Friday, November 17, 2017

AN INVITATION TO A DIALOGUE WITH TIME


Let's face it - all of us are ageing from the day we are born. Each birthday is a reminder of our mortality. But ageing is not all gloom and doom. Ageing is about living each day in ways that will add to our wellbeing. It is about learning and preparing for the future so that we can avoid the comorbidities and disabilities that often accompany old age. Ageing is very much an individual journey and a personal experience. It begins with embracing ageing, knowing how to cope with the challenges of ageing, and what to do to prepare for the future.

32 seniors aged 65 to 85 were selected and trained as exhibition guides. They will explain the activities and share personal stories and memories.

What better way to learn about ageing than at the Dialogue With Time exhibition currently being held at Science Centre Singapore. I spent two hours there recently in an immersive experiential tour of the exhibition, and came away feeling much more optimistic about the future. Dialogue with Time is an excellent platform to promote awareness of what ageing involves, and what we should do to remain healthy and active in our retirement years. Longevity becomes a bane if the extra years are filled with pain, loneliness and suffering.

In one of the activities in the Blue Room, visitors were asked to choose from a stack of photos one that resonated with them most, and explain their choice. My choice - a happy 3-generation family.

The exhibition is for the entire family. The best time to prepare for the future is now. It starts with the importance of laying an early foundation for successful ageing. That way the retirement years will find us enjoying good health, financial security and happy relationships with family and friends.

Here's a quick tour of the exhibition in pictures.

The first stop to watch a video of little Danielle ageing in all of five minutes! You can view the full video here.



In the Blue Room, senior guides Serene, 66, and Ray, 72, share their favourite memories.

Activity: pick any 5 cards and complete the sentence. We all know many older people who still enjoy learning and still retain a spirit of adventure and a sense of fun.
The Yellow Room where some of the challenges of ageing are highlighted e.g. difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, hearing loss and failing vision.
Want to know what it feels like to move around like an old person? Try walking with 4kg weights strapped to your feet!
More challenging activities: listening to and following instructions, inserting a key into a keyhole and testing your hand-eye coordination.
An opportunity to test my eyes. All good. Hope it stays that way.
The Pink Room where visitors can watch videos of five seniors sharing their experiences on work, love and life in general. Inspiring.
Some of the topics include 'Finding Love Online' and 'Re-employment of Seniors'.
The White Room where visitors can view an interactive video and quiz on 'Future of Ageing' in Singapore, e.g. life expectancy of Singaporeans, number of centenarians in Singapore.
Which one would you choose? Are all of the above important to you?
Singapore's action plan for successful ageing
Happy Years Kopitiam - for a good strong cup of coffee and a chat about the good old days.
Just a small sampling of the exhibits in the science and technology zones that span robotics, assistive devices, telemedicine and much more.
Tried this out and was relieved to hear the strong and regular beat of my heart.
A must-try. Quite fascinating (and scary!) to see how we look as we 'age'. Smoking and UV rays make us age faster, so be warned.
Take note of the nine ingredients for healthy ageing
Remember to pick up a complimentary copy of 'I Feel Young' at the Happy Years Kopitiam
Some of the senior guides with June Chen, (far right), Assistant Manager, Exhibition Group, Science Centre. Thanks for the guided tour of the exhibition.
For more info, click HERE to visit the website

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

LIVING TOGETHER IN GENUINE HARMONY


Sunday mornings used to find me teaching Bible classes in church. That seemed like a lifetime ago. I left when I found my personal belief system and values at odds with the lessons I was conducting in Sunday school. Almost all the major religions claim theirs is the true religion that guarantees salvation for their disciples and followers, but eternal hell and condemnation for all others. They claim too that their religion is the one and only path to God. There are just too many false prophets around trying to convert the naive. I often wonder if all the religious strife in the world today is the result of man's (mis)interpretation of the holy books. I may change my belief systems in future. I don't know. But for now, I believe in universal truths and in the basic goodness that we all have within us.

What triggered my thoughts on this subject was an article published in the Straits Times yesterday (7/Nov/2017) by NUS Prof Tommy Koh who is also Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. He touched on the importance of cultural intelligence as one of at least three kinds of intelligence we need to succeed in life. The others are cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. By cultural intelligence, he means being ready to accept the cultural differences of others in order to make friends and build relationships.

I agree absolutely with him. Diversity is very important to me. I make it a point to seek it in my friends, in my activities and also in my studies. Diversity enriches our experiences, and enhances creativity and innovation. It is sad that in Malaysia today we are seeing a rise in exclusivity, elitism and segregation in our schools and universities, in our workplace and in our social circles. This does not bode well for our future as a nation.


I am also reminded of a National Day speech given by Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2009 where he spoke about the risks of religious fervour in a multi-racial society. What he says is applicable to the Malaysian context too. After all, both countries had a shared history for many years. I reproduce excerpts below taken from the Straits Times. You can also follow the speech on Youtube.

"SO WHAT are these risks? Let me just highlight three of them.

Aggressive preaching - proselytisation. You push your own religion on others, you cause nuisance and offence. You have read in the papers recently about a couple who surreptitiously distributed Christian tracts which were offensive of other faiths, not just of non-Christians but even of Catholics. They were charged and sentenced to jail.

But there are less extreme cases too which can cause problems. We hear, from time to time, complaints about groups trying to convert very ill patients in our hospitals, who don't want to be converted, and who don't want to have the private difficult moments in their lives intruded upon.

Intolerance is another problem - not respecting the beliefs of others or not accommodating others who belong to different religions. You think of this one group versus another group, but sometimes it happens within the same family.


Sometimes we have parents from traditional religions whose children have converted. The parents have asked to be buried according to traditional rites and their children stay away from the funeral or the wake. It's very sad. From a traditional point of view, it's the ultimate unfilial act but it does happen occasionally.

Exclusiveness is a third problem - segregating into separate exclusive circles, not integrating with other faiths. That means you mix with your own people. You'll end up as separate communities.


FOUR BASIC RULES

WE can never take our racial and religious harmony for granted. We must observe some basic principles to keep it the way it is.


First, all groups have to exercise tolerance and restraint. Christians cannot expect this to be a Christian society, Muslims cannot expect this to be a Muslim society. Ditto the Buddhists, the Hindus and the other groups. Many faiths share this island. Each has different teachings, different practices. Rules which only apply to one group cannot become laws which are enforced on everyone. So Muslims don't drink alcohol but alcohol is not banned. Ditto gambling, which many religions disapprove of, but gambling is not banned. All have to adopt 'live and let live' as our principle.

Secondly, we have to keep religion separate from politics. The People's Action Party reminds our candidates, don't bring all the friends from your own religious group. Don't mobilise your church or your temple or your mosque to campaign for you. Bring a multi-racial, multi-religious group of supporters. When you are elected, represent the interest of all your constituents, not just your religious group in Parliament. Speak for all your constituents.

Thirdly, the Government has to remain secular. The Government's authority comes from the people. The laws are passed by Parliament which is elected by the people. They don't come from a sacred book. The Government has to be neutral, fair. We are not against religion. We uphold sound moral values. We hold the ring so that all groups can practise their faiths freely without colliding. That's the way Singapore has to be.

You may ask: Does this mean that religious groups have no views, cannot have views on national issues? Or that religious individuals cannot participate in politics? Obviously not.

Religious groups are free to propagate their teachings on social and moral issues. And obviously many Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists participate in politics. In Parliament, we have people of all faiths. In the Cabinet too. People who have a religion will often have views which are informed by their religious beliefs. It's natural because it's part of you, it's part of your personality.

But you must accept that other groups may have different views informed by different beliefs and you have to accept that and respect that. The public debate cannot be on whose religion is right and whose religion is wrong. It has to be on secular, rational considerations of public interest - what makes sense for Singapore.

The final requirement for us to live peacefully together is to maintain our common space that all Singaporeans share. It has to be neutral and secular because that's the only way all of us can feel at home in Singapore and at ease.
COMMON SPACES

Sharing meals. We have different food requirements. Muslims need halal food. Hindus don't eat beef. Buddhists sometimes are vegetarian. So if we must serve everybody food which is halal, no beef and vegetarian, I think we will have a problem. We will never eat meals together. So there will be halal food on one side, vegetarian food for those who need it, no beef for those who don't eat beef. Let's share a meal together, acknowledging that we are not the same. Don't discourage people from interacting. Don't make it difficult for us to be one people.

Our schools are another example of common space where all races and religions interact. Even in mission schools run by religious groups, the Ministry of Education has set clear rules, so students of all faiths will feel comfortable. You might ask: Why not allow mission schools to introduce prayers or Bible studies as compulsory parts of the school activity or as part of school assembly? Why not? Then why not let those who are not Christian, or don't want a Christian environment, go to a government school or go to a Buddhist school? Well, if they do that, we'll have Christians in Christian schools, Buddhists in Buddhist schools, Muslims in schools with only Muslim children and so on. I think that is not good for Singapore. Therefore, we have rules to keep all our schools secular and the religious groups understand and accept this.

Another example of common space - work. The office environment should be one which all groups feel comfortable with. Staff have to be confident that they will get equal treatment even if they belong to a different faith from their managers - especially in government departments, but in the private sector too. I think it can be done because even religious community service organisations often have people who don't belong to that religion working comfortably and happily together. This is one very important aspect of our meritocratic society.

THIS is an unusually serious and heavy subject for a National Day Rally. Normally, you talk about babies, hongbaos, bonuses. No bonuses tonight but a bonus lecture on a serious subject. We discussed this in Cabinet at length and decided that I should talk about this. I crafted the points carefully, circulated them many times. Different presentations in Mandarin, Malay and English, because different groups have different concerns, but a consistent message so that there's no misunderstanding.


I also invited the religious leaders to come and spend the evening with us tonight. They can help us to help their flocks understand our limitations, to guide them to practise their faiths, taking into account the context of our society. Please teach them accommodation, which is what all faiths teach. I look forward to all the religious groups continuing to do a lot of good work for Singapore for many years to come.

So let us rejoice in our harmony but let us never forget what being a Singaporean means. It's not just tolerating other groups but opening our hearts to all our fellow citizens.

OUR FUTURE
IF WE stay cohesive, then we can overcome our economic challenges and continue to grow. This is how we've transformed Singapore over the last half century - solving problems together, growing together, improving our lives. From the Singapore River to Marina Bay, we've totally transformed Singapore over the last half century. 1959 was a moment of great change but nobody at the Padang in June 1959 imagined the change in today's Singapore. We will continue to improve our lives, provided we work together and remain a harmonious and a cohesive society so that in another 50 years, we would have built another Singapore, which is equally unimaginable today.

The key is to stay united through rain or shine. To live peacefully together, we need good sense and tolerance on all sides, and a willingness to give and take. Otherwise, whatever the rules there will be no end of possible causes of friction."



With the elections looming, it is open season for political campaigners to start their rabble rousing. There will be the loose cannons ever ready to shoot incendiary rhetoric from their mouths without a thought about the damage they are inflicting on our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. There is never a more urgent time to embrace unity in diversity than now.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

WHAT DO SENIOR CITIZENS IN MALAYSIA WANT? (Updated)


As expected, the recent Budget 2018 delivered by the PM last Friday was a huge disappointment for senior citizens and the elderly. Once again, they are given crumbs. So, that begs the question, what can our government offer us older Malaysians to make us happy and looking forward to our retirement years? We have given 30-40 of our prime years in the service of the country. Surely that must merit some recognition and appreciation?

We want an outdoor gym for seniors in every housing estate and public park where we can exercise

Let's start with what we don't want first. We don't want awards and titles, for they benefit only a few selected individuals, not the community. We don't want one-off or annual cash handouts which offer only short-term benefits to the needy. We want genuine senior discounts on groceries, health supplements, fuel and meals, and other essentials.

Above all, we want to be accorded respect and dignity, not ignored or seen as unproductive and a burden to society

We certainly don't want empty pre-election promises of what the government can do or will do for us. We don't want vague references to what it plans to do for seniors. We want details, specifics and deadlines. And if the government doesn't deliver, we have the right to protest, to hold it accountable if it reneges on its word, and to withhold our vote if any of our under-performing ministers should stand for re-election. That's not a threat or a warning, but a straightforward case of cause and effect, action (or non-action) and reaction.

