By Carol Yuen (14A01A), Tracey Toh (14A01A) and Bryan Chua (14A01A)
Additional reporting by Chong Ee Hsiun (15A01A) and Myko Philip (15A01B)
Amidst the busy machines and stacks of papers, one can find Annie Kang juggling several duties at once; operating the photocopiers, collecting payment from students and putting together orders for worksheets and lecture notes.
Annie was not always working with paper and printers – prior to working here, she was working as a supermarket cashier. She tells us of life as a supermarket cashier, from long hours, arduous daily commutes and difficult customers. She recalls an incident with a customer who once returned a carton of milk, and claimed it had gone bad – even after drinking half of it. She laughs, “thankfully, there are no expiry dates on printing paper!”
She eventually left her job as a supermarket cashier to work here at Raffles, on the recommendation of a friend. She finds working here a welcome break from the life of a cashier – the work hours being shorter (8-5pm), particularly during the school holidays (where she finishes work at 3pm), and also the much shorter commute from her home in Woodlands. Annie has been with the photocopying shop, run by Seng City, since 2009.
Ultimately one of the biggest changes that she appreciates about moving from a supermarket to the school is that she finds the pace in the shop far more relaxing, particularly as her ‘customers’ are of a different age group. She says, “In school, students are technically still considered kids and not mature yet, so they are more respectful – but in the supermarket, I had to deal with people my age or older, and they can be much tougher.” One can often find Annie and her colleague engaging in small conversations with students, particularly those she recognizes who regularly stop by to pick up worksheets and notes for their classes.
However, while this job may present some pleasant changes from her previous work, there are inevitably things that aren’t as great, which Annie admits. One of them is that Annie speaks only Mandarin – which does present itself as a barrier to communication with both teachers and students. However, Annie works through the difficulties of the job – and says that rarely is the language barrier an issue, unless she misunderstands the request.
Those of us who regularly visit the photocopying shop will see Annie as an efficient worker who seems to make the task of working in the shop seem easy – yet, the process of learning to do so was far from easy. Annie told us that she had no prior technical experience in this business, and that it definitely took her a while to familiarize herself with the machines. 3 years on, she is much better with the equipment. She recounts, “With time, you get the hang of things and you make less mistakes. It’s like a baby learning to walk – it takes a while at first, but after you know how to do it, you are very fast – you can even run!”
Ultimately, she does admit that part of the reason why she works here is simply to earn a livelihood. What does make it more enjoyable, though, is the thoughtfulness of students who come in and brighten her day, attempting to bring a sense of warmth to the job, as difficult as it may be. She also admits that while she sometimes receives rushed orders for teachers, she remarks that she does have time to sit down, rest and play games on her phone, “just like you!”
As we rounded off the interview, we asked her if she had anything she wanted to share with the students that she’s seen for the past 3 years. She says, “Some people are going to be more fussy and demanding than others, and it is the nature of all work that you will encounter such people. While staying in the same job may be safe, it will be stagnant, and offers little perspective; if you keep trying new things, though, then you will experience so much more.”
Annie has left us a lot to think about – with both her experience and her words of encouragement. As we leave, she quickly returns to her work printing, photocopying and stapling the stacks of notes that we come in to collect on a regular basis, earning our respect and our gratitude for the amount of effort she puts in on a daily basis in the photocopying shop.