NZ Working Holidays, cont.


Long time no write. Absolutely nothing for 3 months, to be precise. That’s not very weekly, I must admit. Now I have to go back to July to catch up and to summarize what happened. Spoiler: not too much.


Kerikeri Times

Let me start with a little crying. I was planning my trip to Asia for the middle of my working holiday so that I can enjoy it knowing that my 3 months of horticultural works belong to the past, and my visa extension is already done. I bought my ticket to Taipei back in February, short after starting my packhouse career. Mid-June seemed to be a safe choice, since I had almost 4 months left. Even if some unlikely trouble comes in the picture, I’ll be done with all those pick-pack activities, I thought naively.
I failed. I had to spend my last days in Taiwan by looking for horticultural jobs in New Zealand. Since it was the middle of winter there, I’ve been limited to a few cities on the warmer North. I started to write to working hostels, if they have something around. It’s low season, they said, there might be something here and there but no guarantee. But surprise surprise, one of the receptionists in the town called Kerikeri answered me in Hungarian. He was Tibor from Transylvania. Job-wise he was not more promising than the other hostels but my underconsciousness couldn’t resist and I booked a place by him.
The other issue that needed to be managed was the one with Katja, my ex-receptionist and horticultural colleague. I left my bike by her when I left New Zealand and since she made a short trip to Christchurch during my Asian vacation where he picked up the baggage I left on a bus to Picton back in April, a meeting with her got a high priority. And since we started the horticultural jobs together, finishing them together would have nicely put the whole torture in a frame. She booked a place in the same hostel and we were hoping that Tibor will find us something that fits.
When I entered New Zealand for the second time, I didn’t feel the freedom and relief like I did last time in December. It was pretty much the opposite of those: I knew exactly where I have to go and I didn’t really want to do so. I took a bus to the north to Paihia, the neighbor town of Kerikeri, then to save 30 dollars for changing the bus to Kerikeri, I decided to hitchhike there. This was my first time hitchhiking alone and it had some practical benefits but I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it. It’s usually not easy to show any interest towards my drivers. It was a couple who had a yacht in Mallorca but well, what should I do with such informations? Good for them. Then I walked to the hostel, met Tibor, fell asleep, met Katja, fell asleep, ate a pizza and finally fell asleep.
It took only a few days for Tibor to came to us with the good news that “he found our dream job”. The dream job was in a small village 40 kilometres away, on a pine tree plantation field. We had to pull out the baby pine trees (aka. pinus radiata, if you fancy) from the ground and put them in a box so they can send them to whoever finds it a good idea to order baby pine trees. They lent me a van, I had to drive it there and back every day, it took almost one hour one way. Pulling out baby pine trees itself is not a horrible activity but doing it all day in every single weather condition (which usually included rain), without any clear rules about the salary, following the orders of young local mini bosses made it an experience that I wish I never had. Fortunately, doing it for 12 times was enough to finally fulfill the extension requirements.
We didn’t know where to go next but we both wanted to leave that place.

North to South Trip, Part 1

One of my friends from Hungary told me, seeing my attempts to extend my visa, that if he had to choose a career of a non-intellectual job, he’d be looking for something horticultural. By pulling the baby pine trees, it was clear to me that it’s not the case for me. I found out that my favourite non-intellectual job would be a night receptionist. Sitting alone in the dark for hours, without any human interaction, can you imagine anything more beautiful than that? Probably not. So I started to apply as a night receptionist from Kerikeri, no matter where. My most successful application was to a hotel in Wanaka, they wanted me to come in for an interview. When I told them that I’m quite far from Wanaka but we could talk online, they didn’t answer anymore. That made me realize that if I want a job somewhere, I’d better be available right there. And since Kerikeri was not the place I wanted a job, I decided to just move away, without any specific destination.
Do you know, dear blog reader, what is a transfer car? When the rental companies want to relocate their cars, they offer them for almost free, even including some fuel money, just to find some people who bring it for them from A to B in a few days. That seemed to be a perfect solution for my problem. Going through half of the country, from Auckland to Christchurch, looking for any, strictly non-horticultural jobs. Since Katja was in the exact same situation as me, so she also supported this version. After a little discussion we decided to start a tour from Cape Reinga to the Stewart Island, from the northernmost to the southernmost point of the country.
The first station was Cape Reinga, obviously. The point of this place is that this is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. And it’s supposed to be marvellous. And unforgettable. You can see the two different colors meeting in the middle. A magic event. Wow. OMG. Of course, I didn’t see any of those. It was rainy, windy, and the water color was the same for me everywhere. Still, it is a holy place for the aboriginal Maori people which makes me think that I’m simply too blind for such a beauty.
A more remarkable place between the north point and Kerikeri were the sand dunes. Te Paki Sand Dunes, that’s the name. You can rent a board there and sandsurf down the dunes. I did it several times. It was quite fun.
Later we arrived down to Auckland, the pickup spot of the relocation car. It was a huge 6-berth campervan, with fridge, shower and toilet inside. I really wanted to have a car like this when I was younger but after reaching Christchurch a few days later, this feeling completely disappeared. It’s slow, eats tons of fuel, is hard to clean and the things in the back are shaking like crazy all the time.
First we went to Raglan, this is the quite hidden surfing town where I left my piano in June. The hostel people said that they were really happy to have it and I assume that it was not a fake statement. There were printed sheets on it, there was a seat placed in the front, it looked that it has been served well. It was great to have it back.
We had limited time to reach Christchurch (4 days only) so I had to drive lots of hours every day. We just stopped for a few times. Once in Rotorua to take a walk in the Redwoods forest. A bit further we went to the Hidden Valley (Orakei Korako), which is a “geothermal attraction” with geysers, hot springs and mud pools. Then stopped in Wellington where I had to go to the Hungarian Embassy for some bureaucratic stuff. Also visited a free museum and then put the car on the ferry.
Later, on the South Island we stopped by the Nelson Lakes, which is quite a famous touristy spot with mountains, water, birds and dozens of Chinese people taking pictures of those and of each other. This was the memorable place where I had a phone call from a motel in Hanmer Springs, a little village of 840 inhabitants somewhere in the Canterbury forests. Hello, are you Daniel? Yes. Did you apply to us a few days ago, right? I don’t know, probably. So we are the motel looking for two people, cleaning the rooms in the morning, are you still interested? Oh, sure, thank you. When can you arrive to start? Well, how about in 3 hours? Okay, see you. Okay, see you.
That felt like a really lucky coincidence. Now the basic problem was suddenly solved for both of us. We got a place in a worker’s house of a motel in Hanmer Springs, in exchange for cleaning for 2 hours a day. It was a good start of the working holidays’ next section. We took the relocation car to Christchurch, hitchhiked back to Hanmer Springs and saw what we could do there.
The second half of the tour from North to South has been delayed for the time after Hanmer Springs.

