Saturday, April 30, 2011

NOT QUITE READY TO RETIRE

The Sunday Star: 24 April 2011
The letter above highlights the predicament many Malaysians face upon reaching their 55th birthday. They start to worry about their impending retirement. While there may be some who eagerly await their last day at work so they can be boss of their own time, there are others who dread receiving their retirement letter.

With the average life span at 76, you need to have at least RM1m saved up to see you through the next 20-25 years of retirement if you plan to maintain your current lifestyle. Inflation will push the figure even higher. It's a scary thought, especially if you have a retired spouse and elderly parents to support. The healthcare expenses alone can strain and drain your limited financial resources. Most retirees would want to remain on the company pay-roll as long as possible. Not everyone has the means or the aptitude to start their own business.

The Star: Sat 30 April 2011
The retirement age for civil servants has been raised from 55 to 58. For the private sector it remains at a young 55. The government wants stakeholders in the private sector to consider upping this to 60. In Singapore, by 2012 it will be mandatory for companies to retain older workers till aged 62. France recently raised the retirement age to 62, and in Australia, there's no official retirement age. Raising the retirement age will give older workers more time to accumulate sufficient savings to see them through their non-working years.

Straits Times 29 April 2011
The World Bank's 2011 fact-book on migration shows that for every ten skilled Malaysians born in the country, one of them elects to leave the country. This is double the world average. With the massive brain drain and exodus of talent from the country, re-hiring older workers is one way to stem the haemorrhage. Other countries suffer loss of home-grown talent too. However, as in Singapore, this is compensated by a large inflow of skilled workers and professional experts. This is not the case in Malaysia.

For more, read the special coverage on Malaysia's brain drain in today's Star.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HIGH HEALTHCARE COSTS EATING INTO RETIREMENT FUNDS

If you have set aside some funds for medical contingencies not just for yourself and your children, but also for your elderly parents, give yourself a pat on the back. You are better prepared than probably 90% of your peers.

How many of us factor in our elderly parents when we save for our retirement years? What happens should some misfortune or mishap befall them and they end up in hospital or require expensive long-term healthcare? It's a sure bet they are not covered by insurance. The few insurance companies that offer coverage for the elderly charge ridiculously high premiums.

Whether it's hospital charges, doctor's fees, medical examinations, health supplements, etc, we end up paying on behalf of our aged parents. Who among us do not have parents in their 70s and 80s who require financial support?

What surprises me is that few retirement planning consultants advise their clients to allocate funds for parental maintenance. My mother's recent surgery and hospitalization plus her aftercare and medication cost a bomb. Fortunately the whole family rallied together and we split the costs.

My mom's prescribed drugs cost RM300+ a month.  
What about those who have no access to financial recourse? Healthcare costs whether for yourself or your family members can swallow up all your retirement savings and reduce all your carefully laid-out retirement plans to shreds. You can easily end up in debt or in the poor-house from paying for all these out-of-pocket expenses.

The Malaysian government has been discussing the idea of setting up a National Healthcare Financing Scheme (NHFS) to make healthcare accessible and affordable to all Malaysians. Now almost twenty years on, nothing's been finalized as yet.

So what's holding up the implementation of the NHFS? One reason given by Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai - "It involves reviewing the Medical Act 1972 (71?) and that takes time". 20 years to review a 44-page document?

Perhaps it's just as well that the NHFS is still on the drawing-board. There are too many questions about the scheme that need to be addressed.

For more about the NHFS, please click on the related links below:

Not all stakeholders are giving the thumbs up for the NHFS. The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has plenty of reservations. (Click on the link for recommended reading.)
The above article in The Star 24 April raises some valid concerns about the proposed National Healthcare Financing Scheme '1Care for 1Malaysia'. The article first appeared in Malaysiakini 19 April.
While the Malaysian government is dragging its feet over the NHFS, about a decade ago Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) introduced the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) for elderly patients aged 65 and over, who come from homes with a per capita income of S$800 (RM2000) a month. Others who are eligible are the disabled from a similar income bracket, and those who are unable to work due to old age, illness or disability.

The PCPS allows them to see a general practitioner (GP) in a private clinic, but still pay subsidised polyclinic rates. Eligible patients pay S$5.20 for consultation at a polyclinic, and only 70 cents for a week's supply of each type of subsidised medicine. (Graphics: Straits Times)

The scheme got off to a slow start as participating GPs complained about the paperwork involved in getting payment from the Health Ministry. They were also not happy about having to prescribe cheaper generic drugs to lower costs for their elderly or disabled patients.

