My memory in Brisbane
I spent a year working holiday in Australia in the year 2013, and it changed my life. It was not something I planned out, but life was full of adventures. I knew I had a dream to work overseas, but the chance was low when I studied chemistry as an undergraduate in Hong Kong. There were not many exchange opportunities, and I was also jealous that the business school students could easily travel abroad to study. After I took my last exam and before officially graduating, I went to Brisbane for my graduation trip, took a short English course to brush up my English and did a brief internship working at an adventure centre as free labour. It was an incredible journey. I was meeting new friends, hugging the koala and enjoying the beach. I remember the time I was lying on the sand at the Gold Coast. I was enjoying the sunshine and got a touching moment. I felt that why life was so unfair? I mean, I was suffering all the stress in public exams in Hong Kong, while Australians could just lying on the beach, surfing all day and enjoying their life! The competition in Hong Kong was keen, and our living conditions were poor, while Australia seems to be a prosperous country and rich in natural resources. I looked at the sky; it was so blue in Australia that it was better than Hong Kong.
I grabbed the sand, and my tears came down. Why did I not deserve such a good environment here? It reminds me of an ancient story in China; like a rat, if you were unlucky to be born on the dirty street, you would have a stressful life and worry about being killed by people all day and suffering from hunger. Instead, if you were lucky to be born as a mouse inside a kitchen, then you have unlimited clean food to eat all day and with a happy life. There was the realisation by Guan Zhong, and he decided to immigrate to another country with a better environment. Later on, he became very successful as the chancellor of the emperor. I felt the same way that the stress in Hong Kong was inhabiting my growth. I wanted to stay in Australia, and luckily I got a job offer after the internship.
Before I got the official job offer, I went back to Hong Kong after travelling to Australia. I graduated with a bachelor degree in chemistry and got my first full-time job working as a test engineer in a German company laboratory. The colleagues were friendly and taught me a lot, but the tasks were boring, repetitive and I had long work hours. I was in the department of food-grade testing safety of kitchen utensils. The daily duties were like this: first, I received the plastic cups to test. I need to use a scissor to cut them into standard sizes, such as 5cm x 5cm. Measure the surface area accurately. Second, depending on the sample size, I need to put them in a different volume of acid or water in the beakers. I need to prepare a couple of samples and put them in different ovens with different temperatures, such as 30°C, 50°C and 100°c. I need to label them properly and use a timer to measure the time accurately.
Finally, after the plastic was put in the acid or water for a certain period, the liquid was further test for chemical components, either with a couple more steps to mix different chemicals or put them in a machine to generate a report, using mass spectrometry. Sometimes, after all the chemical tests, I would need to run a taste test by putting the water-soaked with a plastic sample in my mouth to rate it the water tastes like plastic or not. It was a tedious job with not many career prospects. After ten years, I could be a senior test engineer or a testing manager, but I already know that this was not the career I want to pursue. Therefore a few months later, I resigned. But before I left, I met a new girlfriend in the marketing department, who we always hang out for lunch together. She was sad to know I was leaving and even worse, I was leaving Hong Kong to go to Australia. Because I decided to went back to Brisbane to start my new adventure, a second life with a new job title: Assistant Marketing Manager.
It was an excellent title, but it did not represent my real job nature. I earned the minimum wages as cheap labour in a tourist destination to do everything, ranging from social media, reception to answer the phone, kayaking instructor and toilet cleaner for the events. Anyway, the salary in Australia was higher than my wages as a test engineer in Hong Kong. And I was still young to apply for the working holiday visa for the job. The host family I stayed with was a lovely couple to offer me cheap rent to live. Lindsey Timms and Elisabeth Timms were genuinely lovely old couples in the host family. They were English teachers and Christian who welcomed me with generosity. They were a kind old couple living in the rural area with their kids visiting them sometimes. Their house was big compared to Hong Kong living standards, and I was scared of their dog in the house. When I tried to enter the house from the front door, it would follow me to the front, so I had to trick him that I was entering from the door behind, then enter the house at the front without the dog barking and waking everyone up. Sometimes, the host family would have other guests to stay with, such as students from Japan to learn English, and we all become very close friends. Every morning. I took the train from the host family to the city in an hour. The place I work was a tourist destination along the Brishand river in the town. It was an adventure centre for kayaking, rock climbing, standup paddleboarding, abseiling, Segways, bike hire etc. It also offers a venue for events, such as weddings and new year celebrations with fireworks.
