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MY JOURNEY FROM $350/HR TO MIN WAGE: LOVING IT IN NEW ZEALAND
The beginning of April in New Zealand is not supposed to be windy,
cold and wet. At least this was what I thought it was supposed to be
when I booked my flight from Singapore to Christchurch in the climate
controlled comfort of my office in the CBD area of Singapore. Assumption number
1 of 3929384, one made by a naive citizen of year long hot, humid and sunny
Singapore with its remarkably predictable and unchangeable weather, was
rudely smashed as I exited Christchurch Airport.
A light drizzle. Some wind.
ď Brilliant, nice light drizzleĒ, I thought, as I slipped my fleece
jacket on top of my hoodie and waited for my bus. Welcome to New Zealand.
Weather Lesson Number 1.1 for any
natives from sunnier climes (like me): New Zealandís weather is unbelievably
unpredictable and changeable. Be prepared. Layers layers layers - Waterproof
jacket / pants, fleece, shirt, base layer / thermals, gloves, beanie, hat,
sunglasses, sun block cream.
You might be wondering why I wrote Lesson Number 1.1 above. Thatís
because there were (and Iím sure are) many lessons learnt so far. LOL Ė
Laugh Out Loud for the uninitiated and used in this context to take the piss
out of myself.
As I sat in the relatively warm environs of the bus, I assumed that
the light drizzle would surely peter out fairly soon. That would not be an
unfair assumption to make in the context of Singapore. A light drizzle in
Singapore usually abates after roughly half an hour to two hours. Nope. Not in
Christchurch, New Zealand. I got off the bus to a rather heavier drizzle, just
enough to wet all the backpacks and bags I was carrying and necessitating a
troublesome extraction of the rain jacket. As you can see, I like making
assumptions and Iím stubborn in that I donít quite learn my lesson when Iím
Weather Lesson Number 1.2 : Have your
layers packed accessibly. Common sense.
THE first seasonal job:
Excitement, trepidation, happiness
Finding my first seasonal job was surprisingly easy. In this day and
age, 21st century Google Facebook internet age and all that,
obviously the most convenient way of looking for a job is through the Internet.
Some of the websites I used and still use regularly are:
Internet Tip Number 1: Use a mobile
phone or tablet to access online websites in New Zealand. Why? Because, in
stark contrast to the rest of the world (I think?), hostels here do not have
free unlimited wifi. The hostels generally restrict usage to a measly 200MB or
less, or none at all, in the price of accommodation. So you either pay
lots or use your ration up within an hour if youíre on a laptop. Personally, I
have no issues doing most of my internet surfing and searching on my rather
small old and reliable (touch wood!) Samsung S2 and found that I never exceeded
the measly limit. My roommates who were using their laptops busted their limits
all the time. Use your smartphone to limit data consumption. Presumably,
mobile friendly sites are less data intensive and more navigation friendly for
As I came to New Zealand specifically to look for jobs that would
involve working outdoors, that certainly affected the type of work that I consider
viable. It seems like 95% of young children in New Zealand are looked after by au
pairs ie. nannies of foreign origin with questionable suitability.
I managed to find a grape picking job through the job search boards
listed above within a week of arriving. From what I gather, April is the middle
to end of the grape harvesting season around the South Island and so there were
some jobs of that sort around. Fortunately for me, the job description matched
my dream job Ė working on a vineyard outdoors in the beautiful autumn sunshine
in wine country. Paradise on earth.Ah,
the naivete of youth. Or rather, of a tropical city boy.
I arrived just before 8 am at the vineyard in Waipara Valley, about
an hourís drive north of Christchurch, and found a fair few backpacker looking
types waiting around for something. They were all dressed remarkably
differently and yet all seemed the same. Odd isnít it? Shortly thereafter, we
were given brief instructions on what needed to be done, ie. snipping bunches of
grapes off the vines, and led on a short invigorating walk up and over a damn
It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, cows were lowing in the
distance, there was a random dog making his energetic and excited rounds
amongst all the pickers, I was warm Ė a rather rare occurrence considering that
it was raining every darn day in Christchurch in the past week. As for the
work, it was repetitive but satisfying. Start on a row of vines, check each
bunch of grapes for the colour (eg. Black for pinot noir grapes), snip, toss in
bucket, move on to the next bunch. Repeat x 1000. Eat some grapes occasionally
if you so desire. I loved it.
Apart from the work, which was simple and relaxing, it was wonderful
meeting people from around the world and getting to know them, even if only for
a little bit. I know itís clichťd, I know itís overused, but the reality is
that all of these wonderfuland engaging
people are likeminded individuals. Why else would you be in New Zealand? And
this makes for great conversations and bloody good yarns.
Back to the grape picking Ė needless to say, this first day was an
amazing experience for me seeing as I come from a tropical tiny island
city-state with a population of 6 million and no vineyards. Couple that with a
previous job which required no physical effort whatsoever apart from typing,
talking, making telephone calls and enduring 12 hour days, and you have a
recipe for Ė happiness! Firstly, I could understand how importance (obviously)
the grape picking process is to the final product to be made from them Ė
hopefully good wines. The satisfaction of seeing rows of vines picked clear was
also tremendous as each day there was tangible and visible progress. In
addition, there is an element of team effort and working with a group of people
towards a common goal. That requires no explanation surely.You also get to learn so much from the
permanent staff on the vineyards, who were, certainly in Waipara, extremely
generous and friendly and always more than willing to share their knowledge
about everything and anything to do with wine, winemaking, vineyard work,
grapes and ... the weather! And when the weather is great, just taking a moment
to look up and around does wonders.
In my mind I see the rolling hills of Waipara extending out into the
distance, a patchwork of pine trees and regular tidy squares of farmland, a
myriad of greens under the sunshine and clouds, imagine a tiny breeze on your
cheek and the crisp pure air with every breath. The smells are not overpowering
but gentle Ė the softly fermenting odour of grape juice on your gloves, the
animal smell on the breeze and the earthy full whiffs of soil and mud
complement the stunning landscape. Imagine the sticky feel of grape juice on
your fingers, the taste of perfectly ripe black pinot noir grapes that leave a
teasing suggestion of the wine to come and the chirping of birds in the
It was an amazing experience under the hot and welcome golden sun.
But what was it like in the unceasing rain? Iíll let you know when I get down
to writing about that soon!
Iím still travelling and working around the South Island. Canít
believe it has only been getting more amazing. Still loving it no matter the
Submitted by: Jian Xi Teng Date submitted: 27/05/2014 12:36:19 a.m.