Saturday, April 30, 2022

LABOUR DAY: TIME TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST AGEISM

 

Negative stereotyping of older adults often leads to discrimination against them. 

If you are 60 and above, you are likely to have encountered instances of ageism at one time or another. Not only are older people discriminated against by banks and other financial institutions, but also at the work-place and in the job market. Indeed, older people face age discrimination on a daily basis, especially if they lack education or financial resources. Even at home, elderly parents find that no one listens to them. Their advice is often not sought for family decisions. They are head of the family only in name.

All this is mostly based on the negative perception and stereotyping of older people as frail, senile and unproductive, and a drain on the nation's welfare resources.


The above are the faces of  the New 80s - still active and certainly still able to contribute to society. What more those in their 60s and 70s?! Don't write off older adults as useless and past their productive shelf life. Just look at these three amazing seniors above - all of whom I know personally. Such seniors used to be the exceptions. No longer so now as their numbers are growing.

It is an undeniable fact that people are now living longer and healthier, thanks to advances made in medicine, science and technology. 60 is the new 40, and 80 is the new 60. They may have reached retirement age, but are still capable of contributing to society if given the opportunity to work or serve.

Retired professionals have adequate savings to see them through the next 15-20 years. They are free of the necessity to work and support themselves. For them, returning to the work force is optional. If they do so, it is mainly to keep busy and remain socially connected. 

Some of the seniors I had interviewed about job discrimination. Many have ended up on the streets or in shelter homes as they are unable to support themselves. Some have been sent to old folks home. 

For older adults in the B40 group, it is a different story. I have spoken with many of them. They tell me they are physically able and still capable of working but face discrimination due to their age. In Singapore, it is a common sight to see the elderly employed in food courts as servers or cleaners. Such jobs are available to them as young people find menial work lowly and unappealing. Retirees are capable of contributing much more to the work force if given the opportunity. 

A common sight in Singapore

POWER and MONEY speak louder than age. Older people in positions of influence and authority, with vast financial resources at their disposal can still command respect everywhere they go. These are the blessed ones. They can take care of themselves in their old age. It's the rest of the retired populace that we should make a stand for. They are the voiceless ones, the silent majority who feel disadvantaged and powerless to fight against ageism. 

But change is inevitable. The number of older persons is growing and this silver wave can't be stopped. (I am loath to use the word 'tsunami' as it gives a negative connotation to the rise in the elderly population.)


By 2035, the number of people aged 60 and above will have accounted for 15% of the total population in Malaysia. The country is heading towards ageing country status. The government is aware of what needs to be done to meet the demands and challenges of an ageing population, but implementation is painfully slow. The private sector has yet to fully acknowledge the impact this shift in demographics will have on the work force and on the economy. 

The young work force is shrinking as reflected in the declining fertility rate. Many countries in Europe e.g. Netherlands and Britain have raised the retirement age to 66. Singapore is leading the way with re-employment age up to 70. 

Indeed, if older people are given jobs, they are helping their adult children by contributing to the family needs and also by being financially independent.   

The time will come when all of us will have to wake up to the reality that global ageing is here to stay. It is in the interest of everyone to ensure that discriminatory practices against older people be removed. Any policies that uphold the rights of older people will ultimately benefit the young of today as they too will grow old one day. To take this one step further, when a country takes good care of its elderly population, everyone benefits.


The government wants to encourage active, independent and healthy ageing. So do all older people. For this to be successful, any form of discrimination against older people must be removed, and every bit of help be given to enable them to continue working and supporting themselves for as long as possible.

So kudos to the United Nations for taking a stand against ageism and making it the theme for International Day of Older Persons 2016.

For more voices against ageism, go to HelpAge International 

(Updating this article to mark Labour Day 2022 which falls on May 1 every year.)

