Intro:     Welcome to Crew  Life at sea podcast. Here we will share the skills you need to make your experience and adventure out at sea a success, hear inspiring stories from experienced crew, from all diversities, gain knowledge and know your rights. Be Part of the crew life at sea, and let’s welcome your host, Raymond Crystal.

Ray:         Hello and welcome to crew life at sea. Today we have with us a guy who comes all the way from China, and his name is MJ.

MJ:          Hello everyone.

Ray:         Why MJ? What does your name actually stand for?

MJ:          Truly my name is Mengjun.

Ray:         Mengjun? Is that correct?

MJ:          Yes, forget about it, just call me MJ. So basically when I came on board I would like to have kept my original name but unfortunately if you’re working at reception, I mean it’s hard for the guests to remember your name, so I took the advice of my manager, I take the initials MJ. It’s actually a given name on my initials.

Ray:         Could you explain to us exactly what did you do to get here? How did it happen?

MJ:          It’s a long story. I was studying in the Netherlands before over the years since I graduated from high school. I stayed there for almost 5 years. After I graduated, my original plan was settle down in the Netherlands but for some reason I changed my mind and said okay I’ll see what I can do in China, hopefully I get a better chance over there. I don’t want to end up working in a Chinese restaurant for the rest of my life. So I get back to China and realise things don’t meet my expectations, it’s hard to get a good job over there, in order to get a good pay. And my first job was working at an intercontinental in my city, as a bell boy. And then after 1 year I got promoted as a receptionist and a senior receptionist, but still the pay is not really good. And that’s why at that point I decided that okay I need to, one of the reasons if for the money for sure to work on board. Another reason is you get a chance to see the world, so I applied to one of the companies, and luckily I got an offer, I had an interview, I got all my certificates ready and then just buy me a ticket and fly me to the place.

Ray:         So what was the process for you to get the job as a receptionist in China? What did you go through?

MJ:          Normally they will ask you for your experience.

Ray:         Was it and agency that you had to go to?

MJ:          Do you mean to work on board?

Ray:         Yeah, to get on board did you have to?

MJ:          You need to have an agency.

Ray:         What would they ask you? What did they want from you?

MJ:          They basically just give you a form and ask you to fill in all the detailed information, your personal information, your education back ground, your working experience before. And after that they’ll arrange an interview with you, with the company. And if the company is

okay with you, they decide to recruit you, and the agency will take care of the rest. They’re going to tell you where and when you need to go to get the certificates. And you just give the money to them and you’re ready to go.

Ray:         How many years have you been at sea by the way?

MJ:          Almost 5 years.

Ray:         Wow, 5 years, that’s very good hey. I wanted ask you, as a receptionist, what does that mean? And what do you actually have to do on board? What does it entail?

MJ:          Receptionist is basically you do the reception. It’s basically similar to working in a hotel on land. A little different depending on where you work, whether you’re working on a big ship or you’re working on a small ship. If you’re working on a small ship, it’s exactly the same as if you’re working at a hotel on land, and you don’t have too many guests. And the desk won’t be very busy all the time. The main you do is prepare the documents and follow up with all the sea issues the guests encounter and make the proper log and dealing with the company’s times. But if you’re working on the big ship, it’s going to be a little bit different.

Ray:         How big was the big ship that you worked on?

MJ:          My biggest ships that I worked for was like almost 4800 passengers on board, and you can imagine there’s only like 10 receptionists over there, and every ship has like a maximum of 3. And when it comes to embarkation day 4800 guests come on board and every one of them need to register their credit card. So that means a lot of jobs, you just feel like you’re working like a machine and you just keep.

Ray:         Repetition. Wow that’s a lot of people. 4800 people and you have to get through them all in one day.

MJ:          Not even one day, only a few hours because the ship needs to be cleared as soon as possible, so we need to check them all in within in I think 4 hours.

Ray:         So embarkation day is the busiest day for most of you?

MJ:          Exactly.

Ray:         Okay so let me ask you then, with all these guests and so many of them, I’m sure you’ve come across some unhappy guests, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of incidents, how do you handle these situations?

MJ:          Well the best advice I’d give to the other people who would like to join the ship, is that you do not take it personal.  I mean yes, they do make your life very miserable, I mean sometimes especially when it comes to a hard or busy day, and when you get really angry and really I would say with a bad man with no education, they just want to totally destroy you to get something. But overall I would say first you need to remember you do this just for a job, this is just your job. I still remember my first manager, he told me one thing, when you change your uniform when you’re going outside of your cabin and you’re like from the back stage getting to the main stage, so you’re starting your show, everything that you’re doing is just a job, even if you hate that f**king guest, you still need to make them smile. I mean it takes a little bit of time, when you get used to it, when you’re very familiar with the job, when you’re very familiar with how to mingle with the guests and how to talk to them, you will figure a way how to f**k them in an indirect way.

