Killer whale for lunch, tide-water glacier for afternoon snack, and black bears for dinner. All I have to do is look out of the window from deck 11 as I eat my meals and I get to see all kinds of wildlife. It’s a good life. I’ve seen moose, black bear, brown bear, humpback whale, killer whale, seal, sea lion, bald eagle, mountain goat, 5 different species of salmon, otter, and dozens of glaciers of all sorts. I have had to go on a few excursions to see some of these, but most of them I saw from the ship. The moose was probably the coolest. Once when we were in Glacier Bay National Park and there happened to be a female moose swimming across the channel. That is very rare so it was sure cool to see.
Besides all the obvious wildlife and scenery benefits from the trip I’ve been making friends and connections like there’s no tomorrow. I have probably mentioned before how great it is to make friends from all over the world, but I just want to mention it again.
In other news, I have recently purchased a Leica M8 along with a Carl Zeiss 35mm lens. I’ve never used a rangefinder but I am about to start. The M8 is coming from California and the lens from Australia. I’m going to have to wait a couple weeks before getting them because they are being shipped to Ketchikan and I’m going to just miss them this coming week. I’m excited to start my journey in exploring this new kind of photography. In the future I will probably move more and more into rangefinder photography and away from SLRs simply because rangefinders are made more for street photography. Once I’m done with ship life I’ll be doing a lot of traveling around the world on my own for street photography and documentation. An unobtrusive camera that is quick, nearly silent and reliable is what I will want for that.
And that is my sentiments for this fine day in Juneau, Alaska. For the last three weeks I have enjoyed bright sunny days with blue skies, which has made me wonder what happened to the typical Alaska that rains more than 300 days of the year. Well, today has returned to normal and it is a miserable rainy day. I’m just happy for all the good weather that we’ve had until now and in about five weeks I will be in the Caribbean, where the weather should be fabulous all the time. I was looking at our itinerary and it looks like we’ll be in Tampa and Key West every week, and then the other five days of the week we’ll be in different ports all the time. The Cayman Islands will be on the agenda once every two weeks, and I know we’ll be in Mexico often. It sounds like it’s gonna be a blast. I hear the money isn’t as good as in Alaska, but we’ll also have more free time to compensate for that…not to mention all the awesome ports that we’ll be in.
I would rate this job as the second hardest job that I have ever done in my life. Second only to selling books door to door. When I sold books, I worked 83 hours a week, here I work a measly 63. Selling books was more draining than this job, but that job only spanned 10 weeks and I knew that when I was done with those 10 weeks, I would be done with the job. This job is 8 months and I don’t get any days off. I work an average of 9 hours a day 7 days a week. I will probably get a day off when we go through the panama canal just because that will be a 21 day cruise with the same passengers and we just won’t be as busy. Because of all this work, there is one dramatic similarity between these two jobs that I would like to underline. Dreams.
When I worked as a book salesman, I would have my book bag right next to the bed where I slept, and on several occasions I would grab the bag in my sleep, pull it into bed with me, and start giving my sales pitch. With this job, I constantly find myself waking up in the middle of the night trying to explain to customers that the photos are $19.95 and it’s buy 3 get one free. Half the time the customers just look back at me with no comprehension, and so I lay back in bed. I feel so guilty for not giving it my all to explain to them the price. I feel bad like I’m being a bad person when I close my eyes when the customer is still looking at me not understanding what the price is. It seems so real, and it’s literally almost impossible for me to realize that it’s a dream. Once, I realized it was a dream so in the middle of me mumbling the price, I just laid back down and didn’t even try anymore. The best time though, was when my roommate came into the room late one night after I had gone to bed, and apparently I sat up, pulled the curtain back from my bed, and declared to him “Somebody might want to order something!” I vaguely remember doing this, but I was in such a stupor that it seemed like a completely natural thing to say at the time.
I think all this dreaming and sleep working is very interesting, especially considering that they have only happened to me with the two busiest jobs that I’ve ever had.
If a man speaks at sea where no woman can hear him, is he still wrong? That, my friend, is the question.
