by Cheryl Leong on

Would you date a “low-class” SCDF regular? How about a fishmonger, or a safety officer who regularly gets his clothes grimy in the line of duty?

The stigma of “dirty jobs” was brought to light recently when an undergrad posted an anonymous confession where she said she was ashamed of her now ex-boyfriend’s decision to sign on with the SCDF, a vocation she thought of as “low-class”.

The post drew brickbats for its elitist and superficial stance, but also raised questions at the same time about our society’s view of what makes a profession worthy.

But aren’t all jobs deserving of respect?

In a materialistic world where glamorous and well-paying jobs are put on a pedestal, The Pride speaks to three women who inspire with the love and support they show their partners who work in unconventional occupations.

“Everyone needs to buy fish, but nobody wants to be a fishmonger.”

Five years ago, when retail assistant Emmeline Sng met her then-boyfriend Marcus Phang, he was working regular hours in an office job. About six months ago, his career took an about-turn when he decided to help expand his friend’s family business – as a fishmonger in a wet market.

Emmeline, 24, and Marcus, 27, are now married with a one-year-old daughter.

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Image Source: Emmeline Sng

“Nobody expected my husband to be a fishmonger, but not for the reasons you’d think. When people find out what he does, they’re mostly shocked because they assumed that a millennial like him couldn’t endure hardship. But after they realise how much work is involved in his job, they’re more appreciative of it.

Most mornings, Marcus leaves the house by 5am and is only done for the day at around 2-3pm, but if he needs to head to the fish port, he’s out by 1am. We all need the services of a fishmonger, yet nobody wants to do it because it’s a hard and dirty job. Still, somebody has to, and I’m proud of him for earning a decent living to provide for our family. Thankfully, my parents and friends have all been supportive of what Marcus does.

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Everyone wants a “normal” life with a partner who does a “normal” job. But at the end of the day, what matters most is that he’s a good man who treats his family well – and that’s more than enough for me.” – Emmeline

“SCDF officers don’t just shake leg until there’s a fire; they do much more than that.”

Teenhood sweethearts Ang Hui Min and Shaun Ortega met in secondary school and were even in the same CCA – the National Civil Defence Cadet Corps, which turned out to be an apt harbinger of Shaun’s future career.

Hui Min, 21, is now a preschool teacher, and Shaun, 25, is a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) regular.

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Image Source: Ang Hui Min

“Shaun has always looked up to firefighters. When he was a kid, he lived near a fire station. And whenever the fire trucks headed out on emergency calls, he and his uncle would chase them along and observe. After he graduated from secondary school, he didn’t hesitate to sign on with SCDF under a scholarship scheme for polytechnic students.

So, when I first saw the NTU girl’s confession, I thought: What if it had been a lifelong dream of her boyfriend’s, too? Isn’t it great if he gets to pursue something that makes him happy every day, rather than a “glamorous” career he has no real passion for? And as a partner, wouldn’t you support and respect his choice?

The only reservation I have about his job is its unpredictability. While emergency calls here are relatively manageable, who knows if we’d get a repeat of the Hotel New World disaster? Plus, Shaun is the sort who’d jump into a situation first, so as not to waste precious time. Hence, the fear that one day he won’t make it back home from a call is very much alive.

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I don’t shy away from telling people what he does. In fact, I see it as an opportunity to clear any misconceptions they might have about it. For instance, some people have thought that the SCDF do nothing but sit around waiting for a fire to break out. But they do much more – Shaun goes around conducting checks to fire hydrants to ensure they’re working and have a steady water supply for when a fire does occur, as well as other logistics duties.

My parents were quite accepting of Shaun’s career, and were mainly concerned about his safety. Ironically, it’s my occupation that my mum wasn’t that pleased with, having had the impression that a preschool teacher is akin to being a ‘nanny’, and wondered why I wasn’t pursuing a more stable career with a better income. Eventually, she grew to accept it, too.

Life is really about perspective – change the way you look at things and you’ll learn to appreciate every job more.” – Hui Min

“As a safety officer on the ground, he works hard and gets dirty – so what?”

Long-time couple Maira and Fellany were classmates in secondary school and have been together since they were 15. In spite of the different courses their lives later took – Maira went to polytechnic and worked for a bit before entering university, while Fellany did a stint at the Institute of Technical Education, completed National Service and landed his current job – their love is going strong.

Both 26 now, Maira is an indoor accounts manager and Fellany is a safety coordinator who conducts ground checks on construction sites and in MRT tunnels.

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Image Source: Maira

“The nature of Fellany’s job is very hands-on and risky – any workplace carelessness could result in serious injury caused by heavy machinery, and even death. Digging tunnels might release poisonous gases, working through the night with poor vision poses another set of problems – the list goes on.

Whenever he goes underground, he’d text me to tell me not to worry if he doesn’t respond because there’s no reception. Of course, I’d worry! But he always says it’s good experience for beefing up his portfolio, so all I can do is be supportive and pray for him.

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When he first started working, Fellany was put on the night shift – 7pm to 7am – from Mondays to Saturdays. It was hard for us to spend time together, but I appreciate how he would make an effort to meet me for breakfast before going home, or head out earlier to have dinner with me. Luckily, after six months, he managed to swop shifts so for the last two years or so, he’s been on the day shift (7am to 7pm).

Being on the ground means his clothes are often dirty and caked with mud. But that has never really bothered me – even on occasions when we meet after work and I would be in a nice dress and heels, while he’d be wearing his T-shirt, jeans and boots.

I was quite taken aback when I read what the NTU girl said about her ex-boyfriend’s job. Why should an honest living – even if it’s deemed unglamourous by society – be seen as a disgrace, or as having no future in it?

If money is the issue, that is something that will crop up in any relationship. For Fellany and me, there have been such arguments in the past, but we always manage to get through them by ironing out our problems respectfully and patiently.

So, for boyfriends and husbands who are working hard for their future, know that there are people who appreciate what you’re doing for society in your own way.” – Maira