The Second Contract! BLOG #16
Hi everyone! Hoping the holiday season is finding you well, I’m currently back home in Farmington, Utah on shore leave before I leave for my 3rd contract on January 8th, 2019. It was definitely my favorite contract so far, as I was able to explore a lot of new places in Europe as well as have a little more fun overall on the job (more on that later), it's much easier to return to do the same type of work, it made me a lot more relaxed this time around. I still absolutely love the job, it’s quite the crazy environment but I’m learning to thrive in it and not get to bogged down by the chaos. Before starting my next contract, I wanted to share some of my favorite moments from my time spent back on the Queen Victoria.
I wanted to apologize for the lack of updates from my last contract- I know many were looking forward to some updates and even sent me private messages throughout but when I had first returned (I had even nearly finished up my first blog), I unfortunately was still struggling with the same hand and wrist pain I had from my last contract. Instead of pushing it and making things worse, I decided it was best to just do the gig, and not as much extracurricular activities (that included practicing!). In hindsight, it ended up being for the better as I feel everything overall has become much more manageable and even now back home I’ve been practicing a lot again and using my hands with confidence.
But before I recap what happened on my contract, a summary of my break (May-June): it went quick, but I got to do a lot in the short amount of time I had. Starting off, the first 2-3 weeks or so I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just lay around in my bed playing video games and relaxed as much as I could to the point of boredom, it felt so nice to just do nothing for once and stay in one location not moving around! I also hung out with my friends and played some music with them again- it felt weird to catch up with old friends after seeing the same faces every day, 7 days a week for so long! Soon after, my brother and other family members from Seattle came out to Utah to visit, which included plenty of family dinners, games and golfing, lots of golfing.
To spice up my break, I took a road trip with my cousins out to Las Vegas and did a little gambling and such with them out there for about a week or so. Yes, I lost money ☹. We baked in 100+ degree weather and went swimming for a good portion of a day. After coming home for just one night, I headed out the next morning for a road trip to Canada with an old high school buddy. The trip itinerary primarily catered to golfing locations, namely Grey Wolf in Panorama BC and Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Still to this day, Canada will always be one of my favorite places to visit, as well as my favorite place to camp- it’s a beautiful place for nature in general. The campsites are always private and well taken care of (compared to some we found in Idaho and Montana) and the people have always been friendly. We were crunched on time but were able to fit in a good amount of time outdoors, including an intense ten-mile, 2000 foot elevation change hike to Hanging Glacier Lake, which I’m pretty sure we were the first ones up there for the season as we had to constantly climb over trees that had on the trail!
The main reason we wanted to go to Coeur d’Alene was for two reasons, first, the driving range is hit right into the lake! I believe they have nets underwater to collect later. We also wanted to go for their “Floating Green” par 3 where you tee off onto an island and have to take a boat to finish the hole! I was golfing very poorly that day, probably the worst I’ve shot in three years and ended up shooting a 5 on that hole. Both my friend and I are looking forward to returning a redemption round. On top of the bad round of golfing, I also discovered that my roommate (the one that dates the officer) would be taking off the contract for family emergencies, meaning, I’d be getting a roommate this time ☹.
After that, it was time to head back! Back to living on the ship in a tiny cabin, back to attempting to handle the mystery meats in the crew mess, back to performing music every night and, perhaps most importantly, back to finding new adventures! I was very excited to get back to playing music again and was looking forward to meeting new people as we always have an entirely new production cast as well as some new musicians (just a few) on the different contracts. What worried me most was the rooming situation, I get the feeling that that could make or break a contract depending on who it is, but who knows? I could even get lucky again.
Once again taking the 9-hour flight back to London (my parents flew out with me this time), I was put in the same hotel to stay overnight until the 5am morning bus ride to Southampton. I ran into the same trombonist from the theater band that I worked with last contract and we both agreed it was best to buy our own dinner rather than have the free one provided (I knew it would be mostly curry and rice, and we get plenty of that on the ship). At first it was a weird, but it was a great feeling to see the same bandmates from the last contract begin to congregate at the restaurant bar (last drinks with freedom), it felt like we were “getting the band back together!” It’s hard to not have a feeling of camaraderie after you’ve worked together so much and so often for six months, and it felt like we picked up right where we last left off, like we hadn’t even had a break.
