Friday, October 24, 2008


This post is specially dedicated to my Uncle Xavier, who just turned 75 on 22 October. "I'm 3/4 century old today, and life is great!" reads his email announcement on his birthday.

My uncle, a retired electrical engineer with Telekom, certainly knows how to live life. He never allowed a by-pass operation years ago to put a damper on his lifestyle. If anything, he is even more determined to enjoy each day, and make the rest of his years the best years in his life.

An avid photographer and intrepid globetrotter, he has devoted more time and energy to his twin passions in his retirement years. Almost every month, Uncle Xavier is away in one country or another, capturing the sights with his trusty camera and chronicling his travel experiences to share with members of the extensive Goh clan.

Taking in the mountainous terrain and the people of northern India.

Not one to opt for the ease and convenience of package tours, Uncle Xavier prefers to rough it out on roads less travelled. He has checked out the ancient ruins in Machu Picchu, Peru, travelled along the old Silk Route, gone off the beaten track in China more times than even he can recall, covered extensively Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Indonesia, paid a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel, and most recently, visited North Korea for a first-hand look at life under a communist regime. And all this is a mere fraction of the places he has visited and the people he has met.

Apparently in North Korea, when taking photos of the statue of the former President, it must be of full length and one must not pose with the right arm raised in a similar manner.

Such billboards are common in the country.

Uncle Xavier is the livewire of the family. Blessed with a great sense of humour, he has the rare ability to look at the lighter side of things, and punctuates every sentence with a hearty laugh. If laughter is the best medicine, then uncle Xavier is the perfect example of what a daily dose of laughter can do for one's health.

But there is also a serious side to Uncle Xavier. As a responsible world citizen, he often sends out emails alerting his friends and family members to man's abuse of the environment and the violation of human rights. One recent email drew my attention to the little known horror of the brutal slaughter of whales in the Faroe Islands, Denmark.

As a teenager growing up in the small town of Batu Pahat, I used to listen enviously to my uncle share his travel tales. I vowed that one day when I could afford to, I would traverse the world just like him. My first opportunity came in 1975 when I spent almost a month backpacking alone across India and Nepal. My mother thought I was nuts. But that is another story.

Here's a toast to you, Uncle Xavier. May there be many more happy returns of the day!

(My Aunt Sylvia, who accompanied Uncle Xavier on the North Korea trip, has written an excellent first-hand account of the visit. The Star has published it under "The World's Most Exclusive Recluse")

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


(If you have reservations about the wisdom of investing your money in these financially-troubled times, you may find the article below quite helpful.)

The world is going into financial meltdown. As pictures of panic-stricken stock traders are splashed on the front pages of our newspapers, what are we, the little people, supposed to do with what little we own? How should we respond to this crisis? ANIZA DAMIS of NST turns to independent financial planner Yap Ming Hui for some advice.

Q: Is this a good time to invest?

A: Yes, provided that the money you are going to invest is money that you are not going to use or need for the next three to five years.

Q: Why do you need such a period of time?

A: Because you need to make sure that you don't need to sell your investment if it goes down by 20 to 30 per cent. Otherwise, you will be forced to realise a loss. If you keep the investment for three to five years, chances are it will have recovered any loss in value or seen a gain by then.

The second criteria for investing is, whatever you invest in must be something that you really know. And it has to be something of good quality. You should invest in something that is recession proof, like a stock or a company that is involved in businesses such as food, daily consumer items, healthcare or transport.

Q: Bank Negara has guaranteed all deposits in the banks. But should you let your money just stay there?

A: Before you decide, look into your current income level, expenses and see whether you are in the black or in the red. Also, take stock of all the assets and liabilities, only then will you know where you can go. But, before you invest, you need to provide for an emergency fund.

Q: How much should that be?

A: If you are working, you should provide for at least three to six months' expenses. Your expenses should include all your instalment payments. If the economy slows down, we can expect some retrenchment. If this were to happen to you and you've invested all your money, you will have very little cash available. While you are looking for a job, you still have to eat, pay the rent, and so on. If you don't provide for an emergency fund, you will be forced to sell your investment at a loss.

Q: How financially secure should you be before you consider making investments?

