Thursday, September 30, 2010

DESPERATELY SEEKING LOANS

Came across a worrying piece of news in the Straits Times today. Often one has to refer to the foreign media to keep tabs on what's happening in our own country.

The PM is desperately seeking loans to fund its investment projects. Through its secretive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which raised RM5 billion from a bond issue just over a year ago, the government is now looking to tap the Malaysian banking system for another RM5 billion in loans.

The reaction from bankers is one of worry as the loans "will not be guaranteed by the government  but will be settled within three years through a separate issue of state-backed bonds, a fund-raising exercise in which the wealth fund is hoping to raise another RM10 billion."

The fear is that the 1MDB's aggressive fund-raising strategy could turn into a financial debacle that would make the billion-dollar debt accumulated by the Port Klang Free Trade Zone project look negligible. All these loans mean 1MDB will have long-term liabilities of $6.4 billion by end-2013.

I quote from the ST article: "1MDB is the brainchild of Prime Minister Najib Razak. He had originally envisaged setting up a RM10 billion fund for Terengganu, the country's top oil and gas producing state, and tapped Malaysian business executive Taek Jho Low to lay the groundwork for the fund."

Now get this: Jho Low is the very same guy who made headlines recently for partying with Hollywood celebrities such as Paris Hilton at New York nightspots. Would his name inspire enough confidence among banks to agree to the loans?

The government recently unveiled its Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to lift Malaysia's economy and make it more competitive. The ambitious plans include
  • achieving an annual growth rate of 6% in the next 10 years
  • raising GNI per capita from RM23,700 to RM48,000
  • creating 3.3 million new jobs
  • transforming KL into a world-class city
RM43b is needed for the proposed MRT

To achieve the above, the government would need investments for the following:
  • RM172billion for the Greater KL Plan
  • RM271.6 billion for the oil and gas NKEA
  • RM124.2 billion for the palm oil industry NKEA
I'm only listing a mere few. For the ETP to succeed, the government is hoping the private sector will invest some RM1.27 trillion from now to 2020. But will the private sector have enough faith in the government of the day to deliver?

The PM and other VIPs admiring the ambitious, sprawling model of Greater KL.

Who will end up paying for the billions of debt racked up by our government? Will the taxpayers and the good people of Malaysia be called upon to make sacrifices again? Will we have to dig deeper into our pockets to pay higher taxes, higher prices? Will we be asked to tighten our belts? Will we have to make do with less for ourselves and our children?
 
There must be more transparency in how the government is spending taxpayers money, what plans it has to drive the ETP, and what debts it is incurring in our name. We have a right to know.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WHEN THE SCALES RING A WARNING BELL.....

This could easily be me struggling to zip up my jeans.

The other day I dug up my favourite pair of jeans from the cupboard. It has been months since I last wore them. To my horror, I had to struggle to zip up. What used to be a snug fit was now a tight fit. I knew I was in trouble when the bathroom scales read 56.4 kg.

My ideal weight is 52 kg. Anything beyond that means I haven't been physically active enough. If your daily routine is anything like mine, we sit too much. We may not realize it, but many of our daily activities involve sitting down, often for hours on end: working at the pc, reading, watching TV, listening to music, attending meetings /seminars, marking assignments, chatting with friends over tea, taking meals, driving, waiting... Before we know it, we are several kilos heavier than we would like to be.


Thanks to years of going to the gym, road running and qigong exercises back in the 1980s and 90s, I've managed to keep obesity at bay. But since a major operation two years ago, I've slacked off on my exercises. The kilos have started to pile up, and I can see unwanted flab here and there.

As of 3.18pm today, I've walked 6057 steps. Still half the day left to get the numbers up to 10,000.

Nothing like brisk walking at our age to shed off those extra kilos, and give the heart a good workout at the same time. I've bought a pedometer to keep track of the number of steps I take a day. The good doctor says we should aim for 10,000 steps. Some days I fall short. But I tell myself a few thousand steps is better than a few hundred.

 Source: The Sunday Star 26 Sept 2010. Click on image to enlarge.

The Sunday Star carried an excellent article "A Physical Reminder" about what we can do to keep our weight down. Exercising is one way to beat chronic diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and cancers that plague older people. The others are adopting healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.

