He relies on a friend to get help when trouble strikes

Mr Tan Ngian Wee, 80, calling friends to let them know he has reached home safely. He rarely leaves his one-room rental flat in Chin Swee Road, except for visits to the nearby Hua Mei centre for physiotherapy and other programmes.
Mr Tan Ngian Wee, 80, calling friends to let them know he has reached home safely. He rarely leaves his one-room rental flat in Chin Swee Road, except for visits to the nearby Hua Mei centre for physiotherapy and other programmes.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Twice this year, Mr Tan Ngian Wee had to make emergency calls to a friend he met at a coffee shop, to get help when he felt giddy.

The 80-year-old bachelor suffers from a host of medical conditions, including diabetes and gout, and relies on this friend to call the ambulance when a crisis strikes.

He has lived alone at a one-room rental flat in Chin Swee Road for 12 years. His friend, who also lives alone, is a block away.

Mr Tan said: "I don't worry about it because there is also an emergency cord I can pull at home that will get me help from a nearby centre."

He hardly leaves home, except when staff from the Hua Mei centre ferry him over for activities such as physiotherapy twice a week. Sometimes, he goes to a nearby coffee shop on his motorised wheelchair.

"I am used to this lifestyle," said Mr Tan, who is on public assistance and receives about $460 a month from the Government.

He spent years as a monk in Thailand, immersing himself in prayers and meditation, so days would pass before he spoke to anyone.

The former businessman returned in 2001 when his health started to fail. He is estranged from his three brothers and younger sister.

"I'm happy living by myself as there is no one to disturb me," he said. "But it is still important to get out of the flat and do some exercise."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2015, with the headline 'He relies on a friend to get help when trouble strikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe