Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TIME WE HAD A SENIOR PRIVILEGE CARD

For Malaysians living in Malaysia, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) comes into effect today - 1 April 2015. This is not an April Fool joke. It's for real. Nothing can be harsher than the reality of struggling with limited financial resources to maintain the same lifestyle. It does not help that we also have a weak ringgit. A double whammy indeed for everyone, especially for retirees and pensioners. They will have to tighten their belts a notch or two.

The time is certainly right for the introduction of a senior privilege card. Senior citizens in countries like Australia and the USA have been using such cards for years. About time seniors in Malaysia had one too, and SeniorsAloud will continue to push for it.


The opportunity finally came in Oct 2014 when SeniorsAloud received an invitation to participate in the Social Impact Innovation Challenge, organized by Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM), in the Prime Minister's Department.

Our team members Kamil and Lily attended a one-day workshop as part of the challenge. We were taught how to pitch ideas. We brainstormed a few potential ones and finally decided on a senior discount or privilege card as our entry in the Elderly Care category. We were told that the 12 finalists would receive RM50,000 plus RM25,000 seed money to kick-start their projects.


We worked hard and came up with a slide presentation which we had to submit to AIM through their crowd-sourcing platform Ureka. Before the deadline came up, we were informed that there was no need to submit the slides. A brief write-up about the project would suffice. To cut the story short, our entry was approved. But we never got the chance to move on to the next round where we could pitch our senior privilege card to the selection panel.

Anyway, rather than see our efforts go to waste, we are happy to share the slides here. We welcome feedback, if any.

Setting the context - why the need for a senior privilege card

We figured we would target the middle class as it was affected the most by the rising cost of living. The lower income groups were eligible for welfare packages and subsidies, but the middle class fell outside the ambit of government aid. 

Self-explanatory.
Presenting our objectives. Noble indeed, but perhaps too ambitious?
Identifying the groups that would benefit from a senior discount card. We imagined the long queues waiting to apply for our card, much like lining up to get the Rabbit card for seniors to travel on public transport at 50% off the regular fare.
Some of the many benefits cardholders would enjoy.

As an added bonus for cardholders, we would include free transportation to hospitals by volunteer drivers who would regard this as contributing to the community. Seniors helping seniors.

Phase One: How it works. Such services are already in operation overseas.

Two models to choose from should the project receive the green light. You will be surprised to know how difficult it is for an elderly person to visit the hospital on her own for a check-up or for treatment.

Ok, a little self-promotion here is necessary if you want to sell an idea or business proposition. Our Unique Selling Points.

A vision chart of all the big companies that would want to be listed on our privilege card. We can dream big, can't we?
Wouldn't you want to own one, and not leave home without it?

To be sure, we already have tons of discount cards, privilege cards and membership cards. But one specially for seniors? Some companies have been issuing such cards to seniors as part of their customer service. But how useful are the cards?

I have a privilege card from a pharmacy that is valid till 2017. I hardly ever use it. Why?
  • There are simply too many terms and conditions governing the use of the card.
  • The discount is small - usually 10%. 
  • The discount is applicable for a very limited range of items. 
  • It is valid only at outlets operated by the issuing company.

In other words, there is no ONE card that offers seniors a decent discount across a broad range of goods and services.

Isn't it time we had ONE?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

IPOH MALI - IPOH, HERE WE COME!


On Wednesday 4 March, 13 members from our SeniorsAloud community boarded the 6am train for a day-trip to Ipoh. For many of us it was a long overdue visit. While some of us took the opportunity to revisit the town, others were eager to take videos of the trip and apply what they had learned from Alan Chai's video-making workshop held last February. As for me, I wanted to try out the electric train service, and also find out more about Green Acres in Meru, touted as Malaysia's premier retirement village.

For those who were unable to join us, here's a pictorial account of our Ipoh trip.

