Miracle survivor of acid attack scores in O levels
An acid attack damaged his throat when he was three months old, but Samuel Lim, now 16, finds academic success and gains self-confidence through music
He is 16 and has never tasted food before.
He eats through a gastrostomy tube inserted through the abdomen, breathes through a tracheostomy tube inserted through the neck into his windpipe, and barely speaks due to damaged vocal chords.
Yet when asked if he feels any different from his peers, Samuel Lim Hong Xiang wrote on his iPad: "I see myself as another peer to my peers, just quieter."
Yesterday, the former Yuan Ching Secondary School (YCSS) student found out that he scored an L1R5 of nine points in his O levels.
His mother, Madam Tan Poh Ling, 44, beamed when asked about his results.
"He did well, he's happy with his results. In the recent years, Samuel improved not just academically, but also in other ways.
"I was very pleased when he agreed to join other community activities outside of school. That kind of commitment and time spent is commendable," she said.
Samuel even played the piano to raise funds during the Beautiful Mind Charity in 2014.
Madam Tan is proud of her son partly because of how far he has come since he was attacked in 1999.
He was then three months old and a maid had poured sulphuric acid down his throat out of jealousy of another maid.
The attack severely damaged his tongue, throat and vocal chords. Nobody expected him to live, but he survived. He would never be able to eat through his mouth again.
Madam Tan said in an earlier press interview that he has never complained or asked to eat. Samuel said then: "I just find food disgusting."
MENTORS: Samuel Lim Hong Xiang with (from left) his teachers Mrs Tan Mui Gek and Ms Christine Lee, and his parents Madam Tan Poh Ling, and Mr Lim Boon Keong.
Samuel still struggles with speech. His father, Mr Lim Boon Keong, 44, said: "We encourage him to use his vocal chords from time to time, but he rarely tries to speak in public."
Samuel relies on writing and typing on gadgets to communicate. During the interview yesterday, he communicated through body language and typing on an iPad.
Despite having to fight back tears when strangers asked about her eldest son's condition - she has another son, 13, and daughter, 10 -Madam Tan said she and her husband never believed in keeping Samuel at home.
"We wanted him to grow up like a normal child," the mother of three said quietly.
Her efforts paid off.
When asked if he felt self-conscious or inferior when growing up, Samuel simply looked at his mother, before shaking his head with a smile.
The 16-year-old's confidence today is built up from his string of public music performances. At seven, he picked up piano.
"Mum didn't have a chance to learn piano when she was young, so she asked me if I wanted to try it out," he wrote.
His first public performance came two years later, as a beneficiary of Club Rainbow's Talent Development Fund.
"I loved (being on) stage since then," wrote Samuel, who is also adept at guzheng, a Chinese zither. Music has become a way to express his emotions.
"To me, music has given me another identity and a channel to express myself more confidently and freely. I view music as a passion," Samuel wrote.
Madam Tan revealed greater intentions behind asking Samuel to pick up music.
"(My husband and I) had suggested he pick up music partly because we wanted him to be able to enjoy as a normal person and to stand on his own feet next time even if he can't get a proper job," she said.
Seeing Samuel turn into a fairly independent boy in school has provided much relief and comfort to the couple.
Samuel's Chinese language teacher, Mrs Tan Mui Gek, 43, said he fits in well with his class.
"His peers treat him like a normal, healthy person. He would always take the initiative to ask questions," she said.
Agreeing, his English language teacher, Ms Christine Lee, 31, said: "Because of what happened to him, students actually wanted to get to know him better."
To me, music has given me another identity and a channel to express myself more confidently and freely. I view music as a passion.
- Samuel Lim Hong Xiang on picking up music
Samuel Lim Hong Xiang was just three months old when, out of jealousy, a maid poured sulphuric acid down his throat.
It happened in 1999, when Samuel was left in his grandmother's care.
His grandmother had gone out, but his parents' Indonesian maid Latifah was in the flat with him. She was in the kitchen while Samuel slept in the living room.
Just then, Ms Sumiyem, 17, another Indonesian maid working with the family, poured sulphuric acid into Samuel's mouth.
She was jealous of Ms Latifah and had wanted to get her into trouble.
Ms Sumiyem was jailed for eight years in 2000.
The attack left the baby with terrible scars, and also severely damaged his tongue, throat and vocal chords. His upper airway was completely blocked.
To enable him to breathe and be fed, Samuel went through two major operations.
His parents, both 27-year-old engineers then, were devastated. His father, Mr Lim Boon Keong, told The New Paper in 2000: "My wife won't trust anyone to take care of him now. We just want to shower him with all the love that we have."