Student, cleaner and man of the house at age 23
HE IS only 23, but this young man will do anything to support his family.
Lu Zhi Quan cleans people's homes - sweeping and mopping the floors, even scrubbing toilets.
That means there are no movies or clubbing in his free time. But Mr Lu, a part-time student, does not mind.
He is more focused on his role as the family's sole breadwinner. His mother is a stroke patient and his sister has schizophrenia. His father died of cancer in September last year.
Mr Lu also has to work hard to put himself through school. He says: "I want to further my studies - diploma, degree and maybe even a master's."
He hopes to be a social worker one day and for this, he needs higher qualifications, says the mechanical engineering student.
Due to issues at home, his parents sold the family flat after they separated. Mr Lu, his mother and his sister went to live with his maternal grandmother.
His estranged father was later diagnosed with end-stage cancer, while his mum suffered a minor stroke.
After his father's death, Mr Lu became the caregiver to his mum, 60, and his sister, 31, who has been schizophrenic for more than 10 years.
Mr Lu is the youngest of four children. His other two elder siblings - a brother and a sister - are married and live with their families.
He worked as a waiter and later as a technician, while studying part-time, to support his family. But that left him with no time to spend with his sister.
He says: "She doesn't dare to go out on her own and she stays cooped up at home. She tires easily as she has been staying at home for far too long. I want her to get her life back."
So he quit his better-paying job as a technician to become a freelance cleaner with Fuss.sg, a booking platform for home cleaning services in Singapore.
As a technician, he worked from 9am to 5pm on weekdays, bringing in $2,000 monthly. As a cleaner, he earns $15 an hour and on average, makes $700 to $800 a month.
Mr Lu says: "(But) the timing is more flexible. I can take my sister to see the doctor and also, (help her) build up her stamina. I hope she can at least learn to be independent and live the life she wants."
Thrice a week, he takes his sister out for walks and jogs. He also teaches her to type on the keyboard.
"When her physical tolerance is better, I plan to bring her in as a freelance cleaner. Her typing skills will come in useful if she wants to take up administrative jobs."
Mr Lu does about 12 cleaning jobs a week. On some school days, he does two to three cleaning jobs in the day before rushing off for his evening classes, often still sweaty from his work.
Each job takes an average of two to three hours.
"Sometimes, I don't even have time to eat. I'll eat on the way to the next job. I often have to turn down my friends when they ask me to go drinking. I can't afford it."
To save money, he cooks his meals or packs economy rice from a hawker centre.
Mr Lu, who lives in a one-room rental flat in Sengkang, depends on GST vouchers. The scheme helps lower- and middle-income households with living expenses. He is in the process of applying for financial assistance.
His mother, who used to work as a dishwasher, says she does not object to her son taking up cleaning jobs as "he wants to help his sister".
But his sister reveals that their mother "feels heartache" that he has to bear the burden of looking after the family.
She says: "I'm happy that he's helping me to get back on my feet again."
But Mr Lu remains cheerful.
"At least, cleaning is a job and it pays better than being a waiter," he says. "In the army, we had to do everything, too."
THE NEW PAPER