Since my job title was fake, and I was in Brisbane alone, I had to do everything in this new environment to keep my job. I still remember the night of new year eve. My company organised an event for celebration. It was operated like a bar selling alcohol and drinks, with food and people dressing up to sing and dance. While all the customers were drinking and enjoying themselves, I was working. My task was heavy lifting the beer from the fridge to the venue. It was so heavy, and my arm was sore. But this was a pleasant task comparatively; at least I could train my arm. The worse task was cleaning up the rubbish bin and throwing the mess into the rubbish area. It was very smelly. It was a terrible smell with a mix of alcohol and human Vomit. I hate drinking from that moment as it smells so bad.
Meanwhile, the toilet was the worst. It was a biohazard with all the drunk people throwing up and the tissue paper clotting them to flush it out. I would not understand their fun of being drunk. To me, they were acting like animals. The men were not behaving like an educated gentlemen but just drunk and yelling at each other. The women were dressing up in a sexy way, but I did not find them attractive when they were drunk and rowdy. When the fireworks went off in the sky at midnight, everyone was cheering and happy, except I felt sad at the corner dealing with all the rubbish and mess by the drunk people. I wanted to cry, but I know I need to stay strong.
I only worked at the events on a few occasions. Instead, my main job was working on the tourism side. As I could speak Cantonese, mandarin and English, my role would be dealing with the Chinese tourists and local Chinese students, which was a big business market. I invited all the student unions to come for kayaking with a discounted rate for promotions. I also help with the TV channels to shoot tourist shows in Brisbane. One time, Hony Kong TVB came to our site, and I was kayaking with miss Melbourne at that time. It was memorable to kayak with this beautiful lady, and the show could still be found on the Youtube channel. I was the kayaking instructor for her. I started to enjoy kayaking after working there. I was living a healthy lifestyle with lots of exercises. I got a very burnt and dark skin that tourists thought I was from the Philippines instead of Hong Kong. It was laborious work because the kayaks were heavy to lift from the water. But sometimes, I enjoyed this hard work instead of sitting in the office. Working at the back office drives me crazy; sometimes, the phone keeps ringing, and I had to answer to take customers bookings. At the same time, I had to multitask when customers came in to buy a drink at the front desk. Also, we had a coffee cart outside in the cafe area, where I had to work as a barista making coffee. I had no idea the difference between flat whites and latte, so I just made the same coffee while not many customers would complain about the number of milk.
I bought value to the company, not just because of my multiple roles but also because I was digital-savvy. I knew how to use social media, so I was in charge of their online presence. I took good photos of every day of the visitors with the beautiful view of the Brisbane river. Also, the boss wanted to use hacks to boost the number of Twitter followers. There were many hacks, one of them was by exchanging followers. First, I used Twitter to follow a lot of different accounts to raise their awareness. Then I unfollow them after they followed me back. As a result, the boss was happy to see ten thousand followers on Twitter, resulting in a rank number one tourist destination account. It would probably be banned these days, but it was common practice generating all the fake followers back in the old day. Also, the term SEO was trendy, which means Search Engine Optimisation to hack the google algorithm, such that you got to the first search result, tricks like putting a lot of referral links etc. At that moment, it was the dream of all the marketing people, and I realise none of them was technical savvy to understand how it works. So I decided to learn more about it and specialised in building websites, which is the story for the next chapter.
Originally published at http://victorleungtw.com on August 9, 2021.