Hanmster Mode: On

By settling down in Hanmer Springs until further notice I started to find out how to spend my time there. While Katja was happy to bike around all day on the hilly bike trails, my Eastern European materialism made me want to find a good paid full time job asap.
And I meant asap literally. I just went in the first place where I saw a “STAFF WANTED” sign. Which happened to be an Indian Restaurant. I asked the manager, Pavneet, if he has something for me, he said that he will call me back. He called me back on the same day and made me a dishwasher.
It turned out that this job is for weekend evenings only, hence it won’t make me rich. I kept applying to other places, got several promising smiles but still, it took almost a month to have something constant. After a while I left the motel because cleaning it wasn’t worth it, and at the moment of writing this post, I have a schedule until the end of November, where three kind of jobs are alternating all week long. Cleaning the mess of a pub in the morning. I can have free beer and free coffee there but since it’s quite early, I always prefer the latter one. Then washing the dishes in the daytime in another restaurant. This one’s for lunchtime, takes around 4 hours. And my third job is still in the Indian restaurant where I get a free meal after every shift. They upgraded me to waiter, but I wish they didn’t. It’s doubled the stress and halved my working hours. But the food at the end of the shifts is so delicious that I’m simply not able to leave.
So I’m doing now these 3 kind of jobs, with several shifts off here and there. These offs are potential opportunities to go somewhere with a car that I bought from one of my cleaning colleagues from the motel last month.
Most of the time “going somewhere” only means visiting the closest supermarket which is in the town called Amberley 86 kilometres away. There is a little shop in Hanmer Springs too, but that’s so expensive that even after wasting 10 litres of fuel, driving to Amberley is a useful to save some money. If not shopping, going to Kaikoura has also been an option, with the chilling seals on the shore and the hike on the hillside. See photos. 
My longest break was on the first five days of October, when I drove down to Queenstown, more than 600 km away from Hanmer Springs. As you might remember, I collected four re-reunite promises in the last post, now it was time to fulfill the first one. Stephanie from Chengdu, who brought me to the Panda Park in July, came to spend her Chinese holidays in New Zealand. I suggested her to fly to Queenstown since I wanted to go there anyway sooner or later. That’s where we met, after my car finally arrived there. After some hiking around, we drove to the Fiordland National Park and took a boat in Milford Sound, the no.1 fiord of the country. She liked Queenstown and the Fiordland but her favorites were the sheep and cows along the road.
Well, that’s how life is going nowadays. I will stay here diligently doing my little shifts for at least one more month, hence I wouldn’t promise a new post too soon. After leaving, I will have about 3 months left from my working holidays in the country – yeah, that exactly equals my visa extension. I will have to plan those months carefully, I don’t want to leave New Zealand with the feeling that I have to come back because I missed something I should have done.
But that’s my problem, dear blog reader, not yours. You just go back now to your regular life and have a nice day (or alternatively, you might take a look at Katja’s blog).

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A Little Trip To Asia


My casting of the Asian countries last year had two winners: Taiwan and South Korea. I decided to spend the Holiday part of my Working Holiday in these two countries, with a short intermezzo in Hong Kong and Chengdu. I found a hostel for volunteering on workaway in both of these countries, booked all the necessary flights and I was ready to go. Details below.


Departing

In the late afternoon of the 13th of June, Tuesday, I entered the International Terminal of the Auckland Airport. When I looked at the long check-in queues and heard the dear lady from the speaker kindly recommending me not to leave my baggage unattended, my brain suddenly switched back to the same mode that it was in between Japan and Oamaru: I was in a travelling state again, I was ready to go here and there, filled with the kind of excitement that I really missed for a long time. I remember how happy I was for arriving back to the western world last December. Taking a break from it six months later gave me a similar feeling. I didn’t bother with anything that I left behind in New Zealand and just looked forward.
My first station was Taipei. The hostel called Taiwan Youth Hostel was looking for musicians on workaway who can play for the guests in the evenings in exchange for free accommodation. I read about it in the Chillawhile back in January and I couldn’t resist. The receptionist called Summer, who is responsible for handling volunteers responded quickly, saying that they loved my video and they are happy to have me in June. I wrote back my arrival time and then we didn’t write to each other until 3 days before I came there. So, Daniel, you’re coming soon, right, she asked me. Yeah sure, see you on Wednesday, I answered.
When I entered the hostel, Summer welcomed me, showed me around in the building, meanwhile she realised that I stink and sent me to take a shower. After that we discussed my schedule, and I fell asleep. On some days I had to help making the beds in the morning, on other days I had to play for 45 minutes in the evening. Since I like to play piano but I barely have the chance to give an own concert, I really appreciated this opportunity. They had another musician, Adam, the guitarist from Chicago who’s in the same age as me but has much more concert experience, he gave me useful advices about my performances. The hostel made a live stream of my concerts, if you search for them on their facebook page, you can probably spot by comparing the earliest and the latest videos that I did make a progress in having some confidence and treating my nervousness. If you’re too lazy to do so, then please just simply believe me. Thank you.
Since the hostel appeared to be a very good choice and I still hadn’t bought my flight ticket back to Auckland, I asked them if I can come back after Korea and give a few more concerts. They didn’t have any new musicians for July so there was no reason to decline.
The first part of my holidays was not too active, I spent most of my time in the hostel, mainly just moved out for food. It says a lot about my life requirements. Having a piano and a laptop around, plus sometimes maybe one other human or two is able to make me stop caring about the outside world. By leaving the hostel after 10 days my lifestyle was about to change.

