SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) – Jobs do not come easy for Mr Jimmy Wee.
And when they do, he tries to hide from the public eye.
That is because he suffers from a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, which caused the growth of thousands of benign tumours on his body and face.
Neurofibromatosis is a well-documented condition popularised by the film The Elephant Man. It is not infectious.
Despite his disfigurement, “good fortune and a kind boss” gave Mr Wee the chance to work as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant from the start of the year, he says.
But three months into his job in March, a customer complained about him to his boss, citing health concerns.
His employer says: “She told us that she was disturbed when she ran into Jimmy at the back of the restaurant. She wanted me to fire him.
“I was taken aback by how unkind people can be. I would rather lose her as a customer.”
Mr Wee’s boss declines to be named because she does not want to be seen as trying to benefit from his ill fate.
She says: “My stand is that Jimmy is a good, hard worker. When I hired him, he even asked if I was sure that I would hire someone like that.”
The New Paper on Sunday spoke to Mr Wee last week as he expertly cleaned plate after plate at the back of the restaurant.
He toils from 11am to 11pm daily, including weekends, as that is the restaurant’s peak period.
“Oh, the soap water does not bother me,” he says with a grin.
He hides in the washing area at the back of the restaurant to avoid the gaze of diners.
Mr Wee did the same in his previous jobs as a car wash attendant and a dishwasher in Suntec City.
He explains: “I do not want to embarrass my boss. When I heard that a customer complained about me, I felt so guilty for causing my boss problem.
“I was thankful she sided with me.”
It was not the first time he had encountered intolerant people since he found out about his condition when he was seven.
For years, he has endured being called the “Chicken Pox Man” by passers-by, especially young children.
But each time a confrontation happens, Singaporeans would jump to his defence just like what his employer did.
He recalls being told to leave by a couple, while he was having a meal at a hawker centre some years ago.
WANTED HIM GONE
Mr Wee says: “They said that people with my type of body should just stay at home and not come out. They wanted me gone.
“A stranger came forward and scolded them, saying that he was a doctor. Then someone else also came forward, saying that he was a lawyer and would sue them.”
He tries to avoid such confrontations. For example, he would rather walk than take the train, even if the journey is long.
But he chose not to live a cloistered life like those whose condition are worse than his.
Mr Wee, who has four brothers and two sisters who do not have neurofibromatosis, says: “I was depressed at first when I realised this was happening to me. I would hide at home and play truant.
“It would cost me around $100,000 to go through plastic surgery and remove these bumps, but I won’t go through the operation.
“I let other people say what they like about me.”
The former grassroots leader says he will not accept any donations.
“I have a job, and I am earning my own keep. If people want to give me money, I will ask them to give to charity instead,” he adds.