Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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CHIN AI LING

HORTICULTURIST

ONE FARRER HOTEL

How long have you been in the hotel industry? It will be five years in July.

You worked in the construction and design industries for 17 years, before getting into horticulture. What made you decide to join the hotel industry? I joined horticulture because that’s my interest. Before I switched, I was a homemaker for about four years, taking care of my kids. I had always intended to return to work at some point and try something new, so I used that time to figure out what I really wanted to do. As it was a major career switch, I started with the basics. I attended landscaping and horticulture courses and learnt the necessary skills. I joined the landscaping industry at first, and initially worked with several hotels on a contract basis. By chance, I saw that One Farrer was looking for someone to coordinate its landscape maintenance operations, and I jumped at the opportunity!

Was it tough making such a career switch? How did you overcome the challenges you faced coming into the industry? Having not been in the workforce for four years, I knew it would take time to get used to the work culture. So before I joined, I mentally prepared myself for the challenges of a mid-career switch by constantly telling myself to “just do it”. I was initially concerned about juggling my career with my responsibilities at home, taking care of my young children. But since I’ve joined, the hotel industry has been extremely accommodating which has made adapting to the changes much easier.

Everything else I needed, I was able to learn from my supportive colleagues. I’ve never worked in a big organisation before, and I’m grateful that they helped me understand the work flow & company culture better.

Can you tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis? When we are maintaining our gardens, we try our best to be as “invisible” as possible. We want to make sure that the guest experience of admiring our plants isn’t obstructed by this work. We have 12 gardens in the hotel, distributed across various levels. I work with two different teams - a group of contractors, as well as technicians who maintain our edible garden. My role is to oversee the maintenance operations and plan their work schedules. I also work with our chefs to get their feedback on our edible garden’s harvest and find out if they have any particular requests , as part of the hotel’s strong belief in the ‘farm to table’ concept. Lettuce, Blue Pea Flower, Basil, Kaffir Lime and Kale are just some of the herbs and vegetables that we grow right now.

One thing I hope to achieve is to grow more plants that aren’t commonly grown in Singapore, like Lavender, which are typically found in temperate countries. I’ve been trying, and hopefully one day I will be successful!

What do you enjoy most about what you do? I get to walk around gardens every day! I enjoy admiring the beauty of the various gardens, hearing the birds and being surrounded by greenery. The mornings are extra special – when I walk past fragrant plants, the scents are fantastic! I always look forward to that.

How do you think you contribute to a guest’s happiness during his/her stay? I think looking at a well-maintained garden helps our guests feel more relaxed and at ease. The garden provides shade, which makes our guests feel more comfortable in our tropical weather. Often when I’m doing my rounds, I spot guests taking photos at the different gardens and enjoying the serenity, which in return puts a smile on my face.

How has your life changed since you started working in the industry? I’ve had to learn a lot about working together with different people and in bigger teams. In this industry, you’re not working on your own, or only within your department. There are so many departments in the hotel that you have to coordinate with.

Compared to working as a landscape contractor, the things I have to look out for now are very different. As a contractor, your main focus is to make the plants look good. But when you’re representing the hotel, you try to think from the perspective of the guests. I consider how I want guests to feel as they walk through the garden, and that’s the starting point as I plan the look and feel of the spaces.

You continued to upgrade your skills after joining, and have since become a certified horticulturist. Why do you feel that it is important to continuously improve yourself? I enjoy learning new things, and being able to share what I’ve learnt while getting better at my job. I believe that I can always be better at what I do. I’m thankful that the hotel has been extremely supportive of me regularly attending courses on landscaping and horticulture. And when it comes to landscaping, there’s so much information that everyone can find online and learn on their own if they’re interested. Whenever I pick up new pieces of information, I try to apply that to my day-to-day work. Last year, I took up a Therapeutic Horticulture course which focused on getting the elderly out of the house to interact more with their surroundings. A garden designed with this in mind can actually help them relax. Such courses helps me understand how different groups of people react and interact differently with gardens, and it ultimately helps me with my job as well.

Beyond your job scope, you also regularly give scheduled tours of the hotel’s edible garden to guests and even patients from the nearby hospital. What made you decide to start doing this? I feel good sharing what we grow in the garden with others. I’m proud that with such a small area, we’ve been able to grow 16 different fruits and vegetables. Some people aren’t very familiar with what we grow, so it’s nice to be able to share that with our guests. We even give some of them the chance to eat something straight from the garden as well. Our garden is just outside the hospital’s wards, so we felt that it would be nice to provide tours to patients as well.

What has been your most memorable experience in your career so far? The edible garden always gets a good response from guests. Once, there was a little girl who wrote us a letter about how much she enjoyed seeing the garden and learning about how our produce was grown. It was very fulfilling to be able to see how my job could impact a child in such a way.

How has working in the industry enriched your life? I get to speak to hoteliers and guests from all over the world, and there’s so much I learn when I hear about their experiences. They have different perspectives and being able to exchange ideas with them is something I feel is unique about the industry.

What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? You won’t regret following your interest because down the road, when you inevitably face obstacles and challenges, it’ll be easier to overcome when you’re already doing something you enjoy.