I had one of the best birthdays of my life. Not a lot of people knew that it was my birthday, but it was really great. First off, I hung out a bit with my friend Chris, who is the black label artist on the Ryndam. We went and found a wifi spot to get internet, and I got a lesson on color theory from him which is a little ironic considering he is the resident black and white photographer. I was then able to talk on the phone with all three of my lovely family members. Later I hung out in the OB with a bunch of friends. The next night I was able to hang out with more people who didn’t realize that my birthday was the 3rd, so I kinda had two birthday parties. Between the two nights I got more than enough free drinks. Also, my boss Tino bought a huge bottle of Grey Goose Vodka for me, and his wife gave me Burberry London cologne. So now I get to smell good when I drink vodka!
Life on a ship is constantly changing and evolving. Passengers are new and different every week. Crew members come and go as their contracts end. Contract length varies from job to job. My contract of 8 months is definitely one of the longer ones. I have friends who have 9 or 10 month contracts, but most are in the 4 to 6 month range. Then there are people who are only here for 1 to 3 months, and a few are only here for a couple of weeks. Of course not everyone got on the ship at the same time, so people are always leaving and then being replaced by new people.
We have a new photographer on the team. He is from Seattle and so as he’s an American citizen, he can help me shoot the gangways. This makes it a lot easier for us to get more photos and then once every two weeks I’ll get the day off from shooting as he’ll do it by himself. Earlier in the week Chris, Justin and I were on the aft of the ship taking long exposure photos, and we got some great results, particularily one photo. We used Justin’s fish-eye lens coupled with Chris’s full frame sensor. The result is stunning. I have it uploaded in the photo gallery. The city lights that you see are Juneau and the moon is also shining through the clouds. The fish-eye effect is really amazing, especially on a full frame camera.
Customer: So what’s the deal with these photos?
Me: These are buy 3 and then you get the 4th one free.
Customer: So if I buy 2, I get a free one?
Me: When you buy 3, you get the next one free.
Customer: Oh! Ok!
Yeah….it’s amazing how some of the people here just simply don’t listen to what I say, and then how many times I have to explain myself in different ways just to convey one simple thing. Another amazing thing is how some people will complain and make an awful face when I say the photos are $19.95 each, but then other people will throw down $400 or $500 without blinking and buy tons of photos.
Apparently one of the other cruise ships that makes port here in Juneau was 3 hours late getting in to port today…..because there was a dead whale stuck to the bow of the ship. I saw a photo of it in the newspaper. So weird. I’m not really sure why it slowed the ship down, or how it got stuck or anything. All I know is some whale decided to die right under the Sapphire Princess.
All the standing that my job has required me to do, has left my knee in a bit of pain. I tore my PCL back in high school and so whenever I strain it by doing something stressful, such as extending running, standing or something, it acts up. Well I do a lot of standing now. There just so happens to be an acupuncturist on board the Ryndam, so I got him to give me some pokes. Honestly I don’t feel like it made much of a difference. I haven’t really had any strong pains since then, but maybe I haven’t been doing as much walking, or I’m used to it now, or whatever. Or maybe it has helped. I just thought it would be a fun thing to try out acupuncture for once.
The result of our regional manager being on the ship for the last week has been that she wants me to become a Black Label artist at some point. She said that she might even send me on the next training session in Missouri, which would be some time in the fall. In the beginning it sounded like a great thing to do, but after speaking with my boss a little about it, it seems like I will need to think about it a bit more before I make up my mind on whether or not to do it. Apparently since Ocean Images needs Black Label artists so bad, if I started to do that, it would be really hard for me to get out of it and do something else if I wanted. Another option is to get on a Ferry in Europe and work 2-3 day cruises, shooting on Embarkation photos. It would be a lot of work, really good money, and only a 4 month contract. I’ll need to think about it all.
I’m going to be starting to do some photojournalism type photography on the ship itself. I’m not really gonna say much about what I’m going to do or when it will be done, but I just wanted to mention that I’ll be starting that soon. Whenever it’s a finished work I’ll make it available. Don’t expect anything anytime soon. On that note though, there are a few more photos in the photo gallery from the last week. One is an 80 second exposure off the aft of the ship. It was a cloudy night, and made a really nice photo. I plan to do it again when it’s a clear night and maybe I can catch some star trails.
