20 Sept 2019
He may be a tour guide, but 18-year-old Jimah Ruland Umata is himself proving to be a big attraction at Rotorua's Tamaki Village.
"A lot of people are like "wow, ni de zhongwen tebie hao - your Chinese is especially good," Ruland Umata said.
"It's like they want to laugh but they're smiling at the same time. It's like they're in a moment of shock when they hear me speaking Chinese and it's such a great expression to see."
Ruland Umata speaks fluent Mandarin and uses language skills to translate for the thousands of Chinese tourists who visit every year.
"Here at Tamaki, I'm a guide. But more importantly, I'm a Chinese translator.
"So for anyone that comes through that is Chinese and doesn't quite understand what's happening, I usually come in and translate everything for them from start to finish. I usually hang around with them and explain to them all the details of the Māori culture and everything we have to offer at the Tamaki village."
Ruland Umata is of Māori, Cook Island and Samoan descent and a prefect at Rotorua Boys High School. He started learning Chinese when he was 11.
"At school, I had a new classmate. His English ability wasn't that good, so I wanted to study Chinese and use Chinese to help him."
His language skills have taken him all over the country and to China, where he represented New Zealand in the Chinese Speech Competition in 2017. This year, he won the senior division of the competition.
Umata says the secret to his success is to never stop speaking the language, especially when eating out.
"Just last week I went to a different Chinese restaurant, not the one I usually go to," he said. "The boss was serving me because he overheard that I spoke Chinese with one of the waitresses.
"So he started testing out my Chinese to see how good it was and all of a sudden, all of the chefs started coming out with food. The boss had told them that there was a foreigner whose Chinese was probably better than theirs. And I was just so shocked that the boss and all these chefs were bringing out food for me. Which was such a joyous occasion."
But it's not just Chinese people who appreciate Umata's language abilities. His mates think it's pretty cool, too.
"They're always telling me to come out and translate for them. And they'll start pulling out their phones - snapchat, instagram, videoing me talking to the waitress. They think it's really funny."
The Mandarin superstar has high hopes for the future. Next year he'll attend Beijing University on a full scholarship to study medicine.
"I want to become a pharmacologist, I want to make medicine. I want to help people back home as well as people in China to improve their health."