Here’s the guerrilla report on CAFEO 34. We look forward to being on the invite list for CAFEO 35.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The location of this 34th conference was at the Citystate Asturias Hotel in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island of the Philippines. The conference started with the registration session at the Hotel on Monday 21st November 2016
This is author’s first experience attending a CAFEO event, and the first international event organized by the engineering community of multiple organizations. The arrangement is rather complex as compared to other conferences where it was organized by specialized organizations for the industry, such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Conference, Oil & Gas Association (OGA), International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC) and others. However, international conferences and events participations, management and coordination is not new to the author. His observation is his personal view and opinion which does not reflect any organizations’ point of view he is associated with.
Monday 21st November 2016
The Arrival and Registration
We were given the 1:20am flight on Monday 21st November 2016 and arrived in Puerto Princesa at about 9:30am the same day. There was a welcoming party at the airport so we were taken straight to the D’Galaxy Hotel. We were given this hotel because the conference hotel was fully booked and the next available hotel, The Centro was too expensive. Two weeks earlier, when this arrangement was being finalized, we were told that the hotel is near to conference location. A check on the google map showed that the hotel location was 160m away from the conference hotel. D’Galaxy Hotel was actually 3.6km away from the conference hotel, with dusty, busy and dangerous speeding vehicles on the road to actually be walking to the conference location. Mistake 1 – the organizing committee was supposed to scout the area first to know which hotel to be used to locate their delegates and not solely depend on the tour agent.
So we checked in the hotel, luckily the hotel assistant knew of our arrival so the rooms are ready but does not have our reservation (it must have been first come first serve), that’s a little weird. We were requested to provide deposit IN CASH because the hotel is new and does not have credit card facility. Mistake 2 – the organizing committee was supposed to know this very important detail and inform the delegates ahead of time so that we can be ready with cash. Some of us had to change currency for more cash, and some had to do overseas ATM withdrawal which charges exorbitant service fee for every withdrawal.
In order to get to the conference hotel, we obviously need transportation. We asked the hotel staff what time the available shuttles are. They do not know because they were not informed of the program by the organizing committee. We believe them because we were not informed of the changes to the program either (staff at the registration booth at the conference do not know either). Mistake 3 – communication between organizing committee members must be improved tremendously.
In handling events which is of an international scale like this, is definitely not easy. That is why many organizations hire professional event planners to handle such events. Full dependency on secretariat and volunteers from every participating countries is not sufficient to have a successful event. Relying on sole tour agent as conference partner and hotel conference staff by putting large amount of responsibilities on them will not work. This is because they have their own agenda and business priorities to consider. The issue here is weak communication by the Project Manager. It wasn’t clear either whether the delegates were allowed to attend the Working Group meetings. Some committee members say you must be invited, some says you can just slip in a sit at the back quietly. We just wish this is made clear. Probably something that Organizing Committee can consider putting together FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on everything raised here. There will always be a newbie like me every CAFEO session.
Some issues that the organizing committee should consider is how the registration can be handled in a more organized way and in a place where it is appropriate. First, space, you need a big space because many people will gather at this location. You cannot do at the walkway of the mezzanine floor. The place was too crowded. Second, ventilation, you need to have strong air-condition or fan when dealing with indoor crowded place like this. Third, sufficient staff, there was a good 45 minutes of lining up to wait for your photo to be taken for the conference ID. Forth, a checklist of what a delegate required to do, this is essential so that a delegate will not miss any registration requirements, important events and left out from maximizing from getting the most out of the conference.
The next point may be realized by many delegates from different countries but found it hard to actually express what they actually saw. We are all Asians after all. The award conferment event was overly dominated by the host country. It was understood that this event ran concurrently with CAFEO. We hardly saw delegates from other countries on the stage or even in the crowded hall. The event was quickly turned into a self-indulgent event by the host country. This made delegates from other countries that came from far felt left out. The event went overtime and dinner was late as well. There were no seats for other delegates. How many can actually fit into the hall and are the dinner allocated for the spouses as well? Mistake 4 – organizing committee is not sensitive to the delegates from other countries. Eventually, many of the delegates from other countries went to other places for dinner that night.
Tuesday 22nd November 2016
The Opening went really well with speeches from the Puerto Princesa’s Mayor and Philippine Technological Council’s President as well as the cultural performance.
One minor comment on this, and also generally to wedding goers, please do not hog the view. Many people seems to want to become professional photographers and videographers. I wish these people will leave the job to the professionals. I miss the olden days where cameras are a thing of luxury. I am very sure people can google the pictures taken by the professionals posted somewhere that you can use for your reports or Facebook’s update.
