10 most common reasons Filipinos want to be seafarers

10 most common reasons Filipinos want to be seafarers

To be a seafarer is no joke. It’s a hard life, and there are many things that make it even more so (see my article, ’35 things that make life more difficult for seafarers’). So why do many young Filipinos want to serve in the Merchant Marine? Listed below are some of the usual reasons. I would have liked to include love for the sea and life at sea. However, I have known only a few Filipinos who were driven by such a passion — sea dogs who are now old or have passed away.

My father, brother or uncle was a seamen. So why not follow in their footsteps?


Working at sea is a challenging career, and to be a ship officer means joining an elite group.


I like how maritime cadets and ship officers look smart in their uniforms.


There are not enough decent-paying jobs on land.


I want to earn in dollars and have a nice house, a beautiful car, and all the comforts in life.


I want to save enough money to start my own business.


I’d like my children to have a college education.


I want to travel and see the world.


The life of a seafarer is filled with adventure and fun which landlubbers do not get to experience.


Seafarers, especially the officers, have an easier time getting women.

~ Barista Uno

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‘Desiderata’: A philosophy of life for today’s seafarers

‘Desiderata’: A philosophy of life for today’s seafarers

Almost a century has passed since Max Ehrmann, an American writer and lawyer from Indiana, wrote his 1927 prose poem ‘Desiderata’ (Latin word meaning “things that are needed or wanted”). Many who were college students during the heady 1960s will remember the opening line, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…” and the immortal phrase “you are a child of the universe”. Ehrmann’s words still ring true today. Not only do they inspire. They also offer bits of practical wisdom, a philosophy of life, that seafarers and others can live by during these tumultous times. Here is the complete original text, followed by two video clips (in English and Spanish) of ‘Desiderata’ read aloud.



By Max Ehrmann (1927)

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Savouring the words


Poems are best heard, not just read silently. The first of the following videos features the voice of Tom O’Bedlam. There is hardly any information online about him, but his rendition of ‘Desiderata’ is certainly one of the best available. The second is a recording of the poem in Spanish (with music) by the late Mexican actor Jorge Lavat (1933 – 2011).

~ Barista Uno

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Whales as captured in art through the ages

Whales as captured in art through the ages

A humpback whale shooting up suddenly from the depths of the ocean (pictured above) is something to behold. Not everyone, though, will get the chance to witness such a spectacle. I hope that the following works of art will give Marine Café Blog readers the pleasure of seeing whales as artists through the centuries saw them: as beautiful, mysterious and awe-inspiring creatures.

Painted Bowl with Whale, 6th–4th century B.C.
Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Double Spout Bottle, Killer Whale, 1st–6th century
Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Humans have been fascinated with whales since time immemorial as these two ancient pottery pieces from Peru show. In most primitive societies, whales evoked both fear and reverence, emotions that found expression in their art and crafts.

The final chase of Moby-Dick
I. W. Taber (American, ca. 1857 – 1933)
Illustration from Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1928)

In Melville’s great literary classic, Moby-Dick the whale is painted as a mysterious and menacing creature — the epitome of evil in the eyes of Captain Ahab, who is obsessed with killing it. This illustration shows the final chase of Moby-Dick which spells the end of the whaling ship Pequod and all its crew save for one, the narrator Ishmael. Click here to download a wonderful reading of the book’s last chapter (The Chase — Third Day).

Whale, circa 1270. Unknown artist
Image from The J. Paul Getty Museum

The story of Jonah and the Whale familiar to many has reinforced — unjustifiably so — the image of whales as deadly, fearsome creatures. Interestingly, the llustration from a 13th-century bestiary pictured above shows Jonah moments before he was swallowed by “a great fish” as recounted in Jonah: Chapter I of the King James version of the Bible. However, The J. Paul Getty Museum says the creature depicted is an aspidochelone, which is “a lot like a whale, but sneakier.”

Did Jonah really get swallowed by a whale? An article in the Texas-based Institute of Creation Research website provides an interesting perspective.

Jonah and the Whale: Rebirth Motif, 1937
John B. Flannagan (American, 1895-1942)
Image from the Brooklyn Museum

American sculptor John Bernard Flannagan puts his own spin on the saga of Jonah and the whale. His bluestone sculpture shows Jonah in a fetal position like a baby inside its mother’s womb. The whale is not a deathly, horrifying creature. It is a benign symbol of death and resurrection.

