My life in NZ in a nutshell – Part 1: Working for a backpackers hostel

I reached Auckland on Aug 21st 2011 and spent 2 days in Auckland to run errands like opening bank account and applying for IRD before heading to Keri-keri to meet up with LW and the gang with the hope to find jobs in the avocado pack house.

Luck was really not on our side! Not only we failed to land on any job, the car that LW bought was diagnosed to have a major defect which caused the car to keep heated up and the damage was too expensive to be repaired. The car ended up being sold almost at scrap iron’s price to a mechanic in Whangarei. We then took bus back to Auckland.

The car that I got to use for 4 days only….

Spoiled by my sponsored-by-scholarship lifestyle in Melbourne, I was relatively so much more spendthrift compared to LW and the gang. It was still winter, the prospect of securing jobs for the all 5 of us at the same time was grim. I was actively looking for jobs during my stay in Auckland but to no avail. The cash I brought to NZ was running out quick without even doing anything significant! Panicked by the fact that there would be a surge for the cost of lodging in Auckland once the Rugby World Cup started, which would drain the limited cash I had even quicker, I made the bold decision to part with the gang and head to Rotorua on my own to try my luck if I could secure the job as the receptionist of the top-rated backpackers at the time. The owner invited me to stay at the backpackers for a few days to see if I like the town of Rotorua and the hostel. I was willing to take my chance because the owner said I could stay for free!

When I reached the hostel, I was told by the manager-on duty that the owner was not around as he sent a staff to Taupo for skydiving. So I got to have some free time to roam around Rotorua town. I fell in love with the town on first impression, it’s not really that urbanized, but has got everything that I need for a pleasant and convenient life e.g. supermarkets, cinema, plenty of restaurants of different cuisine and pubs, swimming pools, library, banks, electronic shops, post office and etc., all within 15 min walking distance from the backpackers.

There’s still no sign that the owner was going to see me by dinner time. I went ahead to cook my dinner. I initiated conversation with a Korean girl, M and a German boy, T and soon after we were chit-chatting around the dining table in the common area. What I did not know was that the owner already came back and observing our interaction at one corner. He suddenly appeared at the living room and chipped in. When asked to introduce himself, he said, “I’m G!”

“Oh, you are the owner, right?!” I was caught off guard.

“Yes, and I already know who you are”.  He told me that preliminarily, I fulfilled his selection criteria: > 25 years old hence more grounded, non-smoker and drinker as well as being bubbly and funny. He asked if I can handle what’s on its way, I said sure! I actually passed the first interview by just being myself!

I started my first day as trainee manager the next morning at 8am. For the following 5 days, I was actually just being the shadow of the owner and the 2 managers who were still around to observe and learn the daily operation before I was put on duty on my own.  I find L1 being a better mentor 🙂

Receiving baton from K, my predecessor

L1, another manager before me

Working at the backpackers wasn’t all rosy before my American co-worker, N came on board and working alongside with me as another manager because the working hours were not fixed, I was always at the disposal of the owner (I worked whenever he’s not free).  Most of the time I worked more than 8 hours per day and I was also always on standby mode because I wouldn’t know my work shift in advance.  This quickly wore me down. Besides, due to cultural difference, I was having quite some friction with G. At one point, I was actually shouting at him, “G, you know what, I need a system to work with!!!” I was on the impulse of quitting the job as well because I had a feeling I can’t really work up to the expectation of G but I stayed put after spending a few days to mull things over because I thought it was a good training ground for me to be a better and more mature person in life.

Me at work!

Slowly, I developed better grasp on my boss’s expectation. Besides, I always worked with a sincere heart, the owners felt it after some time and I was delighted that my hard work paid off. G invited me to his house for dinner one day. Over the dining table, he said, “Sam, we need to talk again”. I thought he’s going to bash me again. Instead, he said, “We received very good reviews about you, Sam, from guests who stayed here before”, he continued, “they were impressed by your friendliness and how hardworking you are”. After L2 and V left the hostel, G posted “cleaners wanted” advertisement on BBH website and received overwhelming responses. He came to me one morning, “Sam, because of you, we decided to choose the Malaysian gals, because we think we might have good luck again with Malaysians, like we have with you!” G also said, “You are the first Asian working at the front desk with us, but won’t be the last!”

Then I started to reap the benefits of working for the backpackers e.g. joining excursions for free.

G always complained that N and I lack practical skills, which I think I agree wholeheartedly! Haha. It was during my attachment with the hostel that I mowed the lawn, painted the tables and trimmed the plants for the first time in my life!

I painted this……

this….

and this!

I told myself I should be less rigid and try to be more carefree. I think I achieved this goal pretty well! I did my tattoo in Rotorua. I also drank more often and even got really drunk once that L2 had to actually carry me back to my campervan. Not only that, I also went to the dance club with L2 and V and I enjoyed it. I forgot when was the last time I danced already, a decade ago I think.

Got inked!

Got drunk!

Although I got to know many friends throughout the working holiday, the more long-lasting friendship was built while I was working for the backpackers. Having L2 and V as my co-workers added so many colours to my stay with the hostel! In fact, of all the friends I got to know in NZ, I spent the longest time with them. They left the hostel 1 month earlier than me, life was less fun after that. I am still keeping close contact with L2, S and Y. L2 even paid me a visit in Kuala Lumpur recently and we had great time together for a week.

Life was more interesting having them around!

Short road trip to Taupo!

Visiting Waimangu Volcanic Valley together!

Redwood forest

Wandering around town

I would say my 3 months working at the hostel is the highlight of working holiday. I had the chance to meet many people from all walks of life and nationalities. The hostel was like a home for me after all. Due to the bond developed, I felt sad on every level of my being to leave the hostel and the people there especially G, A, their kids and L2. When L2 and V left the hostel, I cried. L2 asked me to think of the good times we had together then I would feel better. But that trick did not work on me, the more I thought about the time we spent together, the harder I cried!

The funky crew!

Part 2a: Goodbye Rotorua! | Part 2b: Hello again, Auckland! | Part 3: Hello, South Island! (a) Queenstown (b) Te Anau (c) Milford Sound | Part 4: zucchini picking | Part 5: last bit of travelling (a) inmate days (b) (c) (d)| Concluding remarks

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