When Covid-19 Threw Us Lemons, We Turned to Durians

By August 1, 2020Current

TL;DR –  How one family found their way out selling durians during the pandemic and amidst the turmoil, found ways to do good for the community

2020 may have seemed like a series of unfortunate events so far. Yet, it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom because at the end of the day, life is what we make of it, isn’t it?

We spoke to Gwowei, a financial advisor whose family, like many others, was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. His parents, self-employed subcontractors who had been doing tiling projects for decades, were deeply affected by the upheaval caused during the Circuit Breaker measures in Singapore. How did the family get through the period? Amidst the chaos, what drove them to reach out and help others?

When Life Throws Us Curveballs

Gwowei’s dad has been a tiler since he was 18 years old, and his mum has been helping him on his tiling projects over the decades. Since Covid-19 hit our shores, they had been out of job. I guess the average person wouldn’t be able to imagine losing their livelihoods almost overnight, especially when that is something they have been doing for decades. They were lost and rather distraught to say the least. As with most Singaporeans who had their livelihoods impacted by the pandemic, they were feeling increasingly stressed out.

Sinking was Not An Option

When Gwowei’s dad was told that he will not be able to start work in Phase 1 post Circuit Breaker, the family decided they had to explore other opportunities. He applied for some government grants but while they were appreciative, they knew that such aids can only be temporary.

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Gwowei shared of a freelancer friend who was merely griping about how government aid was not enough, waiting for more to come his way as time goes by. “Honestly, nothing beats having a job. It is really the best form of welfare.”

With this mindset, the family decided to explore other options. The idea of setting up shop to sell durians from their uncle’s durian farm in Muar came to them. Now, durians were something they grew up eating and his mum often eats it with rice as a meal!

The challenge though? Both his parents had never started a business before and were completely lost. That was where Gwowei came into the picture. He found the current physical shop for them as it was near both their homes. Acting quickly, they managed to open for business on 3rd June.

Steady stream of customers at the family’s durian stall


In preparation, Gwowei also took up social media courses with a friend and started developing their Facebook page. He even coordinated group buys for his neighbours in the estate. Their social media marketing strategy worked, with 80-90% of sales coming from their online orders!

Durian Lovers First, Durian Sellers Second

The family get the durians fresh from their uncle’s farm daily and are highly confident of the quality of their durians. Pricings are adjusted daily to remain competitive despite them having a much higher cost as they only offer customers good durians and keep the sub-par ones for their own consumption. Psst, they have been having durians for supper & breakfast! *Envious

Customers’ feedback is very much valued and they gladly do exchanges should there be any complaints. As durian lovers themselves, they sincerely want customers to get value-for-money quality durians. Talk about service with a heart!

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Amidst It All, Do Good

Gwowei’s family understands that in this trying time, a lot of people are affected, especially the low income families. Durians are a luxury that they may not be able to afford. For Gwowei, good food perks him up when things are rough. Guess what he did? Every day, he kept aside 3 boxes of durians to give away to low income families – hoping that through good food, their spirits will be lifted when times are tough! Little acts of kindness go a long way.

“How do you add value to yourself and give value to others?” That’s the question he asks himself often. In his spare time, Gwowei offers webinars to educate others as well as does volunteer work. He has been volunteering with various organisations since he was in his 20s. Most recently, he also took part in a fundraising effort to get masks for the low-wage workers in his estate.

Advice to someone facing challenges in such uncertain times?

Gwowei advises, “Always ask yourself, how can you be more proactive in going out there and seizing opportunities? What can you do to upgrade yourself? How can we find new ways of doing things better?” Indeed, this crisis may present new opportunities if you are more open-minded.

There are definitely upskilling opportunities if one is proactive enough to seek them out. Singapore’s new SG Digital Office will support our nation’s next phase of digitalisation and help it to reach out and connect with every community, especially seniors and hawkers.

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A new jobs and skills training initiative, Skills Ignition SG, was launched by tech giant Google in conjunction with government agencies Economic Development Board, Infocomm Media Development Authority and SkillsFuture Singapore. Close to 100,000 opportunities – jobs, traineeships and skills training places – will be generated under the package overseen by the National Jobs Council. There is an ongoing national effort to create jobs, allow for upskilling and boost employability of Singaporean workers.


Anxiety levels may run high and times may be tough for everyone. This is the crisis of our generation and it may seem that the situation won’t improve in the near future. What’s within our control then? Maintaining a growth mindset. There’s always space for growth – never let stagnation dim your light.


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