Income+
Making money from the oddest jobs
Tan Jee Yee 
Plasma is, to put it lightly, perhaps the least-questionable bodily fluid that you can sell for cash – Wikimedia
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Since that aggravating concept of money starting floating around this anomaly we call human civilisation, there are generally two things that people agree on – making money is hard; and people can do just about anything to earn it.

There are the more ordinary ways, of course, which usually involves waking up in a form of existential ignorance, eating some cereals, and then nine hours of work within the confines of concrete and plaster. The enterprising few can start businesses, while others sell things. Some make breaking the law their business. The list is long.

And then there are the less conventional means. The types that raise eyebrows. The types that cause involuntary gurgles from the stomach to the throat. The types that make you marvel at humankind’s ability to just “find a way”. The markets you didn’t know exist.

Here are some of the oddest ways people are making money across the world. Bizarre as they are, they can also be fairly lucrative. And who knows? Perhaps you may find yourself a successful career through these peculiar jobs, if not to earn some extra income on the side.


Farming cockroaches

In Taiwan, a 20-year old student is making a whopping T$200,000 (RM28,000) per month with his new business. He isn’t inventing the next Facebook. No, he’s earning all that sweet cash breeding and farming cockroaches.

That’s right, that intrusive enemy that just won’t perish peacefully is, in fact, a wonderful source of income. That student started farming cockroaches as pet food but unwittingly found himself tapping into an industry multiplying as fast as its livestock.

It was a relatively unknown industry that gained attention in 2013 when a million cockroaches escaped a farm in Jiangsu province of China. Hundreds of cockroach farms now exist in the country, harvesting millions of these creatures. Business has been lucrative – each kilogramme of dried cockroaches can sell for up to 1,200 yuan (RM770).

Profit margins for cockroaches are fairly high as well. In an article published in the LA Times in 2013, a cockroach farmer claimed that one can invest 20 yuan and get a return of 150 yuan.

These little terrors are actually worth a lot of money, so if you can stand farming them, they are certainly not pests

Farmed cockroaches can be used as livestock feed, but its boom in China is due to its role in traditional Chinese medicine. Dried cockroaches are pulverised into powder and then made into pills, which are used to treat a variety of illnesses that include cirrhosis and breast cancer. Some claim that it has anti-ageing effects. Pulverised cockroaches are also used in cosmetics. Ladies beware!

It’s also a welcomed delicacy in certain parts of China (and the world) and is considered a cheap source of protein.

Well, with many scientists and researchers believing that insects will be the sustainable solution to the world’s increasing problems with food, perhaps rearing cockroaches – as well as other bugs – may be the next cattle industry.


Selling friendship

Are you a people person? Able to converse in just about anything and can strike up a friendship in the duration of a Randy Newman song? Perhaps you should offer yourself as a “rentable friend”.

RentAFriend.com is a service that has existed on the internet since 2009, and it allows people to rent another person as a “friend”. Don’t worry, the friendships on offer here are purely platonic. It’s all about clean, harmless bonding.

A person can offer their friendship for as low as US$10 (RM42.70) per hour, for any sort of friendly activity you need them for. Need an encouraging voice to help you during a hike? Or perhaps someone to accompany you to the movies? Maybe a buddy for an afternoon of video games?

Each rentable friend on the website would list the sort of activities they may be suited for, so there’s something for everyone.

It’s a service that one can offer even in Malaysia. A former friend-for-rent, who only wants to be known as Calvin, says that it’s not something one can do on a full-time basis. “It’s pretty alright as supplementary income, more like a part-time gig,” the event emcee says. Throughout the year he was listed in RentAFriend, Calvin earned around RM8,000.

“I usually get ‘rented’ for harmless stuff, like being a KL tour guide to tourists, as a hiking buddy, and once to become a ‘wingman’ to a person hoping to hook up with his crush,” Calvin says. “I managed to avoid getting weird requests.” He charges RM50 per hour and usually earns RM250 each gig.

It goes to show that if you can be a good friend, you might as well make some money out of it.


Selling bodily fluids

There are bits of us that we could sell (besides dignity), and some of them can fetch a pretty good price. Hair would be one of them – if you have thick, healthy hair that is unbleached or permed, you could sell them online for prices ranging from US$100 to US$4,000, depending on the quality. You could also sell a kidney, but that’s illegal.

Some of your bodily fluids can be traded for cash, too. Plasma would be the least-questionable bodily fluid you can sell. The largest component of the human blood contains enzymes and antibodies, and are purchased by pharmaceutical companies, though it can also be used to treat blood clotting disorders, autoimmune diseases or even serious burns.

On the subject of bodily fluids, sperm is a common thing to sell. As are eggs – human eggs, that is. In the US, eggs can be “sold” for as much as US$10,000, depending on physical credentials. However, the process to get to the payout is long and gruelling, including many tests and weeks of being injected with hormones.

The more daring can even sell urine. In 2013, a man in Florida sold his own urine on classifieds site Craigslist, at US$20 for 30ml. The discharge is marketed as “100% clean”, meant to aid people in drug tests.

If you want to get into the urine business but wish to steer away from human waste, then selling deer pee may be your thing. In the US, deer farmers also collect urine from their herd, which are then sold to hunters for around US$15 per 60ml. Hunters use them to attract other deer.


This is ambergris, essentially hardened sperm whale vomit – Wikimedia

Hunting for whale vomit

There’s this thing known as “ambergris.” It’s a coveted ingredient found in most high-end perfumes, but at its unprocessed, raw form, it is essentially hardened whale vomit. And it’s one of the most precious ingredients in the world.

See, if you find some, you can sell it off at tremendous prices. In 2012, one eight-year old boy named Charlie Naysmith who – while walking along a beach in the UK – found a pound-heavy ambergris, which was reportedly worth US$63,000.

Ambergris is formed out of intestinal slurry that hardens in the ocean. Eventually, it gets collected along shores, through sheer happenstance. This makes finding ambergris incredibly difficult, and the fact that it mostly looks like an odd rock doesn’t help.

Still, this doesn’t stop people from doing their own scavenging. There are various websites detailing methods to identify ambergris, besides charting areas where they are more commonly found. Not every piece of ambergris is worth the same – its value depends on size and smell.

It’s important to note that ambergris is considered illegal for perfumes in the US because of the sperm whale’s endangered status. However, foreign markets, especially France, remain strong. So, whenever you’re at the beach now, make sure to Google Image-search each peculiar rock you find.


Get paid for mourning

As a child, I was once told: “Don’t cry. Your tears are worth nothing.” I suppose my parents hadn’t heard of professional mourners – actual working people who are paid to cry, bawl and wail at funerals. They even have a professional term: moirologists.

It’s an occupation particularly thriving in China. According to UK publication Daily Mail, £300 (RM1,642) can allow families to hire seven mourners to professionally wail. They are either there to make up the numbers or to help encourage more to join in the grieving.

Chin Peik Yein is one such professional mourner in Malaysia. She works with a local bereavement service business, and while mourning is technically not her main job, she does it well enough for her company to pay her a little extra when grieving families request for it.

“I won’t say that it’s easy job. Sometimes it takes a lot to muster up the emotions to cry,” she says. “You don’t want to sound like you’re faking it either.” She usually earns RM300 to RM700 depending on the duration.

Professional mourners may sound like an exclusively Asian thing, but the practice has now spread to Western countries. RentAMourner.co.uk is one such service, and it demands a lot more from the practitioner compared with their Chinese counterparts.

The pro mourners not only have to understand the mourning processes for different religions, but to also study the life of the deceased to better understand the person. It’s akin to being an actor taking up a role.


Selling yourself (in stocks)

Every bit of a human being is worth something. But what if you sell yourself like a publicly-owned company?

This is the idea of one Mike Merrill, who – in 2008 – divided his “soul” into 100,000 shares, which he sold for US$1 each. He gave each stakeholder voting rights about all the personal decisions of his life. This includes a decision on whether he should invest in a Rwandan chicken farmer (the answer was “yes”).

Merrill started the “project” as a means to explore “community through capitalism”, and did indeed manage to earn handfuls of cash in the meantime. By 2013, he had sold or given away 3,711 shares. However, the ensuing years had been testing for the man, with competing shareholder interests, stock price manipulations and short-term gain preferences beginning to take control of his life.

This culminated into a moment when Merrill asked his shareholders to decide on whether he should get a vasectomy, ending with Merrill’s then-girlfriend, a stakeholder herself, divesting her stocks and leaving him for good. Merrill’s stocks still exist today, which can be purchased at roughly US$5 each (RM21.50).

While you might not want your entire life to be dictated by a group of shareholders, you can, in fact, sell some aspects of your life for money. Upstart.com, a company founded in 2012 by Google executive David Girouard, offers a bit of capital in exchange for a cut of a college graduate’s future earnings.

Whatever money-making opportunity it is, just remember one golden rule: never sell yourself short.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 248.