Preparing the plants

There is a little-known pre-Chinese New Year workout that guarantees you will lose 2 to 3 kg in a few weeks.

There are no newfangled exercises involved, just plain heavy lifting and running around under the sun. What do you have to do? Work at a plant nursery during the festive period.

About two weeks ago, I was in the thick of pre-festive frenzy at World Farm nursery in Bah Soon Pah Road, near the Khatib army camp. There, I became a manual worker for an afternoon, taking on a few laborious tasks that workers there do during this period, the busiest time for the trade.

On that warm Sunday, I found myself perched on a lorry, unloading pots of button chrysanthemums weighing 5kg each with three other workers.

I was guided by Mr Lee Meng Kwan, 48, assistant general manager of the nursery, an affable man whose tanned, weather-worn skin reflects his 22 years of experience in the industry.

We formed a human chain, passing the pots down to a smaller vehicle that would transport the plants to the sale area. The task was completed in under an hour. And barely an hour after the plants hit the sale zone, they were all snapped up. Coloured raffia strings were tied around the pots, indicating they had been reserved and paid for by customers.

That was the kind of blink-fast turnover the nursery sees on the weekends leading up to Chinese New Year, with customers showing up in droves as early as 8am, hoping to find the best plants that would bring them luck and prosperity.

Mr Lee declined to give specific figures, but said the nursery can ring up three to four times more sales during this period compared to regular days.

Business was so brisk that customers were left to grab their own trolleys and wander the nursery grounds to pick out popular plants, such as the yellow and red Phoenix Tail (celosia), kum quat and citrus lime trees, as well as the tall Cocks Comb plants.

All these plants symbolise prosperity, happiness and good fortune, said Mr Lee. "This is the tradition during Chinese New Year. You need to have festive music playing, the red and yellow celosia... or it's not Chinese New Year."

Every year during this time, he said, he loses 2 to 3kg from running around. He was zipping around the nursery in a buggy attending to what seemed like a never-ending stream of customers.

"Christmas is nothing compared to Chinese New Year," the father of one said when asked to compare business during the two holiday periods.

The nursery sells about 24 container-loads of Chinese New Year plants imported from Belgium, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Vietnam. Each container holds about 2,500 plants. During Christmas, Mr Lee says the nursery sells "a few thousand" trees and plants.

The most common questions from customers I heard that day were: "When is your next shipment?" or "Got new one coming or not?".

If World Farm's team of 50 workers were not busy restocking the sales floor and receiving stocks of new plants by the lorry-loads, they were out on delivery runs

A few thousand plants are delivered daily during this period, including 2m-tall Four Seasons (citrus) Lime plants from China, which I was tasked to wrap for delivery. I was given thick black netting with which to cocoon these plants and secure them to prevent damage during transport, a rather tedious task for a 1.6m-tall person like myself.

After several attempts, Mr Lee stepped in to help. When the two plants were secured, I sat down on the floor, too tired to continue.

Thankfully, it was mid-afternoon by then and my six-hour shift was nearing its end. I might have shed a little weight that day, but I doubt I will be signing up for this weight-loss programme any time soon. This is definitely not a job for wimps.

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