Archive | January, 2010

I feel privileged

31 Jan

This morning I woke at 9am in the hostel room that had been my home for a month all those weeks ago. I walked out onto the veranda and looked at the cruise ships majestically resting in the port like well fed posh show cats being carried around in hand bags. The same glamorous cruise ships a couple of months ago I looked at and yearned to be on, the ships that I would of done anything to be working on – the cruise ships I did everything to be on!

So how did I feel looking at them? People have asked me if I was disappointed leaving my contract early. The answer is simple, no. Life is too short to be doing something you don’t like, even though I wanted it for sooooo long, this is not reason enough to stay doing something that doesn’t fulfil you. This is one thing I took away from my Paraguay chapter, you have to do things that make you happy, and if you’re not happy, make change.

There were times yesterday when I was working with all the smiling faces that I had spent all my waking moments with over the past couple of months and thought to myself “I could stay on and work” – why is it when you are leaving you think you could do more and forget all those times where you wanted nothing more but to leave?

But that was short lived, as soon as I exited the port gates like a prisoner walking into the free world after serving a sentence I felt a sense of freedom! I watched the floating cage head out into the Beagle channel for another 11 day sentence, and I was glad I was not onboard. I knew exactly what my work mates would be doing, masking their tiredness with the same smiles they had used that morning to farewell the guests only to welcome the new guests.

But the one thing I felt more than anything, was privileged. In a previous post I used material from my editor (that sounds flash – by the way he hasn’t edited this post as he’s away at the kiwiburn music festival so you have to put up with my spelling mistakes) about being privileged.

I felt privileged leaving the ship as I was in the position where I had a choice to leave, I have other options to earn money and have a quality lifestyle and be with my girlfriend and friends and visit family or go and travel. Whereas my fellow Filipino work-mates, they do not. Everyone has a choice, but not everyone has the options available.

OK, so what I’m I trying to say here. The ship’s dining room and galley team is made up of about 90% Filipino, 5% Ukrainian and 5% mix of Indian and other nationalities with myself and the Head chef the only English as first language employees.

I have nothing but respect for my smiling hardworking co-workers. In my previous posts I complained about pay, I complained about long hours, less sleep/more work lifestyle etc. But the reality is that all my Filipino co-workers are paid less than me and are contracted for at least 8 months. For example I was on $1,500 a month (70 hour weeks with an over-time of $2.64/hr) as an assistant waiter, but my Filipino assistant waiters were on $1100, obviously this is a lot of money back in the Philippines, 3-4 times more than they can earn there, but we do the same job.

I lasted not even 2 months on the ship, 52 days without a day off (we have “mornings” off every now and then) but my colleagues they have 8 month contracts. But their contract is never over until they receive the company issued plane ticket and a lot of the time the employees have their arms tied and have to work additional months as there are no replacements. What can they do, they need to stay in the companies good books so they can gain another contract. I suppose they could quit and use 2 months wages to buy a ticket back to the Philippines (sarcasm).

Is this exploitation? I was going to call this post “expedition cruise ship or exploitation cruise ship”? I have times where I have my university economics/business tailor made hat fighting for the crown position with my yellow red and green Rastafarian dreadlocked peace and love beanie for the answer to this question. But I didn’t call it this because what it comes down to is that everyone has a choice, no one is forced into this position. Although I still believe their position is taken advantage of.

Why are there no foreigners like me on board? Simple, we wouldn’t and don’t put up with the conditions and treatment? There are foreigners onboard, but they are on the expedition team or in higher positions, they are on shorter contracts more lifestyle friendly contracts ie 3 months on 3months off. I’m sure they wouldn’t except being told that they have to say on for another month because they can’t find a replacement. I’m not the first foreigner who has came and worked in the dining room tream, got frustrated at the conditions and treatment and left, in fact it seems to be the norm.

Another reason I have a tremendous amount of respect for my colleagues and feel privileged is because they are all away from families, and when I mean families I also mean sons and daughters. There are many couples working on the ship with children back in the Philippines who are being looked after by family members. For example one of my work mates has been on the ship 9 months and has a 10 month old daughter at home, and he only talks to his wife and 2 daughters twice a month as it costs $20 for 32 minutes on the phone, and for the lower paid positions such as a dining room utility (vacuums and cleans etc) that only earn $670 a month, $20 is a substantial amount of money!

This is not a lone example, this is the norm, every Filipino worker is working for their family back home whether it is for their children or parents or other relatives. Another example is one of my co-workers and his wife have worked majority of their lives on the cruise ship, they have 4 children at home and even a grandchild, and they are away for 8 months at a time and been doing this all their life.