The Reunions

In the following one week I had 4 meetings, each of which I had arranged long before my departure. Even if I felt like a little prince in Taipei, I was really looking forward to these. And now, right before arriving back to Auckland again, I can say that this was the time that enjoyed the most.

Taichung, Sabina

Sabina was a volunteer in the Chillawhile in January. Those were her last days in New Zealand and she chose to volunteer there because she wanted to give a try living with Western people, after spending 14 months by working and travelling with Asians. As I mentioned before, a flight ticket to Hong Kong was much cheaper last year from Taichung than from Taipei. Since I was planning to fly from Taiwan to Hong Kong again, I told her in Oamaru that I will go to Taichung in the summer so we can meet there. She said okay. It turned out later that the cheap ticket from last year disappeared. Finally I bought my flight to Hong Kong from Taipei instead. Still, I wouldn’t have minded to go to Taichung and meet her. She said okay.
She spent only 10 days in Oamaru but that short time was enough for her to find out how to make me happy: by giving me food. So we spent the whole day in Taichung by going from this place to that place, and eating something everywhere. A fancy ice cream, pig blood, BBQ chicken, takoyaki, grapefruit green tea, pineapple juice and other things I don’t really know the name of. Things that I’d have never tried without the guidance of an experienced local. We made only one short break from eating, when we visited the national theatre. It was nice to see an ex-volunteer from the Chillawhile again and to have a relatively active day after just hanging around for 10 days in the Taiwan Youth Hostel.

Hong Kong, Áfonya

Originally I wanted to visit Hong Kong to hike through the Hong Kong Trail, a 50km long walking path on the Hong Kong Island’s mountains. But when Áfonya, my favorite Tibetan law student told me that she’s ready to take a train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong to meet me there, I reduced my hike-related ambitions and decided to only make the first part of the Hong Kong Trail around the Victoria Peak on one day and the last section, the most famous one out of the 8 called Dragon’s Back on the next one. She said that she doesn’t particularly like hiking but she doesn’t even mind it. So it seemed to be a fair compromise.
I took a bus from the airport to the Hung Hom Train Station where she was already waiting for me and we continued where we stopped back in Da Nang: walking and sitting and talking. The talking part works especially good with her. She has interesting random thoughts that I have no idea where they come from and she’s happy to talk about anything that comes to her mind. Which I find extremely amusing. She told me once (twice actually) that a huge wish in her life has always been to have an older brother, with whom she could have discussed through all her teenager problems. First she told me this back in Vietnam, and then she repeated it in Hong Kong again. Now I can’t stop assuming that that’s the role that I’m supposed to play for her. An older guy who she can meet time to time and just spill out whatever she’s full with. And hence those amusing random thoughts. I’m not sure if this is correct or not. But as long as we get along with each other as well as we do, it doesn’t matter actually.
Just as planned, we visited the Victoria Peak on the first day and the Dragon’s Back on the second one. Her favorite part was the beach at the end of the Dragon’s Back trail. I didn’t plan to stay there at all but she liked the water so much that we spent there more than an hour. She told me that she finds her Hungarian name Áfonya boring, and she wants a new one. I recommended Burgonya. Which means potato. That’s good, she said, she loves potato a lot. But when it came to pronouncing it, she gave up after a few attempts (Asians have serious problems with pronouncing the letter R) and decided to keep being Áfonya. From the beach we took a bus to Kowloon, visited the Science Museum which was free but quite boring and just started to walk around the streets.
A bit later she asked me to go to a supermarket, just to look around. She was staring at the pasta sauces for ages and she said that she really likes to practice how to pronounce their names. In the pet section she told me that she has tried dog food and cat food, and the cat food tastes much better. Especially the one with fish. She also told me that her favourite vegetable is the broccoli but she’s only eating it because its name sounds so great. We spent more than half an hour in the supermarket. She didn’t buy anything. We just left and took the ferry back to the Hong Kong Island.
One time we stopped at a corner because she wanted to smoke. While I was standing next to her, a middle aged white businessman passed by. He looked at me, smiled a bit and nodded. I looked back at him, replied with a semi-smile and nodded back. Wow, what was that, asked Áfonya. What was what, I asked. Your spirits just crashed, she said and just kept smoking. Like it was the most obvious explanation ever. She probably forgot her answer in about five seconds but for me it was a quite impressive reaction. In the Western world people say hi to each other. In the Eastern world their spirits crash.
I guess the small differences between interpreting everyday stuff like this are one of the main reasons for my attraction to Asian brains. Or Asian spirits. Whatever.