Japanese Fishermen Catching a Whale
from the series Famous Products of Japan (Dai Nihon bussan zue), 1877
Utagawa Hiroshige III (Japanese, 1842 – 1894)
Image from the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Japan has a long history of whaling — possibly going as far back as the Jomon period (10,000-300 BC), according to the Washington, DC-based Animal Welfare Institute. Japanese whale-hunting continues to this day amidst strong condemnation from whale lovers and activists. Stopping or at least scaling down the practice will require a sustained campaign by the Japanese people themselves, especially the youth.

“Elephant and Whale Screens” (left screen of pair of six-fold screens), 1797
Ito Jakuchu (Japanese, 1716-1800)
Image from The Japan Times

Ito Jakuchu’s rendition of a whale reflects the reverence for nature and love for beauty that imbue traditional Japanese art. This may seem paradoxical given Japan’s unenviable reputation as a nation of whale killers. But weren’t the samurai warriors into ikebana (Japanese art of flower arrangement)? The contradiction may well be present only in the non-Japanese mind.

Whalers, ca. 1845
Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851)
Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is interesting to note that the British were involved in whaling from the 17th century until the 1960s (see History of Whaling, Wikipedia). ‘Whalers’ by J.M.W. Turner, Britain’s favourite artist, serves to memorialise that era and the bravery of the men who fought battles with the whale.

Whales in the waves, from The Whale written and illustrated by Iliane Roels, 1969
Photo credit: Elizabeth on Flickr
Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 licence

Now that a lot more is known about whales, people are better able to appreciate these wonderful creatures. Works by contemporary artists are helping to propel whales to the public consciousness. This one is particularly eye-catching because of its childlike charm and vivacity.

Whaling Wall of Toronto, outdoor mural
Wyland (Robert Wyland, American, born 1956)
Photo by Bernard Spragg, NZ (2019)

‘Heavenly Waters’ is part of Wyland’s Whaling Walls, a series of large outdoor murals depicting whales (see the complete list here). Bernard Spragg, who took the picture, says it measures 146 feet long x 97 feet high. It is located at the foot of Jarvis St. and Queen’s Quay on the side of the Redpath Sugar Factory. The Whaling Walls have cemented Wyland’s reputation as an accomplished artist and dedicated conservationist. “My life is not only about the art, but conservation,” he declares on his personal website. “My ultimate goal is to leave a legacy that inspires people of all ages.”

~ Barista Uno

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A dozen great quotes about writing for those who write

A dozen great quotes about writing for those who write

As a maritime writer, I must confess that I have, more than once, suffered from self-doubt and a gnawing sense of futility. What does it matter if I write about the rights of seafarers or not? Or about marine art and culture? Will it make a bloody difference? The questions sometimes come like arrows to pierce the soul. Yet, I have managed to continue writing (Marine Café Blog will mark its 11th anniversary this August). I draw courage and inspiration from what famous writers have said about the pain and joy of writing. The folowing are some quotes which I hope will provide the same to literary writers, journalists, historians and others who have chosen to write as a vocation.

A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.

Roald Dahl, 'Boy: Tales of Childhood' (1984)

I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.

D.H. Lawrence, Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith (November 1913)

I have written the history of my life, and I have a perfect right to do so; but am I wise in throwing it before a public of which I know nothing but evil? No, I am aware it is sheer folly, but I want to be busy, I want to laugh, and why should I deny myself this gratification?

Giacomo Casanova, ‘Memoirs of J. Casanova de Seingalt’ (1894)

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.

William Faulkner, Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech (1950)

Writing sustains me. But wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that it sustains this kind of life? Which does not, of course, mean that my life is any better when I don’t write. On the contrary, at such times it is far worse, wholly unbearable, and inevitably ends in madness. This is, of course, only on the assumption that I am a writer even when I don’t write – which is indeed the case; and a non-writing writer is, in fact, a monster courting insanity.

Franz Kafka, Letter to Max Brod (July 1922)

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.

Graham Greene, 'Ways of Escape' (1980)

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.

John Steinbeck, ‘In Awe of Words’ The Exonian, Exeter University (1930)

It is a poor thing for the writer to take on that which he doesn’t understand.

Anton Chekhov, Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 1888)

Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.

Hermann Hesse, 'Siddhartha' (1922)

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell, "Why I Write", Gangrel, British literary magazine (1946)

Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to your self whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ (1929)

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.

Virginia Woolf, 'A Room of One's Own' (1929)

Seductive sirens in art, poetry and real life

Seductive sirens in art, poetry and real life

In ordinary usage, the word “siren” is defined by the Oxford English Dictiionary as “a woman who is considered to be alluring or fascinating but also dangerous in some way”. Feminists might object to the term as being sexist. However, not a few women would feel flattered if they were called “siren”. In Greek mytholody, sirens (pictured above) were creatures, half bird and half woman, whose music and singing lured unsuspecting sailors to destruction. They have since become the archetype of the woman who has the ability to bewitch and have control over men.

