Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Couchsurfing" with Maori Family

The blueberry season was coming to an end and we needed to find a new job quickly. A vineyard contractor whom we have gotten in touch with offered him a one week assignment to assemble furniture for her client before the start of the grape picking season. As the furniture job only require males, we decided he would head down south first to secure our next job in the vineyard while I continue to work till there's no more work or when the grape picking season starts, whichever is earlier.

I never got to 'continue to work till there's no more work' because of the rain. After he left, it rained for the next two days. One morning, I was about to go up to borrow an iron to dry my clothes when Jacklyn knocked on my caravan door looking serious. "Do you know what just happened?" I shook my head, feeling both puzzled and curious. "We've all been fired!"

I think the "dismissal" happened when I was having breakfast in the kitchen. I overheard other pickers talking to the boss in the shed about wages. The full story shall not be mentioned here. I could sense the tense atmosphere outside so I hid in the kitchen and retreated to my caravan after they were gone lol. Shortly after that, Jacklyn came knocking on my door. I was told that the boss exact words were "I don't want to see all of you after I come back!" I believe he said that in a fit of anger but unfortunately they were upsetting enough to make everyone leave immediately. I was welcome to stay if I want to but if it continues to rain I'll be stuck here with no work and no one will bring me to town. Everyone else had decided to leave and were busy packing. I had to make a decision fast. I lugged my bags to the main road and joined Jacklyn as we waited for our saviour to pick us up.

Remember the Maori family who invited us to their house for hangi? They were so kind to take us in for two nights. We crashed in their spare room and slept on several mattresses stacked up high like Princess and the Pea. It was way more comfortable than sleeping on a dirty couch with no pillow in the cold caravan! They fed us and made sure we felt at home. I love the cultural exchanges we had with them and their sense of humour always crack me up. Though my time with them was short, it was hard to say goodbye to such a lovely family.

I was "fired" and I ended up "couchsurfing". Dramatic ending to my first job in New Zealand.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lost Sheep

This scene reminds me of the children's game in the popular Korean reality show 'Dad, Where Are We Going?' which I have been watching in NZ...


무궁화꽃이 피었습니다!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Life in Mamaku

What is life like living on a farm? It's interesting during the first few days but not so fun anymore after spending a month in Mamaku. Behind the lovely scenes of sheep grazing on green pastures were plenty of inconveniences and uncomfortable cold nights. Nonetheless, it was a good experience learning to make do with the simple and crude facilities in the countryside.

Meet the family cat, Blackie, supervising the sheep. Besides growing blueberries, our employers own a big sheep farm too.

Our accommodation on site is in one of these old caravans with no insulation. It was so cold at night we had to plug in an electric heater to stay warm in summer! The rent is $5pp per night including the use of shabby facilities in the shed located about 50m away. This means running with a torch along this stretch of the road to visit the bathroom at night...

Without a car, we were stranded in the countryside - no entertainment or amenities. Luckily, there were kind folks like Ewen and Ngaire who offered to give us a ride to town for grocery shopping. 

This primitive washing machine has no spinning function. To squeeze out the water from our clothes, we have to manually feed every piece of clothing through two rollers like making mee hoon kway. Not much water gets squeezed out and anything with zips or buttons would get stuck. If you're not careful, your fingers might turn into handmade noodles. Dangerous and useless!

Give up la, use hands faster!

No place to hang laundry so we hooked our line in between caravans. Most would end up on the ground because there wasn’t any pegs around. At least I had something to hang our wet clothes...


This was the first night we cooked in the shed. It was past 8pm and we were still stabbing our frozen mince beef. We had no idea the microwave could defrost meat. How embarrassing! T_T

Sharing my tasteless rice noodle soup (I forgot to add seasonings lol) with other pickers

Our cooking journey begins...

A rice cooker appeared in the shed!?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Blueberry Machine Harvesting

The best blueberries are picked by hand. The not so good ones are harvested by machine and usually made into juice or jam. While the machine is able to pick more and at a faster speed than humans, it loses lots of blueberries in the process. To minimise wastage, nets are first laid on the ground under the trees to collect any berries that fall off when the machine moves through the trees. 

First, we have to crawl several hundred metres to peg the nets together. After the machine is done with a row, we have to lift the nets up and tilt the berries out into trays. Lastly, crawl several hundred metres again to remove all the pegs T_T It's tiring and we got thirsty...so we pinched blueberries off the trees while crawling hehe!

The center of the machine works like a big brush, "sweeping" berries off the trees and dispensing them through the metal chutes.

One man will stand on each side of the machine to stack away the trays when they are filled.

Pulling and keeping away the nets

Machine harvested blueberries are loaded onto this belt and our job is to remove as many leaves, sticks or stones as we can. We swept the littered floor and called it a day! Time to cook and shower~

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mt Maunganui & Hangi!

