Thursday, April 30, 2009

STAY CLEAR OF PIGS AND SWINE - LITERALLY

These much maligned porkies have now become Public Enemy #1.

For the past week headlines around the world have been screaming SWINE FLU (now renamed Influenza A H1N1). At the moment it seems to me that the media is spreading more panic and pandemonium faster than the H1N1 virus is spreading. Pharmaceutical companies are seeing a windfall as governments send out SOS calls to increase production of the drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. I am writing this in Singapore where the orange alert is already in place. The next two alerts on the 5-colour alert system are red and black.


The front page headlines in The Straits Times, highlighting the Health Minister's advice.


We should not wait for outbreaks like this to be reminded of the importance of personal hygiene and social responsibility. Swine flu or not, there's a proper way to wash our hands thoroughly. Pre-schools teach this as an integral part of the curriculum. For a video demonstration, click here. Or ask your grandchildren to show you how.

The right way to wash your hands thoroughly. (The Straits Times)

Do wear a mask if you have to go out to public places or take public transport. Better safe than shy about being seen in public with a mask. I remember donning one each time I stepped out of the house during the SARS outbreak in 2003. We should go one step further and wear a mask even at home if we have a cold, especially if there are young children at home.





Add a bit of cheer to your mask.


We are ultimately responsible for our own health and well-being, and for that of our children and grandchildren.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

COUNTING ON THE GOVERNMENT TO DELIVER


Malaysia's new Deputy PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak


There are 29 ministers and 40 deputy ministers in our new cabinet making a total of 69 MPs in the Malaysian Parliament. A look at their pictures (see previous post below) shows an overwhelming number are aged 50+. PM Dauk Seri Najib Razak is 56. His deputy cum Minister of Education, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is 63. Minister of Women, Family & Community Development, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, is 56, and Minister of Health, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is 58. By the time they have completed their term in office, they would be well into their 60s. As for the handful of younger MPs, they are already within sight of the 50+ milestone. Would the new cabinet ministers who are themselves senior citizens adopt a more pro-active rather than a reactive approach to making life easier for the warga emas (golden citizens)?

Former PMs Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Dato' Seri Abdullah Badawi


To my knowledge, former PMs Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, 84, and Dato’ Seri Abdullah Badawi, 70, have never addressed any issues on ageing or given any motivational speech to pensioners who have served in the civil service for much of their lives. Talk about showing gratitude and appreciation! No wonder our civil service is in such a sorry state. Upon leaving government service, many of these rank and file pensioners are left to fend for themselves on pensions that are half of their last drawn pay. No advice on how best to manage their health, time and living expenses in their retirement years.


The official retirement age is 58, but there is no retirement age for MPs, of course. It would be interesting to see whether life for the 50+ will change for the better under the new administration. Those aged 60 and above make up around 6.5% of the population. The figure is expected to reach 10% by 2035, at which point Malaysia would be classified as an ageing nation by United Nations definition. But why wait till then?


All Malaysians who are eligible to vote are either current or future senior citizens. We have given the government of the day the mandate to look after the welfare of all citizens, regardless of race, age, gender, status or creed. To improve the welfare of senior citizens, the government should


~ set up a clinic in every major shopping complex, and a senior citizens clubhouse in every electoral division
~ upgrade the facilities in all existing community halls
~ build affordable government-funded retirement homes
~ provide free public transport for all retirees and pensioners as well as free medical and dental treatment at all government hospitals

Bus schedules look good only on paper



Long queues are a common sight at government clinics. (The Star)


Waiting for visitors at an old folks home. (The Star)


That's only for starters. There's no need for government officials to spend millions of taxpayers' money on visits abroad to study retirement homes in Florida, or the public transport system in Japan. For models to adopt, they only have to look across the causeway.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

LONG ON PLANNING, SHORT ON IMPLEMENTATION

Click on the image for a close-up view (Photo: The Star)

When our new PM announced the line-up of his cabinet recently, I eagerly scanned the papers to see if the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development or the Ministry of Youth and Sports had been expanded to include the elderly. I should have known better. Time and again, our senior citizens have been sidelined and overlooked. But when it comes to election time, we are courted and all-out efforts made to get us to the polling stations.


