I was one of those lucky Singaporeans who really started working even before the lawful age. No, I am not an abused child labour. "Money dun just fall from the sky" my dad told me. "You just need to work to experience the hardship and effort in making money".
My childhood jobs
So when I was 12 (during my nov-dec holiday), my dad brought me to his friend’s (who was renting a space in my dad’s warehouse) furniture company to work under an old carpenter as an apprentice. Even though the boss was my dad’s good friend, it was a tough attachment. Waking up at 6:30am daily was no problem (cos that is usually the standard time I had to wake up during my primary school days)…What bothered me was the long hours - I have to coup up at one place – doing the same task over and over again – that boredom was devastating! Surrounded by 30 over adults (mostly Malaysian Chinese in their early 20s), I couldn’t connect with anyone. All of them know I am the landlord’s son and left me alone.
Due to my little size and young age, I was not given any exciiting / heavy tasks. For 7 boring weeks, I was tasked to pack screws (for those DIY self-assembled funiture). I was so good at one point that I am able to grab and "feel" the screws – without counting them. It was no easy feat…try grabbing 15 screws in 1 grab without counting them. You know what I mean why I said it was no east feat.
That vacation, I earned my 1st dollar… In those days, the boss pays the workers every week in cash. I was paid $12/day… So, you can imagine me getting $72 for a week of work.. I was so happy that I almost want to quit school and work there. Afterall, the pay was more than my $1/day pocket money.
Since then, my dad would exposed me to lots of other vacation jobs. From 12 to 16, I have tried many posts – from clerk to production worker, delivey man to store cleaner. All these were short 1-time vacation job. Every job was a new experience for me.
My Waitering Days at Singapore Swimming Club
After my O’levels, Meijie and I took a waitering job at the old Singapore Swimming Club. The manager who interviewed me was a very charming and capable young man. During my 3-month stint there as a waiter, he taught me a lot of "service rules"… Sadly, you dun get to get such service from any waiter in Singapore now. I still remembered most of these rules by heart until today. Often, when I dine with my friends at any Chinese outlet in Singapore, I would tell them about those things I learnt back then as a waiter. Yes, these teachings may not earn me big bucks but I respected the morale behind these "service rules".
1) Never serve in between old people and childen
2) Serve the guests first (in this order: Children, old folks, ladies and last men). Never serve the host first. "Ladies first" dun count in such practice. Unless it is just 2 persons – a couple.
3) Never hold your tray directly over the diner’s head or over the table. Just in case food falls off the tray, it will not land up on the diner or onto the table.
4) When taking order, maintain eye-contact at the same level. Dun took down on your customers, bend your knees and keep the same eye-level.
5) Remember your regular customers by their name. Remember what’s his/her favourite dishes and drinks.
6) If your diner asks you to change plate, refill tea cups, you have failed.
7) Never carry the tray with 2 hands. Never place the tray on the table.
8) When the diners are leaving, make sure they are accompanied to the door. Clear their plates after the diners are sent off.
9) Small talk is good. It makes the diner more at home. But dun interupt their conversation.
10) Be alert. Hold the dish if the diners are slow. Dun rush them.
It was my first waiter job and my last. Yet, I took a lot of pride in this job. Cos’ I learnt a great deal of serving people. I met all kinds of diners – the rich, the humble, the rude, the bossy and the pretty daughters… just too many types of them. I have learnt how to manage their expectations…always looking out for their needs – yet still maintaining privacy for them.
Raymond (the manager) was a strict teacher. He would often pulled me one side and corrected me. Over time, I have improved and took pride as a watier – even though it was just a holiday job.
When I left Singapore Swimming Club that vacation, I lost contact with the manager. For the past 14 years, I kept his teaching by heart.
Last Sat, I threw a welcome dinner for my Canada relatives at my client’s place - Jumbo Seafood RiverWalk. I was greeted by a very familiar voice. When I turned around, I saw that familiar smile – We finally met each other again – but except this time, I was being served by him. He couldn’t recognised me (as I am just one of the hundreds of part-timers he had trained) but he was glad that I remembered him. Afterall, it has been 14 years.
I have grown up to be a small boss running a design house. The whole night, I felt so awkard being served by him. Afterall, he was my trainer back then. I still respected him a lot.
Still, it was good meeting an old friend. And it is good meeting him at my good old client’s place. I bet he will make a good manager for Jumbo Seafood. If only the part-timers believe in him and their own jobs.