Have you ever peed in a pool?
Well, Mr Julius Koh, 50, has seen worse.
Says the freelance pool cleaner in Mandarin: "Faeces. Of course, I've seen that too. But the worst thing of all? Frogs and their spawn. They smell really bad in the pool."
He has even found jewellery stuck in the pool filter or at the bottom of murky algae-laden pools - diamond rings, pearls, a Rolex watch and the most expensive of all, a $10,000 earring, all of which he returned.
With more than 30 years on the job, Mr Koh is a veteran.
He reveals one little known fact: Urine in pools is difficult to detect and expensive to eradicate entirely, so it is usually left untreated.
"It is likely that the ammonia from the urine will remain in the pool for quite some time, until it becomes so bad that owners have to act on it," he says.
Unlike the portrayals in television dramas, the pool boys here are not the stereotypical hunky sort.
Instead, most of them are older men with tons of experience in treating pool problems in hotels, condominiums and private houses.
Their services will cost between $300 to $1,000 each month, depending on the size of the pool and the regularity of the maintenance.
Running his own subcontractor business, Mr Koh has to visit various pools 75 times every week to maintain the quality of the water.
Each pool requires a half hour to an hour's maintenance once or twice weekly.
This involves testing and maintaining chlorine and acidity levels, as well as maintenance of the pool's pump and filtration equipment.
MEDICINE FOR POOLS
That means that he has to act like a pool doctor, introducing chemicals to balance out the acidic and alkaline properties of the water to make it safe to swim in.
Says Mr Koh: "Each pool has its own character, and my job is to understand it well before I can give it the medicine."
Like any doctor, he has also seen his fair share of patients in deplorable conditions.
The worst of these are landlords who do not hire pool cleaners and switch off the filtration equipment to save money when there is no tenant.
"The water turns completely black with a whole ecosystem of algae and frogs in them. And don't even ask about the mosquitoes," recalls Mr Koh of some of his experiences.
While such cases can still be treated, the true difficulty of the job is dealing with clients.
Says Mr Koh: "Many people think that simply changing the water entirely will solve all their problems. I have to explain to them why that is not a permanent solution."
To be a successful pool cleaner, Mr Koh believes that rapport with the clients is especially important.
He confesses: "This is the sort of job that one can cut corners in.
"After all, nobody is going to sit by the pool side to make sure the pool cleaners do the job they are paid for."
That said, he recalls one instance when a homeowner spied on him from a window to make sure he was working.
She eventually told Mr Koh that she did so due to her experiences with other cleaners, and she was satisfied with his services, says Mr Koh.
Another time, a family tested his honesty by placing a $100 bill in the pool filter.
Says Mr Koh: "They were so happy that I returned it to them. They hired me on the spot because they could trust me after that."
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1. Each pool is different. Make sure you study and test each pool comprehensively to know how the water changes over time.
2. While not mandatory, attending a government course in swimming pool maintenance will help pool cleaners improve standards.
3. On Thursdays, put more chemicals in the water to anticipate more people using the pool on Fridays and the weekends. Do the same during the wet season as the acidity in rainwater will adversely affect the pool's chemical balance.
This article was first published on December 27, 2015.
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