So, what do we want?


Here's a short checklist to begin with for the relevant ministeries to take note of. In no particular order.
  • more elder-friendly facilities in public places e.g. government buildings, parks and hospitals. More benches to rest weary feet, decent public toilets, priority queues for the elderly, etc.
  • a public transport system (and transport hubs) that takes into account the physical limitations of the elderly and OKUs. There has been vast improvement in the MRT-LRT lines, but bus transport and the peripherals suck, and need urgent upgrading.
  • a senior privilege card with genuine discounts that covers items seniors regularly spend on. By 'genuine' we mean 'without a long list of terms and conditions' or means-tested. The govenment should give seniors a discount card similar to the one for university students.
  • well-maintained and fully-equipped senior community centres in every housing area or constituency, not the rundown balai raya that we see at present. 
  • more opportunties for re-training and re-employment of seniors so they can return to the work force to supplement their savings
  • more affordable nursing care for those who require long term care, and well-managed welfare homes for the elderly 
  • lifelong learning programmes similar to that offered at University of the Third Age at UPM Serdang to be extended to more areas 
  • no age discrimination but respect for all seniors, please
An impossible dream?

If you click on any of the links above, you will find that SeniorsAloud has been making these proposals as far back as 2009. We will continue to voice our concerns till we are heard.

To give credit where credit is due, we appreciate the government's efforts in making public healthcare accessible and affordable to seniors. We welcome the discounts for seniors travelling on trains and buses. We also acknowledge the financial assistance given for funeral expenses (!) under the Mesra Usia Emas Scheme and other schemes. 

With seniors making up 8.8% of the population and growing steadily, Malaysia is on its way to becoming an ageing nation in the next 10-15 years. UN defines a country as ageing when 7% of its population is aged 65 and above.

But these provisions are either limited, too slow in implementation, or if already available are not efficiently maintained or managed. Moreover, most of these are concentrated in the Klang Valley. What about in other states? What about in Sabah and Sarawak? What is the govt doing for the wellbeing of the seniors and the elderly in these areas? Is it sufficient?

Each year when the budget is announced, we scan the papers looking for some tiny morsels of good news for seniors, only to be disappointed yet again. To quote from the 11th Malaysia Plan for 2016-20, 'supporting active ageing for the elderly' and 'the government will address the needs of...the elderly'. (The Star 22/5/15). That was two years ago. Has there been signifcant follow-up action? What do you think?

How long do senior citizens and the elderly in Malaysia have to wait before they hear these words from our ministers? Words are cheap, unless they are backed by prompt and effective action.

Our ministers are seniors themselves. Like us, they have elderly parents. The big difference is we are from the grassroots, they are from the ivory towers. One day they too will be elderly. Isn't it time they gave more attention to what senior citizens and the elderly want?

(The above is an updated version of a blog article written in May 2015.)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

FAMILY BONDING THROUGH RUNNING


Congratulations to Mr Kor Hong Fatt, 85, for winning gold in the 10,000m (Men's 85 age group) at the just concluded 20th Asia Masters Athletics Championship (24-28 Sept 2017) in Rugao, China. He is an inspiring role model for the rest of us.

My son-in-law, Dr Ansgar Cheng, 51, was also in the same Masters Championship. He ran in heavy rain to bag a silver in the 5000m in the 50-54 category for men with a time of 17:52. On his first day back at work after returning from Rugao, his clinic staff welcomed him back with a framed photo of him wearing his silver medal. It must have been a lovely surprise for him. He received another round of congratulations later at the CCAB track from his coach Rameshon (below right) and fellow FlexiFitness running mates.


My elder daughter, Moon, 48, took up running initially to join husband Ansgar and their two daughters, Allie and Hana. But she soon developed her own passion for the sport as well. Now she trains three times a week with the family at the CCAB track. She recently ran her personal best (PB) of sub-1hr in the 10km in the POSB Run 2017. Moon was recently interviewed about her interest in running. Click here to read about how she went from couch potato to running mom. Her next run is the Great Eastern Run where she hopes to up her PB.


