Saturday, 29 October 2011

Doctors in the East

Ho Tak Ming. 2001. Doctors in the East. Where West meets East.  Pelanduk Publications, Selangor, Malaysia. ISBN 967-978-770-2 [USM call number WZ56 H678 2001]

My review:
The book has 12 chapters. Chapters 1-9 give the historical accounts of the Chinese doctors in China and the coming of Western Medicine. Chapters 10-12 are interesting, and quite amusing too, especially that bit that touches on the Taoist belief in ching and how to keep it within (for males only), and thus remain forever young. Opium is discussed in great detail with a mention that the Arabs had brought opium to China for medical purposes but the Chinese took to its addiction. The last chapter discusses Cheng Ho and Sa Poh Kung in Nanyang. Nanyang refers to Southeast Asia or Nusantara. Also discusses Baba (but not Nyonya) status and their anglophile behaviour and preferences, compared to their sinkehs counterparts who were very Chinese. It also discusses Chinese travel beyond Nanyang, Chinese diaspora, and the Chinese Emperor's ruling not to allow Chinese emigration. The Chinese preferred to stay in China but they were taken to Malaya by the British to work in the tin mines. Places mentioned include Kwangtung and Marco Polo's Zayton or Canton. The history of the FMS Medical School and its initial funding are discussed. Important doctors in Chinese medical history are Dr Sun Yat Sen and Dr Wu Lien-Teh. Dr Wu Lien-Teh was born in Penang but fought the plague in China - he had researched at the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) in Kuala Lumpur.

This book provides a lot of insights into Chinese medicine in Asia and Southeast Asia. It helps explain some of the gaps in our medical history and links great nations - Malaysia, Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

A plus point of this English book is its use of French, Chinese and Malay words. It has a lot of beautiful poems.

5 early Malay doctors (1999)

Universiti Malaya. 1999. Profil Tokoh-tokoh Gemilang Universiti Malaya. Kuala Lumpur. ISSN 0126-7949 [USM call number M LG396 P964 1999]

This book contains the biographies of these early Malay doctors:
  1. Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed - page 11
  2. Abdul Majid Ismail - page 19
  3. Salma Ismail - page 87
  4. Siti Hasmah Hj. Mohd. Ali - page 91
  5. Ungku Omar Ungku Ahmad - page 106

Ismail Ballah (c1843-1928)

This story reached my ears and I will share with you the sad story of a lovely man in our history. 


There is one interesting man in our history and that is Ismail Ballah. 

History has it that in British India, somewhere in northern India, near the Himalayan region, coincidentally at a place named Ballah, lived a man whose Indian name is unknown. We don't know where he lived in India.

You can Google "Ballah" in Google Map and see where that leads you to. It leads to 2 things - Lake Ballah by River Nile in Egypt, and a place in northern India.

As a young intelligent male, Ismail had worked in India, maybe as a judge. In one case, he had presided over a case and found the offender guilty. However, the British did not agree with his verdict and wrongfully captured him (without trial). Poor Ismail, he did not commit a sin, he was just doing his job.

The British brought the young Ismail, along with a host of Indian "convicts" to Singapore via Malaya. They were brought in chains (this is sheer slavery of the worst kind - the other instance was when Black Africans were brought in chains to North America). 

Ismail worked in Singapore, doing hard labour, making roads along with the other captured persons. The time he arrived in Singapore is unknown but could have been when he was a young adult. There are photos in many hardcover books about Singapore that show pictures of these Indian labourers at work. They wear only white loin cloth and work hard under the hot scorching sun, paving our roads.

Ismail was eventually freed and became a free man. It is unknown where he went but it is most likely that he went to live in the mosque in Singapore. Which mosque? There is one small mosque which had been demolished - it could have been that mosque. I don't know the name of the mosque that was demolished. It is the Chander Road Mosque.


he German Embassy was opened in Singapore in 1892. 

Ismail Ballah was almost 49 years old when he started working for the German Embassy in Singapore when it opened in 1892. 

Ismail Ballah worked as an archivist (kept records; menyimpan rekod) at the German Embassy in Singapore.