Chengdu, Nina

Speaking of interpretation. My next flight brought me to Chengdu, China, where I met Nina. The plane was late by more than 5 hours but it didn’t stop her to keep waiting for me at the airport. We went to my hostel first, then to a restaurant where she introduced me to the super spicy Chengdu hotpot.
Nina is studying translation and interpretation but she definitely prefers the latter one. She said that she wants to be the world’s top Chinese-Japanese-English interpreter. Which might sound a bit ridiculous at first but she does take it seriously. We started our exchange studies together in Sapporo. I started the language courses at level 1, then went home after one semester and forgot everything in a few weeks. She started the language course at level 2, spent the winter holidays by learning on her own so she could skip one level and continued her next semester at level 4. At the end of the second semester she took a Japanese-Language Proficiency Test and passed the N1, which is the highest level a human can get. She went back to China, took internships, visited conferences, made who knows what else to gain more experience in interpretation. Right now she’s in Ottawa, Canada, in a summer school and she’s already got a scholarship to the UK for the next year at the end of which she will receive her masters degree. Not bad from a 22-years-old, I’d say.
To be a good interpreter, you not only have to know what the people say but also what they actually mean. To improve the skill of finding out the latter one, Nina’s big project is to get familiar of how the brains in the Western world function. This is where I come in the picture. She told me once that she finds my thinking interesting and talking with me is an opportunity for her to get know new opinions.
Sometimes when I answer her something, she just repeats it slowly, word by word, like she would try to put it in the right place, probably wondering why I used those words and not any other ones. Which I obviously couldn’t explain, since I’m doing it quite spontaneously. Anyway, I have the responsible task of providing an insight to the Western mindset for the future’s best interpreter. It’s a role that’s worth to appreciate.
On the one full day that we spent together, we went to the Wide and Narrow Alley, which is probably the most popular walking area of the city, with small souvenir shops and heaps of street food. I should have bought some panda souvenirs here but I assumed that there will be even more stuff in the panda base tomorrow. Silly me. Later we went to her campus. I saw about 20 pingpong tables next to each other and asked her if she wanted to play. She said she doesn’t have any rackets. So I bought two rackets and three balls and we started to play pingpong. That was the first time that a beat a Chinese person in pingpong. 11:2, if you’re interested. It felt really good. Her friends saw us playing there and invited us to play basketball. So we switched the sport and played some basketball. We finished very late, we only had time for dinner and then she showed me the English corner where people used to gather once a week and talk in English to each other. We arrived much later than she wanted to, there were still some people left there talking in English but we didn’t want to join anymore. So we just talked English for our own.

Chengdu, Stephanie

I met Stephanie in the Duckstay Hostel in Taipei last September. Since she was planning to visit New Zealand in February, we stayed in contact and planned to meet again there. Later she had to cancel that trip because of her job but the facts that Chengdu is her hometown and that I’m going to Chengdu made a meeting in the summer very likely.
She drove her car to my hostel in the morning, greeted me like we were best buddies, and took me for breakfast. Her friend joined us before we reached the Chengdu Research Base Of Giant Panda Breeding. The main purpose of the day. The week. The month. It’s a huge park that includes a museum about how to grow the world’s panda population, how to feed them and keep them happy. There were several areas where pandas of different ages were kept. We were just walking through the different panda sections, making photos everywhere. They are quite lazy creations, barely do anything except for sleeping and chewing a bamboo and since it was too hot for them outside, they were staying in their air conditioned rooms. It was definitely an unforgettable experience but a bit less unforgettable than I expected.
After the pandas she took me to a restaurant, then her friend said goodbye to us and we went to the New Century Global Center which is officially the world’s largest building. When I first saw it, I strongly doubted that all the buildings on the Earth are really smaller than this but the Wikipedia confirmed me that indeed, its 1 700 000 square metres of floor area do make it the world’s largest building, measured by floor space. It included an artificial beach, a hotel of more than 1000 rooms and hundreds of different shops, some of which we took a look at. Before she left me in my hostel, she said that she will pick me up again in the morning and take me to the airport. Okay, see you tomorrow, we thought naively. A few minutes after that she wrote me a message that she had a car accident and she’s fine but her car is not.
So I went to the airport by bus next day.

I don’t know if it’s obvious from these descriptions or not but I found each of these meetups unexpectedly successful. Each of them included some honest conversations and some joyful moments. They felt like four friendships that I should keep working on. As a first step in that process I arranged four upcoming meetings: one in Taiwan, one in Mongolia, one in England and one in New Zealand.
With the new memories in my mind I departed from Chengdu to my new destination. A few hours later I safely landed in Bangkok.

Landed in Where??

