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Millennial turns his back on an office job, opts for life in the wet market

SINGAPORE — At 4.30am, when most of his millennial peers are probably sleeping, Mr Liew Rhui Heng, 23, gets out of bed and drives his truck to the Jurong Fishery Port to get the freshest seafood for his customers.

Mr Liew Rhui Heng, 23, posing with two large fish at the Jurong West wet market.

Mr Liew Rhui Heng, 23, posing with two large fish at the Jurong West wet market.

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SINGAPORE — At 4.30am, when most of his millennial peers are probably sleeping, Mr Liew Rhui Heng, 23, gets out of bed and drives his truck to the Jurong Fishery Port to get the freshest seafood for his customers.

After an hour or so, he heads to the wet market at Jurong West Blk 497 — about a 10-minute drive from the port — where he unloads at least one tonne (1,000kg) of seafood.

By about 7am, he has set up his stall and is ready for the day’s first customers. By 2pm, it is time to clean up the stall and call it a day.

This is a typical day’s work for Mr Liew, one of the youngest fishmongers in an ageing wet market culture, far from what might be expected of an Institute of Technical Education (ITE) electronics, computer networking and communications graduate.

His is a path rarely travelled by millennials, a job many might see, in his own words, as “dirty, smelly and unpleasant”.

“After graduation, I realised that I didn’t have much interest in what I studied in ITE and wanted to try something new,” he said.

PARENTS TOLD HIM TO FURTHER HIS STUDIES

It all started when a relative introduced him to the job while Mr Liew was still in National Service.

His first stint as a fishmonger on weekends was “simply to earn some cash”. After completing NS in 2017, he realised he had developed a passion for the trade and decided to do it full-time.

But when Mr Liew first told his parents about the decision, they were rather reluctant and told him to further his studies instead.

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Like most parents, they would have preferred that he went for a “comfortable, high-paying” job.

“They told me to do something else, because they feel that this is a job with no future,” Mr Liew said. “They wanted me to work in an air-conditioned environment, not like the wet market.”

Two years into the job, his parents finally gave him their blessing.

“Because they saw that I am doing something I like, I feel less stressed and have more free time. They even come and buy seafood from me sometimes,” Mr Liew said.

Mr Liew said he is motivated by seeing his customers coming back to him and the rapport he has built with them. Photo: Liew Rhui Heng

Yet there was a time when he wondered if he had made the right decision.

After working for more than a year, Mr Liew took a month off work as he felt tired of the early hours and having to carry heavy loads every day.

Then he decided to come back.

“After thinking about it, I told myself to overcome the challenges and not to be lazy,” he said. “I tell myself that it is normal not to get used to the working hours and the job at the beginning.

Now this has become a part of my life.”

PLANS TO GO DIGITAL

So what keeps him motivated? He said it is seeing his customers coming back to him and the rapport he has built with them.

“There are more things I like about this job than the dislikes,” Mr Liew said. “I like to interact with my customers from young to old, they are all very friendly.

“One of my customers is an old lady who is more than 100 years old, but she still walks to the wet market and buys seafood from me.”

He has tried to connect the wet market to the younger generation, by inviting his peers to help him out at the stall.

“Usually my friends would reject me, but once a friend really came down. After the experience, he felt that it was not as bad as he had imagined,” Mr Liew said.

Now he is determined to take the trade forward.

Mr Liew hopes to open his own stall in about four years — he reckons he would need to save up about S$50,000 — and has plans to build an online sales platform.

In fact, he has experimented with the online delivery service, offered on a Facebook page he created, known as “Dan Seafood Delivery”.

“Since people are more willing to buy groceries and clothes online, I thought why not for seafood too?” he said. “So, I started this two years ago for Chinese New Year. But I think I would still need to build better trust with the customers before I expand the service.”

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wet market seafood Jurong

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