Ahoy! A Mirian on board the Queen Mary II

The Queen Mary II berthed in New York.

The Queen Mary II berthed in New York.

Kelvin Tan on board Queen Mary II.  — Photos from the Tan family

Kelvin Tan on board Queen Mary II.
— Photos from the Tan family

THE docks of Merseyside have never seen close to one million people standing shoulder to shoulder, and thousands deep, to watch the arrival of Three Queens — Queen Mary II, Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria.

Three Queens? These are the names of the three luxury ocean liners belonging to the Cunard Line.

May 24-26, 2015 was a memorable three-day celebration for Cunard in Merseyside, Liverpool, UK.

According to reports, on May 25, 2015, the three queenly ocean liners sailed down the Mersey into Liverpool to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Cunard Line. The ships performed manoeuvers, including 180-degree turns, while The Red Arrows staged a roaring fly-past.

“It was an amazing way to celebrate 175 years of excellent service. I was giddy, looking at the small heads on the quay from Queen Mary II. These people were waiting for our cruise ships to enter the harbour. In all honesty, deep down in my heart, I was really proud to be part of the Cunard Line,” said Kelvin Tan Wei Ping, the young Miri-born manager of all the 19 restaurants on board the Queen Mary II.

In the past 175 years, the Cunard Line has owned luxury cruise ships with names ending with ‘ic’ — Titanic and Britannic, ‘ia’ — Britannia and Caledonia, and now it has three Queens – Queen Mary II, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria.

Kelvin was relating, very casually, the memorable occasion in Liverpool as he sat with family and friends over a sumptuous dinner at his parents’ home in Miri in December when he was home on a rare holiday.

“Due to his heavy commitments on the luxury cruise liner, he comes back about three times a year. We continue to miss him when he is not around,” his father Tan Beng Chai said.

Tan is a very young-looking father who loves snooker and karaoke singing. He is attached to the Miri Municipal Council.

Kelvin chipped in: “The Cunard Line has always offered the best services possible, always with a flair and a sense of occasion and it was 175 years ago when Britannia left British waters for the US. And the anniversary was really an unbelievably grand occasion, never before seen by Liverpudians or anyone, for that matter.

“I have been lucky in some ways because the opportunities came while I was fairly new on Queen Mary II, and I have been known for my hard work and sincerity to my superiors and colleagues. My previous manager had kept an eye on me and found me to be responsible and a good leader.

“So when an assistant manager’s post came up, he recommended me even though there were many who had more years of experience. I started from the very bottom, living next to an engine room, and laying tables, making sure the linen was straight and the glasses perfectly arranged. It was hard work with a concentrated focus. But I don’t regret it.”

A Miri family friend said of Kelvin: “He graduated with top grades in hotel management from Switzerland. In fact, even as a student, he was always well-dressed, smart, neat and very proper. He is especially careful with his language — that’s why I think he makes a very good manager. Today, we are very proud of how he has turned out as a professional, working in an international arena. I also heard from people he works with that they feel good with him around. And I am amazed that young as he is, he still has the wisdom not many older people have. That makes him very different and outstanding.”

According to another friend, Kelvin is also the youngest manager ever appointed by the company and the first Asian to helm the restaurants on board Queen Mary II. This is quite a record for the Resort City of Miri — even for Sarawak.

Kelvin and his family on board the Queen Mary II.

Kelvin and his family on board the Queen Mary II.

Full parental support

Kevin’s mother, Margaret Loh, a boutique owner, was born in Sibu.

She said her two sons had always maintained good results in primary school but Kelvin was special because he was not happy with just some good marks — he had always wanted to reach the very top in all his subjects, especially in secondary school.

Kelvin’s brother now works in Indonesia.

The friendly Margaret added: “I actually never had to worry about Kelvin and his studies. He always wanted to show his love for his parents by scoring good grades. I have been very comforted by that. Furthermore, we were not pushy. My husband and I were fairly firm in a way, making sure he and his brother did their homework and quietly gave them our full support. We did our very best to stand by them and made ourselves available.”

She recalled when they decided to send Kelvin to Switzerland for his choice of study, they already knew he was going to do his best because the fees were quite high and they had to take out a bank loan.

“But we were so comforted by the fact that he was a top scholar while he was there.”

After his studies in Switzerland, Kelvin was delighted to be employed by Marriot Hotel in Ireland, starting from a very low level as a supervisor.

He reminisced: “It was tough because I was in a foreign land but I was happy to be working for a leading hotel line. By engaging me, I knew they had a lot of faith in me. So I worked really hard. I gained even more confidence when the opportunity came for me to be promoted in my work in Ireland, a land so far away from Malaysia. I knew I was in for it and I got it. I would not disappoint the company and I promised myself I would work very hard!”

The Queen Mary II does world and some local maritime tours. Some of the guests Kelvin has served included the British Royal Family and famous celebrities. In fact, many of the guests he meets in the restaurants will tell him how delighted they are with the elegance and service provided during every meal.

For some couples, a world tour on Queen Mary II is a dream come true. And for many British families, it would be once-in-a-lifetime family tradition. For others it is part of their bucket list.

Taking nothing for granted

On the challenges, Kelvin said: “As the youngest manager ever appointed, I take my job very seriously and try my best. I have to be fair with all the employees in the restaurants and I also need to keep a suitable distance as a professional. I really have to often think on my feet and be very disciplined in my decision-making. Nothing should be treated lightly. Besides, service in the F and B is just so important that you cannot make a single mistake, especially when the Cunard Line is so famous for its customer service and important clients.”

He was very inspiring when talking about the opportunities to see beautiful places as part of a world cruise.

“Different places we go to have different peoples and all these are very interesting. In fact, sometimes, our clients are also very inspiring. Moreover, those who work with me are enthusiastic about working on a huge liner. Nineteen restaurants are not easy to run and I really have to be there for both customers and employees who have to work hard to attend to the customers.

“Schedules are very tight. Most employees have to sacrifice time at home due to the liner’s schedules. Some married couples go through a lot. Four months at sea is a long time. And many marriages do break up. A parent naturally misses his children. And he has to make sure they are safe too and well taken care off. Some even resign even when promotions are due as they want to put family first.”

For Kelvin, going to work means having to fly 17 hours from Miri to KL, then to London and Southampton.

He said people drove to work and within five minutes they could be in their office.

“I think such a thought alone makes my mother sad whenever I have to go to work. We do Cross Atlantic, Carribean and Round The World cruises. So there is plenty for all the crew on Queen Mary II to do in a year.”

Asked if he would like to settle down, he replied yes but marriage will have to wait for a while.

“My parents already have grandchildren children from my brother. So I can take my time,” he smiled.

His advice to young people is they should try to get good grades and focus on what they really want to do. It is not just for good salaries or making good money — they have to do well for themselves and others as well.

Kevin has also taken his parents vacationing on the cruise ship.

“It was an awesome trip for the family, especially when we could bring Hamilton, our grandson, with us. The exposure was really heavenly and we enjoyed the best of food, the best of the hospitality industry. We dressed formally for our meals, attended fairytale dances, and saw wonderful musical performances on board. All the passengers were at their best behaviour. It was like a dream,” Margaret said.

So here’s a wish that everyone can sail the seven seas and fulfill their dream as a world traveller.

Kelvin Tan at home with family and friends.

Kelvin Tan at home with family and friends.