Archive for October, 2009

MYANMAR / Kanbauk (Thanintaryi Division)

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

(This is my first trip to Kanbauk in Southern Myanmar in January 2009.  Info on places mentioned in this posting are correct at that time. Also take note that KANBAUK and DAWEI (a.k.a TAVOY) are strictly no-go areas for tourists. Tourists do not normally come here as they need special permit to enter this region. I was here because of official work).

Dawei and Kanbuk is about 30-min flight apart

Yangon Air flight look set to depart from Dawei airstrip to Yangon. Dawei and Kanbauk is about 30-min flight apart

My work requires me to meet people and listen to their problems. Often I need travel to remote locations, for this purpose. But who’s listening to my problems? Today I traveled to Kanbauk, some 280 miles south of Yangon to visit our staff at remote sites.

It was quite a new experience. To me both the journey is as important as the arrival.

We started at Yangon International Airport. It is a domestic terminal where airlines like Bagan Air, Yangon Airways, Mandalay Air and chartered flights call it home. It is located next to the new international terminal. Probably it was an original Yangon International Airport. Crowded and congested were not the right adjectives to describe the airport. It was rather relaxed but dull.

The airline personnel whisked us to a room at the corner of the building for a safety briefing. He turned on a video player and left without a word. A video was played. All safety features about the aircraft we were about to board were shown. Seat belt. Safety jacket. No smoking. Emergency exit doors. Bracing position in an unlikely event the plane went down abnormally. No oxygen mask though — why? Could it be they are not required or could it be they were already broken or could it be there was no oxygen cylinder on board. Don’t know.

It was a Twin Otter 300 with about 20-seater and 6 emergency exits. I have never seen emergency exits that so many for only 20 passengers.

We boarded the aircraft at 10:15 am and no other briefing was given while onboard. The stair which we climbed up into the plane – one person at one time – now turned into a door as it was folded up and slammed from outside by the pilot.

“Buckled up and we’ll be in Kanbauk in one hour twenty minutes”, said the co-pilot, before slamming the door.

He then hastily run around the plane and got in the cockpit thru one of six emergency exits. His companion revved up the engines until propellers reached some speed. The plane moved to the far-end of the runway and within 10 minutes we were up there in the sky with Yangon City sprawling under our feet.

Both pilots were white men, obviously seasoned aviators and they reminded me of Harrison Ford in the movie “7-days-and-6-nights”, except that they wore their company’s white uniforms.

There were only 6 passengers in this flight from Yangon to Kanbauk on 16th January 2009. Six emergency exits. One emergency exit each. We should feel safer.

The journey was smooth nevertheless. I managed to update my blog and then dozed off. Upon reaching Kanbauk, could see the coast line of Andaman Sea. The murky sea water merged into a big river mouth in between the mountains.  It was a mountainous region in Mon State in south-eastern Myanmar. Paddy fields and wooden houses occupied valleys between the mountains and dense forests. It was a cool view. The forest was virgin and seemed untouched, unlike in Malaysia where logging was regulated but not enforced. Not much logging activities noticeable from 15000 feet. The leaves were green and not so green due to dry and cold season. Gorges and plateaus made an amazing landscape. Sunlight fell on clouds and shadow created  such a wonderful contrast which could only be appreciated by professional photographers.

World is just awesome. Man can only paint such scenery but who created them all? I said subhanallah – God is ever gracious.

We touched down at 11:35 am as scheduled in Kanbauk. It was a private airfield with a short runway, surrounded by forest. It was utilized by oil and gas companies personnel. The plane swayed a bit upon a hard landing. It made a U-turn when it reached furthest end of the airstrip and taxied to its parking bay next to the only building — which I discovered later served as a maintenance workshop and arrival/departure hall, three in one.

I saw a helicopter at one side of the runway, being prepared for take-off to the offshore oil platform. A white man with a Heli Union printed on his white shirt was walking to the helicopter, followed by few tough guys, some carrying some kind of toolbox. But I am not going with them to offshore today. May be other time.

Inside the building, there is a small room which made up arrival and departure hall at the same time. There were blue seats facing a main door where we just came in. A Samsung video player attached to the TV set was on the rack next to the door. Arriving passengers were ushered to the back of the room whereas departing passengers were seated to watch a safety video, the same video we watched at Yangon on how many emergency exits and where they are and stuff like that.