Many of my co-workers talked about the dream of coming to New Zealand or Australia and working, and some even have applications underway. This is why I feel privileged, it’s too easy to take what we have for granted! They carry photos of their families in their cell phones and wallets, they put up with the work environment and at times the verbal abuse as they have no other option, and this I have nothing but respect for them, and to turn up each day with a smile on the face is a credit to them

So my plan now that I’m in the free world? I have been able to change my departure date from Argentina for March. I will be heading into Chile on Monday as with my crew visa I have to exit Argentina in 72 hours. I will do some hiking, although I’m not sure how this will go as one thing I learnt from my time working as an assistant waiter carrying heavy trays etc was that my back is still and will never be the same after my accident a couple of years ago where I fractured my vertebrae. Maybe some hitch hiking, but I will be back in Paraguay by Feb 23rd when Mandy gets back from the States.

Ok folks, I have just typed 1,347 grammatically jumbled words to say “I feel privileged”. Best I shut up now, more posts on the cruise ship lifestyle and living quarters coming up.

Welcome to heaven

27 Jan

OK, so I might say my job is the worst job I have ever had, blah blah, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Every now and then there’s a sunbeam that shines through the routine, and yesterday was one of them. Yesterday was a day that will go down as one of my more memorable days of work. Let me share it with you to give you a little ray of light amongst my dark posts.

Within the dining room crew my nickname is Tourist Boy. This is because I always go on the landings when the opportunity arises and I’m always taking photos as is a full time operation, haha. Since I started my blog I have evolved with my camera in my pocket. I’ve mentioned previously my work mates are on the ship to work, and I’m here to experience the great wonder that is Antarctica.

So when my boss asked the dining room team who wanted to work the afternoon serving champagne to the guests, everyone said “Tourist Boy will!” And I was like, “hell yeah, Tourist Boy will!”

Why was I so excited to serve champagne? Because I was to be serving champagne outside, in the picturesque Le’ Maire channel, while in a Zodiac dinghy.

The afternoon was spent zipping through this spectacular channel between sculpture-like icebergs, watching leopard seals and taking in the sublime beauty. Oh yeah, and of course serving the odd glass of champagne now and then.

As often as I paint a gloomy picture, this particular day was definitely one of those “I’m so lucky” moments. In fact, this entire last cruise has been like that, while I’m doing all my “lasts.” It seems it’s always the way, that when you know you’re leaving you start to appreciate everything so much more.

OK, enough of this lovey-dovey blog post! Back to “living the nightmare” – I really have to stop watching Fox news!


Welcome to Hell

24 Jan

On my first day of work one of the crew members said to me, “welcome to hell.” Another said, “welcome to Prison Andrew.” (The cruise ship I’ve been working is the Prince Andrew) Yet another told me, “If you can work on this ship you can work on any cruise ship.

Let me take that last comment and explain it a bit more:

Add this to the work atmosphere I’ve talked about in previous posts, and you can probably understand why backpacking in South America sounded more appealing than staying to continue working on Prison Andrew!

Living the nightmare.

22 Jan

 Once you’ve lived the dream of working in Antarctica, what’s left?

The answer is: “Just another job.”

I’ve always liked the quote: “We have too many people who live without working, and we have altogether too many who work without living.” Dean Charles R. Brown said that, about a hundred years ago.
I remember sitting in a café in Paraguay drinking terere and watching the young boys outside with their horse and cart sifting through the curb side rubbish and writing that I was craving work and routine after nearly 10 months of no real work. I should say, though, that I hadn’t just been sitting around playing my dreadlocks and being a hippy—I gained my Dive Master qualification and studied Spanish; travelled around Thailand with friends in our rented 4×4 navigating mountain paths, hired scooters in the north east of Malaysia, snowboarded in Argentina, and caught a ride on a cargo boat in Paraguay and camped out with the carnival folk in Concepcion to name a few; and “worked” full-time looking for employment in the Antarctic.

Now my life is a polar opposite (no pun intended). I’ve worked the past fifty days on the cruise ship without a day off, and every day I’ve worked over ten hours. Only a couple of times I’ve worked the more customary eight-hour day.

I don’t mind working long hours, but I’d prefer to be enjoying the long hours I work, which is not easy to manage in my current setting. This is no surprise when with fifteen people (as we have in the dining room team) working together for every waking moment, 10–12 hours a day without days off, working in tense & high-paced environment while suffering from lack of sleep… The job is not always going to be an enjoyable one. Because we’re together every waking hour, as well as getting everyone’s good moods we also get to experience and share the bad moods. I know I’ve had my days, and that’s only natural.

