Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ARE OUR VOICES NOT LOUD ENOUGH? OR IS THE PM HARD OF HEARING?

Does walking peacefully to support a cause we believe in constitute an illegal street protest?
'Yes!' according to the Peaceful Assembly Bill that was passed by Parliament yesterday.
It's so very disheartening to know that despite all the protests from a good cross-section of the people, Parliament has decided to pass the Peaceful Assembly Bill yesterday. This bill was introduced and bulldozed through with such lightning speed that one can't help but suspect the government wants all restrictive laws to be in place before the 13th General Elections in order to silence any voices of dissent. A preventive measure just in case?

The people haven't occupied Parliament - yet. But we can do it through our vote. Vote in the right people to speak out for us, people who will have OUR interests at heart.
There were no consultative meetings whatsoever with the people to get their feedback. And when the people offered their views regardless, the government chose to ignore them. Instead it sent out armed police forces to stop the people, and called the walk 'illegal' because the organisers did not apply for a police permit.

Above: (left) Spotted this grandma and her daughter in the crowd,
(right) a small group of orang asal also turned up to show thier support.

Last night I attended a forum at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and came away with renewed faith in people power. Everyone of us citizens has the right to vote. Please exercise this right to choose our next government.

Hishamuddin Rais (far left) spoke about the 'procedural democracy' that the government practises. I hope somebody taped his speech and uploaded it on YouTube. The ex-ISA detainee certainly has the guts to tell it as it is. "You will never win over the kampung folks unless you speak their language which is NOT English!" he tells the mainly English-speaking audience.

Many of us don't take our voting rights seriously. Either we are indifferent or feel that our votes don't make a difference anyway, so why bother? The truth is, every vote counts in the final tally. It's like one mark in an exam paper can decide a pass or a fail grade. The same with our vote. It may decide if a candidate wins or loses, and ultimately, who forms the next government.

The crowd dispersing peacefully after the walk. Unfortunately when the Opposition MPs staged a walkout in protest during the Parliament session to debate the Bill later that evening, they were in fact giving the BN MPs the go-ahead to pass it.

The PM and the VPM at the 2011 UMNO
Assembly. Source: Bernama
The PM has already sounded the first battle call for preparedness at the UMNO assembly yesterday, and the VPM has called the coming 13th general election "the mother of all elections", a make-or-break, do-or-die for the Malays. Stirring up racial sentiments again? Using the fear tactic again?

If you feel the current government has done much for the people, and you have faith it will continue to do even more good for the rakyat in the next five years, by all means vote the same people into power again.

But if you feel the government has consistently shown a poor track record especially in spending our money, and cannot be trusted to keep their promises, then it is time to boot them out. This is your prerogative as a citizen. You have the power of your vote. Exercise it.

Click here to check your voter information.

Register as a voter, if you haven't yet. If you have, check that you are registered in the right constituency.

For more photos of Walk4Freedom, please check out my FB page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/fu.lily

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

WALK FOR FREEDOM


See you there!

Monday, November 28, 2011

NEW LIFE FOR OLD BUILDINGS

Penang has many lovely old homes like this one.
Just back from a lovely weekend in Penang. I was there to attend the 3rd annual Wawasan Open University (WOU) Tutors Convention. What I love about Penang besides the hawker food and the friendly people are the old mansions that dot the island. Many of them have been converted into up-market restaurants or nursing homes. I wonder if the back story to this is a decline in family fortune and thus the need to sell off the property. A pity.

My first sight of WOU left me gaping in wonder and awe. How could this be a university? It looked more like a family mansion belonging to some rich towkay (Chinese tycoon).

A closer look at the statue in front of the building confirmed this. Named 'Homestead', it was home to the family of Yeap Chor Ee who lived here till 2006 when it was bequeathed to the Wawasan Education Foundation (WEF). Chairman of WEF is Datuk Seri Stephen Yeap, eldest grandson of Yeap Chor Ee. For more of the building's history, click here.
The majestic Homestead in the foreground. The blue exterior of the new extension spoils
the postcard-perfect beauty of the old colonial mansion.
Marble floor and stairs leading up to the first floor that houses the Chancellor's
and Vice-Chancellor's offices. Notice the two statuettes flanking the stairs.
Looking down on the lobby from the top of the stairs.
Leather armchairs and sofa that visitors can sink into.


Top: (left) one of the carpeted corridors and (right) an ornate door knocker on the front door. Above: The back of the university faces the beach. Students and visitors can enjoy
the scenery and cool sea breeze at one of these garden corners.
As I explored the interior of Homestead, I was immediately reminded of Le Coq D'or or Bok House named after its owner Chua Cheng Bok. Built in 1929, the mansion was converted into a French restaurant in 1958. I remember going there for dinner in the 1980s. Unfortunately, despite strong protests from Badan Warisan Malaysia (The Heritage of Malaysia Trust), the building was demolished in 2006 to make way for a 60-storey mixed development project.

