Monday, October 5, 2015


While writing this article, I realised today is World Habitat Day. How appropriate.

The right to adequate shelter is a basic human right. Home ownership is what everyone aspires for. Unfortunately with property prices sky-rocketing, owning a house is beyond the financial means of the majority.

What is sadder than being unable to own a house is to be evicted from one's own house, and see it being demolished right in front of your eyes.

This is exactly what happened to the residents of Kampung Hakka.

Kampung Hakka (Photo: Victor Chin)

The story for me personally began a week ago when I accepted an invitation from Victor Chin to a cook-out at Kampung Hakka. So yesterday (Sunday 4 Oct), along with two friends, we made the short trip to the village in Mantin, just 45 minutes drive from Kuala Lumpur.

I came to know about the village after watching "Memory as Resistance" at the recent Freedom Film Fest 2015. It was an award-winning human rights film directed by Chan Seong Foong and Victor Chin.

I was eager to meet Grandma Kong, 88. Born and raised in the 120-year old village as was her mother and her grandmother, Grandma Kong has become the face of the struggle to defend Kg Hakka against further demolition.

Visiting Grandma Kong in Kg Hakka. Her house is typical of those built by the Chinese in the vllages and small towns at the turn of the 20th century.

Situated across from the village community centre, Grandma Kong's humble abode welcomes all visitors. They come by the carloads every weekend: urban families curious to see the century-old village, others to capture memories of what life used to be, and the rest, like me, eager to find out what kind of assistance we could offer.

Top: Grandma Kong's house is typical of Chinese village houses built during the tin-mining days. The altar faces the front door and occupies pride of place in the sitting room. Note the curtain in lieu of a door for the bedroom, and the row of ancestors' photos. Red scrolls with auspicious words are pasted in strategic places in the house.

Grandma Kong was chatty and loved to share stories about life in the old days. I asked if she needed anything. Perhaps we could gift it to her under our 'Grant a wish for the elderly' fund. Nothing, she said. She had all she needed. Her unspoken wish was probably to live out her life in this house that has been her home for almost 90 years. It was a wish beyond our ability to grant.

Do share these photos (above and below) with your grandchildren. Children brought up in urban areas and used to modernization would be shocked at how spartan and rugged life was for their ancestors.

Top: The kitchen and stove. The old-fashioned way of cooking using charcoal and wood produced some of the best dishes I have tasted growing up in a small town. In the houses we visited, water comes from the well. A system of makeshift pipes distributes water to the rest of the house, including the toilets. 
The earthen jar with the dragon motif is an ubiquitous item in Chinese homes. Note the air-well. It provides natural lighting and ventilation to the house. 

Rakan Mantin or Friends of Mantin organize events and activities to raise funds to promote awareness of our historical and cultural heritage, and the need to preserve it for future generations. 

We joined a large group that was already there. The cook-out had just begun. The village aunties were busy preparing Hakka dishes for lunch later. Some of the visitors tried their hand at making kueh and stuffing fish paste for yong tau fu. It was a communal activity that the womenfolk enjoyed. Here cooking was done the old-fashioned way in the open and with plenty of helping hands.

Lunch is ready. Please queue - children and the elderly first. Thank you.
Top: kueh made from leaves like the ones I'm holding. Eating out Kg Hakka style. 

Life passes slowly in Kg Hakka, especially on a Sunday. Here's a mother kneading flour to make kueh while her son looks on. Learning by observing, and then doing. No electrical gadgets, no recipe book. When friends or relatives drop by, it's a good excuse to play a game of mahjong and share the latest news or gossip over a hot cup of tea or coffee.

The way it used to be - vegetable gardens and happy residents enjoying a laid-back rustic lifestyle reminiscent of the old days. (Photo: Malay Mail online)

The idyllic lifestyle in Kg Hakka was rudely disrupted in November 2013 when bulldozers came and demolished 30 houses. Urban development had finally reached the doors of the villagers.

The villagers could only watch in despair and anger as the bulldozers destroyed their homes. (Photo: Malaysiakini)
Expressing their plight and rights on the wall of an old house. (Photo: Adib Rawi Yahya)
Two of the older residents tell their story

We did a walking tour of Kg Hakka led by one of the village leaders. It was sad to see so many abandoned houses as well as dilapidated ones. The owners had obviously lost hope and moved out. 80 families lost their homes in Phase 1 of the demolition in November 2013. Phase 2 is on hold. The remaining 40 families are determined to press on with their fight to save their village.

Some of the abandoned houses in Kg Hakka.
Residents like Yap Tuck Chai are determined to stop further demolition of the remaining houses.

Those interested in reading the backstory of Kg Hakka, click on the links below:

After surviving 120 years, Kampung Hakka may fall to modern times

Kg Hakka: Developers blame politicians

We'll continue fighting for Kg Hakka

If you would like to contribute towards Rakan Mantin's efforts to get a new roof for the community centre, the details are above.

SeniorsAloud will be screening "Memory as Resistance" on Friday 23 Oct morning at Wisma WIM, TTDI. This will be followed by a Q and A session with the film directors Chan Seong Foong and Victor Chin. Do mark the date on your calendar and join us for the event. More details will be announced soon on our SeniorsAloud Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Today is the last day of World Alzheimer's Month, and tomorrow (1 Oct 2015) is UN's 25th International Day of Older Persons. What better way to spend the day than at Hospital Kuala Lumpur's celebration of Older Persons.

The main lobby was packed with senior citizens checking out the poster exhibition and queuing up for the various free health tests. But it was the forum that drew my interest, in particular, Dr Rizah Mazzuin's presentation on 'Caregiver Stress'. Dr Rizah is a geriatrician with Hospital KL.

Any primary caregiver looking after an elderly person with Alzheimer's can tell you about the STRESS plus FRUSTRATION you will face. You have to look after a person who is often uncooperative, unresponsive and unpredictable. That's the nature of Alzheimer's - a disease which eats away at one's ability to remember, communicate and function normally.

Most caregivers are reluctant to seek help from others as they consider it their filial duty to care for their elderly parents, and they should accept it without complaint. However, caregivers who are overly stressed will do more harm than good not only to the care receiver, but also to themselves. They become impatient, irritable or worse, abusive to the person they are supposed to care for. Their health suffers, and they may end up with serious mental problems like depression.

If you are the sole caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's, do seek help from your siblings, neighbours or part-time nurses. Get them to take over for a few hours a week so that you can have a break to rest, relax and revitalize. (Read how my siblings helped out when I became primary caregiver for my mom after her hip surgery.  To complicate the caregiving, she was also diagnosed with Alzheimer's. (

In June 2011, my daughters gave me an all-expense paid week-long vacation in Phuket. They called it my 'caregiver break' as they felt I needed to get away and re-energize. More at

Learn to delegate. Also learn to accept that others who help you may not do things exactly the same way as you do. In other words, don't micro-manage. People are more willing to help you if you are reasonable in your expectations.

Take care of your health. Exercise daily, follow a balanced diet, and get suffcient quality sleep. Meditation also helps to calm you as looking after an AD patient can be most frustrating, even exasperating.

Join a support group like ADFM NATIONAL ALZHEIMER'S CAREGIVERS SUPPORT NETWORK MALAYSIA. Nothing helps to relieve stress more than sharing your concerns with others who are on the same caregiving journey as you. There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone.