Atchafalaya Swamp

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's early in the morning . . .

(and in case you’re wondering, I’m not wondering what clothes to wear; same coveralls everyday lah)

BE FOREWARNED: This post is a rambling one and has no discernible beginning, middle or end. With a lot of typical embellishment and hypebole thrown in --but hey --artistic license right?

Got pretty confused as to the goings-on in Bolehland recently, so much to talk about and the pundits having beaten me to it. Just as I start a post about something, and no sooner someone comes out with a brilliant piece and the Delete keys get (over) used again. Well then, in this age of instant messaging and Punditry Inc. I’d better get used to it.

So I let blog commentators trigger me; and see where that takes me.

Case in point is the blog title above, triggered by Chegu's recent post on ‘Guitar God’ Eric Clapton. A raff of associations hit me especially that much abused karaoke fodder ‘Wonderful Tonight’. I remember being in a karaoke joint in Ho Chih Minh City a lifetime ago and the patrons in the adjacent booth, middle-aged and balding Saigon businessmen, were screaming “hotel, hotel!” Hotel? What hotel? This is a karaoke club lah. Aah, they were trying to coax a colleague sing that other much abused karaoke fodder ‘Hotel California’.

What? –Thick-in-the-middle, middle-aged and balding businessmen? And what about yours truly? Yeah, it happens only to the other guy. Right.

Then there was Bung Zawi who ‘suggested’ I host Daphne of Aphysia-Dyphasia on my rig, seeing she was curious in the first place. I started to reply in a comment but it got too long. So I decided to reproduce it here for the benefit of other curious folks.

I'd love to host visitors, but unfortunately it's not up to me, rigs are tightly guarded places. To get on a rig one needs to attend a 3-day approved HUET ('Hooyet') and Basic Sea Survival course with the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training entailing participants being strapped in a helicopter-type carcass and dunked.

Participants come dressed in coveralls. The crane lowers the 'heli' down until everything is submerged (you included, of course) 6 feet under. We're strapped in our seatbelts. Two divers are on standby in-case of difficulties and also to ensure no one cheats. The moment the water gets to your ears you take a deep breath. Five seconds later we're under. The heli rotates 180-degrees so now our feet are up and our heads are down. It's easy to get disoriented but because of training we know which door or window to grasp and kick out. Most people get claustrophobic and panic. It's got to be a controlled underwater exit or else everybody gets tangled and drowns while the damn thing is sinking! So grab on the door or window frame tight (10 seconds would have elapsed - I know it's short but believe me it feels like an eternity) because when you undo the buckle upside down your body floats up to the top of the chopper (in this case, the heli’s "floor"). Watch your colleagues exit, sometimes while disoriented they fail to see the door or window next to them. Kick or push out the window (with everything submerged, pressure has equalized) and the door or window easily falls away. Exit and swim to surface. Don’t worry, your natural buoyancy will also guide you up. But if you pull the cord that fires the pressurized cartridges that blow air in your life-jacket too quick (before surfacing) you fail. The idea is constant training makes you react in rational manner under pressure. But who knows how people react when shit actually hits the fan?

Do this two more times and then you get certified, and after passing a comprehensive medical exam you can now be eligible for a rig visit. This is overkill I know, but training does pay off. Just last a year a chopper carrying rig workers in Terengganu fell into the sea. Only the pilot was killed but the rest survived.

The HUET course needs to be done every three years. I did mine at a rather rigorous facility along with some Singapore’s Israeli-trained air force pilots in Loyang, Singapore. The whole she-bang (as a mandor I needed the extra courses) took five days which included advanced fire-fighting, CPR and all that good stuff.

