Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Bye, bye, 2009!

(Deep breath) Hello again!  Where shall I begin this one?!

So I last wrote about leaving Medan and heading towards the promised land of Phuket.  That happened, and it happened in style, but the journey back to my new 'home' was somewhat of a testing time.  All shall be revealed.

Ok, so I got all excited at the prospect of spending a week on my own.  I like everyone I have been living with the past month and a half, but the transition back into Uni-style housing was taking its toll.  Having to either live with other peoples mess or clean it up myself was getting to be a pain in the preverbial.  So I packed my 17kg life into my sisters ever-beaten-up rucksack and made my way through the red-tape of an Indonesian airport, paid my taxes and boarded my Air-Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL).  My base manager just happened to be on the same flight so we had a good old discussion about the previous nights antics.  That involved the girl who was on my course getting extreemly battered on Gin and Tonic and pretend that she was a pool-queen, nearly taking a lot of eyes out with each shot that went skywards.  I was significantly sober I might add at this point as in my previous growing-up experiences I have found that a night of drinking followed by a day of flying (as a passenger!) is not a good mix.  Anyway, I forgot that I had asked her to hide my passport (Immigration have a habit of removing them for inspection at the moment and I really couldn't risk that!).  At 4am and whilst packing my bag I remembered that she had it.  Oops.  Ok so the passed out girl had locked her door, was unwakable through knocking and the only option was to break in.  I did so, found her fully clothed and sitting in a chair, dribbling.  Nice.  I eventually woke her up and tried to find out where my passport was but all she wanted to do was "go to a restaurant and eat Frosties".  Oh dear.  I got her the Frosties box on the side of her room and hey-presto, there was my passport!  Hoorah, some coded message there I'm sure!  I placed her on her bed and resumed my packing.  Drama averted.

Anyway, I got to my first stop, KL, wandered around the city a bit and went to a mall (Standard Op's in KL).  I bought myself a webcam and a couple of other bits before heading back to the airport, finally Phuket bound.  The flight was uneventful, although a little delayed due to the downpour just before boarding, and although full of English people, wasn't too rowdy.  Good.  It was perfect right up until the point that I was the last person hanging around the luggage conveyor-belt at the other end looking like a lost sheep.  Oh no..  Oh yes, they had lost my bag.  Now I had a driver waiting outside and no-body to help me sort out my problem.  Long-story-short, they had posted it off to somewhere in Australia and it wouldn't be back until the next day.  Ok, no problem.  I got the the hotel and passed out through tiredness.

Bag arrived late next morning and all was well again.  I stopped stinking and changed my clothes, brushed my teeth and headed to the beach.  Finally I was able to stop, take a look at my new life and realise that it really isn't that bad at all!  Up to this point it had been filled with non-stop training, relocating and the general mountain of things that not only come with starting a new job but also learning to live in a completely different country.  And boy does this country take some getting used to!  Thailand was as I left it last time, a lot more open to westerners, a lot eager to steal my '10 dollar' and full of expats on holiday.  I met up with a couple of Aussie guys from my hotel and hit the town - hard.  There are lots of photos, but unfortunately not on my camera as that mysteriously flew threw the air whilst in mid-shot and did what all of my other cameras have done and parted company with me.  Needless to say it was a lot of fun and my Christmas hat, after being filled with tissue paper, made me stand out like some gigantic Santa-Gnome :)  You know me.  Oh, I also lost my phone - good night huh!

But yeah, life is good.  My schedule works, mostly, like this.  I work 4 hours a day, for 6 days.  Then I get a day off.  After 3 of these rostas I get a week off.  Then to top it all off, that is not even holiday, it's just accumilated days off..  So I basically work 72 hours a month.  What 40 hour weeks was I doing before?!  As a visa requirement I am also required to leave the country every 60 days, paid for by the company - so I plan to see a few of the Asian hot spots while I'm bumming around this part of the world.

Ok, I'm not earning the millions of pounds I was hoping for, but the lifestyle more than makes up for it.. If only I could convince Natwest to call it even life would be sweet :)

