Not-A-Philanthropist Tao Xiaodong towed his luggage the next day, brushing all of his work off.
He packed a few sets of clothes, along with a tattoo machine, inks, and consumables, abandoning anything business-related to Da Huang.
First, he made a stop at a parlour in Italy for ten days, during which he worked speedily around the clock.
The owner, a highly recognised world-class tattoo artist, was a friend with whom he ran way back.
Tao Xiaodong had stayed over there for slightly more than a year when he was young, and in the fledgling days of his business, the other had often sent people to help out at his place to boost its credibility.
Tao Xiaodong never forgot this favour.
Now that he had gained fame and was similarly a world-class tattoo artist, he’d take a few days every year to freelance at the other’s parlour in Italy, using this opportunity to catch up with an old friend and learn from each other.
Thereafter, he met up with those from the hospital at a road junction leading from Lhasa to another city in Tibet.
The hospital had contacted Tao Xiaodong en route.
Once learning that they were passing through the same way, he got off his ride at Qüxü County, waiting for about an hour before the team from the hospital arrived.
They had arranged a few coaches and equipment vans for their transport, as well as two MPVs that headed this small fleet.
One of them stopped right in front of Tao Xiaodong.
As the driver got off to help him with his luggage, the car door slid open.
Tao Xiaodong smiled when he saw who it was.
He greeted, “Dr.
Tang Suoyan smiled faintly, saying to him, “Xiaodong.”
They weren’t allowed to stop the vehicle for too long at the roadside.
Tao Xiaodong quickly got into the car, sitting in the middle row with Tang Suoyan.
Including him, there were a total of five people taking this car, and Tang Suoyan did the introductions for him.
The driver was a local volunteer.
An anaesthesiologist, Consultant Xu, sat in the front passenger seat, while an ophthalmologist from Tang Suoyan’s department, Dr.
Liu, sat in the back.
After they each went through the usual greetings, Consultant Xu turned his head back to tell Tao Xiaodong, “You were supposed to take the other car at first.
The hospital made special arrangements for some of my colleagues to receive you, and they were even planning to show you the sights of the Tibetan landscape along the way.”
Tao Xiaodong flapped his hand and said, “Nevermind that.
I don’t need any special treatment.”
Consultant Xu said with a smile, “Consultant Tang also said to do away with it and let you sit with us, claiming that you’d be more comfortable like this.”
Tao Xiaodong smiled at Tang Suoyan.
I’ve known Dr.
Tang for a long time now.”
Tang Suoyan also smiled, asking him, “Is Xiao Nan doing well”
You were out on business during his last check-up, so Dr.
Chen examined him instead.
His condition is quite stable,” said Tao Xiaodong.
“Mn. Xiao Nan’s condition has never been too bad.
He wished me Happy New Year during the lunar new year.
I talked to him for a while.
He’s still very well-behaved, just like he was when he was young.” Tang Suoyan took a bottle of water for Tao Xiaodong, handing it over.
Tao Xiaodong took it from him, chuckling.
“That’s because he likes you.”
This was a medical aid project run by San Hospital.
It was somewhat a tradition.
The hospital would organise mission trips every year, targeted at impoverished areas like Tibet and Sichuan where medical care fell behind.
The various departments set out on both short-term and long-term missions.
A few years ago, the state had appealed to hospitals at provincial and municipal levels to set up general-disciplinary teams, providing humanitarian aid to backward areas.
Consequently, San Hospital also arranged for a team to be stationed in Tibet for the long term.
The project this time was the first to provide primary eye care services in Tibet besides the general team stationed there.
Tang Suoyan was the doctor in charge, and Tao Xiaodong was the donor that sponsored the funding for medical equipment.
This region didn’t only lack doctors but also equipment.
It wasn’t the first time that Tao Xiaodong was supporting a medical aid project like this—he did so on a yearly basis.
Springtime always saw a spike in eye diseases, especially so at high-altitude plateaus.
Some people living deep in mountainous terrains might have never visited a hospital in their lifetime.
The local hospital made sure to spread the word in advance, allegedly resulting in a long queue of patients with eye conditions that extended out of the hospital.
In truth, the publicity done this time was still lacking.
Despite the improvements to the overall medical standard in Tibet in recent years, many households and herdsmen would rather worship gods than enter a hospital for a consultation.
San Hospital and the local government joined hands to offer free medical treatment under this project.
Patient costs were fully subsidised from the examination to the surgery, enticing many that hailed from other cities to have specialists check their eyes.
A camera crew put together by students from a medical school was also tagging along from start to end.
They wanted to film a documentary in hopes that it would inspire more hospitals and organisations to throw their support behind humanitarian aid projects in poverty-stricken areas.
There was also a hand-held camera fixed to a corner of the car they were in.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t notice it at first.
