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Travel, Asia

Benita Aw Yeong
Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014

Travel, Asia

Confessions of a Club Med Gentle Organiser

The New Paper | Benita Aw Yeong | Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014

Imagine inviting yourself to a table of strangers for a meal and making small talk.

And imagine organising and taking part in activities for someone else's holiday.

It may sound surreal but that is the life of a Club Med G.O (gentle organisers) - the name that the worldwide chain of resorts gives to employees who do everything to help guests get into that Club Med inclusive experience.

Guests, who are called gentle members, play sports with, dine with and play games with G.Os.

And for the past 11 years, Miss Saya Kotani has lived and breathed the resort life. The 31-year-old Japanese is one of 83 G.Os at Club Med Bintan.

Miss Kotani is the chief of the resort's circus team, which conducts daily trapeze lessons for guests.

She was initially uncomfortable with the idea of dining with guests.

"It was a bit awkward inviting myself to a table and having a meal with strangers."

Club Med G.Os, typically in their 20s and 30s, are known to be energetic and cheerful. But like everyone else, she sometimes wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.

"On the rare occasion I feel down, I remain in my room and let the other G.Os take over. It is not good to let my mood to affect the guests."

G.Os get to rotate to a different resort under the brand every six months.

Miss Kotani's job has taken her to destinations such as Thailand, Mexico and the Caribbean.

She started working part-time with Club Med at the age of 20. She worked as a G.O with the resort's mini club, which organises programmes for children so that their parents can have a worry-free holiday.

Having studied sports science and fitness in school, Miss Kotani dreamt of becoming a personal trainer.

So when she was offered a spot on the resort's circus team a few years later, she jumped at the chance.

Although she had no background in gymnastics and ballet, she learnt how to work the trapeze quickly, and now overseas three other circus G.Os.

Typically dressed in a tank top or sports bra and shorts, Miss Kotani's skin is a deep brown - a stark contrast to many Japanese women, who prefer to maintain a porcelain complexion.

Beads of perspiration often dot her brow.

"I'm in the sun every day. And I'm always smelly," she jokes.

Her body is toned, and her arms, sculpted - evidence of intense practices for the aerial performance the team puts on every Friday.

Miss Kotani, who is from Japan's Mie prefecture, picked up English from Australian G.Os she met at work. But it is clear that she is still most comfortable speaking in Japanese.

The language barrier was one of the most significant hurdles she had to overcome, she admits.

"Guests tend to feel scared and worry about injuries if you don't speak their language since they have to hop off a platform during one of the activities," she says.

"So I've learnt to pick up basic prompts and commands in a variety of languages."

Every week on her day off, Miss Kotani prefers to retreat to the confines of her air-conditioned room or relax on the beach.

It is clear that Club Med G.Os make sacrifices for the job. Most of them, including Miss Kotani, are single.

Home is often on a different continent, which means they get to go home once a year.

Mr Jemmi Anugrah, a 25-year-old Indonesian boutique manager at the resort, says: "I tell my mother that no news is good news, because I don't have the time to keep in touch constantly."

The salaries of G.Os vary, depending on their nationality as well as seniority, says a Club Med spokesman, who declined to go into further detail.

Looking back, Miss Kotani says it is the passion for aerial arts that keeps her going.

"There are guests who enjoy the trapeze so much they return every single day of their vacation," she says.

"Some of them recognise me from another resort in a different part of the world that they had previously been to. That can be very gratifying.

"We're not professional but some of them say we should join a proper performing troupe! These comments motivate me to keep doing better."

benitaay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 13, 2014.
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