In Bangkok.
Obviously.
Fine, I explain. It all started at the Hong Kong Airport. I knew from my visit to Shanghai that if I have a ticket out of China in no more than 72 hours after my arrival, I can apply for a transfer visa at the airport without paying any extra fee. So I had my ticket to Korea based on that simple rule. When I tried to check in in Hong Kong to Chengdu, the check-in boy looked at my tickets and told me that no, the rule is not that simple. My flight from Chengdu to Korea has a stopover in Beijing. And this is not okay, he said. And why is it not okay? I’m not entering the country again, I stay in the international zone, waiting for my next flight, it doesn’t matter if I do that in Beijing or in any other airport. No, it’s not like that, I’ve been told, because that’s not the rule.
So I had to decide if I cancel my flight to Chengdu or find a direct flight out of China for the 2nd of July. I was very much against the former option, so I opened Skyscanner, used it’s magic ‘anywhere’ feature, and searched for the cheapest direct flight for the 2nd of July from Chengdu. It went to Bangkok.
So did I.
First I was very pissed off about this issue. That was definitely not my plan. I looked at all those Chinese tourists on the airplane to Bangkok, they had to go through a long process to get their visa accepted and they are probably all very happy that they are allowed to spend a few days in Thailand. For me this trip was a torture, I had no idea how to spend my time there, all I had was my flight ticket back to Taiwan for the 11th of July. I’m pretty sure that I was the one on the plane who was wishing to visit Thailand the second least, right after the constantly crying baby in the first row.
After arriving to the airport I sat down and started to plan. I was considering to go to the city called Chiang Mai. It just popped out somewhere from the bottom of my memory can that I heard about it in (probably) this video  first as a cheap place which is quite popular among freelancers (and I just noticed right now that the vlogger girl of the video just moved to Budapest – she’s making so inviting movies about it that I almost want to move back there…). I checked the room prices and found a private room in the downtown with an own bathroom for 32 EUR for a week. And even if it’s almost 600 km from Bangkok, there are many trains and buses going regularly to and from Chiang Mai. Plus Áfonya has been there twice and she had really good experiences too. So I booked my room from the next day and started to go to the main train station in the middle of Bangkok, where all the buses and trains depart.
I got off the subway 4 stations before the train station to see a bit of Bangkok. And while I was walking through the streets and parks, I slowly calmed down and accepted my situation. There are worse things that can happen to a human than having one free week in Thailand after all. My walk took longer than it should have and when I arrived to the station, it turned out that all the night buses were already fully booked. But I still got a ticket to the last night train, on the third class.
Well, a third class night train is something that I wouldn’t recommend. There was no air conditioner on it and the windows didn’t move. Luckily, my window was open so I didn’t even want to move it but the Buddhist monk sitting in front of me was less lucky, he really seemed to have some troubles with getting enough air. After some struggling with his window he asked the inspector to help who tried it but performed exactly the same struggling with the window instead. He left and came back with some metal tool, started to hit the window’s bottom, with no progress. Finally he just kept saying sorry for the inconvenience to the monk for whom the rest of the night must have been a great practical exercise about escaping from the present world filled with pain and suffering (Dukkha), that are caused by carving (Tanha), and hence getting a bit closer to the ultimate state of soteriological release (Nirvana). In addition, the light was on all night on the train and the speaker woke me up at every station, announcing where we are at the moment. Like their goal was that all of their passengers spend the night awake. It was a long 14 hours.
After arriving to Chiang Mai I walked to my hostel, sat down on my bed and didn’t know what to do. I started with default activities: bought some food in a convenience store, ate it in my room, then slept for 12 hours.
Most of the days’ highlight was walking around in the city and eat in random restaurants. I really liked the structure of the city. The old town is a huge square, surrounded by an artificial canal. The square takes 78 minutes to walk around (true story), and there are hostels, restaurants, massage shops and temples inside of it. My hostel was also there which was pure luck, I didn’t check it before.
To make something memorable during the week, I decided to book one of the many activities that were offered in every hostel: the half-day elephant tour. I had to wait in front of my hostel at 7am, a van picked me up a brought me together with some other tourists to an elephant resort. After arriving to the resort a guy gave us a short introduction, first about elephants in general, then about their own ones. It’s a family of five, was six last year but the grandma died but the mother is pregnant so will be six again next year. Now they are already waiting for their breakfast, let’s feed them and take some photos. Okay, now let’s bring them to the river and wash them and take some photos. Okay, now let’s say them goodbye and have a lunch. Okay, now let’s go back to Chiang Mai. It was fun actually, even if it doesn’t necessarily sound like that. It fulfilled the requirement: became the most memorable activity of my visit in Chiang Mai.
In the van I talked to a British boy who had been in the city for a few weeks already. He recommended me many places around and it made me want to come back to Chiang Mai again. He said that riding a motorbike without a proper driving license is really common here. The police will very likely stop me but all they do (besides of making me pay a small amount) is giving me a document that proves that I paid a fine. If I show that document to the police again in no more than 3 days, they don’t charge me. After the three days I will have to pay again but then they give me the same document which I can use for 3 more days.
Not much more to say about my trip to Chiang Mai. I tried Thai massage for the first time. The foot massage wasn’t any special, the back massage felt really good. I went to a gym once but they didn’t have a shower room so I had to stink back to the hostel to wash myself which was a bit inconvenient. One day I saw a note on a convenience store’s fridge that today they don’t sell alcohol because it’s a holy day for Buddhists. It turned out that this was the full moon of the eighth lunar month called Asalha Puja or Dharma Day, when they celebrate that Buddha shared his first sermon with his five followers. If you’re interested in these teachings, you can find them in the beautifully named book called Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
On the way back I took a bus instead of a train. The difference was so huge for almost the same price that no wonder if they are booked out earlier than the trains. Air conditioner, comfy seats with big leg space, dinner and breakfast, the lights turned off for the night, the bus driver remained silent. A wise choice.
I got off in Bangkok in the morning and went to a park to have my breakfast. At 8am the Thai national anthem started from the speakers, the people stood up from the benches, the runners stopped running and a police kept blowing his whistle. The latter one happened because of me, I was so happy with my chocolate donut that I didn’t realize what’s going on and kept eating happily. In Thailand it’s a disrespectful and ignorant act. According to the law, I could have been arrested for that. They play the national anthem every day at 8am and at 6pm in parks, train stations, shopping malls, and you have to stop whatever you do and keep standing for about a minute.
And that’s my last lesson for you, dear blog reader, from Thailand. The park was right next to the bus station where the airport shuttle departed and took me to the airport for 30 baht. I flew back to Taipei.
I spent almost two weeks in the Taiwan Youth Hostel for the second time. There was nothing radically new compared to my first visit there but I didn’t even want any. Giving concerts, making the beds, going out for food and watching the time go by. I’m going to come back to this hostel next year but I’m still less infected than Adam, the other musician who loves Taipei so much that he’s planning to move there permanently.
I cooked some food in the last night for the crew, then on the 24th of July it was time to fly back to Auckland. Back to the industry. Start to work something. I do need some money after these 6 weeks.