A: Let's say you have RM20,000. Assuming your monthly expenses are RM2,000, a three-month emergency fund would amount to RM6,000. So, if you've got RM14,000 to spare, you can invest that RM14,000.

Q: If you don't have any business sense, wouldn't it be safer for you to keep your money in the bank and let it ride out the recession, or should you take your money out and invest it?

A: If you don't need the money for the next three years, you should invest it. There will always be inflation. That is why you must invest. You must put your money in an investment that gives you high enough returns to offset inflation. But the problem here is you cannot invest without providing for short-term liquidity.

Q: How secure is the Employees Provident Fund (EPF)?

A: EPF should be very secure because the government is behind it.

Q: If you think you've got a foolproof investment, is it better to take your money out of EPF and invest it?

A: There's no foolproof investment. Some people may have the impression that if they invest in unit trust, they'll be able to get a better return. There are two types of people who invest in unit trust funds: The first type invests blindly and simply listens to tips from his agent. The second type has a proper investment strategy. He knows how to diversify his unit trust investment, how to monitor it and rebalance it when necessary. He knows how to deal with the threat of a crisis and opportunities along the way. We can expect the second type of investor to do better than EPF.

Q: Some people have a lot of money. But what about people who can only afford RM10,000 or RM20,000? Is this too small an amount to invest?

A: There's no such thing as too little or too small. If this is money that you can put aside, you should invest it.. When it comes to investment or financial management, inflation works against us. But time works for us if we know how to make use of it. We can accumulate and compound the gains we make in our investments over an extended period of time.

Q: If you're renting, should you buy a house now?

A: Usually, when the economy is not growing as fast or there is a recession, there will be less demand for raw materials. So, the price of raw materials will drop and it will probably cost less to build houses. So, if you want to buy a house maybe you should wait until the recession actually hits. When this happens, housing developers will launch their projects at a lower price.

Q: If there's a recession in six months and that's going to affect your other expenditures, is it still a good idea to buy a house?

A: If you are going to buy a house, you must have enough liquidity to take care of short-term problems.

Q: So, if your economic situation is not very stable, it's better to continue renting?

A: Yes, because if you're retrenched, you'll end up with liabilities. You may even become a bankrupt.

Q: Should people be selling their shares now?

A: It depends on the kind of shares you are holding. If you are holding some blue chip shares and the company is very solid, then you should wait for the market to rebound. The market will definitely rebound. But if your shares have weak fundamentals, and the company is not performing well, then you need to sell because it may get worse. Even if the economy recovers, and the bourse rebounds, the shares may not go up. You might as well sell the shares now.

(Yap Ming Fui has a fortnightly column in The Sunday Times where he shares his expertise on financial matters affecting Malaysians.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


If you have sufficient funds set aside for your retirement, you can look forward to your golden years with some peace of mind. However, the majority of us are probably still struggling to pay off housing loans and car loans. There is also the credit card debt to settle each month. The adult children have their own financial commitments to deal with as well, so we can’t expect much monetary assistance from them. There’re also medical expenses to cover, and expensive health supplements to purchase. Meanwhile, we watch the price of our shares on the KLSE nosedive, and wonder how much longer we can keep our heads above water. Circumstances like these can drive the hapless and helpless to consider taking desperate measures like seeking out Ah Longs – or worse.

So where can one turn to for some professional financial counselling? Try Agensi Kaunseling Dan Pengurusan Kredit (AKPK). It is an agency set up in April 2006 by Bank Negara Malaysia to provide financial education, credit counselling and debt restructuring services to individuals. All services offered by AKPK are FREE. Now that’s what I call public service.

I checked out the website and came away quite pleasantly surprised at the services offered. You can even download for free the e-book "Money $ense - Getting Smart With Your Money" to acquire the skills to manage your money wisely.

According to AKPK, if the following list applies to you, you are in need of financial counselling.

If you are not in control of your money;
If you have more debts than you can manage;
If you are living from paycheck to paycheck;
If you are only able to pay the minimum 5% on your credit card bills;
If you are taking cash advances from your credit card to meet your expenses;
If you do not have any savings to meet personal or family emergencies;
If you have debt collectors calling you regularly;
If you are being served legal notice of demand.

