Saturday, July 21, 2012

Learning or Never Learning

July 12, 2012 – Learning or Never Learning

I’m the first one to the table for lunch. Joe brings me my plate of cooked veggies while I’m still occupied with outfitting my salad with olive oil, olives, and pepper. The solemn officer enters and sits in his spot to the left of the captain’s chair. He nods his hello. He puts some salad on his side plate and we eat in silence. I’m beginning to figure some things out. Things like rank according to seat and silence as a defense against second languages.

“Are you the first mate?” I ask him.

“Chief Officer,” he says. “First mate is on passenger ship.”

“Oh,” I say. “I see.” Another important distinction.

There’s more silence. Then the chief officer looks up. “How do you make salads in your country?”

I make some inane response, not sure what he’s asking. “Not too different from this, but sometimes I add things like carrots or avocado. Is that what you mean?” I figure it’s too early to talk with him about my love for kale salads.

“In my country we cut everything up in small pieces so it’s easier to eat. These Filipinos they just throw things together.” The chief officer cuts his onions into smaller pieces, slices the tomato from half to quarter size. “In my country we make them into,” he pauses to find the English word, uses his knife and fork in mimicry to make squares.

“Bite size pieces?” I query.

“Yes, exactly.”

The chief engineer opens the mess room door, steps over the threshold and sits beside me. “Good appetite,” he says in greeting.

“Good appetite,” I say in response.

“Josephina!” he yells back toward the kitchen.

Soon Joe, his usual smile on his face, comes with a plate of food for Josko.

The food disappears and some jokes are made and laughed at between the Captain’s table and the 2nd and 3rd officers’ table. There’s conversation, but not too much messing about when it comes to meals. The food gets consumed and then the men either go to rest or get back to work. Nothing left to linger over, the chief officer bids, “Good appetite” and leaves. Josko and I are finished at the same time and we head up to D Deck together.

He pauses just inside his room door. “If you want to see the engine room a little later I’ll take you down.”

“Okay,” I say. I forget to ask what a little later means. I walk to the end of the corridor and take the left to my room. The afternoon passes drowsily. I’m having a hard time staying awake while I read. I decide to get up and see if reading in the Lounge will help wake me up. There’s a swishing noise outside my door, the unmistakable sound of sweeping. I should wait until the worker is gone, but like a fool I open my door and go out.
“Hello,” the Filipino says.

“Hi, how’s it going?” I reply as I step around him and head down the passageway. Inside the lounge, I leave the door open behind me. I check out the titles of the books on the shelf above the tea and coffee counter, gaze out the window then settle in a chair to read.

The swishing follows me. I look up when it’s right in front of the door.

“Hello again,” the Filipino says.


“What is your name?” he asks.

“Amanda,” I say. After a moment, I remember my manners. “What’s yours?”

“Jake.” He pretends to sweep for a moment. “You are married?”

The answer to this question to Latin American men and Filipinos is always YES.

“No,” I say.

“You have boyfriend?”

The answer to this question to Latin American men and Filipinos is also always YES.

“No,” I shake my head. I’ve lost all reason. I’ve been out of Peru only a month and already I’ve forgotten. Not that I mastered the self-defense and lies of preservation while I was there. Will I never learn? Lord, have mercy. It only gets worse.

“Someone as beautiful as you doesn’t have boyfriend?”

“Thank you for the compliment,” I say with utter dryness and an internal eye roll. I wonder if I can jump out the window behind me. I’m doomed.

“Do you have a wife?” I ask, thinking to turn the conversation away from me, to turn the tables on him so to speak. But I’ve even forgotten that I can’t joke around with these guys. They always take it the wrong way. As Sebastian the crab said in The Little Mermaid, “You give ‘dem an inch, dey swim all over you.” I should have asked about the weather or the stock market, anything to get away from this personal crap.

“No.” Jake smiles. “Maybe you.”

I don’t smile at that.

Jake doesn’t catch the sudden cold draft coming from me. “How old you are?” he goes on.