Don’t get me wrong— I enjoy the work itself, being an assistant waiter, and interacting with and serving the passengers. But it is the disrespect, the bad work environment, the more work/ less sleep lifestyle, the lack of any down- time, poor pay, being a foreigner on the ship, and the generally unhealthy lifestyle that I don’t like— that is, it’s the system, not so much the people. So for these reasons, I have handed in my letter of resignation; this is my final cruise. I have lived the dream, I can tick the box. I don’t want my dream to turn into a nightmare, and end up remembering it for the wrong reasons.


18 Jan

The cruise ship industry is one with a strong hierarchy. All industries have hierarchies, but on cruise ships it’s even more obvious. Officers have their separate mess room where they eat in privacy away from the crew, as well as separate uniforms, etc. When addressing officers you call them by their rank, or sir/madam. I have been told off in front of the dining room team at the menu briefing (where a selected team member presents the menu items each night) for saying in a friendly way to the Head Sommelier “thank you my good friend”, I was told by my superior “he is not your good friend, he is your head sommelier. “I mean… come on.

Another thing I’ve learnt during this job is what I call inward and outward respect. I’ll quote one of my higher authorities in a meeting with the assistant waiters: “I’m your boss, I demand respect”. Following this meeting I displayed outward respect, i.e. no matter what I was asked to do no matter how much I disagreed with it, I would reply “yes sir/madam, certainly.” But my response was hollow, it was like a Louis Vinton hand bag bought on the streets of Bangkok; it was fake. There was no inward respect; I was like a slave who respects his master as he holds the whip.

Sorry. I’m being very negative and general about my officers and authorities in a bad way. This is not really fair – the higher authorities who are like this are in a small minority, and I’ve only come across these strong personalities in the dining and galley environment, which always seems to attract strong personalities. We have a great bunch of officers; in fact, our Captain and staff captain and the other officers I have met are great, down-to-earth, turn up to the staff parties, and have a laugh and they talk to everyone on a friendly basis no matter what your position. For example, today I was serving at the lunch buffet and ask the Captain, “Good afternoon, Captain. How are you doing today?”
He comes close to me with a dead-straight face, and in his long Finnish accent whispers, “I want to jump overboard.” The Captain is classic; a dry sense of humour that I really quite enjoy.

The other side of this experience is that I have been spoken to in the dining room and galley as though I’m a worthless decaying penguin carcass that is infected with some kind of festering penguin disease. People say it’s part of the job, but for me there is no excuse for this kind of attitude. Just because I’m an assistant waiter it doesn’t give people the right to treat me like a penguin carcass and take advantage of my inferior position on the hierarchy.

I think the above is why 90% of the dining room team is Filipino. They have no choice but to put up with this abuse, as they are supporting families back home. And speaking of respect and money… Ummm… well, maybe I’ll leave this topic for my following post…!

To wrap up, in my opinion the only way to earn employees’ respect is to show respect to the employees from whom you wish to earn it. You also have to know your shit (6 star translation – you have to have the required knowledge); you have to know the job better than your employees, and be extremely hardworking. Employees have memories. We remember what bosses say
and there is nothing more deserving of disrespect than a boss that has the ‘do as I say and not as I do’ attitude. And, you must show the employees that their work is appreciated and reward them, with the best reward being, of course, genuine compliments.

Working the world has been a constant work place learning curve, seeing how things are done in different jobs. I’m taking away things that I think are useful, and which I can learn from and put into practice. So I just thought I’d share this little observation with you.

Where have all the good people gone?

17 Jan

In the crew mess area the wide screen plasma TV shows Fox News each day. And each day it is a reminder to me that the past 7 years that I have been working the world and haven’t had a TV, I have been lucky. And it confirms my belief that life is a lot better with your head in the sand and not watching the news. Who can honestly say that they feel revived or happy to be a live after watching the 6 o’clock news; earthquakes, murders, wars, corrupt politicians.

Ok, I believe it is good to know that there is a world outside of your world and what is going on and what you can do to help. But how about some good news, are there any good people out there?

Well, as my Antarctic journey has unravelled over the past months I have come across many good people, and this also includes you guys my blog readers that have supported me and motivated me. I have had people willing to help me, people that haven’t even known me but have gone out of their way to help, for example Vicky who I met in Ushuaia, she worked at the local cell phone shop and was there when my newly purchased Ushuaian sim card wasn’t working. I would buy credit for it, but then somehow my credit would disappear without me making a call. After her boss was rather rude to me and unhelpful, she said “I know you’re honest, give me your cell number, I will sort this out in my own time and get back to you”. A couple of days later she had sorted it out and had me a new sim card – Cheers Vicky, will catch soon.