Here are some tips from AKPK on how to manage your debts:

· Calculate your total debt to income ratio – if your repayment exceeds 30% of your gross income, then you might want to start clearing some of your liabilities.

· Split your debts into “good” and “bad” categories. “Good” debts are considered necessary investments or debts that create value like home mortgages, business loans and education loans. “Bad” debts or consumer debts are for credit purchases that decrease in value with no potential to increase like buying a plasma TV set.

· List your debts from the highest to the lowest interest rate charged. Set a realistic repayment structure and a time frame within which to pay off your bad debts, starting with those with the highest interest rate charged.

· Limit yourself to one or two credit cards. Settle your credit card bills on time and in full.

· Restructure your debts. Look around for the most competitive interest rates and loan packages.

· Set a monthly budget and stick to it

· Curb your spending habits. Turn over a new leaf to avoid getting into debt again.

There are many sources of funds other than your pension or EPF. Perhaps your life insurance would have now matured. Consider selling your big family home, especially if its value has doubled or trebled; since your children would have left home by now. You could comfortably live in a smaller home with lower maintenance and the surplus from the house sale is yours.

To find out more about the Debt Management Programme (DMP) before you register for it, just attend the daily briefing at the AKPK office in Kuala Lumpur, Penang or Johor Bharu. Call their toll-free number at 1-800 88 2575 for more information.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Two Faces of Retirement


Li, my ex-colleague, has been in retirement for the past two years. At work she was a dedicated person full of zest for her work and a pleasure to be with. Last week I paid her a visit and I was shocked at what I saw.

The lady who greeted me had dishevelled hair, wore a T-shirt that was two sizes too big and a pair of pants that had seen better days. There was no make up on her face, and there was only one word to describe her – untidy.

Could this be the same Li that I worked with two years ago, whose hair was always immaculately coiffured, with shoes and handbag to match the outfit that she wore, nails nicely manicured, and almost picture-perfect in figure?

I was saddened to see that retirement had turned her into the opposite of what she was physically and mentally. We started talking about what she did in her retirement.

She moaned and groaned about life as a retiree. Her aches and pains were endless. Basically Li was bored. She missed work, and hardly went out. Her daily activity would be to wait for the arrival of her newspapers and then over a cuppa she would read the papers and devour the news. Then she would do housework. Yes her house was meticulously clean I could see the gleam on her well-mopped floor.

Li has a pet a cat which she takes very good care of and then she tends to her garden. Her garden too is neat and nice. And therein lie her activities.

I asked her why she did not go for exercise. She told me her knees were giving her problems. What about line dancing, a hot favourite with retirees?

She tried that but found it hard to remember the steps and gave that up. She had become a couch potato and had not met any of her friends. She made no attempt to join the community centres where there were activities galore.

Li is single and she only had ties with her family. But she seldom saw them except during festive seasons as they were quite busy themselves. After tea, I left and Li made me promise her that I would drop by again.

The next day I went to visit Lian. She, Li and I used to work at the same office and we used to have great fun together chatting about fashion, going to places to eat, shopping when there were sales and going for shows. Lian too retired two years ago and was like Li , a bachelor girl.

It took me a while to contact Lian as she was too busy to meet me and when we finally met I was amazed by Lian’s looks. She looked the same as she did the day she retired, if not younger. She was in a track-suit and looked so sporty.

She said she had just come back from her thrice-a-week walk at the Lake Gardens. There were half a dozen retirees who did their walks there and sometimes they would end up having breakfast together.

She goes for line dancing twice a week and of late she has registered herself at a dancing school to learn ballroom dancing – something that she had always wanted to do – despite being single and not having a partner. Her dancing instructor has promised her that he would be her partner at the next do.

She has another set of friends among her line dancing group and they go for jam sessions in other centres. Her other activities include helping at a centre for children with disabilities, and she also has a group that she goes travelling with.

Last week I could not contact her because she had taken advantage of the cheap flights on offer and was away in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for five days. Her next trip is to Tawau with a church group.

Then with a twinkle in her eye, she told me that she has officially adopted her sister’s granddaughter as her own. Her sister died a couple of years ago. So she helps to baby sit the precocious little “granddaughter” of hers to give her niece time off to do her chores. There were photographs for me to see. She then rattled on about the antics of the little girl.

