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Filipina shares work-life onboard a cruise ship

Filipina shares work-life onboard a cruise ship

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Chinky Nava shares how she copes with life in the high seas. A life that can sometimes be tough, yet she still holds her job with passion and pride.

“Welcome to a day in a life at sea,” Chinky chirpily greets her viewers in one of her YouTube videos (Chink Nava). She then goes up to deck 6 to show a better view of a serene coastal town in Iceland where the ship is currently moored. After several minutes, she smilingly bids her viewers goodbye saying, “I am gonna start working now.” 

Chinky Mae Nava, 28, has been with the Royal Caribbean International for six years, having boarded four of its cruise ships. “I really enjoy my job,” she tells me in our online interview in her house in Antique. 

Working on a ship had never crossed her mind even if her late father and most of her uncles were seamen. They actually discouraged her, telling her stories of extreme work  conditions and homesickness. All she wanted was to be a front desk attaché of a five-star hotel. She finished Tourism and worked in the Food and Beverage department of a hotel for several years, a post that would be useful to her future job as a restaurant attendant.

It was her older sister, a Cruise Ship Management graduate, who prodded Chinky to consider working on a cruise ship. She helped her process her seaman’s book, convinced her to undergo training and together, they sent their CVs to the Royal Caribbean International. While it seemed that Chinky’s chances of getting hired were favorably high, the result of the comprehensive medical exam put her application on a standby list. A hole in her left eardrum was discovered and it needed an operation. She underwent surgery and after months of treatment, she was officially hired.

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CHinky feels lucky to be working for the Royal Carribean International, one of the leading players in the global cruise industry.

A career at sea

Chinky fondly recalls her first day onboard Brilliance of the Seas, “I was scared and excited. I arrived at 8AM, took some rest, by 1PM, I joined the pre-departure safety orientation training and at 4PM, the ship set sail and I started working.”  It took her weeks to familiarize herself with the ship’s interiors and overcome seasickness. 

From being a restaurant attendant, Chinky was promoted to waiter years later. Her main tasks involve checking the time and attendance of the restaurant team, preparing and monitoring the room service as a day lead, setting up her station and supervising restaurant attendants.

In between shifts, she goes to the gym, makes her YouTube videos or takes some rest. On sea days, she doesn’t have days off, only rest hours or shifts off. On port days, the restaurants are closed and if not on duty, she gets to leave the ship. 

“This is what I like about working on a ship, the traveling part. Today in Italy, tomorrow, Spain, the following day, the Netherlands. I wash and iron my clothes the night before my day off so I am free to go sightseeing the following day.”

Working on a cruise ship

Chinky feels fortunate to be working for the Royal Caribbean International, one of the leading players in the global cruise market. “It is a very safe company. We are trained to defend ourselves against any form of danger, including racism or sexual harassment. And they care for their employees, financially and morally.” The company provides them slip-resistant shoes and does not allow them to carry heavy trays when they serve clients. Instead, trolleys are used to bring the plates and glasses to and from the galley.

Life on a cruise ship is never boring. “With over 2,300 passengers on board, our environment is fast paced and we deal with different kinds of people. Most  of the clients are nice. Some can be impatient and rude. Normally on boarding days, maybe because they’re exhausted from their flights.” For extreme situations, she reports the matter to her supervisor who then deals with the guests.

The ship has around 800 crew members and 200 of them are Pinoys. Surrounded by Filipinos gives Chinky a feel of home. “Filipinos are maalaga and creative. In the dining room, some of our kababayans serenade guests celebrating anniversaries or birthdays. On the last day of the cruise, we do farewell parties, and Filipinos usually lead the dancing and singing.”

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This is not a lifetime job. We must think of our future. We have to learn to manage our resources.

Chinky Nava
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For Chinky, acts of kindness are what make her love her job.

Kindness among passersby

But despite the revelries and her hectic schedule, homesickness can still find its way into her especially when left alone in the confines of her room. “When I got ill, although I had food and medicine, nobody could take care of me. Everybody was busy, I was alone for three days. I missed my family.” Moments like this makes Chinky realize that she has to take extra care of her body, “especially that our job is physically demanding.” 

Although Chinky doesn’t spend a lot on the ship, she makes it a point to save. “This is not a lifetime job. We must think of our future. We have to learn to manage our resources.” With the help of her mom, Chinky was able to acquire properties back home out of her savings.

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One of her favourite parts of her job is the chance to travel the world.

Working on a ship is her short-term goal. She is giving herself several more years before settling down to raise a family and maybe a business on the side.

In the coming weeks, she will be boarding again for another 7-month adventure at sea with new colleagues, new batches of guests. And in her journey, she always keeps in mind  a very important  lesson she has learned throughout the years, to be kind to everybody. For Chinky, people forget faces, but not acts of kindness. “We are just passersby and we may never see each other again.”

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