Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ask the great questions

When we are sick we consult a doctor or a specialist. Whom do we consult for free when we are in doubt?

A person who has gone through what you are going through. My husband has gone through a lot in his life. Many seek his views on what to do or what can happen under certain circumstances. He gives direct answers to direct questions whenever he can. His articles with anecdotes and stories are for those who wish to compare notes with their own experiences.

We are fortunate to be part of his family so we can consult him whenever we find ourselves in a limbo. His experiences and philosophy helped many who found themselves in dilemmas.

My husband has read widely, collected many interesting quotations and has formed some of his own which he found useful. I encouraged him to share some of this with others who may need them.

One of his favourite quotations is “When in doubt, be positive”. This makes sense and requires guts. Nobody will believe you if you do not believe in yourself and you will remain in square one.

Mrs. Engeline Lee
14 April 2007


Ask the Great Questions
For the Great Answers

When I was in school I used to envy my happy-go-lucky friends who did not seem to have a care in the world. Their wealthy parents would prepare everything for them. They were going to become medical doctors, lawyers, accountants or take over their parents’ legacies when they grow up. Here was I struggling to stay in school and aiming only to get a Senior Cambridge certificate and to get a job after that. But my parents had high hopes for me that I would somehow, someday would become “somebody” as a Tibetan monk told them that I would. This was just their hope and dream. On my part I liked to be able to fulfill their dream without knowing how to do it.

The S.E.A. war came in 1941. We lost everything we had. My father lost his job. We the children lost our education. I lost 6 good years of my life. There was nothing in front of me except the hope, kept alive by my Mother, could the Tibetan monk’s prophesy be right? This was the only light at the end of my dark tunnel. I could not see what was beyond that. I was very miserable during the war and immediately thereafter. Besides doing everything possible just to survive we had to pawn the few precious pieces of jewelry my Mother had. This experience hurt me to this day. I vowed that I must never allow this to happen to my family any more. I worked real hard to avoid this.

Today, some sixty years after the war, there are many people who are like me in my earlier years, still grouping in the dark and hoping for something to happen. I am writing this story with the hope that it can give these people some encouragement if not inspiration that life is not that bad. Have faith and trust in whatever you believe in, work towards it, then all will be well.

Even though my parents were in a bad financial shape in 1946 they decided to send me back to school to get my Senior Cambridge certificate. They were strong believers that education must been given the highest priority more than anything else. I am the eldest in the family. This action was a big sacrifice for my parents who could have made me get a job to help out. I compensated for this by giving private tuition in my Senior Cambridge year to help out in a small way besides doing a few small things here and there. I did well in the Senior Cambridge examination. I was fortunate to be awarded a Raffles College scholarship to study science. I managed to improve my life through this one decision of my parents. I did my part and my guardian angel must have been kind and helpful too. I value education for myself and others more than any thing else since. I was supposed to get only a Raffles College diploma in science, if I am lucky, after three years. I got a Ph. D. instead after 6 years. This made me love Education, Science, R & D and their application to better our lives. This was the debt I am happy to repay for what was given to me. Indeed I spent a great part of my life for this noble cause.

After this I started working in a job which was supposed to allow me to do what I always wanted - a continual education through R & D and the application of science to better things for every body. I got part of this but the environment was not conducive for me to do more. Often I have to like what I have to do instead of doing what I like. Many will agree that this can be very frustrating. Some may be persuaded or even forced to accept the situations but not me and those with my type of character. I cannot be expected to give of my best when I have to accept to do what I do not agree is correct or good. It would not be fair to the system or to those I am working with. What should I do now? I decided that I will find a way or I will make one. This is a risky operation. Fortunately I have my wife, family and many friends support and encouragement. I started asking searching questions of myself which I would dislike answering from others. Then I discovered a poem written by the Nobel Laureate for literature of 1907 Rudyard Kipling. Kipling wrote the following:

“I have six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names were What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Since then I made use of these six honest serving men. They changed my life. The Whys, Hows and Whats helped me in my study and practice of the exact sciences; mathematics, physics and chemistry, the laboratories and in my early working years. I soon found that knowing how to handle the exact sciences alone is not enough. I discovered that sometimes whom you know is just as important if not more important than what you know. Proper networking of people becomes important. I learned how to attract the talents, get the chemistry right and catalyze them to react and produce the results needed. I also learned how to develop trust and faith in the people I worked with. This can save a lot of questions which we have to answer in a bureaucracy, using up a lot of unnecessary energy and time which can be put to better use.

I felt like a new born chick which was just hatched out from the egg especially when I have to start something new. Why am I here? What do I do now and How can I get to where I want to go. How long will that take and Where am I to get the resources or people to do what has to be done? Asking questions like these and answering them correctly has been my life. Many people have told me that they often face the same problems. The question is can I share my experience with them? This is an attempt to do that.

The six honest serving men have served me well. If you come to know them well they will probably serve you better. In the articles that follow I will give some examples of how and what made some people, including myself, do what we did, often unknowingly or subconsciously, just by asking and answering some great questions of ourselves. Simple idiosyncrasies can produce successful giant projects. We hope we have succeeded more than we failed. We trust you will too.

Lee Kum Tatt
14 April 2007

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