Actually, Tao Xiaodong had arrived many days earlier than the team from the hospital.
He’d deliberately made a detour to Nyingchi in Southeast Tibet, where he had previously promised a friend to help tattoo religious scripture on his back the next time he came by.
A few years back, Tao Xiaodong’s car had broken down while travelling with a companion in an uninhabited region.
A young man on a motorbike tending his sheep eventually spotted them, bringing them back to his tent.
This young man was named Sang Bu, a nomad and a devout Buddhist.
Sang Bu said that the last bath he took was last summer.
The cold winter froze over the river, and the year-round high-altitude winds cracked his skin.
However, the skin under his clothes wasn’t as weathered as his face and hands.
His six-year-old son was beaming as he rolled up a cloth to wipe the grime from his father’s back, exposing the most natural state of skin after being cleaned, able to bear and accept the pain of etching scriptures into his back.
Tao Xiaodong had come to Tibet several times.
He didn’t get any high-altitude sickness before, but he was struck with severe reactions during the first few days this time, and was nursing a migraine and chest pain as he copied the scriptures onto the man’s back.
The other struggled to speak in Mandarin, saying with a bashful smile, “Make sure that your hands don’t shake.”
Tao Xiaodong smiled at him and said that they wouldn’t.
“I didn’t know when you’d come.
I was afraid that you wouldn’t be able to find me, so I’d occasionally ride out further to look around for a bit.” It always took Tao Xiaodong a long time to decipher what the man was saying.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Why didn’t you call me”
He said, “Lost the paper slip long ago; I can’t find it anymore.”
Their household essentials were messily cluttered around the tent, while a few cotton winter clothes were drying outside.
A rudimentary fence enclosed a large pen with their tent and a hundred-odd sheep.
In comparison, the yaks were allowed relative freedom to roam outside, grazing the grass at one spot before moving to another.
Tao Xiaodong etched the full set of scriptures neatly onto his back.
Throughout, the other remained with a shy smile on his face, filled with elation from having his wish fulfilled.
His son was smiling as well, finding this buzzing machine quite novel.
He was interested in the depictions on the skin and even wanted to draw a few strokes on his own hand.
The young boy couldn’t speak Mandarin.
His father rebuked him in Tibetan, presumably forbidding him from touching their guest’s possessions.
Tao Xiaodong smiled and asked, “Aren’t you going to teach him Mandarin”
“I tried, he’s hopeless.
He can’t get the pronunciation of the a, o, and e right,” the boy’s father said.
“Where’s his mom” Tao Xiaodong asked.
He named a place.
Tao Xiaodong heard him clearly this time, and the other elaborated, “Her eyes aren’t doing good.
She sees dark shadows in her vision.
Many doctors have headed to a hospital there, providing free eye check-ups and surgeries.
I got her to go as well.”
Touching on this subject, the bashful Tibetan man seemed much happier, turning to face Tao Xiaodong.
“I heard that the doctors are amazing; they can even cure blindness.
Many doctors have travelled from afar to treat the people here in recent years.
They’re very kind.”
Caught slightly by surprise, Tao Xiaodong’s smile was belated.
They’re very kind.”
Tao Xiaodong never denied this.
And when he was amidst them, this belief was only reinforced.
The doctors and nurses from San Hospital ran like clockwork.
It wasn’t their first mission.
On the other hand, the local hospital appeared quite frazzled, never encountering such a large influx of patients before.
But the swift coordination efforts of the external medical staff and volunteers got the situation under control.
They were so professional that the chaotic scene was soon brought into order.
When manpower was insufficient, Tao Xiaodong doubled as a regular volunteer.
There was just too much to be done to bother caring about status.
Further, as these volunteers were unaware of who Tao Xiaodong was, they didn’t hesitate to call upon him for assistance.
It helped that Tao Xiaodong made himself useful.
He was both quick and steady, bolstered by the experience and knowledge of his age.
In the evening, a doctor who knew Tao Xiaodong caught sight of him moving two boxes.
He hastily said, “Why are you still working Director Tao, you should hurry up and rest.”
Tao Xiaodong inclined his body, making way, saying, “Go do your own, don’t worry.
What director this and that.”
With this, the other hurried on and left.
The wave of patients was unremitting; there seemed to be no end to them.
It was only consultations for the first three days, whereas surgeries would come after the examinations were done.
Most were to treat cataracts and glaucoma, eye conditions prevalent at high-altitude plateaus.
In fact, most of these eye diseases weren’t difficult problems to combat, but many people had been passing their days in blindness as a result of them.
Tang Suoyan was holed up in a consultation room all day, seeing several hundred patients.
The student camera crew was divided into groups.
One with a hand-held camera was constantly following Tao Xiaodong around.
Eventually, Tao Xiaodong said, “What are you filming me for Shoot more of other people.”
