Wednesday, April 30, 2014


A recent death in the family has prompted me to write this blog post about Soo Ewe Jin and his journey with cancer.

For your information, Ewe Jin is a long-time columnist and executive editor with The Star. His weekly column Sunday Starters appears in The Sunday Star. I make it a point to read his column. His articles always carry a positive message. His recent article "Sow love where there is hate" is no different. The article also marks the 15th year of his journey with cancer.

From The Sunday Star 20 April, 2014

Ewe Jin is a cancer survivor with a mission - to share his personal challenges and triumphs in battling the big C. I first read his booklet about his journey with cancer many years ago. I have not met Ewe Jin, but have exchanged emails with him. He was kind enough to send me two copies of his booklet last year, one of which I gave to a friend who was going through chemotherapy at the time.

I have written about Ewe Jin before in a blog post "Face to Face with Cancer" It contains excerpts from his booklet, as well links to his blog and to his e-booklet for free downloading. Do share the link with anyone you know who may find some comfort in knowing that they are not alone, that they can draw courage and strength from Ewe Jin's personal stories.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


US President Obama begins his 3-day visit to Malaysia today (26-28 April, 2014). The last time a US president visited Malaysia was in 1966 when President LB Johnson paid a 20-hour whirlwind visit.

In conjunction with President Obama's visit, the Star published an article ("It was the good old swinging 60s") that will surely resonate with those of us who grew up in the 1960s. To many of us, those were the most carefree years of our lives. We were young then, with no cares in the world except to study and do well in our exams. The joy and stress of raising a family and the pressures of working life were yet to descend upon us.

The Star, 25 April 2014

What was life back then in the 60s? If you are now in your 50s, 60s or early 70s, the images below will stir up poignant memories of an era long gone but not forgotten. Here's a glimpse into the past.

I bet many of us still keep some currency note and coins of the 1960s. A dollar then could buy us a good lunch. Bank Negara launched the local currency notes in 1967, but it was only in 1996 that the $ sign was replaced with RM.

Inflation was an alien word in the 60s, virtually unheard of during my high school years from 1960-1964. 50 cents pocket money was all my mom gave me but it was enough to get me a plate of nasi lemak or a bowl of noodles at the school tuck-shop, a glass of syrup drink and a piece of fruit. I still had money left to buy sweets or save.

My ex-classmates and I with our bicycles in 1962.

Pedal power ruled the day. My friends and I went everywhere by bicycle. Festive seasons would find us cycling in groups to visit our Malay, Indian and Chinese friends. Those who didn't cycle would take a trishaw to their destination. I recall my uncle taking us for an evening spin around Batu Pahat in a trishaw. The ride around town cost him only one dollar. It was a treat as not many families then could afford a car to cruise around town.

The UK and the US dominated the youth fashion scene. We were very much influenced by what teenagers there wore, and they in turn were faithful fashion followers of their teen idols of the time. My wardrobe then consisted of mini-skirts, hot pants, huge flora ties and colorful fancy stockings. Woodstock 1969 spun a new fashion fad - the hippie cum flower child look. Bell bottoms were in, so were tie-dyed tees and gypsy skirts. My wardrobe changed accordingly.

As for hair style, the boys either spotted the bowl-cut Beatles style or the pompadour a la Elvis Presley. While the guys heaped Brylcream on their hair, the girls teased their hair into huge 'beehives' kept in place with generous amounts of hair spray. The hippies would let their hair grow long and adorn their hair with flowers. Others opted for the Afro hair-do. The clean-cut Gary Grant look of the 50s was uncool, and definitely OUT.

Teen Idols of the 60s made a huge impact on the music we listened to. We followed religiously the UK and US hit parades like BBC's Top of the Pops and the American Billboard Top 20. Music genres ran the whole gamut from romantic ballads to acid-rock, from musicians like Neil Sedaka to Jimi Hndrix. Pop groups also dominated the teen music scene. We enjoyed songs by The Carpenters, The Animals and The Rolling Stones. We swooned over boy bands like The Monkees and Herman's Hermits. Later, we added Santana, James Taylor and The Who to our fave list. Our music taste was certainly eclectic!