Minister for Ageing, the Hon. Justine Elliot, MP, officially opened one of Arcare’s new residential aged care facilities, Arcare on Hampstead, in Melbourne’s inner western suburb of Maidstone.

West Asian countries like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have set up national committees for ageing. In most cases, they are headed by the Minister of Social Affairs, or come under the Ministry of Health. In Singapore there is a Minister-in-charge of Ageing Issues. Australia has a Minister for Ageing and China has an active National Committee on Ageing. The USA and the EU countries are way ahead in implementing national policies on ageing. More and more countries are following suit.


(Photo: The Straits Times)


What about Malaysia? Well, all we have is NACSCOM - the National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia. It is not even a government body. 92-year old NACSCOM president Datuk Lum Kin Tuck is a member of the Government’s advisory body on the implementation of the National Policy for the Elderly 1995 and the creation of the National Senior Citizens’ Action Plan. While NACSCOM's efforts are commendable given their limited resources, the same cannot be said of the government. According to Datuk Lum, “the implementation part of the policy’s objectives has been very weak”. 14 years down the road, and not much to show for it.

NACSCOM President Datuk Lumat at the launch of NACSCOM's second day care centre at the Semarak flats in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur (Photo: The Star)

Unacceptable!

So what can we do about this, short of putting on colour-coded T-shirts and taking to the streets? Any suggestions or comments?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER, OR A WOMAN BY HER LOOKS

47-year old Briton Susan Boyle has been making waves all around the world ever since she appeared on "Britain's Got Talent" on 11 April. She's the media's darling at the moment. Just saw her on CNN's Larry King, and I hear she'll be on Oprah next. For the past week my email inbox has been deluged with links to view Susan's stellar performance on YouTube. In case you haven't heard Susan's incredible rendition of "I dreamed a dream" from 'Les Miserables', click here. Turn up the volume and let this incredible voice lift your spirits. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A PEACOCK TODAY, A FEATHER DUSTER TOMORROW



“Even with a five figure salary today, you are going to be devalued overnight when you retire; a peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow! This is a tough scenario. Is it necessary to be so?” asks Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Ani Arope during his thought-provoking talk to Guthries retirees recently.

Things look pretty glum. You are in the age bracket or have reached the mandatory retirement age. There is this feeling of anxiety, of resentment and rejection. Even with the five figure salary you are drawing per month, you are just able to get by. You claim to be miserable but still in comfort. Now the future prospects seem bleak. You have heard of currency devaluation. Now this is going to happen to you. You are going to be devalued overnight. A peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.

Most of you cannot even remember telephone numbers, as there is no need to. Your faithful PA will track down anybody you wish to speak to, in any part of the world. Some of you over the years do not even know how to use the self-service at the gas stations, check in at an airline counter or how to pay bills, let alone complete your income tax returns. As a medical doctor said in some other context, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Overnight these things are no more the expected and the routine. You are now Mr Nobody. This is a pretty tough scenario. Is it necessary to be so?

One of the phases that a retiree may have to go through, after the initial resentment phase of retirement, is the feeling of rejection. When he is tired of coping with the anger that comes from his perceived rejection, he tries to reduce his pain by creating what I call emotional numbness. He withdraws from society, accepts no invitations, and does not entertain visitors - he becomes very unsociable.

By identifying these phases, we can intervene and eliminate the potential problems before they balloon into destructive patterns that threaten our post retirement lives. Continue to socialize, create new network of friends and maintain the old. Share with others your experiences. Touch other people’s lives to make a positive difference in them.

If you accept that you are a has-been, then mentally, emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually you give up. Your super computer in your brain box starts to program for a shut down. Within 1,000 days, if you are on the metric system, and 3 years if you are non-metric, you exit. You have to get hold of yourself now and set up to reprogram for you to re-tyre yourself. You may not want to go onto the fast track again, but there are equally challenging avenues for you to play a role. You cannot just sit down waiting for something to happen.

You must make things happen. This is the time to activate your networking. Some may not want to know you. Leave them alone. That is their prerogative. You cannot allow yourself to stagnate. Like the car in the garage. If you choose not to start it for a week, what happens to the battery? It goes flat. Get a move on.

