Liu Jia Ming
Jia Ming works at a fruit stall on the corner of Sims Avenue in the bustling streets of Geylang. It seems that an elderly couple run the stall, and Jia Ming is just one of a handful of employees who help with the daily duties of loading and unloading, selling fruits, and serving an intermittent stream of customers — some who drive by, stop along the roadside and run out to pick up some fruits. Everything almost comes to a standstill, however, as his colleagues cooperatively make way for Jia Ming to be photographed, and even egg him on with words of encouragement. A man of few words, Jia Ming is shy and awkward at first, but slowly warms up to the camera. We find out more about his hopes and dreams when we speak to him.
Original interview was conducted in Mandarin.
Shentonista (S): What do you love most about your job?
Jia Ming (J): Selling fruits
J: Because I get to converse with customers, and I get to learn from that; how to interact and deal with others.
S: Do you like fruits personally?
S: How did you start doing what you’re doing now?
J: About 8 years ago, ever since I left Fujian for Singapore. I started selling fruits the moment I came. I found this job through an employment agency in China.
S: Are you here alone by yourself?
J: Yes, I am.
S: Who are the people in your family? Coming from China, are you the only child?
J: (laughs) No, I have two elder brothers. My parents “超生” (translation: exceeded the one-child-policy), and given the times then, we had to be fined.
S: Why the decision to come to Singapore?
J: “怎们说呢” (translation: how should I say this) For my parents, and myself. I wanted to earn more, so I came here. I hope to earn more here and give them a better life.
S. Is there something you wish you could change about your job/the nature of your work? What is the most difficult part of your job?
J: Hmm….. (hesitates) “怎们说呢” I can’t put this into words.
S: Whose? Yours, or your customers?
J: Mine. Because I feel that if I manage my own temper better, we’ll get more customers.
[This comes across as surprising, because across the two days of shoots with Jia Ming, he proves to be an extremely patient and well-mannered man. When we tried to shelter him from the sun, for example, he was quick to politely decline, and even offered to carry his own umbrella. He uses “怎么说呢” as a phrase quite often, taking the time to try to put his feelings into words.]
S: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
J: Hmm, I don’t think there’s anything difficult. (laughs)
S. What do you wish people know about your job? For example, that it’s not as easy as it looks?
J: Everyone thinks the fruit selling business is “很好赚“ (translation: lucrative) but that’s actually not the case. Fruits get damaged easily and once they are, we have to throw them away or sell them at a cheap discount.
S: What about common misconceptions about your job?
J: (laughs) Like what I said, they think it’s “很好赚”
S: What’s the most unexpected, thrilling, or amazing thing that has happened to you at work?
J: Hmmm. So, so, so many.
S: Could you list some examples?
J: For example, when I’m nice to the customers, that gets reciprocated. The most unexpected would be them giving me ang baos (red packets containing money, meant to symbolise good luck) during Chinese New Year. Sometimes they also bring me their home-cooked dishes to try.
S: If you could work as anything at all, what would it be? Why?
J: To be my own boss.
S: Oh, what sort of boss?
J: To own my fruit stall (laughs, in a hopeful tone)
S: Do you have any goals at your current job?
J: For now, I hope I can save more money and work towards owning my fruit stall one day. I wanna be a boss! (laughs heartily)
S: How do you spend your time off work? What kind of activities/hobbies do you enjoy?
J: Hmm. I like to read and watch movies.
S: Oh what sort of movies or books?
S: If you could dress any way you wanted for work, what would you wear and why?
(Jia Ming currently wears a uniform at work)
J: Something sharper and smarter.
S: What do you mean? What’s your idea of smart?
J: “穿西装，打领带咯” (Which means “to put on a suit, with a tie”)
S: You could do that when you’re your own boss!
J: (laughs) Maybe?
S: How important do you think it is for men to be well-groomed, and why?
J: I think it’s very important, it definitely is. If you’re not well-groomed, hmm, “怎们说呢”… I believe that it’s something we have to be accountable for?
S: Accountable? Could you elaborate?
J: For example, when customers come to buy fruits from me, if I’m sloppily or badly dressed, I feel like I’m not respecting them. Grooming is not only about yourself, it’s also about respecting others.
S: Who is your current hero/role model, and why?
J: Do you mean in reality or can it be fictional?
S: Both are fine.
J: Captain America. You know the movie?
S: Yes! Why?
J: He sacrifices himself for the people. I like it that he puts others before himself.
[We note some interesting parallels between Jia Ming and Captain America — like how he puts his family before himself, coming all the way to Singapore to work, and how, perhaps, he came to pursue the equivalent of the American Dream in Singapore.]
S: Any words of advice for people who are starting work?
J: We shouldn’t be so calculative when it comes to work. Just do your job well; for example, don’t make a fuss over that extra two hours put in. Also, do not be affected by others. “怎们说呢”, even if it’s not in your job scope, or someone else isn’t doing it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, especially if it’ll help with the overall workflow. It’s the little extra that sets you apart, so we don’t all become the same, we don’t become interchangeable. That little bit of difference might even score you a promotion. (laughs)
In spite of our faltering Mandarin, Jia Ming comes across as a determined worker who quietly, steadfastly does his job while keeping his hopes and goals in mind. Like the thousands of migrants who have left their hometowns to come to Singapore, seeking a better life for themselves and their families, Jia Ming pushes forward with a simple dream. We hope to be buying fruits from his own stall one day, be it here, or in China.
This is a Shentonista project for We Need A Hero.
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