Stories, thoughts, observations, rants and dribble. Just another of my attempts to keep the interested people informed ...

Saturday, December 31, 2005

I'm writing an essay on new year!

Happy New Year! No time to write, so here's my homework ...

When we were first requested to provide written reflections on our experiences in China, I wondered what I would write. Now, after only four days in and around the Dongguan area, I am struggling to fit all of my impressions in such a small space.

The opportunity to come to China and see for myself where my family came from is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. That it has been so generously sponsored by the The Foreign Affairs and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau of Dongguan and that I can also share this experience with my brother, sister and fellow young New Zealand Chinese makes this trip absolutely priceless to me.

Initially, I had some reservations about visiting China as a virtual non-speaker of both Cantonese and Mandarin. However, as the departure date grew closer, my excitement grew to far outweigh my trepidation.

When we finally arrived in Dongguan, my first impressions were of massive size. The airport, roadways and buildings were all much larger than what we are used to in New Zealand. The vast numbers of people and vehicles, especially bicycles and motorbikes, made me wonder at the ability of locals to perform basic feats like driving and crossing the road. We have also been treated to a string of large banquet-style meals where somehow everything manages to be very different, but all delicious! Many of the dishes have been new to me, and I hope to sample them again before I return to New Zealand.

Despite the language barriers often present, the local Chinese have been phenomenal in welcoming us almost as they would do family. I have both enjoyed and been challenged by using my limited Cantonese to communicate. We had the unique opportunity to display aspects of New Zealand culture in a performance for Dongguan Gao Kup Zhong Shue. The friendliness of the students we met and the enthusiasm and support of the hundreds at the concert is something I will never forget.
We have also been lucky enough to sample a wide spectrum of Chinese culture by visiting several very impressive parks, museums and memorials, as well as attempting practical activities such as lion dancing, t’ai chi, kung fu, pottery, calligraphy and traditional dancing. As well as being educational, everything has been extremely enjoyable and I have been impressed by the dedication and hospitality of each of the teachers and masters who have so kindly trained us, a group of complete novices.

This journey has not only been a chance to search for my ancestral heritage. It is also an opportunity to meet people in today’s China, as well as New Zealand-born Chinese who share a similar upbringing to myself. My traveling companions have quickly turned into treasured new friends. It is almost as if our shared history is an unspoken bond. It is also comforting and encouraging to see young people with bi and tri-lingual skills. It gives me something to aim towards in my personal future.

I am writing with a full belly, calligraphy ink on my hands and muscles aching from kung fu, dancing and running up pagoda steps. I smile at the memory of the nervousness that was dispelled by the applause of a thousand middle school students as I stood on a stage with my new friends. I have learned, seen, eaten, laughed, sung, danced and experienced more than I ever imagined possible in four days, and China still has so much more of herself to show me.

Monday, December 26, 2005

All my bags are packed ...

Well I have repeated my usual ritual of being left with scant time before my departure to the airport. Today it is about two and a half hours, and counting ...

I apologise for the lack of posts over the last little while, but because of my grandmother's passing, trying not to cry at work or at my exit interview, Christmas shopping, organising Christmas dinner, paying social calls and cooking most of Christmas Day, I haven't really had the time or motivation. As well as not keeping the weblog updated, I haven't replied to email or done laundry, so it has been slackness and distraction all around.

I am very excited about going to China today, and since Thursday it has been in an even more philosophical way. I feel like I have lost some of my history, but also that I am about to gain some of it back. I'm so happy to be able to share the experience with my brother and sister, and that my mother still has half her children to support her in her time of need.

I'd better go and sleep for a couple of hours, but please check back every now and again and leave me notes! I hope to be able to relay some fantastic stories from the mainland!

In Memorium

May Chong 1929-2005

My grandmother May Chong passed away on Thursday morning after a hard year health-wise. I was there to see her the day before and was a few hours too late when I went to visit on the day she died.

I am grateful in some ways, that it happened while I was home and I got to see her, and that my brother and I were there to wait with mum until the undertakers took her body away. I'm grateful that she enabled us all to be together on Christmas, instead of four of us being at work.

I wish that she had seen one more Christmas, had the shark fin soup she was so looking forward to, opened the present I gave her when I went to visit. I wish that the funeral wasn't tomorrow so that my brother, sister and I could say a proper goodbye.

May was a woman who grew up in wartime China and then had her life uprooted to move to a foreign land, tongue and culture in New Zealand. After my grandfather had a fatal heart attack at only 39 years old, she continued to work extremely hard to raise her four children alone. She managed to learn some English on top of everything else. Her family were the only Chinese in the small Taranaki town.

I will miss her and remember her as a tiny, strong-willed, hard-working, warm-hearted woman with a great love for her children, grandchildren and shoes!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Polishing my halo

Well, it's official folks.

I received the most votes for the "Best Service" category as well as the most votes overall in the inaugural Employee of the Month election. This consequently makes me Employee of the Month.

