According to Singapore Dental Association (SDA) members who had attended recent meetings, COC is not compulsory and there will be no restrictions. All this sounds like backtracking and too good to be true. It’s also pretty much hearsay, with no firm assurance from officialdom. As such, it shouldn’t stop me from thinking about Plan B.
Consider writing. This is my favourite, my life. But gone are days when I could earn almost $2000 a month from book sales and from freelancing for magazines. Back then, I had to run around interviewing celebrities and news-makers. It required a lot more energy than dentistry, but it was also a lot more rewarding when I saw my work in print, my name next to a celebrity’s and a cheque in the mail. During those days, my side income paid for my frequent side trips to Thailand. Nowadays, writing pays pittance and income from it pays only for candy and ice cream – both of which I don’t particularly like.
But as always, I try to keep my persona as a writer separate from my persona as a dentist. Why? This is something that many of my fans and followers cannot understand. Allow me to go back to one of the happiest moments in my life – when my works were first published in the Straits Times and Singa magazine in 1989/1990. When they asked me for my occupation, I filled “unemployed” without a second thought.
You see, back then, the Dental Board had strict rules against dentists advertising. Though publishing poems and short stories could hardly be considered “advertising”, I still entertained the possibility that someone might not like it. After being a regular contributor to the Life section of the Straits Times, the folks there didn’t believe that I was unemployed. My decision to reveal my profession was purely based on the answer to the question: “Are you ashamed of your profession?”. The answer was a definite no. I finally revealed my profession and instantly became someone newsworthy. Why?
The late Dr Goh Poh Seng (GP) is the grandfather of Singapore literature. The late Dr Gopal Baratam (neurosurgeon) was also a prominent writer. But in an arena dominated by lawyers, teachers and journalists, the “errant” dentist became an instant talking point. An interview was requested. From unemployed to writer/dentist. Should I do it? Would a backlash come faster than you can say amalgam? My decision was made based on the answer to the question: “Will your profession feel proud of you?”. I accepted the interview and perhaps because I was too much of a chatterbox, the result was a full page feature in the Straits Times. That mystery person behind the poems and short stories, a novel, the magazine articles, that “unemployed” dude was finally revealed. Sure, I received some fan mail, calls from editors who offered me jobs, but certainly not more patients as most of them don’t even read English. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from SDA. It was not a congratulatory letter. It was a stern letter asking me to “explain” the article after a member of the fraternity thought that I was advertising my dental services.
I was flummoxed. Could these guys even read? That article had absolutely nothing to do with dentistry even though it carried a photo of me sitting next to a dental chair. What was there to explain? Being young and overly honest, I spoke my mind and pissed the SDA council off. I received a call and the council member said that he simply wanted me to assure them that it was the journalist’s own idea to feature me and not me who shamelessly asked to be interviewed! Yao mo gao chor ah? The complainant might have been anonymous, but this episode really said a lot about him/her. The answer to the question “are you ashamed of the profession?” was no longer obvious. I have not been an SDA member since then.
This website (name of my former clinic) and my former Facebook page on aesthetics used to be very prominent. At the height of its popularity, it drew some 30,000 hits every month, thanks to the beautiful faces, smiles and my dabble in portrait photography. I also wrote many entertaining articles on dentistry; very different from the boring stuff that you read on official sites. I caught some practices copying and printing my articles for patient education. I decided to be generous and not claim copyright. This went on for almost 7 years until some dentist complained that the contents on my website and social media were “unbecoming of the dental profession in Singapore”.
The tribe has spoken. Pretty faces, creative poses and playful captions are not allowed in dentistry. I had to take them all down and direct my creative energies elsewhere. And presumably the same standards also apply in medicine. While chatting with a model in a park, I discovered that she is a medical colleague. Let’s call her Dr L. To me, she’s not some exhibitionist all out to corrupt young minds or seduce someone’s bored husband. She’s simply passionate about modelling. While doing shoots with her, I warned her about the dangers of revealing her profession to the public. It’s worse for models than for photographers as there is always the assumption of immorality in our pseudo-conservative society.
Dr L went on to take part in a beauty pageant. I watched her competing on YouTube and she had wisely lied about her employment. She got into the finals but didn’t win. I wondered how many who knew she is a doctor recognised her. I guess it’s OK when your haters are unlikely to watch. It might be just as well that she didn’t win. There is no way she could have continued to lie about her profession when journalists start following her.
Anyway, Dr L is now married and she still models once in a while with the full knowledge and approval of her husband who is also a doctor. The moralists should just shut the … (words unbecoming of the dental profession), but this is Singapore and you don’t always decide what is good for yourself. Burmese doctor Dr Nang Mwe San is not so lucky. I can’t read Burmese, so I can’t tell whether she had identified herself as a doctor in her “edgy” photos. If not, then, she must have been sabotaged by members of her fraternity who recognised her and ogled privately while publicly denouncing her.
BANGKOK: A Myanmar model and doctor said she would appeal against a medical council decision to revoke her licence for posting photos of herself on Facebook in revealing outfits and bikinis.
On her Facebook page, the 28-year-old often posts photos of herself wearing tight dresses, lingerie, swimwear and even traditional Burmese clothing in sexy poses.
Dr Nang Mwe San has been a general physician for four years, but stopped practicing two years ago to pursue a modelling career. The move to revoke her licence bans her from medical practice.
According to the letter posted on her Facebook page, the council said Mwe San had continued to post photos of herself in outfits that did “not fit with Burmese tradition”.
No, I’m not writing whimsical dental articles or taking pictures related to dentistry anymore. Dr Nang Mwe San has the international community behind her, a few disgusted Singaporean women notwithstanding. Artistic expression requires space. An officer from the Dental Council once told me to keep dentistry “clean” (and boring). For once, all my English lessons failed me as the opposite of “clean” is “dirty” and it all made no sense. Anyway, message received, point taken. I will just have to channel my creative energies elsewhere. I will need to separate the two and remain a low profile, boring dentist – until COC kicks in. What then?
As an adventurer and survivor, the most painless way to resolve this problem (while still practising) is to simply relocate and bring all my surgical kits over. I can live on Nepalese dhal baat like few Singaporeans can. I have lived cheaply in many parts of Thailand and Indonesia like few Singaporeans can. I can cook complete meals for the family like few Singaporeans can. I can even make my own wine unlike most Singaporeans.
Given my background, Thailand seems the natural choice, but given the current political situation and the rather unhealthy social order as a result of it, Thailand may have to wait. Furthermore, Thailand is also saturated with dentists (in towns and cities where people can afford them), but still not as bad as in Singapore. If I ever relocate to Thailand, I would be running a spa/clinic based on TCM principles. Yes, the website will be full of pretty faces and athletic bodies. Disgusted folks can ask for it to be blocked in Singapore.
A little more seriously, I’m considering Bali or some other part of Indonesia as the only possible location if I choose to remain a dentist. If that doesn’t work out, I can consider turning another thing which I enjoy doing into a business. Cooking.
So if for some reason I can’t practise in Bali, what do I do? How about cooking? The food business? It’s not a shot in the dark. I have a Singaporean friend whose son moved to Bali and set up a restaurant there. Can I move Dr Chan’s Kitchen from the virtual world into the real world? This is worth considering even though I know how tough the food business is. I’ve been cooking, preparing all kinds of meals for the family for decades. I’ve even appeared on a cooking show on TV (luckily nobody complained; my haters probably wouldn’t watch something so unglam). Cooking for customers is very different and I dread the stress, the learning curve and the bottom line considerations when sourcing ingredients. I probably need an environment that is kinder to the newbie; perhaps in Thailand (when things get better), Indonesia or Malaysia. Setting up in Singapore is not even worth considering as I foresee more onerous regulations hitting this business as well.
Some folks who read my previous post remarked that I am too negative and pessimistic. Of course I welcome a backtrack from the original concept of the COC, but even then, a major shakeup of the industry is imminent. The bubble must and will burst. Meanwhile, I’ll continue writing. The ultimate happy ending is to have several books that sell millions of copies. I shall write and dream on.
Dental Phobia by Chan Joon Yee