Archive for January, 2006

Due to harvest delays, poor time management, and a series of other unfortunate events I found myself in Kaikoura with no money. When I say no money, I mean no access to a little used credit card back and around 20 dollars which was already needed to pay for accommodation. This left me in a back to front situation in which I needed money to pay for things I had already taken. After much searching, a lady who ran the local Subway sandwich shop offered me the most hours, she also contacted the owner of the hostel where I was trying to stay and arranged some kind of advance. After a couple of weeks I realised that it would take far too long to save any money so I took a cleaning job in a hostel which paid for my accommodation. With the two jobs varying in length I generally worked between 55 and 75 hours a week. The 75 hour weeks were exceptional and a combination holiday peak season and sacrificing  1 day off to have a two-day weekend every fortnight. It was a little soul-destroying to have so little time and I was envious to the extreme of tourists and locals alike who seemed to amble round leisurely whilst I was on my work mission.
Dusky Lodge, Kaikoura
As a feat which I never wanted to repeat I decided to document the mundane events which made up my life at that point. I tried to justify my low wage and low status jobs by what I could learn from being in that situation. I also tried to maximise the small periods of time I had between the hostel and the sandwich shop. Below is the e-mail I sent recounting what made up an average day. It was written shortly after the busy holiday season which is why it’s in present perfect tense.
I have been working in Subway for 35 hours a week and I also have a job in Dusky Lodge hostel over the road from Subway. The hostel job is in exchange for accommodation. I have two days off per week from Subway and one day off a week from Dusky Lodge. After a lot of diplomacy, discussion, and charm (a new skill I have been trying to develop) I have managed to get two full days off both jobs every other week. Two full days meant I was able to visit a hot spa in the mountains called Hanmer Springs. I have very little time to read or do anything interesting so I have decided to write about an average day. This has the unique point of being the only time in my travels where i have had such a fixed routine. Before this I have never stayed anywhere more than 7 nights on the trot.
View from the decking
I usually wake up about 6ish with various bizarre dreams, I then doze up until 8ish. After a few stretches (I’m not into that whole ‘scene’ but it has become necessary’) I make my way upstairs to the kitchen to have breakfast. At the moment I am on Weet-Bix, but usually I have porridge with a little honey. Sometimes I also have some Nutella on whole meal bread, it depends what mood I’m in and how my colon is behaving. I always have a cup of tea though, there are two cups I favour; one is a large green cup with an orange rim the other is also green with pictures of butterflies. For some reason when I drink green tea I usually use one of the transparent cups. The only other person to use the green cup is a German guy, he is also called Michael so I decided it was ok. I take my tea on the deck area which overlooks the pool and in the far distance the seaward Kaikoura range of mountains ,  is still snow-capped despite recent high temperatures. It usually takes me about 10 mins to go through the tea process, after which I make my way  to the Living room/reception area to await instructions on the morning’s tasks. The briefing begins about 9:15 but I am usually there about 9ish just to sit. I prefer to sit without the tv but sometimes it’s on. I usually make a couple of jokes at this stage, not really jokes with punch lines but just little comments to keep me entertained. For example, when there are Germans there I sometimes say ‘Ich bin ein ………….’  using whichever swear word I learnt. Backpacking is the best way to extend a global vocabulary of offensive comments in varying tongues. I have also made a point of saying good morning to everybody in their native tongue, thus far I have had to learn Chinese, Hebrew, German and Japanese (I already knew the Japanese).
The supervisors, of which there are two, give us our instructions. Roughly speaking there are three main divisions; Kitchens, Bathrooms and Beds. I think I prefer beds, when there are not too many, it’s kind of relaxing and I have a rare talent for folding the corners in the perfect way and generally making things look sharp. I give myself a speed challenge for making beds to prevent boredom. I don’t return immediately after completing task because then they will know how much time it takes me and will just give me more tasks. The top floor of the Lodge is basically a hotel so the standards are high, I even have to roll the towels in the correct place and make sure the coffee and tea is stocked up. On a good day I can finish at 11:15 but usually work continues until noon.
