Tuesday, May 22, 2001

My Diary - 2000 to 2001


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13th February 2000
Travelled from Aberdeen to Singapore today. A journey time of 14 hours but with the time difference it was timed at 24 hours. I arrived during a thunderstorm. The rain was torrential and the temperature was 35C at the time (like and oven for me). First impressions of Singapore: very very clean and well-kept public areas. The shrinking world means that you could be anywhere in the world with the same shops and products on sale as in New York, London, Paris etc. and it is so clean here. I am staying at the Carlton Hotel on the 18th floor. The famous Raffles Hotel is just up the road from here. I will go there for a drink tomorrow. The famous Singapore sling!

14 February 2000
Breakfast! Boiled rice, noodles, scrambled egg, bacon. A great combo. Dropped off my passport at the TOTAL office next to my hotel. Now I have the rest of the day to explore. Went to the Indian district. Clean streets are not so evident here. Just like India I suppose. What a wonderful smell of spices in the air and food I have never seen before. Indian “fast food” stalls of spices and food with things that look like spicy dough nuts, balls of battered dough etc. Looked good but took Janis’s advice and did not sample anything. The heat is unbelievable now. 39C in the shade is difficult for me. I dash from one shopping mall to the next to get relief. All malls are air-conditioned havens. In fact, this is what the locals do as I now realise why the streets are empty but the malls are busy. I came back to the hotel for a cool down before lunching at Raffles. Had my “Singapore Sling” at Raffles and I enjoyed it a lot. They gave me a bowl of monkey nuts too. Perhaps they think I am a monkey! You are encouraged to throw the monkey nut shells on the floor. It is said that this is what Hemmingway did when he drank here. So it has become the thing to do. Walked to China town via the Boat Quay area. It is very difficult to explain the different way Chinese people go about their daily lives. It is so colourful. The Chinese here are all very well mannered, well most of them are. I then walked a very long way to Sentose Island. None of the tourist information I read tells you how to get there. It is a haven away from the bustle of the city. It has been preserved as a recreational area with natural Jungle, park areas and pleasure parks scattered around it. I paid £2 to get into the park and £4 for a monorail trail ride around the park. The park has an aquarium, shooting range, beach, and museums and is well kept. It was nice to get a rest from walking. The construction of a new road complex did not help me. Also, while walking to Sentosa Island the heavens opened for about 1 hour. Luckily I was under a flyover section of roadway on Keppal Road and managed to walk to a nearby bus stop shelter with a seat where I stopped. I watched in amazement at the torrents of rain falling to the ground. I returned from Sentose Island via the cable car to the World Trade Centre. This had great views of the city and all around the seaward area of Singapore. What spoiled Singapore for me was the large dock-land area at the sea. Of course this is where Singapore earns its money but to have it abutting the city seems to spoil things. On my return to the Hotel I stopped off at an Irish Pub, Molly Malones near Boat Quay. I had 2 pints of Guinness there at S$10 (£4) for 1 Pint! It was worth every penny. The bar manager even offered me a basket of fried fish that I ate with relish. I then walked round the corner to Boat Quay and had a Curry in an Indian restaurant just to round off my day. Got back to the Hotel about 9:30PM and picked up my passport with work visa then collapsed into my bed ready for the journey to Jakarta in the morning. I woke at 2:30 AM a bright as a button. What to do?

15 February 2000
Woke up with alarm after getting to sleep again. Had breakfast and got taxi to Singapore airport. Checked in with Singapore Airlines for flight to Jakarta. Relaxed a while in the executive lounge and got my flight. It took 1 ½ hours to fly to Jakarta. Found out that Jakarta is 1 hour behind Singapore for some reason. I just realised I have crossed the equator! Jakarta is south of the equator and this is the first time for me. At Jakarta airport I was met by a large crowd of men eager for me to take their taxi to Jakarta. I found my driver waiting for me just outside the building with my name on a card. The heat was unbearable! I got into the air-conditioned car with some relief. My driver took me straight to the TOTAL Indonesie Office where I am to work for 2 months. On the way to Jakarta we were stopped by Indonesians demonstrating but for what I did not know at the time. They wanted to stop the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who’s entourage passed us at great speed with a large police and army escort. Going towards the city I saw the shantytown existence for what looks like thousands and thousands of people….and right next to large modern towers of office blocks and hotels that reach skyward as if they are from a different world. The very poorest of people living next to this extravagance we in the West call “normal living” is difficult to imagine but it is all around me. The Hotel I am staying in – the Shrangli La – is what we in the UK would call a very expensive and luxurious place to stay. Better than anything we care to offer would not be as good as this. Luxury living at its best. I suppose it is like going back in time when Britain still had an Empire. We white people were seen to be of a higher class and very colonial in character in a country far far away form old limey (England). I don’t believe this is fair but what can I do? The Indonesian people are slowly realising what they have with resource of raw material and are keen to show the World what they can do. At the moment is has a very pronounced split in its society. The contrasts abound. Coming from Europe we find nearly everything here so cheap whereas many Indonesians are begging in the streets. I have a driver to take me everywhere most days. A colleague, John Barnes, joined me for a meal at night in our hotel at a pub called BATS (Bar at Shangri La). An Australian Band, Skyscraper, played later on. The place was full. I cannot believe I am in the same city I had arrived in just a few ours before. I went for a swim earlier in the evening. It was dark but the pool lights were on. There was no one else in the pool. The air temperature was 35C so it was nice to cool down. Quite amazing as the hotel has 2000 rooms. I am staying in room 2618 on the 26th floor overlooking other skyscrapers, a shantytown and a mosque beyond the hotel swimming pool. A day to remember.