Some of our teenage idols

We bought EPs and LPs and played them on our turntables at home. Coffee shops had jukeboxes. For 20 cents a selection, we could listen to the current hits of the time. I painstakingly copied the lyrics of hundreds of songs, and sang them aloud in the privacy of my room.

The radio stations had programs where you could dedicate songs to your friends. I remember DJs Constance Haslam, Vicky Skelchy and Patrick Teoh announcing names like "Elvis Rocky Tan dedicates the next song to Lulu Sandra Lim". We gave ourselves names after our favorite pop idol.

The songs we listened to all came from gadgets similar to those below. No such thing as a remote control. Gadgets then were heavy or bulky. There was nothing we could carry with us in our handbags or pockets for easy listening or viewing.

As teenagers we loved to dance. We had dance parties where the boys would sit on one side of the dance floor, and the girls on the other. The boys would pluck up courage to walk over and ask the girls to dance. Such gentlemen! The wallflowers were those girls who never got asked.

The Twist, the Jive and the Limbo Rock were staples at any dance party. Strangely enough, off-beat cha cha and a-go-go seemed to be popular mainly in the south-east Asian region.

So, how many of these throwbacks to the 60s do you remember? If you miss the music and the dances of the era, come and join us at SeniorsAloud's party of the year. Relive the good old days and share fond memories with old and new friends.

Contact Lily at +6012-306 8291 to book a seat or a table. The event is almost fully booked. Click here for more details.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


One of the best things about retirement is having the time and money to travel. In the old days (was it that long ago?) it took us years to save enough for the airfare and hotel accommodation, and that only to nearby places. Travelling to distant and exotic places was a pipe dream for many of us.

Retirees now form the largest group of travellers and tourists, thanks to budget airlines and seniors discounts. The world is literally at our feet. There was a time when Malaysian passport holders were not allowed to visit several countries, including China. Now only one remains out of bounds to us - Israel.

My first trip abroad was to India and Nepal in 1975. I backpacked on my own for almost a month, roughing it out in cheap hotels in Bombay, Delhi and Kathmandu, and surviving on snacks and sandwiches to stretch my limited resources.

I was in my late 20s then. At that age, you can travel light, and put up with any amount of discomfort, like cold showers in winter and bare beds to sleep on. But when you are in your 60s or 70s, packing for a holiday abroad can involve a lot of planning, especially if you have some health issues to deal with.

Nothing like some sound advice from doctors on what to bring along when you travel if you have health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The travel tips below are extracted from the Straits Times article "Flying Tips for the Elderly" published on April 10, 2014. (Sources: Dr Lim Si Ching, a consultant at Changi General Hospital's department of geriatric medicine, and Dr Raymond Choy, a general practitioner at the Raffles Medical Changi Airport.)


Senior travellers should always take along their routine medication such as those for high blood pressure and diabetes; and inhalers for asthmatic patients. Have a list that spells out health conditions, medication and drug allergies, in case of emergencies.

It is also good to travel with paracetamol for pain or fever; pills for diarrhoea, motion sickness and the common cold; and wound care kits.

Get international medical coverage in case treatment is needed abroad.
You can get good seniors discount at the bi-annual MATTA FAIR. Watch out for the next one later this year.

Before flying
1. Request for an aisle seat near the toilet for convenience.
2. If possible, travel in a group or with a younger person.
3. Get a pre-travel check-up and go for the appropriate vaccinations.
4. Buy low-dose medication for anxiety and motion sickness, if needed.
5. Get adequate travel insurance coverage.
6. Pack your medication and your usual aids in your hand luggage.

On the plane

1. If you use hearing aids, lower the volume during take-off and landing to avoid ear damage from aircraft noise.
2. Avoid carbonated drinks and gas-producing foods such as onion, cauliflower, cabbage and baked beans.
3. Avoid or limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine during long flights.
4. Move around often. A trip to the bathroom every two to three hours will keep the circulation going.
5. Contract the leg muscles periodically, for instance by flexing your feet, to alleviate discomfort,fatigue and stiffness.

1. Elderly travellers can pack a small face moisturiser or cream into their hand luggage to mitigate the cold and dry air on board.
2. Diabetic passengers can also pack a sugary drink or chocolate bar in case of low blood sugar.
3. Elderly travellers should avoid alcohol before departure as it dehydrates and interferes with sleep.
4. Wear special compression stockings to prevent clots forming in the legs, especially for those at risk.
5. Drink plenty of water and move around often on board.

1. People with cardiovascular diseases such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, or those who have suffered a heart attack or undergone heart surgery recently, should not travel without the doctor's clearance.
2. Those who have had a heart attack, for instance, should not travel until at least three months later, as the risk of developing another heart attack is higher due to low oxygen levels.
3. Elderly people with lung problems, such as uncontrolled asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are also advised to seek medical advice before flying.
4. Those with acute ear or sinus infections should avoid flying in case of earache, hearing loss, vertigo and tinnitus.

Uncle Xavier in Tibet, 1990
My Uncle Xavier who turns 81 this year is an intrepid traveller. If you name a country, he has probably been there. A heart by-pass has not killed off the travel bug in him. He prefers destinations that are off the beaten track, like Machu Picchu and Pyongyang. A backpack is all he needs when he is on the road.

I certainly wouldn't encourage any octogenarian or anyone with a heart condition to follow in my uncle's travel footsteps. My uncle is made of tough material. The spirit of adventure in him is incredibly strong.

If your next trip is coming up soon, make sure you plan well and follow the good doctors' advice above. Happy Travelling!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Baby boomers are looking much younger than their age these days. 60 is the new 40, they say, thanks in part to cosmetic aids and medical advances.

However, there are certain parts of the body that reveal our real age, that no amount of clever cosmetic tricks will cover up for long. Let's leave aside surgical procedures that enhance one's physical appearance. After all, how many of us have the financial resources to go down that route to looking 'youthful'? Not many.

This post is dedicated to those among us to whom "60 is the new 40" does NOT apply. We look our age, and for some, even older than our age.

10 body parts that betray our age, in no particular order.

1. Face
No prizes if you got this right. The lines on our face tell the truth - that we are no spring chicks. More like autumn hens, if you know what I mean.

2. Knees and elbows
From years of wear and tear, the skin covering these joints resemble the roughness and toughness of elephant skin.

3. Skin
Like the migratory birds that fly south during the winter months, our skin goes south too. Unfortunately for us, it is a permanent southward migration. In old age, our skin loses its elasticity and literally 'hangs loose'.

4. Eyes
From 'Dreamy Eyes' to 'Droopy Eyes'. If only we could iron out those laughter lines or 'crow feet' that surface each time we laugh out loud.

5. Neck
Now you know why older women wear scarves or opt for clothes with a high collar. The dreaded 'turkey neck' syndrome afflicts all of us, sooner or later.

6. Hands
Unless we wear gloves all the time, there is no way we can hide our wrinkled, gnarled hands. They are a dead giveaway of our age.

7. Hair
Not only does our hair turn grey, silver, white, it goes into free-fall whenever we brush it. The horror of removing clumps of hair from the hair brush and from the bathroom floor. Yikes!

8. Teeth
The number dwindles with advancing age. Only solution - dentures or implants. That explains why most older folks prefer soft foods!

9. Breasts
This affects women more than men. No longer firm and perky, the breasts now swing freely and resemble papayas.

This body part in older men spends more time hanging down than pointing up. Fortunately, the little blue pill comes in handy, and is a sex-life-saver.

The funny side of ageing - developing a sense of humor helps to keep us young in spirit
For a peek at some nude paintings that captures the way our body really looks, click here.

Depressing, isn't it? We miss how we used to look. No wonder many of us avoid looking in the mirror, especially a full-length one. The years do take a toll on our body.

Looking great has a lot to do with feeling great. It's more important to remain young at heart and in spirit than looking young in appearance.

Here are some great tips on how we can do just that, courtesy of Audrey Hepburn.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The Star 3 April, 2014
The Star columnist Anthony Thanasagan's article drew attention to the hardship of the elderly and the disabled. They are among the most vulnerable groups affected by the current water crisis. Now into its second month, the situation shows no sign of improving despite the almost daily rainfall which the authorities claim 'doesn't fall in the catchment area'.