We diligently woke up at 6.15am today and hopped onto Anne's truck. She drives to Mt Maunganui to sell blueberries every Sunday. It's a popular holiday resort town about an hour's drive from Rotorua.

The Farmers Market is held every Sunday from 9am to 1pm in the Phoenix car park

In New Zealand, farmers market is like a combination of our wet market and pasar malam; there's fresh produce, handmade goods, food and live country music. It's usually a weekly affair put together by the local community.

Big, sweet and juicy blueberries

We helped Anne set up the stall, unloaded the ice-cream box, jams and berries from the truck. It's unbelievable at her age, she's still doing this faithfully every weekend. Support Mamaku Blue at Maunganui!

Views from summit of Mauao

A 40 mins climb up to the top of Mauao (or colloquially known as The Mount) rewards visitors with decent views. Mt Maunganui has a unique geographical formation known as tombolo. Beach on one side and harbour on the other side. Quite cool eh?

All eyes on the stick...

On the way back to town, we caught the Lifeguard Service Junior Champs live in action at the beach. Different age groups compete in games which test the participants' agility and dexterity. It was fun watching the kids dive to grab the stick.

Tender, off-the-bone meat and succulent vegetables

Chi came over in the evening and invited us to her neighbour's house for hangi (Maori feast). In traditional hangi, food is cooked in a hole dug in the earth for several hours. This interesting cooking method is healthy - no oil or charred meat - but it's too laborious. Modern hangi is prepared using a portable "stove". In a wire basket, meat is placed at the bottom and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, kamo kamo) on top. Eru and Ngaire also prepared a Polynesian dish called ota ika - raw fish marinated in coconut milk.

Ngaire's yummy homemade fried bread

Everyday love the Samsui ginger sauce! 

We found out from Eru that 'kia ora' (Maori greeting) does not mean hello in Maori, it means 'be well'. This lovely family is camera shy and I did not manage to get a group photo with them :( We were really moved by their sincerity and hospitality.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Give Way to Geese

Lake Rotorua, New Zealand

Where to Find Cheap Jandals in New Zealand

Slippers are called jandals (Japanese sandals) in New Zealand while slippers refer to semi closed soft footwear you wear at home. Our jandals broke (not at the same time), we bought new ones at Number One Shoes for $7.99 ea, then realised Cotton On's only cost $5 ea... 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Blueberry Grading: Not sure? Eat it!

Feel with your hands and look with your eyes...

Every Thursday and Friday we do half day of grading. Grading refers to picking out the bad fruits from the good ones. The good thing about working for a small family business is we get to do both indoor (grading) and outdoor (picking) work. The not so good thing is everybody will also get to grade what they've picked. Our boss will sit at the end of the line and pickers will also be "graded" the quality of the berries we've picked. Harry will shout "too many sticks!" or "too many reds" or "who left their berries in the sun now they're cooked!"

Grading takes place in a cool and clean room. Graders are required to sanitise their hands and put on hair nets before we step into the room. When the machine is on, we are not allowed to talk. In such a quiet and cooling environment, it's easy to fall asleep. As blueberries rolled down the conveyor belt, I'll think about the food I miss in Singapore. I'll get hungry and start eating blueberries with wet bottoms or over riped ones ;p This way, only the good berries will roll down the line... hee!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Barbie Party

Kiwis are well known for their hospitality. On our 6th day in New Zealand, we were invited to Chi's house for barbeque. We picked the whole day with the folks till Chi came over to tell us dinner's ready!

Chi is from Japan and her husband is local. A fusion of kiwi and japanese food was prepared - buns, salad, sausages, patties, yakitoris, sashimi, seafood... This was the first time we tried L&P, a popular soft drink made in New Zealand.

 Thank you Chi and Raymond for the wonderful dinner. It was the best meal we've had for days!!!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why I Finally Joined Facebook

People would always give me an unbelievable look when they found out I don't have a Facebook account. It reminds me of those days where all my JC classmates have handphones except me and they had to call my home number to contact me. My friends have been nagging at me to create an account for years. But I have been avoiding Facebook since it started in 2008. When Facebook just started, I thought it's just another social networking site that will be replaced by another more powerful site, just like how Facebook killed Friendster. I'll give it a miss and join that "next powerful site". Then came Google+ in 2011. But it didn't look like it'll replace Facebook anytime soon. Truth is, I was also afraid my privacy would be compromised. It's been really quiet and lonely on MSN too. So I have thought long and hard about this and decided to sign up now so that I can keep myself updated about what's happening back home. Since I will not be easily contactable and will not be able to meet my lovely friends for a period of time, the reason why I finally joined Facebook is simply to stay connected with the people I care about while I'm away. If you're reading this post, that means you! Add me or accept my friend request ok?