Confessions of a plumber
Plumber David Chi has extricated everything from dead animals to compact powder cases from chocked toilet systems.
But the most memorable involved a crab on the eve of Chinese New Year.
"The home owner bought it as part of the spread for the night's dinner, but it crawled into the bathroom and fell into the squatting pan," he explains with a laugh.
To get the toilet working properly again, the creature's legs had to be broken, so it could be extracted.
"It was cruel, but it had to be done," says the 52-year-old, who has been in the plumbing line for over three decades.
Reflecting on the recent case of an 82-year-old man who had his arm trapped for 12 hours in a water pipe before being rescued, Mr Chi says: "The pipe may look wide from the outside, but the inside may be a lot narrower because there are other substances which may have collected over time.
"Also, the hand can be smaller than the forearm and the arm, which could lead to disastrous consequences when you stretch it into a pipe. A space of 5mm and 10mm can make all the difference," he remarks.
While many feel squeamish just discussing human waste, Mr Chi does not bat an eyelid at the sight, or smell, of it.
He once even got poop on his face.
"It happened while I was trying to release a soiled pipe located at a void deck of a housing estate," he says matter-of-factly.
"That was when I was inexperienced. These days, I stand further back, so it doesn't happen any more," he adds with a chuckle.
The amicable man, who runs Speedlight Plumbing Services,was first exposed to the trade by his brother, who also worked as a plumber.
A secondary school student then, he began formal training as an apprentice after completing his national service.
The job is technical and hands-on in nature, which means experience and frequent practice is the best way to hone one's skills.
But to remain competitive, Mr Chi studied for the National Trades Certificate in plumbing, and is now a licensed plumber.
An average day sees him handling between one and five plumbing cases.
Unlike other companies that offer 24-hour services, Mr Chi works only from 10am to 5pm, Mondays to Saturdays.
"I used to be on call 24-hours when I worked with the town council, but eventually decided to make a lifestyle switch so as to spend more time with my children," says the father of two grown-up children. He also looks after his elderly mother, who lives with him.
Few Singaporeans want to do the job these days, he admits, because the work is laborious and far from glamorous.
"These days, more foreigners are being trained to do the job," he says.
But he reveals that being good with one's hands isn't the only trait of a good plumber - one has to know how to handle people too.And clients are as varied as they come, he says.
"I was once five minutes late for a job, because of a delay in the previous one.
"The client gave me a real shelling, and told me that he could do many things within a span of his five minutes, which I had wasted," he recounts.
Over the years, he has learnt to let such nasty encounters slide.
"It's the only way to keep going. Don't let it get you down."
Mr Chi also has to contend with customers who do not pay up.
He recalled an incident where the client didn't have any cash, and paid by cheque, which could not be cashed at the bank.
The plumber had to make a repeat visit to ask for another cheque - all for $55.
Despite all that, Mr Chi says he loves the job.
"The satisfied look on a customer's face, knowing that you've solved the problem, makes everything all worthwhile," he adds.
Secrets of the trade
1 Have a mild temper. Or consciously develop one. Getting upset at a customer's remarks - even if they are unreasonable, never helps the situation.
2 This isn't the job for you if you dislike getting smelly or dirty. Learn to get used to it.
3 Make use of technology. Getting the client to send you a photo of the situation may help you give a better quote, and subsequently save you time and transport, should he choose to patronise someone else.