Monday, January 23, 2023

Chinese dentistry

Walking along Evening Bazaar Road, you might not be taken aback at this sign. After all, Madras has always attracted visitors and quite a few of them have made this city their own. But now you start looking at these signs more closely. You find that Thou and Jennifer are not the only Sens in the game; Christopher is a short distance away. More competition comes in the form of Dr. Peter Chen, whose name when written in Tamizh, is the same as 'Sen'. There is also Dr.Hubert Gerard Hu's Chin Shyn Dental Clinic, with a board dating its origins back to 1933, beating out Drs. Sen & Sen, who started off more than a decade later. But Dr. Thousen's trump card is that he has certification from Beijing, which probably makes him a more authentic Chinese than the others. 

And that is how it should be. Dr.Shieh Thousen will turn 74 this year, and he is the senior-most of the eight Chinese-origin dentists in the area, all of them tracing their roots back to Hubei province, but having grown up in Madras. Dr. Shieh Thousen and his brother (also a dentist, also on the same road) fled Hubei with their father Dr. Say Maw Seng and a few others, fearing communist persecution in pre-WWII China. They landed in Madras via Burma and gravitated towards George Town. Although they weren't registered as dentists then, their treatment worked well for both the locals as well as those passing by. They settled down and grew roots. Dr. Shieh Thousen and his brother went to school, and dental college, in Madras. Their children have also followed that route; Doveton Corrie, Don Bosco, Saveetha, Meenakshi Ammal are the names dropped. 

The fourth generation is now in the business; but then, many of the original families have already moved out of Chennai, both within India and outside, to USA, Australia, Canada or the UK. Others have become 'more integrated', marrying locally and becoming fans of SuperStar or SPB, celebrating Deepavali with gusto. But they apparently still gather together for the Chinese New Year, even if none of them has any memory of celebrating it in Hubei! 

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