Wednesday, May 10, 2006

An Adventure

Yesterday I went for a walk with my friend Mary-Ann. I wanted to go to the brow, but she wanted to go to Bayfront near the Hamilton Art Gallery where there is a Williams Coffee Pub and washrooms to use. Correction- there used to be a Williams Coffee Pub and there is now an empty building that they are doing major renovations/reconstruction work to. And we didn't exactly go for a walk it was more like a stroll and a stand-still-and-watch-the-ship-unload because-ships-are-so-fascinating. Actually I don't know if ship is the most precise term to use, since it is almost the maximum size that can make it here in the Great Lakes up the Saint Lawrence seaway. Maybe a freighter? After watching the ship unload we drove a little ways away near the Haida where we stood watching another ship back up and contemplated squeezing through the hole in the closed gate in the high steel fence with its forbidding barbed wire at the top. Earlier Mary-Ann had explained that even though the signs on another gate leading into restricted industrial-type shipping area said Authorized Entry only, ID cards necessary etc. it meant nothing without the words trespassers will be prosecuted. Then we saw those words on another sign and so now we stood at the gate near the Haida that Mary-Ann said was sometimes open. We saw a man walk by and enter the restricted industrial-type area. An elderly couple in a car stared us a long time before driving away. We were thinking of squeezing through the gate when we were approached by a youngish man, from a distance strangely reminiscent of my former friend who would be boyfriend, Jim. I was commenting to Mary-Ann that he reminded me of some-one I used to know, when he called out, "Are you waiting for the tug-boat guys?" Mary-Ann hastily explained that we were just standing here watching the ships, thinking we might get in trouble if he suspected we were trying to squeeze through the gate. A conversation followed and we learned he was a pilot/sailor who was piloting the first ship we had been watching that was leaving at 11:30 pm. His name was Jim some-body and he said no one cared if you went in the restricted area, but you had to be careful not to get in the way of the fork-lifts.
He offered to walk with us into the restricted ship-yard and asked us what we did for a living. He thought we might be reporters. Mary-Ann gets that a lot. I laughed and told him that Mary-Ann should be a reporter, and Mary-Ann said we are just nosy and curious. We soon found ourselves standing right by the ship. The ship was from Hong-Kong and had stopped in Korea and it's crew was Indian. Jim asked us if we wanted him to ask if he could give us a tour. I said, "Sure, but only if it wouldn't put anybody out." Mary-Ann looked at me and told me quietly it wasn't a good idea, "Do you know what the third most prevalent international crime is?" I didn't know it was kidnapping for the sex trade, but I didn't feel that worried. "I don't want to get locked in a cabin somewhere," she said under her breath, "We talked about it in my classes at the end of university." I told her, "Okay we won't do it." But Mary-Ann found it impossible to refuse politely and wasn't coming up with any excuses. I just stood there smiling, no help at all. Jim was busy getting permission, while Mary-Ann kept on repeating that we could just watch from our current position. "I sorry but we don't know you," she said as she stood at the entrance to the ship after climbing up the gang-way. We walked onto the ship and a man paged the captain for us, while we signed in and got badges. Mary-Ann didn't complete her signing in before she decided she was done, and was told repeatedly "sign, sign." The tour was short, Jim called it the nickle tour, and he took us on to the bridge of the ship (I am very weak on ship terms but I mean the part of the ship with the controls where the pilot steers the ship.) On the way, which took us through numerous stairways and corridors and doorways, we saw some eating quarters and living quarters. Every thing was extremely clean, cleaner than my house at home, and nothing was rickety. Mary-Ann says she was praying the whole time that she wouldn't be kidnapped and at one point when Jim said, "After you," as we stood by a door Jim had just opened, Mary-Ann worried he was going to turn around and lock the door after we went in. She didn't want to be the first in. I wasn't concerned at all and I wasn't praying or aware how worried Mary-Ann was. We met the pilot, who we had actually seen earlier walk in, while we had been standing by the Haida, and he remembered seeing us earlier. He said if we waited a few minutes he could get us a drink. I would have agreed, as in some cultures it is rude to decline anything, but Mary-Ann said quickly that we really must be going because we had somewhere to be. We both thanked the captain and looked around awhile longer at all the instruments. We quickly navigated back down through the ship and soon were back in the place where we had signed in. We surrendered our badges and thanked every one profusely. Jim led us back through the ship yard to the gate. He said "You thought you were going to be sold into white slavery didn't you?" Mary-Ann said, "Actually yes."
We stood near the parking lot and had a discussion about his line of work and the dark side of globalization. His whole family is or has been involved with shipping and he worked around the world on ocean-liners for a few years. One Christmas Eve he was on a ship I forget where and there was a fire that took eight hours to put out and he decided enough was enough and he didn't want to die on a ship some day. Since then he has worked in the US and Canada piloting ships through the habours and locks. There always must be a Canadian or American pilot when navigating the harbours in the US or Canada. He said some ships have deplorable conditions like no drinkable tap water and rats and he has seen sailors from third-world countries who haven't been paid in two years or in four-months, but are trapped and can't leave because they don't have their passports which are held by some-one else in the ship. The companies sometimes have no intention of paying them and their wages are low in any case. He is able to draw attention to these cases when they come into the harbours. Often the ships are built cheaply in China and some don't hold up very well. They might be run by a company based in Montreal and have an Indian crew and the owner may be who knows where, but usually the profits from this lucrative business are not taxed and are somewhere off-shore. The ships are expensive to repair however. Usually the ships will be running on minimal fuel when going through the harbours and locks so that more cargo can be packed in. The ship we toured had mostly steel, but Jim has seen unique cargo like a ship only carrying bottles of Scotch or wine. He has a couple complimentary bottles of Scotch sitting in his windowsill at home. He said the Hamilton Harbour is going like gang-busters with a lot of steel being shipped in.
A man from the Port Authority drove up and Jim had a conversation with him while still maintaining eye contact with us. Eventually Mary-Ann and I thanked Jim again and drove off. We enthused about our adventure and Mary-Ann said she had to tell her sister about it who would be so jealous. We went to her apartment and I told her room-mate about it, while Mary-Ann phoned her Mom to find out where her sister was. Her Mom told her off for being so foolish. I am not sure if she reached her sister. Mary-Ann phoned her boyfriend and left a breath-less message and then we went out to Second Cup. When I got home my Dad agreed with Mary-Ann's Mom's assessment, "Mary-Ann must be a little more street smart." My Mom felt more like I had and thought it was a pretty amazing adventure. That's what happens when you go for a walk with Mary-Ann. She threatens to tell the story at my wedding, if I ever have one since I am not even dating, and she would explain how I almost "got her killed or sold into prostitution." Good times.


John den Boer said...

That's very interesting. I don't think they would have gotten away with an abduction, although you never know.

Suzanne den Boer said...

I don't think we ever were in much danger, but Mary-Ann has been talking about this phenomenon in her classes during her final semester of university. I didn't think about any danger when I first said yes to the tour, and even when Mary-Ann explained her hesitation, but we went ahead anyways, I wasn't worried. But it's true you never know.