Singaporeans with interesting jobs

Singaporeans with interesting jobs
Ms Lam Shumei with her employees.
PHOTO: Lam Shumei

One is learning Spanish while another enjoys the adrenaline rush. The New Paper speaks to Singaporeans whose jobs have taken them to interesting places.

Pursuing his Peruvian dream

Mr Keat Chan moved to Lima, Peru, about two months ago.

There, he is manages two farms owned by Superlife, a Singapore company that sells natural and organic superfoods online.

The farm grows produce like maca, chia seeds and quinoa, which then are sold by Superlife.

A typical day sees Mr Chan, 30, managing 10 Peruvian farmers - who don't speak English.

Making the move to Lima was a tough decision as Mr Chan, he admits, especially since he didn't speak a single word of Spanish just weeks ago.

But armed with just a mobile phone language app, he has managed to pick up the lingua franca.

He says: "After being exposed to the language every day, I can now get by travelling around on my own. I can even hold a conversation with some hand signs."

He adds: "It was rather scary moving here since I come from the safe city of Singapore. My friends and family were worried as I had a friend who was robbed in Peru a year ago while on vacation.

"I did have some concerns but my mantra is 'nothing ventured nothing gained', and now, I'm so glad I ventured.

"The main difference is the change in pace. We're used to moving fast and doing everything in the shortest time possible. In Peru, everyone is very laid-back, which takes some getting used to."


Mr Chan says he was inspired by his own passion for superfoods. And through his own reserach, he learnt about how the ancient Incas were known for cultivating salt, quinoa and maca.

"The (Peruvian Andes) has fertile land with fresh water from the peaks. This makes it the best place to grow crops. The high altitude ensures there isn't a pest problem, so pesticides aren't typically used," he says.

While he says the move has been worth it, there have been sacrifices.

"I miss my elderly mother and grandmother... But living in Peru has definitely broadened my world view," he says.

There have been other challenges too.

"The hardest challenge is making sure business relations are trustworthy to ensure things run smoothly."

He has had delayed orders, shipments that left without the right documentation, wrong packaging and many other "disasters" - things that perhaps taken for granted in super efficient singapore.

"That is why there is a need for a strong physical presence in Peru, so we can oversee every step of the process to avoid unnecessary complications," he says.

So what does his job entail?

Mr Chan is very involved in the farming. Even when the sun is out, he is out in the fields, digging and ploughing.

"I try to do a bit of each process to understand how the farmers do it and the problems they face.

"That way, I have a better handle on things.

"Climate change has complicated the average farmer's life quite a bit.

"Unpredictable weather patterns make it difficult to plan the sowing and harvesting schedule."

But farming has its rewards.

"When you look at the land and see it well-ploughed, there's a sense of satisfaction. The tangible rewards are when you reap in a good harvest," he says.

"I have made many good friends while in Peru. I've seen indescribable beauty in the mountains and the jungle."


He adds: "Working with farmers has shown me how happy a simple life on a farm can be.

"This has strengthened my belief that there is greater value in developing relationships compared to material possessions."

After a long day's work, Mr Chan says he now unwinds with a pisco sour, a South American cocktail.

Sometimes, he visits the farmers who work at other farms.

He says: "I see them as colleagues... After spending a day with them, I would pick up bottles of their favourite Inca Cola soda to thank them for a hard day's work."

- Additional reporting by Charlene Chua

Her chickens are providing jobs in Rwanda

When her late father took her to Rwanda in July 2011, she fell in love with the country and dreamt of going back.

But Ms Lam Shumei never thought she would end up a chicken farmer in the East African country.

Ms Lam, 30, managing director at Poultry East Africa, wanted to fulfil her father's dream of focusing on social impact projects.

Her dad, Mr Larry Lam, the founder and former chairman of port equipment engineering company Portek, wanted to give back to the communities using what he had built from his business.

He died in 2014.

Ms Lam says she choose to invest in the birds after she found out that chicken was sold at over 3,000 Rwandan francs (S$5.80) per kilogram.

"There just wasn't enough local production.

"The average city dweller could only enjoy (chicken) once a year, typically during a celebration."

So she returned home to register the company, identify potential sites and procure land.

Her reasoning what that the farm could not only provide jobs, it could help lower meat prices too.

She finds Rwanda safe, organised and clean, but there were still challenges, such as finding skilled labour and being away from her family, as well as the 18-hour travel time between Rwanda and Singapore.

"Most days I experience challenges, it literally feels like I am swimming upstream, everything that could possibly go wrong does," she says.

"But never to the extent where I wanted to give up. Failure was never an option, and I have always been blessed to have the unwavering support of my family, friends and especially the Rwandan government."

Full operations began in December 2014.

The farm can now contain 48,000 birds and the processing plant can process 400 birds an hour.


Besides providing the Rwandan population with chicken, her company also supports the local work force in the Bugesera district - a 40-minute drive from Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

The farm employs about 60 full-time staff and more than 80 per cent of them are from the local village.

She says: "We have empowered them with technical skills, provided them with a living to support their families, created a local economy in an area which was previously a bush land, and... we provide free weekly English lessons to all our ground staff.

"Doing something like this requires a very high level of motivation and discipline.

"It is very easy to settle down into the slow pace of life here, and just accept things the way they are normally done - but always remember that as much as it's in human nature to resist change because it is painful, disruption is the critical driving force for progress."

Her advice for anyone who is keen to work overseas: "We live incredibly privileged lives, nowhere in the world will match the comfort and ease of living at home.

"Go with an open mind... Always try to integrate into the local community to maximise your overseas experience, and do try to keep close ties with the local Singaporean community, especially if you are in the more 'ulu' (Malay for rural) areas.

"We have a great sense of camaraderie overseas, and that is simply due to our uniquely Singaporean identity."

His job is a high-rope act

Dangling from ropes from heights is no issue for Mr Aris Ahmad.

But he, 37, never thought he would sit in helicopters and travel to different countries such as Spain and Australia on the job.

As a rope access technician in the shipping, oil and gas industry, he applies practical rope work to do maintenance on difficult-to-reach locations such as the exterior of a drill ship.

He is usually close to sea level, supported by several ropes, mounting a shell plate on the ship.

He says: "I find my job very fun and thrilling. The most important part of the job is not to think so much and just do it."

The former commercial window cleaner, 37, recounts how an acquaintance asked if he would like to change jobs nine years ago.

The adrenaline junkie agreed despite knowing the sacrifices he would have to make.

"My parents and wife were worried because it was dangerous working with ropes and heights," he says.

"Sometimes I can be gone as long as three months. Of course I miss home but luckily the ships I'm on always have Wi-Fi."


He usually works from 6am to 6pm on the ship, with several short breaks in between. As the ships are far from land, he has to live in a cabin on board.

While working the ropes, he can feel unwell. In those cases, people will have to haul him up on board to prevent him from falling into the ocean.

He says: "Some of my colleagues worry that a shark or sea creature might jump up and attack us."

Thankfully, that has not happened.

This article was first published on Jan 17, 2016.
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