#QSCelebratesWomen2024: Interview with Oh Siew Guat, the Lady Boss of Quan Shui Wet Market

" I feel really lao kui (embarrassed) that I had to rely on others to take care of my own children. But there was no other way I could have done this as we had to work full time and couldn’t afford a helper back then” - Oh Siew Guat

Welcome back to the third and final part of our #QSCelebratesWomen2024 series, where we share inspiring stories of the women we work with, their challenges, and their insights on gender equality.

To conclude this series, we want to celebrate Oh Siew Guat, the Lady Boss and Chief Butcher of Quan Shui Wet Market. She is one of the 9 children of our founder, Grandpa Oh Quan Shui, and took over the business from her parents in the 1990s.

From her early days of being an assistant at Grandpa Oh’s stall, working even on the day prior to delivering her firstborn, to her current role of leading the quality control of Quan Shui Wet Market’s fresh pork, Siew Guat’s journey is one of resilience, passion and sacrifice. 

Join us as we delve into her life to learn about what motivates her to still get up daily at 01:45 in the morning, what drives her passion for butchery and also why she felt “lao kui” (embarrassed) while balancing raising children and work. 

As we celebrate women this month, Jun He, her eldest son, decided to give her a break from cooking and prepared her favourite Prime Ribs Bak Kut Teh Set as well as the One-Pot Chicken and Mushroom ‘Claypot’ Rice Set that she has yet to try. 

While International Women’s Day may have passed, there’s no expiration date on showing appreciation for the women in your life - whether it’s your mom, wife, best friends or family. Hurry and make plans to cook her a home-cooked meal with our 10% off all recipe sets promotion, ending this month.

Can you introduce yourself and what do you do at Quan Shui Wet Market?

Hello, my name is Oh Siew Guat, and I am 60 years old this year. My main role is to purchase pork and ensure its quality at Quan Shui Wet Market. 

I maintain relationships with the largest pig importers in Singapore, do regular visits to their factories to understand their production and processing methods, and also do due diligence on the quality of their produce. If there’s anything unsatisfactory, I will then communicate with the factory’s in-charge to ensure that all fresh pork that we receive are top notch. 

Every morning, I also oversee the goods received, our butchers’ production and whether all fresh pork is prepared according to our standards.. Once everything is done, I will then release the fresh pork required for all our stores and also the online business. 

After which, I will remain at our main store at 156 Bt Batok St 11 and sell to our customers there.


To get a better glimpse into your life, can you tell us what a typical day is like for you? Do you still go down to the market daily?

Yes, I go down every day except Mondays when the market is closed. 

My day starts with the alarm going off at 1:45 a.m. After washing up, we head to our 156 Bukit Batok St 11 store to prepare and sort all the fresh pork needed for the day. After distributing all the fresh pork we need for the different stalls, we remain at the same stall to do our retail sales. We continue selling until the afternoon, after which I then place orders for pork that’s needed the next day. 

After lunch, I usually hike at Dairy Farm or Bt Timah Hill with my husband, before sometimes dropping by our Upper Thomson store before we head home.

When I return home around 6 p.m., I unwind by watching TV, listening to music, and singing at home. I go to bed when I'm tired, which can be as early as 7, 8, or 9 p.m., depending on the day.

My other passion is singing. Previously, I used to go for singing lessons but since COVID-19, my teacher stopped teaching and thus I didn’t continue doing this.

Let’s talk about your hobbies more! 

I used to be more diligent, hiking at Dairy Farm almost every day. However, I've become lazier lately and hiking has also become more taxing with age.

We still bring our shoes and clothes in the car, but only when the mood strikes, we head to Dairy Farm to hike. We still hike a few days every week.

Nowadays, I only sing at home since our teacher has stopped teaching. Previously, I used to sing at the Residents' Committee (RC), where they had a singing-focused class. I had been learning from the teacher for 6-7 years already. It's a pity because it's my hobby. If there's an opportunity, I will continue learning.

I also bought a lot of CDs to practise back then after the teacher taught us. I like Hokkien songs the best. My favourite is Wang Fei’s ‘Dui Dui Dui’. There are techniques to singing, such as how to pronounce and breathe. You can take a look at my collection here. 

What is your favourite dish to cook? Have you also used Quan Shui’s fresh pork in your cooking?

Of course. My family is the king of pork! My kids like to eat whatever I cook and I'll also cook whatever they like. Their favourite food is the one-pot dish where I combine pork ribs, pork belly, scallops, abalone, and fat choy. 

