Coffee: The New Coconut Shrimp*

Written by Will on . Posted in Expat Life, Nomadic Lifestyle, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

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disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on actual events.

Not too long ago I wrote a little piece about the wonders of working in Antarctica. Every bit of it was from the heart and there are times which I feel extremely privileged and lucky to be here. Those times, however, are only the most minuscule part of the overall Antarctic experience. The following account is much more consistent with day-to-day life on the harshest of continents.

Imagine this: You wake up a few minutes late, but no big deal, there should be plenty of time to get to breakfast and get to work on time. It’s winter at a small station so there’s only one cook – so that means that everyone is on their own for breakfast, which for most of us means cold cereal or microwaved leftovers. The onus of making coffee falls upon the coffee drinkers as there are no DAs (Dining Attendants) at Palmer Station. So, there you are, a bit groggy and off-kilter, desperate for your first hit of caffeine to get your day started, but you find that relief is but a mirage as pumping the coffee dispenser only yields a blast of air with a mere misting of coffee. Again, not that big of a deal, it’s pretty easy to make more which begs the question of why the person who ran the pot out of coffee didn’t bother to make more. So, you start a new pot of coffee and figure that while you’re waiting you can get a bowl of cereal together, except, your hopes are once again dashed as you discover there are no bowls where they’re supposed to be. You go grab one of the full racks of dishes from the sanitizer and put them all away, at once doing a service for the community and solving your own bowl dilemma. You pour a bowl of cereal, but it’s the last of the cereal. Rather than be lame like the guy who ran the coffee pot out, you take it upon yourself to get new cereal and refill the container. Of course, to do this you are obligated to properly account for the cereal so there’s a small bit of paperwork to do to issue the cereal out. While you’re engaged in cereal inventory management, you notice that there must be someone around with a little bit of gumption, as they’ve taken the fresh pot of coffee and put it out for service. You also notice that next to the case of cereal, there is an empty box (from which the last of the winter supply of Fritos has been removed – yeah, this is a whole other tangent that one could go completely mad over). Unable to simply let this one slide, you break down the empty box and put it on the cardboard stack. With the bowl debacle solved, the cardboard dealt with, the cereal poured into the bowl, the new cereal issued out and accounted for; the next step is to pour milk on your cereal. Things are starting to get downright frustrating now as you discover the sole carton of milk in the milk cooler is empty. WHO THE HELL PUT THIS THING AWAY EMPTY!!! O.k., off to the walk-in cooler to fetch some more milk. Milk fetched, accounted for, milk poured in bowl of cereal, dishes put away, cereal re-stocked and accounted for and new coffee made and coffee pot in service – ARRGGGHH what’s this – smoke is billowing out of the toaster as someone must have put a too-large piece of bread or something through it and walked away. The smoke is dangerously close to being dense enough to set off the smoke detector which will trigger an entire series of undesirable events. Being the good-Samaritan with a sense of self-preservation, you rush to the toaster to deal with it. Finally, you can settle down with your bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee, except you still haven’t poured a cup of coffee for yourself and you won’t be either, because as you’ve been busy putting away dishes and doing inventory management and responding to toaster emergencies, someone else has been busy drinking all the coffee. The coffee pot is once again EMPTY!!!! YOU BASTARDS!!!

The now soggy cereal in your bowl only adds fuel to your recent homicidal thoughts as you watch, like a hawk, as the new pot of coffee brews. When your official start-work-time comes before the coffee is done, you realize that your entire day is probably going to be an extension of this morning’s events.

*Last year, at The South Pole, the 59 wankers that I spent the winter with devoured an entire meal of coconut shrimp (one of my favorite dishes) prior to my arrival at dinner. I yelled expletives at them – they deserved it. Those same 59 wankers still chide me about it at every opportunity. I sure do miss those guys!

Repatriation Guide for Antarcticans

Written by Will on . Posted in Contract & Seasonal Jobs, Income & Jobs, Lore, Legend & Stories, Overseas Jobs, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

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As this season nears its end I thought I would write a guide for my fellow winterovers on what to expect upon re-assimilating with the real world.

Here are a few things to keep in mind during this period of adjustment:

    Meals & Food

  • You will be expected to make choices when it comes to meals, e.g. what to eat, how you would like it prepared and at what time would you like to eat.
  • A restaurant is much like the galley except there are many food items from which to choose and there are many different styles of restaurants.
  • When finished with a meal at a restaurant, you are obligated to pay for your meal.
  • You will likely have to sit at an unfamiliar table at a restaurant, embrace the change.
  • Smegma, “The Shocker”, santorum and flatulence are all unacceptable mealtime conversation topics.
  • “Freshies” are referred to as fruits and vegetables and are in abundance at most restaurants.
    Social Interaction