What type of records did he look after? The records could have possibly included pre-WWI records, WWI records (1917-1918) and post-WWI records - when Germany wanted to dominate Europe under the German Kultur (equivalent to ethnic cleansing); shipping/navigation records; hospital records; and trading records.

Ismail Ballah died in service. He died while still serving as archivist at the German Embassy in Singapore. Such was his dedication to work. He passed away on 24 July 1928 at age 85. The newspaper reported his death and mentioned him as an Arab and that he was a staunch Islamist - "WELL-KNOWN ARAB'S DEATH" (The Straits Times, 25 July 1928, Page 10). His home then was at Roberts Road.

Unanswered questions about Ismail Ballah
  1. Where did Ismail Ballah go after he was freed by the British in Singapore? Did he work in Singapore or did he go home to India? Did he work overseas and then return to Singapore? 
  2. Did he ever work for the construction of the Suez Canal which was around 1850s or nearby Lake Ballah in Egypt?
  3. Where did he practise Islam when he became a staunch Islamist, and was respected by the Muslim (Arab) community in Singapore?
  4. When did he marry? Whom did he marry? Are there photos of his marriage?
  5. His first child (son, Dr Mohamed Ibrahim) was born on 8 September 1892, at the same time the German Embassy opened and Ismail Ballah started work with the Embassy.
  6. His son (Dr Mohamed Ibrahim) married Hamidah Shaik Baboo. Could Ismail Ballah come to know of Shaik Baboo's family when he worked at the Suez Canal? Could he have worked with other labourers from Turkey?
  7. At the time of his death, he had lived at Roberts Road. What is the nearest mosque to his home?
  8. How did he travel to work? How far did he travel to work? Where did he have his meals? Where did he pray while at work? Did he work 9-5?

The German Consul-General in Singapore

1. Who was the first German Consul-General in Singapore? 
2. Was Herr Otto Weber the second German Consul-General in Singapore?

Herr Otto Weber

Herr Otto Weber was the German Consul-General in Singapore from 15 February 1926 to 1929. His wife is Frau Weber. They are known to us as Mr Otto Weber and Mrs Weber. Mrs Weber was formerly Countess Stalberg of Austria. The couple have 4 children. 

Herr Otto Weber is Mr Otto Weber or Dr Otto Weber in different accounts.

Herr Otto Weber has an interesting history. He helped founded the Deutsche Gesellschaft of Berlin, a German club, and became its first Chairman. Herr Otto Weber was involved in the Great War (WWI) and was wounded. He worked in Russia and Batavia (now Jakarta in Indonesia) before coming to Singapore in 1926.

In Singapore Herr Otto Weber had a Renault car and a driver. His car was involved in road accident near a bridge at Orchard Road on 2 November 1928 (after Ismail Ballah died). His car had hit a 9-year old Chinese girl who fell in between the 2 front tyres and suffered a fractured base of the skull. She died. The case was heard in court on 14 November 1928 with the coroner's report. The verdict was a case of misadventure. 

Herr Otto Weber completed his job in as German Consul-General in Singapore in 1929 and returned to Germany. He died in Berlin at age 47 (he died as a result of the wounds he suffered from the war).

Shaik Baboo

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 31 March 1927, Page 11

Muslim Burial-Ground, Bidadari.
Appointment of Trustee?
A couple of years ago, the Honourable Inche Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah, at the request of the President of the local Municipality, went to the Kampong Glam Sultan Mosque on a Friday and informed the congregation and the Muslim public that the Municipality had dedicated the burial-ground at Bidadari, Upper Serangoon Road, to the Muslims for the burial of their dead. He also said that a trustee or trustees would be appointed later to manage the affairs of the burial-grounds. Two years have passed and the appointment of the trustees for some reason or other has not yet been announced.

I understand that Shaik Baboo, the veteran caretaker of the Muslim Burial-grounds, Bidadari, has been unwell for some time and that he is shortly retiring. Rumour is persistent that Dr. H. S. Moonshi, our Municipal Commissioner, is leaving for Mecca with his family shortly as soon as the question of his "ganti" to manage his dispensary has been settled. Dr. Moonshi is already an "Haji."