It all began with one email, a couple of phone calls, shrieks of excitement and a flurry of activity.
The second semester of the year had just begun. It was difficult adjusting back to the monotonous routine of studying after a long trip to China for a community service project during the University break in December. The three of us- university friends who met through the project- were having lunch together in January having an endless discussion on our summer holiday plans. We were hungry to see and experience the world– but on a strict student budget. We had our hopes dashed for a Work & Travel Summer seeing it was already mid-January, a time when all applications were closed. Little did I know what was in store. It was not till a week later when I opened an email from Speedwing with regards to a “last call” application for the Work & Travel program that I felt an instant surge of hope and excitement- this was our summer call!
Everything just fell in place from then onwards. Applications done, check. Interviews with employees’ set up, check. Deposit made, check. Air tickets booked, check. Job offer signed, check! We were all set to go- minus the fact that we had 4 more months of school before the summer holidays.
It was eventually only the two of us- my friend Liya and I- who would embark on a journey of a lifetime with a job at the Grand Canyon North Rim Resort in tow.
Having been born and raised in Singapore, I was the purest breed of a city girl. I was, to be honest, disappointed to have landed a job at a National Park. The only consolation I had was that this was the only choice left for me if I wanted to spend my summer in the USA. In addition to that, the prospect of working as a housekeeper there did not add to the excitement at all. I wondered how I could possibly survive without streets of shopping malls, city lights, restaurants or vibrant attractions within reach. Even my mother was a little concerned that I might be suffering ‘withdrawal’ symptoms so much so that she texted me everyday for the first week. She could not fathom how her daughter could live, surrounded by nature for the next three months, with the nearest city a 3-hour drive away!
But, by God’s grace, I did- and loved nature so much that it was a major turning point in my life. When I first stared down into the depths of the Canyon, with its vast landscape of rocky mountains spread out endlessly in front of me, I was numb to its beauty. Whilst everyone else was struck in awe by the view, I hung back with much reservation. “Why the big fuss over the canyon?” I thought to myself quietly. To a novice like me, it looked just like another picture on a Google search of the Grand Canyon. But I was soon to join the rank of the converted. After that first initial numbness, there was not a day when i was not awed by the majesty and beauty of the Grand Canyon. I imbibed the beauty and tranquility of the place so much so that it became an integral part of me.
Because of my past experience in the F & B industry, the General Manager posted me to the restaurant with a job as a server’s assistant (or busser asthey term it in America). I was ecstatic! The work was The first two weeks on the job was spent prepping the lodge for the official opening for the summer. For my part in the F & B, this meant looking after the entire dining room with a seating capacity of almost 200 people and a fully equipped kitchen. It was mop, sweep, scrub, vacuum and wipe everything i could lay my hand on. I tug at huge pieces of furniture, shift at breakneck speed, pile up huge amounts of food stock, rewash and rearrange every single piece of kitchen utensil and equipment. Soon, everything was spick and span and ready to go!
Time passed a little too quickly from then on. In my time as a busser, I was privileged to be able to meet and interact with guests from all over the world- all with one common love for the Canyon. It is a shared experience hard to comprehend, indescribable and only understood by those who have hiked in or lived up in the Grand Canyon. The idea of serving food or waitressing seems easy, but with the reservations piled up and made years in advance, we had no time to rest on the job. Every night without fail, we would have a line of customers waiting at the door, eager for a table. And what a treat it was for all our guests too, being able to enjoy a meal overlooking the Grand Canyon! My job required me to assist my server- ensuring their water glasses were always filled, dirty plates cleared, customers kept happy and most importantly, that tables were turned fast. Within the first two weeks of opening, I received good reviews from both my managers and customers alike. Guests would tip me on the side, write positive comments on comment cards or personally come up to me to shake my hand.
My managers and the servers I worked under often praised me for being able to work efficiently and effectively with a pleasant disposition under a great amount of stress. I even had a couple of guestswho asked me what career I wanted to pursue in the future and thought I would have a very successful future, given my personality and zest.
The American culture was something very much differentfrom home. There, no one would shyaway from praises or encouragement they felt you deserved. Although they were not afraid to voice their frank opinions, they were also quick to listen and patient and understanding in their ways. It was a tremendous encouragement for me, and a great learning lesson too- I now never shy away from complimenting someone, or speaking positively in an encouraging light. How much effort does that take on my part?
Before I knew it, the General Manager requested that I mend the host stand as a hostess of the dining room because he enjoyed the way I served customers! I enjoyed being able to try my hand at an array of jobs, being able to pick up different valuable skills sets with each different role. Along the way, I picked up other jobs too, thanks to the favor shown by the managers and head chef. I tried my hand in the gift shop, at managing, serving, and even worked in the kitchen as a pantry cook, dessert chef, on the grill and helped in the specials! Working the various positions in the lodge also meant that I was able to understand the challenges each person faced in the role on the job, appreciating them and becoming a more understanding college. It also enabled me to have a macro view of the business and in return, become a better employee.
The Grand Canyon North Rim experience was more than I could ever ask for. I found a new meaning to life, happiness, enjoyment and contentment. It had, has and always will be very much a part of me. The experience had left such an indelible mark on me that it was hard to leave.
I wrote to mum. “..I am afraid it is going to be hard leaving this place. It only hit me hard today as I was walking the short trail back to my dorm. It is almost as if the wind was bringing everything in. That gushing sound I hear every nightwalking home from work, that same sound I wake up to. I know for sure I will leave this place with such deep sadness. For what reason? I can’t even quite put it into words. I am afraid of losing a part of me that has enjoyed beauty and the quality of life to its fullest here.” The rush of the city life once I returned home might once again mould me to lose the part that I have gained in the canyon. The conflicting emotions I felt then at leaving the place was churning quite a turmoil within.
“Back home to the bustling city of lights, people and electronic sounds. Where traveling for 40 minutes is a torture. Where everything is so connected but everyone so alienated. Where people whom the world applauds as ‘disciplined and thriving’ have in my mind become impatient and unkind. Where educating becomes economical and your life destined by it. Where it becomes a place I don’t know if I can find solace in… I don’t think I can return home the same. There is so much God has placed in the world for us. And I hope I get to enjoy, discover and learn from it..”
I miss the Grand Canyon. I miss her winding paths and creases as I look down at it. I miss all the people I’ve met at the North Rim. I miss working. I miss the sunsets I caught everyday, without fail. It sets in such splendor in a beautiful gradient color of the rainbow. I miss the smell of the mountain air. I miss the unspoiled charm of her coniferous trees that laced the mountain. I miss the gentle rustling of the trees when the wind blows, the sound that I wake up to every morning. I miss the howling of the wind, which I mistook as sounds of speeding cars the first time I heard it. I miss sitting out by the Canyon on a rock before work, just soaking in on its beauty. I miss the crunching sounds of the acorns and twigs beneath my feet as I walk. I miss walking through the forested trails to work. I miss getting nagged at for getting the leg of my pants and shoes dusty from the trails by my manager. I miss the stars that greet me after work at night.
Pitch dark, the sky glistens with silver dots of different sizes…
Thank you, Grand Canyon North Rim.