I know Jones will say that this is a prime example of being both a winner and a loser at the same time. But I will say back that it was entirely voted for by the floor staff so I am just enjoying the love. I was also mentioned several times in the "Best Team Player" category, which is nice. I hope nobody nominated me for "Most Improved" (I like to think I am close to perfect all the time).

I will bask in my own glory for the next couple of days until everyone gets sick of me metaphorically high-fiving myself (which reminds me, I was at the bank the other day and when she confirmed that I would be getting a 10% discount on my travel insurance, the bank lady high fived me. How weird is that?).

To be completely honest though, if I didn't win "Best Service", I would have been quite upset. I then would have blamed it on the fact that I'd only been back for one day of the month in question (ha, I am 30 times better than everyone else. Joke, but only if anyone from work reads this).

So now I just have to find the time to use the three course lunch for two voucher and double movie pass during my last mad week of being in New Zealand. I'm sure I can find a couple of hot guys to volunteer for these activities at short notice.

I also want them to start one of those cheesy American Megacorporation style "Employee of the Month" photo walls. That would be hilarious.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Creating history

Tonight we did a record number of guests - 366, smashing the last record (which I was there for too) by a huge 12 people (although not necessarily 12 huge people).

I was given the solo section but promised a busser, so I started out quite confidently.  Then I was told she was going to be late.  By 8 o'clock I'd forgotten all about her ever coming at all (we still don't know what happened to her).  It was an insanely busy night for everyone, but thankfully most things went smoothly.  I managed to make the night really special for quite a few tables, and handled all the complaints and problems so well that my first large group told my manager that I'd saved the entire night for them.  I even managed three sittings on two of my tables.  Insanity.

All the guests left surprisingly early and we finished the night out with Veuve Cliquot and food from the phenomenal buffet at the restaurant above ours.

I am completely knackered (especially as I only had 4 hours of sleep this morning after staying up all night) and my feet, legs and biceps ache.

I am going to go to bed before 3am for a change.  Honest.    

Plate Stackers Anonymous – Get Help!

Today’s pet peeve (as reliving the major issues from tonight may possibly make me cry) is the species known as the Plate Stacker.

This particular type of person has (hopefully) not much fine dining experience. They feel a need to pile every plate on the table into one or more teetering stacks which are almost impossible for waiters to collect gracefully, if at all.

I understand that in some instances, they may have had empty plates on the table for an unreasonable amount of time and want to make things more comfortable. In this case, please ask your waiter to clear your table.

In most instances though, your waiter has an eye on the progression of your table. He or she can’t (politely) clear a table until the last person has finished with their plate. Plate Stackers should also restrain their urges and sit politely until the last person has finished.

If you think this is unreasonable, please understand that there is a rhythm and method to clearing a table.

A good waiter or busser will start with a specific plate and arrange a manageable stack for him or herself, strategically selecting the next target plate or bowl. Cutlery and leftovers are usually placed or scraped into the bottom plate. Sometimes they will make more than one circuit around a table to clear it effectively. This can be a finely tuned routine.

Plate Stackers ruin this process.

In ideal conditions, I can clear a table of 10 in one go (this is my personal record, but I am much more comfortable (and graceful) doing tables of less than eight). If I have a Plate Stacker, or multiple Plate Stackers, this can mean I have to make three, four or maybe more trips to and from the kitchen. I would rather do that then attempt to pick up a Plate Stacker Stack with one hand and do someone an injury by dropping it.

Especially in good eating establishments, crockery can be extremely heavy. I have had many a surprised customer comment on this when they have passed me a single, empty plate. It is difficult to lift more than one plate off a table with one hand, even discounting the weight. A stack of plates is a very awkward shape, especially when it has been inexpertly created using a myriad of different sized plates and bowls with cutlery haphazardly inserted everywhere.

I was presented with a masterpiece today. I had already spied it mid-stack, but by the time I reached the table to halt the offending Plate Stacker, she had already placed a cocktail glass on the pinnacle of the tower. How decorative. And inane, might I add.

It is also extremely unhelpful for diners to deign to place items on a waiter’s tray or stack of plates. This can unbalance everything, ending in possible disaster. The same applies to hailing a waiter who is carrying a heavy load of plates and leftovers. They are likely to be using the momentum of the weight to propel them to the kitchen. Stopping to answer your question may mean the difference between whole and broken crockery.

So, in short:

  • Don’t stack plates on the table, whether or not you think this helpful to the wait staff.

  • Do request that your waiter remove your plate/s.

  • Don’t add to the waiter’s stack or tray.

  • Do signal or offer your plate or glass if necessary or appropriate. The waiter will take it from you if they can manage, or will come back if they can’t.

  • Don’t stop a waiter when they are obviously laden down with crockery or a tray of glasses.

  • Do signal them if needed. They will be with you as soon as possible.

  • Let them do their job. A good waiter is there to serve you and should be able to anticipate most of your dining needs.