The Country Report presentation was very interesting. We get to learn what other countries are doing or planning to do in the next 5-10 years. Each country also presented their development challenges and how these challenges can be overcame.
It was interesting to know that Cambodia is building a new tower which is supposed to be higher than the Petronas Twin Towers. It is certainly nice to know how other countries are looking at us and being referred as a point to be challenged. I am however quite certain that Malaysia will be building something higher when the time comes.
Brunei presented their projects of Sungai Kebun Bridge (World’s longest single pylon cable-stayed), Pulau Muara Besar Bridge (2.7km of sea crossing bridge), Telisai-Lumut Highway (18.6km), Ulu Tutong Water Dam and upgrading of Institute Technology Brunei to University Technology Brunei.
Indonesia’s presentation was also interesting, looking at the challenges of developing the high population and spread out of the major and smaller islands that make up the country. Development plan has to be done by region, for example Medan – Tebing Tinggi – Dumai – Pekan Baru for the island of Sumatra. The development includes development of cities in the areas of tourism, agro industrial, maritime and fisheries and oil and gas. It shall include the physical infrastructure such as road network and ports, as well as information and communication technology. Another main topic presented was the development of the smart sustainable city of Jabodetaber. The project of building a railway from Jakarta to the Soekarno Hatta International Airport was also highlighted. Compact city of Maja, the new public city and Techno-park Development. Also presented was the Professional Engineers Certification and Engineering Education Accreditation updated processes.
Thailand presented the new plan for transportation between cities and ASEAN network by Rail Transportation which includes Double Track Railway, Medium-Speed Rail and High-Speed Rail. The Thailand government allocated 46% of the Transportation budget to Rail as compared to 39% to Road, 12% to Air and the remaining to Water Transportation. They also revealed the Thailand 4.0 program which looked at 3 major changes; 1. Change production of “commodities” into “innovative” products, 2. Transform industry-driven activities into those driven by technology, creativity and innovation, 3. Shift from the focus on making products, to providing services.
Vietnam presented some of its outstanding engineering projects in 2016 such as Lai Chau hydroelectric power station (3rd largest in Vietnam), Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort (Oscar of tourism in the world), AEON Mall Long Bien, Ha Noi-Lao Cai Highway (going through complex geographical challenges), and Tan Vu-Lach Huyen Highway (with sea-crossing bridge).
The host country, the Philippines presented some of their major projects such as NAIA Interconnection Highway, Windmills of Ilocos and others. Our IEM President also presented some of Malaysia’s plan and achievement in the engineering arena.
It was also interesting to note, the only developed nation in ASEAN, which is Singapore is not out and about building engineering marvels but looking at engineering the society, creating more chartered engineers, bringing the youngsters to take up engineering and building smart society. Now this differentiates between boys and men. Are we really ready to become a developed nation by the year 2020? It sometimes makes you wonder if we are a man or a boy, or simply a man who just doesn’t want to grow up?
It was hard to concentrate on the presentation because the crowd were quite uncontrollable. The master of ceremony had to request for the audience attention, but it only help for a short time. There were many small groups of people throughout the hall making their own private conversations, not in a mode of whispering, but just plain rude and thoughtless. It is hard to believe that all these people are actually respectable professionals. What made them like this? Is the presentation too boring, their conversation is more interesting, they were discussing about their multi-millions projects or were they long lost friends catching up with each other?
The Lunch. I wish the organizing committee can be a little more sensitive with the delegates’ limitation. This is in fact 2016, where taking care of the minority groups is actually quite fashionable. Many of the delegates are Moslems, some are Hindu, and some are vegetarians. The food was supposed to be labelled properly. When I asked the server at the buffet line what is being served, it was simply answered with “Vegies Sir”. Upon inspection in the vegies, there were some form of meat. When asked again what that was. The answer was “That’s pork Sir”. The label for the food only say the name of the dish in Tagalog. Mistake 5 – the committee need to be sensitive to other people’s need. Suffice to say many of the Moslems that day, in the hall, ate pork. Some knew about it because it was told to them by some concerned friends, while others will go on in their lives without knowing they actually have eaten pork. Had they been told, they could probably write in their journal about it and tell stories to their grandchildren about their accidental experience eating pork, just like many people tell their war stories or having to work in some godforsaken countries and remote places in the world.
Two thumbs up to the conference organizer for not serving alcohol. Other than making the meals more expensive it is not really professional for a group of professionals to be drinking and act unruly in business events.
Tuesday and Wednesday 22nd and 23rd November 2016
The Paper Presentations
The Paper Presentations are as shown in the booklet. The schedule and presentation materials were only out the night before the conference. Many presenters were absents and delegates were not clear of which locations to go for the intended papers.
