The training ship PLAN Zheng He 81 left Surabaya, Indonesia on September 07, 2012 and is now visiting Brunei at Muara Port. She embarked young Officers of the Indonesian and Brunei navies in Surabaya for the passage to continue their training under the PRC PLAN concept.
NAUTICAL LOG has been re-reading 1421 and 1434 by Gavin Menzies (Lt.Cmdr. RN Ret.) and it is very interesting to compare the concept of the Chinese Emperors to the present day PRC methods of building contacts and influencing other nations. When Gavin Menzies was completing his Cadet and Midshipman service in the British Royal Navy NAUTICAL LOG was serving as Cadet and Deck Apprentice in the Merchant Navy during the same time period. In his book 1434 he writes of how multi-national the RN was and how Officers were expected to learn the culture of those serving with them.
In the MN it was even more so and included something of the language, the ships with Laskar (from Pakistan, India and Ceylon) crews had separate storerooms and three galleys for the Officers and Ratings, Hindu, Muslim and Christian all with cooks of the particular religion. Since we also had Chinese carpenters and fitters Chinese food was available usually cooked in the Christian galley which was staffed by Goanese.
All religious holidays were respected and time off during the day from work for prayers was given. The caste system was in place on board and the Tópas did the sweeping both on deck, inside and cleaned the heads. We had a Butla Sahib (Indian Chief Steward) who went with the Senior Sükunni (Chief Quartermaster) to open the Muslim storeroom each morning for the issuing of food supplies to the Muslim Bândari (crew cook) thus maintaining Halil requirements.
|Sükunni sewing canvas - next task is his sock!!|
There was a system of reimbursment by the Officers to crewmembers who did laundry for them and cooked and served when we had parties or a dance on board. All told it was an interaction with mutual respect. For example my Sükunni who was Muslim would say to me "Prayer time Mäjla Malim Sahib, which way Mecca please?" Given the direction he would go out on the Bridge wing and perform the afternoon prayer ritual having first washed at the deck fresh-water tap. It was an excellent educational experience for a young Officer who himself was not very much into religion!!
So as this PRC "Harmonious Mission" of PLAN Zheng He 81 goes around the World it is well to remember that they too are having an excellent educational experience and greatly influencing those who come into contact and in particular sail in the vessel with them.