Monday, 21 May 2012

Penang Story lecture on Dr Wu Lien-Teh

By my estimate, there must have been anything between 200 and 300 people at the auditorium of the Wawasan Open University in George Town on Saturday at the Penang Story Committee-organised talk on Dr Wu Lien-Teh.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was at hand to open the occasion. That he was present means that at long last, it is quite possible that our Penang-born Dr Wu Lien-Teh, truly a most illustrious yet unsung hero of Malaysia, may still get his due recognition from at least our Penang government.

There are so many different ways that we can honour this man, including a suggestion that either the Penang Free School Foundation or The Old Frees' Association could start a monetary award every year to the best graduate from the Penang Medical College (PMC). But I think the most meaningful way to remember him immediately is to rename the PMC as the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Penang Medical College.

At an informal lunch on Sunday, the topic of recognition was again raised and it was suggested by Anwar Fazal, the chairman of Think City Sdn Bhd, that a bust or statue could be made of Dr Wu and placed at a prominent location in Penang.

Dr Ye Tian of the First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University indicated that there was no problem of the Chinese authorities donating a bronze statue of Dr Wu Lien-Teh to Penang. They were ever ready to do that anytime.

However there was a revelation that about four years ago when a documentary on Dr Wu's life was being prepared by Singapore's Media Corp, the former headmaster of the Penang Free School had turned down the opportunity to have the statue erected in the school's premises. I have my own thoughts why he refused the commemoration but I shall leave it to others to form their own opinions.

People may say that the school itself had already honoured Dr Wu in the past by naming a sport house as Wu Lien-Teh House. However, this was done so very long ago. Senior members at The Old Frees' Association told me that when they studied at the Penang Free School in the 1950s, there was already a Wu Lien-Teh House. So the school's recognition was made at a time when he was still alive.

There's also a short private road in a housing area opposite the school that is called Taman Wu Lien Teh. Some old houses lined one side of the road while on the other side was the compound of the Penang state mosque. However, there is nothing exclusive or glamourous about being known as a "private" road. The condition of the road turned out to be rather dilapidated. What a disappointment. And I even doubt whether at all many people are aware of its existence.

In Ipoh where Dr Wu had resumed his private medical practice after returning from China in 1937, there is also a road in a residential area that was named after him.

So let me say that it is time that we give another round of recognition to Dr Wu Lien-Teh for his immense contribution to world health. He was a Penang-born who saved the world. He had the world at his feet but then he chose to return here to private medical practice and live out the rest of his life in relative obscurity. He was a real Anak Pulau Pinang, a real Son of the Penang Free School.

Press conference before the start of the talk. From left: MS Rajendren (president of The Old Frees' Association), Loke Gim Tay (vice-president of the Singapore-China Friendship Association), Dr Alex Ooi (president of The Old Frees' Association Singapore), Datuk Anwar Fazal (chairman of Think City), Ong Lay Hong (speaker and producer of the documentary film “Plague Fighter Dr Wu Lien-Teh”) and Dr Ye Tian (chair of the Division of Cardiology, The First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University)

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