Family first, uni hopes later
HE USED to come home from work so exhausted, he would fall asleep on the living room floor.
As a baker's apprentice, Tan Chin Hoe would work 16-hour days to learn the craft and trade.
It broke his mother's heart to see this because he gave up his university studies for this harsh path.
The humble young man, who turns 28 tomorrow, would never say it out loud but it was because he wanted to give his family a bit of a break.
You see, he used up his savings and, with some help from his family, was putting himself through private university after obtaining a polytechnic diploma.
But the family was dependent on his father's income. The main breadwinner works as a lorry driver, earning about $2,000 a month.
Mr Tan's sister Charmaine, 20, is suffering from a rare kidney disease. She almost died from renal failure but the feisty fighter pulled through and is sitting her A levels.
However, she did not escape unscathed - the disease has robbed her of her sight.
The New Paper on Sunday first heard of the Tan family's story at a Chua Chu Kang GRC rally early this month.
But Kor Kor (dialect for big brother), as Mr Tan is affectionately known by his siblings, refused any suggestion of heroics on his part. Instead, he referred repeatedly to his mother, Lee Siew Chow, 51, as the real hero in the family.
He said: "Mum did a lot for my sister, such as bringing her home from dialysis and preparing food for her - these are small things but they add up and make a difference."
Moved by her son's words, Madam Lee said: "His work is very demanding. We asked him to give it up but he refuses.
"He would come home with burn marks on his hands and clothes covered with flour and chocolate.
"It pains me to see him suffer such hardship."
But Mr Tan, who was otherwise rather quiet during the two-hour interview on Tuesday, said: "It was my own choice. I had a choice. But for my sister, it wasn't her choice.
"At times when I'm down, I'd look at my sister who is always optimistic and strong."
Madam Lee is thankful that her children are contented with what they have.
Her younger son, Tan Xing Yuan, 22, is a physics undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University. He took a study loan so as not to burden the family.
Madam Lee said: "They are not materialistic or demanding. They do not ask for branded stuff."
She added that with proper planning, the family can cope financially. But when the going gets tough, Mr Tan always takes it upon himself to take care of bills.
"He's not big on words, it's all in his actions."
Charmaine's dialysis is subsidised, as are her medical bills. But sometimes, when she needs it, her medication can knock the budget back severely - some drugs can cost hundreds and even thousands.
So the family, who lives in a four-room flat in Choa Chu Kang, is frugal. They rarely go to restaurants, getting by with home-cooked meals every day. They wear hand-me-down clothes and do not go on holidays.
When they have a bit of extra cash, they would go out for a meal at a hawker centre, a fast-food restaurant or a vegetarian restaurant - a luxury they indulge in once or twice a year.
Mr Tan Xing Yuan is also full of praise for his older brother: "Kor Kor has dedicated his most important part of his life to this family. What else can I ask for?"
But it is looking bright for Mr Tan: He has impressed his bosses at the bakery.
Nick Chua, co-owner and chief artisan baker of Nick Vina Artisan Bakery, said Mr Tan has risen through the ranks and is now in charge of an outlet.
Mr Tan now clocks shorter hours - about 12 a day - and earns almost $2,000 with overtime pay. The company is also sponsoring him for a three-year part-time diploma in baking, which starts next month.
He is trying to squirrel away as much as he can from his salary so that he can pursue a degree again in a few years' time.
"I can still continue my studies if I want to. So, rather than regret what's in the past, I plan what to do next."
THE NEW PAPER