SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - He was a colourful character who appeared at past election events usually accompanied by his pet parrot.
But today, former businessman Zeng Guoyuan, 64, better known as “Parrot Man”, is a shadow of his old sprightly self.
Last year, he was diagnosed with nose cancer and had to undergo surgery, leaving a gaping hole in his face where his nose used to be.
Doctors said there is no cure left for me. So I’m just going wherever I want to go and trying to do good wherever I go.
-- Former businessman Zeng Guoyuan (right), better known as ‘Parrot Man’
He walks with the help of a cane - a stark contrast to the man who strode into nomination centres over the past few years - because the cancer has spread to other parts of his body.
He said that doctors told him his condition was terminal.
Mr Zeng also cannot look after his beloved parrots, which are now being cared for by his friends, he told The New Paper outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple at Waterloo Street, where he sells tissue paper every day.
“Doctors said there is no cure left for me. So I’m just going wherever I want to go and trying to do good wherever I go,” he said in Mandarin.
He told TNP that his life went downhill after a road accident in February 2013.
He claimed he was hit by a lorry while he was riding on his motorcycle along the PIE.
The accident left him with fractured ribs and internal bleeding.
Worse news came a year later, when he went to have a pimple on his face checked, he said. Doctors found that he had nose cancer, which Mr Zeng said was “stage 3 or 4”.
'Uncommon' to remove nose for treatment
The treatment of nose cancer does not usually involve any surgery on the nose itself, specialists told The New Paper.
This is because the condition actually affects the nasopharynx, the area behind the nose and just above the back of the throat, doctors explained.
Nose cancer typically affects southern Chinese and is the eighth most common cancer among men in Singapore.
It is typically treated with chemotherapy, said My ENT Specialist’s ear, nose and throat specialist Paul Mok.
For advanced cases, radiotherapy may be used.
Dr Wong Seng Weng, medical director of The Cancer Centre, agreed: “It is very uncommon to have the nose removed.
“Given that most tumours occur at the back of the nose, doctors would generally be very reluctant to perform disfiguring surgery because it would be very difficult to reach the back of the nose.”
He added that losing a nose would be traumatic for patients.
Dr Mok pointed out that surgery, usually reserved for recurrent cases of nose cancer, is typically conducted on the back of the nose.
“You hardly take out the nose unless it’s a different form of cancer that is affecting it, like skin cancer,” said Dr Mok.
- Foo Jie Ying
Despite surgery to amputate his nose, the cancer cells spread to the rest of his body, including his rectum, he said.
He underwent surgery to remove part of his large intestine.
Mr Zeng now uses a colostomy bag. Each bag costs about $10 from the hospitals and he has to change the bag at least twice a day.
He said he cannot sit for long periods and experiences pain in his nose, stomach and back.
He also avoids oily foods and can only eat soft food such as porridge or soup.
Despite his condition, he seats himself on a wheelchair and under an umbrella outside the Waterloo Street temple from 6am till 6pm every day.
When asked how much he makes, he would only say that he earns enough to get by.
“People can pay me whatever amount they want. I don’t need a lot of money, just enough to survive,” said Mr Zeng.
He also claimed that he does not want to trouble or burden his wife and two sons, who are aged 37 and 38 and who are both civil servants.
“I don’t like people looking after me. I can still take care of myself, “ he said.
When TNP visited Mr Zeng at the temple at about 2.30pm on Thursday, we noticed a group of passers-by gathering around him as he spoke about the importance of compassion and having a good heart.
Templegoer Wu Mei Ni, 70, told TNP that she found Mr Zeng familiar and felt sorry at seeing him in his current state.
She gave him $10 and wished him a speedy and miraculous recovery.
Mr Zeng said that at night, he would sleep on his motorcycle which was parked near the temple.
“If it rains, then I’ll just open an umbrella. If the rain gets too heavy, then I’ll ride to somewhere sheltered,” he said, adding that he spends only about $8 a week topping up fuel.