I recall during the last water rationing, I had to carry pails of water up three flights of stairs to my walk-up apartment to fill the containers so that my mom and I could have water to drink, cook, bathe and flush. It was certainly a strain on the muscles and on the heart. My colleague at the time told me that the residents in her condo apartments had to resort to drawing water from their swimming pool!

The images below highlight the plight of the elderly, especially those living alone in walk-up apartments. They don't have the strength to lift large pails of water, much less carry them all the way up to their apartments. They will have to rely on help from their younger neighbours.

The elderly coping with the back-breaking chore of carrying water to their homes. Source:Internet images)

What about the elderly in nursing homes and similar establishments? I received a distress call two days ago from my mom's Homecare Centre in Tanjong Panglima Garang, Klang. The nurse manager was in panic mode. The taps had gone dry. With 15 elderly residents to look after, she was understandably concerned about ensuring there was sufficient water to maintain hygienic standards for the activities of daily living (ADLs). The centre's proposed solution was to request family members to take their mother home until the water situation improved.

Lugging heavy pails of water from the supply tanker to the Homecare centre. Backbreaking even for the young staff.

We all share the frustration expressed in this letter below published in The Star on 8 April. Prolonged dry season aside, we should not be experiencing such a critical water crisis. We live in the equatorial zone where there is rain all year round, even during the 'dry' inter-monsoon season. It's poor water management and conservation, plus politics that has left the entire country in the throes of water woes.

The Star 8 April 2014

Taking showers is a luxury now. It's back to mandi kerbau, limiting the number of scoops of water for each family member. The other day I had to sparingly use mineral water to brush my teeth and wash my face, as I had completely run out of water at home. I also had to fill the water cistern with bottles of mineral water in order to flush after using the toilet. An expensive flush indeed!

Those with big families and those who depend on a regular supply of water to run their business must be facing daily challenges making sure there is sufficient water supply for their needs. But some areas in the Klang Valley are assured of water 24/7. These areas, according to the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) are:

  • Putrajaya (Federal govt administrative centre)
  • Shah Alam (Selangor state govt administrative centre)
  • KL City Centre
  • KL International Airport (KLIA)
  • Subang Airport
  • Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ)
  • free trading zones
  • hospitals (public & private)
  • dialysis centres

Similar notices like this one are pasted in condominiums as a reminder to the residents. (Source: Straits Times)

To date, more than 700,000 households comprising 2.5 million people are affected. The number is expected to increase when water rationing is extended to other parts of the country.

Teaching the young to value water
The older generation has lived through water crises before. We have learned to use water sparingly. It is the young ones like our grandchildren who are now learning the importance of conserving water. No more playing with water while taking showers, or letting the water run while brushing their teeth.

It is in times like this that we learn how precious water is. Whatever God or Nature has given us, let us value it, conserve it and appreciate it. Love our environment and care for it.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Retirement planning encompasses much more than just ensuring we have enough set aside to sustain our retirement. For retirees and soon-to-be retirees, it is the bread-and-butter issues that concern us most. Given the longer life span (84 for men, 89 for women),  and our relatively early retirement age of 60 (in Malaysia), our retirement savings will likely run out before we expire!

The past, the present, and the future are all inextricably linked. We should do well to bear this in mind when planning for our retirement. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to think that now is too soon to plan for our retirement. Another mistake is to live just for the present, as if the future would magically take care of itself.

Depending on where we retire to, and the lifestyle we want to live, we need between one to five million ringgit in order to retire comfortably. It takes time to accumulate such a large sum of money. The earlier we get started, the more likely we can reach the target. This is good advice to share with our adult children who are more concerned about planning for their children's higher education than for their future old age.

Civil servants can count on their lifelong pensions. But with inflation pushing up the cost of living, relying on pensions alone may not be enough. The government has to step in and raise pensions every few years. This may not be sustainable over time as the large civil service (1.4 million and growing by tens of thousands each year) places a huge strain on public funds.

The same goes for salaried workers who may have only their EPF funds to draw from when they retire. As for the self-employed, unless their business is doing well, they have the most cause for concern. The government recently introduced the 1Malaysia Retirement Savings Scheme as a source of funds for the self-employed, but the take-up has been slow.

