It's midnight and while most of Singapore is asleep, the vegetable wholesalers at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre are busy.
The centre is by the sea and it can get chilly at this hour. That is not the case tonight and the activity on the floor is conducted under a humid clime.
But an 18-year-old packer and delivery man, who wants to be known only as Tiger, rushes around to meet orders for the day.
"On a good day, we can move about 300 baskets of local vegetables," says Tiger, who works for Farm 85, in between dragging plastic baskets packed with greens.
He may be skinny but he is strong and has become a popular character since he started working at the centre over a year ago.
Other workers good-naturedly tease him over his name.
Farm 85, which is located in Lim Chu Kang, is one of the few vendors at the centre that sells only local produce.
The farm produces fresh vegetables daily, from kai lan to kang kong.
The centre runs from midnight to 6am. Customers rush helter-skelter to place their orders.
The buyers include owners of small businesses and those representing expensive restaurants.
They buy by the basket and trucks and lorries wait to be loaded the moment a deal is struck.
A firm handshake, and the workers set to sorting out the produce and packing it into newspaper before stacking them in the baskets.
Other workers rush in to drag the baskets to waiting lorries.
"This box of long beans is 40kg. I have to sort them into bundles of 5kg and 10kg for the market and restaurant buyers," says 50- year-old Mr Ravidrean as he briskly sorts a consignment.
"These same beans might end up in your tummy," he adds with a laugh.
The Singaporean has been working at the centre for about 15 years.
The centre was opened in 1983 to centralise the distribution of fruit, vegetables and dried goods. The vast complex comprises 26 blocks with more than 1,400 stalls, shops, offices and cold rooms.
There's even an auction hall where the loud bidding for the fruits and vegetables echoes through the air.
Things are cheaper at the wholesale centre.
Three bags of Australian seedless grapes were $5 each at 60-year-old Madam Quek's stall.
Usually a 24-hour operation, the centre is rarely closed beyond public holidays. The last time that happened was in 2003, when it was closed for 15 days during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak.
Some would say the centre never fully recovered.
In an article in The Straits Times in May last year, stall owners said changing habits means business is slowing down.
Customers have more options and housewives prefer to buy vegetables from supermarkets where they are neatly packed.
But for some, the routine stays the same.
Mr Quek Hwee Sua, 62, is one of the original stall owners. He operates it with his wife.
It's a family affair as his sister, Madam Quek Hwee Cheng, runs a stall just a few doors down, selling imported fruits and vegetables.
He has a steady routine among the frenzy.
"Usually, we'll stay here until about 5am and head for breakfast before going home to rest," he says with a smile.
This article was first published on Mar 8, 2015.
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