Ray:         I’m sure you’ve had a lot of experience with that, 5 years, you know how to come around that hey. So as a receptionist obviously your goal would be to get a promotion eventually, because you wouldn’t want to be a receptionist for so long. So the promotional side of it, what would be next?

MJ:          This is a good question. Talking about the promotion, then we have to talk about the difference between working on the big ship and working on the small ship. If you’re working on the big ship, you’ll have much more opportunities to get promoted rather than working on a small ship because for sure a bigger ship means more crew members and more positions and also the turnover rate of the crew members is much higher. So I’d say take myself as an example, I worked for my previous company 1 contract is like 5 months, they took me for 2 contracts, then promoted as a supervisor. And then another 2 contracts and they almost promoted me to assistant front desk manager.

Ray:         When all hell breaks loose, power goes down, water is not working, just things are going totally mad, phones are ringing, people are screaming at the desk, your manager is at you, how do you get through that? Do you go outside and jump off the ship? Do you go under the table and just put your head between your hands? What do you do?

MJ:          Well my toughest times I remember at my previous company, we had the one time, we were supposed to be arriving in a home port in China, Shanghai. We were supposed to arrive at the home port at 8 o’clock in the morning but due to the weather conditions we actually arrived in the afternoon at almost 5 o’clock. So the guests when they disembark, 4800, like 70% of them already have a pre arrangement for their transportation, flight, train, all kinds of things. So I still remember on that day I was supposed to do an afternoon shift, I start at 12 o’clock but I woke up from an announcement from the bridge to ask that all the crew members must go back to their position right now. So after I heard the announcement I went back to the reception, the first thing I see is that the whole reception area is packed, lines from the reception all the way to the dining room. So approximately 600 people are waiting there. So all the receptionist we start helping the guests make phone calls to their airline or to their travel agent to cancel or to change the schedule. In the meantime, there’s a lot of guests yelling and shouting at you, “what are you going to do? We want compensation, why is this? why is that?”, but eventually, I mean at the beginning it is very bad, but once you get through all of these, you go to the back deck and you smoke a cigarette, grab a beer, okay another day is gone. When it is over, you look back it’s not a big deal, I mean all these kind of experiences make you better and better as a receptionist.

Ray:         100% that is just perfect. Tell me about your hours at work and your schedule, how do you schedule your day?

MJ:          It depends, if you’re working on a small ship, your hours are pretty set, only on embarkation day is it a little bit busy, 10 and a half hours.

Ray:         The average amount of hours a day you work on a big ship and a small ship, does it vary a lot?

MJ:          Not a lot, but I’ll say talking about the work load, the actual physical working, I will say working on a small ship will be a little bit easier than working on a big ship. But basically the same. Embarkation day is like 10 hours, and other regular days is like 8 to 9 hours, something like that.

Ray:         How is your accommodation space and your benefits?

MJ:          Well as a receptionist I still stay with a crew member when I work on a big ship, when I’m working on an I-95.

Ray:         Wait before you carry on, what is an I-95?

MJ:          An I-95 is just an immigration of the United States. In some company’s they’re just named the I-95 of the corridor.

Ray:         Yes, I-95 is a corridor where everybody walks through to get to work, to get to their cabin. It’s called I’ll meet you or the I-95 or on the I-95 go left to the galley, everything is on that I-95. And you also get an I-95 which is only when you’re in the US ports which is a little piece of paper which is like a little visa for you to get on and off the ship, officially. So as you were saying about the accommodation.    

MJ:          As a receptionist, your official title is like your officers, you get the stripes on your fancy uniforms but actually I always joke with my colleagues, okay yes I got the white collar, the shirt is a white collar but actually I’m just a blue labourer, just as you, I just work for a living. So it turns out the living condition for the receptionists is the same as the rest of the crew, you share the cabin with another one. And the space is not really good but it should be enough for you if you don’t have a girlfriend.

Ray:         Knowing what you know now in your career, if you could change one thing, what would it be? And why?

MJ:          The funny thing is when you, in China we say that every 12 years, every year we have the name of the horoscope, there is the 12 animals. So every 12 years it’s reincarnations. So if you look back right now, I mean you can try yourself, you can evaluate yourself, if you look back 12 years you’ll realise that by that time who you were and your thinking, actually had a very amazing effect on you, to made you to make the one decision after the other and it becomes who you are right now. So I never regret it. I mean the choice I made, made who I am right now today.

Ray:         No regrets, whatever happened to us in the past.

MJ:          It’s like for all the crew members; we always say go with the flow.

Ray:         Do you find that, well I’ve asked you, you’ve told me quite a few negatives so was there some positives as being a receptionist?