So then, after a really good week of catching up with myself and taking a short step back to look at things I was about to endure the 2 day trip to the new base.  Hmmm.  Easy as A, B, C?  No, I didn't think so.  The flight from Phuket was fine, the short stop-over in KL allowed me to replace my camera with a super-duper-never-to-see-a-nightclub one.  KL, another downpour, another delay.  Arriving in Jakarta at 11pm with no phone and no company driver to pick me up I hailed a taxi.  Hmmm..  He got lost despite me giving him the address and having it confirmed by his boss at the taxi-rank.  Anyhow, he tried taking me to some part of this Mega-City I have never seen before.  Argh.  In my very broken Bahasa-Indonesian I managed to explain to him that he was the worst taxi-driver in living history and that the address I gave him was the other side of the city.  After 2 and a half hours of sitting in this stinking car he finally made it.  In total it cost me £8, which the company will pay for, but that's not the point!  Then, to top it all off the company house was full up.  Some guy had missed his outward flight and stayed in what was supposed to be my room.  So I sat up until 4am playing with my new camera, writing some of this and generally being the most bored and angry man in the world.  4am came, driver came, Kris was airport bound again and heading to Borneo.  Phew. (I have dumbed this down a bit, there weere so many crap things that happened but all the small things would seem insignificant unless you were there - and I wish at least one of you was!)

Well I am now in a place called Balikpapan, as mentioned, and this little place is located in the South-East of Borneo, on the Indo side.  However, I am not there at the moment as part of the duties are to do what are called 'tours'.  We spend 5 days flying around the country picking things and people up and dropping them off.  Usual stuff really.  However this means I am about to spend my first New Years Eve in a 'dry' city!  Muslims, you may recall, do not do alcohol (Robin excluded), and as I am living on the footstep of a Mosque in a town where 99.9999% of folk are of that faith, (Me and my friend are the other 0.0001%!), it seems highly unlikely that a beer will be on the menu anywhere close.

Never mind eh.

Ok, so not too many pictures this time as the death of my camera came at a very inconvienient moment, but my new one has had an outing and managed to capture my new pet.  His name is Gregory the Grasshopper.

For those who I wont get to speak to, have a great new year and think of me as you sip that first beer.  If you are even able to think by midnight, then I will already be 9 hours into 2010...!  Enjoy and I will see you in 2010 - maybe!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Last week in Medan.

So then, I have nearly finished with my first base which is/was in Medan.  For those of you who still have no idea where I am then this link will show you...

Medan - Sumatra.

We have been staying in a gated (And guarded) community which is basically made up of expat Chinese folk..  Now they have not got a good reputation here and as a result there are apparently riots quite often where the local Indo folk storm the place!  As a result there is a rather huge flame-thrower (Yes, a gun which fires flames) that sits quite proudly at the entrance.  It was used in anger back in the 90's apparently and ever since the riots have been a lot quiter!  Still, I'm glad to be moving on.  I will probably be back here at some stage as this is a very profitable base for the company and you get a lot of flying hours logged, very quickly.

So I've mentioned the Chinese and apart from them being very insular, they also have illusions of grandure.  This can be seen most evidently in their housing designs..!  I have included some pics of some below.  Massive doesn't even come into it.  They are only dwarfed by the ones that I have seen in Vegas (but I'm sure those ones were made out of plastic anyway).  Seriously though, they are very much of the opinion that showing your wealth is a sign to others that boosts your status.  Inside the houses however you will find no-one, or at best a small Indonesian family sweeping the floors and washing the cars.  I don't actually get it!  Hardly any of these things seem to be occupied, but they still build more - each one bigger and grander than the last.  Sigh.  I think the fact that labour is so cheap here allows them to build a palace for the cost of a shed back home.

So then, my first base has been interesting.  I feel a lot more comfortable with the aircraft, the company and the lifestyle here so I suppose the next thing to do is find out what the next Island has to offer!  As mentioned it will be Borneo, but that's after a week in Phuket for Christmas.  Such a tough life this Piloting.

Some more pics below because I am fed up of writing!

Cheerio and "Merry Kris-tmas" to all of you.


Monday, 7 December 2009

A, B, C - Easy as Satu, Dua, Tiga...

Ok, so I am now flying on the line and part of my duty is to give the passenger brief whilst we are taxying, entering turbulence, coming into land and finally arriving at the terminal.. Sounds fine and I have no problem speaking in public - however, there is a catch.. I have to do it all in Indonesian! So after barely stepping foot in the country I am advising people on how to exit the aircraft during an emergency in what I can only really describe as my own special dialect of Indonesian.  So far so good though I have only heard a few chuckles from the back which means I'm not doing too bad :)

If you even attempt to speak the language here it really goes well for you though..  My vocab is slowly increasing and I can make sure Taxi's (Which really are the only real way of getting from one place to the other here) don't drive me down some random street in search of a freshly skewered rat kebab.. Phew.

Ok, let's talk about food..  One of my favourite topics, but to be quite frank, Indonesian cooking is even testing my hardened stomach.  Today for instance I ate something akin to KFS - Yeah, nearly KFC, but the S bit translates as 'Something'..  I shant even begin to imagine what it really is, but they really take literally the saying that 'everything tastes like Chicken' here!  Monkey anyone?!  No, I'm kiddding - I think/hope!  Generally it's not bad.. But ask too many questions and I think it'll turn you into a vegan.