But with rising healthcare costs, more Singaporeans are turning to the PCPS. Last year, 32,000 eligible patients made more than 70,000 visits under the scheme. There is now a call to extend the scheme to benefit all lower income groups irrespective of age. This is evident of the success of the PCPS.

Can Malaysia's proposed NHFS emulate PCPS's success?

A Malaysian polyclinic
Postscript: Just read that a financially ailing and little known private company Tricubes has been awarded the lucrative 1Malaysia e-mail contract worth RM50million to provide Malaysians with a secured personal email for government billings, payments and notifications.

Only days ago the PM gave his assurance that "no public funds will be used for 1Malaysia e-mail project". Now Tricubes has confirmed that it will be charging various government agencies 50 sen per email transaction. Sounds very much like taxpayers' money being used to bail out a financially distressed company whose shares have skyrocketed since the news broke that it has been awarded the government contract.

The StarBiz 27 April 2011
Against this backdrop, the MMA and other stakeholders have valid reasons for voicing their fears that the government will be similarly throwing out a lifeline to a dubious private company that stands to reap huge profits from the NHFS. Both projects aim to benefit the people, but it's the implementation that many stakeholders are questioning. The public needs to be reassured that everything is done above board, and that no cronyism or vested interests are involved.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

LKY - AT 87, TOO OLD TO STAND FOR ELECTION?

Source: The Star 23 April 2011
Take a leaf from LKY's book of Never-Say-Old quotes. To this statesman, the word 'old' doesn't exist. Not in his life, and certainly not in the coming general elections. The former PM of Singapore and current Minister Mentor is seeking another term in his Tanjong Pagar constituency. He has held the seat for 56 years, and is aiming to be around for the next five years. If he wins, as predicted, he will retain his record as one of the world's longest serving (and surviving) leaders.

The Straits Times 24 April 2011
Addressing a 2000-strong crowd at a rally yesterday, he said, "Every general election is a serious choice of the people whether they want to move forward, sideways or backwards." He also has some advice for the elderly citizens of Tanjong Pagar.

Click on the video to listen to LKY. Do you think he has the physical and mental capabilities to carry out his official duties for another term? Or should he retire from public office and spend the rest of his sunset years writing another book perhaps?



As he has so famously said in another interview back in January 2008,

"As you get old, you withdraw from everything and then all you will have is your bedroom and the photographs and the furniture that you know, and that’s your world.

I’m determined that I will not, as long as I can, to be reduced, to have my horizons closed on me like that. It is the stimuli, it is the constant interaction with people across the world that keeps me aware and alive to what’s going on and what we can do to adjust to this different world.

Doesn't sound like LKY will retire from public life as yet. Another five-year term will mean he'll be 92 when he finally hangs up his MP name tag for good.

Will he last the distance? What do you think?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

MORE SENIORS FEATURED IN ADS

Petronas
I think it's great that companies are now featuring seniors in their print advertisements. About time too. After all, seniors make up an important sector of the market, but have often been neglected in marketing campaigns.

Above: Proton
Astro
Above: Singapore's Ministry of Manpower & NTUC
ING Insurance
Amanah Hartanah Bumiputra

Time for the beauty industry to feature older women in their ads especially those promoting anti-ageing products. Enough of using women in their 30s to promote anti-wrinkle creams. There is no shortage of beautiful women in the 50s or above who look youthful enough to lend credibility to the skin product they are using.

How credible is this ad?
Or this


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SENIORS HAVE IT GOOD IN SINGAPORE



The other day a reader emailed me with a question. He wanted to know why many of the articles on Seniorsaloud made references to Singapore. A fair question. After all, I am a Malaysian, so shouldn't I be writing more about what's going on here in my own country?

The answer is simple. There's so much more happening on the active ageing scene in Singapore than in Malaysia. By 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be aged 65 or above. The government is going full steam implementing best practices to cater to the needs of an ageing population in the areas of healthcare, housing, employment, financial security, social integration and lifelong learning.

