I went to a sushi restaurant today. It was quite crowded so I shared tables with an elderly man. I sat directly beside him and he didn’t seem to mind the extra company. We were just eating our own meals when he pointed out at one of the dishes I ordered. He was curious what it was.
One thing led to another, so I asked him how was the food and whether he came to this restaurant regularly. He told me that he lives nearby and how he loves Japanese food. He explained that he lived in Japan for a while because of work, and he elaborated that he used to lecture at Japanese universities, including the University of Tokyo.
“Oh, so you’re a professor?”
He clarified by saying that he is now an Emeritus Professor who spent decades lecturing on Civil Engineering at NUS and has supervised 56 (or was it 58) PhD graduates. He mentioned something about NUS President having to pay $70 for parking but he gets lifetime free parking in NUS.
He asked me a little about myself, to which I informed him that I graduated in Sociology from University at Buffalo, but I don’t think it interests him at all because he quickly changed the topic back to Civil Engineering. He did say something about Buffalo, New York, being an extremely well-known university.. And that he spent only 1 and a half years completing his PhD at Berkeley.
I spent another 15-20 minutes listening to him
brag talk about his entire life dedicated to civil engineering and how he was captain of a waterpolo team back when he was much younger.
He then took my pair of chopsticks and grabbed a few pieces of his sushi to put on my plate. “This is too much for me. Help me to finish them. Much appreciated.” Then he remarked how fresh the food was and how he doesn’t have to queue each time he enters the restaurant. In return, I offered him a slice of the dish that he initially took curiosity of. “It’s scallop,” he said with satisfaction and confidence.
It was a jovial conversation with this elderly gentleman and I enjoyed talking to him. I shook his hands and thanked him, and I casually said that we would probably bump into each other again should we frequent this same restaurant.
I came home and just out of sheer curiosity, I decided to google who he was. I didn’t catch his name, but I googled NUS civil engineering and tried to get hold of the oldest fellow I could find.
I guess he earned his bragging rights.
Professor Lee Seng Lip still goes to the office up to four times a week, plays golf twice a week, attends functions and swims.
He is 88, yet the veteran engineer maintains a busy schedule and keeps his mind occupied.
“I do not teach any more but I go to engineering events and I still read,” he said. “I make sure my brain remains active.”
Prof Lee has given more than four decades of his life to the profession.
He has worked in infrastructural engineering here, both in education and practice, and is also an expert in structural, geotechnical and construction technology.
The sprightly octogenarian, who has almost perfect eyesight, attributes his longevity and perseverance to passion.
“I like the discipline. I like the job, I like what is involved. I like studying to improve myself.”
As a practitioner, Prof Lee has left his imprint on Singapore’s infrastructural landscape.
He recalls how he suggested a construction method for the Changi Airport control tower, which allowed it to be completed under tight deadlines.
He also gave advice on how to ensure structural integrity in the construction of the sloping sides of Marina Bay Sands, and made cost-saving suggestions during the expansion of Jurong Point shopping mall.
I am honored to be able to literally have dinner with this Civil Engineering legend, even though I don’t have the slightest idea about civil engineering.
It is quite refreshing to talk to someone who gave his entire life dedicated to the same passion. I wish I could say the same. I have not found what is worth dedicating four decades of my life to.