I had one of those nice moments that make my job unique, one of those things that makes me realize how lucky I am to have been set on the path that I tread.
Alongside the ship COSCO GENOA, in Port Elizabeth, NJ, we're loading them up with diesel and a splash of fuel oil. We get tied up, a cargo surveyor comes aboard, and I swing the diesel hose over to the ship with our deck crane. There's a young Chinese kid, sitting politely on the gangway, obviously waiting to talk to me.
Loneliness strikes anyone, and sometimes foreign crew just want to stretch their wings and try their English. No big deal, and I'm happy to meet polite folks from all over. Once the surveyor does his job, and the hose is being connected to the ship's manifold, I come over to talk to the kid.
Turns out, he's holding a little sign, written in a mix of Chinese and English. It's a note for his girlfriend, whose name is Nuan (I think), and just says "Nuan I Love You." The kid asks someone from every country to hold the sign for him while he takes that person's picture. And today, representing the US, it was my turn.
After taking the picture, we talked a little bit. I only know maybe 4-5 words in Chinese, more's the pity, and I couldn't tell you which dialect they're in, and the kid's apologizing to ME for his bad English. His English was very good for a non-native speaker. I asked him about his age, where he was from in China, whether he was going to marry his girlfriend (that got a big grin and a blush, followed by an 'I hope' so I might have been impolite in asking, I don't know.
I've felt like that- like the ship is a fixed point in space, and it's the world that rotates under it, making every day the same. It's little things like this, meeting someone you'd normally never meet, and just talking from the gangway to the deck, that makes a mariner's job a little less routine, and a little less dreary. The golden age of the Merchant Marine is long past, but there are moments to be eked out here and there that echo back to that time so regretfully missed.