It's all about helping Singaporeans age actively and successfully. Take a look at these numbers:

  • $100 million to promote wellness and active ageing among seniors, as well as to enhance eldercare services.
  • $1billion for the Community Silver Trust fund to help charities caring for the elderly.
  • $9 million of the Golden Opportunities Fund has already been disbursed to organisations to carry out community projects that benefit seniors.
  • $10 million Senior's Mobility Fund to provide wheelchairs and mobility devices for needy seniors.



Minister of Health, Khaw Boon Wan, has this to say in his blog about the Mobility Fund, "The money is there, the political will is strong, we just need to connect up with the needy seniors. If you come across worthy recipients of this Senior’s Mobility Fund, please contact the neighbourhood VWOs, or your MPs. We will then do the rest."

Singaporean seniors should count themselves fortunate to have a government who does its best to look out for them. It's not all promises and little action.

Singapore is leading the way in caring for its ageing population. There's much Malaysia can learn from her southern neighbour, but the question is, will it?

Friday, April 15, 2011

TRUE LIES AND FALSE TRUTHS

The Straits Times headlines 15 April
Raja Petra's recent TV3 interview drives home the point that unless one gets the story first-hand, it's best not to believe it's true. 'I got it from a reliable source' is as good as saying I heard it from my trusted friend who heard it from his boss, who is in the inner circle of so-and-so, who is... You get the picture. As long as the reliable source can't be named, as long as the specifics are missing, the story belongs in the realm of fairy tales and fantasy.

Most of us are guilty of some degree of bias and prejudice. We are quick to believe scandalous rumours about people we don't like, and just as quick to defend the misdeeds of those we admire. We choose whom we want to believe and whom we want to condemn, never mind the lack of hard facts and evidence.

What makes some people so gullible they believe every vile story about someone they hate? What makes some people tell a bare-face lie without feeling any guilt? How can two people from opposite camps claim they are both telling the truth? Can there be different shades of truth?

You can take a person to court and have him swear on the Holy Book. But a bona fide liar will just as well lie to God as to anyone else. What's there for a liar to fear especially if he stands to gain with his lies, especially if the powers that be may have promised to protect him?


There's little difference between spreading true lies and propagating false truths. And there are plenty of these on the internet, especially in socio-political blogs, and in anonymous emails forwarded indiscriminately without any attempt to verify the claims and allegations made in the original email.

Better to be called a skeptic than a fool, better to give someone the benefit of the doubt than to deny him a chance to defend himself.

In the end, it is not us who will be the final judge of a man's guilt or innocence. It's the Almighty who gives the verdict and metes out the punishment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

TIME FOR NEW LABELS FOR THE 60+

When I started this blog in May 2008, I had several names in mind for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were already taken. I must have tried at least 20 names in total, with the same result each time - 'not available'. In frustration I gave it one final go with 'Seniorsaloud'. The name had popped into my mind at that last minute. To my surprise, it was accepted.

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They probably felt that with a name like Seniorsaloud, the blog would interest only old people. Of course, I went on the defensive. What did they mean by 'old'? I was about to turn 60 at the time, and didn't feel at all a day over 40. Neither was I frail, and definitely nowhere close to being senile.

Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image comes to mind at the mention of 'senior citizen'? I have good friends who would cringe with horror at being referred to as one, even though they are 60+ and retired. To them, that's as good as sounding the death knell.

The problem with labels is they are generic. 'Old' people are painted with the same brush, and in the same grey colour. But there are so many different shades and hues of grey. If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, then how would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Equally cumbersome and inadequate. (Photo: My cousins - no way would anyone in their right mind call them 'elderly'! Henry is about the coolest dad I know, and Siew Kin is one fabulously gorgeous mom, inside out. Both are in their early 60s.)

Quite often the media is guilty of mislabeling. "Elderly man victim of snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim was aged 63. I am turning 63 soon. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. But young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To someone in their 20s, 63 is practically ancient.

So until we come up with age appropriate labels, I suppose baby boomers like us will have to forgive the young for addressing us as 'old' and 'elderly'.

Postscript: I'm glad I stuck with the name "Seniorsaloud" for this blog. It has garnered a readership that is steadily growing. It has caught the attention of certain policy-makers on ageing issues in Singapore and Malaysia. It has been mentioned in the local media on several occasions. Some of the articles have been published in reputable magazines. Just last month, I received an email from a program producer at CNN asking for my views on a seniors-related topic. That was a real morale booster.

