I had expected some amount of fanfare and swashbuckling antics as I entered my new phase of flying life a hop across the fence, being a marketable 1200-hours offshore pilot, but it turned out to be more of squirming and struggling over my misunderstood medical status for a season yet before the ball finally began rolling this month.
It began, with the much anticipated ground school in the Agusta Westland Malaysia Academy at the Sapura Hangar in Subang, once known as D'Nest Hangar. The joining instructions I received had the name as Agusta Westland Training Academy AWTA, and I chuckled that none of the Malaysian staff had advised against such an acronym. However, later on in the course, it was referred to as AWM, Agusta Westland Malaysia Academy.
I remembered the D'Nest hangar well, having taken my Bell206B Type Rating under Sabah Air in situ. I remembered the canteen, and the level of security in the area had now been tightened up to reflect the presence of some very costly aircraft including the famous one that serves as alternative media fodder, the Airbus ACJ319. For clarity and as an aide memoir to alternative media bashings, here is an image I gleaned from bigdogdotcom.
|Pretty bird, this one.|
The Agusta Academy ran a tight ship. Classes began on time at 0830H, and I suspect that this had to do with the fact that the other 6 coursemates I had were all foreigners, the lineup of which with the right rhythm and tune sounded vaguely familiar at this end of the year. There were two Indonesians, two French guys, two Australians and the sole Malaysian was me.
|In the reading sense, Greg and Ben, from Oz|
I may have been lucky with all this. The whole bunch was an incorrigible lot, with all the racist jokes and slurs thrown in for good measure, keeping boredom well at bay in spite of how information-laden our lectures were. I have since been re-educated into seeing that around the world, from Europe to Down Under, we all have derogatory jokes about our neighbours, whether across the gutter or across the national boundaries, and there was a time when these jokes were cracked in good humour without invoking racial sensitivities. But here, we had enough humour to move within a trust that nobody was out to get anybody. There was not a single coffee break where we were not yakking over the very good but insufficient brew and nyonya cakes, enjoyed during the only fully-waking moments of our course. Being the only local, I had my ten cents worth doing the Gordon Ramsay, discussing the cakes' names and contents as I chewed into them, to the amusement and approval of the Caucasians. The Indonesians of course, just spent their energies eating as they were well familiar with our food. They were stationed up in Kota Bharu anyways.
And I love how just a spattering of five foreign words can build bridges that endured two weeks. On the very first coffee break I marched briskly along with Pierre (oh can it ever get more French than that?), hoping for the first cuppa as I was so caffeine depleted. I lost out of course to the taller Pierre, who being the first to grab the flask, was so Continentally polite as to offer to fill my cup for me. When I quipped, "Merci beacoup", he gasped, jaw-dropped. "You speak French?"
While I confessed that I most certainly did not, my avid attention to Inspector Clouseau helped me get by in Marseilles, and once again in the company of this Gallic pair. Chacha (as in Shasha, not the ballroom dance) was quick to quiz me on which was the first non-French city that the contestants in the Paris-Dakkar Rally barged into after crossing from Africa. Yes, Marseilles. While Pierre was reticent about his French pride, Chacha made it clear that I had not enjoyed the more pristine and civilised portions of his country. I did agree, especially as I had missed out on fine wine counties by being planted in immigrant-infested Marseilles where seeking kebabs and coffee gave me the creeps.
|The debonaire Pierre, and behind him the ever delightfully salacious Chacha|
On the first day, the chief lecturer Rajoo was gracious enough to end the class early at 1530H, taking into account that jet lag must have overwhelmed the Caucasian half of the attendees. In fact, I began to believe that jet lag was contagious. Over the days I grew sleepier and sleepier in class. There was a point where mints were of no help. Reaching for coffee would hold me up for 5 minutes, just enough for the preamble of the new chapter and insistent slumber during the content proper. The daily grind of early mornings to beat the jam in pursuit of the queue for security passes and back at day's end to return them merely added to the unpleasantries of crawling through interminable jams incurring a toll on my wakefulness. The weekend and its late mornings did help revive me for the following three days of the second week terminating in a depressingly tricky written examination.
On the examinations day, we were set to join another class of students in the exam hall. It was peculiar being placed alongside the uncreased faces of youth with an invisible line running down the middle of the hall past which we seasoned aviation dogs sat, almost certain the young chaps would outscore us. Save that is, for the Aussies who were already current on the Agusta 109, thereby being familiar with the manufacturer's design architecture and philosophies. Along with their youth were the typical manifestations of examinationitis that only the young exhibit: parade-dressing pencils along the desk, chewing gum and sweets, sharpening pencils at the last minute....sigh. The older ones were resigned to whatever the examiners told us, and we knew nothing we did at this hour would save us from our irreversible fate. One by defeated one, we called in a reluctant truce.
We were instructed to wait in the canteen after we finished our exams to wait for those of us valiantly scribbling to the final seconds of the exam period and to adjourn once everyone had conceded defeat, together to the classroom to receive our results. I took comfort in a hot cup of coffee with a generous dose of condensed milk.
A woebegone Pierre joined me at the table for coffee. "You know," he said ruefully. "Before the exam I would have been happy to get 85 percent. But now I am thinking, if I get 75 percent, I would be very happy!!" Right, and he as a Heli Union candidate had to sit for the 100 questions, while I faced 60, and yet I felt exactly as he did.
Anyway, it was the last day. A half hour later we were gathered in the classroom, and a beaming Rajoo came in with our results. Nobody looked at anyone else's results. But without question everybody passed, evidenced by the handout of graduation certificates. At this stage of the game, that was all that mattered.
Photography sessions were spartanly unceremonious. The cameraman was an accosted technical student armed with almost everyone's cellphones.
It is almost with certainty that I felt nobody would use any of the exchanged e-mail addresses to write to each other. It is wafer-thin enough a commitment to keep afloat even with our workmates let alone people whom we know will be inundated with the scourges of everyday worklife, me included. It was with this thought that I decided to lead all 6 of them on a merry treacle chase through the Friday mosque jams to a dingy mamak shop in TTDI Jaya, intending for a true-blue Indian food shop with delectable dishes but it had vanished in my many years of absence from their patronage. So Restoran Subhani it was in lieu. And to my surprise, this joint was scalp-sweatingly good!
This round of indulgent consumption they did appreciate after having "ain't nothing but maggoty bread for ten stinkin' days". Our goodbyes thereafter were brief.
And thus passed my two weeks of ground school in Agusta Westland Training Academy, Subang. I can only conclude that with their current stock of lecturers, being counted amongst the brotherhood of AW Academies is well deserved. My coursemates will agree most heartily.