One outstanding paper presentation that I am proud of attending and able to hold the attention of audience even though it was the last paper of the day was “Application of Membrane Technology towards Reuse of Lake Water, Mine Water, and Tube Well Water” by Dr. Teow Teit Haan from Malaysia. Her delivery was energetic, fast and structurally clear. There were many challenging questions from the floor afterwards, but she was well prepared with answers for every question confidently. Good job!
Fast forward to the closing event. We arrived early to ensure that we have a seat. Even though the hall was big it can’t comfortably fit in all the delegates with tables for dinner and having to wait in long lines for buffet meals. I am not sure how this can be solved, whether a bigger hall can be the solution to the issue. Probably a separate event hall and a few areas for buffet stations can solve the issue.
This time I requested one of the secretariats to ask the banquet manager to put labels clearly if the dish contains pork. The Banquet Manager, Mr Allan actually came to explain that they do not serve pork during this event and the server must have misunderstood my question. He also assured me that the meat served during the event is actually certifiably Halal. Like Wow! Well Done!
Figure 6 – The background – Hungry people lining up for food
Before the closing there was the event of award ceremony. The award ceremony quickly turned to a noisy event where people do not pay attention at all to the respected delegates receiving awards. How can this issue be solved?
The closing was done by the CAFEO34 Charmain from the Philippines and the flag was passed to the new organizing country, Thailand.
When the session completed, the dinner is served. There were too many people for the 6 stations, the lines can be very long with a good 20 minutes of waiting time. The turnaround time, for food replenishment were not fast enough, when we arrived at the station, some of the food were gone. And some were not even replenished.
So, I decided I would like to be an irritating delegate. I asked one of the server again about the egg and bitter gourd that they were serving in the buffet line. I asked if there’s pork inside the dish. She looked confused and said there was pork in the dish. I asked again if she is sure, telling her I am a Moslem and I can’t have pork. At the word of Moslem, she said, there was no pork and she is a Moslem too and all the food served there was Halal. Now that’s the end of the story.
Thursday 24th November 2016
The Technical Visit
It wasn’t made clear to all on what the Technical Visit on Thursday 24th November 2016 was supposed to be. Nothing is written anywhere although the program included it as part of the conference allocated day. It was finally informed by the Secretariat on Tuesday that the Technical Visit was only for the head of delegates. We wish we would have known it earlier so that we can make arrangements to leave the country earlier. Flight changes is almost impossible when you have gathered a considerable number of important busy people from all around the region on an island with one small airport where their priorities is to get in and out as soon as possible. This issue goes back to the issue of communication. The delegates should have been informed.
Figure 7 – When thing doesn’t go your way, do not keep on complaining, make things happen for you. Go to Underground River excursion. It’s an experience that you will cherish throughout your lives.
There was no doubt that the committee has put a lot of effort in putting together the event of this size. For that, they deserve a pat on their backs for the hard work and dedication. Some of them may have worked all through day and night, and some may even have worked as volunteers, without asking a single cent in return. Hopefully, they will continue to contribute and may their contribution be rewarded in one form or another one day.
While some of these comments can sometimes be understood as less that positive criticism, they are just comments from an amateur observer who would like to see improvement being made on the things that he genuinely cared about. Hopefully we shall continue on our path to help others. Probably a survey form with standard satisfaction level questions and areas of strength and weakness would be appropriate for the result to be discussed during the post-mortem meeting as well as the lesson learnt session for the upcoming organizing committee. Survey in the form of hardcopy distributed during the closing or email survey invitation would be great to have as an improvement tool.
Special thank you to the IEM Secretariat that has literally running here and there to ensure the IEM Delegates are well taken care of. It is nice to be able to go to people whom you can trust to take care you the best of their abilities.
Puerto Princesa is a beautiful city with many nature’s attractions for tourists. The islands, underground caves and many others are extremely wonderful places to be revisited. It however, does not have sufficient facilities to handle international scale major conference like this. Facilities like hotels, public transportation and internet connection are crucial to ensure that the business can continue uninterrupted throughout the conference period. Hotel rooms which is located in the middle of a building without a proper window, phone reception or hotel Wi-Fi access are not acceptable accommodation for conference delegates.
Looking forward to see what CAFEO35 in Bangkok, Thailand on 16 to 19 November 2017 has got to offer. The choice of location at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre is excellent with conference facilities at international level. And Bangkok city will definitely be able to offer multitude varieties of activities to the delegates as well as their spouses. Problem is will anyone allow their spouses to be in Bangkok for a “conference” unaccompanied?