Unrealistic Job Advert #6

This for a project construction engineer:

Ideally Degree educated, with over 10 years experience on similar onshore construction projects, prefer previous Gulf experience, should have a background in Mechancical (sic), Electrical, Piping, Structures, QA QC and HSE disciplines.

Erm, that’s four core engineering disciplines and two secondary ones.  You want to give my old mate Des a call?

Unrealistic Job Advert #5

This one is for a senior reliability engineer:

Required qualifications

– Russian citizenship

– 10+ years experience in reliability sphere

– Knowledge and application experience of reliability and integrity management systems and analysis is essential.

And where do they suppose this Russian obtained his 10+ years of reliability and integrity management?  In Russia?!!

Unrealistic Job Advert #4

A project engineer, based in Milton Keynes:

Fluency in Arabic and English is essential, along with prior experience of working with the Iraqi Ministry of Oil.  Additional experience of working in Iraq in a commercial environment and a demonstrable knowledge of local culture and working practices is a distinct advantage.

Candidates must be from the European Union.

I’m sure there are lots of Arabic speaking Europeans with experience of working in Iraq just queuing up to apply for a job in Milton Keynes!

Japanese Computer Games

I remember a few years back a violent video game hit the shelves (it might have been one of the early Grand Theft Autos) and there was much handwringing amongst British parents, or rather, a gaggle of rent-a-gobs who can be relied upon to find outrage in practically anything from mobile phone masts to the salt content of a cup-a-soup.  One article I read suggested the UK was importing American violence and gun culture via video games and proceeded to ramble on about the failings of the US, etc. etc.  Yawn.

It was one of the comments on the article which caught my attention, and I paraphrase from memory:

If you want a computer game filled with wanton violence, buy an American one.  If you want a computer game filled with wanton violence and a healthy dose of child porn, buy a Japanese one.

I laughed at that.  I played Final Fantasy VII, one of the finest video games ever developed, throughout my entire 2nd year of university (which goes a long way to explaining my results that year, i.e. Heat Transfer & Fluid Mechanics = 26%. Oh dear.)  Anyway, this game is not – nor are any of its successors – short of violence (albeit there is much less than in modern games, but this is probably more a factor of the improvement in graphics engines since 1997 when FF7 was released), but I did happen to notice that all the female characters looked like children with big doe-eyes, childish expressions, and massive (I reckon!) digitally enhanced breasts.  Not that there was any overt sexual content in FF7, but Tifa, one of the lead female characters, looked like this:

True, she looks similar to our very own Lara Croft, but in the game where she was allegedly 20 she acted like she was about 15.  When she wasn’t kicking the shit out of monsters, that is. The violent computer games in the west generally leave out any sexual content, in Japan it is almost a defining feature.

There’s nothing wrong with the depiction of the girls in FF7 of course, but if you’re looking for something disturbing in the world of video gaming then your attentions are probably better focussed on Japan than anywhere else, as this Economist article makes clear:

The legislation also applies to dating-simulation video-games, in which the goal is a graphic sexual conquest. One, RapeLay, lets players choose their victims, of any age.

Bloody hell!  That puts Niko Bellic rampaging around Liberty City in perspective.

See also my comments here from when I visited Japan:

We also wandered into a sex shop which suggested that perhaps all is not well in the gloomier corners of Japanese society. Eerie dolls of what looked to be 12 year old schoolgirls, umpteen devices combining latex, gels, and mysterious liquids into which male members can be poked for sexual pleasure, machinery for men and women which made me wonder where they recruit the designers from, and an impressive selection of DVDs through which ran the common theme of the action being slightly, and sometimes not so slightly, forced. Then there were the pornographic comic books which lined shelves in their thousands, many of which depicted various bodily fluids deposited by what must have been a firehose rather than a human being. Very strange indeed, but seemingly no less popular for being so.

All is not well, indeed.