Everyone around here has a boss, and even people who aren’t your boss, are your boss. One of the ways of greeting each other is to say “Hi boss!”. This is especially popular among the Indonesian and Philippinos. Speaking of bosses, our region manager is on the ship this week. One of the products we sell is Black Label photography, and sales have not been good for our Black Label artist. We are supposed to be making 20-25 bookings each week, and we have been averaging 2-3 a week. That is absolutely dismal. It doesn’t even cost the passengers a penny to sign up for a booking, so it should be really easy to get them into the studio to get their photos taken. So anyways, our boss is here to make sure we’re doing our job, as well as to give us pointers on how to do better. So I’ve made a concentrated effort to tell people about the Black Label and I’ve already made 9 bookings in 2 days. So hopefully it will start to pay off.
We are also going to be getting a new videographer today who will be on our ship for about a week. We are just training him here and then he’ll go to some other ship. We are getting a replacement photographer to replace my roommate who left two weeks ago. The replacement will stick around, and he’ll be new to the company so it will mainly be my job to train him. Well I say “him”, but we don’t know who it will be yet, maybe he will be a she.
I went on a whale watching excursion last week and got some great photos of a whale breaching. That basically just means jumping out of the water. Those photos are in the photo gallery. I also went on a rainforest tour yesterday in the hopes of seeing bald eagles. Well I did get to see a few and got some ok shots, but not nearly as close as I had hoped. Apparently I went on the wrong excursion and there is one that is much better which I will go on next week. Next week I also get to go snorkeling in Ketchikan. The water is about 56 degrees but I just think it will be so cool to go snorkeling in Alaska. They do have wet suites for us.
Life on the ship is getting much easier and I’m getting more used to the daily schedule and everything that needs to be done. I’m also learning a lot more about the job and I’m getting a pretty good hang of it I think. Last week I was able to sell more than 30 DVDs throughout the cruise – let’s see if I can beat that this week.
One major change is that my roommate has been transferred to a different ship. Only Americans are able to work on the dock to take photos of people getting off the ships, so he was probably transferred so that he could do that on another ship that didn’t have enough Americans. Because of him leaving we have one less person obviously, and they aren’t planning to send us a replacement photographer any time soon. It will mean a little more work for us. I have the room to myself for the rest of the week but I’m sure they are going to make me move at the end of this cruise because the two of the other photographers on the ship also have their own rooms. At least I get to enjoy my own room for a short amount of time.
Today I went on a short land excursion. I went kayaking to Douglas Island. We didn’t actually get out of the kayaks on an island, but we got to kayak around a bay and had a really nice time enjoying the sun and scenery. We saw a whole bunch of bald eagles, and we got really close to them. There was a tower thing in the middle of the bay which was about 20 feet high, and there were two eagles sitting on it. We got right up to the tower and so we were maybe about 30 or 40 feet away from the eagles. They are huge and majestic birds. We also saw a bunch of ducks, a few seals and a lot of other types of birds. I took my camera with me but the kayaks were the kind that sealed and so I couldn’t reach into my pocket to get the camera out and I didn’t want to have it sitting on my lap while we were kayaking. So I didn’t get any photos of the eagles or anything, but I did get some photos from the beach area. There was a glacier in the background and a lot of snow capped mountains, so it was extremely beautiful.
I’ve updated my photo gallery with a few photos of Alaska. This is a small sampling of what my cabin looks like as well as a few shots of the ship and the surrounding areas. There will be plenty more to come in the future.
Well I’ve now been too all the ports that I’m going to go to here in Alaska. Juneau and Haines are really the only places that have good internet. I suppose Vancouver will too but I’ve only been there the once that I came in. So my updates are going to be about once a week.
I got paid last week, and it was an exciting $500! My roommate decided that he wanted to buy an xbox 360 slim but he doesn’t have a credit card, so he asked me to buy it and he’d pay me cash. So he gave me $200 and I put it in my pocket. Well unfortunately I don’t have a wallet and when I pulled my iphone out of my pocket later, the $200 fell out and I didn’t realize it until it was way too late. So My nice $500 paycheck has turned into $300. Ah well. It sucks to lose $200 but it’s not the end of the world.
All of the Holland America ships end in dam. The ship I’m on now is the Ryndam. The ship I had my interview on in Florida was the Noordam. There is also the Amsterdam, Rotterdam and about 10 other dam ships. So they make t-shirts, sweaters, umbrellas and a lot of other accessories that say “dam ships” on them. It’s pretty funny and throughout the cruise people refer to them as the dam ships.