Hard to explain this country.  I've been here a month now and although it still feels like a bit of a holiday, I am getting a bit of a life together.  There is a MASSIVE difference between rich and poor and while my complex is somewhat of a Chinese super compound, there are people practically living on the side of the road just outside the walls..  However, as I've found before in Thailand, those with the least tend to give you the most..  They never stop smiling and will always go out of their way to help you.

Here is a link to a page which on one hand is quite funny because it is actually true, but on the other is a sad reality of how things are here..

Plastic Fishing Woman

But here is the other side of things..  Where I might spend Christmas day infact!

After the Tsunami

So yeah, the job.  It's great, it really is. I get to see the whole of this country from above and see it in all its glory..  From mist covered mountains during the 6am flights, to blazing sunshine and tropical thunder storms in the afternoons..  Experience is what I was after and here I have definitely found it!

I'm of to Borneo at the end of this month and will be spending New Years Eve in the jungles of that particular Island! I never thought that one would happen thinking back to last years occasion!

I shall leave this now with a few pics of the scenery here in Medan... Enjoy.

Selamat Tingal.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Selamat Datang!

Hello chaps and chap-esses.. Sorry that this update has taken a long time but I have been a tad busy and things have been running typically 'Indo' smoothly.. Which is about as smooth as a cobbled road after a strength 9 earthquake..  you get my drift.

Ok, so after finishing training I was sent back up to Jakarta where I was to do another flight with a training captain before being assigned a base.  That flight didn't happen and I was duely sent to a city called Medan in the northern tip of Sumatra.  If you know your geography then travel East about 300 miles and you hit mainland Malaysia, or Singapore if you're slightly south!  So yeah, I'm basically on the Equator now which is nice.  It gets really hot, then it gets really cloudy and then it pours rain like you have never seen and then starts all over again..!  Predictable, but makes the flying interesting!  Which brings me onto my good news..  I have now flown a commercial flight, had 4 secotrs all with passengers on and can, for the first time, call myself a professional pilot and not have to preceed it with a 'nearly'.  Great!

So to make things interesting the first day of my flying career was in an aircraft fully loaded with computers (G1000 for those in the know).  I did all my training on old stuff, like the round dials you see spinning round when it all goes wrong in movies.  This aircraft on the otherhand is comprised of 3 screens and only the stuff I am used to for back-up purposes (Yeah if the computers need a reboot!).  Flight 1.. Oh my god.. Where is all the info?  Erm, page 4, subpage 3 and then roll the knob to the right 3 times before hitting the cursor and it pops up in a tiny box on the right hand side of the other screen.  Easy!  Flight 2..  How did I get that info up again?  Erm, ah, it was 3 to the right, not 2.  Flight 3..  Kris to Captain "Oh, did you know it did this.."  Captain "I do now".  Flight 4.. He was very happy with my progress! Landed it twice, didn't make myself look like a loser and everyone walked away happy in the fact that my safety briefing (Which is done in Indonesian I might add!) wasn't needed to be acted out.

So yeah, all in all a good day.  And I only found out the night before that I would be flying it.  I get rotad into the scedule now and will hopefully be able to take some more pictures of the scenery.  There is a lot of great stuff over here - Volcanoes and trees mostly, but I like it :)

Ok, so the accommodation here has a lot to be desired and I spent a day cleaning what the maids refused to over the past few years..  I have the opinion that spending £3 on bleach and Mr Muscle is better than getting Typhoid and a £3000 hospital bill!  So far so good!  Now the maids are happy to keep it clean.  I did have the penthouse suite, which sounds glamerous, but honestly wasn't..  I am now in another house with a huge room and ensuite.. Things are on the up!

Oh, we all sat some DGCA (Aviation Authority) exams, including our cheif pilot, whilst in a very wet and miserable Jakarta, which are basically needed for us to get an Indonesian licence.. We never actually got the results back, but all passed and were all given KFC as a reward by the examiner..  Not sure what the deal is, but I now have an Indonesian licence coming!  The exam took place in a smokey office and we all huddled around any flat surface we could.. Nothing like the strict ATPL no-talking, no looking up policy..  Anyway, it's done now.

I have found out recently that I may be off to Borneo shortly.. As mentioned before, things change here literally by the hour so I am half expecting not to be sent there, but as it stands at the moment that is the plan!  I will definitely have better pics from there as they have Orang-utans, Snakes, Scorpions, Spiders and random tribesmen!  Bring it on!