Le Coq D'or as I remember it before it was demolished in 2006.

It was heart-breaking to see the bulldozers tearing down the mansion stone by stone,
wall by wall till there was nothing left to remind us of its heydays when people
would flock here for fine dining.
Loke Mansion is another colonial building that boasts a colourful chequered past. Built in 1860, it was the home of a rich Chinese merchant, Cheow Ah Yeok. When he fell on hard times, he sold the house to Loke Yew. Loke Yew’s son, the cinema magnate Datuk Loke Wan Tho, was born there. The family stayed on till the 1930s. In 1942 during the Japanese Occupation, the building was used by the Japanese forces as one of its headquarters.

Loke Mansion now houses the offices of a law firm. Let's hope the bulldozers will never
tear down this building.
In 1945 when the Japanese left, it was turned into a school and in 1948 into a police training centre during the Communist Emergency. In 1970 it became the Samad Art Gallery. It reverted to an educational institution in the 1990s when the LimKokWing School took over. Today the law firm of Cheang and Ariff occupies the premises. To read more, click here.

Badan Warisan Malaysia is on a mission to ensure the survival of our built heritage.
It's always sad to read that places you used to visit in your younger days are now just memories of the past. Many of these places have rich stories to tell. Old buildings especially those that occupy prime land will inevitably end up earmarked as sites for new high-rise condominiums or office blocks. Unless the voices of protest are loud enough to be heard, developers will continue with their relentless march to demolish old buildings and replace them with the new in the name of progress.

Update: By coincidence, the Straits Times of Singapore came up with a report today (29 Nov) entitled "URA explains its conservation policy" in which the Urban Redevelopment Authority clarifies its guidelines for conserving privately-owned properties. Owners must observe these guidelines or they are liable to be fined up to S$200,000 and jail terms of up to a year or both.

Source: Straits Times
The entire building must be retained and restored, and only the interior can be restored. One excellent example is Boat Quay. Better known as Clarke Quay, this commercial complex comprises 231 buildings that have been converted into mostly restaurants and bars.

Since 1989, the URA has conserved 7,091 buildings, but only about half have been restored to standards set for those areas. The rest remain on-going projects.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

REDISCOVERING THE PENANG OF OLD

Penang is always worth a visit. If you don't want to drive up from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, take the Aeroline bus. It's a cheaper and faster option than taking the day or night train. The fare from KL is Rm60. The service is good with hot drinks and snacks served enroute. The journey takes five hours with a 20-minute rest stop mid-way.

But once you are in Penang, getting around can be a pain. Taxi drivers here don't use the meter, so fares quoted are arbitrary and on the high end. I paid Rm30 for the 10-minute ride from the bus terminal at Sungei Nibong to Evergreen Laurel Hotel along Persiaran Gurney. Although public transportation has improved tremendously with the introduction of RapidPenang buses, you have to be familiar with the bus routes and schedules to enjoy exploring Penang by bus.

The skyline has changed drastically over the past few years. There are now more high rise luxury condominiums and shopping malls that can rival those in KL. Thankfully, visitors can still find the old Penang behind the modern facade of the island city of Georgetown.

A stroll along Penang Street takes one back to the old days when mama and
papa shops like this one were a ubiquitous sight. The wide assortment of
products sold in these shops boggles the mind.
Itinerant street vendors like this rojak (Malaysian salad) man above are a
dying breed in the cities. He was actually taking a nap when I photographed
him. Business must be slow in the hot afternoon.
The famous Penang 'char kwei teow' or fried white noodles with 
bean sprouts and prawns.A real culinary treat at only Rm4 a plate. 
This place was highly recommended by our taxi driver.
Making coffee and toasting bread the old-fashioned way at a kopitiam in one of the alleys.
The last time I saw a scene like this was in the 1950s during my primary school days!
THIS is the genuine black coffee and toast, served the original old town kopitiam style.
Only Rm4 for all - real value for money.
Dinner at Gurney Drive is a must. A haven for food-lovers who enjoy hawker fare.
Stall selling boiled squid and clams with water convolbus (kangkong) and served 
with chilly sauce if you like it spicy.
Indian rojak - a mouth-watering selection, just pick what you like.
A police patrol van passing by. A whole kilometre of parked cars along  Gurney Drive.
And not one jaga kereta boy in sight! Penangites say they now enjoy a new 
 sense of peace and security going for evening walks after dinner..
The state government under Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has earned praise for
his efforts in cleaning up the city, including fighting graft and corruption.
All the taxi drivers and the locals I spoke to had only good things to say about him.
They keep telling me not to believe the negative reports in the mainstream media.
One thing I've learned on my first day here - never ask a local how far Place A is from Place B. Their answer is invariably 'Very far. Can't walk there'. Not true. I have discovered at the end of Day 1 that many of the places I wanted to visit were within a 15-20 minute walk from my hotel. Just think of all that taxi fare I could have saved!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

GRANTING ELDERCARE LEAVE

Photo: Straits Times
Granting employees eldercare leave so they can take their elderly parents for a medical check-up or tend to them at home if they are sick is definitely a step forward in the right direction. It sends out the message that the government cares, and employers care too.

