Almost a Quarter Century

john chaiI was completing my dental studies between 1985 to 1990. That was an important period in my life as it was the time I knew that I would be going to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) like my other three elder sisters. I am sure that this period was crucial to my parents too:

  • as at that point of time, they realized that their youngest child and only boy in the family was not just into middle distance running on the track, and
  • they knew that I would not be burning a huge hole in their pocket compared to if I were completing my college degree in another country

I was one of the few boys who plodded along our high school football pitch on a regular basis.  The challenge was not about running hard around the pitch. The challenge was mainly about avoiding being smashed by all those soccer balls that were kicked by our medal winning, “a-class-of-their-own” school footballers!

It was only in 1985 then I realized that I ‘learnt’ to smile in front of a camera. That giant discovery was made in our first dental school class picnic photo. I remember that my mom commented about my happy face in the photo. Yes, to smile in a photograph was a learned process that took me almost 19 years to master. Speaking of a slow learner…

I was never really mathematically inclined, so making a big financial killing out of clinical dentistry was not the Number One priority in my life – it has never been. I knew that I could only master two out of three areas, being (1) fast, (2) excellent and (3) economical.

1987 was an important year as that was the year when I was “exploring life-beyond-dental school”. It was at that time that I realized a young chap named Dr. John Chai from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) Class of 1986 was doing fantastically well in the graduate Prosthodontics course at Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago, USA.

After chatting with my mentor, Dr. Homer Tso, who was involved in the graduate prosthodontics department in in the late 1970s at Northwestern University, I made up my mind to follow the footsteps of Dr Chai and became a prosthodontist-wannabe.

I knew my parents would be cheerleading on my side, which they always did, and I am grateful for this eternally. The only thing that stood between me and the graduate program in Chicago was to get a good academic record at HKU Dental School. That was not exactly easy as I was among boys and girls in my class who were way brighter than me. I knew the only thing that separated me from the graduate program was my own self. So I went on and applied for graduate programs while I was in the middle of my dental school studies and kept up with my regular plodding as usual.

Practically a few days after I finished my final examination, I was on my way to the USA. I visited Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago and met this young program director, Dr. Lee Jameson. He accepted me in the program on the spot. Luck was on my side! Little did I know when I started the program a few months later, my alumnus, Dr. John Chai, would become my program director.  A mean feat for a young man from the far east who was just a few years ahead of me in age! That was back in 1990. A few years later, John Chai also trained my partners at Specialist Dental Group, Drs. Neo Tee-Khin and Edwin Tan.

Fast forward to June 2014 – John Chai’s daughter was thinking of a career in dentistry and she completed a week-long internship at our clinic last week.

We have interns on a regular basis but they seldom go under my wings as we have nicer clinicians elsewhere in our office. This time, this young lady tagged along with me quite a bit and she was one of the few that no matter how I pushed, she always managed to respond positively. I meant she responded POSITIVELY!!

She survived her first ever experiences in the following areas:

  • seeing patients with more than half of the jaw removed due to tumors,
  • eating real Indian food,
  • gobbling down fresh cut red hot chillis (“cili padi”),
  • attending a Singaporean wedding,
  • seeing/touching/opening/eating mangosteens,
  • enjoying three nights of durians – a fruit she tried for the first time in Singapore,
  • standing still shoulder to shoulder with our operating team for close to 12 hours for a tumor operation in a cold operating theatre,
  • trying hawker food;
  • drinking root beer float; and
  • having Milos after Milos, etc..

I wished I was that good when I was 15 years old!! This is one little thing our team at Specialist Dental group could do to repay Dr. Chai for his professional guidance.  We wish her all the best.



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