Thursday, February 14, 2019

FOR SINGLES ON VALENTINE'S DAY


It's Valentine's Day - again. While couples young and old celebrate the day exchanging gifts and Valentine cards, my thoughts, as always, are with those who will not be sitting down to a romantic candlelight dinner. Reason: they are single. To them, I say, "Happy Single Awareness Day!" I am one of you too. No need to dread this day. Indeed, our numbers are increasing. Today being single for an older woman is no longer a social stigma. If truth be told, women in unhappy marriages envy their single sisters but they do not have the courage to break free. To the happily married ones, a toast to you on this Valentine's Day.


Unless you are married to someone wonderful, it's better to remain single. I am not putting down the institution of marriage. But I seem to be hearing more couples getting divorced than getting married, especially among older couples. Once the children are grown and flown, a couple's marriage is put to the test. Retired couples, in particular, find that being in each other's company 24/7 can either rekindle the old flame of romance and passion, or it can extinguish forever the last sparks of a dying marriage.

Which one are you? There's a third one - being single and NOT available. 
It takes a lot of effort, compromise even sacrifice to keep a relationship going. Many young couples don't have the patience to work at it. Gone are the days when wedding vows were taken seriously and couples remained married 'till death do us part'. Even after death, the bereaved spouse stayed faithful to the memory of the dearly beloved. Second marriages were almost unheard of, as were divorces. Indeed, to ask for a divorce would be akin to asking to be ostracized.

Today on Valentine's Day, I dedicate the day to my parents. I remember them as a very loving couple. As a child, I used to listen with fascination to the love stories my mother told me about how my father wooed her. Their courtship days were like chapters taken from a Barbara Cartland novel. My father simply adored my mother, and spending time with her was something he treasured as we saw him only during the weekends. His work as a medical sales representative often took him outstation and away from the family.

My father treated my mother like she was a fragile porcelain doll. He was always eager to please her and make her happy. My mother bore him six children during their 10 years together. I was the eldest. My youngest sister never got to see my dad for he passed away in 1957 after a short period of illness. My mom was heavily pregnant with her sixth child when my dad left her - forever.

My parents - Annie Goh Kwee Foung and Jackie Fu Fook Im (1947)
My mother will be 94 this October. She has never remarried, and has remained a widow all these past 62 years. I am sure she still misses my father, that is, on days when she can remember, when her mind is clear, and her memory is sharp. For my mom has Alzheimer's. The other day when I showed her this picture of my dad and her, I asked if she knew who the couple was. Without any hesitation, she said 'That's me and that's your father. But he's gone now. He was very good to me.'

Whether you are single, married, divorced or widowed, today is the day we celebrate LOVE. We should be celebrating love every day, in the little things we do, for the people we love. Love doesn't have to cost a cent. Love can be a genuine smile, a warm hug or an affectionate kiss. Or a good deed for someone we don't know but who needs our help.

Spread a little love today, and every day.

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY, EVERYONE!



(This post is updated from an earlier one posted on Valentine's Day 2014.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A GREAT START TO A NEW YEAR


Woke up on New Year's Day to find this whatsapp message on my phone: Congratulations, you are in The Star today. A quick flipping of pages led me to the article, reprinted below for easy reading. A great start for 2019, if I may say so.

Pioneer batch of MSc Applied Gerontology graduates August 2018. Original photo: Wee Teck Hian
Never let age stop you from pursuing your dreams. This was the advice Lily Fu, 70, gave her course mates in her valedictorian speech when she graduated with a Masters of Science in Applied Gerontology from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in 2018.

Fu truly embodies that philosophy. She was the oldest in her class, but the self-professed “lifelong learner” didn’t let that or “the limitations of the ageing body and brain” get in the way of pursuing her ambition.

“I often say, you must have passion to achieve your dreams. Passion is a magnet. It will attract the right people and opportunities to allow you to achieve your dreams,” says Fu, who received her scroll in August 2018.

It was her zeal that led her to enrol in the Masters programme, even though the retired teacher couldn’t afford the costs. She says, “Going back to school was something I’d wanted to do for a while.”

“I’d enrolled in all sorts of courses related to ageing at the University of the Third Age (under Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology). Then in 2010, Prof (Dr Tengku) Aizan (Hamid), the director of the Institute of Gerontology, encouraged me to pursue my Masters, but the timing never seemed right.

“I heard about a Masters of Science in Applied Gerontology programme at the Singapore Institute of Management (now Singapore University of Social Sciences), but the logistics and fees posed a huge obstacle. Every scholarship I looked up had an upper age limit and mine was above that ceiling.

