The Jason Hahn Files: Shall We Offer Those Building Painters Some Snacks?

“The sides of the towers are festooned with abseiling painters, and gondolas rising up and down as a team of painters industriously swipes away like a Bangladeshi version of ‘The Karate Kid’ — the one with Mr Miyagi, not Jackie Chan.”

Our condo is currently being repainted.

Frankly, it’s about time. The whole place looks so decrepit and mouldy. It should have been repainted five years ago, but an attempt to en-bloc the place derailed everything. Every time something needed to be repaired, someone would say, “Why waste money? Going to en-bloc soon.”

And when it was pointed out that it had been 10 years since the estate had been repainted, the official response was, “What for? We go en-bloc soon!”

As it turned out, the whole exercise failed, and while there were quite a few long faces dragging around the estate, their synaptic nerves twitching at the lost opportunity to grab a cash windfall, there was no longer any excuse not to break out the paint brushes and colour swatches.

And suddenly, the sides of the towers are festooned with abseiling painters, and gondolas rising up and down as a team of painters industriously swipes away like a Bangladeshi version of  The Karate Kid — the one with Mr Miyagi, not Jackie Chan.

Sharyn, who came over one Saturday afternoon, stood rooted at our lounge window as she stared out at the activity on the façade of the tower opposite us.

“Wah,” she said, after a while, “incredible hor? Got no Singaporean painter. All Bangladeshi! Where are all the Singaporean painters?”

“Probably at ACS!” Amanda said, a quip that had Sharyn in stitches.

“No, really!” Amanda said. “Can you imagine if your son came home one day and said he wanted to hang off a building a hundred metres up in the air with a tin of paint! You’d have a nervous breakdown!”

“Ay, my son hor, he just go wall climbing at Funan. He say, wah so exciting and so fun!” Sharyn shook her head. “I say to him, ‘Aiyoh, you pay someone 30 dollar to climb a wall ah! Why you don’t go to Auntie Saffy apartment and climb her wall and paint? There, no need to pay people. They pay you!”

We gave the matter some thought. As Saffy is always fond of saying, sometimes Sharyn just comes up with the most refreshing perspectives on life.

“Correct or not?” Sharyn now demanded. “You like to climb, you climb lah! No one stop you. And can make mah-ney, some more!”

“Totally,” Saffy said, her bosom inflating.

“Singaporean hah, so spoilt,” Sharyn went on. “Every day, you work outdoor in fresh air and you get paid. What more you want?”

Just then, a pair of painters descended into view right in front of our window on thick ropes, their legs wedged into a harness, while another rope was fastened to a tin of paint. They looked a bit surprised to see four people staring back at them.

Saffy waved and slid open the window. “Hello! Would you like some iced water?”

The pair looked at each, turned back to us, and their heads twisted gently to the side. “Yes, okay,” said one of them.

Saffy pivoted on her heels and headed to the kitchen, muttering, “I think we might have some cookies, too."

Sharyn leaned out the window. “Ay, hello! Namaskhar! Ay, I ask you ah, you like your job or not?”

Again, they looked at each other. Clearly, they were not used to being interrogated in this manner. The one who’d agreed to the water piped up with a flash of blindingly white teeth. “It’s okay, but sometimes very painful!” he said, pointing at his crotch where the harness was looped around a kind of padded seat.

Saffy came back with the water and some Bengawan Solo cookies. Oddly, they tipped the water into their mouth without ever making contact with the cup. The cookies disappeared in a single bite. As they handed back the cups, the first guy said, “Our life depends on this rope!” He looked up and tugged at the rope.

“Yeah, well don’t let go!” Amanda said as she slid the window shut. “Keep up the good work!"

They waved and smiled shyly, and got back to work.

Much later, Saffy said if the market ever fell out of the HR business, she wouldn’t mind giving professional painting a go. “I mean, the fumes will be a bit of an issue, but a mask should sort that out, no?”

“You’d be out in the hot sun all day,” Amanda pointed out. “With your skin tone, you’d turn into a slice of bak kwa by the end of the first day.”

“Not if you cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and put on SPF 50! It’ll be fun!”

Amanda says she wonders just what Saffy tells candidates applying for a job at her firm. “It’s no wonder people keep quitting!”





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