Oil and Gas Industrial zone,The equipment of oil refining,Close-up of industrial pipelines of an oil-refinery plant,Detail of oil pipeline with valves in large oil refinery.

The EXPAT

=====================================================

7. Singapore

=====================================================

During the past school year I have worked for a group call RONHIC (ready or not, here I come) a division of a company called Zylotec. I’ve worked part time, helping to prepare a training course on micro-computers. The training course was for industrial customers, training their employees to use this new technological breakthrough, so that they could do so many things faster and better. I had only recently been bitten by the computer bug (during the spring and summer of last year) and when I got involved with this group in about November I really thought this was it. And so I thrust my heart and soul into the effort. Had been working part time and full time all summer, for Signetics since about November 1977, but slowly phased that out with my activity in RONHIC.
I spent one week in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a trip financed by RONHIC. The trip down was unreal. We got caught in a snow storm, driving a camper, and the drive shaft broke and fell off on a little hill at about midnight. We got the camper off the road and bedded down for the night. The next morning we found ourselves really snowed in somewhere in the middle of the Navajo reservation. We finally got a ride from a Navajo in a pickup to the nearest trading post where we called for a wrecker from Gallup. Left the camper in Gallup for work & took a bus to Albuquerque where we spent the week taking a course in microprocessors by WINTEK, a great learning experience.

Things looked better and better with RONHIC. I began to consider taking a Sabbatical from the High-school, spending a year with RONHIC full time. As we got into the development of our microprocessor training course, it became evident there were some real problems among the management as to what they really wanted. The project fell apart.

Since I had already applied for the sabbatical at the high-school, I approached Signetics for a possible full-time position. I was offered a position as maintenance supervisor in the assembly area. I accepted the job and began full time with Signetics in June 1979, working as line maintenance supervisor over 11 technicians. We maintained all equipment in the assembly area, where the tiny integrated circuits were put together. It seemed as though I became a father to the tech’s. I’d given up my role as an instructor in the high school, but found much the same feeling at Signetics, these guys were my students. I was much older than all of them.

We organized the group in a fine manner and provided better maintenance support than in the past, receiving praise for our efforts. The financial rewards were good, providing about what I made at the school plus what I had earned part-time at Signetics. But Carol was still working. It was a new and neat experience being home each evening with the family.

Spent a lot of time helping Lori with her math assignments. She would try so hard, many times the sessions would end in tears, but she would stay with it and did very well. I received many satisfying hours with my work in Line Maintenance.

One of the first things after I started with Signetics was go on a trip to Boston for a week to train on a machine we used, made by a company called Mech-el industries. The plane flew from Salt Lake to Kansas City on the first leg.

As we flew out of Salt Lake it was a clear day and I was fascinated by the terrain below, especially the Wasatch the Uintah mountains. What I was looking at was a neat topographical map. When I was a kid we moved into a home in Moab, I was in the 4th grade and in the attic there were stacks of old National Geographic magazines. I would lay and study the maps for hours in the attic, fantasizing about traveling and seeing all the places with weird names. As I would read the names on the maps I would simply pronounce them in my mind the way they should sound. Came as quite a shock later years to find that most adults and even some newscasters didn’t know how to pronounce many names correctly!

As we crossed part of the high Uintah’s I could see dozens and dozens of tiny lakes, many with snow still down to the water. I remember my Dad talking of the Grandaddy Lakes in the Uintah’s where he served with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC’s) during the depression. As I looked I thought how I should get some good maps of the area and start hiking into them with Dan. That could be one of our things. Shouldn’t be too hard to get into. Then I thought, but what of the girls? Leslie would especially want to go. We could handle that, but better start small and work up.

Back to the flight, on the second leg of the trip I sat next to a nice young gentleman from Boston. His name was John Peters and had been to some convention in Denver. We talked of life, Boston, his business, etc. We got on very well and he invited me to go to dinner with his wife one night while I’d be there in Boston. He and his gracious wife, Wendy, took me to an old restaurant in downtown Boston called Durgin-Park, established in the 1700’s. I had my first lobster and with the help of a kind old lady at the next table got that nasty old shell off and enjoyed the meat. A very fine evening.

I worked in Line Maintenance at Signetics for 6 months, then was promoted to engineering where I became a Senior Hermetic Assembly Engineer. After a year in engineering where I had a super job with great associates and experiences, Carol was still working in the billing office at the local hospital. Seemed like we weren’t getting anywhere financially, not getting our old debts paid. I had a business trip to Sunnyvale, Calif. in about August and answered some help wanted ads in local paper while there. Seemed to be some good opportunities in the area but living costs would wipe out any salary gains. Not too promising. But a bridge was crossed in the mental decision to look elsewhere for a better job, even though I loved the job I had at Signetics.

Then in October, one of the tech’s who worked for me, Steve Killpack, got a call from a head-hunter saying he had a job as sales Manager for Mech-El (remember them a few paragraphs ago). Steve just publicly announced in the office what the caller had offered. I was interested, so I called Carl Roberts, who had been Corporate Engineering Manager for Signetics in Sunnyvale, Calif. I had known him from his days at Signetics, but he had quit and gone to work for Mech-El some four months earlier. Anyway, at the conclusion of the phone call, Carol and I were on our way to Boston to discuss the possibility of going to Singapore for three years. We accepted!!!

Two-weeks notice and I was through with Signetics. I spent a week in Boston for more training, a few days in Portland, Maine on a machine installation for Mech-El. I then spent two weeks installing a machine of all places at Signetics. Spent Thanksgiving with family while there, and now I’m in Manteca, California, installing two Mech-El machines. And we’re scheduled for our trip to Singapore on January 7th.

