I was born and raised in Anhui, an inland province in East China, so I knew nothing about maritime jobs.
I chose to be an engineer because I thought I would learn to fix machines, which would be a real skill. I didn't imagine that my first job would be scrubbing the floor in the ship's engine room. For many people, being a mariner means hard work, low pay, bad working conditions and being far from home. Those are the reasons fewer people are joining the industry.
Opposition from their families has led some of my crew members to abandon their careers, but I am lucky because my wife has been very supportive. In 2004, I invited her to stay on the ship when it was undergoing maintenance in port, to give her a better understanding of my work.
I have two sons: one is age 13 and the other is just 1. Every time I come home after a long trip, they look totally different; bigger and taller. It's getting hard for me to leave them for long periods.
My company has shortened our contracts to six months, and we have a two- to three-month vacation between voyages.
Ocean life can be boring. After work, our only entertainment is playing cards or chess. A ping-pong table is a piece of luxury equipment onboard. I hope that when China fully joins the Maritime Labour Convention, we will be supplied with more fitness equipment.