Our printer has been having colossal problems this week. Apparently it’s been having issues for about a month and Ocean Images has been delaying sending out someone to repair it. Well it’s a very expensive piece of equipment and we need it in order to make any money since we sell prints. Well it broke down the first day of this cruise and wouldn’t print anything for a few days. My photo manager has been spending all night every night trying to get it fixed. He’s been able to get it to work intermittently, but after printing 200 photos or so it overheats and we have to wait. This is obviously really bad for revenue. We’re hoping that Ocean Images will send a technician to fix it for us.
I’ve been getting to know the other people on the ship pretty well and very fast. It’s amazing how quickly we get to know each other. I would say that nearly half the crew are Indonesian and the other half are from all over the world. I am a huge minority as an American. My friends are from Sweden, South Africa, Romania, England, Indonesia, Ireland, America, and many other places. A couple nights ago as I was hanging out in the officers bar, one of the guys who is a shop ambassador, (which means he helps people figure out where to spend their money on the ship) told me that there is a huge need for someone to help translate for the Chinese people who come on board. Apparently they are usually very rich and spend up to $100k on diamonds and watches. He said that simply for referring these people to the shops and doing a little bit of translation, he would tip me about 1% of what they spend. I think growing up in China might turn out to be useful.
Well Sunday started out my journey into this mind blowing experience that I will call home for the next 8 months. After a couple flights from Indianapolis to Vancouver, Canada, I made my way to Canada Place, the dock in Vancouver for the cruise ships. After I made it through customs as I was about to board the ship, there were about 4 photographers waiting for everyone who came on board. These photographers were diligently making sure that they captured each and every person. When it was my turn I introduced myself and they all seemed surprised that I was not Asian. Apparently they had been discussing among themselves over the last week what the new photographer would look like. I suppose “Kee” sounds Asian and they all had their different ideas on what I would look like, how tall I would be, and even my personality.
So I got right to work signing some papers that needed to be signed in order for me to work on board. There was actually a sheet that I needed to get about 9 signatures from different people in different departments. In order for them to give me their signatures I had to watch various videos and make sure I was up to date on all the ship’s security and safety stuff. So it took about 48 hours to get all of that sorted. Other than that, the first day I was actually put to work photographing and helping set up the photo gallery. I put in about 8 hours of work the first day. Everyone else did about 13 because they had been working since the morning when I was traveling.
Come to find out, 13 or 14 hour days are quite regular! Monday was formal night and so everyone dressed up for dinner and we set up special backgrounds to take photos of everyone. I got up at 8 to start work at 9 and we worked all day until 11 PM. Tuesday I got up at 6 to shoot gangway photos of passengers getting off the ship at Ketchikan. We shot until about 10:30 and then had a break till 3. At 3 we worked until 11 PM again. Today I got up at 7 to shoot photos of passengers getting off the ship here in Juneau. I get a break from 10 until 5:30 and then we’ll work until 11. So I get pretty long days.
The food is excellent. I get as much as I want and it’s free. I have no worries about gaining weight however. This ship has at least 12 levels and we go all around the entire ship and it’s really tiring going up and down so many stairs. There are elevators of course but stairs are often quicker and we need to get places in a hurry. This ship has room for 1,350 passengers and about 800 crew. It’s a giant ship and yet it’s the 2nd smallest ship in the fleet. The largest has 6,000 passengers.
Internet costs 10 cents a minute so I do not get internet access on the ship. I am unwilling to pay that much. I will simply have to wait until we are in a port to access the internet, which is about 4 times a week. We stop at Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau and Seward. I also don’t get cell phone service unless I am at an American port, which are all the ports I just mentioned except for Vancouver.
This week I am not really doing much exploring of the ports as I am just getting in and I’m really tired from all the work and the stress of trying to learn the ship and not get lost. That was a real problem the first day and a half. I have a much better grasp of it now and can make my way around pretty well. I will in the coming weeks do much more exploration and should have fun photos to post. I will also be uploading some photos of the ship and my work areas soon.
That’s about all I’m going to bore you with right now. It’s about time for lunch for me and I feel a nap would be a great thing while I have the chance before work starts this evening.