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Sunday, June 09, 2013

 

Personal History - The World of Shipping, and "Mogi" Mogensen


An article about Lee Kuan Yew, the grand old man of Singapore, in the New York Times reminded me of the mid-1980's when I visited Singapore many times and came to admire what Lee Kuan Yew achieved even though there was a feeling of "Big Brother" keeping  a watchful eye over the inhabitants of Singapore.

Ocean transportation -- the most economical means of moving large volumes of cargo from one country to another --  continues its role in international trade. The industry embraced modernization by adopting cargo containers in the late 1960's. Then more functions were computerized and the interaction between shippers and carriers slowly ceased to be an important part of the business I knew and enjoyed being a part of for many years.

My career began in Calcutta, India, and ended in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In those days offices of steamship lines and freight brokers were located in or around California Street, San Francisco.  No longer so.  Nowadays, modern communication systems have made it possible to run a steamship company far away from ports of call.  A few employees handle operations and sales instead of large offices bustling with staff.

Popular among steamship company employees, Tadich Grill is still there, but Paolis on Commercial Street and Doro's on Jackson Square are gone.  Neckties for men were de rigueur at Don Dianda's Doro's.  Historical Merchants Exchange Building, which was home of Commercial Club --  another gathering place for the shipping fraternity -- changed ownership in 1995 and went through extensive renovation.  The staid World Trade Club, located in the Ferry Building, served mediocre food but offered  a great view of the Bay.  It went bankrupt in 2006.

The late Herb Caen wrote in one of his columns: "San Francisco has the charms of Sydney, the style of London, and the rascality of Paris."  A great city.  On a clear day it offers breathtaking views.

It was while working for a Danish shipping company in San Francisco that I heard of JHM, known as "Mogi" Mogensen who was talked about as "Our Man in Bangkok".  As the country manager of the company in Thailand for almost a decade, Mogi was legendary.  Years later, employed with a different company I met him in Singapore when he came to pick me up from the airport on my first  trip to that city.  Subsequently, he moved to California and we worked together for a few years.  A tall, courtly man, Mogi  followed some old world customs.  For one thing, he always put his jacket on before meeting a visitor.  He returned to Copenhagen in 2006 but continued to be active in the chartering business. We remained in touch, with meetings during his periodic visits to the United States.  He had been suffering from melanoma for some years.  The condition gradually worsened.  Mogi died on Feb 16, 2011.  His last message read:
Tks yr phone call & your concern. A very belated Happy Thanksgiving!
 
I was hospitalized witn an infection and could not write you but back home
today  - I am still under chemo-therapy treatment which to continue until 
2nd half january, I think. Wish I could get out jogging again!
 
Brgds/Mogi

Seamus Heaney, in "Human Chain"

The Baler

All day the clunk of a baler
Ongoing, cardiac-dull,
So taken for granted
It was evening before I came to
To what I was hearing
And missing: summer’s richest hours
As they had been to begin with,
Fork-lifted, sweated-through
And nearly rewarded enough
By the giddied-up race of a tractor
At the end of the day
Last-lapping a hayfield.
But what I also remembered
As woodpigeons sued at the edge
Of thirty gleaned acres
And I stood inhaling the cool
In a dusk Eldorado
Of mighty cylindrical bales
Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down
And asking please to be put
With his back to the window.
              *****



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