When I was a little fella and living in the middle of a rubber estate, there were two general practitioners in Klang town that “everyone” went to. One was Doctor Chong – an effeminate fellow who often pricked my finger apparently to do a quick red blood cell count. I was apparently a little anemic then (maybe 6-7 years old) and I don’t know if there were any Freudian suppression on his part which was seeking to surface in that treatment but the saving grace in seeing Doctor Chong was threefold. He prescribed less nasty medication and in comparison with the other GP, he was cheaper and less combustible.
The other doctor in town was Doctor Lim. He was universally known as Crazy Lim (Tau Hong Lim) because as I said before, he was utterly combustible. He’d get mad at his patients for not following his orders and get off on an abusive trail. I later found out that was for very good cause (and this is what this entry is about). Crazy Lim was a bit more expensive and his nastier medication was often much more effective. It was an established risk and financial management practice that one sees Doctor Chong at the first instance and if the ailment persisted, one has to brave a visit to the asylum and risk a tirade from the very effective but volatile Doctor Lim.
Several years into my in-house practice in a financial services group in Malaysia, my employer embarked on a little venture. Phileo Aviation was incorporated to undertake the business of encouraging rich young men to tinker with recreational aircraft building. The objective of the venture was no doubt manifold including to pander to the obsession of the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir (the real tau hong doctor I reckon) to propel Malaysia in his own version of the Great Leap Forward. Apparently an objective is to create a profile of Malaysia being involved in the aviation industry. Importing self-build kits for recreational aircraft enthusiasts can in some ways be seen as aviation industry I suppose, although anyone seeking to spend a hundred grand to do this probably deserves a treatment from Tau Hong Lim.
For me, other than the usual corporate secretarial functions that come with a new venture involving a new corporate vehicle and the usual legal documentation, the outcome of this flight of fancy is an acquaintance with another Doctor Lim. Doctor Lim is a highly qualified engineer and he was to head up the venture. It turned out later that another guy was tasked with heading the company from a corporate perspective but many felt that other fellow was really being shown a favour by one of the bosses and the guy with the real know-how was Doctor Lim.
It turned out Doctor Lim was Tau Hong Lim’s son. They had migrated to Australia and from memory the doctor went to work with rural aborigines. Lim Junior wanted to return to Malaysia to work and before anyone could say Van’s Aircraft “Doc” and I became colleagues. He’d come up from the plant to the corporate office in KL and we’d go for lunch with a couple of other colleagues. I’d enjoy a visit to the plant too, as it was close(r) to my home and I’d time the visit so that I could go straight home after. We shared many common interests and the politics at that time was great fodder for many lengthy and interesting conversations. He’d come down to Klang on weeknights and we’d go out for a few beers.
Doc would tell me how Tau Hong Lim would lock himself away in a room and not say a word for days, when a patient died. He cared for his patients in ways few Klang folks knew. That was why he got so upset when patients refused to follow his orders. Doc would recount incidents where patients – in an attempt to save money, probably – would appear at his clinic, often far too late. It was worse when children were involved and parents were careless in seeking treatment early. Those long lunches or late night beers provided insight into a figure I came to admire and respect.
When the Phileo group got intertwined with the lurid and putrid events surrounding the sacking and prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim in 1999, we all knew the days of Phileo were numbered. The crown jewels of the group got sold and the shares in the cashed up corporate listed vehicle got hijacked by some Malay group at ridiculous prices. It was time to leave the group and I went back to private practice for a little while before leaving Malaysia altogether. My contact with Doc slipped away and before too long – when I was finally planning to move to Australia – I lost touch with him completely.
Thanks to facebook, I recently reconnected with Doc. He’s got a kid now – we used to tease him and his wife about having rough sex because she was constantly appearing with sores and aches – and I recently saw a picture of his daughter. I commented on the picture and he responded by saying he too, has been following events re Kiddo’s move to Canberra. We’ve all moved on. Doc and his dad both left indelible marks on my life, albeit at different stages. I knew neither of them over any significant periods of time but theirs were relationships which left marks not for the length of time but for the sincerity and the care they took with others.