16 February 2000
Had a good sleep last night. Breakfast is another extravagance. Eggs cooked in front of you by a chef, roast ham carved from the bone. Just as it should be!! ha ha. Had a full day with my new boss, Jean-Louis Volle. He knows my friend Jean-Louis Ludwig too. A nice person. Now I know what is in front of me! New Operational Test Procedures by the dozen! Took my driver to an area called Block M tonight. I was looking for some clothes but only found 1 shirt and a pair of running shoes. The shoes cost £8 and the shirt, £12. It was very busy there but no one was buying anything but me. Back to my room in my hotel and found a bowl of exotic fruit and recognised only the apple and orange. I think there was a paw paw, and many others I had never seen before. Some were nice. My laundry was returned and hanging in my wardrobe and an orchid had been pinned to my other “smalls” laundry neatly folded in a wicker basket. Just like how Janis does it for me at home! Ha, ha. Fell asleep quickly.

17th February 2000
I travelled to the Construction yard at Grenyang, west of Jakarta, today. PT Gunanusa is the name of the company. The road near the site is really a dust track full of boulders in places. All material for the construction site has to travel along it apart from the very large packages that arrive by sea. It took 1 ½ hours from Jakarta to reach the site. It is on the edge of the jungle! I saw how most Indonesians scrape out an existence away from the big city. Small hut-like structures erected by the roadsides that look like the smallest of winds would blow them down. We passed what looked like a car repair garage. It was very basic with oil drums hung up from the rafters of the “building” and used to dispense fuel and oils. There must be many injuries and deaths due to poor safety management. I saw roadside cafes, bars, shops but little to offer inside but shelter from the intense heat of the day. At least the construction site office has air-conditioned that sometimes works. I asked where our office might be when I move there in July. No one seemed to know. Someone suggested that they might erect a tent for us outside of the office block. A good start! I had lunch with the French engineers at the works canteen. It is “passable” and is also air-conditioned. It is about ¼ mile outside the site gates so there is a minibus to transport us there. It seems like only the big “Bosses” get to eat there. There are only 8 long tables in the canteen. All workers have to get their own meal from local cafĂ© shacks that surround the works entrance. There are numerous vendors and huts outside the work gates offering Indonesian food and drink.

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, is presently staying in my hotel during his talks with the Indonesian President – Adburrahman Wahid. There are black limousines and police patrols everywhere.

18 February 2000
I am getting into a routine now. Up at 6 AM, breakfast, then start work at 7:00. Finish work at 6PM (long after the Indonesian TOTAL staff end their working day at 4 PM). And go to the hotel gym for cycling, sauna and swim. Then it’s down to the basement American bar, B.A.T.S., for a light meal and a drink. A live group plays. They are called Skyscraper form Oz. Then its off to bed around 10 PM after fending off Indonesian girls who frequent the bar and are after western man and his money and offering a good time!

19th February 2000
Went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch today with my boss and the rest of the team. A very large helping of various Mexican foods for £3.50. Claire would like it here. We finish 1hour early on a Saturday night as the air conditioning in the office is turned off after 1 PM and by 5 PM it is unbearable! Grabbed an early gym session before going to my room and eating some fruit. I am planning to go to a club called the Jaya Pub tonight with John Barnes and go to Bogor, another large city 40 miles from Jakarta, with him and our driver, tomorrow.

1st March 2000
It has been hard at the office but I have been having a good time since my last entry. I have met some lovely people through TOTAL Indonesie staff at work. We met up at the Jaya Pub where there is live music. It is mostly older Rock and Roll, Jazz etc. at the Jaya Pub so only older people go there and mostly western folk. While there my glasses came apart and was angry that I had lost the screw to fix them. It was agreed that my new friends would help me get them fixed the next day so the trip to Bagor was cancelled for next day. Got home at 3 AM as John had taken our driver to go to another club! It was raining very hard with little chance of getting a roadworthy cab but my friends put me in a Silver Bird taxi and sent me home … blind! Met up with Hilda and Alle on Sunday at a shopping Mall, Pondok Indah mall, where I managed to get my glasses fixed. I can see again at last! I also decided to buy a pair of new ones too. Hilda invited me back to her house where her niece and husband were visiting her that afternoon so I agreed to go. I was reluctant to go but I was pleasantly surprised and glad that I went. I did not know what to expect. I suppose I thought they would be living in a hut. That’s what films and books do to your mind. They condition you into thinking that in Indonesia people live in the jungle in small huts on stilts. The house is small but ideal for the heat. One long room with air venting through it from openings at each end. A large fan hangs from the ceiling and keeps things cool. There is even one of those large water dispensers with fresh cold water readily available. There is a small garden at the front but is sheltered from the sun. They are so friendly. Susan, Hilda’s niece, and Ian are a lovely couple. They have twin 3 year old daughters and they are so cute. I played “Roundand & round the garden” with the girls. They loved it and wanted more tickles. Hilda employs a maid, Anna, and Susan has a full time nanny for her daughters. Labour is very cheap here in Indonesia so I suppose it is more “the norm” here in Jakarta. One of Hilda’s other friends, Laurencia arrived and we had a good evening talking about Indonesia and Scotland. Ian is a very nice guy. We get on well together. Maybe because he speaks very good English and is an engineer, like me. His father is retired now but he worked in the Oil Industry so he knows a bit of what I am doing. I found out that Hilda is 49 and says she is “an old woman”, Laurencia is 33 and Susan is 32. I guess I am fortunate to meet these people as they can show me so much more of Jakarta and the surrounding area. Hilda and her friends are Christians and come from Dutch decent. Hilda’s husband died 5 years ago, still a young man. Laurencia says she wants to marry a Scotsman! I have recommended John Murray, my single friend, to her. God help John! Susan loves her food and would like to try haggis. She wants to cook me an Italian meal next weekend, too.

