Why I’m Not A Member
I belong to two fraternities. I’m happy to say that I’ve never been backstabbed or sabotaged by the small writing community in Singapore. I can’t say the same for the other fraternity.
Most of my fans/readers know that I’m a dentist. Very few dentists know that I’m a writer. I always 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.