A Shit Job

19 April 2018
Sharon Huang Liang: Hiring

My parents have always been big advocates for self-sufficiency. It’s definitely a weird communist Vietnam thing. They’ve always encouraged me to not rely on handouts, but to work hard for my own money. As soon as I was 14 years and nine months old, they threw me into the workforce and let me fend for myself, like how you can throw a baby into a pool and it’ll instinctually know how to swim. Although I’m not 100 per cent positive on that one, so don’t try it.

I began emailing out applications to a bunch of places. Macca’s, Hungry Jack’s, Coles, Woolworths: I was pimping myself out to all the corporations. I didn’t get any responses though, probably because the only reference I had was my mum. Mum used to own a café and told me that it’d be okay to say that I worked there even though I was under the legal working age. She was even ready to vehemently deny that we were related if any 20-something green-haired Macca’s manager was to call her.

Eventually, I got an email from KFC, which led to my first ever job interview. The store manager (I’ll call her “Kimberley”) loved me. I liked Kimberley too, even though her greasy hair was dyed in an awful pattern of black and bleached blonde streaks (who told her that was a good look?). I quickly acquainted myself to the role of customer service team member like a fish (or baby) to water.

I didn’t mind working there. Sure, I was getting paid less than $9 an hour, and an angry customer threw an open container of coleslaw at me once (someone stuffed up his potato and gravy order, but unfortunately, I wore the consequences). But I really liked the people I was working with.

That is, until I was almost fired for “stealing”. One day at work, I bought some food because your boy was hungry. I put through a popcorn chicken snack box on a register, not bothering to use my staff discount to save a measly 35 cents. I packed the box with some chips, and decided to top it off with half of the usual serve of popcorn chicken and a nugget.

“What are you having?” I turned around. Lo and behold, Kimberley was standing right behind me.

“Just a snack box,” I replied.

“Which snack box is that?” She was getting more serious. “I put it through as a popcorn chicken one,” I said nervously, probably sweating. I have a sweating problem. I should definitely get that checked out.

“Well then, why is there a nugget?”

I explained that everyone did this, and that I assumed we were allowed to half and half our snack boxes. She considered this “stealing”, and said that she would’ve fired me on the spot had I not been such a good worker. Kimberley put me on suspension for a week, and I quit soon after, because I just couldn’t deal with her anymore. All this drama over a damn chicken nugget. And let’s be honest, the nuggets at KFC aren’t even that good. Like, sure, fire me for “stealing” a Macca’s tempura nug, but you can have your two-hour old anemic KFC nugget back, Kimberley.

Sharon Huang Liang: KFC

I didn’t work anywhere for a while after that. And because I hadn’t had much work experience outside of KFC, I struggled to find a job. I was ghosted by a Foodworks owner, rejected by a coffee kiosk manager after a trial shift, and decided against meeting a guy from Gumtree who ran a letterbox drop because I was certain he would’ve kidnapped me.

The next job I got was at Sushi Sushi. Although I was there for less than two weeks, that was more than enough time to scar me for life. Working there was gross and disgusting—not for the reasons you might think, though.

I could write a whole dissertation about how shit those eleven days were. When the owner of the store (I’ll call him “Albert”) wasn’t calling me “bro”, or asking me if I thought a particular girl walking past the store was “hot” (mind you, he was a married man well into his fifties with two kids), Albert would make me work twelve-hour shifts for shit cash-in-hand pay. And, he’d sometimes leave me to close up the shop by myself because he was “tired”, even though I’d been working there for less than a week.

However, working by myself was better than when he left me alone in the shop with the verbally abusive sushi chef, who would often call me “stupid and “useless”.

“Just ignore him,” was Albert’s response to the work place harassment. He wasn’t much nicer to the customers either; when he wasn’t serving them while wearing his headphones, and with the grumpiest expression on his face, he would yell at them and even called someone an “annoying bitch”.

On the morning of my twelfth day at Sushi Sushi, I called Albert, told him I’d had enough, picked up my pay and became a free man.

Sharon Huang Liang: Sushi Chef

Around that time, I saw a new cafe opening in my local shopping strip, so I applied and eventually got hired. Everything seemed to fall into place, which was exciting, because I was used to my life crumbling apart like a failed tart shell on My Kitchen Rules.

This new café was trendy and modern, albeit a little pricey for the area. And speaking of which, why do people feel the need to complain about menu prices to the wait staff? What do you think I’m going to say to you? “Yes, soccer mum in Lorna Jane leisure wear, I will risk losing my job and change the price of your smashed avo especially for you.”

I was happy I had finally graduated from fast food to a nicer café. But after the initial buzz, business started becoming quieter. The owners found some interesting ways to cut costs. For example, after I had thrown used serviettes in the bin, they would fish them out again for reuse. They would also leave focaccias in the display fridge, sometimes for almost a week. And a few times, I saw mould growing on the muffins, which they stubbornly tried to convince me was “flour”. All of that I could kind of deal with, even if it did gross me out.

But I soon realised that not only were they horrible at managing their business, they were also horrible people. I’d worked there for almost a year when I woke up to a missed call. Assuming it was from one of them to ask me to cover a shift, I didn’t call back, because I had already organised to meet my friend Natalie that afternoon to plan our upcoming trip to Japan. But after several rejected calls, an attempt at pretending to be asleep and plenty of begging, I caved in.

There were two shifts each day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon—so I figured that I could still meet Natalie after I finished the morning shift. The owners told me that the girl whose shift I was covering (I should call her “Croissant”, because she was so damn flaky, but I’ll just call her “Becky”) had texted them at four o’clock that morning saying that she had food poisoning and was being “carried away by the ambulance”. I reckon she was just hungover. At around eleven, about an hour from when I was going to leave, the wife came up to me.

“Okay, you can leave now.”

Awesome. I had more time to get ready to meet Natalie.

“And then, you can come back at twelve o’clock. Becky was meant to work the whole day, and no-one else can work.”

“But I have to meet a friend today,” I feebly replied, my heart dropping it like it’s hot.

After a stubborn back-and-forth, I eventually gave up and reorganised my meeting with Natalie. I was pissed, firstly because she tricked me into working the whole day even though they knew I had other plans, but also because I didn’t even receive an apology or a word of thanks. Safe to say that I bounced out of that godforsaken joint as soon as I could.

After being treated like shit for years, I’ve developed a respect for hospitality and retail workers; they have to deal with rude customers and horrible managers. Plus, they’re probably getting paid, like, $10 an hour, so be nice to them.

Sharon Huang Liang: Weekly Pay

Although I’ve left the hospo world for good, I’ve learnt a few life lessons I’ll hold onto forever, like that some people were just not meant to manage businesses, and should try something else that doesn’t involve traumatising teenagers for life. And, that if you want to get out of something, sending a text at 4am claiming you’re being carried away by an ambulance works. And, finally, that chicken nuggets are great, but not worth almost getting fired for.

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