A Single Mother’s Quest for One Less Lonely Christmas
All photos by Benjamin Tan for RICE Media

In 2019, 48-year-old mother Amy Kang divorced her husband. The decision was mutual. Their 14-year marriage had been rocky since 2014. 

In their HDB flat in Buangkok, the daily conversations that took place between the two were perfunctory at best, hurtful at worst. Long, drawn-out silences regularly filled the spaces between Amy and her husband.

Those rare arguments with her husband happened behind closed doors at home, away from the flat’s hallway. While this gave them some privacy from their neighbours, their strife was clear enough to their son, who could hear them from his bedroom. When he was 11, Amy filed for divorce.

“We both wanted a divorce, but I initiated it. It’s how I became a single mother.” 

Amy settles into a seat at the RICE office. In her arms are the recognisable teal of a food delivery bag and a crumpled windbreaker of the same colour. She sports jeans and a pastel pink shirt—a shade as gentle as her tone and demeanour. 

Delivery rider

Before our meeting, she had travelled through the rain on her motorbike from Pasir Ris to Chinatown. Her hair is noticeably damp. “Occupational hazard,” she says, waving it off.

She works as a part-time delivery rider—eight hours a week, two to three hours a shift between Deliveroo and GrabFood. “It’s enough flexibility for me, as a single mother, to support my son,” she explains.

The road to her divorce was forged not with a fiery revelation but a connection that fizzled out—long before they could admit it to each other.

They were not on good terms, to say the least. Their arguments partly centred around the inadequacies they felt as partners. “He was very frustrated with me. Along the way, my husband and I just stopped communicating,” she reveals.

After Amy became a delivery rider, the flexibility of the job gave her a chance to reconnect with her son, who had grown emotionally distant since the divorce. On holidays, especially Christmas Eve, her son would spend time at his father’s house.

“I’ve learned how to live alone during the festive periods,” she says. 

“I know that my ex-husband and in-laws prefer my son to be with them. I gladly let them be together, although I do feel lonely to be honest. You know, that kind of thing.” 

On the road, delivery riding became her form of escape.   

A Mother’s Life on the Highway

Amy recalls her life before the divorce, as recent as 2019. 

Back then, the familiarity of routine got her through the days. In the morning, she would travel to a clinic in Ubi to work as a clinic assistant. She answered countless phone calls, arranged appointments, and registered lines of patients. 

Back home, she would mostly be met by silence. Any energy or sense of purpose gained from the day would dissipate into stillness. 

“I didn’t feel loved,” Amy remembers, her voice wilting to a whisper. “I lost motivation and felt really demotivated.” 

She could barely summon the effort to prepare for the next day, let alone complete her household responsibilities. “I was bo chap (Hokkien for ‘to not care’) during my marriage. At the time, I was managing my mental health struggles, so I did not take much responsibility in upkeeping the house before divorce.”

After the divorce, however, she felt an immediate jolt. “I became very hardworking.” She began cleaning her house, the small details more noticeable to her now—like the detritus that quietly gathered in small corners during her absence.

“I realised that one part of the house was really dirty. It was filled with insect faeces,” she adds. “It was bad feng shui.” 

Call the change in work ethic whatever you want—a sense of renewed responsibility or unprecedented urgency in the face of the unfamiliar. But Amy felt purposeful. “Maybe my feng shui changed after I cleaned my house,” she jokes. 

She sought a job with a schedule that could accommodate her newfound role in life: A single mother. One day, she bumped into her neighbour at a nearby carpark. Ah Yan, a mother of two in her late 30s, was decked in green GrabFood gear.

“I didn’t really think about being a delivery rider until [I talked to] my neighbour,” Amy admits. She asked her all about the job with great interest. 

Amy shows us how she prepares for a shift: she puts on her jacket and primes herself for her next shift with a daily affirmation, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” 

With one swift job change, Amy swapped phone calls for pop-up notifications, patients for customers, and a modest clinic for Singapore’s busy roads. 

At the turn of a new decade, Amy tried out working as a full-time delivery rider before gradually tapering off her working hours into 2020. 

Her earnings went into supporting her son. Although she remained committed to her responsibilities as a parent, the divorce soured the mother-son relationship.

“He was frustrated. He didn’t want to talk to me,” she explains. “I think he felt like he didn’t have a home.”

It had been an unspoken rule that her son would be out for visiting during these holiday periods. While that happened, she would have the house to herself. Most of the time, a familiar silence would fill her home again. This time, however, delivery riding was her escape. 

She was earning money to support herself, trawling through Singapore’s busy streets with a food delivery bag in hand. The job took her mind off her worries. 

Delivery

The Customer Is Not Always Right 

Like any other job, however, her fledgling days as a delivery rider were not without stress. Orders would fly in at a moment’s notice. Pick-up and drop-off points were, on occasion, frustratingly inaccurate.

If Amy was unlucky, she’d encounter stuffy security guards who refused her entry. “It’s for safety purposes, but sometimes you have to park at a spot far away from the drop-off point,” she explains.

“I’d have to lug [over] very heavy deliveries. That takes time, but some customers think we’re just slow.” 

Delivery rider

And when she got the hang of things, she faced every delivery rider’s rite of passage: The rude customer. 

For seasoned delivery riders like Amy, these interactions slip past their memory after some time. 

It’s not just customers but the vendors that they collect food from. “I feel sad that delivery riders are treated in a ‘different’ way as compared to a customer,” says Charlotte Ng, a 32-year-old who delivers food part-time for Foodpanda to supplement her day job as a holistic health practitioner. “However, it doesn’t affect the rest of my day since I already expect it.”