There’s no secret to cooking this dish; the freshness of the ingredients is the most important. I use white radish or sea cucumber as the base of the one-pot dish. Then, I will add the pork and shrimp at the end. You can use chicken as well, but pork will be more tender. Additionally, you can put in dried mushrooms. If you want to use fresh mushrooms, add them at the end. For the sauce, just add a little oyster sauce and a little water. Then it will be salty enough.

One of the family’s favourite dishes is lor bak (braised pork). Personally, I like pork belly the most. If you don’t know how to cook it, simply sprinkle salt on the pork belly and blanch it; you can eat it as is. Alternatively, slice it thinly and stir-fry it. Another common way to prepare it is by adding light sauce, bay leaf, and spring onion, and cooking it with the pork belly. If it turns out too salty, add a little sugar. It will be very delicious. 

Can you tell us about your journey with Quan Shui Wet Market, starting from Quan Shui Fresh Pork to now? How many years have you been working there?

I started working in the 1980s at Quan Shui Fresh Pork, which was my father’s first stall at Kebun Baru Market.  Most of my siblings all helped out at some point but most of them stopped after getting married or went on to do their own businesses.

When it came to my turn, I decided to help my father run the store full time because it seemed fun and interesting to me.

Initially, I was there to only observe and assist. However, as I observed others and realised, “Eh, how come the business next door is so good, or the meat is so beautifully arranged?” I took initiative and tried to improve our store by imitating them on how to communicate with customers and display our pork.

These are some of my happiest memories.

I slowly improved myself and gradually started working at the store full time, committing 100% to learning how to do this. Back then, we received the whole pig and had to prepare it ourselves, starting by removing the head, cutting it in half, and then deboning it part by part. This is how I eventually mastered the skill of butchering as I had to do everything from scratch! Today, it’s much easier as you can order directly from factories, parts that are already pre-processed for you. 

Reflecting on it now, it was actually quite fun. It seems not too long since I started, but I have already been doing this for around 40 years. 

Where did you learn all the skills to be a butcher? Did your father teach you everything? 

Yes, my father taught me, patiently guiding me through the process. I didn’t know how to debone at the start, and I would get frustrated. I was still young then. My father, however, had a very good temperament. He calmly instructed me and guided me on how to use different knives, encouraging me and reassuring me, saying, "Once you get used to it, it’s OK. There’s nothing to worry about."

What motivated you to join your father’s business and eventually lead the family business?

I want to join my father’s business because I’m very interested. Most of my siblings all helped out with selling pork at some point in time,  but they only did it for a period of time before stopping. For example, an elder sibling would help till they got married, then another family member took over, and the cycle continued. When it was my turn, after getting married, I wanted to continue leading the family business, and I want to thank my husband because he didn't object.

In your 40 years at Quan Shui, what are some memorable moments in your career?

One of the most memorable moments would be the 1999 Nipah Flu Virus outbreak.

Initially, I was very happy for the first week because having a day off is rare for me. However, a day off slowly became a week off and over time, we started to not have our income. We didn't know what to do until the pigs started to come in. It was a very memorable event because we had almost 0 income for the entire year. 

After the Nipah Flu outbreak, it took very longer for Singaporeans to restart consuming pork. We had to slowly convince customers and explain to them that regulations and safety checks for pork in Singapore are very strict and so the pork is safe to consume.

Another memorable moment was when Jun He and Emily came to help when COVID-19 struck. We were overjoyed because we didn't expect them to take over. Previously, we had concerns about the future of our business and what would happen if no one took over. It left us feeling uncertain.

We weren't sure why Emily and Jun He decided to help, but perhaps Emily saw how hard it was for us. She witnessed our daily routine of getting up in the middle of the night and working until one or two in the afternoon. It was a challenging time for us. Then, suddenly, they came to help us. This gesture touched us deeply. We didn't expect it.

Now, they are putting in a lot of effort to develop the online aspect of the business. We will support them wholeheartedly.

As Jun He and Emily made the effort to take the business online, how did the process of moving online happen?

Initially, we didn't have a brand and nobody knew us well. It was challenging because there were only 3 or 5 orders a day. At that time, our online business hadn't officially launched yet. We would get small orders through our children’s friends, or via our neighbours that were from the same estate. They would place orders, we would pack from home, and then deliver to their doorstep.

Subsequently, Jun He and Emily became more involved in the online business. They researched how to increase the visibility of our business nationwide and marketed the high quality of our fresh pork through the website. We mainly handle the operational aspects, but they come to us whenever they have questions. We often gather as a family to discuss how to improve the business operations.