Upon arriving on Queen Victoria and seeing plenty of familiar faces among the other crewmembers once again (some still on their same contract from when I left), I discovered that my first few days of the contract would be as hectic as the start of the last. The jet lag, the safety inductions, passenger drills, unpacking and the performance in the evening is always a hefty load. Personally, the time change is what kills me the most, midnight in England is around 6pm back home, so I always feel especially wired after performing, even though I should be going to sleep!
The start of this contract was especially fun, as I had visitors this time around! Not only did my parents fly out with me to join for my first cruise of the contract, but they brought a group of friends with them as well! It was like mixing my two universes together as my family got to see where and how I’ve been working for the past half a year and I got to see and perform for some familiar faces (though I needed to dust off a bit of my “vacation chops,” as the musicians call it). The cruise they came on was long enough that it enabled them to see all of the shows I perform in as well as the sets we do outside the theater in the pub, namely our Rock & Roll and R&b and Soul nights. This included my personal favorite, entitled, “Singers in Concert” which features 20 of the musicians on ship as well as the four vocalists, it’s always an enjoyable time to play with so many people.
I’m featured on a lot of the shows and I solo a lot in the pub so everyone got to see me perform in a lot of different styles and settings. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they did have some bad luck on the guest entertainers we had. I’ve seen some well-done professional shows done on the ship but in hindsight I feel like they got some duds, and none of my favorite comedians. They did, however, get to witness some of the cringe-worthy dialogue I have to endure some nights (twice a night, don't forget) with a punny violinist and some poor jokes from a 4-guy vocal group.
As enjoyable as it was to have people I knew on the ship, it was also extremely tiring, mostly because I was trying to spend a lot of time with my family on top of work and restarting a new contract. I hopped on a couple hikes when we stopped in Norway as well as attempted to eat every lunch and dinner with them in the restaurants, which even though it was delicious it made me a little sad: the food, understandably of course, is much better for the passengers. I didn’t know this last contract, but at the lunch lido buffet (crew aren’t allowed at lunch times) they serve raw tuna and salmon sashimi! Something we all ate platters of daily! That reason alone made me sad to see them leave (among other reasons too!)
Thank you to everyone who came out!
I learned pretty quickly that returning to the same ship with the same music makes it very easy to just jump back in and get back into the swing of things. I mean, all the shows stay the same! We had a piece or two here and there change, but overall it was a lot of the same material. Even with the guest entertainers, after you’ve done a difficult show once or twice it’s much easier to read it again because you know what to expect. Compare that to last time, when I was struggling to find time to practice in between rehearsal and show time as well as shedding all the production shows for a solid month or two before I finally felt comfortable performing all of them! Thank goodness too given my hand condition, it made it possible for me to just start the contract and only worry about the individual performance at night- instead of having to practice on top of it.
Deciding not to push my injury too soon, I took the opportunity to just enjoy the social life of the ship, as I never really had much of a college “dorm” experience, where you live right down the hallways from friends and hang out everyone on a night to night basis. The highly social and close quarter environment makes it very easy for crew members and passengers to recognize you and it’s always fun to be a bit of a local celebrity for the time of the contract. Being one of the only Asians that are not a “crew” member, as well as actually being allowed to grow my hair out, I noticed the Filipinos specifically seem to think I stand out on the ship. There was one hilarious incident where I went to a Filipino Karaoke party with some friends and I was instantly recognized by quite a number of them, even though I didn’t know everyone there. They’re a very friendly community of hardworking individuals (can’t say enough about how hard they all work and still maintain a positive attitude!) and they immediately offered me drinks and food like I was famous, some of which I can only wonder if it had been snuck out of the passenger kitchens!
I definitely met a ton more people this contract and had some pretty exciting adventures with them, especially on the overnights. There’s a saying with crew members that goes, “don’t waste an overnight,” meaning it’s one of the only times on a contract when we can all leave and enjoy ourselves away from our crew areas and ship environment. It's pretty cool to see some cities at night, like Venice for example. And for musicians specifically, considering we don’t have to work until the evening hours (usually), and the ship won’t leave until the following evening (usually), we can go out and have a crazy night in an interesting location and not worry about getting back for work right away. A particular favorite was an overnight in Saint Petersburg where a group of us went out for some drinks and happened upon a couple clubs where eventually when we came back outside, the sun had come up!
It was my first time visiting the Baltic ports, it was very cool to see the architecture and cultures of Finland, Denmark, Russia and a lot of other northern European countries such as Norway and Iceland. During that time, my 25th birthday happened to land on a port day (thankfully not a sea day) in Stavanger, Norway and since it was a bad weather, I ended up taking a group of friends and going bowling! Which was shockingly cheap, I guess that’s one good thing about organizing a group party when you work on a ship- bowling on a Wednesday, at 11am, is not going to be expensive, even in Norway.