Future

To talk about the future, let’s look back in the past. I studied in the University of Leipzig for two years, to get a master degree in Informatics. After I received my WHV to New Zealand, I wanted to finish as soon as possible. I went to the student’s office and discussed with the proper person (at least that’s what I thought) what modules I need to take in the last semester to have my studies done. I talked to my supervisor as well who allowed me to keep writing my master thesis from the distance and stay in touch online. I finished all the necessary modules last summer and finally finished my master thesis too, when I was already in New Zealand. I was waiting for my reward.
Since nothing happened, I wrote a mail to the student’s office. They said that oops, one of the modules that they promised me to accept from my old university in Budapest, well, they changed their mind, sorry. That meant that I have only 115 credit points from the 120 that a master study consists of. Oh and by the way, I’m not a registered student anymore since I didn’t pay the last semester’s fee. And no, I cannot do it now, it’s too late. But good news, I can apply for the same studies any time again, they will be happy to accept all my 115 credit points I’ve done and all I need to do is completing a so called seminar module which is giving a 45 minutes long presentation about a specific topic.
So that’s how far I am from being a graduated student. I have to travel to Leipzig, pick a topic from some topic list and give a presentation about it for those 5-6 people who happen to sit in the room. Since I had no plan for my next half year in New Zealand, I was seriously considering to go back to Europe in October when the semester starts and do some student job like in the old times.
I’m not saying “seriously” because I want to sound dramatic. I already registered to the website where I can apply for studies in Germany, filled in all the forms and I was just one click away to make the whole process official. I looked at my options. If I go back to Europe in October, probably finish my studies just in a few weeks and then I would work in a Christmas Market in Germany for 6 weeks and make enough money to start travelling again, already in January. If I stay in New Zealand until my visa allows me to, I will keep searching for various jobs, which I will either enjoy (e.g. Chillawhile) or not (e.g. apple packhouse).
Finally I chose the more vague version and let the application deadline just fly away with the 15th of July. It’s a frustrating feeling that I will finish my studies later than expected. But who knows how frustrating it would have been to cancel my working holiday just because of my studies.
The next question was how to spend my time in New Zealand until the expiration of my visa. I needed to find my next job.
I wanted to do something useful.
Something that I can think about later as a step forward in my life.
Something that teaches me skills I can take advantage of in my future.
Something that doesn’t give me the feeling that I’m just wasting my time.

So, I will start pruning kiwifruits in a few days.

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Rolling Through the Last Months


ToNZ #5 – After my peaceful times in Oamaru my main goal was to get the visa extension by doing 3 months of horticultural jobs. Until the Alps2Ocean Trail I finished only 3 weeks in Alexandra. So I still had quite some time left. Did I manage to finish it all? Did I not? Or did I? Or not? Let’s read this post and find it out!


Picking and Packing

Alright, it’s time to take a look at the events between April and June. Not that I don’t have anything better to do. Alps2Ocean finished. Overnighted in Chillawhile, totally exhausted. Went to Nelson. Left my baggage on the bus, with the computer charger in it. For example. The hostel in Nelson was superb. Still counts as my favorite one. Called Palace Backpackers. It had an own piano room, free bakery at 4pm and some Hungarian books, thanks to the manager’s random visit to the town of Pécs. The city was also pretty. But not for those who were looking for horticultural jobs. It was a struggle to find something. The closest job was apple picking, two towns away. Reaching the next town by bus, then the second one by bike. Took more than an hour one way. Did it for four days, hated it. Left Nelson, headed to the North Island. Short break in Picton, hiking on Queen Charlotte trail. Short break in Wellington as well, visited the Victoria Lookout.
Arrived to Napier. The “art deco capital”. The hostel manager offered 2 hours of work for free accommodation. Sounded good. But still had to look for a horticultural job. Finally found one in an apple packhouse. Night shift. Six weeks of pure hell. Wake up at 9am. Clean the hostel. Go back to sleep at noon. Wake up again whenever, eat whatever. Start to depart at 4pm. Start work at 5pm. Finish work at 2am. Arrive back at 3am. Sleep. Repeat. Soul sucking lifestyle. To survive this, I bought a piano. Something to play with. I will sell it at the end in Napier, I thought. Only one weekend’s worth to mention. Hitchhiked to Rotorua. Tried zorbing. Rented a bike. Went to a mountain bike park. Then back to Napier. That was quite enjoyabe, actually.
Job finished on June 2nd. My flight to Taipei was on June 13th. I had no idea what to do until that. Katja had. So we had to make some holiday-like thingy. Went to Taupo. Huka Falls, hot spring, mountain bike park. Back to Napier. There was a Hungarian backpacker in Napier. I was talking in Hungarian to someone. For the first time after last September in Hong Kong. Translated my driving license. Rented a car. Tried to sell the piano but couldn’t. Drove to Wanganui. Me, Katja and the piano. Then drove to the Tongariro National Park, hiked to the Whakapapa waterfall. Then drove to Ongarue, biked through the famous bike trail called Timber Trail. A quite tough one. Deadly uphill sections, big fat mud puddles, nice swing bridges. Took two days for the 85km. Then drove to Raglan. Planned to surf there but the waves were too high. Asked the receptionist if I can leave my piano there. We are not a storage place, he said. You can let the guests use it, I said. Oh, sure, we can talk about that, he said. Left the piano in Raglan, left Raglan, left the car in Auckland, left Katja in Auckland, left Auckland. Started my second trip to Asia. Finally.
What’s after Asia? Well, I still have 3 weeks left from my horticultural project. Which I hate. Makes me question every day if that’s really why I came to this country. I loved the good old days behind the reception of the Chillawhile. But during the months between Oamaru and Taipei I had much less quiet times. Different problems, different advantages, bla. Maybe later I will have some sweet nostalgia about these days as well. But for now I’m glad that it’s over and that I finally started my long-awaited, well-deserved winter holidays.

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Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail


ToNZ #4 – There are several biking trails in New Zealand, the so called Alps2Ocean trail is the longest one, opened in 2013, consisting of more than 300 km, going from the Mount Cook National Park to Oamaru’s penguins. The reason I’m mentioning these infos is that going through this trail was the next thing to do after leaving Alexandra. The journey has been made on the last week of March, took almost a week, consisting of the days as follows.


trail-map
Day 0: Cromwell – Aoraki

The starting point of the trail is the tiny town of Aoraki. The shortest way to go there from Alexandra was changing buses twice: first in Cromwell, then in Twizel. Since the connections were not designed for people from Alexandra to Aoraki, we had to stay in Cromwell for a night, and then also wait for a couple of hours in Twizel on the next day.
Aoraki is not really a town, it’s just a collection of hostels, far away from the civilization, between Lake Pukaki and the Mount Cook National Park. People usually spend here one or two nights, and walk on the local walking trails, so they can get some scenery that is worth to take a few photos of. We arrived there at around 4pm so we could go through the trail called Hooker Valley Trail in a perfect time, after most of the Asian tourist groups left, but before it was getting too dark.
The Hooker Valley is an about 5 km long walk along the Hooker River, leading to the Hooker Lake. The lake is surrounded by glaciers, you can see the Mount Cook on its other side, which is New Zealand’s highest mountain (3724 m). There were some kea birds hanging around next to the lake, collecting the trash of the previous tourists, and they were happy to pose for the camera too.
Dear blog reader, if you ever visit New Zealand for just one single day, the thing that you have to do on that day is walking through the Hooker Valley. It had a very special atmosphere, huge mountains, cold glaciers, blue rivers and lakes, fresh air, posing keas – it seemed to be a nice summary of the countries natural features. A must.

