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!