3rd-4th March 2000
Had a very interesting weekend. Friday Night was spent in the Shangri La, B.A.T.S. bar, with the friends I have met. Laurencia, Hilda and Alle. All very nice girls! I don’t like BATS very much. Its OK once and a while but it gets repetitive. The same group sings every night, except Sundays when a Jazz group play there. I have yet to see them but I have been told they are good. On Saturday evening I was invited to an exhibition promoting Indonesian products. Hilda’s niece, Susan, works in the Peruvian Embassy in Jakarta so she was on their stand. I had a good look around the stands. I was particularly interested in the woodcarvings. There was a figure of a man with a chicken in a cage. It was beautifully carved. The cost was £200. In UK I would say £800. It was too large to take back home. On another stand I saw well crafted solid teak furniture that was selling at give-away prices! E.g. Large chest of drawers, £150. An 8ft garden bench, £90 and a reclining chair for £140. Later in the evening Hilda, Susan, Ian and I went to the Jaya Pub again where good live music is played. I am amazed by the quality of the music there. I had “Fish and Chips” here. Red Snapped fish. All for £2. Later on Laurencia and Alle joined us. Things were beginning to heat up at the pub when I left at 11 PM for my Hotel as I had an early start the next morning.

5th March 2000
On Sunday I organised for my driver to take John and I to the area around Bogor up in the mountains South East of Jakarta. It is cooler there. Known by the Dutch as Buitenzorg, the town of Bogor is just forty minutes drive south from Jakarta. Known the world over for its superb botanical gardens, which were first initiated in 1817 and are now the largest in the southern hemisphere, Bogor is today one of Indonesia's foremost centres for agriculture and farming technology research, training and education. Bogor has a population of 0.5 million people and you can tell by the crowds of people out enjoying themselves on a Sunday afternoon. First my driver took me to a tea plantation where the Indonesian women pluck the young leaves from the tea bushes every day of their working lives. They live on the plantation in well-kept small houses. It is much cooler up there on the steep mountain slopes. I was also shown round the Tea processing factory. It was very interesting to see how the tea is processed into what we know as a teabag or a packet of tea. All the tea from this area is sent to market in Jakarta where it is auctioned. There are two types of tea produced here: Green Tea and Black Tea. The green tea is not dried with hot air. This green tea is meant to be very good for stress and the heart. I then travelled ever upwards to the Puncak pass (height unknown) where there is a good hotel and good views. When I arrived there the cloud was swirling around and the good views were soon invisible. It reminded me of Scottish weather. There are even pine trees growing nearby that set the scene. I had a 3-course lunch and a bottle of stout all for £6. There was even a 4-piece band playing throughout lunch. I felt like a millionaire! The rain had come on by the time John & I had finished lunch. Everywhere you stop, there are people trying to sell you tourist tack. They are difficult to ignore, and they sell rubbish. Another observation noted was that all the way up this mountain pass temporary stalls were set up at the roadside where all manner of goods and food was readily available. Therefore the panoramic views normally associated with mountain pass roads were non-existent because of the stalls being in the way of the super views. The contrasts in this country continue to amaze me. In the Bogor area there are some very large well-kept houses with smart, sprawling, gardens. Next to any one of these grand houses you will find the most basic of accommodation and shopping facilities you will ever find. And it goes on and on and on like this. In Bogor, I passed through a very large market. I think it stretched for 2 miles within the city streets. All life is here. Everything you could ever need is available. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fast food, car parts, electrical goods, furniture; all just piled up in the street with no organisation or control. I observed a “restaurant” that consisted of a tarpaulined area on the pavement with a display area showing what could be eaten (menu) and a stove with gas bottle for cooking the food. The seating area was a bench where all customers partook of their food (off their knee) or the customer could sit on the pavement if he preferred. Going out for Sunday lunch back home will now take on a whole new meaning for me. The local bus service in Bogor consists of hundreds of mini buses that seem to travel together in a race against the clock around and around the area picking up people and dropping them off wherever they want. Each bus has a very powerful lo-fi audio unit with music basting out deafening the passengers! There is definitely no timetable or pick up points identified here! Nearly all of the mini buses are below our MOT (safety) standard and afford no protection against the heat of the day. Another day to remember.

7th March 2000
Up at 6, Work, Gym then a Chinese meal in the Hotel’s Shang Palace Restaurant. A very nice setting. Food is good and staff are very friendly. Clams in ginger, deep fried Chicken salt and pepper with nasi goring rice. Still not my favourite food though. Bed by 9:30!

8th March 2000
Against all my reasons I bought a mobile phone yesterday. It is so hard here to get a phone to contact anyone here for work or social. There are very few public phone boxes and if I have no driver and I refuse to take a normal taxi. They are very dirty and are falling apart. So I can phone for a superior taxi called SILVER BIRD CABS. They are more expensive and are only available by private hire but even an hour trip in these is only £3. (Not that I have been in one for 1 hour!) So they are a cheap and safe way to travel. Also, the phone can be used in the UK. It is a pre-paid phone so I can monitor the usage and if the phone is not used there is nothing more to pay. I took Ian along with me to help in the negotiations with the purchase of the phone. I think I got a good deal. I will see when I return to UK.