  • No need to obsess over male to female ratios as there are people of both sexes in abundance in many parts of the world.
  • Women tend to be self-conscious about their size, thus their size won’t be stenciled in giant numbers on their Carharrt overalls.
  • In fact, people in general are fairly unlikely to be seen wearing Carharrt overalls in any social setting. Much like choices in food, choices in clothing will probably be extremely overwhelming. Many people in the real world have a tendency to wear different clothes every day of the week. Oh, and these clothes will have likely been laundered recently.
  • If you are a male and wearing a skirt or wig, you may be mistaken for a clown or a homosexual; discretion is advised if you don’t wish to be identified with either of these groups. The good news is that this scenario isn’t likely owing to the fact that wigs and skirts aren’t nearly as readily available as you have become accustomed.
  • If you are a female, wearing a skirt or dress doesn’t have to be reserved for special occasions such as midwinter or sunrise dinner. Go crazy, wear one every day if that’s your preference – it probably won’t end up smelling like diesel in the real world.
  • People of small size and extremely youthful appearance are most likely children. Though tempting, staring in awe or disgust at children will likely get you labeled as a pervert, which, in the real world is a derogatory label.
  • Those awful devices that spew forth advertisements, rhetoric and pseudo-drama are called televisions. Many people, especially in the U.S., seem enamored with these devices and insist on structuring much of their free-time around the so-called programming on them. This is a cultural oddity and must be respected lest you be thought of as cretinous.
    Daily Activities

  • You may find the transition to unstructured time difficult. Try your best to simply exist without rigid schedules. You probably won’t be able to rely on your outlook scheduler to remind you to do things. Take small steps in structuring your time; for instance, if you feel an unfamiliar twinge in your stomach, you may be feeling slight hunger – that means that it might be mealtime
  • Speaking of mealtime, you can eat any time you like so no need to go to dinner just because you’re afraid you’ll miss out and be hungry later. If you are hungry later, you can simply eat
  • Your day won’t be broken into four uniform blocks of time book-ended by snacks and coffee in the galley. It’ll be tough, but if you work at it, you can probably make the necessary adjustments and eventually find this way of life tolerable until you can get back to The Ice.

Most important, take lots of pictures and bring back stories for your travelogue next season!

Polar Madness

Written by Will on . Posted in Lore, Legend & Stories, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

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Antarctica‘s history is replete with tales of explorers and expeditioners going completely mad. One of my favorite tales is from the Mawson expedition of 1911. While Mawson and two members of his team were out doing sciencey stuff, disaster struck as a sledge loaded with most of their food was lost in a crevasse along with the team of dogs pulling the sledge and one member of the party. With no food Mawson and his remaining companion started the 500km journey back to their base of operations. They began eating the dogs. Unbeknownst to the men, dog livers contain toxic levels of Vitamin A. The combination of the stressful situation and Vitamin A toxicity drove both men to madness but had a greater effect on Mawson’s companion who eventually, in protest of eating the dogs, bit off his own finger and eventually died, probably of complications caused by Hypervitaminosis A.

Mawson continued on, facing even greater adversity. He fell into a crevasse, but was saved when his sledge acted as an anchor. Mawson admitted to considering cutting the rope at that point. The soles of his feet separated from the feet themselves. He cut his sledge in half with a pen knife and dragged it approximately 160km back to camp. Upon his arrival to the base camp, he discovered that his ship had left just days earlier. There was a party of six men left behind in case survivors returned – this party was able to radio the ship, but poor weather thwarted a rescue attempt. One of the men left behind succumbed to polar madness very early on, was locked up and eventually institutionalized upon the party’s return to Australia.

Admiral Byrd’s historic (but controversial) flight over the South Pole is seen as the line of demarcation between the heroic age of exploration and modern exploration. Things have gotten easier in Antarctica, but that doesn’t mean the crazies don’t still find their way down here and the winter seems to be their time to shine. There are stories about one man violently bludgeoning another with a hammer, mutinous crews, a doctor who attempted to build a time machine and a man who was convinced that aliens would land. More minor symptoms include memory loss, quick tempers and apparently hallucinations. Popular opinion is that everyone wintering in Antarctica will go crazy to some degree.

During my first winter at The South Pole I was quick to dismiss as myth the things that I had heard people talk about. I really do believe that people embellish the symptoms of T3 (AKA winterover toast) a great deal. I did, however, have a minor experience of my own in which I completely lost a four-hour block of time. The incident did at least cause me to be a believer.

This season I may have actually “lost it” in a more classic way, perhaps the isolation and lack of stimulation are finally getting to me, but the other day when I was returning from the Marr glacier I saw what I thought was a person (which my mind quickly turned into people). I went as far as to radio this sighting in. Upon my return to station quite a few folks were out with binoculars trying to see what I thought I saw. By this point I was quite a bit less sure about what I had seen, but to satisfy my own curiosity I went back out with another person and a pair of binoculars only to discover what I had seen were rocks that looked like a person and a bird fluttering which added movement to the scene. I expected to catch quite a bit of razzing, but it was fairly mild actually. Perhaps nobody wants to try to push the guy who’s seeing things too far or perhaps it’s because I turned the thing around pretty quickly by calling them all suckers.

At any rate, it might be time for me to take some time off. More to follow.

Getting a Job in Antarctica Continued….