I should learn to answer a question with a question instead of playing along to their games. “Thirty-four,” I answer.

“I am thirty-four too,” he says.

I’m belatedly trying to put on my Leave Me Alone face or my I’d Like to Continue Reading Now Thank You Very Much face. Jake tries for a little more conversation then remembers he’s supposed to be working.

“Okay, thank you, talk to you later,” he says, his English has the tonal lilting highs and lows of Southeast Asian dialects. I have to listen hard to his words to understand him.

“Bye,” I say, relieved.

My reading peace is disrupted and I’m cursing myself like a sailor for being stupid. In my sleepy state, I’m not totally against locking myself in my room for the next twenty some odd days if I have to. How is it that I always make the same mistake? I hate feeling like a simpering girl, trying to placate, evade, and not hurt in the same breath. I hate the feeling that I might be responding to these guys on their level instead of on my own. I just want to interact with people as people. I don’t like that dogged, undesirable pursuit by guys who don’t know how to take no for an answer. And in all this I wonder if I’d feel differently if I were attracted to the pursuer. Maybe. But then again, to date, I haven’t been attracted to that hasty type of guy. Not ever. I wish I had complete disregard for anything but my feelings and could yell, “Go away, go away!” to these wooing hopefuls. I should practice that.

I go back to my room and shut the door. I even think about locking it. At some point, disappointed in myself and stretched out on my wraparound couch, I give in and fall into a nap. I have strange dreams and wake groggy. It’s close to four o’clock. Where has the time gone? In this interim, I’ve almost forgotten my self and guy disgust. I’m feeling lazy, sluggish. I need to get up and do something or I’ll just sleep all day.

I slip my shoes on and go around the corner. Josko’s door is open so I poke my head in. He’s sitting on his couch watching a movie. “Is now a good time?” I ask.

“Of course,” he says, pausing his show and getting up.

We descend into the bowels of the ship. At the entrance into the engine room, he reaches up and takes some earphones from their place on a hook. “You can use mine,” he says, handing the earphones to me. He unravels some earplugs from a small container and starts to put them in. “I brought these.”

I wrap the phones around my neck and hold my hands on them ready to place them over my ears.

“Don’t touch anything,” Josko tells me. “Things are very hot down here.” He’s got his earplugs in.

I cover my ears and my world is deadened to sound. We go inside. The air is hot, the noise vibrating and powerful, and there’s the overall and permanent aroma of grease and oil.
I feel comfortable with the chief engineer, like myself. The ring on his finger is the safety barrier, his treatment of me is a salve to my fenced off heart, his jokes are truly funny and his anecdotes educational and interesting.
Josko is tall, close to two meters (six foot four or six foot five) and he has to lean down close to me to shout in my ear as he explains where we are, what we’re looking at, and how things work.

The entire ship system is phenomenal. It’s a self-contained world. There are pipes and tanks and heat sensors and gauges and tubes and shafts and giant wheel locking doors. Sea water gets purified by boiling it and then sending it through several filtering systems. The water can then be used to drink, bath in, power wash or do laundry with. We pass a segment of pipes and Josko squats down and undoes a hose. He twists a lever and water spills out. He takes a small pool in his palm and drinks it. He looks at me. I put out my hand and do the same. It’s clean and saltless. Refreshing. His replaces everything, stands and walks on. I follow, wiping the moisture from my lips with the back of my hand. The heating and cooling is handled down here too, passed through pipes and then throughout the ship. Human waste is dissolved in a tank with some kind of bacteria and when the bilge is under a certain ppm level it’s let out into the sea.

“But it’s not polluting anything, is it?” I ask.
“No, at that point it’s cleaner than most of the water in the sea,” Josko assures me.

Some of these systems work by centrifugal force, others by gravity, and others by pressure.
Who thought this all up?

