Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Some people are blessed with all the good things in life, while others struggle every day of their lives. Good luck is always in short supply. Take a walk in the inner city and you will encounter the poor, the sick and the homeless. The compassionate among us want to reach out and help, but do not know where to begin, or how to go about it. The sheer number of those in need is daunting.

But not all who need help are found on the streets and back lanes of the city. There are many middle class families living in suburban homes who are in dire straits. Who can tell what tales of misfortune lie behind the front door and within those walls? Having a car parked in the front porch does not always reflect the true financial situation of the families occupying those houses. The smiling faces we see in social settings may hide untold tragedies in their lives.

It was against this backdrop that Siew Lim and I from SeniorsAloud team visited Elaine Khaw last Friday afternoon (14 July). Two years ago I had read in an online article 'Malaysia's Forgotten Music Man' that well-known musician Datuk Ooi Eow Jin had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. His wife Elaine had been struggling to look after their elder son who had brain tumour. Now she had the added responsibility of caring for her husband as well. Moved by the story, I made attempts to contact Elaine to see how SeniorsAloud could help. But my efforts were in vain. All my calls went unanswered.

Lovely photo of Ooi and Elaine in happier times. (Photo credit: The Star: 'A Malaysian Musical Legend')
Then out of the blue, about a fortnight ago, Siew Lim said she had met Elaine recently at a teahouse, and had her contact number. We made plans to visit Elaine at her home in Petaling Jaya. Reaching out to Elaine was always on my mind. My mom has Alzheimer's so I knew what she must be going through as a caregiver looking after the two men in her family.

Prized photos. (Left)  Ooi with the legendary P. Ramlee, and (right) receiving his datukship from Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas in Penang in 2015.
For those not familiar with the story, or with Ooi Eow Jin, his name was synonymous with the RTM orchestra for 17 years in the 1960s and 70s. He gained fame as a songwriter and composer of some of the most popular Malay songs of that era. His checkered career also included 13 years with TV3 and a short stint as a lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara and International College of Music. His last job was with Majestic Hotel where he was the resident pianist for five years.

Ooi entertaining guests at a 2015 charity concert to raise funds for his family.
Those heydays of playing music and recording songs with some of Malaysia's top entertainers like Sudirman, P. Ramlee and Rafael Buang are long gone. The years have passed but Ooi never stopped playing music. It was his only means of supporting his family. Fate dealt him and Elaine a double blow when they lost their younger son, Leong Seng, to leukimia at age 23, and their elder son, Chin Seng, now 53, had brain tumour and required two surgeries. To add to their misfortune, Ooi was diagnosed with early Alzheimer's Disease. This put an end to his piano-playing days at Majestic Hotel in June 2015. He has been jobless since then. He turned 80 last month.

Although able to move about, father and son spend most of the day in bed watched over by Elaine and the maid.

Giving Ooi a shave
The heavy burden of caring for her husband and her sons has left a toll on Elaine. The mental and physical stress is evident. Hanging on the wall of the living room is a portrait of Elaine, still beautiful at age 58. Now, at 78, she has lost much of that joie de vivre. As I spoke with her, I could see the bags under her eyes and the deep lines on her face. I am taking medicine for depression, she tells me.

Elaine has a maid to help her look after the two men during the day, so she could take a break or go out to run errands. But she is entirely on her own at night to watch over Ooi and Chin Seng. Ooi's Alzheimer's has worsened. Chin Seng has problems with his vision after a recent surgery, and has lost his sense of balance. The living room has been turned into a bedroom, and Elaine sleeps on the sofa nearby.

Me, Siew Lim and Elaine - seniors helping seniors whenever we can
Elaine's friends and neighbours as well as Ooi's former colleagues at RTM and TV3 organized two charity concerts in 2015 to raise funds for the family. Without a steady income and with rising monthly expenses for medicine, food and diapers, the funds raised are fast being depleted. Elaine has to fork out RM120 a day for the maid, an expense she can ill afford but necessary as having someone around to help allows her to take a break.

Elaine needs financial help and welcomes donations in kind, especially diapers. If you would like to reach out to Elaine in any way, you can contact Siew Lim at 012-657 3740 for more information

Friday, June 30, 2017


Music played a huge role during our teenage years in the 1960s and 70s. We sang along to hit songs by Cliff Richard, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Johnny Tillotson, Bryan Hyland, and let's not forget their female counterparts like Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Helen Shapiro.

We did the jive, rock and roll, twist, ago-go and rumba to bands like Bill Haley and the Comets, The Shadows, The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Cascades, The Monkees, the Beatles and so many more.

(Above) Who can ever forget 'Shanty' by The Quests? I was still in high school when it shot to the top of the hits charts and stayed there for months.

The 1960s music scene also saw the rise of local bands in Malaysia and Singapore doing cover versions of top hits. They had quite a following among university students, and regularly played at tea dances and concerts. Some of them like the Teenage Hunters, the Falcons, and the Quests (above) were good enough to sign contracts to play overseas in Germany, Hongkong and Vietnam. 

The recording studios were quick to sign up these bands and singers. Virtually every one of them released 45rpm records of their songs. There were Naomi and the Boys, Keith Locke (later replaced by Vernon Cornelius) and the Quests, the Ventures, the Stylers, the Blue Diamonds, Matthew and the Mandarins and others. There was also a proliferation of Malay and Chinese singers and their back-up bands like Jefrydin and Pop Yeh Yeh, and Rita Chao dubbed Queen of A Go-Go, the dance craze at the time.

(Above) Matthew and the Mandarins made famous their original country hit 'Singapore Cowboy'.

While some of the 60s era singers and musicians have passed on, those that have remained never gave up their passion for playing music. They continue to perform at fund-raising events, reunions, and corporate functions. Others like Jimmy Lee have been keeping the memory of Elvis Presley alive via the Elvis Presley Friendship Club of Singapore. Credit also goes to the Singapore government for promoting 1960s music with free concerts in October in conjunction with International Day of Older Persons.

Then there are those, both musicians and fans alike, who gather at each other's homes to jam and sing all those favorites of yesteryears. These get-togethers are always fun, and as research studies show, music is therapeutic and helps to reduce the risk of dementia.

D-Asiatics (above) playing a cover version of 'Midnight in Malaysia' made popular by Boy and His Rollin' Kids.

(Above) Mike Ho & Company: Chow on drums, Paul on rhythm, Jimmy Rampas on bass guitar playing The Shadows classic instrumental 'Apache'.

(Above) Alfred Ho was the winner of Malaysia's first national talentime contest in 1971. He continues to play music today. Do support him. You can catch him busking on most Thursday evenings 5pm to 7pm at Avenue K-KLCC lrt station.

Truly music keeps us feeling young, energetic and socially connected. If we can't play an instrument, we can sing, or dance to music. Music feeds the soul and nourishes it. We need music in our lives. Period.

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