The chopper thing in Singapore, although scary, pales in comparison to advanced fire-fighting training. Fire-fighters get all my respect. Imagine being in full fire-fighting gear (without a real fire it’s already like a sauna in there): helmet, full faced mask and an oxygen bottle that’s going to last me 15 minutes. The scenario is like this: On the word go I enter a building (in a totally blacked-out warehouse in Loyang stacked with containers). No flashlight. The idea is in a real-life situation there’s so much smoke it is pitch black. My goal is to enter into the container-mazes inside the dark warehouse, crawling makeshift tunnels to find a life-sized dummy and bring it out. We do this in pairs like in a buddy system. After a while you get disoriented and it didn’t help matters that my partner was the claustrophobic sort. At the ten minute mark with impediments, boxes, oil drums here and there, we knew we’re going to fail.

So I cheated. This is where being a smoker comes in handy. I told my buddy to turn the oxygen spigot off. “Screw this,” I said. “Else we’ll never find that blow-up doll”. I pulled my trusty Zippo and lo and behold, in another minute we found our target. Of course, near the exit we don our masks back on and the former Canadian Coast Guard instructor was suitably impressed. But when he checked our oxygen bottles he knew they were air still left in them when other teams usually finish off theirs. I could never look him in the eye after that.

The HUET in Loyang was another matter altogether. Now I was to rub shoulders with elite Israeli-trained crack fighter pilots. What these uber-kiasus didn’t know was I was a pretty decent swimmer. Back in the seventies I represented my school up to state level and even participated in National meets. 400m and 800m ‘kuak dada’ was my specialty. By Form Two I not only had the Bronze Medallion but also the higher Bronze Cross life saving certificates under my belt. To be a pool lifesaver you only need the ‘Medallion’ and I guarantee you only some of the 5-star hotels have these paper-qualified lifeguards.

Because of the kiasu factor in these swaggering SAF pilots, the instructor devised some pretty interesting scenarios for the ‘upside-down’ heli-training. So first we went through the usual as a warm up. These guys were looking at an overweight Melayu who kept sneaking off to smoke cigarettes. They looked at me with pity. Now the instructor added a twist just to see what these wannabees are made of. Instead of four exit points, there will be only one (the rest presumably jammed shut) and we won’t know which in advance. This is the best part: We will all be wearing blacked-out goggles!

Needless to say these super-fit kiasus didn’t even bat an eye-lid. And they looked at my sodden cotton coveralls with glee in their nice water-cum-fireproofed flight suits.

But the proof of pudding is in the eating and they deliberately entered the suspended heli-carcass first. Now they were three frogmen in the water in case serious rescue were required. I entered last. Seems those bastards knew before-hand which window was free so they sat nearest to it while I was furthest away. I suspect one of the frogmen tipped them off. No worries, I just needed to hold my breath longer and mentally mapped the exit. This is where my Bronze Cross training paid-off.

The Bronze Cross Life Savers Certificate is really quite challenging. It’s designed for a lifesaver to get in any closed-water situation (as opposed to open water – the seas, which requires further killer training) like lakes, rivers ponds and pull up to two victims to safety and demonstrate underwater combat skills. The combat skills is designed to knock your victims out, instead of your victim thrashing about that might pull you the lifesaver under -- now instead of just one, you have two casualties. So you knock them out cold first.

You must also tread water while performing mouth-to-mouth. The test is conducted at night and I did mine at Ipoh’s municipal pool. The water must be at least 12 feet deep. You face away from the pool, fully-clothed (baju Melayu in my case) and the instructor throws a ten-kilo brick wrapped in cloth to simulate a drowned victim lying at the bottom of a 12 feet pool. You hear the splash and you mentally map the supposed target. You turn around and the examiner gives you the thumbs up. Your fully-clothed partner is by the pool ready to jump and be ‘the victim’ to be resuscitated and towed for four lengths of the 50m pool (200m). The distance you assume where the brick went down is bout three-fourths of the pool, about the 35m mark. So you dive in, the clothes immediately clinging and offering resistance. Of course we also had our Fung Keong shoes on too. But those days I trained for at least 2 km everyday, so no sweat. About half-way, I jack-knifed in and if don’t bring up the brick-cloth up I would automatically fail. So you flail around the 10, 11, 12 feet depth area at the bottom desperately searching for the brick in the cold murky darkness. 30, 35, 45 seconds pass –yes, got it. Give a kick-up and surface. Thread water with the brick above the water to demonstrate superior water-threading skills. After a minute the instructor tells your partner-victim to jump in so you throw the brick away. Victim pretends to flail and you do some chop here and chop there and he relaxes. Pretend to mouth-to-mouth with your buck-toothed jerawat batu guy partner knowing full well that Michelle Yeoh is nearby in Convent Ipoh (a year younger than me) and would only be a star three decades on –but why am I telling you this? –and start towing.

