Not many people may know this, but SMOU member Magdalene Boon is Singapore’s first female Chinese radio officer.
Kicking off her maritime career as an assistant purser in 1972, Magdalene shares a defining moment in her early career that helped shape the rest of her life.
SV: How did you find your calling as a radio officer?
“I was onboard the vessel in Shatt al-Arab waterway in the Persian Gulf. At that time, there was a war going on between the Shah of Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini. There were about 300 ships stuck at the anchorage and the vessel I was in was waiting for its turn to discharge cargo at Khorramshahr, Iran.
It was during that time that I wandered up to the radio room and was totally mesmerised by all the equipment in the radio room. Then, my eyes zoomed in on a morse key on that table. I asked the radio officer what that was and he explained that it was used to send messages. My curiosity and interest resulted in me falling in love with radio communications.”
There was no turning back. After she got out of the Persian Gulf, Magdalene decided to pursue a career as a radio officer. She enrolled for a Radio Officers course at a College in Manchester, England, in 1978. A year later after her graduation, she returned to Singapore and joined Pacific International Lines (PIL) as a Radio Officer.
Throughout her sea career spanning 20 years, Magdalene has sailed on a variety of ships including bulk carriers, reefers, tankers, passenger vessels and drillships.
Fig 5 and 6: Magdalene in the radio room on board ships
SV: How would you describe your 20-year adventure at sea?
“I really have very good memories of my sailing days. I became like a Singapore ambassador. Whenever I arrived at every port, the customs officials were surprised to see a lady crew member.
Those days back in the 1970s, women were a rare breed in the shipping industry. So, out of curiosity, they would ask where I come from, and many at that time did not know where Singapore was situated on the map. I would sit down and tell them all about Singapore, the people, food and culture. In exchange, I would ask them about their country. That made great conversations.
The world has opened up to me as I travel. I always tell people to travel and not stay in their comfortable place. They will never know what’s happening in the world. For me, I got to travel for free. Do you know how much it would cost to travel 20 years around the world if you had to pay for it? Best way to travel is on the ship – the board is there, the restaurant is there, the office is there. Everything is under one roof.”
SV: You became a SMOU member in 1983. Tell us more about your close to 40-year SMOU journey.
“SMOU is the best union in the country. The union takes such good care of the seafarers as well as their family members. My daughter was a recipient of the SMOU Bursary and Scholarship Awards from Primary School all the way to the University. She did very well all through her education.”
“There is always something happening every month — from commemorating Mother’s Day, National Day, Family Day excursions to the Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, Sentosa and more; to celebrating the festivals, such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali.”
SV: SMOU is a firm believer of lifelong learning. How do you embrace continuing learning and education?
“SMOU organises not only training courses to enhance employability, the Union also holds talks and workshops that are useful and relevant to our everyday life such as Cyber Security, How to use Zoom, Social Media, Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) and How to make a will.”
SV: How did you stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I really missed the social interactions and I am grateful that the Union stayed connected with the members. On our birthdays, we got meals delivered to our homes. When social distance restrictions were relaxed, we could gather for $7 set lunches to celebrate SMOU’s 70th Anniversary.”
Magdalene also shared how SMOU has helped her apply for NTUC U Stretch Vouchers and Care Fund E-Vouchers.
Besides enjoying the benefits as a member, Magdalene embodies the SMOU core value of Caring and Sharing. She relishes every volunteering opportunity by SMOU when it comes to giving back to the community.
“SMOU supports the Henderson Senior Citizen Home. Whenever I am available, I will join the Union in their outreach activities. Serve food, clear the dishes, teach the seniors how to make lanterns.”
SV: Making lanterns for a good cause? Tell us more.
“What started as a hobby has become my way to bless the community. I have made lanterns during the festivals to brighten up the union office. I have also conducted lantern-making workshops for union members. I continue to hone my lantern-making craft and make lanterns to raise funds for charities such as Assisi Hospice.”
At the age of 71, Magdalene Boon shows no signs of slowing down. This sprightly lady, who chose to retire at age 60 lights the way to a life that is active and meaningful, well beyond her sailing heydays.