Thoughts from Ueno

Introduction

I am a seafarer. Some people may see us as blessed individuals who have the opportunity to see the world for free while earning dollars for our families at the same time. Well, that’s a yes and a no. The photos that we post on our social media accounts usually only tell the viewers half of the story. Behind that captured smile is a person wanting to escape all the exhaustion from his monotonous workplace- even if it means getting away for only a couple of hours, such as my case.

Chapter 1

The world trade would be paralyzed without the shipping industry. Until now, merchant vessels are the most efficient way of transporting large quantities of goods from one point to another. And, with no one to man the ships out there, the business is as good as dead. Our selfless service makes the world go round. Being a seafarer is difficult, but fulfilling. I am a proud member of the engine department in our ship. Our general task is to conduct routine maintenance and repair on the ship’s machinery. Work could be back-breaking most of the time, but it is in these struggles that I find meaning in what we do. If we do not get the job done, then who will?

Our selfless service makes the world go round

When I went out to Japan for the first time after 4 months of seeing nothing but metal and water, everything I saw was beautiful. The trees became such a pleasant sight that the people seeing me photograph every tree I encounter might have thought I’ve gone mad. My colleagues settled to go to the usual shopping malls and restaurants. I thought to myself: I want to experience Japan, and I don’t care if it’s only for a couple of hours. So, I asked some strangers where the nearest train station is, and off I went.

Chapter 2

One important thing that I learned in this profession is that time is everything. Time is so critical that a ship’s delay of 1 hour could literally sum up to a loss of thousands of dollars. Everything should be scheduled. No one should be late. No one should waste time.

I went to the train station and bought a ticket going to Ueno. Actually, a staff from the tourist information desk just referred this place to me. She told me that the station of Ueno is not very far from where we are. Excited, I waited at the station platform and looked at my ticket. There is an indicated time on which the train is expected to arrive. The punctuality of the trains in Japan impressed me. The train arrived on time as indicated on the ticket. Indeed, time is everything.

Chapter 3

We seafarers often face a new environment each time we board a ship. New people, new work place, new atmosphere, new culture, and the list goes on. In simpler terms, a new way of life. I believe many seafarers would agree with me that they had sacrificed a lot in order to stay in this kind of trade. When I feel my muscles ache from all the work while I lie in bed, I often think of how much I’ve taken for granted the little things back home. How much I’ve ignored napping on a perfectly quiet afternoon, or why I’ve not spent enough time with my family. When the struggles take over, that is when appreciation kicks in.

“When I feel my muscles ache from all the work while I lie in bed, I often think of how much I’ve taken for granted the little things back home.”

It took me about half an hour to reach the Ueno station. Food stalls selling all sorts of Japanese goodies line the station entrance. There are stalls selling takoyaki (Octopus balls), okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake), saké (Rice wine), taiyaki (fish shaped cake), bento (Japanese lunch sets), yakitori (chicken bbq), grilled corn, and many more. The food is overwhelming and I wanted to try each one of it. I looked at my watch and reminded myself that I am not on a vacation. This tour is merely a brief escape from all the grueling work on board. I settled for a single order of takoyaki in the end. For the first time in my contract, I found happiness amidst the chaos. Unarguably, that takoyaki was the best one I had in my entire life.

Chapter 4

Seafaring is not for the weak willed. We often sugarcoat the details of our work to our families and friends. Because of this, our profession is perceived to be something that is light and simple when in fact, it does not. We have to deal with problems like everybody else- the only difference is that we face it under worse conditions. Many are strong enough to be able to handle these properly, however, not everyone is resilient. There are times that when the burden seemed too heavy to bear, some seafarers take the easy way out. Family concerns are mostly responsible for these kind of accidents. At times, it may also be our fault for not being sensitive enough to the emotional needs of our colleagues.

We have to deal with problems like everybody else- the only difference is that we face it under worse conditions.

I went to the tourist information center of Ueno after devouring the last takoyaki. An old lady manned the stall and she doesn’t know how to speak in English. I communicated with her using gestures and eventually, she understood what I wanted to point out. She recommended the Tokyo National Museum of Ueno. Museums often bore me, but I still went on with the lady’s suggestion out of pure curiosity.

Chapter 5

Dirty hands, clean money. What I love about my job is that it’s as honest as it can be. We work hard and we deserve whatever we earn. They say that some jobs or businesses offer more coin, but I’ll still stick with seafaring. At least I get to earn money without sacrificing any of my moral values.

I knew I’m going to have fun the moment I saw the huge temple-like structure in front of me. The museum is enormous. A day would not be enough to appreciate everything this place has to offer. Excitement got the best of me as I asked strangers to take a photo with the beautiful museum at the background. I explored the museum as much as time allowed me afterwards.

Epilogue

I am a traveler. Some people may see us as carefree individuals who burn hard-earned money just to see glimpses of the world. I guess it all boils down to how we set our priorities. After all, who could blame us for wanting to keep good memories instead of a pair of expensive sneakers?

Fair winds, clear skies, and following seas to all the seafarers out there. Happy traveling!

-Carlo, WHT

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