Northern cities of Sakhalin - Nogliki and Oxa
Trip Start Oct 27, 2008
5Trip End Mar 2009
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It was always envisioned that this consulting assignment would require visits to the field, meaning further up north where this multinational O&G operator has its drill and processing sites. Part of my work of course is getting to know their business, and thus it is agreed that heading on-site shall be part of the learning experience. But as well, the value I hope to bring to this client in coming months is in-depth knowledge about the local business communities which could in fact serve as strategic partners to my client's operations either presently or in the future.
I started my trek from Yuzhno on Sunday evening, with an overnight train departing the railway station at 8:40pm. The trip from Yuzhno to Nogliki cannot be that far in terms of mileage - literally a couple hundred miles at best - it took my train 14 hours to get to my first destination. My first insight upon exiting the train, was that it was much colder than I expected, and definitely much colder than Yuzhno. Jumping into a cab, I made it to my derelict hotel with my local staff (who speaks absolutely no English by the way) and threw my suitcase into the grubby room I would occupy for the nite. The rest of the day we worked from my contractor's office, interviewing local entrepreneurs and business owners on industries and sub-sectors which they represented, as well as what was indicated to me a 'high-level' meeting with the Vice Mayor of the town. Now, again none of the individuals noted thus far have spoken a lick of English, so needless to say my Russian is coming back to me quite quickly.
The Vice Mayor of the town kept referring to me as James Bond - I could only chuckle and continue to exhale so as I would not have to breathe in smoke affiliated with those funky Russian cigarettes he kept inhaling. With meetings ending around 6pm, I thought to myself that it was likely a good time to grab a beer and something decent to eat; however, there apparently was no restaurant open in this town for the evening (even in the hotel which we were occupying). So much for customer service - had to laugh...
Awaking early, I head up to the office provided me in Nogliki to check my email and prepare for my mobilization out to the client's camp and drilling site. I was told to head to the airport, as my client has daily flights for its personnel to the processing facility and off-shore drilling operations. Thus, Kyle heads off in the taxi ready and prepared for the next adventure into the sub-arctic tundra they call Siberia. Long story short, the taxi driver somehow believed it was his privilege to charge me literally 50% more than the initial price quoted (and I finally submitted to his constant haggling, as I figured we were only talking 3 bucks additional), I took my 30 minute helicopter flight (see accompanying pics) and arrived at the OPF Chayvo campsite. The client I work for has a fully self sustainable camp out in the middle of nowhere, hosting up to 840 personnel full-time (28 days on, 28 days off). Amazing. Think of the logistics associated with this camp - all food, all electricity and conveniences of home including tv and internet, all accommodations including gym and movie room, etc. This was definitely a step up after my experience in Nogliki!!! Maybe I should stay here for the duration of my assignment. Maybe not - understand it hits about -30 to -40 during the coldest months January and February.
From creature comforts (or as much as a multinational corporation can I assume provide in the middle of sub-arctic tundra) including 3 square meals a day and a decent room with heat, hot water and cable television, to what I assume must be the remnants of the once-powerful Soviet Union, I find myself in the most northern city of Sakhalin island. I took a taxi from the campsite 3 hours north to the city of Oxa. The trip, accompanied by a colleague who picked me up with the taxi, was interesting to say the least. The guy apparently went on a 'bender' in my absence and upon arrival disappeared for 30 minutues. Pounding on his door for 15 minutes, this guy opens his hotel door and looks like near death. When confronted as to whether or not he intended to work that afternoon, it was indicated to me that he could not work the rest of the day. Unbelievable. Any of you who have spent time in the former Soviet Union - this does happen. In fact, my former colleagues had to fire individuals who apparently got so intoxicated they just would forget any responsibilities associated with professional or personal lives. It is so pitiful it is funny in my mind. So I went to the local office here to speak with our local contact - a nice woman who spoke absolutely zero English and refused to believe me a foreigner - she spoke faster Russian than anyone I have ever met. It has become obvious that my Russian is improving, as we had a 45 minute strategy session about work in coming days. Needless to say, I think I will have to fire this guy that was supposed to serve as my assistant with this 4-month assignment.
Post-work, I took a stroll around and wondered just how people live here - not only is it in the middle of nowhere, but like Nogliki there are few if any restaurants but a great deal of derelict buildings and lack of commerce. Dinner consisted of some artificial cheese, black bread and a mixed salad bought from a small local store near my hotel. Quite the life we prestigious international expats live!!! The hotel - a sub-standard room with no hot water. Challenge of the day (other than the Russian language) was showing with hot water heater in hand to counterbalance the frigid waters gushing from the taps in this Siberian dreamland.
Wish I could say it gets better, but the saga continues. Upon arrival to the lobby this morning, I encounter my colleague, who gives indication that while he is heading out for a pack of cigarettes, he will be ready to head to the office within several minutes time. Somewhere between the local kiosk selling cigarettes (and whatever else he bought in that black plastic bag of his) and the hotel lobby, he decided his stomach hurt and he could not work for the day. Thus, I headed solo once again to the offices. In terms of work, the day was quite productive with meetings holding me up to near 2pm, with a translator to boot! Moving on up in the world... A late lunch found me in a local shashlyk (shish kebabs) restaurant buying lunch for those that I worked with today.
However, my plan to head out of here tomorrow on a charter flight back to Yuzhno were thwarted by the weather. Blizzard-like conditions with gusts that must be up to 50-60mph will disallow any planes to fly in and out of this town, and thus the plan has morphed into what was an easy 2 hour flight, to a 5-8 hour car drive to the nearest town with a rail link, coupled with a 14 hour train ride back to Yuzhno. One cannot do anything but laugh at this scenario as it seems like a text-book joke. So tomorrow will be yet another adventure, with me and my trusty sidekick Arkadiy the party-hound in tow.
Really, I look at this life that people lead and wonder how existence is not miserable. Ignorance is bliss I guess. Today I learned the local airport is closing as is bankrupt, the railway non-existent after the tracks have been destroyed from years of neglect by the local and national governments, and the only route out of here is by road, which is deemed more passable in the winter as a result of all the potholes being filled by snow. Couple that with the fact that no restaurants operate locally except for Friday night thru Sunday as a result of inability to pay local staff - - - what happened to all the talks of this country being the new powerhouse due to high oil prices and a strong government??? Really, an eye opening experience that is sad in more ways than one...
November 21, 2008
Awakening to yet another snowy, frost-filled day the plan was to call the airport and attempt to board a charter flight back to Yuzhno. Rather, with the airport closed to high winds and white-out conditions, I along with my 'bender' colleague jumped in a 4x4 to make our way back to Nogliki, some 4-7 hours away pending road conditions. The road was good, and we approached Nogliki in little over 4.5 hours. It was my hope that the charter flight would be able to land and take off from this city of 20,000 inhabitants. Again, lady luck was not on my side and thus I jumped the 14 hour overnite train to head back to Yuzhno late on this Friday afternoon. What a great start to a weekend - guess it does not matter as I intend solely to work on a first deliverable associated with this consulting assignment. As well, it will give me countless hours to do work while I tread slowly across this rough, rustic terrain.
November 22, 2008.
Hoorah, home just in time to see another snowstorm pull in. At least I am in a place with food, and heat, and reliable internet. Oh the joys of life... Til next time, stay warm and take appreciation for what you have in front and amongst you...