When it comes to being a food delivery rider, not many can handle the long hours and physical labour that comes with it, let alone like it.
But these two women enjoy hopping onto their bikes whenever they can to deliver food.
Lili, 26, teaches music and dance to children from primary schools, planning and conducting enrichment classes and co-curricular activities. She currently lives with her sister.
Since she was young, she has been a fan of motorcycles. She would collect motorcycles figurines and watch motorcycle Grand Prix, or MotoGP, races. She tells The Pride: “Nothing can describe the feeling of riding on a motorcycle. You feel really carefree, and especially as a lady, you feel empowered.”
Now, she juggles two jobs, signing up for food delivery shifts during the week when she doesn’t have any urgent projects.
Lili started delivery riding when physical classes ground to a halt during the circuit breaker. She still had to plan for online classes, and admits that juggling both jobs is extra tiring. “I come back home and I’m mentally and physically exhausted,” she says, sharing that she would fall asleep almost immediately when her head hits the pillow.
But when she is on her rounds, she feels the thrill of completing tasks. “It feels like a game where you complete quest after quest,” she explains with a grin, “and the most satisfying thing is seeing the words ‘Order Completed’ on your screen.”
Riding to get a break from the routine
Sheena, 37, works at a multinational technology company and is the mother of four children – three in primary school and one in nursery.
“My kids are my world,” she says. An only child, Sheena told herself growing up that when she had her own family, their home would be noisy and full of life.
Of course, that came with great responsibility: Sheena tells The Pride that family outings were chaotic. Before the pandemic, she would take her children to the beach on Saturdays. “I’d be really excited,” she says, “but once we get there, they’ll start running in four different directions, and I’m like, ‘let’s just… go home’.”
But looking after her children proved more stressful during the circuit breaker and home-based learning. Sheena became her kids’ personal tutor, printing and marking mock papers. “I bought a printer specifically for this,” she says.
So delivering food on her e-bike became an outlet for her.
“Riding is pretty straightforward, it’s a relief,” she says, sharing that it gives her space to get her mind off her responsibilities at work and home. Her company’s special work-from-home policy allows for a pocket of time in the middle of the day for personal life, so she uses the time to do shifts.
Worries and mishaps
Sheena recalls her parents attempting to dissuade her from food delivery.
“Of course, safety was their concern,” she explains. Her worried parents would make sure that she dresses appropriately for the weather on her rounds: Her mother would scold her whenever she does her deliveries in a t-shirt and shorts. “She would say, ‘look at you, you’ve become so tanned,” Sheena says as she rolls up her sleeves to reveal distinct lines. “And I have become really, really, sunburnt.”
Under the scorching sun, she would be sticky with sweat. When it rained, Sheena would find herself cold and drenched. “Everything is squishy and squashy, and it’s dangerous as well,” Sheena says. Accidents were also common. “So many times, I’ve almost fallen over or been hit by a vehicle.”
“And then I’ll take a moment and say to myself ‘oh my god, I almost died today.’”
Lili’s family too, was worried for her safety and wanted her to stay home and give up the extra income. Nevertheless, she started riding on her rental bike.
It wasn’t easy at first and still isn’t. When it rains, her vision blurs and the roads get slippery. She has to do another balancing act too ‒ offsetting her bike’s rental costs with her earnings, and that meant having to complete as many deliveries as she could per day.
Yet she never books the shifts near the wee hours. “I don’t book midnight shifts, because I’m scared,” she says.
The rapid pace of food delivery has shown Lili a stressful side of the work: Panicking delivery riders rushing for a delivery, or cranky stall owners swamped with orders.
While Lili empathises with them, often buying them drinks or speaking a kind word, sometimes it gets too much to bear. “I would step away, and calm myself down a bit.”
Sheena also stops her shift to keep her emotions in check.
“Sometimes when there’s a near-death experience, and I’m not in the right mind to continue, I come home. And after I’m calm, I tell my children, ‘your mummy almost died today’,” she says. Her children would hug her and listen to her stories about what she saw during her rides.
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Acts of kindness
When Lili started out, her male colleagues and friends helped her ease into the job.
“They told me to start slowly, and when I get used to it, I can do more orders,” she says. For example, she was not used to navigating about the app, so a friend showed her the ropes. “He accompanied me for my first shift, and showed me how to accept and complete orders.”
Lili was shy and kept to herself at first, but began to enjoy her job when colleagues and people on the street would ask after her well-being and encourage her during her rides. Sheena also found herself exchanging tips with her colleagues on topics such as vehicle maintenance and appropriate parking spots.
Stall owners were also kind, says Sheena. “Sometimes, I smell all the food and I get so hungry! I keep thinking, ‘I want to eat this, eat that’.” she says with a laugh.
Once, a stall owner noticed how tired and hungry she was and allowed her to jump the queue, preparing her order along with the delivery. “It was my last drop-off, and he said, ‘take what you want’.” Sheena then tucked into a fragrant bowl of mala xiang guo. “He said I could come by anytime if I was hungry on my rides again.”
Leaving a positive influence while on the go
Lili recalls the admiration she gets from her colleagues when they see her with her motorcycle. “They were impressed that I’m going through tough labour,” she chuckles.
She also takes joy in being able to contribute to mini family gatherings or online birthday celebrations. “I put myself in the shoes of the person I am delivering to… Sometimes they might be celebrating something, and I feel like I play a part in it,” she says.
Back home, Sheena has changed her family’s perception of working as a delivery rider. “At first, my children found it embarrassing,” she explains, saying they would freak out over having their own mother potentially deliver food to their teachers’ doorsteps.
“But I tell them, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Mummy’s not doing something bad.”
Sheena’s grit had also managed to prove that delivery riding is a fulfilling profession to her husband, who was laid off due to the pandemic. “He previously worked in the finance industry, wearing suits and ties,” she says.
Her husband was initially adamant about not doing laborious work. He decided to give it a try after hearing Sheena’s stories. “He did a complete one-eighty, and now he rides full time,” she says with a smile. “He’s way more enthusiastic about it than I am!”
Understanding the hardship a delivery rider goes through, she has stopped picking on the condition of food delivered to her doorstep. “I used to lament at soggy fries,” she admits, “but now, as long as the rider gets here safely, I’m happy… You don’t know what it takes for them to get the food here to you.”
The lessons learnt
“Coming from a professional world, you deal with like-minded people,” Sheena says, “but here you don’t know who to expect.”
Sheena recalls many scenarios when she was completely caught off guard;she places emphasis on how important it is to not judge anyone – riders and customers – but especially those who work so hard to deliver the good.
“You want your food, but you don’t respect those who bring it to you? People are people, regardless of what profession they are.”
Lili has grown to be more empathetic to others, paying attention to special-order requests and keeping her customers informed. “I drop them a text frequently, so they know where their food is,” she says, “And I feel a little bit better too.”
Above all, it has built resilience in the two women. “If I can do this, I can do a lot of other things,” says Sheena.