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3 Lessons I learnt when I turned 63.

Updated: Nov 17, 2018


Professor Subra Suresh

President and

Distinguished University Professor,

NTU Singapore

Professor James Best

Dean of Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, NTU Singapore

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you all for coming. I would like to thank Professor James Best and his colleagues for organising this morning’s event. Thank you for your hospitality.

I have entitled today’s address as the 3 Lessons I learnt when I turned 63. You may find it strange but there is a reason for it.

When I turned 63, I started my journey to be the executor and trustee of the estate for my late auntie, Mdm Irene Tan Liang Kheng.

I did not know what to expect but as I went through this journey, I have learnt three lessons that I hope will be of some use to you.

If not, you can just learn of how I stumbled myself to a lot of work when I became an executor.

Lesson One: Let it go!

I have spent 4 months of my entire life cleaning up the estate. I must say that my auntie’s house was filled with beautiful things and it was very difficult to decide what to do with them. I found among many things, handwritten manuscripts, medical records, precious photographs, books, and collectables. Recently, I had to renovate my room and was faced with the same nightmare again.

I have learnt that as we go through life, we collect things and we have no idea why we still keep them. Do not laugh at me but when I found my uncle and auntie's x-rays I thought to myself I should keep it since they have kept it for twenty years.

Jokes aside, I think the greatest revenge I could give my daughter for those growing up years is to leave my medical records for her to find when I am gone and guilt trip her to keep it.  

We often hold onto things that we no longer need. Take it from me, let it go.

Likewise, relationships can be divided into three groups. But what differs is that they are human. We get our priorities wrong nowadays, we love things but we use people. In fact, we should use things but love people.

Some people are there for a season, learn to let to go when the season is over and you will be a happier person.

Some people are there for a reason- they may be there to teach you a lesson- be thankful that you have learnt well and learn to forgive and forget.

The last group is that some people are there for a lifetime, be grateful if you have a handful of them- love them preciously. Identify your relationships into these groups and learn to let go.

It is for this reason that I have decided that much more medical research needs to be done in the area of Neuroscience- and mental health. As our society ages and become increasingly stressful I hope research in this area will help all of us to live longer and happier lives.

Lesson Two: Eat your food like medicine or else eat your medicine like food.

When you are 63, you only want your stocks prices to rise, [pause] not your diabetes readings to rise.

One month ago when I went for my medical check-up, I thought their medical device was very kind to me. For the first time in 3 years, my glucose reading fell. It is no joke when the only person who dares to threaten me nowadays is a young doctor.

“Uncle, the next time your reading goes up,

I will up your medication.”

“Aiyo, young people nowadays- later my blood pressure also goes up!”

So if you have coffee with me, no sugar, please. I love durians but please do not tempt me by getting me some. I want to be a healthy senior citizen and not one that is suffering. Believe me, if you have a loved one who suffered from diabetes, being one that is labelled ‘borderline case’ can be very scary.

In Singapore, where we are a food paradise, it is really important to be selective about what we put into our month. We cannot undo the mistakes in the past but we can change the way we live now. I am so glad about the government initiative to have healthier options and even the introduction of milo kosong. We only have one body, so we got to take good care of it.

My uncle, Mr Ong Tiong Tat, suffered a lot from the diabetes condition he had.

Every meal, he was pricked twice, once before and once after. My auntie takes it very seriously to monitor his intake.

In fact, it had robbed him of the joy of enjoying his food, especially durian. I know because I [pause] identify with that pain. Every time, I see durian, my mouth waters but I must persist and resist. I can imagine my doctor’s face staring at me. With that, I shiver with fear.

So it is no surprise that I have decided that more research has to be done in the area of diabetes so that I can still eat durian without spiking my glucose reading. Those professors out there, I am counting on you.

We need more young doctors that care for their patients like mine who says:

“your reading up,

your medicine also goes up.”

Hence, scholarships in memory of my late auntie will be given to enable more talents to be developed in Singapore.

Lesson Three: Importance of being part of a community

I am so privileged to be grafted into the giving legacy of my uncle and auntie. As I stand here, in this auditorium named after them, in honour of their generosity, I now see a community brought together because of them. (pause)

From professors, educators, lawyers, doctors, bankers, NGO leaders, students to fathers and mothers are all gathered here today.

The first time Professor Lionel Lee brought me to this 450 seater state of the art auditorium- about a year ago, I instantly took a liking to it. Somehow, I felt a strong connection to this place. It felt like a sanctuary.

I hope that this sanctuary will be filled with dreams [pauses], ideas [pauses], sharing [pauses], learning. It will not just be a venue [pause] but a place to gather.

[Blinds to unveil the environment]

But there was more to this auditorium. The moment Prof Lee and his colleagues unveil the backdrop [pause] I felt a click within me. It seems like Auntie reminding me that we are not to remain within our comfort zone but remember the world outside.  

May we remember why we gather to learn; it is not just to have the will to help others but to excel in our ability to not just prolong our lives but improve the quality of life in our community.

With this, I end.

Please enjoy the healthier reception that is prepared for you.

Thank you.

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