Dr Tse Tak-fu
Physician to the stars
His patients include some of the biggest names in town, such as the tycoons Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee and Cheng Yu-tung, as well as the celebrated novelist Louis Cha Leung-yung. His niece is Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s daughter-in-law. When his eldest son got married, the Tsang couple – plus Stanley Ho – attended the wedding. And, according to an article published in East Week magazine in 2010, he owned 11 properties across Hong Kong with an estimated worth of HK$352 million. Meet Dr Tse, physician to the famous.
Tse, however, is cautious to label himself in the same fashion. “Not that I’m a low-profile person, but even if I’d been high-profile, no one would have cared!” jokes the 66-year-old cardiologist. “I’m not like Henry Tang, who has so much news, no matter how positive or negative.”
Tse says he’s just an ordinary doctor who has been in the field a little longer than others. The local media, knowing his rich and famous clientele, think otherwise. They call him ‘the tycoons’ archiater’. He seems hardly interested in this title. “It’s just what others call me. I have no choice. To me every patient is the same. Rich people won’t make me any richer because I won’t charge them more.” He may not charge rich people more but, according to some of his patients, if he knows they are financially unstable, he will charge them far less.
Tse doesn’t like to talk about his famous patients, although he will admit that you shouldn’t ‘bother Donald Tsang when he gets grumpy’. “They are all very polite,” he says, “sometimes even more polite than other patients. Well, at least they need to show you they’re polite. They are quite reasonable and don’t have many additional requirements.” According to a press release by Cheung Kong Holdings earlier this year, Tse is a ‘good friend’ of Li Ka-shing’s.
“Mr Li is very polite too,” he tells Time Out succinctly.
Having practiced medicine for more than 40 years, Tse is also known as Hong Kong’s ‘father of coronary artery bypass surgery’ and is celebrated for being one of the first cardiologists to introduce angioplasty in Hong Kong. He was raised in a medium-income family which owned a small grocery store on Shang Hai Street in Yau Ma Tei, and was one of the best students in his class. “At that time, the better students always chose to study engineering, accounting or medicine. I just did what everyone else did.”
Before opening his own private clinic, he was director of the cardiology department at Queen Mary Hospital. “I left because public hospitals had fewer resources at that time, so I couldn’t do a lot of things,” he says. “It happens to every doctor in Hong Kong. When they have worked in a public hospital for a certain time, they will join the private market.”
Tse views the current ‘crisis’ of doctor shortages in the public health sector with circumspection. “There are always hundreds of fresh graduates joining the system every year. Staff shortages are not a problem. It’s the system that needs to improve,” says Tse, who also helps out as a part-time doctor in the outpatient clinic of the United Christian Hospital, another public hospital. “There are political struggles within a hospital and struggles among different hospitals. Junior doctors need to deal with seniors in their own hospital and in other hospitals. They have few opportunities of promotion but a lot of pressure.”
One thing Tse is especially proud of is his licence to practice Traditional Chinese Medicine, even though he himself is a ‘Western medicine’ practitioner. “I studied Chinese Medicine for six years and I passed the examination to obtain a licence,” he says excitedly. “Many doctors call Chinese Medicine ‘unscientific’, but it has a long history and many of its theories are useful. It’s in our culture.”
Tse’s appreciation for history and culture doesn’t just stop at Chinese Medicine. He is also a serious antique collector. A keen collector for more than 30 years, Tse now rents ‘three to four warehouses’ to store his collections. His favourites are blue and white porcelains made in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) for their abstract and vivid patterns. “Identifying an antique is just like diagnosing. You need to collect a lot of information and examine it carefully to reach a conclusion. It’s all about discovering the truth.”
Though he has no plans to retire in the immediate future, Tse already has his retirement mapped out: “I’ll take photos of everything in my collection and then write something, maybe even several books.”
Interview: Shirley Zhao