It's a constant struggle to maintain good health. But we owe it to ourselves and our families to take responsibility for our health. I am sure none of us want to spend our retirement years struggling with pain and hefty medical bills.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

QUALITY EDUCATION? NOT WITHOUT QUALITY TEACHERS

 A teacher-training workshop

It's another two months before the end of the school year but the independent and private schools are already being overwhelmed by parents wanting to enroll their children for Form 1 next year. The principal of one such school that I visited recently told me they had to turn away hundreds of students as they didn't have enough classrooms to accommodate all who had applied. In the last five years, the number of  Form 1 classes in that school had jumped from five to 14.

It is no secret that public schools, including former elite schools, have lost their appeal. Parents are aware of the rot that has been seeping in over the years, and are turning to the private schools for their children's high school education despite the much higher fees. Many of our ministers, including our former Minister of Education, send their children to international schools here or boarding schools abroad. They too have little faith in our public school system.

How many of our teachers can honestly say they are superior or great teachers?

Without quality teachers, there can be no quality education. That to me is the crux of the problem. Our public schools are filled with deadwood teachers who are just marking time till their retirement. To them, teaching is a job, not a calling. Of course, there are teachers who are passionate about their work, but their numbers are small. The ministry has the clout but lacks the guts to tell deadwood teachers to shape up or risk losing their salary increments. It doesn't want to risk upsetting the teachers. Even the Minister of Education is reluctant to take disciplinary action against errant principals.

If the Minister of Education who is also the Deputy Prime Minister says he can't discipline errant head teachers, it says a lot about his effectiveness (or lack of) as a decision-maker. (The Star: 26 Sept '10)

There should be stringent vetting of applicants for teacher training. Take English as an example. To teach the subject, applicants must speak and write well in the language. An A for English in the SPM means little if the applicant can barely communicate in the language.

One way to attract the best students to take up teaching as a career is through competitive salaries and ample opportunities for career advancement. Pay top dollar and we'll have top graduates queuing for teacher-training and teaching vacancies. Surely the future of our children and of our country is worth every cent?


Global management firm McKinsey recently released a report "Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching" which looks at school systems and the teaching profession in 50 countries. It cites Singapore, Finland, and South Korea as examples of countries where the teaching profession recruits the very best and brightest, gives them paid training and retains them with merit increments, performance bonuses and outstanding contribution awards.

No wonder these countries have consistently ranked among the world's best in maths and science.

The Education Ministry's deputy director-general for policy recently spoke about giving every child in Malaysia access to quality education. He said schools will be ranked based on their performance. The rankings will be published annually.


Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's the same old refrain, year in year out.

Last January, the Education Ministry announced the top 20 best performing schools in the country. I took the trouble to do a google search of some of the schools on the list. Guess what? Most of them don't even have a website. Those with an online presence have websites that are either not updated, or carry little of interest. So much for the top Malaysian schools in this age of technology!

Our education system is in dire need of a complete overhaul starting with improving the quality of teachers. No more piecemeal cosmetic makeovers, and flip-flopping over policies. Time for the Minister of Education to roll up his sleeves and walk the talk.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

AUTORR REVISITED


The auditorium at AUTORR.
(Photo taken in Feb 2009.)
I was conducting a workshop session yesterday when I noticed Lin Chua among the participants. Later, as I listened to her share about her passion and mission in life, I couldn't help marveling at this icon of a woman who continues to give so much of herself to "building a bridge of love between the very old and the very young".

To give the background of AUTORR is to tell the story of one courageous woman with a big heart and an even bigger vision, who donated 4 acres of prime land back in 2004 to build a RM7million centre where senior citizens could network, acquire new skills and knowledge, and discover a new joie de vivre.

I first met Lin Chua last February 2009. I had read a piece in the Star about her AUTORR Foundation and was eager to learn more. She graciously consented to an interview for Seniorsaloud. I ended up not only touring the AUTORR site, but also lunching with her. I came away impressed by the work she had done and the cause she was championing.

Click here to read my write-up of the 2009 visit and view pictures of the AUTORR Centre.