Now I have some time I will crack on with getting this blog updated..  Until next time..

Selemat Malam.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Moving into week two...

Managed to get some pics added after some bad connections...

Today is Sunday. We were told to be up at 6am and have our bags packed ready to be picked up at 6.45. After a week of studying for our exam and one last night of trying to remember about 14,000 different numbers, settings, speeds and components we all sat down for a 2 hour closed book exam.. As mentioned earlier this is normal. Pilots are expected to absorb everything like a sponge and then regurgitate it at any point in time with the outcome poised to decide the future of their career.. No pressure.

Anyway, we all passed. So not much to tell really. Off to Jakarta for a few days to sort out medicals and pass the DGCA written tests - Basically a formality I am told.

The next phase after that is the actual flight test followed by line training - which is when they stick fare paying thrill-seekers in with me :)

Should be still stuck by the beach for a couple of weeks and then we get assigned a base which could be anywhere that the company operates.. The thinking at the moment is that I head to Medan (6th biggest city), but I could be sent to Borneo as I have a few more hours than some of the others. We shall see.

Travelling to work...


Feels like a real job is just around the corner finally - at the moment it still seems like I'm training. In some ways it's comfortable as that's all I've been doing for 4 years, but I'm getting a little tired of it! GET ME IN AN AEROPLANE!

This week has been quite entertaining once away from the classroom though.. We found out that the locals believe there is some kind of sea monster that haunts the area.. It apperently is responsible for a load of deaths over the years. As fearless aviators we ventured into the sea to cool off and then realised that it wasn't some sort of random dinosaur but a really strong rip-tide! I got caught up in it but realised early and tried to swim back to shore.. It was tougher than I thought and after 5 mins and making no progress I wonderd if I would actually make it. Just like MacGyver though, I found some floating palm leaves and built a small ocean liner to coast in.. Actually I just brute strength swam in.. But I was shattered when I finally made it.. And had a little bit more respect for the sea!

The locals also think the beach is haunted as the Boxing Day Tsunami killed a lot of folk here. The owner of my comapany is a local hero as she provided housing for all the relief staff and affected people. However, she also runs a fish processing plant and had to use one of the cold storage facilities for the washed up dead bodies. It doesn't exist any more..

It's taken a bit of getting used to the 3rd world style of doing things, but it's still a lot of fun!

More soon!

Ah, it's now Tuesday. Medical is done and apart from the fact that they think I am a blind, heavy smoking, hyperglycemic pilot I still got a class one medical! I really have no idea what the hell was going on, but it all seemed like a farse really. We were shoved in and out of rooms like a Benny Hill sketch and behind each door came a new surprise! One was a chest x-ray, the other and ECG monitor etc etc.. The funniest was having to sit in some sort of prison cell booth with a pair of headphones on pressing a button whenever you heard noises. I made the woman laugh as she was on her phone half way through and just kept pressing it every time her lips moved.. I passed that one too :) It seems really easy to get what you want here.. You either pay, or you make the people laugh. I am poor so opt for the charm offensive which has worked up to now!

Back out of Jakarta now, which is good. The place is a pig-sty to be honest - which is weird as they don't do pigs here (Muslim!). It is an absolute nut house. Cars, trams, people, bikes, busses, lorries, horses.. You name it, they use it. And everyone seems to just go wherever there is a space.. And I mean it.  4 on a scooter is under-filled..  I have seen 6!  The girl looks slightly concerned!  The youngest is being used as a crash barrier in case of the worst!

Just got settled after another 4am wake up and am in need of rest.. First aid course to come and then government flying exams..


Oh, locals...  Crab god?  I have no idea.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Still the first week...

Ok, not much time to actually do this blog thing at the moment as I'm having to take an exam this Sunday.. Then I finally get in an aircraft and have to pass more tests. It's the same old story in flying for those of you that don't know, tests followed by a test to test if you passed the last test and then a test to make sure the last test you took was enough for you to pass the final test. Then you have a medical and pass more tests.. But those are personal and I would feel violated if I told you about those!

Anyway, it seems that in Indonesia if you don't pass the tests you hand over some paper with an offical persons head on (Money to us) and the tests are all passed. Magic :)

I shall not need the official paper though I hope.

Ok, so not sure where I got to in the first post but am basically in the South of Java and undergoing training on the aircraft. Lots to remember and a few new things as I will now have passengers who have paid to fly with me.. (Well the company, but you get the drift) Apparently some of the stories include passengers trying to open doors mid-flight in order to throw rubbish out, military guys with AK-47's, live pigs in boxes and a number of other things.. I shall include my own stories as they come up.. However I am bound by a company disclosure agreement so the good stuff might have to wait until I see you.