9th March 2000
Was lucky to escape a robbery tonight! My driver was driving me back to my hotel when suddenly the car got a blowout on the offside front tyre. He told me he was driving on further before stopping. We stopped and I helped him replace the wheel. The next day he showed me what had burst his tyre. A hollow nail. A hollowed out nail had been manufactured that lets the air out of the tyre rapidly so that the driver has to stop. The idea being that the robbers lay these on the road and wait for a car to get a puncture. When the car stops the robbers jump on the innocent victim and steal everything they can carry. There have been cases where fingers have been cut off to get at gold rings. The driver explained to me that he drove on for a mile on the flat tyre so that he would be far enough away from these people before stopping.

12th March 2000
Traveled to East Kalimantan (Borneo) today. The flight took 2 hours from Jakarta to Balikpapan. A car picked us up from Balikpapan airport and dropped us off at the Blue Sky Hotel in the other side of Balikpapan. First impressions are that the hotel is not so good. The toilet ceiling has a damp black patch on it. There were also hundreds of ants making a feast from something around the wash hand basin. I left them to it. So, a bit run down but I have been staying at the Shrangla-La and I guess that is making it difficult to compare with the “real world” hotels in this part of the World. Balikpapan is like a mini Jakarta. I am told there are 100,000 people living here but unofficial figures put it at ½ million. I think this figure is nearer the truth. The contrasts continue here. Good housing next to very basic huts. Shops with mud floors next to shops that look like NEXTand M&S. There are mini buses here too. 10p to travel anywhere within Balikpapan. We got on one and there was a mega sound system installed that just blew us away! Boom, Boom, Boom! I was glad to end my journey. The town of Balikpapan is really like Grangemouth, much warmer, but in a larger scale. There is a very large oil refinery to the south of the town that is run by Pertamina, the Government run oil company. There are hundreds of Pertamina owned houses here to the south of the town. TOTAL staff on family status live here along with Pertamina staff. The area is well kept and has security fencing around it. The traffic here is just as bad as in Jakarta. There are no rules! It is cheaper here to live compared to Jakarta (as if it could get any cheaper).

13th March 2000
Woke up at 05:50 for flight to CPU Tumbora site. The check-in was very informal compared to the one at Bond Helicopter check-in at Aberdeen. The flight was 40 minutes over jungle and swamp. It was very hot in the aircraft! I spent the day looking at all the work areas we will be at. It was very hot in the sun. Took a workboat (large launch) to some of the work sites that cannot be reached by foot. Care is required as there are crocodiles around the site. These launches are used like pick-up trucks to take people to work across the river delta area. Met Dave Platts who will be working with me on this project. He is from Yorkshire. I could not stay overnight at CPU due to problems getting my work visa so had to return to Balikpapan and stay at the Blue Sky Hotel again. I wonder how the ants are? To get back to Balikpapan I had to travel by fast launch up the delta to a little township called Handil. This took one hour. On the way I was amazed at the amount of civilization there was down on the river delta. Many houses on stilts and some selling fuel to anyone who cared to stop. Shops too. Most houses sprouted large satellite dishes that looked completely out of character. Some houses were tilting over at very unsafe angles. They live a very different life to you and me. Also seen were nodding donkeys (oil lift) so there must be lots of subsurface oil here. There was a driver at Handil waiting to take me back to Balikpapan, a 2 hour drive away by car (Land Rover type). The roads were difficult. Holes, dips, bends and full of people all the way! It seems that the road becomes the focal point for all life as the jungle just on the other side of the black stuff. Most houses here were also on stilts. Probably because it floods here. I go back to CPU tomorrow.

14th March 2000
Flew back to CPU this morning and saw the office where I will be working from. Lets just say I will be glad when this job is finished! Returned to Balikpapan via the helicopter this time. Was delayed taking off due to a rain storm in our flight path. The return journey took me to an offshore gas platform, an oil rig in a swamp and Senipah oil and gas terminal. Nearly 2 hours but faster that the river launch. Got burned by the sun yesterday as I forgot to take my sun block with me from Jakarta. Strange that no one else uses sun block cream of any sort here. Am I the only one who thinks about the risks of skin cancer apart from burning up?? Had a meal in the Blue Sky hotel's Chinese restaurant. Not bad food. Strange thing was that the menu did not have any prices listed. When I asked the waitress she said that I would be informed by the cashier of the price when I was finished my meal! Strange indeed! A bit like the saying “ If you need to know the price you cannot afford to eat here!”

15th March 2000
Spent the day at TOTAL Indonesie commissioning offices, Balikpapan. I must say was not impressed with it. The toilets are disgraceful! An outside concrete structure full of flies etc. The canteen is half a mile away along a busy, hot, dusty road. Altens, come back…. All is forgiven! AND the Staff take 2 hours for lunch whereas we workers have to carry on working. IT support is just Nil. Met Stuart Davidson at lunch. I had not seen him for 3 years. He seems to be enjoying life in Balikpapan but he can go home to the toilet during the day! My boss, TC, arranged to meet us all at a sea food restaurant at night. We met at the Bondy restaurant. The eating areas were mostly in outside veranda areas. Quite nice really. Except it was hot, very hot. Even at night it is very hot. Fans in the canopy attempted to move the heavy air to keep us cool. The food was delicious. I chose a live Red Snapper from a tank along with live prawn. The fish was filleted and presented with a light chilly and tomato sauce. The prawns were cooked in a light batter. Both dishes were as fresh as I could ever have. I also had 2 large bottles of freezing cold beer to wash it all down. And the bill - £6.

