Late nights

June 10, 2011

Again I find myself in an empty room, way past midnight, supervising unfinished work.  This time it is in the office of a subcontractor in Prai, Penang.  The system which we commissioned had too many non-conformities, and the documentation trail reeked of material which were either difficult or plain untracable. I am now working with these guys to rectify these problems, all in time for my client’s inspection rep tomorrow morning at 9.

But today I learnt integrity, that some work cannot and should not be compromised, the real meaning & the personfication of “maintaining high standards” is a relentless pursuit of excellence.


When a multi million dollar petrochemical plant goes online, especially this one, where it’s 20 years old and lifecycles are being refreshed, new equipment going live for the very first time, it is important to do things right, and it is important to show the client that you are committed. 

My job is to look pretty, look involved in the proceedings, and sound smart when asked questions.  Having done that earlier this afternoon, I have to now get involved in the behind the scenes work – putting on fire retardant suits, helmets, safety shoes, ear plugs, and help with the job at hand with my staff.

Right now I’m in one of the water analysis labs.  I smell bad. I have an aching back.  And the most uncomfortable thing is that I have a single wet sock from stepping into a puddle.  And the prospect of sleeping on the cold, hard floor of the lab tonight.

Work in Terengganu

February 5, 2010

My company was just awarded a lucrative contract (I led the team), and to execute it, I have to be in terengganu for much of the beginning of the year, missing holidays & weekends. I stay in a rented apartment in Kuantan, the state capital of Pahang, by far the largest town on the eastern seaboard, which doesn’t mean much when the population is barely 500,000, though it hosts a couple of starbucks, a bowling alley, 2 hypermarkets and a golf course.

I learn to drive slow, running counter to my city-boy urges, getting stuck behind trucks & tankers, and kampong drivers with no urgency to get anywhere.  With the view this good, it’s more peaceful to just slow down and start enjoying the drive.  This contract covers 4 oil & gas plants, stretching from Gebeng, Pahang to Kemaman & Kertih, Terengganu.  From my apartment I head north to Gebeng in about 30 minutes, and kemanan, where my regional office is at, is a further 30 minutes, crossing the state line. Kertih would be another hour away. At most times the roads hug the coast, lined with coconut trees and sparsely populated villages, passing entrances to starred resorts where welcome drinks with little umbrellas & 2night/3day packages beckon. Stalls would sell dried seafood products, and roadside restaurant shacks are stocked with coconut juices and promises of eastern sea breezes. 

In addition to these 4 plants, we have existing business here in the east coast, and our entire staff + help from other branches + contract workers had to work 16, 20 hour days everyday, Patrick and I found ourselves yesterday having to fill in for some very labor intensive work, when no one else was available.  We donned fire-retardant suits, safety shoes, work aprons, chemical gloves, safety helmets & face shields in the hottest day of the year, moved 1.12 tons of chemicals by hand (in 20kg carboys), first from a warehouse to the base of a cooling tower, then moving the entire load up, and then pouring them in. 2 middle aged men, both senior managers, risking our backs and straining never before used muscles, making our contribution.

Postscript(next day): My entire body hurts like a muthafucker.

Quarterly meeting

June 11, 2009

Jean, with Kato and Roger in the background

Jean, with Kato and Roger in the background

Pretending to work
Pretending to work

Listed on the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges, my parent company’s shareholding profile is now almost 50% foreign (European/US).  As such, our reporting conforms to international accounting standards, audited half-yearly by KPMG. We conduct monthly, quarterly, half yearly meetings on forecasting and planning of our business activities, discuss economic & political situations, strategize and act on the directions we’d take.

I am enriched by these coffee-filled meetings in that I’m surrounded by experienced managers who are incisive and vocal, immersed in the feeling that everyone in the room possesses the drive to move the company forward.
Later, Karaoke!

Dear young engineer,

Rilke’s most important lesson to the young poet was to instill in him that the experiences that one would encounter in his long life, the things he sees, the emotions he feels, that transforms “into blood, into glance & gestures, until a moment in time when the first words spring forth and he is able to write ten good lines”.

The young engineer graduates into this world full of promise, but you are untested, maleable and easily swayed.  You are full of trepidation and hope, and I guarantee you will meet all the roadblocks, the doubts, the dissenters, the critics early in your career.  Do not give up.  Do not lose hope.  I will ensure that you carry the proper tools for you to survive in your blossoming career, but you shall graduate from my school with more than just that.  I shall nurture you in critical thinking, logic & rationality, time management, customer service & ethics.  You shall emerge stronger and more mature. Ultimately, you will be able to evaluate yourself; on the value you bring to your work, your company and to society at large, and judged by the person you will become. 

This shall be the first of a series of lectures on how to be an engineer.

I leave you with Rilke from Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge;

“For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents that one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and one did not grasp it (it was joy for someone else); to childhood illness that so strangely began with a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars-and it is not enough if one may think all of this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, one must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.”