In 2013, I spent a year working holiday in Australia, and it completely transformed my life. It wasn’t anything I anticipated, but life is full of surprises. When I was studying chemistry as an undergraduate in Hong Kong, I knew I wanted to work abroad, but the chances were low. There were few options for exchange, and I was envious of the business school students who could simply fly abroad to study. I travelled to Brisbane for my graduation trip, after finishing my last exam and before officially graduating. The trip provided me with an opportunity to brush up on my English, and I worked as free labour at a tourist adventure centre. It had been a fantastic journey. I was making new friends, hugging koalas, and having a good time at the beach. I recall being on the Gold Coast and resting on the sand. I was enjoying the sunshine. Suddenly, a thought came to me, and I wondered, why is life so unjust? Why do I have to suffer in Hong Kong with all the public exams stressing me up? Here in Australia, people lie on the beach, surf all day, and enjoy their lives! In Hong Kong, the rivalry was fierce, and our living conditions were small, whereas Australia appears to be an affluent country with many natural resources. I gazed up at the sky; Australia’s sky was much bluer than Hong Kong’s.

My tears streamed down as I clutched the sand. Why didn’t I deserve such a pleasant environment here? It reminded me of an old Chinese story: if a mouse were unlucky enough to be born on a dirty street, it would have a difficult existence, worrying all day about being killed by people and going hungry. Instead, if the mouse were fortunate enough to be born inside a kitchen, it would have unlimited access to clean food and happy life. Guan Zhong (管仲) came to this realization and chose to immigrate to a country with a better environment. Later, as the Emperor’s chancellor, he was exceedingly successful. In the same way that Hong Kong’s stress inhibit my development, I felt the same way. I intended to stay in Australia, and after the internship, I was fortunate enough to receive a long term job offer.

After a brief trip to Australia, I returned to Hong Kong before receiving an official job offer. With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry under my belt, I landed my first full-time job as a test engineer in a German company’s laboratory. The coworkers were pleasant and taught me a lot, but the tasks were tedious and repetitive, and I worked long hours. I worked in the food-grade section, where I tested the safety of kitchen items. The following were my daily responsibilities: first, I received the plastic cups to test. I’ll need to use a scissor to cut them into standard sizes, such as 5cm x 5cm. Then I accurately measure the surface area. Next, I had to put them in different volumes of acid or water in the beakers depending on the sample size. I needed to create a few samples and bake them at 30°C, 50°C, and 100°C in different ovens. I ensured to mark them correctly and use a timer to measure the time accurately.

Finally, after soaking the plastic in acid or water for some time, I tested the liquid for chemical components, either with a few additional steps to mix different chemicals or by putting them in a machine to make a report using mass spectrometry. After all of the chemical tests, I’d have to do a taste test by placing the water soaked with the plastic sample in my mouth and rating whether or not it tastes like plastic. It was a tedious job with few opportunities for advancement. I may be a senior test engineer or a testing manager in ten years, but I already know this is not the path I want to take. As a result, I resigned a few months later. But, before I left, I made a new acquaintance in the marketing department, with whom I had lunch every day. Her name is Eunice. She was so upset to hear that I was leaving the company and that I was going to Australia. I decided to return to Brisbane to begin a new journey, a new life as an Assistant Marketing Manager.

It was a great job title, but it didn’t reflect the nature of my work. I worked for minimum wage as cheap labour in a tourist attraction, doing everything from social media marketing to answering phone call booking, being a kayaking instructor, and also toilet cleaner. In any case, my salary in Australia was more than my salary in Hong Kong as a test engineer. I was still young enough to apply for a working holiday visa. My host family was a kind couple who offered me a low-cost place to reside. As the host family, Lindsey and Elisabeth Timms were a truly nice old couple. They were Christian English teachers who welcomed me with open arms. They were a sweet old couple who lived in the country and had their children visit them occasionally. Their home was spacious by Hong Kong standards, and I was terrified of their dog. It would follow me to the front door if I entered via the front door, so I had to mislead him into going through the back entrance. This way, I could enter from the front without waking everyone up with the dog barking. The house also had other guests like the Japanese students learning English. They would occasionally stay with the host family, and we all became very close friends. Every morning I travelled from the host family to the city via train. My workplace was a tourist attraction in the city centre of Brisbane, along the Brisbane River. It was an adventure centre with kayaking, rock climbing, standup paddleboarding, abseiling, Segways and bike rentals, among other activities. It also serves as a site for events such as weddings and fireworks-filled New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Because my job title was fictitious and I was alone in Brisbane, I had to do everything to keep my job. The night of New Year’s Eve is still fresh in my mind. My company threw a party to celebrate the night. We dressed up to sell drinks and food at the bar, and the guests dressed up to sing and dance. I was working while everyone else was drinking and having a good time. My job was lugging alcohol from the fridge to the venue. It was really heavy, and my arm was in excruciating pain. However, this was more enjoyable work in comparison; at the very least, I strengthened my arm. The most difficult part was cleaning up the garbage can and tossing the trash into the rubbish area. It had a strong odour. It smelled like a combination of booze and human vomit. Because of the odour, I quit drinking ever since.

The toilet, on the other hand, was the worst. It was a biohazard with all the inebriated folks puking and the tissue paper clotting them to flush it out. I don’t see why they enjoy being drunk. They appeared to be acting like animals. The men were intoxicated and yelling at each other, not behaving like educated gentlemen. Although the women dressed up sexily, I did not find them appealing when drunk and noisy. Everyone was rejoicing and joyful when the fireworks went off in the sky at midnight, except me, who was unhappy at the corner cleaning up the trash and filth. I wanted to cry, but I knew I had to stay strong.

I only worked a few times at the events. My main job was in the tourism industry. I would deal with Chinese visitors and local Chinese students, a large market, because I could speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. I invited all the student unions to come kayaking at a reduced rate for promotional purposes. I also assisted in the production of tourist programmes in Brisbane for TV stations. I was kayaking with Miss Melbourne at the time when Hong Kong Television Broadcast came to our place. Kayaking with this lovely lady was a great experience, and the show is still available on YouTube. I was happy to be the kayaking instructor for her. I began to appreciate kayaking. I was having a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercises. Some tourists mistook me as a Filipino rather than a Hong Kong resident with my sunburn and dark skin. The kayaks were very heavy to take off from the water, so it was tedious work. However, rather than sitting at the office, I enjoyed this hard job. Working in the back office drove me insane; the phone would ring constantly, and I would have to answer to take customer bookings. At the same time, when people walked in to buy a drink at the front desk, I had to multitask. There was a coffee cart outside in the cafe area, where I had to make coffee like a barista. I didn’t know the difference between a flat white and a latte, so I just made the same coffee, hoping that no one would complain about the amount of milk I used.

I added value to the organization via my multiple hats and through my digital expertise. I was in charge of their online presence since I knew how to use social media. Every day, with the lovely view of the Brisbane river, I shot good photos of the customers. In addition, the CEO wish to utilise Twitter hacks to increase the number of followers. There were many hacks, one of which involved getting fake followers. To begin, I used Twitter to follow many accounts to get their attention. After they followed me back, I unfollowed them. As a result, the employer was delighted to see ten thousand Twitter followers, ranking our account as the number one tourist destination account. It’s no longer work nowadays, but it was common practice to generate all the phoney followers. It was also popular to use the phrase SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. I was manipulating the Google algorithm to get to the first search result by employing techniques such as using many referral links and so on. It was everyone’s fantasy at the time, and I realized that none of them was technical enough to comprehend how it worked. So I wanted to study more about it and became a website developer, which is the next chapter’s story.