Now almost two years since that meeting, the AUTORR Foundation centre is about ready to open its doors to the public. Lin Chua is appealing for volunteers to help out with their on-going fund-raising campaign and also with their programme of activities at the foundation.

If you are able to provide training or give talks in the areas listed below, please email Seniorsaloud at seniorsaloud@gmail.com. We will get in touch with you.

  • parenting / grandparenting skills
  • counselling for the elderly
  • family values
  • motivation
  • mentoring
  • yoga / tai-chi / qigong / others
  • handicrafts and hobbies (e.g. bonsai gardening, cooking, painting)
  • mental health
  • nutrition and wellness
  • money management
  • meditation
  • others
Please help in whatever way you can to get AUTORR started on a firm footing. Lin Chua has already given so much of herself to helping retirees and the elderly, the least we can do is give her our support.


Giving not only adds value to someone else's life, but more importantly, to ours as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

FOR YOUR WEEKEND ENTERTAINMENT

Ladies, forget about all the Swan Lake performances you have seen before. This version featured below takes the ballet classic to new heights. Enjoy!



Gentlemen, if the fine arts is not your cup of tea, this video below is for you. It was forwarded to Seniorsaloud by a guy, so you will probably enjoy this one better. I guarantee you will chuckle over it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

WHERE WERE YOU ON 16 SEPT 2010?

Another public holiday to mark on our calendar - 16 September, Malaysia Day. 47 years since the formation of Malaysia, and this is the first time we are celebrating it!

For me, National Day on 31 August came and went like any other day, but Malaysia Day held more significance and meaning.

I was out the whole day from 8.00am to 11pm. First was the 5th National Congress On Integrity (NCOI). The theme this year was "Truth Matters: Integration with Integrity".

In the impressive line-up of distinguished speakers that included recently retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram and former Oxford-trained lawyer Datuk Azzat Kamaludin, the speech that resonated most with me was delivered by Senator Dato Seri Idris Jala. He spoke on "Celebrating Diversity in Malaysia". I've never heard the concept of 1Malaysia explained with such clarity and conviction. If anyone could transform Malaysia from a regional centre of mediocrity to a global model of meritocracy, it would be this man.

For the benefit of those who missed the event, here are some key slides from Dato Idris Jala's presentation. They are self-explanatory. Click on image to enlarge.








Right after NCOI, it was on to Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia's (SABM) 1st anniversary celebration, which began at 6.30pm. It was an informal gathering of mostly university students and young professionals, although I did spot some silver hair among the crowd. The entire evening's program was coordinated by young people. As I listened to them share their stories of what being a Malaysian means to them, my heart swelled with pride and renewed hope. Articulate, confident, intelligent and driven, these young men and women are in the vanguard of SABM's mission to take the message of "One People, One Nation" nationwide through their road shows, CDs and publications.

Paid in Fiction in action. They are featured on SABM's 'Bangkit' CD.

What a treat to listen to the beautiful and talented Amirah Ali singing her debut hit "Katakanlah". Click on the link to listen.

The InorOut website was launched at the SABM event to encourage Malaysians to think, speak out and vote on issues that concern them. 

Doing my bit to spread the message via SABM's T-shirt "RACISM is so yesterday", and NCOI's "WE 'R' MALAYSIA"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DR M REBUTS MM LEE


I don't know why none of the local mainstream media carried this. Click here to read the Straits Times article. Lots of places where you can punch holes in what Dr M says. Too many "IFs", and not enough facts. But then again, even when all the facts are present, he is still capable of turning them into fiction. Remember when he grabbed world headlines with this claim below?


Most of the quotes in the ST article were taken from Dr M's blog Chedet. Click here to read the full text. I shall leave readers to draw their own conclusion as to which Grand Old Man is telling the truth, and which one is telling stories. Or are both guilty of some memory lapses?

"Amnesia is permissible, but trying to claim that it is because Singapore had been 'turfed out' for the present racist politics in Malaysia is simply not supported by facts of history." ~ Dr M.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WHAT IS THE BEST RELIGION?