Des: Oil & Gas Contractor

I first met Desmond – let’s call him Des – on the first night I ever spent in Abu Dhabi, 12th June 2003.  I remember the date because it was the day I emigrated from the UK (even if I didn’t know it at the time), and you remember dates like that.  Des was the offspring of an English father and Swedish mother, and thanks to the latter sported a head of perfectly bleach-blonde hair with not a speck of grey, despite being in his late forties.  It was because of this hair that his colleagues nicknamed him Billy Idol.

Des, me, and a South African called Phil had come to the Middle East to join a consultancy carrying out risk and safety analysis work on various projects in the UAE and Oman.  I had transferred from the consultancy’s UK operations, whereas the other two were outside contractors.  As it happened, we all arrived in Abu Dhabi on the same day.  My flight got in late and by the time I’d checked into the hotel it was already dark, although still stiflingly hot.  It was a heat that I would quickly have to get used to.  I met up with another engineeer from the UK who had been to Abu Dhabi before, and we both went to a bar called 49ers where one of the Australian engineers was enjoying his stag do along with the rest of my new colleagues.  The 49ers bar in Abu Dhabi is one not to be forgotten.  It is situated way up in the upper floors of a skyscraper, I forget which floor, but plenty high enough and out of reach of any ladders.  The bar is accessed via a tiny, underpowered lift which can hold a maximum of 6 people.  The bar itself is decked out in a wild west theme complete with wood panelling, and features an open flame grill.  The place was packed with over 200 people when I arrived, jammed in cheek and jowl and barely able to move.  The lift was the only means of egress.  There was no fire escape.  This visit to 49ers was my first and only.

I met up with the others and enjoyed a round of handshaking quickly followed by a round of beers.  It was way too noisy to speak to anybody and, feeling a bit homesick, I was quite glad when after a while somebody decided on behalf of us all that we should go to a nightclub across the roundabout, behind – indeed part of – the Le Meridien hotel.  It took all of us about twenty minutes to get out via the tiny lift and congregate on the pavement outside, leaving me to shudder at the thought of a fire in the place.  I found myself with the others in a smart club filled with people who were anything but.  Dozens of low-class Chinese and Central Asian hookers lined the bars and the dancefloors, perfectly matched by the generally fat, sleazing expatriates and few locals for whom they were the sole reason for being there.  I remember being seriously tired and wanting to leave, but having no local money on me and no idea where the hotel was, or even what it was called.  It was a miserable experience, but I do remember meeting Des in the Foyer, shaking his hand, and him being very pleased to tell me we’d be going to Oman together on the Saturday (today was a Thursday, hence a weekend in the Muslim lands).

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No Escape

There isn’t!  I swear, there is no escape.  It’s like the mafia, once you’re in there is no leaving.

I’m talking about Russia, of course.

A young Russian from St. Petersburg is renting the aparment opposite ours, where he was staying with his wife and baby before he packed them off back to the Motherland a few weeks ago.  He often has visitors in the form of two other young Russians, with the result that most times I am in the communal pool I end up speaking more in Russian than I do English, none of them being able to speak the latter.  There is also another Russian family living in the condominium, and there is an American chap living here with a Russian wife.

My wife has discovered that gay Russian men like to live in Phuket to practice the homosexuality which is so frowned upon in Russia, meaning that whenever we are out together we inevitably meet one or two or three Russian men she knows, and a conversation ensues in Russian.

Last week a Russian friend of ours from Sakhalin called us up to say he’s in town, and so I dutifully joined him on a tour of several bars and clubs during which no more than two words of English were spoken all night; it was all Russian, along with a couple of pitchers of margarita and countless gin and tonics.  A few nights ago he showed up around our apartment with a large bottle of whisky and a six pack of Singha beer, which we put a good dent in, and – as anybody knows – helped me to understand most of the conversation.  Then last night I went out with him and his two mates, with me being the only English speaker in the group, and spent four hours discussing everything from the state of the various ports around Sakhalin to being a pioneer in the USSR.

I love it.  There is something liberating – especially when you’re a Brit tourist in a place like Phuket – about being able to converse with a group of people for several hours without using your native language.