“But I’ve been tasked to follow you,” the student replied.
“You’re also worth being documented.”
Well, that was up to him.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t quibble, only having him set down the camera to lend a hand when the volunteers were getting overwhelmed with work.
By the afternoon of the third day, all patients had finally been seen, and the doctors were able to take an early breather.
Actually, there were people among them who had been enduring severe high-altitude sickness.
So, with work over for the time being, some chose to head straight back to rest without even having their meal.
Everyone else had dinner in a restaurant.
The local government had made arrangements in advance, which were foiled by them diving headlong into work upon arrival.
It was only now that they had the time to sit down and have a proper meal.
As they were tired, they didn’t go far, dining at a restaurant in their hotel.
Tao Xiaodong was sharing a table with a few residents from San Hospital.
Tang Suoyan sat to his right.
Several representatives from the local government and hospital management were seated at another table.
Tang Suoyan came in late just now; as he walked in, Tao Xiaodong waved to him from his table with the residents, signalling with his eyes for him to join them.
Tang Suoyan was actually able to cotton on at once, coming over to sit down next to him.
A representative enthusiastically called for them to join their table, but Tao Xiaodong said, “It’s all the same where we eat.
The table’s full over there, so we’ll just sit here.
It doesn’t matter, really.”
After going over to talk for a bit, the two of them returned to this side to have their dinner in peace.
During the day, it was as if the doctors had entered battle mode, and all of them were tightly wound up.
Now that they could finally relax, everyone appeared to be in a state of exhaustion and lethargy.
Even if Tang Suoyan didn’t show it, he really was worn out.
Fortunately, as he was sharing a table with the junior doctors of his own hospital, there was no need to stand on ceremony or sit too rigidly.
Having talked their way through three consecutive days of consultations, words didn’t quite flow right anymore.
Having to keep up social niceties at this time would be too draining.
If Tao Xiaodong hadn’t called Tang Suoyan over before anyone else, Tang Suoyan would likely be squeezed amongst the city representatives, occasionally eating a bite or two while socialising.
He was the doctor in charge of those from the Ophthalmology Department.
It was only expected of him.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “You must be tired, right, Dr.
Tang Suoyan didn’t put up pretences, nodding.
These trips always are.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “It’s been hard on you guys.”
“The hard part has yet to come.
At least we could still stay seated during these days.” Tang Suoyan smiled at him, seemingly with a touch of self-derision contained within.
“From tomorrow onwards, you’ll be looking at Superman.”
Tao Xiaodong poured him a cup of tea.
“You’ll be starting on surgeries, right”
Tang Suoyan hummed in assent.
Consults are less taxing than surgeries.”
They were seated near each other.
The restaurant was noisy, and their soft chatter was only audible to the two of them.
Tao Xiaodong ate quickly, whereas Tang Suoyan was too tired to eat much, so after they were done, they just stayed seated, conversing like this.
It was quite interesting the way things worked.
Before this, they really didn’t have much interaction.
They met through Tian Yi and had one meal together.
After that, there was no contact outside of Tao Huainan’s check-ups; even Tao Huainan spoke to Tang Suoyan more than he did.
But at this time, they acted like friends who had known each other for many years.
The night at this hour was a bit chilly.
Tang Suoyan was only wearing a dress shirt and his coat was nowhere in sight.
He rubbed his hands together.
“It’s quite cold.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “The temperature drops in the evenings.”
Tao Xiaodong received a few messages on his mobile.
He lowered his head, quickly checking them.
“It’s Tian Yi.
He’s asking me where I am.”
“Ah,” Tang Suoyan uttered, “my junior.” He wasn’t very familiar with Tian Yi, so he asked Tao Xiaodong, “You’ve known each other for quite long, I presume”
Tao Xiaodong nodded.
“We were classmates in middle school.
I was first from the bottom, and he took the spot right above me.”
Tang Suoyan’s brows lifted in surprise.
Tao Xiaodong broke into a smile.
“Unbelievable, right A graduate from your medical school actually ranked second from the bottom in middle school.”
Tang Suoyan smiled as well.
“It is rather unbelievable.”
“We were both chilling at the tail-end of the cohort back then, even getting into fights every day.
Teachers were so obsessed with catching us that they never gave anyone else trouble.
I thought that fate had brought us brothers together, but who would have guessed that this guy would suddenly peak in high school While I stuck solidly to rock bottom, this guy freaking bulldozed his way into the top ten.”
Amused, Tang Suoyan chuckled softly at his words.
Another message came in.
Tao Xiaodong glanced at it and said, “I told him that you’re here.
Tian Yi said to meet up for a meal when we get back.
He’s your fanboy; he’s always worshipped you.”
Likewise, Tang Suoyan didn’t beat around the bush with courtesies.
Let’s set a date when we get back.”