Last Sunday, I met Douglas at Elias Mall coffee shop. We chatted a while on the latest happenings in the neighborhood. He seems to know everything and everybody there. He claims whatever happens in the neighbourhood, he is the first to know. “Everybody reports to me here!”, he declares it as a matter fact. Wonder no more why they call him “EM Pengulu!”
All of a sudden, he insisted on paying for my cup of black coffee. Got to respect him, so let him pay for my black coffee or the Pengulu might get offended. Douglas is a pensioner in his mid 60s. Typical older Chinese folks do not ask for a favor straightaway when they just meet up initially for a chat. It’s only sometime into the conversation that he broached the subject of his headache.
As usual, my conversation with Douglas is always peppered with KNN, CCB etc in Hokkien. That’s typical of him. The more liberal deployment of such colourful Hokkien language, the friendlier it gets! When the Fellowship descended on EM, Douglas wasn’t that talkative cuz he knew that he can’t resist resorting to such language if he let down his guard and be his natural self.
In fact, most of them at EM gather to talk about Euro cup soccer where they place bets, latest scandals like those itchy monkeys charged in court, that Ferrari langgar taxi incident or the latest plastic surgeon’s case etc. They really KNN profusely with expletives whenever they discuss about that case! Anything of interest to them can be a topic of intense discussion or debate amongst themselves with expletives thrown in of course.
Remember my blog about a particular incident? Check it out if you haven’t read it.
As the conversation turned to his latest headache, he told me that for the past few days, the lighting at his dinning room was not working. His grandchildren had to study at the dining room using the wall light which is obviously not bright enough.
The ceiling fan with attached lightings comes with two strings. One string is to control the fan speed and the other is to control the three lighting bulbs. That string broke off leaving the three lightings not working. He told me that the powerful fan is working perfectly. He wanted to change it but he felt it’s a real waste. Moreover, if he replaces the ceiling fan cum lightings, it’s going to be messy with the dismantling and drilling etc.
Douglas is a pensioned retired police officer. He doesn’t know anything about electrical works. I did help him fix up few of his lightings before. He knew that I possess basic electrical knowledge. He asked around at EM and felt that it’s difficult to get the professionals to do such small job. Even if he could get an electrician to fix the problem, it’s not going to be cheap.
To digress, my three maternal uncles (mother’s brothers) are electrical contractors. I used to work for them during the school holidays when I was a student in the late 1970s. I was involved in electrical works in many HDB shophouses at Bedok, Ang Mo Kio and Queenstown when those satellite towns were newly built. I was also involved in the new wing of Mandarin Hotel at Orchard Road. Few floors of electrical installation works were sub-contracted by my uncle. Some of the lightings at the swimming pool of Mandarin Hotel new wing were done by me. It was in the year 1979 when I was in Secondary Four during the long December holidays.
In those days, there was no Blangladeshi worker. Only Thai, Korean and Malaysian workers dominated the construction industry. The pay was quite good. There were many locals doing construction work then. Not anymore. With the influx of dirt cheap foreign labour especially Blangladeshi workers, many locals are prized out and have left the construction industry. Some have moved to the home renovation industry. Many have become maintenance staff in buildings and factory premises. You can hardly find a local construction worker on such low wages when we are one of the most expensive cities in the world. How to survive on third world wages living in a first world country? Sadly, our government doesn’t realize or care about our locals in the construction sector. It’s quite obvious that we just don’t fit in to their mindset of “cheap, cheaper and cheaperest!” It’s a well known fact.
My numerous short stints working in the construction industry in electrical works have given me a lifetime of invaluable knowledge which I apply it in my own or friends’ homes. My brothers, my parents and myself have shifted houses many times and I did all the electrical installation works myself. Fixing power points, lightings, fan, water heater etc are no big deal to me. I have got the power drills, relevant tools and necessary skills to do all these.
I ever thought of getting myself qualified in electrical works since I got the interest and aptitude. Alas! I know it’s a career with no prospects or future cuz the government doesn’t support it. If there is an abundance of cheap labour, why should one employ an expensive local for the job? It all boils down to the kind of government policy. They prefer cheap foreign labour to solve their their short term problem without thinking of the long term implications in terms of social costs and problems.
As a result, the locals have lost the ability to build our own homes. We are now dependent on foreigners for almost everything. Most of our locals are driving taxi or selling hawker food if they are not working in the civil service or stat-boards. In fact, some of my colleagues are qualified electricians.
Pardon my mindless tirade, now let’s go back to the main story. I then told Douglas that I would take a look after work next week cuz I’ll be on morning shift. I’d contact him. He was most pleased and offered to buy me another cup of black coffee but I declined. It’s easier to drink few bottles of beer but not with two cups of coffee in a row.
Yesterday (Mon), after work, I informed Douglas that I’d be walking over to his mansionate few blocks away. I carried my important test pen, screw drivers, cutters, wire connectors, plier and wire tape.
When I reached Douglas’ mansionate, he had the ladder ready for me. He bought this HDB massionate at only $199K about 18 years ago. Someone sold off her landed property at nearby Pasir Ris beach and offered to buy it at $750K, but Douglas refused to sell his prized HDB mansionate.
Anyway, I climbed up the ladder and did a visual check. I diagnosed the problem using my test pen to probe around. The test pen, like a doctor’s stethoscope is essential tool when doing electrical works. It must be tested to be 100% working prior to using it. I tested it before I came over to Douglas’ place. It tells you where the current is coming from.
Douglas was worried about my safety. He kept asking me whether to switch off the current? I told him not to cuz I need to check the “live” wire out of the spider-web of wires there. After ten minutes, I told him that I could solve his lighting problem. But no more “tack, tack!” for him meaning he won’t be able to control the three lightings anymore. The plastic switch inside the enclave of the ceiling fan leading to the string controlling the three lightings is broken due to wear and tear. The only way is to by-pass that damaged switch by connecting it to the fan’s power supply. When the fan is turned on, the lightings will also turn on. They shall work together and not separately.
Douglas said that he didn’t mind cuz that dining room is used for dinner and only his grandchildren study there at night. In the day time, it’s very windy cuz its on the 10th floor facing Sungei Api Api. The fan is not needed at all.
Once Douglas understood the solution I had in mind for him I started to work on it. In another ten mins, it’s done. The whole operation took me half an hour. He was beaming with joy. The ceiling fan plus lightings are now back to perfect working condition minus the – in his own words, “tack, tack!” He told me when the fan go kaput, he will replace the entire ceiling fan set.
Douglas thanked me and insisted on buying me a couple of beer. I told him he could do it in the evening when I drop by. I then left for home. I was glad that I could put my mediocre skills to good use once again.