The wall  is full of frames with various company logos. Upon close scrutiny, there were indeed Safety policies of various companies operating in and out of Kanbauk such as PCML, TEPM, Hevilift, Heli Union and others. These are all either multinational oil and gas players or service providers providing support services to the former. Obviously safety is of paramount concern in this type of business.

There was a table at the back manned by three national men in yellow coverall. One explained to us in broken but understandable English  that they were doing a random alcohol and drug testing to Company employees and contractors. He added that this is a Company policies, recently approved. He handed over two forms to me — consent form and refusal form. We had to fill up one only. I filled up the former. After all, I was part of that system.

Details were required by the form. The medication you took in the last 6 hours. I put down zinc, signed and handed back the form to him.

Then his assistant asked me to draw a small bottle from the plastic bag full of sample bottles. He showed me the toilet and asked me to fill up to the level indicated on the bottle with my urine. The bottle has 5 stripes one for each type of drug to be tested. Cocaine, marijuana, anti-depressant drugs are some of those. Could not remember the scientific names he mentioned. My female traveling companion teased them whether could she be tested for pregnancy as well. I said – just add another stripe. We all laughed. But men in yellow did not. They were serious like rock.

I got in the toilet, following their instruction like a first-grader on the first day at school.

Five minutes later, the test result was out. I was tested negative. Now we could proceed to the waiting four wheel drive vehicle.  It was a dusty Toyota Land Cruiser with big Hakook tyres and tall antenna perched on the front bumper.

The road was a dirt road so dusty so much so that green leaves turn red, being covered with dust. It seemed it never rained here for ages. We passed by a local village and a school painted in white and green. Children were having recess as some were playing football in their longyis. To me, these kids are the real investment. This country and this company need them to operate all our assets in 20-years time.

Fifteen minutes later, we reached our destination — a pipeline control center, fortified area sandwiched in between southern Myanmar mountain ranges. As the name implies, the center controls the transmission of natural gas from offshore gas field to Thailand.

The security fence was so high, seemingly as high as the tallest coconut trees. The security check was thorough. Our vehicle’s undercarriage was inspected using portable detector. Bags were searched for prohibited items. No lighters, mobile phone and camera allowed. We walked up some 50 meters to the site manager’s office. He was a medium-built white man. I found it later he is a Scottish.

The staff gathered in a meeting room — about 30 of them all in their working apparel. The whole idea of my trip is to communicate HR matters to them and at the same time getting their feedbacks. I shared the HR Department structure and roles and functions. My colleague shared the recruitment process and training procudures. Then we open the floor for question and answer session.

It was the first time I met my staff at this site. Except one or two or three, the rest of the staff in this shift are local, i.e. Burmese. They must have been wondering who the new HR Manager is? Will he be different than the previous one? Will he listen more to staff problem? Will he take action quick enough? Will he visit us more often? I guess the writing on the wall indicated that they were so eager to meet me and I was equally eager to meet them.  The pressure was mounting on me to show that I was the better one. Me and my staff delivered what we were supposed to deliver and the dreadful part started. Question and answer or in short Q&A. Questions came to me like bullets which could not wait. From the the most basic such as “why I did not qualify for long service award this year” to the hardest one like “my salary is hitting ceiling already, can you share the salary band?”.

The session took almost 6 hours with small breaks, and ended at about 8pm. The evening breeze was really cold outside when I walked to my dormitory to retire for the day. It was a room with two double-storey bed, a TV set, two cupboards, a coffee maker and an attached toilet.  Staff stayed in the same dormitory within the compound. Their world is within this heavily fenced compound. A cafetaria. A  soccer field. A run-down tennis court. A dormitory. Even a small room containing Buddha statue. All a man could ever need can be found here. Minus family and mobile phone signal.

SINGAPORE – Changi International Airport

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

May 5th, 2009

Tugas memaksa aku balik ke Kuala Lumpur lagi pada hari ini. Balik ke KL memang menyeronokkan, sesuatu yang aku look forward to. Boleh lepas gian makan roti canai dan teh tarik di restoran mamak yang bertaburan di mana-mana jalan dan simpang di KL. Selain dari itu, banyak benda boleh diselesaikan di KL, yang tak boleh dilakukan di Yangon seperti antaranya keluar duit gaji, tukar ke US Dollar dan bawa balik ke Yangon untuk belanja hari-hari di sana. Di KL juga boleh bayar hutang-hutang, ansuran rumah, made a few calls to friends and relatives.

