Today’s New York Times brings us news of a homeless shelter in Warsaw where 25 out-of-work laborers are building a ship they intend to sail around the world.
It’s in memory of their beloved Father Boguslaw Paleczny, who died last year after procuring sponsorships, supplies and a shipbuilding book for his ragtag band of hard-luck men.
But their story strikes deeper chords because, for all the modern tools in the building and corporate sponsors providing the raw materials, their endeavour echoes mythic themes of escape, adventure and redemption that can seem out of reach in a world of biometric identity cards and debt-collection agencies.
Pretty moving stuff, yes.
But Father Paleczny’s men are also representatives of a larger global trend whereby men are returning to seafaring and sundry other so-called “soulcrafts” in the wake of a crisis that has prompted deep introspection and professional soul-searching in all of us.
And what of the shipbuilding and fishing capital of the world, South Korea? Their men are returning to the seas too, albeit with slightly less enthusiasm:
[Lee Chang-shik] leads a secret life. After his company went bankrupt late last year, he recently relocated to this remote fishing village to do the highest-paying work he could find in the current market: as a hand on a crab boat.
“I definitely don’t put crab fisherman on my résumé,” said Mr. Lee, 33, who makes the five-hour drive back to Seoul once a month to hunt for a desk job. “This work hurts my pride.”
Mr. Lee says he carefully avoids the topic of work in phone conversations with friends and his parents, and dodges invitations to meet by claiming he is too busy. He gave his name with great reluctance, and only after being assured the article would not appear in Korean.
Another former white-collar worker who now works on a crab boat in the same village said he could not tell family and friends, and told his wife only via e-mail after arriving here. Yet another tells his parents that he is in Japan. In a competitive, status-conscious society, these and other workers say they feel intense shame doing manual work.
Sigh. With “soulcraft” sectors of the economy as with girlfriends and Glass-Steagall restrictions, no one ever misses them till they’re gone.
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