Doc: VIP treatment was distracting

SINGAPORE - Dr Tan Lai Yong's story is perhaps the best known of the lot of local doctors healing the world.

In 1996, he uprooted his family - including his then 16-month-old daughter - to go and minister to the poorest in Yunnan, in south-west China.

There he gave basic medical training to farmers, operated on people and ran clinics for villagers.

He also treated the orphaned, disabled and leprous.

He came home four years ago, despite being hailed by the Chinese government for his work and receiving an award from former premier Wen Jiabao, as he felt the VIP treatment he was receiving was distracting him from his purpose.

He is now involved in programmes to help those who may have fallen through the cracks, including foreign workers, ex-offenders and the elderly.

At 53, the Singaporean doctor owns no home, no car, not even a TV set. Most of the time, he makes do with one pair of jeans and hand-me-down shirts.

Lunch is often a loaf of plain bread, wolfed down on the run.

In March, he was hailed in Parliament as a "wandering saint in Singapore", who "is rich in ideas, strong of heart and boundless in energy".

Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng asked for $1 million for Dr Tan to carry out his "oddball" ideas to better society, vouching that he would spend the money well and carefully.

Dr Tan, when asked in an earlier interview what he would do with a million dollars, replied with a laugh: "I would pump it all into educating and empowering our youth in a heartbeat."

This article was published on April 13 in The New Paper.

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