A news report in the Straits Times today quoted Singapore's Health Minister Gan Kim Yong as saying that a government committee on ageing is considering whether to make it compulsory for companies to give elder care leave.

And why not? If young mothers are allowed to take leave to look after their sick children at home, surely the same consideration can be extended to older workers who have to send their elderly parents for a medical examination or a hospital procedure.

Three weeks ago I spent almost an entire day at the hospital with my mother. She had to undergo some tests for her dementia. Being semi-retired, I could take time off to be with my mother throughout the procedure. But what if I were a full-time employee? I can imagine my boss begrudging me the leave.

Granting eldercare leave is not something new in the public sector. Government agencies like the People's Association, the Competition Commission of Singapore, the National Heritage Board, the Health Promotion Board and the Health Sciences Authority have been doing so for a few years now. The Workforce Development Agency was the first government agency to introduce elder care leave in 2004.

These agencies grant up to three days paid eldercare leave a year. The corporate sector is yet to follow suit. Unless the government makes it mandatory for companies to do so, it is unlikely that they will implement such leave of their own accord.

If charity begins at home, corporate social responsibility should begin at the workplace, right?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

VALUE FOR MONEY - VEGETARIAN MEALS AT THE TEMPLE

Yesterday I had one of the best Chinese vegetarian meals ever, and I would be most selfish if I didn't share it here on Seniorsaloud. One of the best kept secrets although I've been told this place has been around for decades. One of the volunteers there asked me to help publicize the food centre. My pleasure!

Best time to be there - before 11.30am. You avoid the lunch time crowd
and the long queues at the cashiers.

The scene at 12pm. Difficult to find a seat unless you are alone. Diners have to clear
their plates and glasses after eating. The staff here are all volunteers.
A vegetarian's paradise! I gave up counting the number of dishes after 40.

A feast for the eyes and stomach, but only if you are a vegetarian. There's
noodles, rojak, salad, etc, too. But the mixed rice stall drew the longest queue.

My modest lunch selection inclusive of clear vegetable soup, dessert of chiku, pineapple,
and a bowl of sweet green beans, a glass of tea plus two cookies for take-away. All for Rm8.
The daily menu at a glance. Breakfast is free but you will have to be there early.
After lunch, walking out along the landscaped garden lined with bamboo. 
Pausing to take in the beauty of the rock garden and mini-waterfall.
And out to busy Jalan Ampang. Would you believe the food centre is
behind this ornate temple just a stone's throw from KLCC?
So now you know where to go for your next vegetarian meal, do spread the word. All for a good cause.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

COMPANIES THAT VALUE OLDER WORKERS

Congratulations to Lam Soon Edible Oils Sdn Bhd for winning the 2011 AARP international award for Best Employer for Workers Over 50. It is the only Malaysian company to win in this category. Other winners include BMW Group (Germany), Daikin (Japan), and Marks and Spencer (UK). There are two winners from Singapore: Raffles Institution and the National Environment Agency. You can read more about the winners and their winning criteria on the AARP International website.

Whang receiving the award from AARP representatives. (Photo: The Star)
Lam Soon has a total of 1456 employees. Of this, 20.1% are aged 50 and above. Says executive chairman, Whang Shang Ying, "We believe older employees possess great experience and are able to contribute significantly to the company. For example, older employees in each function are designated subject matter experts and play a useful role as facilitators and trainers."

That was in 2008. Is the policy still in place at Secret Recipe?
Three years ago Secret Recipe set aside 50 vacancies in its service line for older workers under its CSR programme. A check of the company's website failed to locate any job opportunities targeted for older workers. Has the policy has been discontinued? If yes, why?

For more on the re-employment of older workers in Singapore, click here.


Footnote: AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) was founded in 1958. Over the years AARP has extended its reach to other countries. Today through its Office of International Affairs, AARP seeks to help people live longer, healthier, more financially secure and productive lives by identifying and sharing the best ideas and practices on key policy issues. As a social change organization, AARP works towards fulfilling a vision of a society in which everyone ages with dignity and purpose.