The other day I received an email from James, a fellow kiwi who returned back to New Zealand after 6 years of travel. He came across my blog and has been following my adventures/misadventures. He’s an editor for the Maori Law Review
back home, and has offered to edit my blog posts before I post them. You’re all probably thinking “helleyuya (the spelling of this word is a prime example, even Microsoft spell checker doesn’t know what I’m trying to spell), finally Hap’s verbal diareaha will make sense. James put it in a better way in his email

“…………While I enjoy reading your blog posts, I can’t help noticing there are the odd grammar, readability or spelling error. I’m a writer and an editor myself, and I was wondering if you’d like me to give your posts the once-over before you actually post them? I can do this for you for free, simply because I like your mission and stories so much. I think that, if you make improvements to style and readability, you’d have a great blog, and of course you would have the last say………….

James offer came at a great time as I currently have about 5 posts on the go. I’m “in the zone” so to speak. I’m trying to write as much as I can while I’m in this environment and living it. So if the coming blog posts represent a formed verbal motion and all those funny symbols that are foreign to me like hyphens and commas are actually in the correct place, you know James has worked his Metamucil magic.

If you are interested go and check out the road tripping group that James has set-up based out of Wellington, a great initiative and he also has a great website for it. James also has a great blog with some great thoughts, a deep down to earth thinker; he has a recent post on Anxiety which I totally relate to after my Paraguay chapter, and the snippet below from a previous blog rather tickled my fancy. Go check it out, .

“I once said to someone, you should be grateful you come from a privileged background. They rejoined with a statement that they came from a poor family; they weren’t privileged at all. What I didn’t explain at the time—as, while it was obvious to me what I meant, I was not properly rhetorical, and I had not thought out the actual reasons to be able to elaborate—was that:

  1. If you come from a poor family in a rich country, you’re privileged.
  2. If you come from a family where both parents are still together, you’re privileged.
  3. If you come from a family that encouraged you academically, spiritually, and physically, you’re privileged.
  4. If you have access to tertiary education, you’re privileged.
  5. If you have more than two friends who will back you up, support you, listen to you, and forgive you when you mess up, you’re privileged.
  6. If you have ever used a passport in your life, you’re privileged.
  7. If you have a job that affords you ‘leisure-time,’ you’re privileged.

Most of the world does not have a life such as this. Most of the world is missing at least one of these privileges, and in many cases, all of them.

If you have any combination of these things, be grateful and have respect for that privilege”.

Ok folks, just thought I would let you know that there are people out there that should be on the 6 o’clock news but aren’t.

Nuthin but love Hap

Working on the edge

16 Jan

On reflection, my first couple of weeks working were some of my toughest, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (my fault, I put myself in this position), and anyone that has worked in a fast paced kitchen/dining environment will tell you it is not a learning environment. Everyone is busy, everyone is stressed and things need to get done, now! For example, “Mark, get me 2 decaf coffees”, my first thought, where do I get decaf coffee from, second, how do I make it?. In the rushed environment I was quickly shown where it was and told to pop the decaf cartridge in this slot and hit the switch – simple………..ummmm no. Two important pieces of information left out, you have to check if the machine is full of water and secondly, the switch I just turned on and then rushed away to get a saucer, well that switch doesn’t automatically switch off! J

Our work environment is a “don’t make a mistake” environment. Anyone that has started a new job knows that one thing is guaranteed, you are going to make mistakes, it’s only human to make mistakes – sometimes I think I’m more human than most. So when you are about to serve a table and your hands are filled with hot plates, your head is full of all the information you’re trying to take in, eg seat positions, who ordered what, what side to serve from, names of guests, do I need additional plates to serve this course etc, and as you’re heading to the table your told “don’t make a mistake”, it does not help. A friendly “you’re doing a good job, just remember to……” would go down a lot better.

Constantly you are being told to hurry up. I’ve learnt there is nothing more annoying than being told to go faster when you are already going as fast as you can. I can see it in me, as soon as someone compliments me “you’re doing a good job” you work faster and are happier and want to continue to please. When someone points out all the things you are doing wrong (and when you start a job there is no shortage of the things you are doing wrong) and telling you to hurry up, the only thing you want to do is find the nearest blunt object and inflict pain on them.

Oh, and if you’re going to tell someone to hurry up or complain about having to check out late, please don’t say it sitting down doing nothing. It’s a lot more effective is you say while pitching in and giving a hand.

If there are any managers out there, or if you work in a team environment, go and compliment your employees or co-workers right now, as you probably know it works wonders. And if you have a waste of skin working for you, still try it, try the good old sandwich technique, open with a compliment, then say in a nice way that the person is a waste of skin and needs to improve this this and this and then close with a compliment.

OK, that wraps up my Human Resources class on the work environment for today, please join me tomorrow for our class on workplace hierarchies. Class dismissed, haha looks like my I’m finally putting my $30,000 Human Resource Management piece of paper to use! Who do I think I am, some kind of HR expert or something! Happy working folks.