Day 1: Aoraki – Twizel (77 km)

The first day was promised to be flat. And on the scale where 100 meters difference equals 1 cm, it really is. But the more you zoom in, the more you can see the tiny little ups and downs that might drive you crazy after almost 80 km of biking on them.
The first five kilometers were okay, until we arrived to the helicopter landing place. We booked a helicopter flight to cross the Tasman River. It’s not because we are so fancy but because that’s the only possible way to cross the river. Since the sky was too cloudy, we had to wait an hour to get on the helicopter which landed about 1,5 minutes later on the other side. It’s a common dirty trick of the New Zealand bike trails to include some unavoidable but quite expensive transport vehicles in the middle of the trail that you have to use if you want to continue your journey. That’s exactly what we wanted. Hence the helicopter.
The sign on the other side of the river said that there is only 300 km left to Oamaru. We were ready to decrease the distance. On the first day we mainly headed south along the Lake Pukaki, with the small but extremely annoying little ups and downs under the wheels. The trail quality was horrible, it was gravel road with really big stones, it was the second worst suffering for the whole trail (after the last day). One moment (next to the Tekapo Power Station, to be precise) we suddenly found ourselves on the highway and then the road problems didn’t come back again. The bike road was finally well built, the ups and downs weren’t that intense, the way to Twizel stopped being a torture.

Day 2: Twizel – Lake Ohau (38 km)

The second day was quite short, and considering the difficulties of the following day, it was a very good decision. Since there were no bike roads built, we had to bike on a really boring highway from Twizel next to a canal, until we reached Lake Ohau. The Ohau Lodge was on the other side of the lake, which meant a few extra kilometers along the lake. It was really pretty section and the road there was made of gravel that usual everyday bikers like me usually wish for themselves: not as hard as concrete but not as soft that your wheel is drowning in it.
The Ohau Lodge had a good location both from practical (just before the trail starts to climb the hill) and from aesthetic (looking at the Lake Ohau) points of view. We booked a cheap accommodation (it was still the most expensive one from the whole trail) but we were allowed to go to the restaurant where the rich people were hanging out, have some free tea and coffee and watch the lake from the lodge balcony. We also had time for some walk, since, as I already mentioned, the day was quite short.

Day 3: Lake Ohau – Omarama (59 km)

This was the day which I was afraid of from the very beginning: the one with a 10 km long and 330 m high climbing. At the very beginning of the day. The climb took about two hours with a lots of breaks, sweat and suffering up until the summit. And ironically, it was the only time when we had rain, just to make the situation even more depressive. It was not easy, but unlike the annoying gravel road on the first day and the unexpected uphills on the last one, it was something I was mentally preparing myself before.
The climbing was followed by something refreshing, namely the rolling down the hill. It was the most memorable part of the whole 300 km. After reaching the summit at 900 meters we had a really steep part until down to 400 meters. There were some big stones that hit my bike, there were some small creeks that made my feet wet, there was the rain that made my eyes blind and my back muddy – still, I had a few minutes there where I felt like a real tough mountain biker.
On the bottom of the hill there was a car and a guy. The guy was selling coffee from the car for the bikers. Of course we bought one. And of course everybody’s buying one after climbing up and rolling down. And everybody’s paying that 5 dollars to the guy. Because there is nothing else around. The next town is 30 km ahead, the previous lodge is one hill behind. The guy said that he has about 40-60 customers per day in average. Which is 200-300 dollars income. That guy is a quite good money maker. And the coffee was great as well.
Before reaching the next town called Omarama, Katja had the weird idea of making a 14 km long detour to see the clay cliffs. The clay cliffs are cliffs made of clay. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? No, actually it was really just a few simple rocks, and a gravel road led to them, almost as bad as on the first day. It wasn’t a good idea, to be honest. I wouldn’t go there again, if you ask me, dear blog reader.

Day 4: Omarama – Kurow (69 km)

The next day was alright. First we were biking along a lake next to Omarama which was quite large but still, google maps is unable to show me what was its name. After leaving it, we had a mean hill, I had to stop about three times because I couldn’t bike up. But the way down was really nice, it was a 5 km long downhill on the luckily empty highway, I almost reached 60 km/h pedaling down. At the bottom of the hill Otematata was waiting for us where we had an ice cream.
The second part of the day started with the Benmore Dam, the biggest dam of the country. Then Lake Aviemore, then another dam, then Lake Waitaki, then another dam, then arriving to Kurow. To reach the accommodation, we had to bike 5 more kilometers where a lady met us and brought us to her farm with her car. She gave us some dinner with real food (meat, mashed potatoes and various vegetables) which we didn’t really have in the last days.

Day 5: Kurow – Oamaru (78 km)

Arriving to Oamaru after more than 300 km of biking is a huge pleasure for everyone who’s doing the Alps2Ocean trail. Arriving to Oamaru after more than 300 km of biking and more than 2 months of being a receptionist there before adds some nice old memories to that huge pleasure. We biked to the end of the trail which was not the end of the trail for us but the corner next to the ocean where we went to watch the little blue penguins, walked to when we visited the Steampunk Museum, or were just wondering, seeing the sign saying that this is the end point of the Als2Ocean Trail, what the hell is this so called Alps2Ocean Trail.
During the 78 km on that day that we had much more uphills than we were expecting based on the altitude showing graph, which made me extremely annoyed, I really wanted to arrive finally. At one of those uphills my chain even jammed pretty hard so we stayed there to repair it for about 20 minutes. That was the moment when I had completely enough of the whole trail for a while. But after we arrived to Oamaru, I didn’t care that much about the struggles. We went back to Chillawhile and spent some free nights there for the sake of our receptionist times. Since almost everybody from the staff was new there, we didn’t have many social moments but we had time to rest and that was definitely on the top of my priority list.
Later we took the bus from Oamaru and after a while we arrived to the next station, to Nelson. Since I left my laptop charger on the bus, I couldn’t write my blog post earlier. I hope that you, dear warm-hearted blog reader can forgive me that I let you wait so long for it.
If this description of the trail was so exciting that it’s still not enough for you, then good news: Katja, my previously mentioned receptionist-apricot-biking colleague wrote a post about it as well. I haven’t read it yet but I dare to assume that it’s worth to link here.