Listen to the Dalai Lama's answer to this question. Then ponder on his words of wisdom. If only more people realized the truth of what he said, the world would have fewer bigots like Pastor Terry Jones. Beware of fanatics and extremists who give their religion of peace and love a bad name, whether it be Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Sikhism. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

PHILOSOPHY FOR OLD AGE

Every now and then we need a reminder to live life to the fullest. The years do seem to go so quickly by as one advances in age. I remember ushering in the new year on 1 January 2010, and now it's already September.

How have we spent the past eight months? More importantly, how will we spend the rest of our years? Complaining about how life has given us a raw deal? Or feeling blessed that we can still wake up each morning and see the sunrise?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

LKY REFLECTS ON LIFE AND AGEING

In an interview conducted last week with the International Herald Tribune and published today in the global edition, former Singapore PM and now Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, reflects on life and shares his thoughts on ageing, marriage and politics.

Below are some excerpts from the interview:

On the pains and aches of ageing

"I can feel the gradual decline of energy and vitality. I'm reaching 87, trying to keep fit, presenting a vigorous figure, and it's an effort, and is it worth the effort? I laugh at myself trying to keep a bold front. It's my habit. I just carry on."

On his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, 89, who has been bedridden and unable to speak since suffering a stroke two years ago. She has been his confidante and counselor since their student days in London

"She understands when I talk to her which I do every night. She keeps awake for me; I tell her about my day's work, read her favourite poems. I tell her I would try and keep her company as long as I can. She understands. But I'm not sure who's going first, she or me."

On how he copes with his daily stress

"At night, I calm myself with 20 minutes of meditation, reciting "Ma-Ra-Na-Tha", a mantra taught by a Christian friend. I'm not a believer, but I find the sounds soothing. A certain tranquility settles over you. The day's pressures and worries are pushed out. Then there's less problem sleeping."

On his moment of greatest anguish when he wept in public

"The expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965."

On his legacy

"I'm not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honourable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial. Do not judge a man until his coffin is closed. I may still do something foolish before the lid is closed on me."

LKY combats the decline of age with a regimen of swimming, cycling and massage. He still keeps to an-hour-by-hour daily schedule of meetings, speeches and conferences in Singapore and overseas.

"I know if I rest, I'll slide downhill fast."

Click here to read the full article.

Friday, September 10, 2010

SELAMAT HARI RAYA

To all my dear friends and blog visitors who are celebrating Hari Raya,


Let's have a sing-along with my favourite Malay songstress from yesteryears - Saloma...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A RACIAL HARMONY DAY FOR MALAYSIA?

Every year Singapore celebrates Racial Harmony Day on 21 July to mark the anniversary of the 1964 racial riots. Can you imagine Malaysia having a special day to commemorate the 13 May 1969 riots?

In Singapore on this day, students reflect on and celebrate the nation's success that is built on a rich diversity of cultures. Schools encourage students to dress in their ethnic costumes on this day, and various events are held to promote inter-racial understanding.

Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew breaking fast with more than 1000 residents of various races at the Racial Harmony Day dinner on Sept 4 in Radin Mas. (Photo: ST)


This year the Ministry of Education has chosen the theme “Embracing Diversity, Building Community” to remind Singaporeans that promoting social cohesion and racial harmony requires constant effort from everyone. It is also a day to honour not only the founding fathers but also the early pioneers of all races who helped develop the country.

Public notice at an MRT station - in 4 languages

It's not just on one day of the year that efforts are made to promote racial harmony. It's an on-going process, and the evidence is there for all to see. Public signages and MRT announcements are in four languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, although the Malays and Indians make up only 13 per cent and 9.2 per cent of the population respectively. The PM's recent National Day Rally speech was delivered in English, Mandarin and Malay.

Last Saturday I joined the thousands of shoppers and visitors at the sprawling night market in the Malay village at Geylang Serai. The entire neighbourhood was bathed in festive colours and lights for the coming Raya celebrations. What struck me most was the multi-racial mix of the vendors and shoppers.

The festive lights at Geylang Serai.
Chinese vendors selling fruits and cookies for the Raya celebration.
Rows upon rows of figure-hugging kebaya in dazzling rainbow colours.
Malaysia's famed Ramli burgers are a hit here.
Indian shoppers buying flowers from Chinese vendors at the Malay village.
Stall selling halal leung-yuk (dried meat) doing brisk business.