MJ:          You get a fancy suit; you get a nice tie that ties your neck up every morning. Yes, I mean it’s less physical work, so I would say that your body won’t kaboot, so I’d say you’ve got a longer career life than if you’re working in housekeeping, yes maybe they get money for every month but comparing the money and how is the physical job, I mean eventually, we only have 1 body, your body is your most important property, precious property, so you need to take care of it properly so I’ll say that is a good plus. You don’t have that much physical damage to your body, your damage is more like mentally.

Ray:         Yes, housekeeping, they work very hard, lifting things, picking up things, moving things, so they’re really do the physical work.

MJ:          And another good thing is, your schedule will be more regular, so you get proper sleeping hours. And also you get a chance to go outside.

Ray:         What positive feedback would you offer towards other people who would like to get into this line of work?

MJ:          If you don’t have any experience, I’d strongly recommend you find a hotel, try and see if you like it, to work in a hotel as a receptionist, it’s kind of similar, for sure there are differences but you will get an understanding of this job. And after you can decide if you would like to do it or not.

Ray:         Now there’s a is question I ask everybody; tell me the most shocking thing you have ever encountered or you’ve seen in your career at sea?

MJ:          It’s just a story, I was about to sign it off that day, it was a disembarkation day. I get everything ready, I sign my papers and I go into the shuttle near the elevators, where the disembarkation crew members are waiting, supposed to disembark at 11 o’clock and we are just sitting over there waiting for the announcement by the crew I mean the HR, in the crew area. And then we heard an announcement, alpha, alpha, alpha. And you know alpha means there is a medical issue. And the following location is the crew area, I forgot the cabin number, but anyway one of the crew cabins, and in the beginning everybody thought it was going to be like a drill, but I was talking to my friend, it’s kind of strange, why would they put the drill today in the crew area and after that we’re all waiting for the announcement by the captain, this is a drill for all the crew members, but nothing is coming. And then we start to realise there is something wrong with it. And then after that I saw the first officers running to that cabin and he opened the door and he came out right away, and then later we saw the nurse and doctors, they’re pulling the stretchers towards that cabin. And we’ve been delayed almost 2 hours, and nobody knows exactly what’s happened. And later because everybody has a cell phone, we’re talking exactly what happened and we realised someone had committed suicide in their cabin. It’s a nurse on board and it’s an unfortunate thing but she committed suicide in her cabin. She cut her veins, the thing that mostly freaks me out, of course I didn’t see it, I don’t want to see it. But what I heard is, she passed away in very short hours, because she’s a nurse, she knows how to do the job properly. Instead of cutting a vein on the wrist, she cut a vein on the neck. And you can imagine what the first officer is going to see the first time he opened the door. And after that I just disembark and I’ve been transferred to another ship but I keep contact with me friends. And they told me after this incident happened, no one dare to live in that cabin. And also there’s a lot of crew members talking about there’s something strange happening in that area. Someone’s talking during the night, whispering voices. My previous company is a United States company, they hired a group of monks and di a very serious ceremony in that cabin, and after the ceremony there’s no more strange situations anymore, everybody is okay for a while.

Ray:         Wow, that’s a top class story we got there. Let’s change the subject, ghost ship. That’s an interesting story MJ, wow man. You’ve been at sea for four years right, why do you keep coming back?

MJ:          I would say the main reason is for sure about the money, that is the main reason. This job is really addictive. I’ve met so many crew members on board, sometimes we’re talking to each other, a lot of people say I’m not coming back but they keep coming back for maybe 10 years, 20 years already, because life on the sea, yes in one hand, it’s kind of tough and hard but in another hand, it’s kind of easy, because your accommodation is already offered, you’ve got free food, you don’t need to think that much, you just need to do your job properly and you get your pay check on time. And when you go home you already miss the

life of there for 6 months, and it’s really hard for the crew members for us to get back to the regular life, it needs to take a little bit of time to adjust to everything, you need to call your friends, contact someone, you need to start all over again. So for a lot of people they rather just go back it’s kind of sad, the longest I stayed at home was almost 8 months. We have a vacation for 1 and a half months, you can call that a vacation, yes it’s nice you still have money and you’re really happy, but when it’s more than 3 months you can’t call that a vacation, it’s more like unemployment, if you don’t have a proper job, you’ve got no money, no financial income, you feel very insecure. That’s why everybody keeps coming back.

Ray:         Yeah, because the salary is good, the accommodation. So that means you would recommend somebody to work on a cruse ship?

MJ:          I personally yes, would recommend. Yes, it’s a nice experience.

Ray:         And if anybody would like to ask any questions about anything with regards to reception, that I can give them on the show notes if they would like to email you?

MJ:          Absolutely, I’m very happy to hear from someone who has interest in this job and I’ll try my best to answer questions.

Ray:         Thank you so much MJ you were great and I will not forget the ghost ship. Cheers.

Outro:                     Thanks for listening to Crew life at sea podcast. Want any of your questions answered? Send us an email at Thank you for being a part of our adventure at sea.