 Time to catch up on sleep - most of us were up at 4.00am to make sure we were at KL Sentral by 5.30am. Getting there at that hour proved to be a challenge. Fortunately everyone made it on time. 
We left at 6am sharp and arrived at Ipoh railway station at 8.20am. Right across from the station was the Town Hall. The two buiildings are part of the Heritage Trail which takes visitors around the older part of the town. I love the architecture of these old buildings built during the colonial era of our country's history.
We were prepared to spend the morning exploring old Ipoh on foot, and were pleasantly surprised on arrival to find a coach and three lovely ladies waiting for us. They turned out to be our hosts cum guides Siew Leng, Mandy and Becky
First stop was breakfast at one of Ipoh's popular coffee shops. Every which way you look, you will see a kopitiam. Ipoh is truly the home of Malaysian coffee.
Coffee and toast done and served the old-fashioned way - what a hearty breakfast to start us off on our discovery tour of Ipoh. Despite the huge crowd, service was fast. 
After breakfast, we dropped by at this mom and pop shop across the road. It sold all kinds of preserved delicacies, including a baby shark (see top right corner)! The Chinese will eat almost anything if you tell them it's good for their health.
Outside the Hakka Miners Club with retired Commander Ian Anderson (back row). With 26 years of Ipoh residence under his belt, he is the definitive source of information on the history of the town, and of the Hakka community in particular. We were so lucky to have him as our guide for the hour-long visit which proved to be an eye-opener for many of us.
Ipoh owes much of its early development to these pioneer tin miners from the Hakka comunnity. Photos like these and other items from the colonial era have been lovingly preserved or replicated, thanks to the efforts of dedicated Ipoh residents like Anderson.
Not too sure how present-day Hakkas will view this association with the Jews. But no one can deny their pioneering spirit. 
Listening to Anderson brought back memories of our high school days when we learned so much about the tin-mining industry from our Geography and History textbooks. Today Geography is no longer taught in schools, and History isn't what it used to be. Sad.
The Hakka Miners Club was exclusive to men. The only women allowed on the premises were songstresses or hostesses. The wax figures depict a typical scene at the club during its heydays
Anderson explaining the Four Evils of the early Chinese in Malaya - Opium, Gambling, Prostitution and Triads. A negative association that still persists today albeit to a much lesser extent.
What an opium den looked like. As a little girl growing up in the early 1950s, I recall seeing scenes like this one in the back rooms of the coffee shop near my house. It was common too to see prostitutes waiting for patrons in the back alleys of my hometown.
Another discovery for me - many of my favorite foods like lei cha are of Hakka origin. 
Group photo taken at the banquet table. Laid out are crockery and utensils used in the old days. On the extreme right are our friendly guides who took such good care of us seniors. Admission to the Hakka Miners Club is free, but visitors are encouraged to donate 'generously' as it costs RM5000 monthly to maintain the club.
Next up on our itinerary was a presentation on Green Acres, Malaysia's premier retirement village due for completion (phase 1) in 2017. We were very impressed with the facilities listed, and eager to know more. I hope to visit the show unit when it is ready in a couple of months, and share my impressions on this blog. So expect more about Green Acres soon.
Lunch time. How could we say no to an invitation to sample Ipoh's famous chicken rice and bean sprouts?
For dessert, we had tau-fu-fa from Funny Mountain Soya Bean stall. Their soy bean curd is billed as 'the best in the world' according to the signboard. My verdict? The smoothest soya bean curd I've ever tasted.
Who could resist fried ice cream? A must-try if you are visiting Ipoh. Comes in the usual flavors. 
Spotted these ladies enjoying ice balls at Plan B. During my school days, these ice balls were very popular especially on hot days. Sucking these ice balls was more fun than licking ice lollies. My classmates and I would throw the last bit of our ice balls at each other! 
The last part of our itinerary was the Heritage Trail. Thanks to 'Uncle Looi', the coach driver, we were able to do some sightseeing of the old town in the air-con comfort of the coach.
One of the murals that caught my camera's eye. I have been told that this 'old man sipping coffee' is Mr Lim from Ipoh, and the painting is done by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who also painted the now famous Penang street murals. Apparently he has been told by Ipoh City Council to alter the image as it resembles former Malayan Communist Party leader Chin Peng.
I couldn't leave Ipoh without a shot of this building. Old Town White Coffee has elevated Ipoh to its current position as one of the top coffee brands in the country.
This young lady was posing for a photo with the sign "We are young". We decided to join her as 'we are young too!'
Back at the railway station to catch the 4pm train home, but not before collecting our orders of salted chicken and kaya puffs - simply the best we have tasted.
After returning to KL and while googling for more info about Ipoh, I stumbled upon this Malay Mail article about Commander Ian Anderson. It was published a few days prior to our visit. We had a local celebrity as our guide at the Hakka Miners Club!  
A big THANK YOU for hosting our group in Ipoh. 

Some tips for those planning a day trip to Ipoh by train. 

Normal fare is RM35. Senior citizens pay only RM22 (one way). For group travel, the tour leader/organizer must provide a photocopy of each of the participant's IC (MyKad) as proof of age (60 and above) to enjoy discounted fare.

The first train of the day departs at 6am. The ticket counter only opens at 7am. But don't worry, tickets can be purchased on the train itself. An attendant will come around to check tickets as well as sell tickets. Do take note that public transport services (bus and LRT) begin at 6am. So you will have to figure out how to get to KL Sentral at that early hour.

The best coach is Coach C - the buffet coach. You can have early breakfast on the train. Ask for seats facing the direction of your destination.  Toilet facilities are available on every coach. The journey takes two and a half hours each way. Although the train makes several stops along the route, each one is only for a minute or two. The ride is very smooth and pleasant. I highly recommend going to Ipoh by train if you don't want the hassle of driving all the way.

Lat, Malaysia's favorite cartoonist, hails from Ipoh. Do get a copy of his books about his growing up years in Ipoh. You will enjoy reminiscing about life in the good old days in small towns across the country.