Interviewing Amber Tan

One of the best things about being a journalist is how I get to meet people from all walks of life. Apart from getting the information I need for writing the story, I get to listen to their views, hear about issues, places or their life experiences. Beyond producing the article, I get to distill the information gathered, extract what might be useful, and store it for the future. Some of it may go on to shape my world view, my thoughts and values.

I did an article for NTU’s Hey magazine which has just been published recently. In it, I interviewed engineering student Amber Tan, the 20-year-old daughter of Dr Tan Lai Yong, a missionary doctor who spent more than 10 years serving the poor in China. Much has been written about Dr Tan, both online and in the mainstream media. His contributions go beyond that to the society both in China and here. He is still continuing the good work here, helping foreign workers and other communities, even as he returned to work in NUS.

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His influence on Amber came through clearly during the interview. During the hour or so I spent chatting with her, I found myself humbled by her strong desire to help disadvantaged communities. She is all of 20 years old, spent 10 years studying in schools in China and is now in one of the most prestigious courses in NTU. But the reason she chose the course? It is a means for her to get to where she wants to go – which is to help disadvantaged communities like her dad. It is a reminder to me about the amount of influence parents have on kids, a reminder that whatever I think, say, and do, impacts my kids.

When I left the interview, I kept thinking about something Amber shared. She said that in the schools she studied in in China, there were no school cleaners. Instead, toilets were washed by the students, supervised by the teachers, likewise for the classrooms. It gave students a sense of ownership over the school. They were taught from young to clean up after themselves. There would be no one to clean up their messes. It was a reminder to me about how kids in Singapore have it good, maybe too good. And yes, I made sure to tell Jason about it. 😉

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