Wednesday, October 05, 2005
posted 10/05/2005 04:16:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Chillin' in chch

Wow that last post sure was a long one!

Yesterday was another day of training stuff, although it was far less comfortable, entertaining, and interesting than Sunday and Monday were with the fuels department. Why the change? Today was 'orientation,' a big meeting of everyone who flew down to the ice this morning... and me!

So why was I the only person in the room not heading to the ice today? It turned out that when I arrived in Christchurch from the states, there were a couple mistakes made. Firstly, someone forgot to send my travel fund to the airport, as I touched on in that last post. Secondly, the packet of information I was given (maps of Christchurch and the Antarctic center, general info, training times, etc.) didn't contain any information on when I was to attend orientation!? Orientation is a fairly generic procedure, so rather than embarking on a (probably massive) paper chase, I just went with the rest of the fuelies (who were leaving today) and all was well. Going a couple days early wasn't a problem at all, and it was neat to meet some more ice people too.

Anyways - orientation wasn't too much fun. We basically had to get up around 6am (well before any coffee shops are open) and drag ourselves up to the Antarctic Centre, which is a bit out of town right near the airport, then listen to the company line for a few hours. First was the director of Raytheon Polar Services telling us we needed to be safer, but not explaining how (because reported injuries had risen over the last season- long rant I'm not going to get into, but the key word there is reported,) then the new HR manager (who has never been to the ice, and has only been with the company for 6 weeks) told us all about herself and how she's going to improve things that haven't even historically been an issue for this group. We also learned plenty about how she guesses her new job will be different from her past experience. So, in short, this was not my cup of tea (although I did consume several of those leading up to lunch.)

After the provided, and pretty tasty, buffet lunch, we got back to the orientation. This session was longer, but I enjoyed and benefited from it quite a bit more than the previous several hours. This session was being delivered by Scott (not to be confused with my boss, Scott,) head of EHS (environmental and health safety I think,) who had some really good points, plenty real world experience, and generally seemed like a cool guy. So we listened to Scott for a while, then took a test at the end before finally getting to leave somewhere around 4pm. This test was an interesting addition to the work-in-Antarctica process, and I think it deserves a paragraph of it's own.

The safety test... Not a terribly interesting set of 50 questions (49 actually, one was a bad question we were instructed to scratch out,) plus some bonus questions including a couple essays, but the implications of this test are something I find interesting. The first thing I found interesting about this little test was that I didn't hear any mention of it until I was already in Christchurch, NZ. Neither had anyone else who wasn't in an administrative position. Not a big deal until you learn that supposedly you won't be able to go to the ice without passing this test. That's not nice, not nice at all. Also interesting is the fact that there's a financial incentive to do well on this test - never heard this called bribing though. The idea is that everyone working for Raytheon Polar takes this test the day before they're scheduled to leave on a plane to McMurdo. If they get less than 80% of the questions right, they don't get to go. If they get more than 80% right, they get issued a 'safety card' and get to board the plane. If they get the highest score (in their group I believe, not positive though) they get a $200USD cash bonus, and there are awards for the first couple runners up as well. This safety card thing is about the only thing Scott (safety Scott) said that I thought was really stupid. We're required to keep this card on us at all times while on the ice, and supposedly we'll be spot checked to make sure that we've got this card on our person while we're working. That sounds like a pain to me, why not just not allow people to go there in the first place if they haven't passed safety training? Why not just keep a list of people who have passed training with the inspector who's doing these spot checks? So, interestingly, someone at the orientation called Scott on this one and asked him those questions. The response to the 'why?' was basically "because I told you so", then it became "because I don't want to carry around a clipboard" when it was pushed a little bit farther. Interesting...

So, today has been a lazy day for me - it's the first of 3 I've got with pay and no work obligations. I slept in, did laundry, read, took a nap, and headed up to the Antarctic Centre (where I am now) to mail a box for my friend Nick, a helo tech, and play on the computers at the Travel Services Center. It's about 5pm now, which means that I'll be leaving shortly to go back down to town for my main motivator - food!

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