The flip side of my Seniorsaloud card which I call my passion card.
All those hours of writing and researching are finally paying off in terms of recognition. Now if only some big corporation would step in and sponsor a Seniorsaloud event. That would be taking Seniorsaloud to the next level where it can harness the expertise and experience of retirees for projects that would benefit the community of senior citizens. Seniorsaloud has no shortage of ideas to achieve this objective, and is currently looking for companies to collaborate with.

Contact Seniorsaloud at seniorsaloud@gmail.com if you think we can help meet your company's CSR goals.

Monday, April 11, 2011

STARTING A BUSINESS AFTER RETIREMENT


I confess I get cold feet every time I think about withdrawing a lump sum for investment purposes. My savings are for my old age and for emergencies. My mother's recent surgery and hospitalization, plus her on-going medical expenses are a grim reminder that it's always best to be prepared for possible contingencies.

My well-meaning friends have long given up trying to make me part with my money. "You need to make your money grow," they tell me. They paint rosy pictures of what my money can do for me if I invest in real estate, shares, gold, artworks, etc... They promise me guaranteed returns of 8% or more on my investments.

But I remain unconvinced. I have few needs. I live a simple life. I am frugal by nature and by circumstances. And I am quite happy with the modest interest I'm getting from my retirement funds. For good or bad, I'm adverse to taking risks, especially financial ones.

But starting a business might be a different story altogether. You are in control. You know what you want, and you make all the decisions. If you can channel your expertise, experience and passion into your first business venture after retirement, you might just succeed. Make sure you also pick up the necessary entrepreneurial skills.

That's exactly what these enterprising retirees have done.

Jennifer Chung, 58, and her husband Simon Yuen, 60, sold their chocolate manufacturing business last year. With the six-figure proceeds from the sale, they could have retired comfortably. Instead they started a taichi school in January with an initial student enrolment of 300+. Participating in the recent 50plus Expo boosted their student intake to almost 1000. Their students range in age from 40 to 82. Teaching a healthy lifestyle makes good business sense as the couple have been practising taichi for 12 years.


A desire to help older men and women improve their self-confidence and image led Amy Chua, 72, to start the Age Management and Enrichment College in 2007 after attending a course on entrepreneurship. A retired senior librarian at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Chua has her days full conducting classes on grooming, etiquette and the performing arts. She took a risk when she pumped in S$83,000 of her savings to set up the education centre. But her investment has paid off. The institute will be moving to bigger premises next month to cater to a bigger enrolment of students who are mostly older folks aged 48 to 95.

William Liu, 63, former CEO of an IT and e-commerce company retired in 2007 to a life of leisure playing golf, reading and travelling. Boredom soon set in. "You can't play golf all the time or travel every day,' he says. So when two of his former business associates, aged 45 and 55, approached him to start an IT venture catalyst firm, he saw it as an opportunity to put his years of IT experience to good use. He invested S$100,000 of his savings to start the company with his partners. To date, it has mentored 15 IT start-ups and invested in five of them. "Working keeps me mentally and physically fit, especially now that I enjoy what I am doing. It gives me satisfaction to be able to offer my experience."

Last July Sylvia Lee, 53, and her former colleagues Ms Lee Pak Kheng, 60, and Ms Woon Lai Har, 55, set up a non-profit organization called Lotus Culture. It supports a Cambodian NGO in areas of education, mental health care and employment. All three gave up senior management positions in public-listed companies to do something more meaningful with their corporate skills. They are aiming to raise S$260,000 to support their projects in Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Acting For Women In Distressing Situations), an NGO set up by Cambodian human rights advocate Somaly Mam to rehabilitate young girls sold into the sex trade. (Photos: Straits Times)

Retirees who turn entrepreneurs still remain a minority. According to Jim Then, 65, an associate trainer and consultant for retirement planning and financial literacy at the Centre for Seniors, of every 20 seniors he teaches only one shows interest in entrepreneurship.

Most older folks are adverse to risk-taking, especially if it means dipping into their retirement savings. There's always the fear of failure and of losing all the money that they have sunk into the business venture.

Then's advice for those who want to start a business: "Decide on how much funds to set aside for your lifestyle needs. Whatever is excess is what you can afford to lose. The capital outlay should not eat into one's retirement nest egg."