Tapi perjalanan dari Yangon ke KL hari ini agak berbeza, agak tersasar. Tersasar ke Singapura kerana tiada penerbangan langsung Yangon-KL pada hari ini, yang selalu aku naiki. Tiada MH740 hari ini dan akibatnya tiada MH741 juga hari ini. Aku kena berada di KL pada jam 9 pagi hari Rabu, dan aku tiada pilihan lain kecuali mengambil Silk Air dari Yangon ke Singapura dan penerbangan SIA dari Singapura ke KL.

Yangon dilanggani oleh hanya beberapa syarikat penerbangan antarabangsa seperti Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines dan Air China. Sistem ekonomi tertutup yang dilaksanakan oleh pihak tentera menyebabkan Myanmar tidak popular di kalangan komuniti bisnes. Setiap hari biasa, jumlah pelepasan antarabangsa di sekitar 6-7 pelepasan sahaja.

Kod penerbangan untuk Silk Air ialah MI dan penerbangan Yangon-Singapura menggunakan kod MI511.  Hari ini MI511 sarat dengan penumpang dan bertolak lewat daripada waktu jadual (10:10pagi). Seperti Air Asia, Silk Air menggunakan pesawat Airbus 320. Tempat duduk lebih luas dan selesa berbanding Boeing 737-400 yang digunakan oleh MH.

Masa penerbangan hampir sama dengan Yangon-KL iaitu 2 jam 40 minit. Laluan Perbezaan zon masa Myanmar dan Singapura ialah 1 jam 30 minit (sama seperti Malaysia). Dari Yangon, laluan penerbangan merentasi Lautan Andaman, kemudian melalui Teluk Siam dan wilayah Selatan Thai, pantai timur Semenanjung Malaysia dan terus ke Singapura.

Pesawat Airbus 320 jauh lebih canggih dari Boeing 737. Taklimat keselamatan menggunakan skrin yang tergantung dari atau overhead compartment. Skrin yang sama juga menayang filem komedi pendek. Kerani aku kat pejabat tidak membuat tempahan Moslem Meal. Peramugari beruniform hijau muda memberi kepastian mengenai makanan yang dihidangkan — semuanya dijamin halal, katanya. Tapi aku memilih fish fillet dan noodle sahaja.

Singapura memang destinasi popular rakyat Myanmar. Ramai rakyat Myanmar bekerja dan belajar. Selebihnya datang untuk melancong dan mendapat rawatan perubatan (bagi golongan berpendapatan tinggi Myanmar).

Satu lagi yang aku perasan ialah Bahasa Melayu digunakan dengan meluas di Changi Airport. Semua pengumuman dimulai dengan Bahasa Inggeris diikuti oleh Bahasa Melayu.

Untuk melengkapkan perjalanan aku ke KUL, aku menaiki Singapre Airline Boeing 777. Selepas 50 minit, aku tiba di KUL. Alhamdulillah, selamat sampai ke destinasi. Satu hari yang meletihkan di udara.

Self-esteem — another view

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

This two-word noun is often heard again and again in a corporate life. Corporate world is for individual with high self-esteem. Bosses send their staff to enhance their self-esteem. We are required to enhance our self-esteem. Yet there are people suffering from the low self-esteem.

So what is this self-esteem all about?

It is the value you assign to your self. It is about your worth as a person or human being. Society we live in assign different values to different people based on their status. They treat some as “somebody” and others as “nobody.” Why this thing happens? To them to be a “somebody” requires a good job,  above 2.0 cc car, a particular skill, even connections to other “somebody”. In short you need tons of money to be a “somebody”. Their self-worth is tied to what they DO, what they HAVE, not who they are. They are not human BEINGS. They’ve become human HAVINGS, and human DOINGS.

A person’s self-esteem must always be 100% because we are humans.  What we have and what we do cannot guarantee happiness. We can pretend to be happy for a while but deep inside we are suffering because we cannot accept who we are. We are not in harmony with our self.

A LESSON OR TWO:

“Accept our self as a human being, not human having nor human doings”.