Now back to Loyang. Black goggles on and the winch drops us in. The world goes dark. I hyperventilate. Everything is in my mental map now. Stay calm, don’t get disoriented. The damn thing turns over, and I count, “one thousand one, one thousand two . . .” I forced myself the urge to quickly undo the buckle. I think I overdid it. Because when I exited (feeling each window to find the opened one) the water felt calm meaning the three Chuck Yeager wannabees had already surfaced. Needless to say I whupped their ass. I was out last but the instructor gave me an approving look and clapped. The three frogmen too gave me a thumbs-up.

The 'winner' in this case is the one that gets out last. Because this is one instance where kiasu-ism defeats the purpose of a controlled exit. Apparently there was a tangle with the second and third SAF pilot. I'm glad to have stuck to my game plan and held out as long as I could. These kaisu buggers can only kill you. Fighter pilot or not.

I tell you man, It felt so great to one-up a Singie... Yeaaaah!


Zawi said...

mat salo,
Great piece. Very educational. So no way for Daphne to visit your rig eh? Whatabout masquarading her as an assistant to the supplier that often visit by boat? She wont be going by helicopter to the rig but only to the nearest landing point then use the boat.
Joke aside, its really tough to be a person like you. Beating the kiasus at their game is a great satisfaction not only to you but to everyone of us. You have turned something dull and mundane into such an exciting piece. Well done.

cakapaje said...

Salam bro,

First word: Wow! And I really do mean 'WOW!'.

2nd word: 'MasyAllah!' Bro aku ni cam SAS man le camtu! Tabik!

3rd word: 'No, thank you'. Er, that is if ever you invite to visit a rig. Oklah, its a phrase.

4th word: 'Wow!' Gua tabik lu!

acciaccatura said...

salam mat salo,
wah, bestlah baca this one mat salo. the last time i felt this same excitement was when my son gave me the XBox controller to be the 2nd player, for dont know what this tembak-tembak game called, macam cemas tapi looking forward gitu.

orang yang dont know how to even float like me sure bungkus one dalam keadaan you cerita ni. so, i guess, tak ada rezkilah nak visit sana.

now i understand why you just know how the play that few chords on the guitar! semoga Mat Salo sentiasa dilindungi Allah Taala.

cakapaje said...


Bro, terlupa beritahu tadi, Doc TA ada tinggalkan komen for you at my place.

Kata Tak Nak said...

In this case those kiasus actually kiasi.

tokasid said...

Salam Pak MS:

Brader!! Aku tabik spring toing!toing!toing! kat hang.

1- This posting is,like pak Zawi said, very educational. I never knew rig crews had to undergo such rigorous trainings. I thought they just fly to the rigs and korek what ever they are suppose to korek.
On this nte, I am not qualified to be a rig crew member for:- I am not from the duyong or fishes species nor am I from the species of pelampungs.
2- I am claustrophobic. Can not tahan gayat la bro.

2- You know those kiasus down south will pandang lekeh towards you bcoz you are a Malaysian and a Malay Muslim at that. But actually its bcoz you are slightly oversized.LOL!
But in your own way you proved something to them. That deserves a tabik spring.

3-You represent Perak(?) for national meets? WOW! Thats cool bro( okay I know the pools are cold during those meets). But that Bronze medal training, at night with fully clothed I can imagine its difficult. But for a non-swimmer like me, anything that had to do with pool or river or lake or the sea IS difficult.