16th March 2000
What a night last night at the Blue Sky. It is Idul Adha (a big day) today for Muslims and all last night one of them was chanting next to my bedroom window. I slept briefly., thanks to him. What a shock I got when I left for the airport in the morning. As I walked out from the hotel reception, sitting in front of, and facing, me were hundreds of Muslims in prayer. Most were in white. I felt very unsure but walked down the side of the congregation to the road where I looked for my driver. The congregation had commandeered the hotel forecourt too! While driving to the airport we passed many groups of Muslims in prayer in what seemed like random locations. In one place the whole road was blocked to us so the driver had to take a long diversion. At the airport even the car park was taken over for their prayer.

18th March 2000
I will now take some time to mention the transport rules in Jakarta and possibly all of Indonesia as I have observed them.

Motorbikes: They can go anywhere and in any direction to the flow of other traffic. There are no rules. I saw a family of 5 people on a motorbike. 4 are usual but 5! Dad, Mum and 3 children. If there is a crash the young ones die first in the crush. At traffic lights they all migrate to the front of the queue halfway across the crossroads if required. Some do not even stop for the red light but cross with gay abandon. Allah will look after them!

Cars: The bigger the better. Size matters here. The bigger a car the more priority it has no matter what the driving code may be. Most cars travel (wander) across two lanes. This prevents others from overtaking and ensures there will be a head-on crash with on-coming traffic carrying out the same manoeuvre (if it is a single carriageway). On the faster highways undertaking is a pastime they all love. And under-passing on the hard shoulder is the best way to get past slow moving traffic. It is another overtaking lane. Cars ignore motorbikes. It is up to the motorbike to move out of the way or hit the car. Motorbikes hit cars a glancing blow often. Another great idea is when the traffic is busy on a duel carriageway the traffic is allowed to cross into the outside lane of the other carriageway to allow better traffic flow in one direction Problem is that they do not tell the drivers coming the other way that there could be traffic coming towards them in their outside lane.

Buses: Buses are King. Priority is always given to them if you want to keep car bodywork intact. Most of the buses are at least 30 years old and look like they only get maintained when things go completely wrong. They are always full to overflowing. Some customers prefer to stand hanging outside the doors shouting at the traffic that may approach too close to the bus. The Jakarta air pollution is mainly from the buses. They belch out copious amounts of noxious fumes and black soot when pulling away from the stops. The smoke they emit as they accelerate is so bad that drivers cannot see to overtake them, but they still do! It is like a thick smog blanket. And there are hundreds of buses. I don’t believe there is a timetable and bus stops are not used. Any place will do. In fact the bus stop shelters have been over run by mobile restaurant keepers keen on selling you food. These shelters offer protection to the stallholders during the downpours of the rainy season. They also offer their customers protection form the sun or rain. So if waiting for a bus you have to wait further up the street. Aircon – widows are always broken so they do nicely. Rule one: do not travel by bus.

Roundabouts: Basically there are none. Even the ones that look like roundabouts have traffic lights at them or you are not allowed to turn right anyway. The way to turn right is dangerous, time consuming and crazy. To turn right on a dual carriageway you cannot simply turn off to the right. There is no gap anyway. What you have to do is travel onwards to the next gap on the right hand side of the carriageway (and remember this is the “fast” overtaking lane). Slow down and stop to wait for a small gap in the traffic that is speeding down the road from the other direction. There is usually a punter (poor boy) standing there waiting to assist you (and take your money) to commit suicide when turning around into the other carriageway. You have to turn through 180-deg. This means you are exposed to two lanes of traffic, as your vehicle is now broadside to the traffic while you turn round which means that there is a good chance of a side-on collision. Once you are safely turned around you can make your way over to the left lane and exit the junction you require that is now on your left. Easy! What makes this really dangerous is that usually there is a long queue waiting to commit themselves to destruction. Remember that now there are cars on the fast overtaking lane stopped waiting to turn at the 180-deg turn point. This means that there are cars travelling towards this stopped traffic and are faced with braking hard to avoid collision. Of course most drivers know where these queues are and so an accident is avoided.

Vehicle safety maintenance: There is no such thing here. Anything goes. I saw one car with a wing hanging off at 90-deg from the car as it sped down the road ready to collect its next victim. And remember there are many motorbikes around. It was very dangerous to see. I guess at least one person did not make it home that night!

30thMarch 2000
Time is flying in now. I have just about finished writing the Operation Test procedures and my back to back starts this Saturday so I am starting to feel itchy and think of home. I will not be going to work at the yard until I come back in May. It is less than two weeks before my return home and I wonder if I will find it cold there after all this heat. I was at the Jaya Pub again recently with John Barnes. There was a special night with the regular bands and a Reggae band too. The entry price was £5 and for that you got 1 free drink (anything) and a 4-course buffet style meal with Indonesian foods and of course, the live music. Not bad for a City! The Reggae band was very good. They had a super brass section and three good singers. I hope to go to Bandung in central Java this weekend if I can get off early on the Saturday. I have been told it is nice there with a volcano and hot springs. It is a 4-hour trip by car. I will stay in a hotel there overnight on Saturday and return to Jakarta on Sunday evening if my boss allows me to go.