Spiritual development

As Solomon said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” If you think you are beaten, you are beaten. If you think you can and will make it, you will make it. Sometimes you meet some pitfalls, immediately the word failure comes in. This is often times being re-enforced by the close members of your family. Be committed to what you set to do and do it. It is not a failure, but your success is just being delayed for the better. When things do not seem to be right, this is the time to sit back and reflect and use your own spiritual power to communicate with the Almighty to show you what went wrong so that you may take corrective action.


You have a direct link to the Almighty, use it. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been brought up on the diet of prayers and reading the holy book. But few of us know how to tap into this super energy source of power. When you are in commune with the Almighty through prayers, you should be able to visualize what you are seeking for. Now it leaves you to energize the program you set up to do in order to actualize whatever you want. The ‘prayerize’, visualize, energize and actualize procedure exerts a profound power force in the experience of the individual who has the wit to employ it.

In my life there are enough ‘spiritual’ experiences of employing this creative principle which has been responsible for seemingly incredible outcomes for me, to guide me in my career and life path. You can go back and try this procedure for yourselves to actualize what you want. There is a passage in the Quran that says that God helps those who help themselves.

Prayers help us to visualize and energize what we seek from the Almighty. This type of trying that has worked wonders must also involve the relaxed attitude towards effort when that is indicated. Sometimes we push ourselves too hard that it becomes stressful and without attaining the goals for which they have been put forth. Take a break.


Physical development

Many of us take too lightly the physical side of our being. This includes nutrition, what we eat, drink and smoke, and keeping ourselves fit and healthy. We are what we eat, drink and smoke. There is enough literature on this. What I want to emphasize here is that we have to be selective in what we eat and in moderation. Have your nasi lemak, gulai daging and your roti canai, but not every day. For our sedentary type of work, we do not require more than 2,000 calories of food intake. You have to join your staff at the canteen to see some of the heavier set of staff eat. They have the full course plus their teh tarik and they complain of being overweight and develop symptoms of JE [jantung expiring]. If they do not have this as yet, they complain that their sugar, cholesterol, and pressure levels are elevated. They wonder why.



Some on this diet seem fit. They play badminton, squash and do weight lifting [not body building] and collapse. To me they are fit but not healthy. Conversely some may be healthy but not fit. You need to have a combination of both, being fit and healthy. Some of the sports that we do are more anaerobic than aerobic. In anaerobic exercise, we do not use oxygen and consequently we maintain our weight, no matter how much workout we do. In the more aerobic sports, like walking or sports that involve a lot of deep breathing, weight reduction is more pronounced.

Remember, we are not limited by our age; we are liberated by it. The most exciting news of all is that, like all patterns that give us pleasure, moderate exercise can become a positive addiction. Many of you may want to avoid exercise. You will be more powerfully drawn to it once you discover how pleasurable it is to work out properly. I bet you that if you exercise consistently for a period of time, you will form this positive addiction for a lifetime. Even if you get off track for a while, you’ll always return to a consistent exercise regimen throughout your life. We all deserve the physical vitality that can transform the quality of our lives. Our physical destiny is intimately related to our mental, emotional, financial and relationship destinies. In fact, it will determine whether we have a destiny at all!


Mental development

Mental development must go on. Cultivate the reading habit. Our public libraries are seldom used. I surround my reclining chair with books and magazines and pick whatever reading material according to the mood that I am in. My interests range from comparative religions to geography, autobiography, battle epics from the crusades to the war in Kuwait and of course the flying magazines. Sometimes I listen to books on tape and wish I had their command of the language, whether it is in Bahasa (Malaysia), French, English or just rubbish.



Reading something of substance, something of value, something that is nurturing, something that teaches you new distinctions every day is more important than eating. Read a minimum of thirty minutes a day. You may miss a meal, but don’t miss your reading. By reading you are not limited to your own personal experiences as life references. You can borrow the references of other people. You may want to focus on those who have made it against all odds - Nelson Mandela - who had succeeded and contributed and is impacting people’s lives in a major way. Read the biographies of successful people and learn that regardless of their background or conditions, when they held on to their sense of certainty and consistently contributed, success eventually came their way.