I wish I know how to swim. There are times I felt jealous to those ducks quacking off while the swim in the lake some water containment.

TQ bro. Bagus bangat entri ini pak.

Kerp (Ph.D) said...

ok shah beats me to it but i'm expressing it anyway...wow.

its that difficult to be a qualified oil-rigger huh? and i thought life off-shore is hard enough especially being away from home and loved ones, favorite past times, social life etc...i guess one needs to be strong physically as well as mental and emotionally.

*blow-up dolls can be useful especially being away for more than 6 long weeks. kahkahh...

The Ancient Mariner said...

Very good read Mat. Good to know you whupped the kiasus.

Blow up dolls? During my time we make do with plenty of cold showers ...

Zabs said...

Salam MS:
Nothing beats experience lah kan MS.
Ada ramai kawan surveyor yang selalu pergi buat kerja di rig dan cerita pasal nak dapat sijil safety dan sebagainya tu, untuk pergi ke platform, walaupun nak kerja dua hari je disitu. Kerana sijil tu boleh tahan 3 tahun, takpalh mungkin ada kerja lain lagi selepas itu.

Mat Salo said...

Bang Zawi: Thanks for the accolades. Actually it isn't as tough as I made it bang... exeggerate kot? But always nice to one or even two up a Singie!

Bro Shah: Apa ni banyak-banyak 'word'? Ha-ha, I would use the smaller 'wow'-uncaps. To me pretty mundane but safety hazards are real. So x leh complacent. Yes, I've read DocTA's comment. X sempat nak minta laluan lg.. Intrnret buat hal.

E: Actually you x leh float no worries. Being a swimmer is NOT a prerequisite sebab ada lifejacket. But to be submerged underwater for 10-20 secs is scary for non-swimmers. Thank you for wishing me protection by THE ONE! I need it and so do you and the rest of us...

Chegu: Memang sah laa depa kiasi. Tapi orang kita pon dah banyak terikut naa?

Doc TA: Terima Kasih hang ingat entri ni baguih. Comment hang lagi baguih.. because it helps me to CONtinue to con my readers.. he.. Eh hang claustrophobic and gayat ke? What next? Takut tengok darah ke? Doctah where caaaan. Betoi tu I sampai state level. But no fair laa, braper skolah je yang ada pool? In a world of blind people, the one-eyed man would be king! But seriously Doc, suruh anak hamng blajaq brenang. It would come handy one day.. Just like being a doctah kot? It's a profession that my dear father wouuld like me to have become. It would me him proud. Lucky my sis baru grad IMU this past July... :)

Kerpie: Ish, ish, ish.. In the past ada gak mat saleh gila2 dulu bawak. But these days not politically correct laa.. or izit sexually correct?

Bang Cap AM: Cold Shower? I think you guys had it worse. Seamen lagi haru. The most I ever been on a rig without once stepping ashore is 7 weeks. You guys go waaay longer than that. But at least you have someone at every port waiting for you, eh? :)

Pak Zabs: Ini sijil-sijil and where you get the sijil from is sometimes a scam job laa Bang. Take Total the client I work for here in Indo. These guys only recognize the local safety courses which is far inferior to the one in SG. But ada orang nak cari makan. Plus companies don't mind it since it's cheaper. Win-win laa konon. Same story with medical certification too..

jaflam said...

MS, it’s a great sharing session on life on the rig with your cyber friends.At least now they are clearer on the prospecting of black gold from the swamp and the kind of Indiana Jones needed for the exploration.

As for me I will opt for “ mendulang emas at pantai Mersing” easier and vogue.

elviza said...


This is what I have been waiting for!!!!!

Well dang MS! Oh well, what the heck, 'Clap clap clap! (standing ovation).

I found it difficult to find my equalibrium after reading this post. Not to mention I gawped endlessly at your courage and determination.

