. I know I am not missing anything. If my contract were to be extended beyond 2015 then I will be able to experience Christmas in camp next year. Actually the contract has already been non-formally extended for three months as I was originally due out September 2015. If everything is as per the contract, my last working day in PNG will be 25-Nov next year. We shall see. Tonight will be spent packing up my room. It is a pain to always have to lock everything up in the cupboard before departure as I share the room with my back-to-back. I am coming back with check-in luggage for my next rotation as I need to travel to the faraway site and therefore would need a suitcase. This means that I can bring to PNG a lot of supplies like bottles (a few of each) of mouthwash, body wash, foot powder and snacks as these are not on sale here (well snacks and powder are but they are not cheap for PNG standards). I can't bring these in if I only had my hand luggage due to fluid-volume restrictions. Also there will not be enough space in my backpack. Once my luggage is packed, the room and office are cleaned up, my mailbox is tidied and the detailed handover document is drafted for my back-to-back (I don't like to do it over the phone unlike him), there will be nothing more to do for this rotation. Oh, and they started serving Christmas dinner tonight.
I am now all packed and ready to go and this will be a short entry as I need to make it to the shuttle bus that doesn't wait for any one and it would be a major pain if I were to miss it. The bus leaves the camp at 5am sharp and my flight leaving Moro departs at 6.30am and lands in Carins at 9.30am. If all goes well without delay, my connecting flight home will fly out at 12.30pm and I will be at the Melbourne Airport at 5.50pm. With this darn daylight savings, I will not be able to make it home in time before boo leaves for work. Therefore I will try my best to stay up tonight so I can give him big hugs and kisses the moment he enters the door. Hopefully I can stay awake as my body clock would still be in PNG mode ie. awake at 4.30 - 5.30am and asleep by 8.30 - 9pm! Ah... the things we do for love. Hehe. OK, gotta end this last diary entry now.
So there you have it, my life in the remote Southern Highlands province of PNG for a full four-week hitch, I hope it is as you've expected and that you have enjoyed reading as much I did sharing. On Christmas eve, I get to fly home unlike my back-to-back who is also going to lose Chinese New Year too (hor hor hor)—how lucky am I?