In other words, to generate more money, one needs spare cash to start with. No wonder, the poor remain poor, while the rich have it easy - they have the means to become even richer.

Fortunately, banks in Singapore are willing to approve capital loans to retirees planning to start a business provided they can convince the banks that their idea or product has commercial potential.

There are infinite opportunties for enterprising retirees to tap into the rapidly growing silver-haired market in Singapore. The challenge is to know the needs of this niche market and to meet these needs.

Time to do some serious research and brain-storming. You might want to check out this link for some tips on starting a small business after retirement.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

BABY BOOMERS = THE ALZHEIMER GENERATION


What diseases do doctors fear most for themselves? I posed this question to my mom's cardiologist at his clinic last week. Without hesitation he said "Stroke and dementia."

I don't have direct experience taking care of a stroke patient. But caring for my mother who has dementia has given me a first-hand look at what the disease does to a person. I agree with the doctor. I too pray I won't suffer this debilitating disease in my old age. A family member went as far as to say (and I quote from his text message) "Wouldn't wannna stay in body if brain functions impaired".

One of the most common forms of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease. It is a progressively degenerating disease that has no known cure at the moment. In Singapore, dementia is a time bomb that is waiting to explode. By 2020, an estimated 50,000 Singaporeans will have some form of dementia.



Several days ago I received an email from Diana Wright of Alzheimer's Association. Here's what she wrote:

"The good news is that death rates for many major diseases - HIV, stroke, heart disease, prostate cancer, and breast cancer - are declining. Sadly, we can't yet say the same about Alzheimer's. This year, the first of the Boomer Generation turns 65. To bring urgently-needed attention to the risk facing the Boomers, Alzheimer's Association recently released a groundbreaking study - Generation Alzheimer's: The Defining Disease of the Baby Boomers.

We'd love your help in getting the word out on SeniorsAloud about the important information in Generation Alzheimer's, so we can make sure the public understands what can be done to conquer this devastating disease."

While Alzheimer’s is not normal aging, age is the greatest risk factor for the disease. This report conveys the burden of Alzheimer's and dementia on individuals, families, government and the nation's healthcare system.

Do check out the related videos and links. Knowledge empowers, so please pass on the information to others. Let us help make a difference.

"Alzheimer’s Is Devastating, Deteriorating and Debilitating. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

AGE-DEFYING ROLE MODELS

I am always on the lookout for inspiring role models among older adults. The six men and women listed below represent an increasing number of senior citizens who are rediscovering the joie de vivre as they advance into their golden years.

At 98, Briton Fauja Singh is probably the world's oldest marathon runner. He completed his first marathon at the age of 89! Since then he's done four more in London, one in Toronto and one in New York, all to help raise funds for charity. Still sprightly and weighing only 52kg, he says God helps him to finish every race. He holds 12 records for running. His philosopy of life: "I do not consider myself to be old. From the moment I do that, I would lose everything, because age is a state of mind - as long as you're positive you can do anything."

The world's oldest woman marathon runner, Gadys Burrill, was 92 when she completed the Honolulu Marathon in December 2010 in nine hours and 53 minutes. Her advice for others wanting to live a long and healthy lifestyle? 'Just get out there and walk or run,' she said on Monday. 'I like walking because you can stop and smell the roses, but it's a rarity that I stop.' Gadys ran her first marathon in 2004 at the age of 86. She had been an aircraft pilot, mountain climber, desert hiker and horseback rider before she developed a passion for running.

Nepalese Min Bahadur Sherchan is the oldest man to climb Mt Everest. He achieved this feat in 2008 when he was 77. Now 81, he plans to ascend Mt Everest again. When he was in Kuala Lumpur recently, he was asked the secret of his stamina. His answer: "For a strong and healthy body, I think consistency in your life is very important. You have to eat and sleep on time. You also need to consistently do light exercises."

Britain's oldest model, Daphne Selfe, now 83, has appeared in Vogue and Marie Claire. She is still much sought after by modelling agencies and has done campaigns for Dolce and Gabbana. Going grey actually helped her modelling career blossom again. "My hair is my fortune, it made me more striking," she said. "I don't feel a day over 60. It's fantastic. I'll continue modelling until they stop asking. I love it. It's fun and keeps me young. I was never one for wild parties and I've never had any need to get drunk." She still maintains the same svelte figure that she had in 1950 when she started modelling.

