When I first started working at Abel Tasman, I made it a goal to finish a season.
Circumstances changed and made it impossible, especially after G was attacked by a dangerously violent man whom we’ve put a trespass notice against. After four and half months at the national park, we have both left our jobs.
During our time in the park, I’ve learnt alot about people. I’ve learnt how little some Kiwis know about their own country; I’ve learnt that those who brag about their achievements are not usually the brightest. I’ve learnt that the people who are most grateful are the quietest appreciators. I’ve learnt that some people don’t have a conscience, and will not remember you for the help you’ve extended to them. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing good and being genuine to people.
But mostly, G and I have learnt that despite the rotten apples, there’s bound to be some good sorts. Here are a few of my favourites (in no particular order):
We’ll start with Robster, or Robo as I call him.
Keeping to himself. . .
When we first arrived, he kept mostly to himself, parking himself in front of the TV playing the X-box. An introvert, he said little and responded in mono-syllabic words. We would sit there watching TV and he would hand the remote over or usually pass the remote around or ask if there was anything in particular we wanted to watch. That was about the most he said.
I still remember the day we broke the ice – it was just me and him watching Bart Simpson and we got talking about prisons, and he asked if I had seen a particular movie. I said, no, what’s it about?
It went from Bart Simpson, prisons, his motorbike, his backpacking trip in America, to NZ$120/week training with the gym instructor that gave him his ‘big guns’, to him continuing weight training in the woods by pulling himself up on thick branches along the way.
Rob ready to rock and roll on his bike in Golden Bay
He flipped his sleeves and showed me his biceps. I laughed, not at him, but the way he did it. I found this introvert baker to be intelligent with a witty sense of humour.
Rob showing his ‘guns’ off
Recently, three of us a had a computer game championships in our lounge area, and he impressed us with his gaming speed and fast thinking. Last week, we played Scrabble and I wished I had taken a photo of the game – he definitely had an above-average IQ for a baker.
Rob and G at Cape Farewell
A real friendship blossoms
I’ve watched Rob grow from a breakfast chef and baker, who didn’t know how to make staff meals, to making one of the best, if not, the best, chargrilled vegetables I’ve had in my life.
Chargrilled vegetables with one of the best mushroom sauces I’ve ever had
His compassion and understanding of our dietary needs also makes him different. We’ve also seen Rob through some hard times, struggling to find his footing with the different chefs that have come and gone, and we know it hasn’t been an easy ride for him.
We get two pasta bakes every time Rob does staff meals!
You can see why we love Rob . . . always a special pot for me and G – one each!!
I remind him of the times he held the fort alone as dinner chef, after Michael Daly finished his contract. I remind him of the the one-in-a-million compliments that no other junior chef has received, like the one from the Italian couple who had lived in UK for ten years. During check out, they said dinner was “one of the best meals they ever had“. No other chef, apart from the Head Chefs, have received a compliment like that before.
The pavlova that Rob made for our farewell
We have had countless people come through telling us the brownies and Gluten Free Chocolate Cake are ‘heavenly’, ‘the best we’ve had’, ‘moist but rich’. We had a woman walk 40 minutes from the DOC Hut to buy more of the brownies after her kids had devoured the brownies in just minutes, because they were just ‘simply amazing‘.
The famous Gluten Free chocolate cake
He may not see it now, but I know Rob will succeed. Michael Daly, once upon a time our Executive Chef, saw potential in Rob and was a patient mentor. He reminds me of the time I worked at the PR agency with Chomaine and how she mentored all her PR consultants – with the right guidance and mentoring, one can succeed.
Michael Daly collecting herbs in the garden
Michael Daly snipping herbs
The typical Kiwis working in hospo that I’ve met since Christchurch can be described as ‘frog dwellers’, or ‘‘frog in a well‘, 井底之蛙 (jǐng dǐ zhī wā) or katak di dalam tempurung’ as the Malay and Chinese saying go.
Apart from going back to their hometown, and stopping by one or two big cities, most have never traveled to other parts of New Zealand, let alone overseas. Those who have traveled a bit, think they have seen the world, not realising what they’ve seen is only a mere fraction of what’s out there.
Vietnamese kids selling fruits on a boat on the way to a UNESCO World Heritage Site
They’ve never been in dust covered trishaws, eaten from road side stalls, walked a market filled with spiders and bugs in jars and sharks’ fins, or been to a country where they are completely on their own.
Life for some – the real world!
A mother and her children outside a nice hotel in central Hanoi
They don’t know that corruption, bribery, poverty and famine exists, they don’t know that life extends beyond alcohol. Their life revolves drinking; it is interesting to note that New Zealand has a relatively high per capita alcohol consumption at 9.7litres/person, which totals 34 milion litres of pure alcohol per year.*
Typical night for mother and child in the streets of Cambodia
They cannot comprehend the existence of NZ$8/day kitchen hand jobs, nor can they understand that their constant complaints about the weather and ‘humidity’, is a reflection of the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome‘ that is so prevalent among New Zealanders. They squeal like a girl when they see a dead bug, or when there are a few decomposing insects on the windows. Traveling to them, is going to another developed country where they are laden with comforts and conveniences from their own homeland.