4th April 2000
What a long and tiring journey to Bandung! No one told me the road was like one of our unclassed roads all the way. And it seemed that there was no lack of housing for its whole length. It did not help that there was the most awful downpour of rain just as we set out on our journey. The streets were flooded, and I do mean flooded. The water just flowed down the main roads as if it was its riverbed. It took us 7 hours to travel the 130 miles. Who said 4 hours?! The sites on the way were similar to what I had seen in the past. A lot of shantytown style of living with the odd mansion house placed among them. Make-shift shops lined the road for almost its entire length. And the traffic was very heavy. At some stage we were stopped for 1 hour in a very large queue. My driver eventually gave up waiting and decided to skip up the queue like some other drivers. Not very safe when something comes the other way. There was not a cross word from any of the other drivers. Not like in the UK where road rage has taken over in our rat race of a society. At Bandung John and I stayed at the Holiday Inn hotel that is similar to any other Holiday Inn. The night air there in Bundung was cool and fresh with the smell of pine trees as it is high up in the mountains. The next day I sought out a well-known bakery in the city. It is famous for its Banana and cheese style of French pastry. They were selling like hot cakes and boy did they taste good fresh from the oven. I bought a box of them for my work secretary, Retno, who loves them. My driver took me up to the top of a smoking volcano, Mt Tangkubanparahu, and I looked right into the rim. Elevation: 6836 ft (2084 m). Tangkubanparahu has erupted about seventeen times since 1826. A very strange and unworldly sight it was. Next he took me to see the hot springs that issue from the volcano’s foothills. The water was at 90 C. I was about to take a dip in them when the heavens opened up and there was the most terrific thunderstorm along with very large drops of water rising back off the ground. The water was steaming because the cooler water was hitting it. Eventually I had to make a run for the car, as the rain did not look like it was going to stop too soon and I got soaked in the process.

My stay in Jakarta was over too soon. I had enjoyed myself and met new friends who will do anything to help me. And I must return the favours. Laurencia and Hilda even came to the airport to say goodbye to me. They gave me a hand of golden bananas (small and sweat) to take home. What a wonderful send off back home. I returned home on a very cold and wet Wednesday morning. Another contrast I will never forget. Having said that, it was so nice to be back home with Janis and my children. This diary is not about my home life but I must say that I miss Janis so much when I am away.

Back to Indonesia,
11th May 2000
So I have returned here and it still amazes me the way Indonesians live and work and play. I had one night in Singapore. It was still good but it is never the same as the first time as it is now not a new experience for me. I did nothing special there. Maybe I will visit some of the museums next time. I arrived in Jakarta and stayed overnight in the Shangri-La Hotel again. It was good to be there and it seemed that all the staff still recognised me. Broad smiles from all around me. I was even given an automatic upgrade to my room this time and personalised check-in etc. I visited Hilda’s house to meet up with my friends again for a quick drink and hand over of gifts and photographs. Susan told me it was like Christmas morning! The twins were not there but she loved the outfits I had bought for them. Ian loved the haggis and Laurencia, the Scottish whisky. So we all had a good time chatting about the previous time I was there with them. Too soon it was time to leave and start my journey to Grenyang.
I slept badly wondering what was in front of me at Grenyang. I was up at 5:54 and down for an early breakfast before meeting up with Terry Cooper, my boss. We travelled to Grenyang, a journey of 3 hours! Grenyang is on the western tip of Java looking on to Samatra. The ferries for Samatra leave from near our accommodation at Merak. The site is not too bad by construction site standards. The communication to the outside world is OK but not what you expect today. No e-mail facility at the moment but they are working on that. I have a desk and chair in an open plan office. It is so hot. I think the air conditioning is not working in this part of the building because elsewhere I am OK. On site the Indonesians are very friendly to me. I sometimes have a chat with them in the shade of the platform structure. A few of them have asked if I have a daughter and wonder if she would like to marry them. I say, “only if you are very very rich man” and they all say they are rich. Today, one of them invited me out for a night out at a night-club with him. I turned him down. The Santa Fe camp is very good by Indonesian standards. In fact, it is OK. Only problem I have at the moment is with my AC in my bedroom. It is so hot at night and because it is on FULL it is noisy too! The food is very good. There is a lounge bar, games and TV room and a nicely laid out open seating area with a barbecue where cooking takes place every Saturday evening. And right on to a beach. Sounds good. Downside is that is a 45-minute car drive in very poorly made up roads and I would say it is all of 10 miles from Grenyang to Santa Fe. Along the way we pass large petrochemical plants, a very large power station and steel works. This is an industrial area where many Indonesians come to work. Why can the roads not be resurfaced? Surely the companies who run these sites must see the benefit to them if the road infrastructure was improved. I am assisting the construction team with pre-commissioning work, checking pipeline routes and witnessing flushing of lines and pressure testing. An hour outside is like being in a sauna for me. I am wet all over when I return indoors and there are no towels to have a good wash. I think I may buy some for myself!

15th May 2000
We went to work today but we were stopped from entering because of a strike. We all waited in the canteen where there is AC. Our boss decided that we should return to Santa Fe camp so at 10 AM we all returned there for a bit of rest and then lunch. I changed into my shorts and had a drink outside my apartment before having lunch. After lunch we were informed that we could return to the yard so we all headed back there. No one is here except the engineers so there is nothing to do while we wait for the workers to return to work. It seems the management changed the terms of the workers' contracts without discussing it with them first! So now we wait and see what happens tomorrow. While travelling to site we pass through areas where the land is farmed and the sea is fished. There are many things growing on the land; coconut, peanut, cucumber, mango, banana, rice and many other fruits and vegetables that I do not know the name of. Most of the land is well looked after and organised (compared to the way they live in villages). Fishing takes place most of the time. Prawn fishing from the shore is carried out using a long cane stabbing it into the water to excite the prawns. It is a pity the roads are so bad as this would allow easier exit to the cities for all the products that have to leave this area to be sold.

16th May 2000
Stayed at the camp all morning waiting for the strike to end at the yard. We returned to work at 1:30 in the afternoon. Dave Platts started work today. The weather is so hot and humid today.

20th May 2000
It was cooler yesterday because of cloud cover. That is good when I am outside witnessing pressure tests because sometimes there is nowhere to hide from the retched heat of the sun and I work up quite a sweat. I notice that most workers are hiding in and below the modules away from the sun. If there is a sea breeze it is cool and enjoyable there. Dave Platts had to leave today as is father is dying of cancer. This means I am overloaded with work. Better than being idle, I guess.