Thursday, March 31, 2022

REMEMBERING OUR DEARLY DEPARTED


For thousands of Chinese families, the annual visit to the burial grounds of their departed family members will start this weekend. This is Qing Ming or All-Souls Day which usually falls in the first week of April. This year it falls on 5 April. It is a mark of filial piety for Chinese families to pay their respects to their ancestors with prayers and offerings of food. Family members also take the opportunity to spruce up the burial area. This explains why Qing Ming is also referred to as "Tombsweeping Day".

Perhaps most fascinating of the Qing Ming rituals is the burning of papier mache offerings. Over the years, these paper mache offerings have changed in keeping with the trends. I recall decades ago witnessing the burning of this huge paper replica of a mansion. The patriach of a family supermarket in my neighbourhood had passed away at a ripe old age. His children wanted to make sure their father would live in luxury in his after life.

A papier mache mansion all ready to be burnt as an offering to the deceased.

At the time as I was watching the 'mansion' make its way up in smoke to the other world, I thought about my dad. When he passed away in 1957, I remember my grandma made sure we burnt offerings of paper money - lots of it, in silver and gold, also clothes, food and his reading glasses. She wanted to make sure my dad would be comfortable and would always have money to spend.

Today, being well-provided for takes on a new definition. It is no longer about sending necessities to the beloved deceased. The trend now is to go for paper replicas of luxury items like the latest gadgets, LV bags, jade and gold jewelry, a BMW, and even a yacht!


       



I was in Chinatown a few weeks ago hoping to find that little shop which used to make paper offerings for Qing Ming. It was no longer there. Not surprising. It is a dying art, literally. In land scarce Singapore, for example, who can afford to buy a burial plot? Most people these days choose cremation over burial. It's cheaper and more convenient in many ways.

With the younger generation losing interest in the old ways, Chinese traditions and customs will soon disappear into the history books. There might come a day when Qing Ming will no longer be observed if young parents of today do not pass it down to their children.

Whether that is a sad thing or not is debatable, I suppose.


With Ching Ming just around the corner, my thoughts of late have dwelled much on the topic. Death can knock on our door at anytime and anywhere. It can strike down the young and the old, the healthy and the infirmed, the rich and the poor. Death is the ultimate leveller. It comes to the best among us, and to the worst among us. Yet we know precious little about how best to prepare for death.

Countless books have been written about how to live a happy life, but none about how to die happy. Is there such a thing as the art of dying? And can it be taught or learned? Has anyone been through the death experience and shared it with a loved one in a dream? How does one deal with one's approaching death? Why is death nearly always associated with pain, fear, grief, loss and visions of the Grim Reaper? Isn't it possible to meet our Maker with joy, celebration and visions of beautiful Angels of Love waiting to embrace us? Lots of questions but hardly any answers. Death remains a taboo topic and few are comfortable talking about it. But there is now a gradual acceptance. It makes sense to plan how we want to go while we are still around and still lucid enough to decide. 

I have since learned more about death rituals after taking up a course on End of Life: Death and Dying as an elective for my MSc in Applied Gerontology. Attending the 2-day Death Festival organised by Xiao En Funeral Services in 2018 further opened my eyes to a more positive side of death. Understanding death takes away the fear and replaces it with quiet acceptance as something natural and for many, it is a welcome release from pain. 


God willing, if I am blessed with good health and long life (dare I say 100?), I will want to spend my twilight years on community service, doing voluntary work that I am passionate about. And when the time comes, I want to go in my sleep, surrounded by all my loved ones. I will leave instructions for them to celebrate the occasion with a toast to me for having lived a full life. No public viewing of me at my wake party, please. I would appreciate some privacy, thank you. I will have written my obituary to be read by my daughter. I will have taken my last portrait, of my own choosing (already done!). I will have my favourite songs from 1960s played at my farewell party. No one should wear black. Only rainbow colours. I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in a mountain stream. No need for anyone to make that obligatory visit to the columbarium every All Souls' Day.

"Death smiles at us all; all a man (or woman) can do is smile back." Amen

Paying my respects to my parents at the temple in Jalan Gasing. My mom passed away 65 years after him. In those days, young widows remained single for the rest of their lives.