Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah has impressed Singaporeans with his grasp of Mandarin in a new interview, in which he also shed light on his marriage and career as an infectious diseases expert.
The interview, conducted by MS News, began with a request for Dr Tambyah to take a PSLE Chinese oral test and discuss the events depicted in an illustration. Dr Tambyah quipped that he is happy he doesn’t have to take such exams anymore but indulged the interviewers and discussed the illustration in Mandarin.
After answering the question, he candidly added that it was “hard” to do so.
MS News also asked Dr Tambyah how he has been faring since th“e July election. Revealing that he took two to three weeks of leave for the election, Dr Tambyah said that he has been catching up on work in the months after the polls.
Aside from his work, Dr Tambyah continues to be active at Bukit Panjang SMC – the ward he contested in the 2020 general election. In one of the closest fights of the 2020 election, Dr Tambyah lost by a whisker with 46.27 per cent of votes – his personal best election score.
Dr Tambyah said that the response to the outreach activities his team organises at Bukit Batok has been tremendous. He revealed that they have even had to turn away volunteers because of the large number of people coming forward to support them.
On whether he has a secret talent, Dr Tambyah responded that his secret talent is in writing emails. He said: “It’s gotten to the stage where some people even sent me drafts of their emails and they asked me to modify them.”
Sharing that he writes a whopping 100 emails a day, Dr Tambyah added with a smile: “It’s way too many, my wife says it’s way way way too many.”
Dr Tambyah’s wife, Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah, is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School. Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah researches happiness and wellbeing and authored the book “Happiness and Wellbeing: The Singaporean Experience.” Through her work, she has earned the nickname ‘the happiness doctor’.
Referring to this nickname, MS News asked Dr Paul Tambyah how his wife has helped him pursue a life of happiness. He responded: “She’s been incredibly helpful. One of the things is we have complementary sort of attributes. I mean we share the same values in terms of major things like, what we should spend our money on.
“But I’m a morning person, she’s an evening person. I’m kind of messy, she’s really really neat.”
Sharing that his wife’s two-decade long research into happiness has been interesting, Dr Tambyah revealed that no one was interested in her area of interest in the beginning making it difficult for her to progress in her career. Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah, however, persevered.`
Today, people have been very interested in her work over the past 10 years and Dr Paul Tambyah says that his wife gets invited to places like Paris, the European Union and Japan to present her work. He also urged young people who are interested in research to keep doing what interests them.
Shedding more light on his marriage, Dr Tambyah said that he and his wife have a “huge amount of debates”. Revealing that his wife has often suggested that they collaborate, Dr Tambyah said it has been very difficult to do so since their fields of research are just so different.
He said, with a hearty laugh: “I mean, how do you really study the happiness of people who’ve got infectious diseases? So it’s kind of hard.”
Despite the difficulties in working together, there is one publication that the Tambyah couple collaborated on. One of Dr Tambyah’s trainees managed to bring him and his wife together to contribute to her research paper and Dr Tambyah quipped that he tells the young trainee that her greatest achievement is pulling off such a feat.
When asked about the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions, Dr Tambyah called it “a huge mystery” that people can meet socially in groups of five even though community cases have plummetted to single digits.
Pointing out that greater numbers of people can gather at religious institutions or in classrooms, he added that it shouldn’t be too difficult to conduct contact tracing since the SafeEntry system is in force at public venues.
Dr Tambyah was also asked about his work as a doctor and professor. On what was the weirdest question he has been asked as a doctor, Dr Tambyah said that he saw an elderly patient a few weeks ago whose blood test results showed he has herpes antibodies since he had had herpes as a young man.
When the old man told his family about the blood test results, his family ostracised him and he decided that he did not want to use the same utensils as his family and asked Dr Tambyah for advice on whether he could use the same utensils that his family used to eat.
Dr Tambyah said that he felt so sad that the elderly patient was so stigmatised and so guilty about something that had happened in his youth. The patient also asked Dr Tambyah whether herpes can be passed on to his children and Dr Tambyah assured him that herpes cannot affect his children, who are 50 years old.
The noted professor also shared his approach to teaching and said it is hard to conduct classes on Zoom since the students could appear to be paying attention but could be focusing on something else, like social media during class.
He added that he knows students show up to face-to-face lectures where attendance is not mandatory because they want to meet their friends. He revealed: “So I have a very bad strategy, which is I find the person who is making the most noise, and I pick on that person and I ask them to stand up and I ask them a really difficult question.
“And the aim is primarily to humiliate them. And after I do that, the rest of the students keep quiet because they are afraid they are going to be next. And I know its a bad pedagogical approach, but it seems to be effective. I haven’t found the digital or online version of that, so it’s really tricky.”
Finally, Dr Tambyah was given an opportunity to address Bukit Panjang SMC voters and he assured residents that they can make a difference together. He said:
“Singaporeans deserve a better Singapore, we deserve a Singapore that is based on justice and equality. A Singapore where everybody has a chance, where it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are elite, rich or poor, young or old. We all have a chance, we all have a part to play to make a difference.”
Urging people to come forward to volunteer, Dr Tambyah added that they can start with Bukit Panjang and make Singapore “a good place to live in.”
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