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One Month in Alexandra


ToNZ #3 – After almost 3 months I stopped being a receptionist in the Chillawhile. I was planning to write a whole post about my life there because I felt that it deserves that but I was too lazy and life just kept going on. Let’s see, how.


Getting Horticultural

Being a receptionist in Oamaru helped me a lot to hear people talking about various things which sometimes included some handy information about my future plans as well. The most relevant one was that if I’m working for three months in the horticultural industry, I can extend my working holiday visa in New Zealand by 3 months. Since the receptionist work has about nothing to do with horticulture, I started to look for jobs like fruit picking, packhouse work, because staying a bit longer in New Zealand is something I wouldn’t mind at all.
The Chillawhile usually accepts volunteers, little helpers who can stay for free if they clean the toilets, and a few of them went to the town called Alexandra after finishing their volunteering life in the hostel, to actually earn some money. They told me that there are many horticultural jobs in that area. So I started to think that my next station will be that area.
Katja, my previously mentioned receptionist colleague heard my secret plan and since we started and finished our receptionist jobs at the same time and she was also thinking about extending her visa, she suggested to go there together. Through the Central Otago Rail Trail. By bike. Which will take 3 days.
First this idea sounded way too extreme to me but she said that she will do everything: rent the bikes, book the accommodation and then find a job in Alexandra at the end. It would have been hard to say no, after all.
We left the Chillawhile on February 17th, then hitchhiked from Oamaru to Dunedin (my first time hitchhiking!!), stayed in Dunedin to surf (my first time surfing!!)(okay, I wouldn’t call it surfing but my first attempt!!), then went to Middlemarch, which is the first town of the trail and where our rented bikes were already waiting for us. We took them and after 190 kilometers of biking we arrived to the hostel in Alexandra.
When Katja said that she will find a job in Alexandra, she wasn’t kidding. On the evening of our arrival a woman called Linda came to us to the hostel and told us that she will be our boss in the apricot packhouse, and we will start tomorrow at 8am. So that’s where we were working for the next 2 weeks. Splitting, stoning and spreading the apricots. A horribly monotone job for about 8 hours a day. After finishing it, we found some other jobs on the local vineyards for about 2 weeks as well. On the vineyards we could listen to our personal music which made the 8 hours fly away relatively quickly. I usually started the morning with some chilling music, then continued with presentations in Hungarian and finally turned off my brain for the last few hours.
The vineyard job was finished a bit earlier than we expected so we had a few free days at the end. This had some financial disadvantages but still, it didn’t hurt to have some time to look around.

Today’s Lesson

In the beginning I wasn’t too enthusiastic to go to Alexandra together with Katja but now I’m pretty far from regretting that decision. I was going to come here, start my three months in the horticultural universe, collect some money and then keep going to another city. Now that she came with me I still started my three months and I also collected some money but having somebody around all the time made me feel that it’s not enough. Katja said that she wants to keep her work-life balance, and working and sleeping only is not what she meant by that.
One time, when we were having break in the packhouse, she looked very excited. Why are you so very excited, I asked. Because this is the last break for today. And after this she will go biking with the bike that she just bought. And it’s hot so she might go and swim in the river as well.
And am I excited for anything, she asked. Yeah, I said, that there is already less than 3 months to do to my extension. That I will have a nice time in the summer when I go back to Asia. And that I will have a lot of money after finishing all my horticultural jobs. That’s not good, she said, it sounds that I’m living in the future. I should try to enjoy the present too. Because the present days go away anyway, but it also matters, how they do that. She convinced me to buy a bicycle too so we could bike together. And she gave me her professional headphone so I could listen to my music on a next level during work. And she said that we should find something for every day to look forward to after the work. Buy a pizza. Bake a pizza. Watch a movie. Play some game. And things like that.
This whole idea made me think a little bit. In about my last 15 years I was living in the future, always looking forward to better times to come, without even realizing it. The only time when I was able to enjoy what I’m doing for a longer period was during my Asia trip. When I didn’t daydream about the upcoming part of my life, just paid attention to my closer surroundings. And now, looking backwards, I can confidently state that my Asia trip was the best time of my life so far. I’m not quite sure yet how exactly but that must have some correlation with not keeping my eyes on the future all the time.
It looks at the moment that our ways with Katja will split soon but if I learned only one feature from her that I could build into my “how to live life”-repertoire, it’s the one of trying to enjoy the present days a bit more.

Back to the Future

As you might know, dear blog reader, the real world summer equals winter in New Zealand. Which means, among others, cold weather and less jobs. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m going to go back to Asia, concentrating on the two countries where I had my best experiences last time: Taiwan and Korea. I’m going to spend a few weeks in places that I found on workaway, one in Taipei and one in Busan. Between those countries I’ll make a short detour to Hong Kong, to check out Áfonya and to Chengdu, to check out Nina.
I already made my plan back in Oamaru but now that I actually made some money in Alexandra, I also bought my flying tickets. I will depart from Auckland to Taipei on June 13th. And I haven’t bought a return ticket so it remains a surprise when will I arrive back and from where.
Despite of my new skill of living in the present, I’m absolutely looking forward to this trip – especially after spending my next two months in the horticulture.

 

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