“Then in 2016, my daughter who resides in Singapore told me about this new course at NTU. I attended a preview and liked what I saw, but the fees were too high – tuition alone would cost me S$34,000 (RM104,000).

“But seeing how passionate I was, my daughter and son-in-law offered to pay for me, so I grabbed the offer. I hope this becomes a trend, where retirees can pursue their passion, funded by their adult children,” says the mum of two and grandma of five.

Being a full-time student at 70 wasn’t easy, Fu admits. She had to get used to new modes of learning and keep up with course mates who were much younger. But her can-do spirit and determination to not let age stop her pushed her to graduate – and also be class valedictorian. “It wasn’t so bad because my class was diverse in every way,” she says.

“Also in Singapore, there’s a huge focus on respect for the elderly. On trains, people give up their seats. On the road, they give way to pedestrians. Bus drivers help the elderly and those on wheelchairs to get on and off. I learnt a lot about what we can do for our elderly in Malaysia and I have come back with lots to share.”

The Masters programme covered many aspects of ageing including policy, advocacy, physiology of the ageing person, mental health, gerontechnology (assistive devices and technology that can help the elderly) and thanatology, the scientific study of dying.

“I never thought I’d be in a Masters of Science programme, but it was an interdisciplinary programme that was rich with the top people from the hospitals lecturing us. With my Masters’ credentials, people actually listen when I give talks, even though a lot of what I say is the same as before,” she says laughing.

Me and my coursemates Meera and Minyi. Original photo: Foong Ming
Building A Community
Advocating for the elderly is something the Batu Pahat, Johor, native has been busy with for the last decade. In 2008, Fu started SeniorsAloud, a blog to raise the issues facing the elderly in Malaysia.

It’s a platform for seniors to network and share their stories. Though it started as an online portal, the blog has grown into a community of seniors who meet regularly for activities and workshops. The idea, Fu says, is to enable and help them empower each other to lead active, healthy lives.

“When I started SeniorsAloud, there weren’t many (initiatives) for the elderly. I had become a senior myself, and because I use public transport, I noticed the many issues the elderly face in this country.

“I’ve been taking public transport for years and I realise how unfriendly it is for seniors. Our bus stops don’t have any information about the buses and their routes. If there is a notice, the words are so small – how are the elderly going to read them?

“Another issue is the lack of wheelchair access. Even in KLCC, a premier mall, there’s very little disability access. A lot of doors are closed for seniors, a lot of needs are not met, and I want to give us a voice,” says Fu.

To create awareness, she began writing articles (now over 1,000) which she hopes will get the attention of policymakers who could initiate positive changes. She says, “Going online was the best solution because it was free and I could reach more people.”

“I had to learn how to set up a blog, take photos, write stories and design flyers on my own. I also went for a course on citizen journalism to help me write news stories,” says Fu, a retired teacher who taught at Kuen Cheng Girls School for over 30 years.

Recruiting members for her online community was tough, she confesses. Though there were no membership fees, many retirees were put off by the name of her portal.

“People don’t want to be labelled ‘seniors’, though they enjoy senior discounts. We need to project a positive image of the elderly and this starts with seniors ourselves. If we keep saying we’re too old to do things, how do we expect people to see us? We must change,” she says with conviction.

Before long, SeniorsAloud drew the attention of organisations and companies who invited the elderly to participate in programmes. Fu was invited to speak on ageing matters, but she realised that for people to take her seriously, she needed the “right credentials” which is why she pursued her degree.

SeniorsAloud has about 500 registered members and another 500 who regularly visit Fu’s blog and social media page. Among the ongoing education and awareness programmes organised for the SeniorsAloud community are workshops to help seniors go online.

“There will come a time when we seniors will be mostly home-bound. But if we know how to use technology, we can remain connected to friends and the world. We can network with our friends and family even though we may not be able to go out,” says Fu. “Another is to be aware of online scams that target the elderly.”

With the knowledge and insights she’s gained from her time in Singapore and a change of government in Malaysia, Fu hopes to contribute to improving the lot of seniors in Malaysia.

“The new measures and incentives announced in the Budget 2019 are encouraging and we will have to see how these get implemented,” Fu says. “I’m ever willing to share my input and to be a part of bringing change for our seniors.”

(The original article can be read at https://www.star2.com/family/2019/01/01/yearstarter2019-advocating-seniors/)

For the transcript of my valedictorian speech and more photos, go to https://www.seniorsaloud.com/2018/08/my-class-valedictorian-speech.html