Fingers crushed, spirit unbroken

Her story has touched a nation and it is not hard to see why.

When The New Paper on Sunday visited Yvonne Tan Li Xuan in Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Tuesday, it was not her on the bed.

Instead, it was her father, Mr Tan Guan An, 50, who was huddled up under the white hospital sheets, sleeping.

Yvonne sat on a chair nearby with a mobile phone and a pair of headphones, plugged into her own world.

The cast around her right hand is the only reminder of the gruesome accident last month.

The 14-year-old girl has been through much since three fingers of her right hand were crushed by a sugar cane juicer. The skin on her wrist was also torn off.

Two operations later, including one that lasted for 12 hours to transplant a toe onto her hand, Yvonne has regained much of her cheerful self.

It was her idea to let her father have the bed ­as Mr Tan was exhausted from his steadfast vigil beside her.

Mr Tan and his wife, as well as their two elder children, have been taking turns to look after Yvonne every day since the accident.

But that is not a surprising thing to do for your daughter who spent the last two years helping your business after school or during her free time.

"I want to help (at the stall) so that it is not so tough on my father," Yvonne says.

Hawkers at the Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Food Centre, where the accident happened, speak of her as if she is their daughter.

Says Madam Ooi Eng Kiao, 61, who runs a dessert stall opposite Mr Tan's: "She's such a responsible girl. At such a young age, she already knows how to help her parents out. That's why we treat her like a darling."

A schoolmate who stays over at Yvonne's house often and who wanted to be known only as Andy said that Yvonne has a very close-knit family.

He reveals: "She is someone who would frequently buy goodies for the family. It's not just her, all three siblings are very filial to their parents."

When asked if work at the drinks stall is tiring, Mr Tan said he does not really need help from his children.

Speaking in Mandarin, the father says: "They don't have to help if they don't want to. But because of my work, I'm hardly ever at home.

"Having Yvonne to help out is just a way for me to spend some time with her."

Yvonne is the youngest in the family. Like many girls her age, she loves Korean culture, especially Korean television dramas.

Since she was 12, she has been tending the store with her father after school. Her two siblings, 16 and 17, help out as well.

They have a roster of sorts: If she helps out one day, her siblings take over for the next two days before it is her turn again.

What do they do? A combination of taking orders, preparing drinks, serving them and collecting payment from more than a hundred customers daily at her father's drinks stall.

Says Yvonne: "I know my teh-Os from the teh-Cs. When it comes to making them, I just 'agak agak' (estimate in Malay) the proportion of milk, water, tea and sugar.

"Sometimes, I see fussy customers too. They complain when the ice is not enough, or when (the drinks) are too bland.

"I have learnt to give them what they want."

She works alongside her father for five hours each time, from 6pm to 11pm, when the stall is at its busiest.

When asked if she finds it difficult to balance her school life and her commitments to the stall, Yvonne says: "(It's) still okay. I can manage."

The Secondary 3 student at Guangyang Secondary School, which is within walking distance of the hawker centre, completes her schoolwork at home before going to the stall.

Says her school principal, Mr Benjamin Kwok: "(Her teachers) have noted that she is a responsible and caring person who often helps out at the father's stall.

"She has not let this affect her studies and active participation in school and class activities.

"She is a cheerful and resilient girl who takes challenges in her stride."

Her schoolmates speak fondly of her as well. One close friend, who attends the same mathematics tuition class as her, revealed that she would bring her homemade macarons to share.

Says the girl, who declined to be named: "She's always been a kind person. Everyone loves her because she's sweet to everyone."

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