Fancy an alfresco haircut?
It’s also a norm for hospo folks to focus on heavy drinking, partying and staying up late, and make their unhealthy lifestyle, the epitome of a much sought after lifestyle. When I first got here, people laughed when they saw me walking to the beach to do yoga and gearing up to go running. Some remarked they were “allergic to exercise“, while others queried why I’d want to run after a frisbee when I could be drinking on the beach. It made me wonder why they even signed up for a job in the natural bush environment. During the time I worked there, I was one of the few people who walked both the north and southern part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The rest preferred to get intoxicated and play card games.
New track to Totaranui
The view of the northern part of Abel Tasman, on the way to Mutton Cove
An enthusiastic G heading out to Totaranui with me
Day off? Out for a walk! Gleb, one of the few ones who actually appreciated the natural environment
View of Mutton Cove – no one has bothered walking this far except me and Gleb
Brian is the opposite of a typical hospo Kiwi lad. This 21-year old is an old soul in a young man’s body. Well traveled and matured, way beyond his years, Brian has worked and seen all sorts – a hospo stint in America with Mexicans, a season in scallop farming, lived in a housebus with an ex-partner, traveled to UK and even adores Arabian food, a rarity among Kiwis. Conversations with him are never dull. What makes him a good sort is his positive attitude and ability to see the goodness in people and acknowledge the hard work they put in, despite what has been said about them. Unlike others, he doesn’t jump on the bandwagon, and join them in picking on others. His sensible work ethics, sense of responsibility and leadership, makes him an ideal candidate for any kind of role.
Brian, the wise one in the young man’s body
We have long interesting chats about everything and anything and I crown him the King of Trivia. I pick up facts that would never have crossed my mind, like how much protein and healthy fat there is in “Coffee Avocado milkshake“.
I still find it hard to believe that G and I are always having decent conversations with this boy, not because he isn’t capable of it, but because it seems impossible to hold a decent non-Tall Poppy Syndrome talk with the other under-21’s here. G and I agree that they pale in comparison to him in almost every aspect – compassion, level of maturity, his eagerness to share and teach, zest to learn and desire to achieve.
I want to ask him to show the lil pups how great it feels to step out of their cocoon of comforts. I want to ask him to teach them the saying “With freedom comes responsibility” – you need to show up for work even if you’re drunk and tired; you need to find another way to work, even if the normal shuttle boat is full. This 21 year old has impressed us because he embodies the spirit of responsibility yet knows how to have fun.
To me, Brian has been reincarnated as a young surfer-like dude in this life destined for bigger things.
Racist comments are generally common in hospo, especially when we’re dealing with ‘frog dwellers‘ who’ve not seen much of the world.
Reuben is the one of the few exceptions whose never made a racist comment about Asians to me, and who has always made a sincere effort to ask questions about specific countries in Asia, instead of clumping the entire continent as a culture like the rest.
My true giant friend
Looking at him, you wouldn’t expect this 6ft++ giant to be so gentle and sweet. His open mindedness and readiness to embrace new things astounded me – who would think that he would be into kickboxing and wanted to do yoga together? Who would think the tall lanky long haired gentle giant friend of mine, would speak up and defend the benefits of yoga and not care what everyone else thought about him?
I admired the fact that Reuben was so honest about his weaknesses, and wasn’t afraid to show it. In front of everyone, he said, “I want to do yoga so I can be flexible and do better at kickboxing.” His honesty is a rarity among the bunch of young uns.
Fee Fi Fo Fum! I won’t eat you but leave me some food!!
Who’d think this acoustic guitarist was far more cultured than the rest of the Kiwis? He has been to Indonesia, but had never bragged about his overseas trips, unlike others who would babble to anyone who was willing to listen.
Who’d have guessed that he was one of the only four people who stood by us when G was attacked? And, one of the only two who were brave enough to walk up to a dangerously violent man, as a witness to present the trespass notice, without even hesitating to think about his own safety?
Before we left, we invited a few people for drinks in our small flat. We wanted genuine company, people we could have a good laugh with, not frog dwellers who had no idea how to respond when I talked about the world outside of their homeland, or tall poppys who always retorted negatively to anything we said.
To all the young people reading this, and to those who have emailed me to say my experiences have been an inspiration to you, this is my piece of advice:
Don’t be a frog dweller (or a sheep!). Get out of your comfort zone. Explore and experience. There is more beyond the world you live in.
- Don’t be like the sheep – expand your horizons!
* NZ per capita alcohol consumption tends to be lower than Western European and Scandinavian countries.
Source: “The Real Story of Kiwis and Alcohol”, Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand