the Bamboo: Eight Years in Yunnan.
Tan Lai Yong (In collaboration with ITE College Central). Singapore: Institute
of Technical Education, 2004, 82 pp.
1996, Dr Tan Lai Yong, a medical doctor, and his wife left the comfort zone of
urban Singapore for their mission in Yunnan, a province in southwestern China.
He is a lecturer at Kunming Medical College and his work involves training
farmers to be doctors.
the words of the author, the book is not "an encyclopedic account of life
in Yunnan" but a glimpse of what "I have seen through my own
untrained urban eyes." "Untrained,"
but the written record of his observations and experiences during those eight
years has made the book an essential training text for those heeding a calling
to community development or answering a calling to tent-making ministry in
another culture. Uninformed about cross-cultural communication, a foreigner
working in Yunnan may "mistake sugar cane for bamboo - can often see or
interpret things wrongly" (p. 2).
does it take to serve in another culture?
It requires a heart that is compassionate and a mind that is humble to
observe and accommodate to differences. The
principle is vividly illustrated throughout the collection of stories in the
book. The first story he
recollected was the work amongst the leprosy patients. The care that he and
his staff showered upon these patients who are rejected by society was a
testimony of unconditional love that could elicit a response of surprise,
"You people are the first normal people that actually drink the tea I
offer" (p. 7). "Leprosy is a badly misunderstood disease and the
patients are cruelly stigmatised" (p. 6) and Lai Yong's daughter who was
a member of the "staff" learned quickly to dismiss the myth at a
young age. The Tan family works as a team and devoted to the calling entrusted
habit of carrying one's cultural baggage to a foreign field is inevitable but
it can hinder effectiveness when personal values conflict with that of the
host culture. The author's value of keeping to a schedule was put to a
gruelling test when he reluctantly agreed to visit a patient who did not have
a prior "appointment." Readers can sense his frustrating experience
with the "unreliable" transportation system to reach the remote
destination. He felt time was
wasted but with humility to view the concept of time from a cross-cultural
perspective, he gained wisdom, "As a doctor out here, I am learning that
interruptions may well be the bedrock of learning and serving."
His "wasted" trip became a timely lesson and positive example
to his trainees on "how they must be prepared to go out and see patients
when the call came in" (p. 44). Problems and difficulties are a part of
the package Dr Tan has to wrestle with when working in a foreign field,
is a slippery thing. Though I came to Yunnan as a community development aid
worker, I had faced embarrassing situations where locals
thought I was making big bucks through the projects I ran.
Some assumed that I had a big expense account similar to executives
from big international aid
agencies. It was often fruitless
to try and defend oneself (p.24).
stories of his cross-cultural encounter and mission are fascinating to read
and the pictures are helpful to gain better insights into the culture of the
people. In fact, it is not difficult to have that feeling of being transported
to the time and location where each incident took place.
Some of the incidents are hilarious, for example, the "precious
toilet" which is convenient to have in the house but to the locals,
"This is my home. Why would I want something as smelly and dirty as a
toilet in my own house?" Other
incidents offer much teaching on the capabilities of the locals to innovate
though deprived of technological advancement. They feed the frogs with a
"light bulb" (p. 73) to fatten them for a better market value to
supplement their meagre income. Have a brainstorming exercise on the
innovative ways of using the bamboo. Amongst
other uses, it is amazing how the bamboo can be used as wine cups and to
"feed the dead!" (pp.33-35). According to Dr Tan's two children, the
fried bamboo worms taste like "french fries!"
work in community development has inspired students at the Institute of
Technical Education to venture out as community developers outside Singapore.
Many have testified that Dr Tan is a role model to them and the community
service projects have contributed significantly to their character building
and maturity. Perhaps, the youths in the church would like to include overseas
community service projects as part of their development to view things and
people from God's perspective.
Yong's community medicine service has won international recognition and from
his hometown but his view of "success" is aptly summarized in the
words of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Shi (p. 67),
to the people, live among them
from them. Love them.
with what they know; build on what they
(for) the best leaders, when their task is accomplished.
work is done, the people will remark,
have done it ourselves."
and his family have spent eight years in Yunnan and they are looking
"forward to a few more enriching years in Yunnan" (p. 2).
His motivation to "press on" must be the love of God in him,
"This is Yunnan - as seen
through the eyes of a Singaporean, understood by the mind of a doctor, moved
by the love of God" (personal glimpse of Quek Aik Wu).
Here at BGST, we have a glimpse of Lai Yong as a student who is
diligent and sincere in following the will of God.
service on 6 April was taken by Dr Philip Satterthwaite. The service was
dedicated to singing of hymns, reading from Psalms and praying.
speaker on 20 April will be Mr Lewis Lew (MCS, 2005).
A Blessed Birthday to ...
Pauline Kwek 11/4
Grace Chng 12/4
Goh Li-Ern 13/4
Yong Teck Meng 14/4
Grace Yap 14/4
Ng Beng Hong 14/4
Lim Keng Hee 15/4
Chew Chee Kuan 16/4
Low Wai Leng 16/4
Reine Teo 16/4
Leong Che Yeong 16/4
Ms Therma Cheung 17/4