Man... I can only swim for a few laps in a pool. Never in an open sea. Tried snorkelling a few times - nah! aint really my scenes.

And you meant to tell me you are licensed to save lives underwater? Wow!(my eyes are currently bulging out of its sockets).

Great piece MS. Proud of you.

Mat Salo said...

Cap Jaflam (not the ancient mariner-type): Ha-ha, 'mendulang emas di pantai mersing'? I like that. The kind of 'Indiana-Jones breed' in this politically-correct world we live in is indeed becoming rare, and perhaps just as well.. Oil is running out anyway.

Elviza: Was wondering when you were coming.. Mmmm don't lar get bugged eyes and the over-the-top accolades.. he.. Sometimes I think it's all semi-autobiographical FICTION anyway. All writers are liars, kan kan kan? But thanks, anything from you means helluva lot to me Sistah!

Anonymous said...

all this stories bout u getting certifiedlaa one up over d singalaa r just xcuses for not writting d real advencha, come on man!
ABGees, close encounters wiv ance, top heavy samba assistant that wud blow d pages.

p/s waiz nxt wk tuesday if u kenmekit.

Mat Bangkai said...

I've always suspected that fighter pilots (doesn't include fighter pilot wannabes like me) walked around believing that they had 12 inch dicks. Glad you showed them that yours is at least 13 inches!

Bravo, bro!

Raden Galoh said...

Splendid piece bro..Mananye rambling yang you mentionedtuh? Takde wehh...

First ingatkan nak join Daphne...tp bila baca seterusnya kita ni gayat...gayat sume (tp dok dlm plane takpe lak hehehe) but surely dlm heli...aiiiiyyyoooo... and kenangkan rig tu sure ataih ayer and kita hanya tau 'float' je...alamak...ngerinya...

but i terasa the journey bilaread this entry... thank you.

zorro said...

Swampman, I am green with jealousy. You do the adventure stuff whilst back home here we are buffeted by gargoyles who just think of saving their asses by lobbing tear gas and water canons. That is more kiasu than citizens of the little dot. No?
However, that piece was an intellectual treat, swampy. I am beginning to be convinced that swamp life becomes you. Until I knock a few splashes with you, whip those asses who think that one-up-manship is the order of the day. Sending a glass of "slippery teats" my very own cocktail concotion, to you on cyberspace.

Rita Ho said...

An excellent read, MS. So well written. I felt like I was right there watching you. I am going to send my writing course participants to your blog. :)

Daphne Ling said...

Hi Abang Mat,

Haih...Why didn't you tell me I was the 'star' of your piece?


I can't swim lar brader...I can tenggelam very well though, so I will make an excellent person to go scuba-diving!

And yeah, looks like I will never get to go visit you lar...Haih...


As for the rigorous-vigorous medical test, sure die one...I am no fit person either!

I feel sooo sad now...Useless also...

Mat Salo said...

zenon the anon: I believe you haven't used the nick 'xenon' yet. x b4 y, y not? Wacha mean advencha with 'top heavy samba asses' and ABGees? Is tha latter a Bee Gees tribute band. OK so u wanna me stop pussyfootin' around and come out with the real goodies, eh? Look, I'm tryin' my damnest to keep my PG-suggested rating here. If I do like u say then maybe an X would be too soft.. godeng!

Mat B: (twin sons of different muthas to Mat S). Apparently I fell in to the spam scam that deluged my yahoo inbox which others simply thrashed. You know the one.. 'extension' this n' that. They promised me more than that, if anything it's getting less. Should I sue them? Well, you're a lawyer aincha?

Samsom (MH) and De-li-laa: Takdelaa ngeri semana.. but one of the sea survival training is to jump off a height off around 15 kaki masuk air. Haa some people gayat. Including me!

Unker Zorro: Was that a faux pas? You meant "slippery treat's" not slippery teats" right? But are tits slippery? But anyway it's the thought that counts.. What! You green with envy? Hey man I missed it all - first BERSIH then Hindraf --being lobbied by tear gas and all that. Damn. Makes MY job to be a walk in the park (not that it's not).