Everywhere you go in Singapore you see people of all races mixing freely and comfortably with each other. Lots of mixed couples too. Across the street from my Singapore base are a mosque, a Chinese temple, an Indian temple, a church and a gurdwara (Sikh temple), all within a stone's throw from each other, and all with doors open to welcome visitors.

Chinese passers-by praying outside an Indian temple. Just next to it is a Chinese temple. Both have been co-existing peacefully in the area for decades.

There's plenty Singapore and Malaysia can learn from each other about fostering racial harmony in diversity. I am sure the Singapore government is keeping an eye on what's happening in Malaysia and learning WHAT NOT TO DO.

It's about time the Malaysia government put aside bruised pride and learn WHAT TO DO from Singapore. After all, we are supposed to be more than good neighbours. We are bound by more than historical and ancestral ties. Indeed the same blood runs through all of us, whatever our colour, creed or religion.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

IMPAIRED VISION? IT COULD BE AMD

I managed to check out the AMD photo exhibition at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Singapore just before it ended on 3 September. Held in conjunction with AMD Awareness Week, the exhibition featured photos by Mr Adam Hahn from Scotland.


The concept for these photos was a result of seeing his grandmother grapple with AMD, unable to explain her peripheral vision to those who asked. He took portrait photos and digitally manipulated them to reflect how people looked through the eyes of someone with AMD. The photos give us a better understanding of how AMD patients see the world around them.

Various stages of AMD vision. Portraits by Adam Hahn.


If your elderly parents complain of poor vision, they may need more than a pair of glasses. An eye screening will confirm if they have AMD.


For more information about AMD, do read this excellent article in The Times.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

RETIREMENT OR RE-EMPLOYMENT?


Singapore Minister Mentor recently made news when he said there should be no mandatory retirement age. He reiterates his stand in the Straits Times today which carried the headline "MM Lee: If a man is fit, let him carry on working". The former PM elaborates on his views on work and retirement in the email interview. Click here to read an extract. The full interview is accessible only to subscribers.

By coincidence, retirement is the cover feature in Malaysia's StarBiz today. Two seniors share their views on the issue with journalist Errol Oh.

Lily Fu, 62, who maintains the SeniorsAloud blog

A lot of people look at the seniors as one big homogenous group. It’s not the case, and certain policies don’t address this. The 55 and above category stretches to 85 or more. It’s a 30-year span and it’s very difficult to compartmentalise. The government policies on the elderly are mostly aimed at the poor. But there are also seniors who are wealthy and who don’t need financial help. And there’s a large band of people in between.

Some of those who retire tend to lapse into depression, feeling that they are no longer needed. At the same time, there is not much income coming in as before, and they have to grapple with inflation. They are not sure about what to do with their time.

We have to look for facilities and homes for the seniors. Where do we go? Surely not the old folks homes. There are many types of seniors. We are the baby boomers, who are better educated than our parents and we expect more. More has to be done on retirement living. What will happen to us when we reach our 70s?

Seniors are very proud people. They want financial independence. We have people who have retired at 55, but still have a lot more to contribute. However, their age and salary scale work against them. Why would companies want to employ them? There are very limited opportunities for re-employment, and these are mainly in areas such as consultancy and teaching.
I believe that raising the retirement age is to the Government’s benefit.

Bulbir Singh, 69, noted for his prolific letter-writing

I feel that my life now is very useful and valuable. I had prepared for retirement. At about 50, realising that retirement was close, I bought a home. I wanted a clean pension. I didn’t want to owe anybody.

I keep myself occupied. In fact, I’ve got little idle time these days. You’ve got to programme yourself to fill your days with activity and purpose. You have to be physically and mentally alert, and you have to make yourself useful.

We can’t just do nothing. There are 1,001 things to do. There’s no such thing as complaining about boredom. Those who can teach, can give tuition. There’s many ways of helping others, if we choose not to continue working for a salary. We have a civic duty, which means we owe something to society.

For the full article including interviews with other seniors, click here.