How do you think others generally find butchery and sell meat at the markets? Do you think differently from them?

They all say, "Uh, it's so bloody," and "The pig's intestines are dirty and smelly." Some of them don't even dare to get close, but I'm different. I'm really interested in the craft and that's how I've persisted until today.

What are some of the challenges you've faced as a woman in the meat industry, and how have you overcome them? Have you encountered any comments from family or friends regarding your work in butchery?

When I first started selling, especially in Bukit Batok, people next door would say, "Oh, look at this little girl. She'll probably give up in less than half a year." However, I proved to them with my own strength that I could succeed with my honest skills. I guess it's not bad that I have survived until today. 

They may think, "Girls so weak, can meh?" It's just their assumption. Most of the time when doing business, people hope for the best for themselves and the worst for others, not necessarily so because I’m a woman.

Generally, I don’t encounter any harsh comments from others. It’s probably because we've worked in the same neighbourhood for over 20 years, so we are all used to it and don’t think much of it.

Other challenges I've experienced can happen in any job. Some customers are very good. Some are very overbearing. For example, our meat can be very fresh and prepared on the same morning of sales, but you will definitely have customers who will think otherwise based on their perception of what is ‘fresh’.

Even if our meat is reasonably priced, some will still want to bargain or even get it for free. I have experienced all kinds of situations. I try to endure and not argue with customers.

Considering your petite frame, is it hard to perform laborious tasks such as cutting big sized pork or lifting heavy objects?

No, it isn’t hard. You just need to have a sharp knife and good technique. For example, it’s easy to cut at the joints and so you just need to identify the most efficient point to chop. Of course, I didn’t have these skills back then and used brute force, often causing meat to become mushy and ugly. 

Nevertheless, this role is very laborious and it takes more out of me as I am petite. When I'm sick and my energy is low, I might sometimes struggle and these are times when I will also accidentally cut myself.

How has your family supported you in your journey with Quan Shui Wet Market?

My husband, Pork Boss! He is very supportive of me. He used to run a contractor business and was completely uninvolved in this. However, he thought it was hard for me to do everything by myself, so he came down to help. 

He now helps to sell at the stall, while I'm in charge of ordering and purchasing the pork. He provides me with a lot of emotional and mental support as well. His involvement is also why we were able to open more branches. 

Whenever we open new branches, my husband goes to the new store to help out for the first few months while I remain at our main store at Bt Batok.

During your generation, there was a perception that women must conform to certain responsibilities, such as cooking and doing household chores. Have you ever felt this way?

Maybe I was born into a happy family. My parents didn't discriminate against women. My mother gave birth to seven daughters, so perhaps it was my grandmother who preferred sons. At that time, we had so many daughters, but my grandmother only carried the boys on her back; the rest of us were on the ground. That's what I heard from my parents when we were still very young. However, in my generation, my parents were really good, and I can't find any better parents than them. They all loved us equally.

In my generation, we didn’t go against societal expectations placed on women. If our husbands told us to stay home to care for the children and family, we would just accept it. I don’t view it as discrimination either. It was normal in those times. When we lived in the kampung, we had our own crops and livestock, so it wasn't necessary for us to go out to work; life was simple. We spent our days taking care of our family. Nowadays, times have changed, and everything is much more expensive, which is why both husbands and wives have to go out to work.

How did you manage between the roles of being a mom and your job?

I gave birth to 3 kids and I really have to thank my second sister who helped me take care of them.

Thinking about this, I feel really lao kui (embarrassed) that I had to rely on others to take care of my own children. But there was no other way I could have done this as we had to work full time and couldn’t afford a helper back then.

It was really hard  - I even worked till the day before the delivery of my firstborn and only took one month of maternity leave! I’m thankful for my sisters who helped out when I was on leave back then.

As we worked long hours daily, I had to leave the children at my sister’s for 5-6 days in the week. I would only bring them home on Sundays, spend time with them on our only off day on Monday, before fetching them back to my sister’s on Monday night.

This routine continued for all three of my sons and we only managed to hire a helper after the youngest was born. This gave me more time to spend with my children as we could spend time together after my work and after their school. 

What advice do you have for our generation as a mother?

I think you must appreciate and enjoy the time with the kids while you can. Look at us, we are 60 years old now, and those moments exist only in our memories. Now that our kids are grown up and have their own lives, they hardly have time to be by our sides. Sometimes I wish they had grown up faster, but then other times I wish they had grown up slower. All parents feel that way.

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