I got home from Manteca on Wednesday afternoon, Christmas eve & had a delightful Christmas with family. We didn’t have a tree since all the tree stuff was packed so we all went to Grandma Fay’s (Carol’s mom) new condo apartment for breakfast. She gave Dan an 8mm rifle which his Grandad Wesley had assembled and built a stock with Daniel in mind before he died. Fay had waited until Dan was older to give it to him. Needless to say there couldn’t have been a neater gift in the world for him.

We spent a couple of trips to the rifle range and really had a good time. Then after some packing and moving I headed for the airport to return to Boston for two days to organize myself on Sunday. Ran into fog at the point of the mountain and waited all day for it to lift so we could take off. After the last possible flight was cancelled for the day with no fog relief in sight, I made arrangements for a strange itinerary. Pocatello to Twin Falls to Boise to Denver to Kansas City and finally to Boston. I couldn’t take the chance and not get out of Salt Lake on Monday. So I rented a car and drove to Pocatello – but here I am now nearly to Boise as I write this, on a two motor prop job with two passengers and a crew of two.

Saw a Norman Rockwell Post Magazine cover scene at the Pocatello airport this morning. A tall thin young man with boots, new levi’s, a black cowboy hat & one suitcase was boarding a plane as his parents watched on. His dad had an old baseball cap on and a plaid farmers jacket & his irrigating boots on with the pant cuffs tucked in. His mom was a dear little squatty lady in old blue jeans and aspirations in her eyes. It would have been interesting to know the details of that story.
Transferred to Republic Airlines flying to Denver from Boise, no trouble. Boarded TWA in Denver for a nice flight t Kansas City where, would you believe, FOG! Flight to Boston cancelled as I spent the night in KC. Flew to Atlanta the next morning, then to Washington D.C, then to Boston. Arrived Tuesday night at 8:30, after leaving Orem Sunday morning. What a trip.

Had a good trip visit at Mech-El. Spent the next day, New Years eve, at the plant talking with the company leaders, getting paperwork ready for the big move. Finished in time to catch a flight out of Boston to Denver without a hitch, but as we got off the plane in Denver, the flight to Salt Lake was cancelled due to fog! We were hustled onto a bus where I spent the next 11 hours sitting next to a delightful Jewish fellow, Raphael Lewi, getting us to Salt Lake.

We talked through the night, arriving just before dawn, in a very thick fog. It was a fantastic experience talking with Raphael. He was born in Israel and was in the Israeli army when he was 17. He taught Hebrew in Arab refugee camps, came to Salt Lake to teach Educational Administration at the University of Utah, and is now a specialist working for the Salt Lake School District. Speaking of the anticipated cultural shock we will experience in Singapore, he related the cultural shock he and his family experienced living in the Mormon community in Salt Lake.

I hope to see him again. I gained a great insight into how a Jew feels about Jesus and more specifically about Mormons. Quite an eye opener. I must write him a letter when we get to Singapore. Our visit on the bus and the resulting discussions strengthened my understanding of the art of conversation. Which is, to be a good conversationalist, all you need to do is ask questions, and listen. As long as I was able to ask meaningful questions, the conversation flowed easily and kept Raphael an interested contributor to the discussion.

In Singapore, we sampled life among a variety of cultures. Native housing included huddles of thatched huts, vegetable patches and pigsties under a cover of coconut palms, called kampongs. All this in the shadow of skyscrapers in the heart of modern Singapore. Our first reaction to Singapore seemed a bit sterile, even repressive. But the crime rate was so low I didn’t worry about my family. Then a friend drove into a traffic circle against the rules and got a computerized summons without ever seeing a live policeman. Big brother was watching.

Singapore’s foreign minister once said, “This is a heavenly city for global corporations.” For the corporate man or woman with a perk fattened paycheck (Expats), life here can be easy and opulent, often monotonously so. Singapore is something of a gilded cage. Over 600 foreign manufacturers have chosen Singapore as their “export platforms,” setting up shop on industrial estates.

On a low hill just on the outskirts of the city, someone is talking into a loudspeaker: “He’s hit hard there by No. 18, and its a first and ten for the Aggies on the 36-yard line.” A roar goes up from what sounds like a big crowd. The cars are small in the parking lot, as most are here. But one has a bumper sticker that says “Luckenbach, Texas.” Beyond the parking lot there is a school and a full blown American football extravaganza in progress.

The average daily high temperature is over 80 degrees and the mean humidity is also over 80%. The Singapore American Football Youth league has been going strong for several years.

“Why are we playing football now?” says Gene Warner, one of the officials. “This is football season. That’s why.” “We all miss football so much,” says Garlan Kennon, the football commissioner and an ox of a man who was once All American for the University of Texas. “This is our substitute for sitting in front of the TV all weekend.”

In a kampong at the foot of the hill, Ju Kai Meng tries to take a nap, unsuccessfully with the roar of football.

Eighteen U.S. companies, most of them in the oil service line, plunk down over $4,000 a year to keep their teams suited-up and supplied with everything from oxygen tanks to imported Japanese soft drinks.

The boys and their coaches practice two hours every night. Then two games friday night and four games Saturday that go on for seven straight hours. After seven long hot hours the closing whistle blows a little after 9 p.m and the last game is over. The loudspeaker blasts, “Come back next week, sports fans, for another weekend of war.”

In the kampong at the foot of the hill, Ju Kai Meng could finally get some sleep.

 

 

Where is Singapore?

Singapore Skyline

Singapore Kampong

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson is a retired professional quality engineer and educator with extensive experience in manufacturing environments throughout the world, including Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, and various locations throughout the United States. Besides all that, he Leslie Householder's admired and revered father, and she is pleased to spotlight his "Expat" stories here on her Rare Faith blog.