Clearly she adored the little girl and vice versa. Before long the phone rang and she told me that she had another appointment. We promised to meet up again.

And so these are the two faces of retirement – if you are about to retire the choice is yours. If you are already a retiree and not enjoying your retirement, whining about the limitations that accompany old age, then it is not too late to do something about it.

Somerset Maugham summed it up when he said: “Old age has its pleasures, which though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


October is certainly a month with the focus on seniors. International Day of the Older Persons just went by on 1 Oct. World Sight Day is coming up on 9 Oct and World Menopause Day on 18 Oct.


In case you are not aware, if you are 50 and above, your eyes are in the risk zone, and you must have annual eye checks to detect visual disorders early. The good news is 75% of eye problems are treatable if attended to without undue delay, says Tun Hussein Eye Hospital director Datuk Dr Veera Ramani.

This year's theme, "Eye on the Future -- Fighting Visual Impairment in Later Life" focuses on the elderly as 80 per cent of the world's 45 million blind people are above 50 years old. The 3-day event at Berjaya Times Square will be launched by Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai.


If you think that men escape physical problems associated with ageing while most women have to deal with a myriad of menopausal symptoms, think again. Whether they want to admit it or not, most men do experience andropause. So, guys, this event is for you too.

The Malaysian Menopause Society will be holding an exhibition and talks in conjunction with World Menopause Day. Having attended the event in previous years, I can assure you that it's worth making the effort to check out this year's event on Sunday 19 Oct at The Gardens Hotel, Mid Valley City, KL. Admission is free. And there's high tea too!

Program on Sun 19 Oct

09.00am - Exhibition
12.20pm - Welcome address
12.30pm - "Falls & Fractures" by Dr E. Schacht
01.00pm - "Break the Break" by Dr S. Alsagoff
01.30pm - "Young At Heart" by Dr CM Ho

02.00pm - "Importance of Adherence in Osteoporosis" by Dr KK Iswaran
02.30pm - "Long Lasting Intimacy & Desire"
03.00pm - Entertainment
03.30pm - "Cervical Cancer" - by Dr FO Liew
04.00pm - "HRT in Early Menopause" by Dr HC Ong
04.30pm - High Tea

To register, contact Mr Ngai or Mr Yap at 03-7957 7837.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

International Day of Older Persons

There's so much more to active ageing than line-dancing, karaoke and tai-chi. This video gives a very imbalanced, shallow portrayal of senior citizens as interested only in activites that promote their own well-being.


Did you know that the United Nations designated 1 October as the International Day of Older Persons? I bet the day came and went like any other day for most senior citizens – uneventful and forgettable. The local media did not deem the day important enough to devote some space to it in their columns. Only The Star carried a small mention with a link to a pathetic video (view above) hastily put together presumably to meet its corporate social responsibility agenda. Just goes to show how little attention is paid to this fast-growing segment of society.

To mark this auspicious day, it wouldn't hurt to have US presidential nominee Senator Obama speak on our behalf!

Today, world-wide, there are around 600 million persons aged 60 years and over; this total will double by 2025 and will reach virtually two billion by 2050 - the vast majority of them in the developing world.
Here's my wish list for older persons:

1. Elderly-friendly traffic lights where the green light for pedestrians stays on a little longer to enable older (and slower) persons to cross busy roads safely.

2. More benches at shopping malls where the elderly can rest their tired feet. KLCC is the least shopper-friendly in this aspect.

3. Bigger print on price tags and food labels - the better to see if the product is safe for consumption!
4. Priority counters / queues for senior citizens at banks, cashiers, taxi stands, ticket counters.

5. Wider aisles in supermarkets.

6. Non-slip floors, non-trip pathways and steps in public buildings.

7. Club house cum community centre with full facilities for senior citizens. By the way, there's one nearing completion in Ampang.

8. Restaurants that offer elderly-friendly menus. Think easily digestible, healthy food that have less salt, less sugar, and less fat.

9. Toilets and urinals with hand rails.

10. Mobile phones with large letters and numbers for easy dialling, and light enough for the pocket.

And the list goes on..........