The power of reading a great book is that you start thinking like the author. During those magical moments while you are immersed in reading “Papillon”, you are Henri Charriere. I am attracted not so much by its sensational appeal as the autobiography of a convict, but rather by its rare quality as a tale of courage, endurance and man’s unquenchable thirst for freedom; the biography of Fred Meijer who started a chain of general stores in the US, you cannot but be impressed by what he said, “Live your life so you can look in the mirror and be proud of what you see”.


You start to think like they think, feel like they feel, and use imagination as they would. Their references become your own, and you carry these with you long after you’ve turned the last page. You constantly need to expand your references.

Just to digress a little, many have asked me why I took up flying. Flying gives me a chance to learn something new that I have never been exposed to before. I wanted to learn how to handle this mechanical monstrosity and make it respond to my commands. Moreover, I had to learn subjects that have never been part of my life - subjects like aviation law, general aeronautics, radio telephony, navigation and meteorology. Let me emphasize here flying is not important. What matters is the mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual coordination that it provides. Other sporting avenues might provide the same challenges. Find your sporting niche and do it with passion and enthusiasm.


Emotional development

In our daily lives and more so when we are about to have a late life career change, we need to take conscious control of our oscillating emotions and consciously and deliberately shape our lives. There is no success without emotional success. Emotional stability starts at home. If there is tension in the house, which there will sometimes be, you will have to sort this out with your partner. A veteran of 45 years married to the same person, to maintain your sanity, you have to make your relationship one of the highest priorities in your life; otherwise you will be taking a back seat to any or all of the other things that are happening in the work place.

Sometimes emotional conflicts come from your own makings with your other family members, your own children. You want to mould them in your own expectations. Being the authoritarian father that you are, you give them no choice but an ultimatum. Your love for them becomes conditional to their submitting to your fancies. We forget that our children were born with their own talents and interests. Our responsibility is to prepare them to face the world when we are no more around.

Give them the tools to meet these challenges. After that let them express their talents and interests to the fullest within the accepted norms of society. There shall be no withholding of our love for them. In this way we create an environment of love and respect for each other and minimize emotional conflicts.

To quote Antonio Porchia, “In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing”. You are the source of all your emotions. Nothing, and no one, can change how you feel, except yourself. If you find yourself in reaction to anything, you and only you can change the situation.


In everyday life, who decides whether you shall be happy or unhappy? It is you, and nobody else. When you get up in the morning, you have a choice - whether to be happy or unhappy. The choice is yours. When I was a kid, my grandmother was very particular how we started our day. We were chided not to start the day with a long face. Now this made sense. If you program yourself saying that “It’s going to be a tough day today” the first thing in the morning, what else do you expect the day to be?

I recall reading somewhere that Abraham Lincoln said that people were just about as happy as they made up their minds to be. You can be unhappy if you choose to be. It is the easiest thing to accomplish. Go round telling yourself that things are not going well, that nothing is satisfactory, and you can bet your last ringgit of being unhappy. But say to yourself, “Things are going well. Life is good. I choose happiness,” and you can be quite sure of having your choice.


Conclusion

Many of us make life unnecessarily difficult for ourselves and this has a snowballing effect as it affects others as well. We need to stop feeling resentful and rejected and get peaceful, if we are to have the power to live effectively. We do not realize how accelerated the rate of our lives have become, or the speed at which we have driven ourselves. Many of us are destroying our physical bodies by this pace. What is even more tragic, we are tearing our minds and souls to shreds as well.

Retirement or a late career change could be the opportunity of our first step to reduce the rate of our pace or at least the tempo of our lifestyle, and appreciate this wonderful gift of life. We could continue to contribute to society in many other ways and ask the Almighty God to make use of us until we are completely used up. Those who have retired or about to and are having difficulties coping with this new situation, need to have an attitudinal change. They have to take this as a blessing for giving them a new lease of life, thus enabling them to re-tyre themselves for their new role.

Lastly we have to remember we are mere actors acting out our roles on this world stage. In acting out our roles, we make our entrances and at the appropriate time make our exits. Commit yourselves to acting out your roles in life with gusto and deserving success and you will find a reward you have not bargained for - a crowning glory of a full life well lived.