My younger daughter, Belle, 46, hates running, but is passionate about yoga, kick-boxing and zumba classes, preferring to sweat it out in air-conditioned comfort on a carpeted floor, rather than pounding the tracks (or road) under the hot sun. If results are measured by weight loss and muscle gain, both have certainly achieved their goal and more.


All my four older grandchildren had an early start in sports, especially in running. At the age of five, they had already entered competitions, starting with school sports, then graduating to bigger races and competitions. Max, 17, was a regional triathlete until recently when he decided to cut back on competitions. He has been interviewed on Nickelodeon. His sister, Reiya, 12, is following in his footsteps, and has turned out to be a budding triathlete with medals to show for it.


Allie, 14, and Hana, 13, have been improving steadily in their PB. They enjoy their training 3-4 times a week, and occasionally enter competitive races. Allie emerged second in the POSB Run 5km Open (for women), and Hana was fifth in the inter-school cross-country earlier this year. I have no doubt they will be adding to their haul of medals and trophies in races to come.

That leaves two more in the family to mention - the oldest (that's me) and the youngest (that's Ryder). I hung up my running shoes a long long time ago, preferring to do brisk walking and line dancing for fitness. I used to spend hours at the gym five times a week in the 1980s. I was a fitness fanatic then. I remember sometimes doing three hours on the treadmill on top of strength training and aerobics.

Now that I am staying with the Chengs while studying for a one-year full time course at NTU, who knows I may just get back into running, or at least slow jogging. Moon registered me for the Shape Run last month, and also for the upcoming Great Eastern Run next month. I am more likely to walk than run, as I have not been training at all. But it's a start at age 69.

Just after the Shape Run - my first road event in almost 30 years! I survived it.
Finally, there's my grandson, Ryder, 3+. This little superboy became a small YouTube sensation when his dad posted a video of him dribbling a football at 13 months. Watch how he fell, picked himself up, and continued. I am glad he still has this trait of trying and trying till he succeeds. He loves to show off his physical abilities, from planking to cycling, and now swimming. He has just started taking jiu jitsu classes. Ryder wants to emulate big bro Max and be a champ and a finisher in all he does. The sports world is his oyster.


As the saying goes, the family that runs together, stays together. It's great for intergenerational bonding, not just within your own family, but also with other families that run. An excellent example is the team from FlexiFitness. The group has grown, and resembles an extended family where the parents train together with their children, and everyone is so supportive of one another.


If you are in KL/PJ, and would like to pick up running, or join a runners group, check out KLCC Runners Group. If you live in Singapore, I recommend FlexiFitness. You won't find a better coach than Coach Rameshon. He holds the national record of 2hr 24min 22sec for the men's marathon - unbroken since 1995.

As more older adults take up running and other sports, the Masters Athletics Championship will likely get more competitive. I am sure Ansgar is keen to represent Singapore again in the Masters next year, and the next. After all, Mr Kor started running at 75. Now at 85, he is still running and winning. Salute!

Monday, August 14, 2017

ELVIS IS STILL IN THE BUILDING!

What an evening it was at the Elvis 40th Anniversary 'All Shook Up' tribute last Friday 11 August 2017. The ballroom at Serangoon Gardens Country Club shook, rattled and rolled to Jailhouse House Rock and Love Me Tender, and all the hits from an era beloved by the baby boomers all decked out for a rollicking good time. And that they certainly did, thanks to Jimmy Preslee Productions. They brought in four top Elvis Tribute Artistes (ETA) from Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines to entertain the audience, together with two ETAs from Singapore.

I first heard about the event from a good friend Dr Pok Tham Yien from Johor Baru. I have always been an Elvis fan. Of course I wouldn't want to miss the event but tickets were already sold out weeks in advance. Yes, Elvis still lives on in the hearts of his legions of devoted fans. I can't think of anyone in the music pantheon that has left behind such a global following, one that has remained undiminished long after their demise.

Preslee Productions' very first Elvis Tribute was a roaring
success, and paved the way for subsequent tribute concerts.
As luck would have it, Jimmy Lee, the organiser, turned out to be from my hometown Batu Pahat, and my cousin's ex-classmate at BP High School. He called me up with the good news that Judy, his lovely wife, had a ticket for me. One of her friends couldn't make it for the event. We met up at Sim Lim food court on 31 July.  It was over lunch that I discovered how Jimmy Preslee Productions (JPP) came into being.