A particular hike that stands out to me even now is up the mountain in Geiringer, Norway where you find a cliff that overhangs a steep drop. It’s a beautiful way to see the fjord and the surrounding scenery, as it goes up pretty high in elevation. The picture will give a scare to my parents, I promise the angle makes it look much worse than it actually is!
Other than that, I can pretty much sum up the rest of my contract with two pictures:
Yup, once we got to the “Med” season where we floated around the Mediterranean for a solid two months (with passengers coming and going when they decided), the standard became warm weather and good food almost every day! October ended up being an expensive month for me, I was attempting to get my Christmas shopping done early and find some cool stuff in Europe for the family! Budgeting became difficult, as we only had about six sea days, meaning just about every other day I was out in either Spain, Portugal, Italy or Greece exploring the port and tasting the local cuisine. I actually got sick of pizza and pasta since I was having it at least once or twice a week! Take a look at this pizza, the picture doesn’t even do it justice, as it’s meant to be for five people, which of course, we split it with three. :D
These are grilled shrimp-stuffed squid. I repeat: grilled. shrimp-stuffed. squid!
High quality cheese and meat shops were everywhere in Italy
While it may sound like it was smooth sailing for me, I’ll always remember this contract because the production cast did not. Either they brought some crazy curse with them or they were all incredibly injury prone. They were in constant rehearsals and re-blocking the shows for pretty much the entire time I was there as singers were losing their voices, a dancer was sent home for physical therapy, one had kidney stones (or something else), one got sent home for skin cancer, one had a family emergency and left for a week, and one left permanently after some ship drama! I think they sent five replacements (some didn’t know any of the shows!) in total, and I heard that even now (after I’ve left) one of the singers injured his elbow falling down some stairs and they had to replace him too! I think the only time they had a full cast was when my family happened to be on, so I guess they timed it perfectly! I believe they’re planning to have an “end of install” party on January 8th, with the end of their contract being January 10th! At least they have good humor about it.
To be honest this was a contract that I didn’t want to end, I didn’t really feel burnt out like I did towards the end of my first contract, maybe it makes a difference to be on my 2nd contract. If you were wondering about my roommate, I ended up living with two different bass players who were super friendly and cool guys. Living in a small cabin with a roommate actually isn't that bad if you wind up with people that respect your privacy and the noise in the room- still, I'm looking forward to having my old roommate again next contract (the one that stays in a different room). My hands were feeling solid towards the end as well which made me very optimistic, I think I’ve been beginning to relax on stage and the performing aspect of the job is becoming second nature to me. Overall, I still love the job, it’s such a strange living condition but I enjoy the environment to improve musically and the opportunity to travel all over the world, I could foresee myself working on ships for at least three more years. Eventually I’d like to work on land again and with the music business the way it is, earlier is going to be easier than later as it really all comes down to networking in the end! The potential to try a relocation with some people on the ship could be in the works long term as well, as the guitarist specifically is well connected in Thailand and Japan. This contract I had a good group of friends that I’d consistently do stuff with which also made me want to stay a little longer, but I guess it’s a good thing to leave on a high note, as now I’m looking forward to going back! Thankfully a lot of my friends and similar band members will return as well for the world cruise next year!
Lastly, quickly some of my favorite adventures and memories:
Sprinting to catch the last train back to port (so we didn’t miss the ship) after finding an awesome beach in La Spezia, Italy
Sweatily hiking up the mountain in Kotor, Montenegro
Renting a car and touring the island of Corfu, Greece
Renting a boat and touring around the waters of Kotor
Performing with the band at a crew bar party!
Contract #2 completed!
If you haven’t seen it already, I put together a short highlight reel of my playing on the QV, you can check it out on YouTube here:
That’s all for this BLOG, sorry if it seems jam packed there was a lot to cover! I'm glad to have another contract under my belt and am looking forward to the next one! We’ll be sailing completely around the world soon! I’ll be talking about my spontaneous adventure into Cape Town in the next. Be sure to check out the Gallery for more pictures! Thanks to you who are reading! Please give it a thumbs up, or share with anyone you’d think would find it interesting! If you’d like to ask me anything feel free to do so in the “Contact Me” box that should be in the bottom right of the screen.