Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nadaam Celebrations

Nadaam is the national celebration of Mongolia. Normally the Mongolians celebrate three days in a row, this year from Wednesday to Friday. On site people had to work during those three days, but there were a lot of activities in the evenings. It started on Tuesday evening with the awards for the sports contests that happend in the last days. Me and my Mongolian football teams were not under the best three teams. We had the two best teams in our group and missed the qualification. Anyway the football turnament was something of the most exciting things I did here. The pit is great, made on artifical turf and we played with two lines men and a refree. The Mongolian took it really serious and there were about 200 spectators on the games. On the same evening they awarded the winner of the "OT got talent" contest. The winner was a guy telling poetry about Mongolia. After that the hangar turned in to a disco, which is pretty funny in the desert on Tuesday night.

Body Builders at OT got talent

We had to work every day as usual, but in the evenings we could take part of the celebrations. On Wednesday they arranged a concert. It was also very nice, they played a lot of famous rock songs and a lot of Mongolian Music from Girl Groups to HipHop.


Thursday and Friday were a little bit more quite, because everyone was waiting for Saturday: The Nadaam Celebration in the "big Ger". More or less everyone on site had the day off and went out to the desert, where the traditional Nadaam Celebration took place. The Mongolian celebrate their Nation with their typical sports: Horse riding, Archery, ankle bones shooting and Wrestling. There was no horse riding in the desert, but all other sports took place. Archery is classical game of hiting the target with the Arrow. Ankle bones shooting is also a game where you have to hit a target. The players try to hit other ankle bones in a distance of maybe 5m by just flip the bones with their fingers. Wrestling is same than we know it in Europe with the difference that they have some traditions to fulfill. After each fight they behave like a bird, run to the Mongolian flag, and beating their legs.


Expats at Archery

Native Archers

The Master teaching how to shoot

Ankle Bone shooting

The celebration ended on Saturday night with a big party, concerts and a firework. The whole team was there and we had a lot of fun.

Let's get the party started


Myriam my Manager, and Garry my Ger-mate

Thursday, July 12, 2012

First entry on site

The right to blog
After a long break I write my first post on site. I still have no confirmation to blog, but as I am not publishing confidential material it shouldn't be a problem. To be honest, it was not only that I was not allowed to blog. I didn't find time to write, because life here on site is that amazing that you won't miss the time with friends. The usual working hours start at 6am and end at 6pm. We often spend in the evening a little bit more time in the office, but we are also not every day at 6am at our desk. Time goes by very fast. I cannot imagin what you could achieve in an 8 hours working day. Normally, you check the watch and you always realize that it's already late. Anyway I will try to update my blog, as there are a lot of impressions to share and for me one thing is already a fact: It was one of my best decisions ever to come to Minegolia.

Living in a Ger
When I tell people that we are living in tents they are mostly very surprised. Indeed it sounds special, but those gers are better equipped than some of the hotels I was in so far. They all have A/C, a fridge, a big bed, shovers, underground heating (which is very important in winter when it gets -40°), a TV with some of the best international channels and internet access and a striptease pole :-). I really appreciate to live in a ger and so far I was always lucky to be assigned to one. There are also other accomodations, but they are a little bit far from the office and the mess.

Typical Mongolian Gers
 gers under the rainbow

Inside a ger

Light Vehicles (LV)
There are strong regulations in terms of vehicles on site to keep the safety standards. Every vehicle has a unique number. Most of the Expats here have their own pickups (picture below), but we are dependent on the transport service here. It's a shared service and you can call the transport agency and they come and pick you up where ever you are.

light vehicles

Heavy Mobile Equipment
The real Mining Vehicles are called Heavy Mobile Equipment (HME). It's amazing to see those huge vehicles work. It's definitely a dimension you never see in Switzerland. I have attached some picture to show the relationship.

 Eegi in front of a WA1200 Wheel Loader

 Me sitting in the Dipper of the Electric Shovel

Gary in front of a Haul Truck

Monday, May 14, 2012

Arrival in Ulaan Baatar

After getting stucked in Beijing for fifteen hours, I entered the aircraft at midnight. I more or less slept the whole journey and arrived at 2.30pm in Ulaan Baatar. Chinggis Khan International Airport is comparable to Bern, Belp in terms of size and so the passport control and also getting the luggage was a very quick process. Our driver was waiting to pick me and three Mongolian guys up and drive us to town. It was about 2°C but for me it does not seem to be cold. I am only wearing my pullover and that was enough.
The roads are really bumpy, but this is not very astonishing as temperature are most of the year around -40°C and I know how Swiss always argue with the temperature to explain the construction work. I arrived half an hour later in the corporate hotel and went to sleep. The hotel is very modern and I have a room which is more than double the size than the rooms I know from the German hotels. Free WiFi is included in the service, what I really appreciate. I wanted to get up at 9am but I wake up at 11am. I started to get in contact with the members of the Accenture team and Anushka, a manager from the training team, visited me and answered some questions.
I wanted to have a quick lunch, but before I needed to go to an ATM to get some Tugriks (Mongolian currency). I checked the currency rate when I was in Switzerland, but I got a confusion with the Chinese currency and so I will took1000 Tugriks as a first approach. When I passed a little store and saw that cigarettes cost about 18'000 Tugriks I returned to the hotel and checked the rate. The rate is 1 CHF = 1411,1372 MNT, so my 1000 Tugriks were about 0.7 CHF :-). After getting a little bit more out of the ATM a went to the Korean restaurant. I wanted to have a quick lunch and ordered only a soup. Thats what they were bringing:

quick lunch

After eating the great korean food, I went to Monnis Tower, where the administration of Oyu Tolgoi (OT) is located. I met Saruul who guided me to the Finance Building where I met Ariunzaya and Batgerel, which we call Zaya and Bata. Those two girls translate the documents that we create at site into Monglian language. We had a discussion and they told me how they work. They seemed to be very motivated and after the bad experience with the employees in the Mongolian embassy I was very happy to meet Mongolians who seem to work very similar to western standards.
On my way back I shot some pictures from the city center:

There are a few very modern buildings in UB and the people walking around seems to live very similar than we do in Europe. But this is the city center and even here you can see the social differences. It reminds me on trips to eastern europe. I see a lot of similarities to slovakia, the check republic and moscow. They don't care about how their city looks like. It functions and where ever there is money a new buidling is built, but nobody cares for the old one standing aside.
I went back to the hotel and did some administrative work. My flight has been confirmed. I will definitely depart tomorrow 15.05.2012 at 1135am to Oyu Tolgoi.

How it all began

I am sitting at the airport in Beijing and just tried to write a first entry into my blog. Unfortunately, I had to accept that I cannot connect to the google blog website. It might be that the website is prohibited by the Chinese government same as facebook, youtube and the wikipedia entries about China. Apart from that the airport offers a western standard with free Wifi and what was even more important for me I have a power supply in the café where I am sitting right now.

How did I know from Oyu Tolgoi?

Exactly one month and two days before I was sitting in the Accenture office in Zürich. After spending whole march in the army I was waiting for a new staffing. Previously, I worked five month with BASF, world’s biggest chemical company, and it was likely that I would return to Ludwigshafen as my project was not completed, yet. There were many requests from projects and I prepared my CV for eachof these very carefully, but in the end I could not achieve one single hard booking. The high Swiss salary and changes in the clients project planning were the reasons why I was still waiting to get staffed. Thomas Walther, a guy that has recently spent months in the office waiting for a project, was sitting also on my table drinking coffee and chatting. He started to tell about a project in Mongolia. A project unlike than all the others, in the middle of nowhere. I got curious about this special project and wanted to know more. He explained that Rio Tinto, a top three mining company, was building a new gold and copper mine named Oyu Tolgoi (Mongolian for turquoise hill) in the Gobi desert and that they are calling unassigned employees in ASG with resources background. There were two open roles, but they are struggling to find anybody because the working conditions are totally different in comparison to a standard Accenture project.

My Effort to get on this Project

I asked Thomas to forward the email with the role descriptions to me. I read the mail text carefully and recognized that this project would be a real adventure. The working schedule would implement to work 28 days in a row followed by two weeks break. Two weeks break in the middle of Asia, I thought, the perfect opportunity to travel. I left the office with this project not going out of my mind. A had a quick chat with my flat mate who spent 7 month in Australia and 9 month on a round-the-world trip and of course he supported my idea to go for it. The other morning I wrote an email to Mariska (the responsible for the open roles) and asked if there are still available roles. We arranged a call next morning. Mariska tried to scare me with demonstrating all the difficult conditions that would expect me in Mongolia and especially on the mining site. She said there were many people interested in this project, but after the first call they declined. But that was not the case with me. As I was expecting harsh conditions and as that was part of my motivation I was still keen to get a role at Oyu Tolgoi. Thus, she forwarded me to Myriam Vacher, a manager working at Oyu Tolgoi. I had a call with Myriam the same day. I tried to demonstrate my skills gained in different areas and show that I am capable to absolve the tasks and that was enough.  Myriam told me that she would give me the chance to come to Oyu Tolgoi and show my strength. The reason why she gave me the commitment was more dependent on my motivation than on my skills. I was asking myself if I was risking too much, but I was in the mood to challenge me and I wanted to proof myself on a new level.

Administrative Issues

Myriam told me that there will be an issue with Swiss labor legislations and that I should inform HR about my plans. I did that, and while Myriam informed the client about me and tried to get the approval, Swiss HR department faced the issue that a working permit for such a working mode would never go in line with Swiss legislations. A few days later Myriam gave me the final ok to proceed and I started the process to get the visa. On the same point of time Anselm, my former team lead at BASF booked me for two days in Germany what was standing in conflict with the preparations for Mongolia. While the managers discussed about my availability, my scheduler told me that I won’t get an approval for the trip. A dream died in one second. I thought it was all over and out.
It was a bad situation for me and even more for Myriam who had to tell the client that they have to look for a new resource, after getting through all the administrative tasks. Some days passed by and I thought that this was the end of my planed adventure in the desert. But it was not. HR tried to find a solution. They offered a contract where I had to rest one day per week to go in line with the law and in parallel Myriam did not gave up to bring me to Oyu Tolgoi. After some further discussions I was assigned to a new role and I could start again with the visa application process. The schedule was though, because there were many dependencies. I tried to do my best in handling the preparation while I was supporting an UBS project in parallel. Everything went fine since of the visa. On Friday morning I stayed at home waiting for the postal delivery, but there was no envelope for me. I called the embassy in Geneva and they told me that they have mixed me up with another person with the same surname. Thus, I had no alternative but to travel to Geneva. Although I spent nearly the whole day in the train I was glad to have my visa in the evening. I was ready to go and so I entered the airbus in Zürich to fly to Beijing. My adventure has started.

Airbus to Bejing in Zürich

foggy airport in Beijing
finally - Mongolian Visa