Lessons from the movie: “Letters from Iwo Jima”

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

During one of my business trip to HQ in Kuala Lumpur, I had to stay at a posh hotel at One Utama, rather than my usual hotel around KLCC area. Time was moving rather slowly  on those days despite an upscale shopping center on the ground floor. Fiddling with TV remote control to kill time, I came across one movie playing on StarMovies. It was “Letters from Iwo Jima” directed by Clint Eastwood, my favorite movie director. I heard about this movie but never watched it before. I watched his other Oscar-winning movies such as Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. Mr Eastwood was a man with a message. He delivered his messages through  movies and only thinking men and women  and and of course Oscar Award reviewers can catch that message and appreciated it.

Lets go back to this movie.

It was about a loyal Japanese Imperial Army General Kuribayashi, leading his army in defending an island of paramount interest to the Japan motherland during WWII.

General Kuribayashi led the Imperial Army and was based on Iwo Jima island.  When the defeat was imminent, he secretly wrote letters to his wife Yoshi. Young soldier, Nozaki, discovered the letters later when he was instructed to destroy all the documents at the command center but he hid them instead rather than burning them all. The letters were discovered long after the war, thus the name of the movie.

Nozaki was a naive and simple man. He was a baker before joining the Imperial Army. He was drafted against his will and never was a soldier at heart. He just got married and the wife was pregnant when the call to join the Army came to his hometown. He had this conversation with his wife before leaving to serve the Emperor.

“What am I going to do when you are dead?”. The wife was so worried.

“I am not in the coffin yet!”

“Those men never came back. Not even their souls.”

“I am coming back for our child” Nozaki said confidently.

There is another character in this movie resembling Nozaki. Another young soldier just graduated from prestigous military college, was sent to the Iwo Jima after he did not execute simple order from his superior to shoot the dog which made a noise in the neighborhood while on duty on the mainland.

These are all simple and naïve characters in this movie with loving heart.

Quite unpopular a decision, General Kuribayashi replaced an experienced Admiral Ichimaru with a young Lieutenant Nishi from Cavalry unit who attached more importance to his well-bred horse rather than the grim reality of war.

Some of General Kuribayashi’s famous inspirational words to his army:

“One must  kills 10 enemy soldiers. Don’t expect to come home alive. Long live the Emperor.”

“If this island falls Americans will use it as a base to attack homeland. We will defend this island at whatever price.”

Lesson Learnts:

1. Loyalty pays sometimes.

2. You are what you choose to be.

Meredah Lautan Andaman di MYANMAR

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Tugasan resmi membawa aku ke penjuru alam ini, bumi Myanmar yang tersorok dan tidak dikenali ini.   Semuanya demi tugas, lantaran mencari rezeki halal untuk diri dan keluarga dan ummat.

Kanbauk ialah sebuah kampung kecil di Tanintharyi Division di selatan Myanmar. Anda mungkin tidak akan berjumpa dengan kampung ini di dalam peta negara Myanmar. Bandar lebih besar dan lebih popular ialah Dawei (atau  nama lamanya Tavoy) yang terletak lebih kurang 50 km ke selatan Kanbauk. Kanbauk mempunyai satu landasan terbang (airstrip) yang sempit cukup untuk fixed wings dan helikopter. Seperti Kerteh di Terengganu, Malaysia, ia merupakan persinggahan penting bagi pekerja industri minyak di Myanmar. Di sinilah terletaknya pusat operasi saluran paip gas (gas pipeline) dua syarikat minyak dan gas antarabangsa yang beroperasi di Myanmar. Saluran paip sepanjang hampir 300km ini bermula di pelantar tengah laut dan berakhir di sebelah Thailand berdekatan dengan Bangkok.

Aku sampai ke kampung ini dari Yangon pada satu hari yang indah di bulan Ogos 2009 dalam perjalanan ke pelantar gas Yetagun.  Aku sampai ke Kanbauk dari Yangon ke Kanbauk dengan Twin Otter 300. Dan dari Kanbauk ke offshore, aku terpaksa mengambil helikopter pengangkut buatan Eurocopter Dauphine yang dikendalikan oleh syarikat Heli -Union.