Still, for Amy, it comes back to her, not least when she’s asked about them by friends. 

Her cadence quickens when she recalls her encounters. It’s clear that these interactions have left a lasting impression on her. One such incident happened just last year. On an early Christmas morning, Amy opted for her motorbike after a sleepless night. 

After collecting an order, she pulled into the lobby of a condominium in Newton. Before her arrival, her phone was flooded with messages from the customer, who urged her to pick up a cigarette pack along the way. More messages came when she declined the request—angry ones, this time.

Amy was anxious. In her mind, customers wielded the power to make her job more complicated than needed. 

delivery rider

Amy collected payment in cash from the customer. She was $2 short. “I returned to collect the remaining money, and she passed it to me with a smug look.”

On top of the physical labour, Amy expends emotional labour as well—to maintain a dignified front, no matter how indignant she feels being treated that way. 

On these occasions, it’s the entitlement that riders face. It’s a job that reveals the Singaporeans who aren’t above treating those who serve them badly, powered by a seeming belief that service is a product and not a two-way interaction

35-year-old Aaron Ang, a delivery rider from Foodpanda, has had doors slammed in front of him “here and there”. Once, he dealt with a prank order—arriving to an empty home, he called the customer only to hear the person on the other end of the phone line giggling. He shrugs it off, noting that Singapore’s roads are often more unforgiving. 

“We’re all human,” Amy states emphatically. “I feel like there should be more respect for delivery riders. Kindness begets kindness. If you are kind to someone, it will come back to you eventually.” 

After all that’s been said about platform workers, some customers still forget that the delivery process is a human one. 

Harmony in Delivery

According to a survey published by the Digital Platforms Industry Association in 2023, 81.4 percent of survey respondents indicated that platform workers should be treated with more respect. More surprisingly, 25 percent of platform workers felt they were not treated with enough respect in their line of work, while only 38 percent felt respected overall.

“Some food vendors would avoid eye contact when I [arrive to ask] the order, or [they would] shoo me to a corner to wait,” Charlotte shares. “Understandably, they would prioritise their customers over riders.”

That said, less-than-savoury interactions have been few and far between for Amy. Her tone is more upbeat as she recalls customers who would gift her drinks—done either in person or placed outside their door for her collection. 

Experiences with customers, good and bad, were related to her newfound support system—a group of delivery riders who call themselves ‘The Snake Gang’. Ah Yan invited her into the group. 

Amy shows us the chat group of the ‘Snake Gang’

“To ‘eat snake’ means to be lazy. For us, we’re ‘killing snakes’, which means to be hard working.” 

Amy carved a small support system within the group of delivery riders. She didn’t feel so lonely anymore, which helped her process her feelings better—the first step in a long journey towards healing.

“A former member of the group supported me through my struggles. I could go to her house at 3 AM and talk to her about my problems. That helped me begin my healing journey.” 

Delivery riding also gave her the flexibility to pursue her interests, giving her a sense of purpose. The familiarity of routine had once worn her down.

“Working as a delivery rider allowed me to [explore] metaphysics, which was a pivot point for me,” she explains. “My metaphysics teacher taught me that where your attention goes, your energy flows. It’s how I’ve dealt with disrespectful customers.” 

Amy’s son opens up to her now. Her regular presence at home, afforded by her flexible schedule, helped mend their relationship.

“When I was working full-time, it seemed as if I didn’t care about my son. But I’m now more present in his life.” 

Mother

Back Home for Christmas 

This year will be the first Christmas in four years that her son will spend with her. No longer does she feel the need to escape the deafening silence of her own house anymore. 

She’s also starting a new business—a “metaphysics consultancy”, a business focused on using Chinese astrology to guide people to make better life decisions. Or, as it’s widely known, feng shui.

Her son has been active in building it with her: He’s offered suggestions on branding and volunteered to distribute flyers.

According to the same DPIA report, platform workers like Amy take to jobs like delivery riding for various reasons. Aaron, like Amy, opted to be a delivery rider after serving as a full-time chef to spend time with his three kids. His full-time working hours were “way longer and less flexible”, he reveals.

Whatever their reasons may be, it’s difficult to see why they should accept rude customers as occupational hazards, much like the rain Amy sometimes navigates to get to drop-off points. 

Perhaps we need more platitudes in place of the old ones: “The customer is always right” negates the hard work and personalised service that gig workers often take up during long hours. The boundaries of customer service have long surpassed the doors of a retail shop.

At the end of our interview, Amy settles into the seat of her motorbike. She tells us that, this holiday season, she’ll leave her delivery bag by her doorstep. 

“I’m looking forward to Christmas,” she remarks as she bids us farewell. 

“I give my blessings to my ex, and I appreciate what he has done for the family thus far. I would like my to have a cordial relationship with my ex-husband even after divorce.”

Her windbreaker is tucked into her food delivery bag, which sits on the pillion seat. She takes a left turn onto the main street, finding a route that will bring her back home—a place a little livelier than it was before.

This Christmas, this mother can simply just be.


If you haven’t already, follow RICE on InstagramTikTokFacebook, and Telegram. While you’re at it, subscribe to Takeaways, our weekly newsletter.
If you have a lead for a story, feedback on our work, or just want to say hi, you can also email the writer at hykel@ricemedia.co or at community@ricemedia.co.
Loading next article...
https://www.ricemedia.co/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/atap-assembly-dan-lain-lain-07-min.png