21st May 2000
Another very hot day! Our drivers all went swimming in the sea beside the construction yard this morning before it got too hot. They enjoyed it a lot. They do nothing all day long if no one requires a driver. There is a small village just outside the construction yard. I noticed they have to draw their water from a well. It seems it is a woman’s job as there are quite a number of them waiting for water. The “canteens” where the workers eat are also the homes for the cooks and their families. There are ducks, chickens and geese roaming around the area and they must become someone’s meal some day I suppose. The huts are all on stilts as they are at the edge of a rice paddy field alongside the access road to the yard. Stagnant water all around. Today I also noticed a man on a cycle selling ice. He has large cubes of ice on a trailer and he cuts off a bit when a person wants to buy a piece of it. I wonder how much of his profit melts away? In our office there is a boy who’s job it is to stand at the photocopy machine and copy anything you want done. There is another boy, Siggh, who makes tea and coffee. I drink water so he brings me a cool glass every morning and afternoon. He sometimes gives me ice cold Coca-Cola too. He also sweeps the floor every few hours because we all bring in so much sand and dirt in on our shoes to the office from the yard. Today we finished at 4 PM so I sat outside my apartment and read while I enjoyed a freezing lager or three. hic!

24th May 2000
Yesterday was a busy day. I was in demand at three work locations, checking pipe-work and witnessing pressure tests or flushing pipework. By the end of the day I was a done man, I can tell you! A welder / platter wanted to swap watches with me today. He said he would like my watch as a souvenir. I was not sure his watch was worth swapping my one for so I refused his kind offer.

28th May 2000
Oh, it’s hot today. The air-con is off and we are all suffering here at the yard office. The modules are out of bounds because there are x-ray works ongoing so I am catching up with paperwork. Hopefully we will finish at 4 PM. Bill Nelligan is now here. He is the back to back with Dave Platts. Yesterday Bill and I took a stroll down the road outside our camp. At every home people came out to greet us and say hello. Most people even wanted to pose for a picture or two. The people here are very inquisitive and want to know everything about us. They seem a bit forward compared with our western ways today. After the pleasant walk we returned to the camp and had a barbecue meal outside the restaurant before going to bed.

9th June 2000
Bananas and coconuts grow wild here! The farmers use oxen and women pull the water from local wells. Every home seems to be a cafe too, just to earn a little money from any passing walkers or motorcyclists. Everyone is so poor. The average weekly wage is $20! The weather has been rainy for a few days. Some roads were flooded with water and further damaged with the water torrents pushing vegetation and stones with the water flow. Local people carry out all the repairs to the road as no government money is available and it is the lifeline of the people who live here. Last weekend there was a very large earthquake on Sumatra about 300 miles from here across the sea. It registered 7.9 on the Richter scale but no one felt it here. I was told that it caused a lot of local damage there with many people dead.

July 2000
Another month at Grenyang. Same as last month but no rain what ever. It was very dry and dusty. At the construction site there was a truck going round all the time just spraying water on the ground to keep the dust down. During this month it was holiday time in Java and the Ferry Terminal at Merak could not cope with all the influx of additional traffic. The roads were impassable with trucks and cars. Miles and miles of them were backed up on the 2 lane highway leading to Merak. And the roads at Merak are just like badly maintained farm tracks so when the traffic does flow it does so very slowly indeed. I noticed that the village at Grenyang has a water well where all the water supply comes from. People queue up in line waiting for their turn to pull up some water for the days needs. Everyone is very friendly here. My new friend, Jackson, asked for his picture to be taken with me at a professional studio. So we went along and got our photograph taken. Two framed photos cost a total of £4. He was so proud of it and so am I. He took me to meet his family. They live very poorly. Jackson told me he earns £80 per month at his job with Gunanusa. His rent on his home is £14 / month. There home consists of 1 main room with an annex kitchen/toilet and two small areas for sleeping, with only a curtain for privacy. There is no furniture, only one plastic garden chair. There is a Hi-Fi and TV in one corner of the room. It has full satellite coverage with some 40 channels. Life has different priorities here, I think. He has one pretty girl of 4 years and a boy of 2 who is mentally handicapped and cannot do anything for himself so his mother has to be with him all the time.

September 2000I have now moved to East Kalimantan (formally Borneo) about 120 miles north of Balikpapan on the Mahakam Delta at a Gas Plant called CPU, Tambora (Compression Process Unit). There are no roads here at all. My accommodation is across the wide, fast flowing, Mahakam river. It only takes a few minutes by fast boat. I even have to go “home” for lunch. The bedroom is OK and clean. The aircon is not as noisy as at Santa Fe camp so I can sleep OK. The people looking after us are kind too. On my first day 5 people showed me into my room! Yanti, Ya Ya. Tashya, Yuskins, Dewi, Murni. They are the catering staff and look after us very well. The food is very good with a selection of Indonesian foods at every mealtime. So much for my diet! I jokingly asked the cook, Ya Ya, if she would like to come back with me to Scotland and cook for my family as the food was so good. She said she was too scared to travel so far away from her family.

It has taken some time to settle here. No one likes change and to be parachuted into a place far from home with no understanding of the area or the local company procedures etc. it is quite upsetting. I had to set up my office and find out whom I would be working with but it all takes time, a long time. I have visited the offshore wellheads site at the exit to the Mahakam river delta where there are modifications taking place. It takes about 70 minutes to get there by fast boat. There is a small island near there where the Construction Company, Petrosea, has set up a base and camp from where they can work. On the way to the wellheads area we spotted a large crocodile about 4 metres long sunning itself on the shore at a clearing and later on there were a family of monkeys down at the water trying to get fish. It was good to see but made me realise how vulnerable I am out in this jungle area. Saw some snakes around the offices. One was a baby cobra! Keep well clear.