This is where we eat.. It's surrounded by lush gardens and all that malarky..

A typical day at the moment starts at 6.45am and then we grab one of those rickshaw driver things to the training place.. It's about 20 mins from our hotel but those guys aren't used to a couple of big fat westerners in the front of their man made bikes so they tend to struggle somewhat..! However it is very green, very cheap (about 30p) and the locals look at us and laugh.. Which is amusing to them and us! After breakfast we head on over to the class room, do a bunch of learning with many pit stops for rehydrating purposes before stopping for lunch. (The usual working day to be honest!) After the afternoon class it's up to us what we do, so we tend to head on over to the beach - well it would be rude not to enjoy the sun, sea and sand wouldn't it! But there is actually a lot to learn so the times spent sunning it up have been kept to a minimum at the moment. Honest!

I've hit the local bar a couple of times with the guys already here, it's called Bamboo and is purely because it's made from Bamboo.. Original eh. The beer though has a chemical in it to make it taste fresh.. But it makes your stomach feel quite the opposite in the morning! So far though my cast iron lining is holding up well.

This is the local beach transport system... Primitive, but fun.

The beach has monkeys on, the surf is really big and the locals are friendly.. A bit too friendly sometimes, but those are the ones you have to pay for and I don't get to know them as well as they would like..

Oh, at the moment the photos on this blog are from my friend on facebook. Haven't been able to get them off the others at the moment. I also hope this is making you all jealous.. I worked 4 years to get this! ha ha.

Still haven't really had much time to do this properly as it's been inbetween studying etc.. But it's an insight into how hard life is here :)

Catch you all soon.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Week 1...

Right then.. Where do I begin?! It's all been as hectic as before I left to be honest but I've now found a moment to gather my thoughts, have some sleep and catch up!

Ok, so the flights went from amazing to average on the way over - Emirates, despite being somewhat deluded in their choice of sponsorship partners (Le Arse) actually run a fantastic airline.. The screens were huge, the choice of stuff to keep me entertained was immense and the service was the best I've ever had on a flight..

So anyway, after a short stop off in Dubai we made our way to Singapore and found our hotel after some confusion with the tube network.. Matt, my friend I was travlling with found a place in Little India.. So as I was expecting 'spotless singapore' I was somewhat surprised to see the complete opposite.. Was we in Bombay?! No, the hotel was incredible. We got an upgrade too after kindly informing the check-in girl we were pilots... Gotta pop that one in everywhere now that it's true :0)

Ok, so Singapore was eventually what I expected it to be.. Bubblegum free, clean enough to eat your noodles off the floor of the subway and full of frantic 'business people'. What I didn't expect was for it to seem like England in a sauna! I mean the car number plates are the same, they use 3 point electrics, they drive on the same side and all of the signs and announcments are in English.. Very easy step into Asian life indeed.

Step 2 of our trip involved meeting with a guy at a place to sort out our visas for Indonesia.. Seemed very, very dodgy to me, but this is how things seem to happen in hindsight so it's all good. Just have to get used to the Indonesian way of doing things.

Eventually left Singapore enroute to Jakarta. Air Asia was the least favourable trip so far, but even though it's a low-cost it still beats RyanAir hands down.

Jakarta.. My god. What a crazy place! It is literally every man for himself there. Bikes, cars, vans, trucks, busses and even tuk-tuk's going in every direction - regardless of the traffic signs. Our driver was also useless, despite being 'recommended by our company' he still had to get out over 10 times to ask directions to the complex!

After 2 and a half hours we arrived to the house and then it was time for bed.. Jet lag was setting in and any attempt at fighting it off was in vain.

I awoke to find 2 other guys in the house with myself and Matt and found out they were two of the other people on my course.. There's 6 of us in total. 5 guys and a girl.

Ok, so things change pretty quickly here. We were told initally that we were to fly to the training base on Sunday, then over dinner it had changed to the Saturday morning and then on waking up it was now supposed to be Saturday afternoon.. Regardless, we were shoved into the VIP aircraft and arrived in Pangandaran ready to rock and roll.. Then, as seems to be the norm, things changed and Sunday was a day off!

Having just spent all day on the beach watching monkeys and generally sunning myself at the start of another summer I came back to the my new temporary home (Which is owned by the boss and is absolutely enourmous plus seved by about 30 staff!) to write this..

Training tomorrow.. Update as soon as I can get round to it!

Hope this is of interest to someone..! There is more to tell but it's been a complete head-rush up to now and my fingers are complaining!