How can we prepare for our retirement?

1. Decide on your retirement lifestyle
Start by asking yourself what kind of lifestyle you expect to enjoy when you retire. Make adjustments to your lifestyle if necessary. How much would you need to support that lifestyle? If you haven’t a clue, there are financial planners who can draw up a comprehensive retirement plan for you, for a fee, of course.

2. Adopt sensible spending habits
Prioritize your needs. You don't have to live frugally, but be sensible in your spending. If you can't afford to take the family on a vacation abroad every school holiday, opt for a local destination or for a biennial holiday trip. You’ll be surprised how cutting out small expenses here and there can mean more money saved each month. It can add up to a sizable amount in your retirement savings over time.

3. Know what to allocate for
Otherwise you can use retirement calculators that are available online to help you estimate the amount you will need to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Remember to allocate for your parents and grandparents. With longer life expectancy, you may end up having to support them and footing their medical bills. With the trend towards smaller families, you may not have many siblings to split the cost of parental maintenance with you.

4. Identify your sources of income.
Do a check-list on your sources of income. If you are already retired, you will have your pension or EPF to draw from. There’s also your personal savings, dividends from your shares and interests from your fixed deposits. If you start building your retirement egg early, you will have little to worry about when you stop working.

If you want to grow your retirement egg, channel some of your savings into fixed deposits, bonds and mutual funds. Or invest in shares. But do the research before you venture into the stock market. Know the risks you are exposed to. The higher the promised returns, the greater the risk of losing your investment. Learn about all the different types of financial products that you can invest in. Be an informed investor. Also be a long-term investor rather than a short-term speculator. You can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your assets, monetary or otherwise.

5. Own the title deeds to your home.
Make sure you have a residential property that is in your name. That should be your first real estate investment. You may choose to live in it or rent it out but when you retire, you must have a roof over your head. Don’t assume your adult children will want you to move in with them. Even if they do, you have an option if you have your own property.

6. Pay attention to your health
Financial security isn’t the only key ingredient for a successful retirement. Some people would argue that good health is even more important. You can’t enjoy your retirement if you are constantly in poor health and in pain. Rising healthcare costs can swallow up a huge chunk of your savings and wreck your carefully laid-out plans for retirement. Health supplements are costly, so are prescription drugs. Many of these have to be taken long-term to manage cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and dementia – the bane of old age.

Senior citizens doing early morning exercises in the park

7. Make active ageing your mantra
Prevention is anytime cheaper than cure, so lay a strong foundation for good health by adopting clean living and an active lifestyle. Clean living means no addiction of any kind, be it drug-taking, drinking or smoking. An active lifestyle requires that you incorporate exercise into your daily routine. If running is not your cup of tea, brisk walking is an excellent alternative. Get a pedometer to make sure you walk at least 10,000 steps a day.

8. Acquire new knowledge
To stay mentally fit, challenge yourself by learning new skills. If you are 50plus, consider signing up for non-academic courses at the University of the Third Age. (U3A) Malaysia. It is a program under the "Lifelong Learning for Older Malaysians" project initiated by the Institute of Gerontology, Universiti Putra Malaysia, and jointly supported by the government and the United Nations Population Fund. Classes are conducted weekly at UPM.

9. Take up a hobby or two
If you don’t fancy attending classes, take up a hobby or two – one that you can indulge in on your own, like painting, and the other that you can enjoy with friends, like ballroom dancing. It is important to stay connected with friends to ward off loneliness and depression during your retirement.

10. Find your passion
Most importantly, have a purpose for living. If life has no meaning, you will end up with nothing to look forward to when you wake up each morning. Find your passion. It could be volunteering for an NGO, doing your bit for a worthy cause, or just being the best parent, friend or employee that you can be. Add value to your life, and to those around you.

Kechara volunteers helping to pack and distribute food packages and blankets to the homeless 

Some final thoughts: Women face a tougher time than men in preparing for their retirement. Not only do they earn less, they also retire earlier and live longer. If they are single, they have no spouse or adult children to support them through their retirement. For them, it can never be too early to start preparing for their retirement.