More Thoughts on Tengiz (email sent to Family on 15 July 2011)

Hi everyone – here are some notes from the last week.

8 July

Differences in Tengiz:

The date starts with the day instead of the month:

  •  8 July, 2011 instead of July 8, 2011
  •  Tengiz = 8/7/11
  •  USA = 7/8/11
  • The wall calendars start with Monday instead of Sunday.  The Outlook calendars are set-up the same way.
  • It is Coca-Cola Light, not Diet Coke.

Company meetings are different, must be much more patient. Larger meetings have a translator participating. The Kazak nationals speak at a very low volume, in Russian. The translator speaks quietly as well. Combine this with the air conditioners at full blast because it is soo hot – I can hear and understand very little at the meetings (so far).

This assignment is not very social. We work long hours – minimum is 6 am to 6 pm; many people work another hour or so on either end of the day. Thare not many good places to meet socially – a small bar but it you don’t drink …. It is so hot outside no one is out at picnic tables hanging out. There are also few Expats here, probably less than 20% of the total workforce, most seem to keep to themselves. Looks like everyone is counting the days until they go home.

Long trains, about 100 cars, go by my office window several times a day. They honk (sound the train horn) a number of times as there is a road crossing not too far from our building. Kinda of annoying. But it is the sound of money – these are rail cars filled with crude oil taking it to market.

The processing plants are a 30 minute bus ride from the offices we work in. Going to a one hour meeting out at the plant takes ~ 2-1/2 hours because you must walk to the bus stop (about a 7 minute walk); after the meeting you have to walk back to the place that dropped you off. You can schedule a taxi but there are a limited number and you must schedule at least the day before. The advantage of taking a taxi is they wait for you and you can be driven back to the office immediately after the meeting, even if the meeting runs long.

It has been very hot here, almost a week now with temperatures breaking 110 F each day. Right now it is 7 pm and the temperature is 115 F. This morning, at 6 am, it was a balmy 84 F. Two days ago it was 99 F at 6 am. There are also a lot of mosquitoes but they don’t seem so bad the last couple days – maybe they can’t survive the heat. Each room (offices and residential rooms) have an individual air conditioner. They also have large outdoor common AC units for the common areas in buildings. I heard that they overheat at 40 C (~105 F) and shutdown. Well it has easily broken 105 F every day since I arrived. I run the air conditioner full blast in my room whenever I am in there; about 3 am in the morning it gets cool enough for me to get under the blanket (but I don’t turn off the air conditioner).

I have a computer in my office and in my room. I check my yahoo email usually twice a day. Please send me notes telling me what you are doing – I miss you. After dinner I read in my room. I still have a couple magazines that I have not read, plus books on my Kindle. I think I have at least two books left on my kindle after this one.

Working here is very routine driven – get up every morning about 5 am; get out of my room about 5:35 – stop by the canteen to pickup breakfast to go (two eggs made like an omelet without anything in them, yogurt and fruit (options are oranges and apples. I then either walk to the office or take the bus – takes about the same amount of time – in around 5:55 am. People take an hour break somewhere between 11:30 am and 1 pm – some people take the whole hour, some do not. Most people go to a canteen that is in TCOV – same type of food like at SV. Then people work until 6 pm, many people stay until 6:30 or so. Then you go back to SV, get dinner (which I grab) and eat in my room, check email and call home, read for a while, and try to turn in by 9 pm. And then do it all again. In just two weeks I have found that the days run together – need to check the calendar at least twice per day to know what day it is (and figure out how many days until I get to go home).

My office is on the second floor, on the left (in the first picture). My office is bigger than my living quarters – has two windows and two air conditioning units!

10 July

Went swimming today with Jon Drogin – he showed me the ropes. Many things here have very specific steps that must be followed – not sure if it is the USSR influence or the way it has always been. Anyway, you go into the pool building and there is a receptionist. You badge in through an IN card reader and leave your badge on the desk. You then go over to some benches, take off your shoes and socks, and put on your sandals – everyone leaves their shoes under the benches (two rows facing each other. You then go back to the desk and the receptionist gives you a towel and a locker key, connected to a wrist band. You go into the locker room, change and then take a shower before you can go into the pool. After your shower you exit through the corridor to the pool, leave your sandals along a wall, step through a small foot basin, and then exit to the pool. After swimming you take another shower, get dressed and then return your key to the receptionist. You go over to the bench, dry your feet and put your shoes on. Then you drop your towel in a dirty towel bin, pick up your badge from the receptionist (she has it out for you) and then swipe it across the OUT card reader.

I swam 20 pool lengths (I guess that is 10 laps) – Jon says this is a ½ kilometer. The first four I swam up and back, then stopped. After that I had to stop and rest after each length. My heart rate got up there, about 120 when I checked. Jon swam 66 lengths or 1 mile; wonder how many months (if ever) it will take me to make that distance in one visit?

14 July

My department had a safety meeting this afternoon – we have 117 people in the group but only half at one time. Thursdays are a common day for people to leave / arrive for their rotation. At the safety meeting I met 10 people I have never met before. I led a diversity moment where I told my group I wanted to learn about them, and have them learn a little about each other. I shared that diversity is many times thought to be gender, or color of your skin. I said another part of diversity is what type of family you come from, big or small, and what number you are in the birth order. So I asked everyone to stand up – then said if anyone was an only child they should sit down (two people did. Then it continued; if you had one sibling you sat down next, two siblings next, and so on.. Four people in the group had seven siblings – wow. Then we started over – asked everyone to stand up again – if you had no children, you sat down. This continued, one child, sit down, two children, etc. Half the group had children – myself and one other person had four children, everyone else had less. Anyway, it was a good ice breaker. We also had some food brought in and socialized a bit at the end of the meeting. We hold this meeting every two weeks. That is because different positions rotate in and out every week. I believe everyone rotates on a Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – that way you get four weekends at home.

We have two translators for my group; they can translate to/from Russian. At the safety meeting one person gave a safety talk about “Heat Stress” – very relevant topic as last week it broke 115 F for several days (it has cooled down in the last couple days to the high 80s. The person who gave the presentation spoke Russian, and there were two screens – one showed the presentation in Russian and the other in English. Over 80% of my group speak Russian as their native language – only us Expats speak only English. I was better today about not saying too much, making it easier for the translator.

I swam again today at lunch – plan to swim on both Saturday and Sunday. I got it up to 15 laps – maybe I will get up to 66 laps eventually. The pool is about a 3 minute walk from my office – really can’t beat that. You can tell I’m not from around here as I wear the baggy Hawaiian print shorts – everyone else wears the tight speedo types (some of them should really not be wearing them. It’s not very crowded – maybe a dozen people at most. Water temperature is fine – very good stress reliever.


2 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Tengiz (email sent to Family on 15 July 2011)

  1. Marc – I am glad to have the opportunity to snoop around your blog. I do hope this will be fufilling and enriching for your career and personal interests, and that balancing the discomfort of being away from your family tolerable. I am also glad to know you’re in the pool – swimming is a passion that I enjoy. Jon is a great swim partner. I am glad that he made it to the mile. Get used to breathing on both sides, exhale before you turn your head to inhale so you don’t hyperventilate (you’ll hit a mile before you know it), reach ahead with each arm and pull down the center, your exiting hand should be near your thigh palm-side up, and your entering arm should be in the water before your exiting arm comes out. I’ll check in every now and then to see how you’re doing. Tom Wishrop

  2. Tom – thanks for the note. I will review this with Jon. After I reach the point where swimming is a habit I will work on improving my form. I feel fortunate to have Jon in Tengiz, we have a lot of good history together and I enjoy his company. Marc

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