Baron Ang is able to speak four languages and uses it to build rapport with his customers.
Within the span of 10 minutes, Baron Ang speaks in four different languages – Malay, Mandarin, English and, more impressively, Tagalog.
One could have easily mistaken the 29-year-old for an interpreter, if not for the location where the conversations take place.
Standing in front of a fish stall, most of the people Baron is speaking to are the makciks, foreign domestic workers, and the aunties and uncles doing their marketing early in the morning. A third-generation fishmonger, Baron is a familiar face to the regular customers at Chong Pang City Wet Market & Food Centre.
The stall is owned by his family and Baron shares that he picked up the trade since he was young.
“When I was in Primary School, my mother forced me to follow my dad down to the fishery port to learn the trade. At the start I was quite unwilling, because I had to wake up early in the morning, but as time went by, I started to love the job,” Baron tells Youthopia.
As a fishmonger, Baron works six days a week at his stall, Panjang Ikan. The only rest day comes on Monday, as Jurong Fishery Port, where he sources stocks from, is closed.
A typical working day for Baron sees him waking up at 1am to head to the port. By 5.30am, they will be at their fish stall in Yishun to set up for the day. The stall closes in the afternoon, usually when they have finished selling all their fishes, and by the time Baron gets home, it’s about 4pm.
“Every day is like a routine,” shares Baron. But the sense of satisfaction he gets from the work is what keeps him going.
“I actually never wanted to be a fishmonger because of the routine and the long work hours. But as time went by, it became a habit and I gradually liked the job,” Baron says.
“In the end, it’s my family business, so why not make something out of it? I can get to meet different kinds of people and learn how to handle different customers in different situations, so it’s actually a very good experience.”
Baron initially wanted to be a veterinarian, but dropped the idea because the tuition fees were expensive. Instead of joining his family at the stall, however, Baron worked at a restaurant in the Philippines – explaining his ability to speak Tagalog. The job also required him to travel to countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and China.
It was only when the COVID-19 pandemic struck that Baron decided it was time to return home. At that point, working at Panjang Ikan was a straightforward decision.
“People may think that this job is ‘very smelly’ and the pay you earn is not a lot… but I want them to understand that the money you earn from the job is really ‘blood-earned money’. You actually cut your hand in the process of cutting the fish, or maybe get a fish thorn poked into your hand and that’s really serious because you will bleed,” shares Baron.
He adds that he knows most young people of his age don’t really go to the wet market now because there’s a perception that it’s smelly and wet, and they prefer the air-conditioned supermarket.
But the advantage of heading to the wet market is that a fishmonger is able to tell you if a fish is fresh and good, compared to the pre-packed fishes in the supermarkets.
“I hope people don’t actually look down on this job. It’s a tough job, but it’s a worthwhile job,” says Baron.
When asked what is required of someone who wants to be a fishmonger, Baron replies nonchalantly that there are no qualifications like with other trades.
“The most important thing is that you must have someone to guide you,” he shares.
“You need to know where to go and get your stocks, what you should buy, and how you should buy it. You need to know how to go about processing the whole fish, from cleaning it to cutting it. There are many types of style to cut a fish – it’s actually a skill you are talking about here.
“To be a fishmonger, it’s important to have a mentor to guide you. Luckily, I had my dad and my mum to guide me from young.”
While there aren’t trade secrets, being a fishmonger requires some form of communication skills. A fish doesn’t sell itself as it can’t speak, so a fishmonger needs to learn how to gain rapport with their customers and understand what they are looking for, to be able to sell them the fishes, Baron shares.
That probably explains why Baron loves engaging his customers all the time. It also explains why he has set up his own YouTube account, vlogging about his life as a fishmonger.
“The content is to teach and educate the public on seafood, after my friend suggested for me to do it. To be frank, I didn’t expect any kind of response as I thought no one would care,” says Baron.
On average, Baron says that his stall sells more than 100kg of seafood a day. There are more customers on Fridays and the weekends. His salary also depends on the stall’s customers – the more customers buy, the higher pay he gets – although on average, he earns slightly more than $2,000.
It may not seem a lot, but then again, Baron has made it clear that his goal isn’t about earning as much as it can, but to work in a job that provides him with the most fulfillment.
That said, Baron isn’t resting on his laurels too. He has started to take in online orders via WhatsApp for his stall, in a bid to bring in more sales for his family,and has plans to grow Panjang Ikan.
“In the future, I just want the business to be better and bigger. Maybe two to three stores, but this will take time because manpower will be an issue. Not many workers are willing to dedicate long hours on the job, but for sure, I will want to help my family to expand the business.”
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