And of course, I love hanging out with Russians.  You’d strangle them in an instant when you have to deal with them in a bank or governmental authority or company HR department, but meeting a Russian socially is always going to be a hoot, especially one they learn you’ve lived in Russia and can speak a bit of the language.

I worried when I left Sakhalin that I’d start to forget my Russian and I’d have to (horror!) speak it with my wife.  Not a chance.  I’ve spoken more Russian here than I did in any two weeks of my last year in Sakhalin, and the way this condominium is slowly being populated, it looks as though I’ll be required to speak an awful lot more!

There’s no escape.

Goodbye Sakhalin

Apologies for the lack of postings over the past couple of months, and the general decline of postings in general over the past year or so.  There are good reasons for it, mainly the nature of the job I held between May 2009 and my getting sacked a month ago, but also a general weariness with Sakhalin (which I alluded to here) which manifested itself in an inability to write anything.

On 1st March I demobilised from Sakhalin Island having lived there on a residential basis since 12th September 2006, a period of 3 years, 5 months, and 19 days.  I’d known people who had been there 8 years and more so I’d not broken any records, but given we only intended to be there for a year before the experience gained would enable me to easily get a super job somewhere more civilised (ha ha ha ha ha!), we did pretty well especially considering we only had a handful of proper holidays in that time, one of which was utterly ruined by machinations at work.  Certainly, upon leaving Sakhalin, I don’t think I could have used my time there any more fully.  It was a magnificent experience, the best part of which was the wonderful people I met, befriended, and will likely always know who number in the dozens, both Russians and expatriates.  I worked for three companies on Sakhalin, had five or six bosses who ranged from the best yet to the utterly incompetent, and the work itself was unmatched in terms of exposure, responsibility, and experience but enough to make even the sanest contemplate volunteering for internment in the local loony-bin.

I will miss Sakhalin like hell, even if I no longer find superheated steam coming out of my cold taps with mildy scolding water from the hot, the electricity supply remains constant without 330V coming through your apartment one day and destroying everything with a transformer or motor, and the lifts do not need to be inexplicably switched off across the whole region come ten o’clock.  I will miss it like hell because it was the place I enjoyed being more than any other, where I met friends and forged relationships I never want to lose, and – I should admit – made a shedload of money which allowed me to purchase outright the Phuket apartment in which I am now sitting.

I doubt I will ever return to Sakhalin, not for the foreseeable future at least.  There is a 20% chance of some work there next year, on site up in the north, but by that time I expect I will have moved on, as will almost everybody I know there, who themselves represent a dwindling fraction of those who I knew from the beginning.  Of the ones I left behind, all but two or three – and this includes the Russians – have concrete plans to leave within 1-2 years, most much sooner.  Should I go back, I might be disheartened by the fact that it has become a different place from the one I left, as surely as the place I left was unrecognisable from the one I arrived at in 2006.  I owe Sakhalin a lot.  I expect I will owe Sakhalin my career, hopefully future wealth, and a lifetime of friends.  There has been a downside, several of them even.  Life on Sakhalin takes its toll on people, but I’ll write a separate post on that later.

There will be many posts later.  I now have time, I am unemployed and sitting in an apartment with a wooden balcony which overlooks a fancy pool and the sun shines every day.  If there is a time and place to write blog posts in large numbers, this is it.  There are many stories to tell of Sakhalin, the work, the companies, the people I encountered, and stories involving all three at once.  I will tell the whole lot here, in all their gory details, soon enough.

This winter saw a lot of snow fall on Sakhalin, much more than I’d seen in the previous three winters (cue the old-timers popping up in the comments to take a deep breath on their pipes, lean closer into the fire, adopt a grandad voice, and begin the tale of the winter of 2003.  Or was it 2004?).  On my last full day in Sakhalin, I pulled a Russian’s car out of the snow with my much-admired Toyota 4wd.  I’d done this several times this winter, the unwritten rule being if you have a 4wd and somebody is stuck, you pull them out.  I don’t know why, but on this last occasion I felt quite good about myself.  Pulling some fellow out of the snow to shouts of spasibo seemed like a good note to go out on.

I’ll miss it like hell.