In 2009, Taiwanese Chau Mu-he became the world's oldest graduate when he received his Masters degree in Philosophy at the age of 96. He never skipped classes during the two years of study, commuting daily by bus. His thesis advisor described him as diligent, with a sense of humour, and a desire to learn. Asked about the secret to his health, he said there was none, but added that he never quarrels with anyone.

Closer to home, there is Teresa Hsu, Singapore's most celebrated centenarian and my role model of how I want to age. At 113, Teresa still packs a busy schedule giving motivational talks and doing charity work. Last month she was in Penang to attend the launch of her biography. An avid reader, Teresa is fluent in six languages and retains an infectious sense of humour. She attributes her longevity to a healthy dose of ‘ha ha ha’, and a strict vegetarian diet.

So there we have it - gems of wisdom from those who have travelled the road to longevity, and still show no signs of packing up just yet. All six share several commonalities that we can adopt.

  1. None of them are obese.
  2. They are careful about their diet.
  3. They live simple lives.
  4. They follow a regime of daily exercise.
  5. They have a positive outlook on life.
  6. They have a desire to learn.
  7. They harbour no ill feelings towards anyone.
  8. They have a purpose, a passion that drives them.
  9. They do not think of themselves as 'old'.
  10. All of them enjoy the company of family and friends.
Here's to good health, good cheer and good company in our retirement years.

(Above: With another inspiring role model - Henry Lim, 85, founder of the Gerontological Society of Singapore. The photo was taken at the Asia-Pacific Conference on Ageing held on 25-26 March 2011.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

TAKE HEED, DURIAN LOVERS

Six-time Mr Asia Datuk Abdul Malek Noor, 54, suffered a heart attack last Wednesday while participating in a charity football match in Ipoh. There was speculation that the durian he consumed before the match could have triggered off the heart attack. The man himself denied that the fruit had anything to do with his clogged arteries. How would he know for sure?

Last July, Sibuti MP Ahmad Lai Bujang was hospitalized when he collapsed after consuming a feast of mutton and durian. His medical records revealed he has hypertension.

Three days ago, my mother who is on medication for her heart threw up in bed. She had eaten durian for dessert after dinner. On hindsight we should have not have allowed her to help herself to the fruit. This is a lesson learned. Ignorance is certainly not bliss in this case.

I brought the matter up with my mom's cardiologist at his clinic yesterday morning. He had done an angioplasty on her on 8 March. He was horrified that I had allowed her to take durian. He said although no research has been done on the link between durian and heart attacks, he had seen several patients who had complained of acute cardiac discomfort after consuming durian.

A scary durian episode for all three who, fortunately, are none the worse for the experience. (Top four photos: The Star & The New Straits Times)
My Google search revealed that people who have high blood pressure, hypertension and diabetes should avoid taking durian. The Chinese believe that one should not eat durian with alcohol or mutton or other “heaty” food. The traditional practice is to eat durian with mangosteen which is cooling, and wash it down with Chinese tea.

Most of these claims are not backed by scientific studies, so how much to eat, and what should or shouldn't you combine durian with, is a matter of individual choice. The bottom line is this: are you prepared to take risks with your health?

My personal experience with eating durian is I get a bloated feeling if I eat more than 10 seeds. I suppose one has to know one's limits.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

WHEN I'M 64...

(The article below is contributed by Linda Toh, who writes about her recent reunion with her former classmates of Convent JB.)

This year is a very significant year for the convent girls from Johor Baru who left school in 1964 after completing their Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE). Significant because they will be celebrating their 64th birthday this year.........32 of the classmates met in a hotel in JB recently to renew their friendship and their theme song aptly chosen was the famous Beatles song ”When I’m 64”.

It was good meeting up with our old friends. The last time we met was four years ago. Needless to say we needed the help of name tags to identify our friends for Time had not only rearranged our faces but also our figures. One of my friends came up and told me that she would like to remember me when I was 17 years old in school. I was tall and willowy and if there was a strong wind it would blow me away. Alas today with my present figure it would a tornado to do the same. We laughed on this matter.

