Singapore — A doctor has shared in a social media post a chat he had with a 50-year-old cleaner who had seen him at the hospital where he worked at. He wrote that during their conversation, she talked about rather deep topics, yet the only English word she used was “cleaner”.
Their conversation started because Dr Malcolm Tan had asked the Chinese woman if she required a medical certificate (MC) for the day. She said that she had to apply for leave for medical appointments because her boss did not accept MCs for planned medical visits.
A lengthy conversation ensued and Dr Tan wrote that she shared broad views of society and life.
At one point, she said: “How well the hospital treats its patients is an extension of how our government (政府) treats its people. Good and prompt treatment instills trust (信任), and old people like me realise that our government is responsible (责任感) and cares for us even when we become useless. In more ways than one, you represent (代表) the government and how it treats us.”
She said that as she was a cleaner, she often had people look down on her. “To them, we do not exist and when we do, we are usually needed to tidy up a mess.”
She told Dr Tan: “Young Singaporeans are very fortunate (命好), they have no idea how good the current government is, in comparison to other countries. They don’t know the hardship (命苦) many older Singaporeans have experienced and are still living through.”
She said sadly: “One day when I cannot work and serve no purpose to others (无用), then I will go quietly.”
In talking about paying it forward, she even asked Dr Tan: “Are you sure I don’t need to pay for today’s visit? Will it affect your pay? I feel bad.”
The doctor’s social media post was shared widely, including by Ms Ho Ching, the Prime Minister’s wife and the CEO of Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd. Dr Tan wrote: “In all of 10 minutes, an illiterate lady touched on the ideas of utility, stoicism, dignity, duty and purpose, concepts which elude many. The only English word she used was ‘cleaner’.“/TISG