Moving on from colourful past
Mr Poon Yew Kong is part of halfway house which is also in house-moving business
His tanned skin and lean body attests to the physically demanding job that Mr Poon Yew Kong has.
As a home mover, the white T-shirt he wears is often plastered to his back as he hunkers down under the hot sun, hauling a heavy metal safe down flights of stairs with his colleagues.
"The safe must have weighed at least 100kg. Some of the homes we move are situated in older housing estates or condominiums, which may not have lifts on every level," the 44-year-old, who works in a team of four, says in Mandarin.
The smell of the cologne he wears mingles with sweat, forming what he calls "nan ren wei" (a manly scent).
He works every day except Sunday and the money is not great (almost, but not quite a four-figure sum per month), but he says it's worth it.
Mr Poon is part of a Christian halfway house called Watchman's Home, which takes in men with a past - especially those who have been jailed for drug-related offences.
He is grateful for a place to call home and the accountability that helps him to stay on the straight and narrow.
"I used to be involved in secret societies, gambling and other vices, although I've never been to jail," he says.
Mr Poon has been living in the home for four years, and shifts uncomfortably when asked to elaborate on his colourful past. It is clear he would rather leave it all behind - a key reason he joined the halfway house.
The rented bungalow some 26 men live in is on Upper Changi Road North, near the Changi Prison.
They sleep on bunk beds in a total of six rooms.
Morning devotions and worship are part of the deal, although residents are not forced to become Christians, says the organisation's founder, Mr Chua Chin Seng.
The married father of two was a former convict.
He had hoped that the house-moving business would provide solace to those who struggled to integrate back into mainstream society after doing time.
Mr Poon says: "I'd never do this sort of work in the past. All I wanted was quick cash. But that has all changed now."
It hasn't always been easy. He remembers an argument he got into with a client, which started the moment he arrived to begin the job.
"I told him he needed to empty the TV console of its contents. If he did not, the drawers may slide open in the process of moving and hurt the movers. But he wasn't happy, and we got into a tiff, where he almost wanted to call the whole moving assignment off," he says.
The situation was eventually defused when Mr Poon switched positions with his colleague, who had been stationed at the foot of the block, loading furniture onto the truck.
There are other hazards. He uses a knife to release a piece of furniture from layers of plastic wrapping. But go too fast and fingers will bleed. His feet also bear the brunt of accidents - furniture has crashed onto them.
He brushes away this reporter's look of concern, preferring not to see these little hiccups as hardship.
"It's all a matter of perspective. I wouldn't consider these things challenges of the job. I've learnt to keep my temper in check and to communicate patiently with the clients," he says.
Employees like him are a boon to the organisation, but others can be challenging to deal with, says his boss, Mr Chua.
"Since we started, about 500 people have come through our doors. Some of them fall back into their old ways halfway through the programme, and disappear without a trace.
"Other halfway houses which provide moving services also contend with clients who complain that the movers are high while on the job, or steal things.
"Thankfully, we haven't had such complaints," he says.
But he conducts ad-hoc urine tests to make sure the residents are clean.
While most of his clients are aware of the meaningful work Watchman's Home is doing, what sustains business is a good reputation, he says.
"We haven't really done much marketing, and business has grown mainly through word of mouth," he adds.
On an average day, the organisation handles between six and eight projects, with the seventh month and Qing Ming Festival being slower periods for the business.
Moving charges vary according to the number of trucks used. The use of a truck would set a client back $300. While an office typically requires 10 to 20 trucks, the most a residential home has needed is seven or eight, he says.
Mr Chua is under no illusions about them getting rich through this business.
"There was a time we stagnated because there wasn't enough business to keep up with the men's wages, and I was discouraged in those times. But by the grace of God business grew, and I hope it will continue to, so that we can help more people," he says.
Secrets of the trade
1 Always keep a couple of old mattresses in the lorry. It helps to cushion the impact that the furniture has to take when the vehicle goes over humps.
2 LCDs and Smart TVs these days are very fragile and are often damaged in the moving process, even if the exterior remains unaffected. Communicate this to the client or you risk squabbling about compensation later.
3 Be vigilant while travelling with the furniture in the back of the lorry. Tell the driver to stop and reload the furniture if you sense that anything is in danger of falling on you.