Satu aspek maha penting dengan cara hidup yang aku pilih ini ialah keselamatan. Setiap penumpang diwajibkan menonton video keselamatan berkaitan dengan jenis helikopter yang kami akan naiki. Taklimat keselamatan ini menjawab persoalan jika berlaku kecemasan dalam penerbangan. Apa perlu dibuat jika berlaku kecemasan. Bagaimana nak activate life raft. Di mana dan bagaimana nak buka pintu kecemasan. Bagaimana nak keluar dari helikopter yang terpaksa mendarat di atas air. Bagaimana nak menarik perhatian pasukan penyelamat. Selepas taklimat keselamatan, setiap penumpang diberi jaket keselamatan, dan mesti dipakai dengan sempurna sebelum boarding. Kemudian kami diiring seorang demi seorang ke helikopter yang menunggu dan ditunjuk tempat duduk. Tali pinggang keselamatan– a big round buckle which connects 4 metal flaps from 4 directions – wajib diikat kemas. Seolah2 terikat di kerusi eletrik, menunggu saat akhir. Semuanya sebiji seperti yang ditunjuk dalam video keselamatan tadi.

Juruterbang dan pembantunya – kedua2nya warga barat — menghidupkan enjin dan kipas mula berpusing. Nampak jelas kipas berpusing kerana bumbung di bahagian hadapan helikopter adalah berkaca. Bunyi bising tidak terkira dan aku pasti melebihi 80 decibel. Setiap penumpang diberi headset. Nobody talked because you simply could not, with all this noise, way exceeding 80 decibel. maybe 120 db, may be even more.

Dashboard di dalam kokpit juruterbang mempunyai hampir 30 displays yang menyukat pelbagai jenis data penerbangan, yang hanya difahami oleh juruterbang atau jurutera atau mereka yang pakar sahaja. Aku bukanlah johari yang mengenal manikam. Kebanyakan display adalah analog dengan jarum penunjuk. Display memenuhi ruang depan, tepi dan atas kawasan kokpit. Satu display tertulis ALT yang menyukat paras ketinggian. Yang ini aku pasti kerana ianya sama dengan Pajero V31 aku di Malaysia. GPS display yang kecil mempamerkan kelajuan vertikal, ETD, ETA dan lain2.

Semakin laju kipas berpusing, badan helikopter terangkat naik sedikit demi sedikit  sambil menyenget ke hadapan, menepati  prinsip Bernoulli yang aku belajar ilmu Fizik masa Tingkatan 4 suatu masa dahulu. Seluruh bahagian helikopter bergegar seolah2 aku berada di atas mesin senaman Ogawa (shaker). Juruterbang terpaksa membawa burung besi ini naik tinggi mendadak untuk melepasi ketinggian banjaran bukit yang memagari landasan terbang yang sempit ini. Selepas itu kami merentasi kawasan pantai dan seterusnya meredah lautan Andaman ke platform Yetagun. Langit cerah sepanjang perjalanan dan di bawah sana kelihatan pulau-pulau kecil yang membentuk archipelago Myanmar selatan. Aku selamat sampai ke destinasi dengan izin Allah dalam masa lebih kurang satu jam. Selepas urusanku di atas pelantar selesai termasuk memeriksa pokok krismas (christmas tree) di atas pelantar menggerudi (drilling rig), tiba masa untuk pulang.

Perjalanan balik ke Kanbauk dari Yetagun cepat 10 minit kerana ditolak angin. Beberapa kali lenaku terganggu apabila helikopter melanggar gumpalan awan tebal dalam perjalanan balik. Dari ketinggian 20000 kaki, aku melihat lautan biru di bawah sana dengan garis-garis gelombang ombak yang bergerak satu hala ditiup angin. Jika sesuatu berlaku di atas ini, nauzubillah min zalik, mungkin laut itulah kuburku. Dan jika ditakdirkan begitu, aku reda. Aku pasrah. Selamat tinggal kepada semua. Teruskan amal bakti sepanjang zaman selagi hayat dikandung badan.

Aku selamat sampai ke Kanbauk, tempat di mana aku bermula pagi tadi. Rasa syukur kerana selamat tiba menguasai diri. Landcruiser syarikat yang dipandu oleh warga tempatan menunggu penuh setia.

“Sir, they are waiting for you at POC”.

Kami meredah jalan berdebu menuju ke pusat operasi pipeline untuk tugas seterusnya. Jam tangan Alexander Christieku menunjukkan hampir pukul 4 petang.  Tiada pilihan melainkan terpaksa solat Jamak Takhir.