Much has happened since that eventful birthday, and as Chris Petersen sits on the balcony of the Danish Seaman’s Church in Singapore, telling one incredible story after another, it strikes you as amazing that so many experiences can be jammed into one life-time.
He was an eye-witness when Fidel Castro and his buddies grabbed their guns on Cuba, he was shot at by the Vietcong in Vietnam, and he has come into close contact with the infamous, so-called Danish “Jante Law”.
The calendar showed 1951 when Chris Petersen said good-bye to his childhood neighborhood of Vesterbro in Copenhagen and went whale-hunting.
A Lot to Learn
”I was very young and it was tough getting away from home, and I had much to learn. I remember a day, after we had sailed for a while, when one of the older sailors came up to me and handed me a pack of washing powder along with the remark: “Now, get those rags washed – they can almost stand up by themselves.”,” he recalls.
Another thing which has been burnt into his memory is the cry of the whales, when the harpoons pierced into them.
“I tell you, that is a sound you will never forget. That is why I am completely against whale hunting today,” says Chris Petersen.
The Night Castro Took Cuba
Even though he learned the harsh realities of life from early age, Chris Petersen is not one to complain.
“I think it was a good way to grow up. I quickly learned to take care of myself and make it on my own,” he says.
Being able to take care of himself soon proved to be a valuable characteristic in Chris Petersen’s life. After the whale hunting near Antarctica, he spent several years sailing with American ships, and one day in the late 1950’s he arrived on Cuba. Here, he got to witness a revolution unfold.
“We were sitting in a pub, and suddenly we heard commotion and shooting outside. When we came out into the street, we saw Castro’s men come running down the mountains. The shooting went on all night, and the next day they had taken control of the country and all the pubs were closed,” he says.
Unfriendly Fire in Vietnam
In his search of a great paycheck, the young Chris ended up on a dangerous expedition in Vietnam during the war. He was hired on one of the 26 American towboats that were to transport ammunition up Vietnam’s rivers. The pay of 6000 US Dollars per month was extremely high for the 1960’s, and Chris didn’t even consider, whether the danger was worth all the money.
“I don’t think any of us had thought about how dangerous it actually was, because everything looked so peaceful at first. But on our first trip, suddenly lots of Vietcong soldiers appeared out of nowhere and shot at us. Both the captain and the mate were killed. After that we stacked sandbags around the entire boat, and no one was hit after that, although we were often shot at,” Chris explains.
He then lived for a while in the USA, but when he was introduced to karate, his fascination of this fight sport made him move to the East to study karate. From 1961, he spent ten years in Japan. While practicing karate, he worked as a handyman at the Danish Seaman’s Church in Yokohama.
In 1971, Chris Petersen settled down in Singapore and exchanged the life on the ships with a job as an engineer on drilling rigs. Although he spent much time working, he had time to meet Rose, whom he has now been married to for 32 years. He and Rose enjoyed life in Singapore, but every now and then the thought of a life in Denmark reappeared.
“I guess I had a dream about going back to Denmark, and since I hadn’t been in Denmark for over 25 years, I obviously had lots of outdated imaginations of how it would be to come back,” Chris says.
To test the dream, Chris and Rose bought a house in Nyborg in 1981. But when a well-travelled man of the world like Chris settles down in a smaller Danish town like Nyborg, on an ordinary, cozy suburban street, there is bound to be complications.
“I wanted to get one of those automatic garage doors, and after I had installed it, I invited my friendly neighbor over to see it. He looked at it and then said: “Well, if you don’t have anything else to spend your money on, I guess you can choose to spend them on something like that”,” Chris recalls.
“I was really astonished at that remark. Later someone asked me: “But haven’t you heard of the Jante Law?” I guess I was the laughing stock then!” Chris smiles.
The stay in Denmark never became a great success.
“Rose was actually doing great and had a good time with the neighbors, but I never really settled in,” says Chris.
After about four years, the suitcases were packed and they moved south of the border. After seven years in Germany, they moved “home” to Singapore. After various jobs on drilling rigs, Chris quit in 1996, after which he has done occasional consultant work, when called upon to control mechanical transitions when a drilling rig is transferred to a new owner.
Even though he is now back to having solid ground underneath his feet, he has no problems filling up his everyday schedule. He has a time-consuming hobby in fitness training. Every morning he entertains his running-belt or works out in a nearby fitness center. Friday is kickboxing day.
When the daily exercise is done with, Chris usually takes his grey Renault Clio and drives up Mount Faber to chat with the other Danes at the Seaman’s Church.
“That is what is so nice about Singapore. Here is always something to do, and you never get lonely with all the good people to talk with here at the church,” Chris says.