Atchafalaya Swamp

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bapa Borek Anak Tak Rintek Ke?


It's not time
To make a change
Just relax, take it easy
Youre still young, thats your fault
There's so much
you have to know
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want
you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.

I was once like you are now,
and I know that it's not easy
To be calm when youve found
Something going on
But take your time,
Think a lot
Think of everything you've got
For you will still be here tomorrow,
But your dreams may not


How can I try to explain
When I do he turns away again.
Its always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen
Now theres a way
and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go...

©Cat Stevens, 1970 Tea for The Tillerman

I had to quickly rush this weeks edition into the blogsphere. A serious piece for a change, a little to let you delve into the irreverent psyche of Mat Salo.

The reason for the rush is that in a day or two I would meet my father out in the boondocks of Eastern Borneo. Yes, you heard that right, Father is in town.

It’s a story of fate, of coincidence, of Father and Son.

Read on, contemplate, but I think it might leave you a bad taste in the mouth, or at the very least, scratching your head.

I was inspired in part by Captain Pandi in his recent blog, and more recently by Kickdefella’s The Long Walk with Bah Part I, and Part Finale (apparently there isn't a Part II) which appeared in RPK’s Malaysia Today. Blogger extraordinaire Kickdefella, the famous screenwriter and filmmaker, is interestingly also Nik Aziz’s grand-nephew something-or-other.

The Rig Life saga ends at the bottom with some pictures meant to be included in last week’s edition. I hope to dispel the myth of some say the ‘glamorous’ off-shore environment, because after all, Rig Life to me is nothing more like your affairs (no pun here) at the office, but minus the office girls with the low-cut blouse and subtle display of flesh.

Now for the story.

Father & Son

The shrill of the hand phone woke me from my slumber.

It wasn’t a call, but the familiar tone of the Nokia SMS beep.

I had just gone to bed, forgetting to brush my teeth even, exhausted from the day’s activities. The spate of tool failures didn’t help either. I pulled the Nokia from its perch above my cabin reading light (the Nokia also doubled as an alarm clock), and felt that faint stab in my heart, expecting some less-than-favorable news.

Hesitant, I stabbed the buttons and the backlit came on. It was an unfamiliar number.

It was Father, saying he was in Jakarta and on his way to Balikpapan. Surprise, surprise - I was mmediately I jerked out of my reverie. I went out to rear deck, smoked a Dunhill, and flicked the half-finished cigarrette into the Mahakam Delta. I couldn't think of a suitable response to sms back, and with that I plopped back into bed.

Although Balikpapan is a mere four hours away by boat and car from the rig, obviously I just couldn’t forsake my workplace and just leave could I? I had a hole to drill.

Father was to arrive on the noon Garuda flight. I called him the following morning to apologize for not being able to meet him at the airport, but if he’d be around for a few days, I might able to squeeze-in a day in town. He said a car’s meeting him and will take him up north to Samarinda and beyond to a place called Sangeta in Kutai Timur. He explained that Uncle Bok, a crony of his from his planters' days with Harrisons & Crossfields and operating a thriving Oil Palm Agro-Consultancy in Jakarta, had his house in Pulo Mas submerged from the recent Jakarta floods.

Presumably Uncle Bok was busy salvaging personal belongings thus contracting the work out to Father, a valuation for an interested buyer on his behalf. It would take at least a couple of days he added, and I mentally tried to factor-in how long before I can leave the rig, which is just days away too. If I'm lucky and pending no more tool failures, Father and Son might just be able to have a reunion.

Samarinda is the seat of the East Kalimantan province and is at least two hours by car from Balikpapan. I have not been there myself, although my passport has - because Samarinda is where my Residency Permit gets endorsed. But now is a good time as any but the opportunity to do so is pretty damn thin. Father also said something about a possible six-hour boat ride from Kutai Timur, so he needs to travel at least a day prior to make his flight back in time from Balikpapan. Ironically, Samarinda being the seat of government has only a small municipal airstrip while Balikpapan has a nice international airport that can land any wide bodied jets short of Jumbos. Thanks to the Black Gold of course.

Hmmm… to find father and son in the same locale, out in the boondocks of Borneo. So why the fuss about a first-born son wanting to rendezvous with his father? I can always see him whenever I go home to Malaysia can’t I? Back in Malaysia, Father’s house is but a fifteen minute drive away.

The answer isn’t quite so simple.

The truth is I never get to see him at all, both by force of circumstance and by design. I might see him two or three times a year – tops – and if I do, it’s mostly behind my mother’s back (you can already guess that they are ‘separated’, but by a quirk in Moslem Family Law, they’re not divorced – the Malays have a term for it – gantung tak bertali).

It pains me to tell you this -because- Father and Son, are estranged.

And that’s also why, if you give me a guitar – anytime anyplace - I can immediately play Yusuf Islam’s classic seventies hit of that name, and never forget a single verse. And that’s why my heartstrings get tugged each time I hear that Mike & The Mechanics’ tune, The Living Years.

It is not my intention to disparage Father at all, because it has been close to thirty years since he took on a second wife. Which is quite alright, many people do I suppose, but in his case he hasn’t been to see Mother for quite some years already. And this is where our views start to diverge.