  • Be patient. A good meal takes time (quote from one of the only decent people I had tonight!).

Apologies if this post was more admonitory than educational.

Jumping Through Hoops

Thursday AM

I wake up late and struggle out of bed because today is the day I need to go to the Chinese Consulate (or Embassy, but I like the alliteration).  

I need to take my passport in and apply for a visitor’s visa to China for later on this year.  It is a crucial part of my plan.

I drive past the place a couple of times because it’s not signposted very well.  I end up parking on the street and walking back to find it.  

The CC is tucked in a corner of the multi-building parking area, with a set of tiny, cramped, awkward carpark spaces for visa applicants.

What were they thinking?  Didn’t they realise Chinese* people would have to attempt to* park their expensive* cars there?  Is this some kind of cruel joke*?

I think I am going to be late for work after this.  I have my application form, my “Surprised Refugee” passport photo and my passport.  All set.

I take a number (not well advertised, but I worked it out, cause Chinese people are smart*) and wait.  They call my number after a couple of minutes.

I say hello to the stern-looking middle-aged Chinese woman behind the glass.  She says nothing.

I give her my form, SRPP and passport.  She uses that weird gummy paste from kindergarten to stick the SRPP to the form.  She looks through my passport (which is blank, as it was the emergency replacement from Sydney).  

She asks if I have ever been to China.  I reply in the negative.  She looks suspicious.

I explain about the stolen/new passport.  Why would I lie?

She still doesn’t seem to believe me.  She checks my passport again.  

Next she asks if I was born in New Zealand.  It says it right there on my passport.  Auckland, New Zealand.  I confirm that I was indeed born here.  Possibly without the actual use of the word ‘indeed’.

Again, she seems suspicious.  She tells me I need to bring my birth certificate, as well as both of my parents’ passports.  Or copies if I so desire.

This sounds a tad ridiculous to me.

“Shouldn’t my passport be enough evidence that I was born in New Zealand?”

Apparently not.  Even though it really is.  She reiterates her requirements and sends me on my way.

Is this because I’m a banana?  [See my definition and explanation here.]  Maybe it’s because, as I fear, the way I write my name in Chinese looks like a 4 year old did it.  

Either way, damn her.

I call my dad and ask him to leave his (and mum’s) passports and my birth certificate out for me for the next day as I was going to be at work late.  [What if my parents were dead/overseas/living as hermits in deep dark Fiordland?]

At least I made it to work on time (just).

Friday AM

I almost forget to take the parents’ passports.  Luckily I don’t.  I decide not to make copies, since that would just involve another stop on the way.  I assume if she requires one, they will have a photocopier in the office.

I return to the CC.  I know where to park this time.  And I park perfectly, just so you know.

I reach into my bag for the application form.  It’s not there.  [I still don’t know where it is].  Luckily I have the last SRPP and filling out another form isn’t much of a bother.

I take a number.  I sit and wait.  I hope it’s not the same stern desk monkey from yesterday.  It is.  Joy.  She’s wearing a weird-looking jumper.

I had her all the paperwork.  Again with the gummy paste.  She looks at all the documentation.  She asks me to make copies.  

This surprises me.  

“Don’t you have a photocopier?”

She points to the back of the waiting room.  A photocopier sits innocuously in the corner.  I sigh.

As I approach, I realise it is a coin-operated machine.  I am not surprised*.  It is 50c per page, which is daylight robbery.  Cheap bastards.  I have to make two copies.  Bye bye dollar.

After waiting in line to see stern desk monkey again, she finally accepts my application.  I have to go back in next Friday to pick up my precious passport.  

Hopefully there will be a visa inside it.

*Yes, I am Chinese.  Yes, I am (sort of) kidding.  I just found the situation almost laughable, given my race’s stereotypical propensity for the general inability to drive, brain capacity and frugality.  Finding it funny is preferable to finding it infuriating.  In theory.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Change of pace

I really enjoyed posting the lists recently. It was mostly due to time constraints but it also got my points across concisely which is quite satisfying. Unfortunately I also really like telling stories, and almost all of the points in the "Things I learned" series has a story attached to it. Hopefully I will be able to jot some down eventually, but the story of my life has been that there's never enough time. I am seriously considering buying a laptop so that when I leave the country again I will have a means to get my stories on file at least, and be able to publish them when I have access to the internet. It's a nice intention.

I have been back at the restaurant for three days, and so far have clocked up 10.25, 10 and 11 hours respectively. They were supposed to be 9, 8 and 8. This is not a promising start!

I will be working flat out (like a lizard drinking) [ha, love Alf Stewartesque Australianisms. I bet I just coined that phrase. History is in the making people!] until Christmas, at which time I will be madly trying to arrange my trip to China (and beyond) and spend time with my family and friends.

I am predicting that my next spate of posts (and I really am going to try) will be more war stories from the customer service front line. I hope you enjoy. It helps lessen the pain!