He had been living at the hostel for 3 months working at Orangewood, the local company here that employs backpackers in various kiwi related jobs. Philip was insane and super fun to be around. He travelled with fishing poles, a guitar, and a huge backpack. He used to have a surfboard too but he sold it before he started hitchhiking south. Would you pick this guy up?
Yesterday morning I was eating breakfast when Tony, the owner of the hostel we are staying at, came in.
"Hey, ya wont a job?" He's from Wales.
"Sure, why not? What is it?" I ask.
An hour later I'm driving the hostel car to Orangewood, a company that packs kiwifruit from local growers. Celine, a French girl also staying at our hostel, gives me directions in her heavy accent. James is left back at the hostel, where we have been working in exchange for accomodation, to clean up.
I was told that only girls are allowed to sort kiwifruit
because boys handle them too roughly.
After an introduction and safety video, we don plastic aprons and hats and stand in a big wherehouse with 10 other girls, mostly from Germany. (The majority of tourists I've met in New Zealand are German. I'm not sure why.) We are taught the technique: pick up two kiwifruit, flowered ends up, inspect the top, bottom, twirl them in your hand, gently feeling for any soft patches with your fingers, and then give it a firm squeeze - but not too firm! - to see if its soft. It's actually quite difficult and takes a lot of concentration. A tiny soft spot called a rot that is usually invisible can cause the whole box to go rotten.
The first day wasn't bad. But by the second day, we were expected to go faster and make fewer mistakes. Our boxes were checked by supervisors and we were told how many bad ones we let slip. It can be a bit stressful, as you're trying to sort as fast as you can but not make any mistakes.
I've been trying to look on the bright side - at least the radio is on. I'm making new friends and learning new things. And the big one: think of how many people in the world have to do this kind of job full time! For just a week, I can get a taste of what life is like for a huge percentage of the world.
It's scary how much waste is produced. The fruit varies dramatically in quality depending on the grower.
One grower today had beautiful small goldish fruit; about 80% of their kiwis were acceptable. But the batch before that was splotchy and moldy and we have to throw away most of them. At the end of the day there are car-sized crates filled with reject kiwis, most of which only have tiny blemishes. We took a few bags back to the hostel. I head that they feed the rest to pigs.
I've met a few interesting people so far. Stephen* only has one year to go before his retirement. He was helping me stack boxes (a much better job that sorting kiwi because you get to move around more and are not constantly being scrutinized by the authority). Stephen used to own a flower shop but it went out of business after 10 years, so about 7 years ago he came to work for Orangewood. He seems quite bitter about his current job but still jokes about it. He has grandkids who live in Auckland, who visit "when their parents have time." He has been thinking about moving to Auckland to be closer to them, but "who wants to live in Auckland?"
I started talking to Karina* during the 'smoko' (thats what they call breaks because so many people smoke!). She lives down the road with her husband and 2 kids, ages two and four. They moved to New Zealand from Peru, where she owned a computer repair shop. Her business was was going well until it got robbed. Now she owes a lot of money back on the loan that she took out. (I'm not sure if she had insurance.) She has to work at Orangewood to support her entire family. We make minimum wage, which is $13.50 NZD per hour (about 10 USD).
Besides the job itself, it's an interesting experience. I like talking to people from different countries. But sorting kiwis is really boring. I wont be too upset if we decide to leave before the week is up.
We've had a lot of time to read so I've read a few books. I just started "In the Time of the Butterflies" by Julia Alvarez which is very good so far!
In one of my creative writing classes, we gave presentations on our favorite authors and shared excerpts from their books with the class. (I chose 'The Arrival' by Shaun Tan). One of my closest friends in the class Monika chose a selection from Dune, a fight scene when Paul is fighting one of the native Fremen. Reading the scene out of context was adventure enough. Describing hand-to-hand combat in writing is very difficult - it's much easier to watch Jackie Chan - but Herbert did a great job.
So when I reached that scene in the book I was so excited, I understood the context and it was a bazillion times better!
I have foolishly proclaimed, "I don't like science fiction. It's not what I write." The first time I met James' brother Sam we were having this discussion, and Sam reminded me of an important lesson. He said something like this: "How do you know what you write? Don't limit yourself."
Reading "Dune" reminded me that it is not good to classify yourself as a certain type of writer. Along the same lines, I don't think it is wise to tell yourself that you dislike a certain type of food and then never eat it again. Maybe your tastes will change. Maybe it will be cooked in a certain way that makes it delicious. For me, "Dune" was that delicious reminder that science fiction can be fantastic.
PS: I think "The Cloud," a city-funded hangout promoting tourism during the Rugby World Cup, looks like one of the sandworms from Dune.
"As The Earth Turns Silver"
I was excited to find some historical fiction about New Zealand in the bookcase here. "As The Earth Turns Silver" is the emotional journey of Katherine, a Kiwi woman in the early 1900's trying to feed her two kids after her abusive husband drunkenly stumbles into a river and dies. Katherine buys her groceries from the Chinaman's grocery stand, which is cheaper than the other stores. The racism towards Chinese immigrants at the time was astonishing; one man was shot in the back of the head by Lionel Terry (a true story) a notorious racist who went to prison for murder.
A complicated and secret romance unfolds between Katherine and the kind Yung-san, one of the owners of the grocery store.
This book helped me understand what life was like when New Zealand was just forming. Much of the racism towards Asians has dissipated, but it will be interesting to see what I notice as my journey through New Zealand continues.