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Credit trader turned karung guni man has no regrets, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Although the aim of resource conservation remains unchanged, which is good, I am deeply saddened by the absence of the economic and social significance epitomised by our karung guni men and women.

They collect cardboard boxes, plastic bags, canned food, newspapers and umbrellas and, in the worst cases, stack them up from floor to ceiling, making it impossible to move around freely inside their flat. The 33 sq m space is packed with five years' worth of junk. On the right are bags, whose contents he is not even aware of as they belong to his partner.

Stacked in the home are brochures, used containers, and even an empty hamster cage. Mr Oh, 55, has lived with his year-old partner in the flat for the past 13 years. But it was only about five years ago that, to his discomfort, she started collecting everything that people gave her.

Mr Lim Teck Seng, a rag-and-bone man, standing atop a pile of cardboard boxes that he collected. More foreign workers have been muscling into the trade here.

Karung guni man blows $400,000 in one go at MBS

But they have fallen on hard times as foreign workers scavenging for throwaways are muscling in on their turf - going door to door, paying residents for items such as newspapers and electronics, which they resell to second-hand dealers. Some of these foreigners hold day jobs here and moonlight as rag-and-bone men, but Indonesians, for example, have also been known to come here on social visit passes to do such work.

Local rag-and-bone men such as Poh Tian Cai, 75, have had their incomes reduced as a result. For the past 30 years, he has plied his trade in Katong, using his bicycle outfitted with a carriage in front to collect recyclables, but times have become harder in the past two years. Some nights, I see young men with baskets on their bicycles - about 50 of them a week - taking my cardboard boxes and stealing my rice bowl,' he said.

At night, she sleeps on cardboard under a carpark ramp. Passers-by would think she is single, lonely, poor and homeless. Why does she collect cardboard and sleep in a carpark then? I don't want to be a burden to people, I don't want to be waiting for my children's next pay cheque or take for granted that they will give me an allowance.

This way, I'll not spend it by accident Sure, the amount is small change by today's standards. It was earned through sweat, and very nearly tears, and it reminds me of how, for some people, money is earned with much difficulty.

Toiling in the sun, picking up things that people discard, that is how they make a living. This is where the road ends for the collectors. They have been coming here for years. The middle man will collect, weigh and pay the collectors. I was most happy to join a group of young Singaporeans from Youth Corp on a project they initiated - to get first hand insight into the lives of elderly cardboard collectors: The youngsters devoted their weekends over a 2-month period to befriend the cardboard aunties and uncles on the streets in the Jalan Besar area, and spent time talking to them to understand what they are going through in life.

The normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is not really true. There will be some who do this as their main source of income. Some do so to supplement what they have. Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home.

They do this to remain independent, so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help. For members of the public, the simplest thing that one can do for these people is to talk to them to understand them. More often than not, people make judgements without finding out the facts of the matter, in this instance, the stigma surrounding cardboard collectors.

But of course, for those who genuinely need financial help because they are unable to find other jobs to supplement their income from cardboard collecting, the government will do what it can to help these people.

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If you know of individuals who need help, do let us know. Good thing we ran into her and helped her with the load. Found out that with her bad knees and unsteady gait, she actually fell and had a slight bruise on her forehead just before we came across her. This was crucial as his investors wanted proof that the idea would work before investing.

He said the experience convinced him that there was money to be made in the industry and he learnt more about what kind of items households here throw out.

In the end, he raised enough - an amount in the high five-figure region, he said - to start Karang-guni. The money was for operating costs such as buying the van, petrol, website and rental of a warehouse in Hillview Terrace to store the goods.

The Singapore Management University SMU graduate in business management and finance admitted that this was not a job he would have considered before as the rag-and-bone industry is difficult to understand and is an old industry.

But he had wanted to be a trader since he was 18, when he first learnt about it. Mr Wong's mother, Madam Florence Tan, 58, who works in administration and finance in an oil, sea and gas company, said she was initially not in favour of her son going into this industry. I'm happy that he's at least pursuing his dream. He recounted an encounter he had when he worked briefly as a delivery man for an electronics and home appliance company.

Mr Wong, who works hour days, seven days a week, said he always thinks back to something his late grandmother told him. He foresees that within the next six months, he will also break even in terms of the capital that he put into starting the company.