Written by Will on . Posted in Contract & Seasonal Jobs, Expat Life, Income & Jobs, Nomadic Lifestyle, Overseas Jobs, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

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Quite some time ago I wrote an article on how to get a job in Antarctica. I wrote it because it was something I knew about and I figured that a lot of people visiting this site might appreciate the information. That still holds true, but I since I’ve been doing some work with some friends of mine on the Antarctic Memories Message Board I have come to the realization that the information that I provide may not be enough, in itself, to help a lot of the people who want to pursue the Ice lifestyle.

During my work on the Antarctica Forum I have met some people who were highly qualified for the positions that they were applying for; yet year after year they were being passed-over for jobs that needed to get filled. It struck me then, that the people who are successful in getting hired are the ones who are best equipped to navigate corporate red-tape. I find this realization a bit ironic because the majority of people who end up working in Antarctica are vociferously anti-corporate, this is even more true with those who return season after season.

I figured I’d try to put some tips together to expand on getting a job in Antarctica. You’re marketing yourself so remember:

Everything that you do during the hiring process needs to reflect that you are a professional. If your only email address is one that says something about you that could be perceived as negative or inflammatory, get a new email address. Use spell check and use proper grammar. Have someone proof read it if necessary. Don’t do a half-assed job of filling out the job application, even if all of your relevant experience, references, etc. are spelled out in your resume.

Speaking of your resume, it may very well speak volumes about your years of experience or education, but what does it say about how you add value to your employer’s business? And on that topic, can you work in numbers and percentages? Something along the lines of “increased widget sales by 13% resulting in a $30,000 increase in revenue” See…your resume is being reviewed by people who speak in such strange tongues and though they may not understand what any of that means, it does give you common ground which may be enough to get your application from “in review” to “interview” status.

Go ahead and call – in fact, I’d encourage you to call. On the RPSC website, there’s an 800 number. Call it, if you haven’t got the name of a particular person whom you have explicit permission to call, just ask to be connected to HR. Strike up a conversation with the person, get their name, ask questions about how the hiring process works, ask if they’ve ever deployed to The Ice before – if so, ask specific questions about The Ice. I really don’t think they’ll mind. Think about your last experience in a fluorescent light hell-office. Anything to take your mind out of there, right?

Preparing for the interview:
Since the positions are widely varied, it’s hard to say how your interview might be set up, but there are some standard questions which you should really think about. There aren’t right or wrong answers to any of these necessarily, but some answers will fit better with working on The Ice. Your technical skills and job experience are probably fairly well laid out and explained fully or you probably wouldn’t have been considered for an interview, and the person interviewing you may not know a whole lot about the technicalities of your job anyhow, but you should have a copy of what they’re looking at in front of you during the interview (the interview will likely be over the phone by the way). The things you need to have well thought-out answers for are more along the lines of how you resolve conflict and why do you want to come to Antarctica. You really need to be thinking about those things and have strong, confidence inspiring answers for those questions. Superior skills in navigating corporate Labyrinths coupled with some luck will get you to the interview stage, a strong interview will land you the job. Be prepared for it, if going to Antarctica is a dream for you, you don’t want to blow this chance.

Post interview coping strategy:
Before you hang up with the person interviewing you, you should get their contact information and ask for permission to contact them later. I’m highly opposed to emailing someone because written words are misunderstood with far more ease than spoken words, but that’s just me. At any rate, whatever medium you decide to use to follow-up with someone, make sure and do it. At the very least, send a short note thanking the person for their time and for answering your questions (you did ask questions during the interview, right?). Anticipation gets very hard to cope with at this stage and you might need to hear something one way or the other to allow you to go on with your life. Call back and be courteous without being nagging or overbearing.

The hiring process is very strange in that the person interviewing you may very well not be able to tell you what to expect to be paid. This is a function of HR and seems to be a closely guarded secret. A couple of things to keep in mind – a weekly salary that is offered to you is not inclusive of the end of season bonus that you will get if you successfully complete your contract season. Also, all meals and housing while you’re on The Ice is company provided. While you’re on The Ice you won’t be paying for electricity or water or fuel for your car or any of those other things that you have to pay for “back home” and so, the wage you may be offered might seem low, I can tell you in my case that I’m financially better off for being on The Ice.

2009 Antarctic 48-hour Film Fest Submission – Gash Dance!

Written by Will on . Posted in General, Lore, Legend & Stories, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

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Required elements for the 2009 Winter International Film Fest of Antarctica:
Props: A roll of toilet paper
“A comedy head piece” (for example ornamental hat, clown wig)

Line of dialogue:
“Do you want to buy a dog?”

Character:
A temperamental, continental chef.

Sound:
Opening a can of drink

Here is the submission from Palmer Station:

[flashvideo filename=/video/GashDanceweb.mov image=/video/GashDance.jpg plugins=viral-1&viral.functions=embed&viral.onpause=false&viral.callout=always /]

Direct Download Link (right click – “save link as” or “save target as” or whatever) : http://www.vagabumming.com/video/GashDance.mov

or for the bandwidth impaired: http://www.vagabumming.com/video/GashDanceweb.mov