26 June 2012

On The Road

Looking at my roster, I am supposed to have about ten to twelve days of rest time a month.

Yet, I feel that I haven't caught my breath yet from running around like a beheaded rooster.

The past few weeks, my mind has been away from the flying world even though I have been up in the air with no abatement of frequency. The days slipped  by, up in the morning, landing in the evenings, one-rig sectors, two-rig sectors, three-rigs, were all slowly merging images of days being ticked off the calendar towards sorting out the other aspects of life, which is always reaching forward. Even refuelling stints are now routine for me.

East Piatu is yet another rig with refuelling facilities, and in fact it has a pretty nice fuel pump, and I say that because it is new, which makes for speedy top-ups. We had landed there on a long legged sector, and transmitted that we would need about 550 litres of fuel to be topped up for the remainder of the journey.

Upon landing and shut-down, the team was ready to clip on the bonding wires to dispense the static electricity lest an arc ignited the paraffin fumes. They spoke to the captain, all business-like, as if this were a Shell station along the highway. Except that no, I didn't see anyone with a filthy old rag, baseball cap and chewing gum.
Water Contamination Check In Progress

Two chaps were standing by with a jar at the nozzle end of the fuel hose to check for water contamination. They were both Indian, and after syringing the fuel up through the contamination check pill, they shook their heads at each other. One then said, Thanni illai? which meant no water?To which the other shook his head in concurrence. Watching them closely, I said, Athu serri, or alright. They looked at each other and then started grinning like a pair of truants who had been found out by the prefect. And I too, love the effect I have on the unsuspecting when I throw in a few words of Tamil.

No, I can't really speak the language, but I can get by in a Chettinad restaurant, albeit to the very limits of my cranial capacity. Owing to the fact that I look nothing like what people expect a Tamil chap to look like, the chaps at the restaurant get rather tickled that a Malay man is ordering the most artery-clogging food in their language.

With the water contamination test done, it took only five minutes to fill up the feeder tanks to the required amount, and mopping-up was already taking place before I could return to deck from a visit to the restroom. My two Indian friends were there and the darker, gruffer one said, "Thanks sir. Next time we meet on shore we will have thanni also." I caught his wink, as thanni also means beer in Tamil.

"Yes," I replied with a smile. "But that will be varrai thanni."

But an Oktoberfest will probably have to wait till October with the way things are rushing along for me.

There was also a sortie to Global Sapphire, which once again was not destined to occur because the barge's roll was at 3.4 degrees. We elected, just like the last time, to land instead on Angsi Delta's fixed platform. It was my turn to get out of the cockpit and supervise the passenger exchange. I strolled forward to Angsi's deck edge to take a look at Global Saphhire tossing about, and today she looked a lot moodier than she did before. The buffer buoys at her keel were also flung upon the waves, slamming into her sides. My eyes traced the deck to where her passengers would have climbed up the staircages to board the helideck at Angsi D, and I could see why these structures were called "widow-makers". The horizontal staircase and vertical staircase were virtually scissoring into each other, and anyone using those stairs would be in danger of severing a limb or crushing his skull. 'Tis not an easy life this, making a living from the sea.

On the domestic front, it looks like all my 5-day stand-downs have been used up on the road. First, it was a rush down to KL to retrieve my upgraded license, combined with a recce of potential colleges in which to enroll Ethan. We had so little sleep, and so much driving to do. GPS is a great driving companion but seriously, there is a 15-metre lag between the actual junction and the GPS voice and graphics prompt, which resulted in missed turns and the word from the GPS that makes me curse and cringe: "Recalculating..." I for one, never knew I could drive on just 2 hours' sleep from KL to Kerteh. Well, I used to ride on my old GSX 400f on four hours of sleep on that same leg when I was younger. But riding is different. Once that engine starts and my hands are on the handlebars, I whizz, whirr and wind up like Optimus Prime in metamorphosis. Driving on the other hand, can catch me wandering off, but I use aids...such as Werther's Original coffee swirls. Those pep me up for about 50km at a go.

After the college hunt, my medical check was due, which meant another drive down to KL during my next 4 day stand-down. We vintage ones have a 6 month validity on our medical check, and mine came around sooner than I could prepare myself for, but then a guy's gotta drive when a guy's gotta drive. With trips to KL in suuch rapid succession, I am now getting very used to the sights and landmarks of the East Coast Expressway. It always seems tedious the first few times, and you wonder how weekend husbands and others do this week after week, sometimes travelling as far away as Malacca and back and perhaps even further. After a while, your mind starts turning the towns you pass like pages in a book, and like a well-read one, you know you are making your way to the conclusion at the final leaf that you flip.

A picture snapped by my Thai colleague
when he caught me devouring a black-bean bun
And yesterday, I finally said goodbye to Joey, my war-horse Toyota SE. For the last time, I drove her, still enthralled at her ability to wind up to speedy passes and overtaking with confidence when traffic began to drag along the single-carriageways from Kemaman to Kuantan. She was still a good drive, stable as a boulder and thrilling in corners. She has served the family well. She was the long drives Brenda took on her own with the toddlers when I was on SAR standby in Kuantan, the getaways from the red-eyed hamster-wheel ride of staff work in MINDEF to a breather in Malacca, the second posting to Labuan and the return to Semenanjung as a civilian. She has been handed over to a pleased salesman in Kuantan.

I will see her no more.

At the end of it all, I sometimes puzzle over which part of all this is where I really reside. We tend to think that we live apart from our work lives, that it's merely the means by which we make bread while what we do away from work is where the truth is. We long for our annual leave, public holidays and extended weekends to be with the people we love, to have quality time with them. As for me, I am beginning to believe that there is another, rather askewed view than such poetic simplicity. I think it is possible that it is work that helps me to gain a return to normalcy. The sight of workmates, my colleagues from Thailand who are husbands in exile, the never-ending checks and reviews and aiming to be a better pilot with each sortie, can serve as the draw away from the whirlwind days on the road as the revolutions slow to a manageable pace. After all, guys, sometimes "leave" is another word for "chores".

Yes, I am going to recover from leave at work.


  1. Dear Sir,

    I am sure that your wife really appreciates it when you share her workload. :)) Running around like a beheaded rooster conjures such a hilarious image in my head but i fully understand how you feel.

    Anyway, I just want to share with you a story my aunt used to tell me whenever i complained why a trip going to unfamiliar places took longer than the journey back.. according to her, along the way going to your destination, there are many angels along the way who will stop you (you can't see or here them) and ask who you are because they have never seen you before.. thus the slowness of your GOING trip.. but on your way back, the angels will say to each other, "it's so and so who passed this way before, REMEMBER?".. and they stop asking and your journey back will or should be smoother and faster... I don't actually believe her but every time i go to new places I will always remember her story.. :)

    And I hope you recover from your leave. :)

  2. It's a story well worth remembering!!!!!! So thank you for that quaint anecdote. I am sure I will be repeating it from now on.

    Yes, I trust that Brenda appreciates the co-shouldering of this yoke.

    That being said, yes the image is funny, and for me it takes shape in a familiar claymation sequence.

    I wonder why, what what!!