I had a visitor to my room last night. A rat got into the toilet and got stuck down the WC. I got up to the toilet at 3 AM and was shocked to see this rat in the bowl. I tried to flush it away but it would not go. In the end I left it there all night and did not sleeping a wink for fear it got out and got into my bedroom! I reported it to one of the staff, Tashya, in the morning. The staff are used to the rats and it was killed without further ado. Shame on me for being so scared!

I had to send some very valuable pressure relief valves to Senipah, 4 hours away by boat and car, for some work. The construction company organised a “long boat” from their yard across the river for CPU to Samarinda and then to Senipah by truck. The “long boat” consisted of a family houseboat with a lay-down area on it. This family work on the river taking goods up and down the river. I met Mum, Dad, and the three children before they set out on their 6 hour journey up the river delta. This was their life! The construction staff are living across the river in a camp. The engineer, Dandy, who I work with says he is sleeping in a two man room but with 6 people occupying it. He is not happy. None of them are happy. A few nights ago about 80 local men came to their camp and said that if the Construction Company did not take on many local people they would return in a few weeks and torch the camp! I think they may take on some local people now.

30th Sept 2000
I went to look at some work being carried out across the river at the Gunanusa yard about 1 mile away up the river. After that Bill said he required some toiletries etc. He had been told by one of our collegues there was a little community not far away up the river. It took us about 20 minutes to get there by boat. This was a new experience for me. I cannot describe it well but all the village was built on stilts on the river edge. All the locals were friendly and came to say hello as we landed. The children followed us all the way to various shops laughing and giggling behind us. We returned to the boat to find a very distressed girl who explained to us that her baby was very ill and could we help her. She even took us to see her sick child in her house. She wanted to come and see our TOTAL site doctor. We explained, as best we could, that the doctor would not see her so she said there was a doctor not far away from her village. So we took her there and she got the doctor to return to see her baby. We wished her good luck and she seemed to be much happier that the doctor was now going to see her sick child. These people live a much different life to us. There are a few toilets at the edge of the river with modesty boxes around them so they can do their business in the river. They wash in the river too. Living in Scotland certainly is good.

January 2001
Got here for the finish of Ramadan and the New Year. Indonesian people can celebrate this occasion just like the rest of us but without alcohol it is just not the same! We had a quiet affair with Gunanusa supplying the catering and the French supplying the drink. I think the party was over by 10:30PM. I was up for work again at 6 AM so maybe that was the best approach. I am working night shift just now. It is still hot but not unbearably so. There is a nice cooling wind tonight that is good to work in. Best be off to work again. A long hard month as not nearly enough equipment for the works we are doing. So I have to improvise using "non-specified" tools and equipment to get the job done. Had quite a job (understatement) sorting out my forthcoming holiday arrangements using Indonesian travel agents but eventually managed to get everything sorted out (all done by phone!). Janis got here tickets in the UK and we will meet in Singapore and onward to Australia. I am so, so looking forward to meeting her again and to a holiday together but it also means I will be away form home for 3 ½ months, a first for me!

March 2001
I am just back from a special and wonderful holiday with Janis. Things here in Kalimantan are just the same. I had to work 24 hours on my first full day back! And that's not all. When I was going out of my room today (Friday 9th March) I was faced with a very large snake at my door. (I was later informed that it was a black mamba!) What a fright I got. Anyway, I shut the door immediately and peered out of the window to see what was happening. It appears that this snake had a big audience as it had been slowly making its way along the duckboard walkway at our sleeping accommodation block. My decision to open the door at that moment was just at the wrong time. I then watched in horror as it coiled itself around my door handle and looked through the window at me. The snake must have been at least 6 feet long. I waited until the room boy came and knocked my door to tell me it was clear to exit. A Mamba can kill its victim within 1 hour so I was very lucky to be OK.

I have been told that I can leave here by the 25th March. Now I cannot wait to be home. Told Janis the news and she is very happy too. Only thing I dread is the return to the cold, wet weather. I was not happy with the food hygiene standards here at Tambora so told the local manager of the site. He thanked me for my concern and asked if I would go on the next audit/inspection with the doctor and safety officer so I agreed to do it. I was asked to perform the audit without warning so this I did about 5 days later. There were many points where the catering standards were below par, mostly in the temperature control of food. There was also a fire hazard in the extractor duct above the deep fat fryer, as they had not been using the grease filters so all the oil/fat was up in the ductwork. I have witnessed a flash fire on MCP01 because of the same situation so was able to give them strong advice. After the audit I only ate hot food and had it reheated in the microwave oven just to be safe from all the bugs! The last few days have been spent updating Process & Instrument Diagrams for the process. I know this plant like the back of my hand now but that is of no use to me when I go to my next job at St. Fergus Gas Terminal. I am glad to be on the move.

Reflection
The End. Nothing much else to say after that. I completed my work at CPU, Tambora at the end of March 2001 and returned to the UK. I enjoyed my stay in Indonesia but sometimes wondered why I was working so hard in the heat of the day, every day. As my boss told me, “Iain, that is why you are here, because these people will not work unsupervised and they do not have the experience that you have”. So I returned to Aberdeen knowing that our team had done a good job in that far off land. St Fergus seemes such a safe and clean place to be after Tambora.


The End

Iain Cameron

May 2001