Thursday, June 20, 2019

TBT - Back to Sakhalin

After our first visit and the presentation of the proposal, the decision was made to keep a representative on the island to maintain the brand name. Back in 1991 there was no easy way to get into the former Soviet Union. We flew into Frankfurt where we could catch a Lufthansa flight to Moscow. Then we had to take an Aeroflot flight to Sakhalin. While in the business class lounge in Frankfurt, we stocked up on free snacks and small canned drinks as we knew they would be scarce in Russia. The Aeroflot flight was am IL 76, the Russian jumbo jet. All aircraft were designed to be used for troop transport and the seats we had were simple canvas which were about as comfortable as you can imagine. We had to stop for fuel on the way so we put down above the arctic circle. I think it was Dudinka. The temperature in early December was -40 (F or C, it makes no difference) and we had to deplane and walk to the terminal. The ground was covered in ice and my colleague and I decided to run and slide on the ice. We stopped after about two times because the cold air was burning our lungs.

Our objective in Sakhalin was to keep the brand name in front of the public so we carried a large amount of items with the company logo. We found that most people appreciated pens, office supplies and other giveaways. They simply were not available in the FSU. We also scouted the area for logistics and construction capabilities of the locals. We even did a couple of TV interviews. The local station was happy to interview the western oil people but you had to bring your own video tape and "donate" it to them.

One day we scouted out an abandoned ski slope and hotel above the city. Our idea was to use it as an overnight hotel and office for the construction. We were inundated with people wanting to work with the new oil folks. We had offers of free land for our plant location. We even had one offer of the use of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier for use in housing construction crews. It was difficult to tell which offers were legitimate and which were bogus but we listened to them all.

We were joined in the hotel by the folks from competing oil companies and we all gravitated together in camaraderie. We gave mutual support where we could and socialized in the evenings.

After the incident with a broken tooth, our medical department gave us small first aid kits which included hypodermic needles and prescription pain killers. The pain killers came in handy when one of the other oil guys had a toothache and I was able to share my codeine with him.

One night we were gathered in a room having a few beers when the phone rang. The guy answered it and then handed the phone to me. My wife was on the phone. She had heard on the news that Russia was running out of jet fuel and was worried that I would be able to get home. My son figured out to call the marine operator who then placed a radio call to the marine operator on Sakhalin who patched the call to the hotel who knew I was not in my room and connected the call. I think they were spying on us just a little.

When I was due to leave I showed up at the airport and was told I hadn't reconfirmed my reservation and I could not board. We started to complain with the theme that if they wanted western business they had to operate differently. The pilot overheard us and asked what was going on. When he was told he asked how many people wanted to go. We told him one. He looked at the agent and told him to let me board. Another indication of the paramilitary organization of the Russian air industry.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

TBT - Hiroshima

My first real job out of school was working for an offshore drilling contractor who was building a new drilling rig in Japan. I was hired to go to the shipyard and be one of the inspectors and owners reps. The rig was being built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard in Hiroshima.

I arrived there in early July, 1975 and settled in to my new surroundings. Therefore, I was in Hiroshima on the 30th anniversary of August 6, 1945. In Japan, they have the Obon festival which honors dead ancestors. In Hiroshima, they hold in on Aug 6.

Hiroshima means "Seven Islands". The city is literally made up if separate islands on a river delta. Peace Park is near the center of the city and one main branch of the river flows past it. The families would make paper lanterns which they lit with a candle and then floated them down the river. The sight of thousands of paper lanterns floating down stream was an astounding thing to see.

As I walked around, I noticed that I was the only foreigner, or gaijin, around. I didn't feel threatened although I did get a few dirty looks from some of the older folks. I also noticed that a policemen was always near by. I was never sure if he was there to watch me or protect me.

I lived there almost 2 years. When meeting people for the first time their question to me was "Iwakuni?" Iwakuni was the location of a Marine Air Base about 10 miles south. When I responded that I was an engineer at Mitsubishi they visibly relaxed. Towards the end of my expat stay the local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carps, hired a couple of American players. I was always being asked if I was "Hopkins". I could have had a lot of free drinks, but I didn't take advantage.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Chernobyl Pictures

One of my side bar people posted a link to this site. It is a collection of photographs taken inside the exclusion zone. Fascinating viewing for those who enjoy ghost towns. Go to Chernobyl Gallery.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

TBT - Russia (con't)

So we arrived in Yusno Sakhalinsk, the capital city of Sakhalin Island. Ithad been part of Japan prior to WW 2. We arrived at the hotel and checked into rooms that I describe as one step above camping and that cost $200/night. There were no credit cards in Russia, so we all carried about $9000 in cash in money belts to be able to pay for our visit. As long as we didn't carry  more than $10,000 we didn't have to declare it.

We all had jet lag so we headed out to explore the town. Before long we smelled a familiar We followed it to a brewery where some people were lined up with containers. Provide a container and they would fill it with beer. The brewery had a small room where we drank green beer and ate sausages.

Most of our time was taken up with visits to "schmooze" the local politicos and then revise our proposal to include whatever extra they wanted to include in the proposal. They wanted everything - roads, schools, medical facilities. They had rich western oil companies and they were determined to maximize what they could get. Such is the nature of  "scope creep".

We found out that the local facilities were dismal. We learned that medical care was minimal. One of the Corporate VPs, head of the medical department, broke a tooth when eating some mystery meat at the restaurant. He had to suffer until he got home. People were so poor, that military men would sell parts of the uniforms and insignia for dollars. Department store shelves were empty. All the result of 70 years of central planning. Russia was seen as a developed country but back then they were just emerging from the third world in reality.

One night, our project leader was invited to a night out with local businessmen and politicos. He didn't want to go alone so he volunteered me to go along. Turns out, it was a night at the sauna followed by vodka shots and sausage. It was a room full of middle aged men in togas doing shooters. But it's what one has to do to build relationships. We staggered back to the hotel.

Book Review - Midnight in Chernobyl

Watching the HBO series made me want to know more and this seemed to be one of the more recent summaries of the disaster. The author goes into tremendous detail about the accident and the response by the government. However, that detail does not result in a boring read. Indeed, you get an insight into the design and operation of nuclear reactors as well as a peek at the Soviet system prior to collapse. Highly recommended reading for those with a scientific bent and interest in the accident.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Head Count

Saudi Arabia beheaded two criminals last month bringing their year to date total to 107.