Homer wrote about the sirens’ seductive power in his epic poem, The Odyssey. Here is the sorceress Circe telling Odysseus (Ulysses in Roman mythology) to beware of the strange creatures:

First you will raise the island of the Sirens,
those creatures who spellbind any man alive,
whoever comes their way. Whoever draws too close,
off guard, and catches the Sirens’ voices in the air—
no sailing home for him, no wife rising to meet him,
no happy children beaming up at their father’s face.
The high, thrilling song of the Sirens will trans?x him,
lolling there in their meadow, round them heaps of corpses
rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones …

(from The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles)

Pretty but perilous


In many works of art, sirens do not have the menacing aspect suggested in Homer’s The Odyssey and rendered in Waterhouse’s painting. They are usually beautiful and graceful. But let not their benign appearance deceive you. Behind the allure lies danger.

Odysseus und die Sirenen (Odysseus and the Sirens)
Alexander Bruckmann (German, 1806 – 1852)
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Sirens, 1870 – 1910
John Macallan Swan (English, 1846 – 1910)
Image from Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A Sea-Spell

by William Browne (English, c. 1590 – c. 1645)

STEER, hither steer your winged pines,
All beaten mariners!
Here lie Love’s undiscover’d mines,
A prey to passengers;
Perfumes far sweeter than the best
Which make the Phoenix’ urn and nest.
Fear not your ships,
Nor any to oppose you save our lips;
But come on shore,
Where no joy dies till Love hath gotten more.

For swelling waves our panting breasts,
Where never storms arise,
Exchange, and be awhile our guests:
For stars gaze on our eyes.
The compass Love shall hourly sing,
And as he goes about the ring,
We will not miss
To tell each point he nameth with a kiss.
–Then come on shore,
Where no joy dies till Love hath gotten more.

A Sea-Spell, between 1875 – 1877
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (English, 1828–1882)
Image from the Art Renewal Center via Wikimedia Commons

A Sea-Spell

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Her lute hangs shadowed in the apple-tree,
While flashing fingers weave the sweet-strung spell
Between its chords; and as the wild notes swell,
The sea-bird for those branches leaves the sea.
But to what sound her listening ear stoops she?
What netherworld gulf-whispers doth she hear,
In answering echoes from what planisphere,
Along the wind, along the estuary?
She sinks into her spell: and when full soon
Her lips move and she soars into her song,
What creatures of the midmost main shall throng
In furrowed self-clouds to the summoning rune,
Till he, the fated mariner, hears her cry,
And up her rock, bare breasted, comes to die?

From sirens to femme fatales

Cleopatra, circa 1887
John William Waterhouse (English, 1849 – 1917)
Image from Wikiart: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Mata Hari in 1906
Photo from National Geographic
via Wikimedia Commons

Not all sirens were mere figments of the imagination. Some were actual historical figures. Like Homer’s sirens, they beguiled men to accomplish their own ends. The most famous example of these femme fatales was Cleopatra, known for her romantic liaisons and military alliances with the Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. And who could forget the notorious Mata Hari, the Dutch exotic dancer who spied for the Germans during World War I and was executed as a result by a French firing squad? Click here to learn more about Cleopatra and here for Mata Hari.

To earn the title “femme fatale”, one has to be beautiful, mysterious and seductive — qualities that not every woman is born with or can aspire to. But even an ordinary woman can be a siren in her own right. The following poem talks about a woman who dumps a man after he had given her everything. It’s a tale that has been told before and will be told again and again.

The Vampire

by Rudyard Kipling (English, 1865 – 1936)

The verses—as suggested by the painting by Philip Burne-Jones,
first exhibited at the new gallery in London in 1897.

A fool there was and he made his prayer
   (Even as you or I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair,
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair—
   (Even as you or I!)

Oh, the years we waste and the tears we waste,
   And the work of our head and hand
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
   And did not understand!

A fool there was and his goods he spent,
   (Even as you or I!)
Honour and faith and a sure intent
(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant),
But a fool must follow his natural bent
   (Even as you or I!)

Oh, the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
   And the excellent things we planned
Belong to the woman who didn’t know why
(And now we know that she never knew why)
   And did not understand!

The fool was stripped to his foolish hide,
   (Even as you or I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside—
(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died—
   (Even as you or I!)

And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame
   That stings like a white-hot brand—
It’s coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing, at last, she could never know why)
   And never could understand!

~ Barista Uno

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