Rita Ho: So soon already? I Pls go easy on that ankle y'hear? Altho' I'm flatterred, err you sure you want to send this to your writing course participants? Wow! Did I hear that right? OK you can. Only to show what shoddy piece it is of a lazy writer who can't marshall his thoughts and a perfect example of a story without a head, body and tail. But seriously? Thanks.

Daphne! Sis, what is that I hear? Sure you can go. What I described in the story was just kiasu me trying to beat the kiasus at their own game in Singapore. The one in KL (in Ampang) is a million times tamer ko tak how to cari makan? In fact, ability to swim IS NOT a pre-requisite sebab goit life jacket maa.. And oh, the STAR of my piece, apa ni you kan medical personnel.. MUST be fit laa. Must set good examper, right?

What laa you say you useless laidat? I'm sure all that have been touched by you once will vehemantly disagree. You are the other most useful person besides Pi Bani that I know. Me, when it comes to social work or empathising with other people - hampeh!

J.T. said...

Hi Mat Salo

Great piece you have here. I felt like I was there.

I did not know that you had to pretend to do mouth-to-mouth. I thought back in those days (you know, like three decades ago), course participants had to go through the real thing - lock lips to give the breath of life. :)
I remember a classmate of mine (in 1984), who was training for her Queen Guide badge, had to give her partner mouth to mouth when they were in life-saving classes. She will never forget her 'first kiss with a girl".
Another example is my instructor for First Aid and CPR. He said when he went through his course (something to do with the sea - forgot already lah), his friends and him quickly paired up with women (not many in the class) so that they will not end up with other men as partners.

In any case, you showed those kiasu fellas huh? Some are just to gungho about their status that they are always waiting to outdo the next person. Then again, I think that is a natural thing in men - competition. :)

Pi Bani said...

Waaah... so you very the terrorlah bab swimming ni eh? Like Daph, I am totally useless when it comes to swimming though I'd make a very good victim! Ni jenis kalau masuk pool, just stay at the kiddies pool under the pretext of looking after the kids lah... :)

Zabs said...

Salam lagi MS,
Mendulang emas di Mersing seperti kata Jaflam tu real ma,..Lawat blog saya untuk ceita sikit.

Mat Salo said...

JT: Maaan, how I wish we could partner with women when doing this St. John's Ambulance CPR shit. Sure beats with a guy with buck tooth and a bad case of halitosis, eh? No laa no need to 'lip-lock' but close. Close enough to see that the dude's got chicken stuck in his teeth... Aaaargh! But I suppose in a real world got to ignore all that. But I've been wondering, why is it ok for gals to kiss? Don't wanna sound homophobic, but guys? Gross... even if it's make-believe.

Pi... nowadays when I'm in the pool with my kids I make sure I'm at the deep end and the're in floats. Why? Err, apparently since I hit the magic forties, not only am I getting thick in the middle but also the upper extremeties I've been told, have put some women to shame. So I'm ashamed too. SO how was world's AIDS day?

Pak Zabs: Will be dropping by soon!

BaitiBadarudin said...

and I thot I'm the only lady who can't swim.
welcome to the club, daph n pi.

Mat Salo said...

Queen Bee.. it's not too late. It's really fun and perhaps go well in reviewing five-star hotel pools, eh?

galadriel said...

$#$&*&$&##@ !!

I hate you. Your exploits make me wish i was a jantan. Then can go everywhere, can do lots more things without my mom yelling "behave like a girl!!"

but then if i was a jantan i wudn't have a superhero jantan in my life eh MatSalo? *wink wink*

Mat Salo said...

Galadriel.. Believe me, jadi jantan ni tak guna. High-risk lah. That's why women outlive men.

No need superhero jantans laa. Best consign them to Tolkien novels and comic books laa. I consider myself a 'real man', but 99.999 percent of the time it only gets me into trouble.