We’ve gone up metal steps, down others, going from level to level, from room to room. I’m awed by the sheer size of the place. The engine control room is quieter and when the door clicks closed behind us we remove our sound dampeners. On account of the computers the air is kept colder in here than in the other sections. It’s a nice shift. I brush the sweat from my upper lip and settle my weight equally between my feet. Once again I feel I’m in a movie. I’m reminded of Mission Control at NASA as I’d seen in real life and in the movie Apollo 13, and again of the ships and submarines shown throughout Hunt for Red October. There are knobs and switches and alarms and dials and screens. Josko shows me the indicators for the fuel tanks that the DALIAN carries. He explains about diesel fuel. How these freighter ships use the crude oil that’s left over after refined oil is made.

“It’s like molasses is to sugar?” I ask.

“Yes, like molasses,” he agrees.

Their diesel has to be heated to 142 degrees to use otherwise it stays in block form. He even tells me how they have to switch from low grade to high grade fuel in certain parts of the world.
The second engineer, Valerii, comes in. He’s wearing coveralls and earphones. His face lights up with a smile when he sees me, us, and I return it. He joins us briefly in the discussion, adding explanations to Josko’s, before going back to his duties.

We go into another hot room where two guys dressed in blue jumpsuits are cleaning some kind of drum. Some of Josko’s explanation gets lost in the noise. He motions me on, and retreat into a smaller off room where it’s just a tad bit quieter. “Do you know how an engine works?” he yells down at me.

“Only the very basics,” I yell back, using my thumb and pointer finger to show I mean just a little.
So he tells me about pressure and pistons and movement and air. It makes perfect sense.

Then we retrace our steps, go past the two workers again and head into another quieter zone.  It’s a long, hall-like area with some empty shelves and cream colored walls. “This is the citadel. This is where we would come if there were a pirate attack. We could stay in here three days.” I don’t see any food or water provisions stacked around. So I assume he means that the air would be gone after three days. I don’t think to ask.

“This is one of the only places where we can lock and bar the door. It’s nearly impossible to break through.” He shows me the metal bar that fits across the door. “There’s a control I have access to that shuts off the whole engine in case of an attack. The ship becomes completely dead in the water. That way the pirates can do nothing with her. Mostly they just want to steal what they can. We try to make it as hard as possible for them. When we go into the high risk areas the crew put up three rows of barbed wire and high voltage electrical wire and we bring on some highly trained, armed mercenaries. These guys are usually ex-military and work for a security company who hires them out.”

They have to have these precautions, and passengers aren’t allowed to travel with the ship through those high risk areas. The company can’t handle that kind of liability. It’s bad enough that they have to worry about their seamen. Passengers who want to take the full world trip have to get off at one of the Italian ports, go on a land tour and can rejoin the ship after it reaches safe waters again. 

The citadel gets left behind us and we come up to a wall. The chief engineer pats the paneling with his palm. “Outside of this,” he tells me, “is the sea.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“The only thing keeping the pressure of the sea from breaking the hull is the force of gravity.”

I don’t quite understand what gravity works against the outside sea pressure because I lose some words in the roar of a nearby engine, but I’m still impressed. It’s a thin barrier between us and the sea.
Josko leads the way back to the front door. I hand over the earphones and he puts them back on their wall hook. “That was really amazing,” I say. “Thanks for showing me around.”

“Sure,” he says.

He opens the door for me and I trot up the four flights of stairs back to my room. I’m buzzed off the sight of all that mechanical beauty. Overall, the more I see of the DALIAN, the more I love her. Much in the same way I love all the officers. Much in the same way I end up loving fictional characters. It’s an unconditional, often one-sided, wholesome, whole-hearted love. I don’t feel the same way toward Filipinos or Latin American men. I’m wary of them and hope to all that’s holy that I’ve finally learned my lesson.

1 comment:

  1. So glad to see you posting again. I see three or four more in my RSS reader. I can't wait to get to them. I'm really glad you got to see the inner workings of the ship. I wish I could do that someday. I can tell from your descriptions that it's an amazing thing!

    Keep the updates coming!