Our programme began with the Master of Ceremonies introducing all of us as our memory of classmates needed jolting. There were oh’s and ah’s as names were mentioned. Then it was sweet confession time. Only a handful of us like Kee Soon, Sin Foong and our ex head girl Ah Yew were still working. The rest were retirees. Wan Esah who has 6 children has 20 grandchildren was proclaimed the winner of being the most productive. Soon Moi who battled against breast cancer is now an active social worker for a hospital and volunteers her time advising those who are about to go for breast cancer operations and are fearful about the future. She is also good with her hands and each of us got a handmade hair band as a door gift.

Happy 64th Birthday to these lovely ladies!
Elizabeth had all us laughing in stitches when she took the floor and told us about her journey as a single mother. She became a widow when her husband died in an accident at the tender age of 27 and had two sons aged 6 and 7 to bring up. She did not wallow in self pity. She was a teacher and after school hours she gave tuition. Her reputation as a tuition teacher was so good that she had students on the waiting list. She worked hard and today both her sons are chemical engineers. What a tremendous feat!

Then there were invitations. Teng Siew who now lives in Washington offered to bring us around if we ever went there. Kok Kheng now residing in Auckland also made the same offer. While updating the paths that were taken by our ex classmates, there were many anxious mothers who tried to advertise the availability of their unmarried children. “I have two eligible daughters,” said one anxious mother, and yet another retorted, “I have 3 eligible sons.” “Photos, photos!” shouted another, “we want to see their photos”. We laughed over this, knowing that our children will not take too kindly to our attempts to match-make them!

Food was served and as we ate, we exchanged photos of our loved ones. We mingled around as we exchanged e-mail and Facebook contact. There were constant peals of laughter from the three tables. We then took group photographs. The MC Jane invited us to share stories of our Convent days. We remembered how her bag was thrown out of class by the teacher for some misbehaviour and how another classmate went to her rescue. She explained the situation and got Jane off the hook. Along memory lane we reminisced the fear we had in our maths teacher. God bless her soul. Sadly we thought of a few of our classmates who have passed away. We basked in the glory of two of our classmates who became doctors and two who became professors.

The girls from Convent JB, Class of 1964 at the reunion. Click on picture to enlarge.
Mariam and Siti Fatimah remembered with fondness how every Wednesday we would have singing lessons. We sat on the floor, around the piano as Mrs Selvarajah, now a famous writer of cook books and residing in Australia, (Carol, if you read this please contact us) taught us songs which up to today are etched in our memory. The repertoire included oldies like Annie Laurie, Drink to me only with thine eyes, I‘ll take you home again, Kathleen and all the Xmas carols. The Xmas carols were important because just before school was dismissed in December, all students had to bring two gifts to donate to the poor. As we sang the carols we walked up to the Nativity scene and placed our presents there. It was a sight to behold - all the pupils, regardless of race and religion, bearing the gifts.

We remembered our visits to the chapel, a quaint room upstairs where during examination time it was frequently visited as the students sought for divine help. And yes we remembered the nuns not for their lessons in daily subjects but for the way they taught us manners. They would not stand for misbehaviour. The nuns churned out students who not only excelled in studies but also etiquette. They prepared us for the real harsh world that we were going to enter after leaving the convent school. Oh those good old convent days!

The next activity was line dancing. After exercising our jaws and pigging out we needed to lose the calories that we had put on. Our classmates Pau Lin and Nancy taught us simple line dances because not all were familiar with the steps. Lucy surprised us with her dance moves. Four years ago she only had left feet! After some time the ladies did their own version of dancing. It was good to see them doing the cha cha, rumba and waltz.

All too soon it was time to call it a day We had been letting our hair down from 10 am and it was almost 4 pm. There were long journeys to be made. Five had come from Singapore, two from Batu Pahat, and one from Seremban. Those who had settled abroad still had some of their family members in Johor Baru. They made this trip as it coincided with Chinese New Year. The farewells were made and a promise that we would meet again in two years’ time. This time we told the committee that we would like to go for a short cruise together or even take a short trip to Malaysia and stay in a hotel. We also said that we would try and contact the missing 30+ ex classmates so that the next get-together would be a more meaningful one.

If anyone reading this is a classmate and would like to make contact, please email the writer at Tolinda@streamyx.com. Before we parted we thanked the committee for their arduous task in making this get-together a success. We appreciated the trouble they took to get the names and addresses of all of us.

And so the 1964 Convent girls from JB bade farewell... There were lots of hugs and take care reminders....2013 we will meet again, God willing.