How to have a career and see the world

James is the manager of Monty’s restaurant and bar in Hirafu village. He is one of the first business owners I met – largely due to his coffee-making prowess! Many coffees and conversations later, he agreed to tell me more about his flexible lifestyle.

I have been working in Melbourne in the hospitality industry since I was 16 years old. My first job was at a Hungry Jacks, then McDonalds – that’s the way you learn the basics of the trade.

Entering the cooking world
Going into cooking, I worked in a restaurant on Lygon Street, Melbourne. After graduation, I moved on to more fine dining in restaurants like Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (GAS) and PM24 which was Philippe Mouchel’s restaurant. I still keep in touch with a lot of chefs. Most of them have moved on to become executive chefs already. I help out at Flemington Racecourse in the Crown tent where the high-rollers are and in the fine dining section at the racecourse.

Language and culture
Food and beverage has been one of my passions. Why? It’s such a multicultural thing. I speak six languages, three of them Chinese based – and this does help a lot with work in hospitality. It helps me understand people with different backgrounds. It served me well when I studied in Singapore too – a very multicultural place.

I was born in Indonesia where as well as Indonesians there are Indian, Malay, Caucasian and Chinese people. I’ve been exposed to people from different walks of like since I was very young. This has all helped me at Monty’s – the restaurant I am managing right now.

Up to this point, I have been here in Niseko for five seasons. For the first three, I was always going back to Australia to work at Mt Buller, in Kaptan’s Restaurant (part of the Hotel Pension Grimus). Hotel Pension Grimus has the world ski award as the best boutique hotel in Australasia which they have won for the last few years. They’re still winning awards because it is a family business and they put all their heart into it.

“… the biggest lesson I learnt from them – in whatever you do, as long as you put your heart into it people will see it…”

I don’t see myself as having to “manage” my life here and there. It is more like enjoying it. In between the seasons there are months where I can travel through Asia. It is such a melting pot of different cultures. Take Burma – a melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Thai and Malaysian cultures. It is one of my favourite places at the moment because it is not so open to the western, globalised world yet. It does have a good mix of people who are down-to-earth and those who are business-minded, trying to take opportunities for opening up the country which is fast approaching.

I ski and snowboard. I love skiing for the technicality of it but being on a snowboard is a lot of fun. You learn the basics and then you just enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if you want to do laps in the park, laps on or off-piste – as long as you enjoy yourself. It is a playful sport.

Getting started in this lifestyle
What I would say to others who want this lifestyle is save up! $3,000 AUD will get you started travelling. People always have a fear travelling, thinking it is too expensive or to be away from home for a long time is expensive.

As long as you have the right work ethic and money in your pocket for the rainy days, you’ll be able to travel freely.

Putting on your smile
I think work ethic is very important. That means being able to put on a smile even on the worst day of your life, is important. If you work in the hospitality industry and work around the world, that initial smile that you give to customers says “welcome”. If you do not have that smile and if you look grumpy, and have a bad day – you transfer that onto your customers and they are not going to enjoy their day. A smile goes a long way.

Work then travel, work then travel
I have family members in Indonesia and Australia. I like to travel between Australia and Japan because Indonesia is in between. I like to explore Asia whenever I have the money to. I explore from the very top to the very bottom of Asia. Then I work hard, earn money and travel all the way back up again.

I speak three Chinese-based languages – Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese. This helps when travelling in Chinese-oriented countries. Even in Thailand it does wonders because a lot of Chinese people who are abroad, maintain their language to preserve their ethnicity. They are proud of it and it is a good thing. It is a great thing to be proud of your own culture and to be able to transfer that pride onto your children.  My other languages are Indonesian, English and Japanese.

Why I love my job
Being with guests is one of the most enjoyable things. Everyone is different. I always try and guess what the guest is thinking. It is not a game to me but it is very interesting to see people from different walks of life. I travel because of that.

It is good to see different opinions people have on different things. Take a cocktail for example. There are multiple ways of making say a mojito. There must be ten different ways of making it that I know of and I’m pretty sure there are more! This appreciation for diverse ideas is good for hospitality – because these are not the things you learn from school. They are what you learn as you go along in the industry.

Home is where my heart is
In all honesty, being from a Chinese background, family is very important. I will one day settle down and have a family but I won’t give up any chances to travel!

Take a look at Monty’s restaurant Hirafu, here.

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