We are on the ship for eleven days before our first port of call. We play ping-pong. Time is not precious. For the first time in my life I floss daily. On sunny days we wander the deck of the ship. Look over the side and you can see fish leap up as the ship passes, flying for two or three yards like little passenger airplanes, wings and tail and everything, before knifing cleanly back into the water. Stick your head out the bays that the rope goes in when we to tie down in port and stare directly at the water rushing under you. Pelicans loop in the air after each other around the nose of the ship. Whales spout and turn over, keeping the threatening enormity of the natural world close.
At port in Tokyo all doors to the outside decks lock, and we pin our assigned Photo IDs to our shirts. Shore leave in Tokyo is five hours long. On Odaiba we walk out to the Telecom Building, a beacon leading us out of the container yards past people in uniforms on bicycles, truckers asleep in their cabs with their small longhaired dogs. At Osaka we stay on the deck of the ship and watch the containers unload.
Two days before we arrive in Kaohsiung it is Mister Chen’s birthday. At breakfast the Captain hands him a piece of laminated paper and shakes his hand. The computer printout says that Mister Chen has spent his 29th birthday on the Punjab Senator. There is a picture of the ship and a picture of the American flag and a clip art illustration of pink roses. Everyone in the officer’s mess hall shakes his hand. A German officer at the next table asks if Mister Chen has enjoyed being on the ship. Mister Chen answers with enthusiasm. We settle down to another day’s egg, toast and meat, and the officer is friendly, but serious. “Maybe,” he says, “you should be a seafarer.”
REEDEREI F. LAEISZ, GMBH’s PUNJAB SENATOR
ONE WAY TICKET $1644.05
REEDEREI F. LAEISZ, GMBH SHIPS DEPART OAKLAND, CA EVERY TWO WEEKS
ARRIVE KAOHSIUNG, TAIWAN THIRTEEN DAYS LATER
SUGGESTED PREPARATION: Bring books and a sandwich.