27 Aug 2009


My choice last week was evidently biased, but my taste for simplicity stems from my childhood.

Once, a professor from a conservatory of music in China visited us. He mentioned that they had a whole batch of tests to assess the techniques of their students. One of the parameters was the number of notes they could play in one minute, i.e. the ability to play Presto phrases. In fact, many students who strived to become professionals tried to play faster, louder and more difficult works to impress others. To this, my teacher gave a dignified answer. “We do not know music can be assessed this way. To us, technique is the ability to express music.”

When I became an accompanist for the school choir and an organist for the church, I had the privilege to apply the teaching. Most of the songs were not technically demanding. For the benefit of the singers, I also need to play the same songs over and over. Partly because of the spiritual environment in the church, I could find beauty in simple tunes. No song was too simple to practise.

Years later, I followed a surgeon renowned for his superb skills when I was a final year student. Most people said he was a very fast surgeon. In the operating theater, however, I could not feel any haste. The operation was just mysteriously finished in a short time. When I asked for the secret, he simply answered, “There is no point to rush. If you do not make mistakes, you are already very fast.” I believe this statement is true both for a junior worker like me and for a huge organization like the government.

In my biased view, youngsters who become great clinicians invariably derive much pleasure from the management of simple cases. They find joy and responsibility in learning how to treat diseases they see everyday better. On the other hand, I often cannot cover my disappointment when young doctors report their ‘set menu’ management of COAD and heart failure.

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