SINGAPORE – For the entertainer behind the Pasar malam fun fairs, 2020 was a great test of his cheerful nature.
In fact, he calls him a year of grief, and it happened even more sharply right after Mr. Lee Woon Chiang felt himself at the top of the world right after he held a circus show with about 50 artists from abroad in Marina Bay.
This was a major blow to Ringo, the carnival firm that 68-year-old Mr. Lee started in 1984.
“We lost money to stage the circus in Marina Bay, but it was good, we brought the circus for the first time and proved that we can do it,” he said.
For the next year, Mr. Lee and his daughter and successor Joyce had big plans: to take traveling circuses through the center to neighborhoods like Yishun and Woodlands.
Then came the Covid-19 outbreak, the key to things and the cause of their grief.
One of the first cost-cutting measures was to send the community home for a month during the year they planned to be in Singapore.
This decision cost the firm a $ 300,000 fine, but a decision that Mr. Lee did not regret.
“I’m lucky that they broke up. If we had to pay for their living for an entire year, we wouldn’t have survived,” he said.
But without any entertainment fair since last January, breaking the circus plans wasn’t Lees’ only body hit.
Other major projects they listed for the year included a Great World Amusement Park themed fair in HarbourFront and a three-month traveling carnival in Fujian province of China. Both were canceled.
Even if most of their duties were canceled, there were 30 staff, two warehouse space rentals to store carnival stands, and nearly 40 trip, maintenance and license fees, as well as loan installments to the service.
After reducing staffing to around 15 and selling some equipment, the firm still held a five-digit sum in its expenses each over the past few months.
High spending even though Uncle Ringo has applied for some state aid to pay his employees, as rental costs constitute a large part of his recurring expenses.
Ms. Lee, 37, who has been working with her father for ten years, said that Uncle Ringo felt like she was falling through the cracks when it comes to government support, as business is not properly entering a larger industry like retail or tourism. they receive assistance such as top-tier Business Support Program payments.
When he had to apply for layoffs, Mr. Lee said: “Most of my staff are in their 60’s, and most of them are with me for about 30 years, I can’t let them go, I’m worried about them.”
“Some friends asked me to close the business, but after 36 years of running it, there are many things I worry about like my staff and my daughter who is currently running the company,” he said.
In the midst of the stressful period, Mr. Lee had a heart attack in December.
“Many people cannot understand stress. Yes, we can accept and talk about it, but in the end the body cannot take it,” he said.
The day after quadruple bypass surgery, he experienced a sudden shortness of breath in his hospital bed.
“At that point I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t do it; the nurse came on time. Maybe it was a sign that I wasn’t done,” he said.
Mr. Lee, who was in his 30s when he founded Uncle Ringo, does not know when the traveling carnivals will continue, but looks forward to the time when it will bring happiness back to the homeland.
“It’s good that I never die, lah. At least a fresh heart can start again,” he mocked.
For now, starting over means small steps.
Last month, Uncle Ringo reopened in a small area in the Social Innovation Park in Punggol, which it had occupied since 2018, and ran a transition area that took families through a life show, along with about five rides every few months. dimensional dinosaur and legendary figurines.
The reopening was not without hiccups due to regulatory confusion over whether the Punggol area was considered an entertainment center that has been permitted to reopen by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, or an entertainment center that has not yet been authorized.
Like malls and amusement parks that have been allowed to reopen, Ms. Lee hopes that with the fun fair signed by Uncle Ringo, mobile markets will soon give the green light.
He said: “We feel discriminated against … we have no reason to be trusted for safe management measures.”
While things were poor, Ms. Lee said that after families were encouraged to stay at home, she was slowly recovering with families looking for outdoor activities.
He added that the company is in the middle of the search for open spaces to hold small-scale fairs such as its sites in Punggol.
“After last year, running something is better than nothing,” he said.