Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


Charcoal Charm

The true kampung spirit is kept alive by this dying trade
By Kua Chee Siong
March 12, 2007
The Electronic New Paper

IT is slightly past 5am. The sky is still dark.

But Mr Chua Keng Siew has already started his 7km cycle from his Tampines St 43 home to work at Lorong Halus.

At 70, his legs are still strong.

As he turns left off Lorong Halus, he must pedal harder down an uneven track.

Flanked by tall grass, it is ridden with potholes that Mr Chua must avoid.

Peering through the morning darkness, guided only by the beam from a small light on his bicycle, he makes his way carefully down the track.

It takes him 45 minutes to get through.

Not only does he have strong legs, Mr Chua has strong hands too.

His job is to repack big sacks of charcoal into smaller bags for sale.

Most days, Mr Chua works alone in a warehouse. His boss is out delivering charcoal to clients.

Stray dogs and cats, and a small radio, keep him company.

The soft-spoken man, who was a coolie in his younger days, does not mind getting down and dirty. Showing his wrinkled, carbon-covered hands, Mr Chua said in Teochew: 'It's easily washed off. Just water and a little soap.'

It was just four years ago that Mr Chua met the owner of Ang Kee Huat Charcoal Trader, and was offered a job packing charcoal.

He was overjoyed.

The $600 monthly salary helps to pay his rent and living expenses. Mr Chua lives with one of his two sons in a one-room HDB flat. His son is an odd-job worker.

He works 12 hours a day, five days a week, and says he has never called in sick or missed work.

Every day, Mr Peter Ang - who works in another charcoal warehouse three units away from Mr Chua - cooks lunch for everyone. It is simple fare: steamed fish, vegetables and porridge.

The workers wait at Mr Ang's warehouse for latecomers to arrive before tucking in together.

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