(Footnote: The above speech is reproduced here with permission from the late Tan Sri Ani Arope, Malaysia's first Fulbright scholar, and former Chairman of TNB. The images and quotes are added.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

KEEP THAT ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD AT ALL COST



“Milk King fights sons for power”. Yet another family feud has made the headlines, and invariably it involves family members fighting over property and inheritance, or as in the case of the ‘Milk King’, squabbling over control of the family business empire. For every case that made the headlines, there are probably tens of thousands more that don’t appear on the media radar because of the insignificant amounts involved.

When it comes to money and property, children can turn against parents, and siblings against one another. Bad blood is spilled, and the family name is raked through the mud in court. So, to avoid a potential family meltdown, here’s what I’ve learned.



1. Never sign over the title deeds of your house to your family members while you are still living in it. I know of cases where parents have been kicked out of their own home by their adult children. In some instances, the children sold off the family house to settle their debts or to invest in a business venture, thus forcing their parents to live in rented premises. You can always bequeath the property to them in your will. They just have to learn to be patient.

2. Do not sell your house to raise money for your adult children’s business ventures or your grandchildren’s education. It is not your responsibility. The same applies to your savings in the EPF, your investments in mutual funds, shares, etc. Do not sign these over to your family members prematurely. You need to keep all your monies intact. They make up your retirement funds. If your health is good, you may need those funds to keep you going for the next 20 years. If your health is less than good, those funds will help you cover medical expenses. We need to have at least RM1 million in cash reserves by the time we retire at 55 if we are to maintain our current lifestyle for the next 20 years.

If we don’t have this amount in our retirement funds, all the more we must have property that we can sell off or mortgage if the need arises. So back to my point – hang on to your property. Your life depends on it – literally.

Enough said.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

OLDER WORKERS, PLEASE APPLY


Have you ever walked into a music store and asked for a Beatles CD and be met with a blank look from the young sales assistant? Or step into a hair salon where the young hairstylist is only interested in making every customer look like a clone of himself, never mind that you have your own idea of which hairdo best suits you?

We are moving rapidly into an ageing society, and businesses would do well to employ more silver-haired staff to cater to customers in the older age group. Whether we are talking about departmental stores, supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, banks, gyms or airlines, older sales staff aged 45+ are a rare sight in Malaysia.

This is not quite the case in Singapore. According to a Straits Times report, Robinsons and Takashimaya each has 60 per cent of its retail staff in their 40s and above. Metro and Isetan each has more than 40 per cent, while Tangs has 20 per cent. It is a model Malaysian businesses should emulate to cater to the more discerning mature consumers. Older customers definitely feel more comfortable with older sales personnel who understand their needs and tastes much better.

It certainly makes sense for the big chain stores to hire more senior citizens. Besides the experience and expertise they bring to the sales force, they are also more patient and confident in handling customers’ requests or complaints. They have better work ethics and do not job-hop as a rule. Any business enterprise that deals with customers of all age groups should have a workforce that reflects this diversity in age. Wal-Mart is an excellent example. About 20% of its workforce is at least 55 years old, making it one of the largest employers of senior citizens in the US.


When it comes down to who needs a job more in these financially troubled times – the young or the seniors? I say the latter. They have a family to feed, teenage children to put through college and loans to service. With the number of retrenched workers in Malaysia hitting a new high of 22,887 from October 2008 to April 2009, and the number of workers laid off temporarily at 45,614, the job market is inundated with people looking for a second or third opportunity at re-employment.


On the other hand, retrenched mature workers seeking to rejoin the workforce should not be too picky about job offers and be prepared to accept lower remunerations and fewer benefits until the economy improves.

As one reader puts it in the Straits Times forum, there are many reasons why older workers are better, among them:
~ older workers are more mature and wiser
~ older workers are more conscientious
~ older workers are more willing to accept a lower salary for doing the same job
~ older workers are more willing to work longer hours
~ older workers are more willing to work overtime
~ older workers are more committed to their job
~ older workers have better people skills
~ older workers are more experienced in handling emergencies

The message to employers is this: make older workers an integral part of your organization’s workforce. There should not be any age discrimination when hiring workers.