In the middle of a residential area, located in the west of the Gulou district in Nanjing and just 1.5 km from the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, a ship rises between the buildings. Closer inspection learns that it is only half a ship. Fourteen years ago the ship was built for training students at the Tanker Shipping Sailor Training School.
Mr. Qi is 55 years old and has been a teacher at the school for the past 10 years. He tells the school is affiliated with Sinotrans and CNS Holdings CO Ltd. Established in 1984 it moved to its current location in 1998. The school employs around 10 full time teachers and a handful of part time teachers. Though small, it is the only official training institute for sailors in Nanjing.
The school issues official shipping licenses. As sailor is considered to be a stable job, there is a steady influx of up to 300 students every year. Not only young people apply; the age of students varies from 18 to 60 years old. While some female students enroll every year, the male students outnumber them at least 1:10.
The school offers three different kinds of courses: the training of river transportation, coastal shipping and ocean shipping.
Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Qi used to be in charge of the supply of electricity on a ship. He describes his early life on the water as both “boring” and “free”. He tells that in the 80s and 90s of the last century telecommunications were not that advanced in China. He and his fellow boat mates could not surf the Internet, watch TV or even listen to the radio on the ship. All they could do to kill the time was to have a little drink, play chess or cards and read some books. However, they always had a good time when their ship was berthed at a port. They were usually given six or more hours of free time, which they used for short, yet exciting, visits to the city areas around the ports. He enjoyed a feeling of freedom in meeting people and discovering cities unknown to him.
This all changed after he got married. He felt bound to his family and did not enjoy the freedom anymore. He refers this period as a “hard time”. In the end he quit his job and became a teacher.
When asked if dealing with loneliness and being far away from your family for a long time is a subject that is part of the school’s curriculum, he explains that such subjects are not discussed with the students. Everybody has to deal with that in his or her own way.
Mr. Wang Xinqiao, 57 years old and a teacher at shipping schools for the past 30 years, joins our conversation. He speaks some English which he learned when sailing the world for 11 years as a young man.
We briefly talk about the school again. The level of education of most students is not very high. The teaching is quite relaxed; the subject matters they teach are easy to acquire. Classes are from Monday to Sunday, but teachers don’t need to work many hours in the office; they just come and go for classes.