If I finish at a reasonable hour I do a few lengths in the pool, the chlorine kills off all the filth
and I have a spa after this then a shower. Unbelievably for a modest hostel there is a sauna, hot tub, and a nice pool area, it has been the main reason I have stayed so long. After finishing we reconvene at the pool table near reception to fold laundry together. Sometimes a new coachload of people arrives on a tour and I make small bets with some Finnish guys about which country they come from. I’ve been getting good at this game. The Sherlock style skills are mostly based on the brands of clothing, especially shoes and backpacks. Americans wear more Northface, British are more likely to wear Reebok Classics etc. I have  lunch at about 12.30. Most of the time I have my special rice dish but sometimes I walk into the town and get some fish. If you go on kitchen duty you can also get free food from people who have left, dates are written on all food items so a quick check at reception means you know if someone has checked out. I do share my spoils though in what I call the ‘binner’s banquet’. I don’t feel bad about this, it’s better than wasting food. If I stay at the hostel i usually have enough time to watch a film. On occasions where there is either a substandard film or a film I have seen often I simply go for a kip or just sit in the
At 14:45 I get changed for work then walk all of 5 mins to Subway. I first clock in on the computer then have a mini chat to whoever is there. At 15:00 there are not many sandwiches to be made so it’s usually just preparation, I like preparing food…it’s simple and repetitive. I seem to be the only one who doesn’t mind chopping onions, I think it’s because I understand the beneficial effects to the sinuses, this is a result of having suffered from rhinitis in the past. The rest of the day is a mixture of making sandwiches and cleaning. I do have a half hour break which I try to coincide with the bakery tray. Let me elaborate…
The bakery next to the hostel has a reciprocal arrangement with my hostel: they use the pool/sauna and we get the leftover cakes and sandwiches. I can usually secure a couple of cakes if I get back at 17:15.
After serving customers I have to clean toilets/mop floors/ clean the coffee machine then do whatever else is left undone. I usually leave the shop at about 22:30 to 23:15 depending on how busy it has been. When I return to the hostel I talk to whoever has stayed awake. Most people who do the cleaning go to bed early, but it seems I form a natural bond with whoever stays up. Last week I befriended two Japanese  who were nice enough to make me a Japanese curry. This week it seems to be only Tsabasa, (also from Japan) and I Ching  from Taiwan. Tsabasa is a quiet guy whose command of English involves repeating the last three words of my previous sentence, whether interrogative or imperative. Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to a cave. He is unremarkable apart from two small facts, he drinks more tea than I do, and he watches more films than I do. Although, I think the latter statistic would be different if I worked less. I ching is a nice Taiwanese girl, there were two other Taiwanese who were a bit homely and miserable, they left me a with a sour image every time I see the ‘made in Taiwan’ sign. On the other hand I Ching (who calls herself Iris) is very sweet and talks to people freely. Most Chinese speakers give themselves an English name as people either struggle to pronounce it, or they cannot remember. I am already on her good side as I refuse to call her by her English name, this is a sometimes confusing because nobody else knows who I am talking about.
I usually get to bed about midnight, I have customized my bunk so that each side of the bed is draped with sheets to give a Bedouin effect. In a hostel environment your bed becomes your room, because I have access to the laundry I took lots of green sheets and put them all round my bed. I also have my cd player hanging above my head so that when I eventually fall asleep the ear phones fall out in the manner of a dog pulling loose from its leash. My watch is tied around my cd case and I also have a bottle water wedged between the bed post and the mattress. The dorm I am in is below the hostel proper and next to the laundry room. There are 10 beds in total which are shared with whoever is cleaning at the time. The cleaners dorm is different from the others in that there is a tv/stereo and bathroom. The tv’s picture is crap and the stereo doesn’t work. It’s quite a nice place to live because it’s separate from the main hostel and it opens out near the pool. Except for an obcessive compulsive German girl who spends three hours folding clothes everyone is considerate and doesn’t make much noise in the evening.
                                       Due to the easy-going and trustful nature of the Kiwis in this part of the world I was able to save enough money to travel the whole of South Island. Although it was tough I look back fondly at this experience. It was rewarding to have no money and dig myself out by my own efforts.