In the early days there was some ‘rotation’ between Mother's and the Other House, but almost imperceptibly it got less and less, when finally, after my youngest brother (thus all four siblings dah lepas) got hitched, the ‘rotation’ ceased altogether. Oh, the children are welcome to visit him ‘over there’, but who dares break a mother’s heart?

Now this situation makes it doubly bad for me, because I am the first-born, the Keeper of The Flame so to speak. I have an obligation, not from religious point of view - but to my mind, a moral one - to keep both my parents happy. The bridge has long ago burned, and they are going on in years. Father is in his early seventies but still has a strong ticker, working to raise his other children. Of which he has two, a girl (my sister for cryin’ out loud) who is in the final year of medical school in IMU, and the boy in faraway Portland, Oregon.

What else had contributed to the divide?

Father’s sore point with me was my refusal to underwrite my half-sibling’s college bills, simply because he had ceased to support Mother for many years already. My own youngest sibling was still in college then, and I have a family to support. Even if I had wanted to help, and if Mother ever found out, then without a doubt, Hell is a place I shall burn forever.

My sore point with him was he had mortgaged the roof over Mother’s head – reneging an earlier deal to turn the family house over to my siblings and I so Mother has at least something to show for in fifty years of marriage. To Mother’s consternation he had mortgaged the house to finance the other half’s children to college. Now if you were my mother, how would you feel? Why not mortgage the other house for God’s sake? It’s HER children after all – is Mother’s way of thinking.

Really, can you blame her?

Even with his probable good intention of paying back the loan, time is not on Father’s side. He has no proper income except doing piecemeal contract work. I suspect the Bank will foreclose on the house anytime soon, thus Mother will be forced to shuttle between my sister and I. Of course we’d take her in, but to see her broken by circumstances like this? Well, that would be too much to bear.

The sad part is I had seen all this coming. I had even tried to do something about it. Some years ago I made motions by contacting a high-powered divorce lawyer and tried to convince Mother that divorce is the best option for asset protection. Try as I may, Mother would have none of it!

What? To be called a janda? Meruntuhkan Masjid? How I dare propose such a thing?

Ironically, now she would probably be left with nothing. And - under Syaria’ law, if Mother ‘goes’ first, her assets, like her kampong house in the village for instance, will go to Father to do as he pleases. Not only has Father not left her anything, but potentially all her own legacy can go to her ‘rival’.

You can imagine how all this hangs over her head.

He had just arrived and messaged me from a small hotel in town and was waiting for the agent to arrange a car to go north. I immediately called to apologize for not being able to meet him, to which he said was alright, we can meet in Malaysia. No, it's not alright, if he only knew how important it was for us to meet.

Because I see this as the perfect chance for a heart-to-heart.

Back in Malaysia it’s impossible to have an opportunity like this, since the only way to see him is at The Other House, and any heart-to-heart there is a near-impossibility, especially with stepmother hovering in the background.

It’s quite strange that fate had brought us both here, within striking distance, but in all probability there’s nothing I can do. So the conversation that I’ve been rehearsing for the last few years will probably have to wait.

Pray, tell, but who knows for how long?


N.B. Although estranged, both Father and Son are actually on very good terms. If not for the -uh - slightly less than desirable situation as pertains to Mother, we could've been best of friends.

Many who have met him found him to be easy-going and friendly. Make no mistake, I do love Father, as with love, sometimes one has trouble seeing the other person's views. My maternal grandmother once quipped that she regretted not giving me a tindeh telinga soon after I was born because Father and I are so physically alike. It's an old wives tale about likes repel and opposites attract that kind of thing, and in my case it's quite true because we never saw eye-to-eye on anything.

* * *

Right. Now to back Rig Life.

The galley where our meals are served.

In the last edition, some were wondering what my failed tool looked like. Well, wonder no more.

© 2007 matsalo images. No Unauthorized Reproduction. The Canon Powershot Digital Ixus 850 (SD 800) was used exclusively for the images above.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Something Mundane (As The Workplace)

Back To The Grind

First off, today is CNY ushering in the year of the Pig/Hog/Babi, so I'd like to wish my dear Chinese friends an enjoyable Yee Sang with your loved ones. I'm old school, so Kong Hee Fatt Choy -lah!

What's interesting is the near-unanimous predictions from all the feng shui masters that the coming pig year will be - how can I say it gently? - full of DISASTERS. No need to expound further because we all know the calamities that have befallen the region recently.

0600hr. Start of the 2 hr plus trip from Base to the client's jetty in Handil. Cars undergoing pre-checks. Remember, employees are the greatest ass-ets!

Personally I had a disastrous week too. I had a tool fail on me while drilling yesterday, and my boss is going nuts because there's already been THREE downhole tool failures since the start of the month (that's just three weeks ago mind you). Each failure cost my company a hefty 'penalty' so you can bet there's no black ink in the books this February. Coincidence?

Ready to roll...leaving the Base

I also had to leave my new toy at home, the Nikon D40, because the missus is having so much fun taking cute photos of our only daughter,so I brought along my trusty Canon Ixus 850 Compact. So many people out there has strange misconceptions about the oil field, especially in a place like Balikpapan, where drilling happens on the swamps between land and sea. It's really quite mundane, far from glamorous.

Street Scenes en route

At the client's jetty in Handil - waiting to board our boat for another two hour journey thru' the great Mahakam Delta. Notice the sign that says "Beware of Crocodile"!

Notice my boat driver with something lit in his fingers. In direct violation of company rules! Don't worry, I lighted up too...

On arrival at the Rig Raisis, which isn't my regular place - that would be the Yani - but glad to be here anyway since the Senior Toolpusher is an old friend whom I've not seen in years. BTW he hails from Mukah, Sarawak. So we're the only sole two subjects of Bolehland on the rig. I arrived in that little green boat.

Dawn breaking over the Heli-Deck. Rig Floor as seen from Heli-Deck (where I chiefly do my business, which is to dig holes - what else!)

That little cabin you see on the left of the Main Deck is where I post my blog from.

In my work cabin with a colleague

Rig Floor - making a pipe connection, BTW this was right around the time when the tool failed!

My day having ended, so it's time to hit that bottom right bunk...

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Mat Salo The Closet Kiasulander

The (In) Elegant Solution

Folks, just got back from Kiasuland over the weekend for my annual southern pilgrimage. You know, just to see how our neighbor is doing. Usually I like to go during the first part of the year to -ahem - feel the crisp Sing Notes in my hands, whose value I might add, has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. We are of course comparing Sing's currency to Bolehlander's.

To those born after 1980 would find it hard to believe that somewhere in the past, Malaysian and Singapore currencies were once "one-to-one". So WHAT happened? Dunno, ask the Meshian gomen lah!

So what has all this to do with The Inelegant Solution? This was Mat Salo's half-past-six cum half-assed attempt to put the PS2 game thing in the family car. It's a bit too much to call it a success, but goddang, it worked.

For quite sometime now my two boys have been hounding me to install the PS2 game machine in the car, especially for long-distance travel. Being the cheapskate I am, I hastily spent the afternoon the day before we left cobbling a 'D-I-Y' solution.

The Elegant Solution would have meant spending a couple of grand to have a professional install a fold-down LCD screen on the roof or behind the headrest. This would entail drlling holes in the roof, or seat, which also meant the screen is more or less permanently attached to the vehicle. Hmm...this would not bode well if I were to lose my job and have to sell the car. So ditch that.

So I chose the el-cheapo option, which is to procure a Personal DVD Player. These are quite cheap these days, especially the Made In China variety. Most important, the player must be able to accept an external video input, or else how do you output the PS2's signal to the portable's LCD screen? I found mine at the friendly neighborhood Seng Heng store which set me back 600 Boleh Dollars for the 7 incher.

If you look closely you can see the Input/Output switch. You set to 'Output' if you want to watch DVD's from the portable of course.

Then you would also need a DC-DC (12 V - 8.5V) converter from for the PS2. You can get it (thanks for the tip, Dee) at most game stores for around 80 - 90 Boleh Dollars. Fortunately my portable DVD player also came with the required car cigarette adapter. The portable also has a Ni-MH rechargeable battery like laptops for a good 2-3 hour run, but why bother? Since my car (like most cars - unless you happen to have a big fancy MPV like Volvo's XC 90 which has adapters all over the place for the mini fridge, hair dryer what-not - in which case you could definitely afford a pro installer) has only one cigarrete lightler outlet, I had to run to the store again to get a cigarrette lighter adapter/splitter.

All the required accesories are pictured below.

The good thing about the Inelegant Solution is you can yank it out of the car at the end of the trip so you or your kids can happily twiddle your fingers in the comfort of the hotel room. Bless the Chinese manufacturer, the 'Airis' brand player also comes with a carry case which pleased the missus to no end. No unsightly cables and adapters, which is a definite plus for matrimonial harmony.

Any caveats? Yes. This Inelegant Solution only applies to the '2nd' Generation PS 2's, i.e. the slim one, not the 'big' original model. For that you need an inverter to run 240 V AC current in your car. I'm a bit unconfortable with that. What if you get in a crash, can you imagine some wires somewhere touching the mangled steel chasis of your vehicle? Carrying live 240 Volts ALTERNATING CURRENT? Yikes!

Vista's Kiasuland Launch

I also chanced upon the much-hyped Window's Vista launch at Funan DigiMall near our hotel. The theme was 'Wow', as printed on the back of the black MS's T-shirts that the models wore.

Quite impressive, but pretty much ho-hum for Mac users I guess. Just another Win-Tel scheme to keep us 'under their thumb' in perpetuity. Oh, so now we have to go out and buy a new machine?

Zam-Zam Ala-Ka-Zam!!!

Some images of you-now-where lah: Near Arab Street.

You would also probably guess what restautant sits at far end of the photo. Hint: the Murtabak there is simply divine!

The Toni-fication of the Malay/Arab/Mamak/Indian Quarter: (Also near Arab Street)

Gotta have a nite scene somewhere...

All photos (c) 2007 madsalos.com. No unathourized reproduction.