NAGOYA, Japan – It’s a little past 9 a.m. on a Tuesday in August, and finally, Michael P. Alcazar, sous chef for an international cruise ship, can sit and chat with a few passengers on board before the lunch preparation starts.
Since he started his duty at 7 a.m., Alcazar has tasted more than 20 dishes before these left the kitchens of the three restaurants he oversees. With 60 people reporting to him, Alcazar has to ensure that the cooks have followed his recipes to the letter. “Kung 26 ang main courses, lahat ‘yan titikman ko muna,” he says.
Alcazar will do the same thing throughout the day until his work duties end before 10 p.m. He acknowledges that the work hours are long for cruise ship workers, but the work is fulfilling.
A hotel and restaurant management graduate of University of Manila (with a second degree in Computer Science from STI), Alcazar started working on a cruise ship in the mid-90s as 2nd cook. After five months, he was promoted to chef de partie. In 1999, he got promoted to sous chef.
“Sa una, kailangang tiisin lahat ng hirap, ‘yung homesickness at seasickness. Up to 12 hours ang trabaho. No day off, no holiday,” he says.
But there is that opportunity to earn more, which could go a long way in providing for his family.
“Malaking diperensiya. Triple ng kita, tax-free pa,” he says.
A manager at a fast-food restaurant in the Philippines who earns P20,000-plus per month in the Philippines may earn about $900 a month working on a cruise ship, although at lower post, he says.
With his earnings, Alcazar was able to send his two elder children to school. Both of them are now working as seamen. His youngest child is in grade 12. His wife is a full-time housewife.
Bartender Joana Marie Francisco, who has been working on cruise ships since 2011, has a dream. “I want to have a salon and spa,” she says, while serving the couple beside me their Bloody Mary and Tropical Blend shake.
She has been busy since 9 a.m., serving coffee and cocktails to passengers who would like some java or alcohol to kick-start their day.
Her work day will end at almost 12 midnight, but she doesn’t mind the long hours. “Positive lang,” she replies with a smile.
Francisco is a bar supervisor with two bar stewards under her. A computer science graduate of Adamson University, she has worked in some hotels and restaurants in the Philippines before taking on her first cruise ship job.
She is also a single mother to two kids aged seven and four with whom she gets in touch with almost daily via video call.
“Mahirap to be away from family. The first two weeks, iyak ako ng iyak. Feeling ko hindi ko na kaya. Parang gusto mo ng tumalon (sa dagat). Pero when you think about it, kailangan ko ito para mabigyan sila ng magandang buhay,” she says. This year marks the fifth year she has been working on ships and is enjoying it.
“Masaya naman dito sa barko. Mababait naman ‘yung crew. With 43 nationalities sa crew, iba ang spirit. But since we’re people persons, it’s easy for us,” she adds.
For two months in a year, she’s back in the Philippines for a vacation. “’Pag nandun ako, tutok ako sa kanila (her kids). Quality time,” she says.
While Francisco is busy at the bar and Alcazar calls the shots in the kitchen, assistant cruise director Marvin Feliciano Libao has been literally dancing to an upbeat tune, leading the day’s Zumba class for passengers.
“Let’s divide the group. You be Team Sexy. You be Team Sexier. And I’ll be The Sexiest,” he says, to the laughter of the people on the dance floor.
His work day may indeed start as early as 9 a.m. huffing and puffing, and may end at 12 midnight after the parties and events (including karaoke nights) for passengers are done. But he is clearly having fun.
He has worked on 14 cruise ships since 2007 and has been to almost 80 countries. A people person, Libao has made many friends among the passengers he has met over the years. “Lahat ng port, may kaibigan ako,” he says.
A graduate of performing arts at the Centro Escolar University, Libao has been active in theater, particularly Tanghalang Pilipino, before he finished school. He has also taken on hosting jobs and led exercise classes throughout his college days, which makes him perfect for his current job on a cruise ship.
Tips for those wanting to work abroad
Alcazar, Francisco, and Libao all agree that cruise ship work is challenging and not for everyone.
With the right attitude, though, one can succeed and enjoy a fulfilling career on the high seas.
Here are some tips they have shared for those who want to work abroad on a cruise ship:
“Kailangan maging bibo ka, matiyaga. Basta may abilidad ka, talented, at hospitable, pwede ka sa cruise ship. Try ka lang ng try,” Libao says.
*Love your job
“Dapat gusto mo ang ginagawa mo,” Libao adds.
“Mahalin mo ‘yung trabaho. Grab the opportunity because it does not come every day,” Francisco says.
*Be discerning. Choose the right manning agency
“Huwag paloko sa manning agency. Go direct if possible,” Libao says.
*Don’t be a show-off
“Sa Pilipinas uso ang one-day millionaire. ‘Wag kang magyabang. ‘Wag kang manlibre nang manlibre pag-uwi mo. ‘Wag magpagamit sa tao,” Libao says.
*Understand your co-workers
Since crew members on board are of different nationalities, there are differences in culture and spiritual beliefs. “Makisama ka,” Libao says.
*Save, save, save
Libao was able to invest in a condominium unit in Metro Manila with his earnings.
“Savings first—house, vehicle, business,” Francisco says. She adds that since food is free on the ship, they can save more. “’Yung wants, saka na. ‘Yung needs, ‘yun muna,” she says.
Alcazar agrees and says, “’Wag munang bibili ng gadgets. Mag-invest sa bahay muna. Kailangan makabili ka ng bahay,” Alcazar says. He got a housing loan from Pag-Ibig and was able to buy a house and lot in Cebu.
*Stay in touch with your family always
Francisco says many things may happen when one is away so constant communication is a must.
Alcazar’s eldest child was only nine months old when he went abroad to work. Throughout the years, he would call every day. Nowadays, communication is much easier with Facetime and Facebook, he says.
“Dapat panatag ang loob mo,” Alcazar says.
Accept the job given to you.
“Huwag kang mamili ng trabaho. Tanggapin mo ang trabahong ibibigay sa ‘yo,” Alcazar says. —Source: KAREN GALARPE / KBK, GMA News