It all started in 2009 with Jimmy's love of karaoke, especially singing Elvis songs. One thing soon led to another, and he was invited to perform alongside other Elvis performers in Hongkong, Manila and Penang. To cut a long fascinating story short, Jimmy saw the demand for such shows. So he became a show agent and in 2014 organised the inaugural tribute 'Elvis is Back in the Building' under Jimmy Preslee Productions (JPP). It drew such overwhelming response that it has become a JPP staple to feature two Elvis tribute events a year.

Here's a snapshot of the recent 'All Shook Up' Elvis 40th Anniversary Tribute:

A sold-out event. Can't go wrong with an Elvis tribute. Baby boomers love songs that bring back fond memories of the 1960s era.
(Left & right) NONIE ELVIS YAMBAO from Philippines and ELVICH PHATIHATAKORN from Thailand (centre). Below: TITUS CHEONG from Singapore


JIMMY PRESLEE from Singapore, JUDY CHONG LEE (yes, Jimmy's lovely wife emcees and sings too), and HANCHE PRESLEY from Indonesia 
Close-up of the three Elvis ETAs (Photo credit: Judy Chong Lee)
Judy and Jimmy Preslee
~ the driving force behind JPP
I asked Judy what is the difference between an Elvis impersonator and an Elvis artiste? Her quick reply: 'Elvis impersonators usually exaggerate and do some clowning around. ETAs don Elvis outfits and try to sing Elvis songs just like the King himself.' Ok. Got it. ETAs are serious professionals whose mission is to keep alive the legacy of Elvis Presley through songs and concerts. I have listened to many ETAs over the years, and I must say some of them are really incredible. They sound and look almost like the King himself.

Judging from the enthusiasm of the audience, especially the ladies, it was an evening to remember - a marathon singalong and dancethon. These baby boomers sure know how to have a fabulous time!

These ladies definitely have Happy Feet. They kept the energy and fun level high the entire evening. A tough act for the guys to follow!



(Jimmy's video above by Oei Seok Cheng. Thanks, Seok Cheng.) 

The ETAs were not the only ones on stage. The good-looking duo of ELVICH and KNIGHT PHATIHATAKORN from Thailand were a big hit with the ladies. They sang 'Let It Be Me' and 'Sound of Silence' and had the ladies literally swooning!


Special mention must be made of the band BABY BOOMERS, also called the Philippines Elvis Band. They provided excellent backup for all the singers and performed a couple of songs on their own too. On keyboard is band leader Lui Simbulan, with Gerry Yap on lead guitar, Bork De Leon on bass guitar and Tim Ponce on drums. Both Gerry and Bork sing in the band.


As I made my way around the ballroom, what caught my roving camera eyes were the many gorgeous ladies of Singapore. Here are pictures of some of them, all taken with their knowledge and permission. It is invariably the ladies who determine the success (or failure) of a dinner and dance event. If the ladies don't dance because the music is terrible, the event is heading for one big yawn.

Some of the lovely ladies I spotted in the ballroom. Too many photos to post all here.
One of the guys that caught my attention...for the tee he was wearing :-)

The first of two tributes this year. This one was
in March 2017.
This is the second Elvis tribute this year, so that means Elvis fans in Singapore will have to wait till 2018 for the next one. I am sure JPP is up to the challenge of giving loyal Elvis fans another unforgettable tribute as successful as, or perhaps even more successful than 'All Shook Up', if that is possible. If you are a die-hard fan and can't wait, make your way up to Kuala Lumpur. I hear there are Elvis tribute shows this weekend. Check out our SeniorsAloud FB page for more details.

Ladies (and guys), if you are reading this and would like to learn line-dancing or join a line dance group in Singapore, I can put you in touch with Judy. Contact me at 012-3068291 (only whatsapp messages, please). For Kuala Lumpur/PJ, I can recommend my club that teaches line dancing and ballroom dancing as well. As my cousin Lawrence puts it, "At our age, we should be rocking around the clock!" Agree absolutely, Life is for living, not for existing.

And to Jimmy and Judy: don't keep us waiting too long for the next Elvis tribute, or he will have left the building!