Saturday, December 29, 2012


I heard the news over breakfast early this morning that gang-rape victim 'Amanat' (not her real name) had passed away at 4.45am today. She had been flown to Singapore and admitted to Mount E barely 24 hours ago in a critical condition. Yesterday the doctors had announced that 'the vital signs of the 23-year old paramedical student were deteriorating with signs of severe organs failure', and her parents had been told to be by her bedside to comfort her.

Her demise will certainly re-ignite protests and demonstrations worldwide that violence against women should not be tolerated, that women are to be respected and anyone found guilty of abuse against women should be severely punished. The term 'women' here includes little girls as well for they are tomorrow's women.

Source: Associated Press

Enough is enough. For too long rapists have managed to get away either scot-free or given only a light sentence. This makes a mockery of justice. Our world is pretty much a patriarchal one. Policy-makers are still overwhelmingly male. It's about time we had more women representation in governments and public organizations. Only women can truly know what it is like to be treated less worthy than a man. Only they know what it feels like to be treated as objects of sexual pleasure for men or traded as commodities by them.

The Straits Times published a poignant letter today that deserves to be shared. It was written before the announcement of Amanat's passing. Do read it to appreciate what it is like to be a woman living in a country where you feel safe no matter where you go on your own. It is a 'Tale of Two Countries'. I am writing this in Singapore, and I echo the sentiments expressed in the letter.

Over to you, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. You know what needs to be done. A pledge means nothing if it is not honoured.

From today's Straits Times

Isn't it ironic that women bear the two most iconic symbols of liberty and justice? Statues are mere tourist attractions if the values they represent are not embraced by men and women everywhere.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


This must be a parent's worst nightmare - to be hounded by loan sharks, because your son is unable to repay a loan. (Click here to read the original article published in the Star today).

These loan sharks or 'Ah Longs' as they are popularly referred to in Malaysia and Singapore are known for their ruthless methods of collecting payment. If splashing red paint on their hapless victims' car or front door doesn't prove effective, they will resort to more violent tactics to collect their debts, including cutting off the fingers and ears of the victims. Yet there is no shortage of people who will seek out Ah Longs to borrow money from.

Two loan shark victims who were chained and locked up in a cell by debt collectors. They were rescued by the police. Photo: Bernama

Ah Longs are the lenders of last resort for these desperate people who have nowhere else to turn to for loans. Either because they are blacklisted, declared bankrupts or lack collateral, they are unable to get a loan from legitimate financial institutions. So they seek out Ah Longs who are more accommodating. These loan sharks ask no questions, demand no collateral and are prepared to give loans immediately. They charge high interests and make good their threats if a borrower defaults on his loan repayment.

These Ah Longs seems to have unlimited financial resources. Where does their money come from? And why are they so willing to offer loans to people who have almost no chance of ever settling their loans, and whom banks consider as high risk borrowers? Excuse my ignorance, but can anyone provide some answers?

These mostly unlicensed money lenders blatantly advertise their loan services. Their contact numbers can be seen plastered on bus stops, street lights, road signs and shop pillars. Despite numerous reports of criminal acts committed by Ah Longs and their henchmen, few have been hauled up by the police to face charges in court. They are openly and defiantly operating under the very noses of the police. The government has invested millions of ringgit into high tech equipment and training the police force, yet they are unable to smash these unscrupulous gangs of sharks. It seems as if the police are no match for these scoundrels. Incredulous!

Photo: The Star
Most of the defaulters are Chinese men and women who have incurred heavy gambling debts or business losses. They eventually end up seeking help at the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department. According to the Department Head Datuk Seri Michael Chong, as of September this year he has received 418 cases involving loan sharks amounting to RM28 million.

(Photo above: Another reported case. Parents Chong, 72 and Chan, 73 faced constant harassment from loan sharks when their 43 -year old son defaulted on his loan repayment.)

Should you require advice on debt management, do make an appointment with AKPK, an agency set up by Bank Negara to counsel folks on how best to settle their debts and how to manage their finances to avoid getting into debt. The counselling service is free. You can call for an appointment at 603 2616 7766 or drop by at their office at Level 8, Maju Junction Mall, 1001 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Two video versions of the same song - one sung by the Corrs who were in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 to perform at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and the other, the original version by John Lennon. Different versions for different folks.

Even as we celebrate Christmas, there are people around the world who see no reason to be joyful or thankful given their lot in life. In our own small way, let's do what we can to bring a little cheer and sunshine into the lives of those less fortunate than us.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Do we need that many credit cards?
Credit cards are both a boon and a bane depending on our spending habits. I have only one credit card to my name, and it has served me well all these years. To be honest, I was quite miffed when the banks rejected my application for a new credit card ten years ago. I had just retired then. I thought I was a victim of age discrimination. 

But after reading about the rising number of credit card defaulters who have been declared bankrupts in recent years, I can see the wisdom of having one or two credit cards to curb the temptation to buy whatever captures my fancy. 

According to the Malaysia Department of Insolvency, between 2005 and June 2012, a total of 243,823 people have been declared bankrupt in the country, with the majority under 45 years of age. Our adult children fall into this demographics.

While we may be prudent in our spending, the same cannot be said of our adult children. Irrespective of whether they are working or still studying, many of them want to own the latest, the trendiest, the best. Their culture is one of instant gratification. They have their own interpretation of "Live life to the fullest", and "Live as if there is no tomorrow". 

How many times have parents stepped in to help settle their children's credit card debts and outstanding loans? As soon as young people get their first paying job, they want to buy a car/motor-bike, the latest smart phone, trendy clothes and eat at the best restaurants. 

Banks make it so easy for young people to spend, spend and spend by issuing them credit cards and requiring them to pay only 5% of the outstanding sums. And so their credit card debt snowballs from four figures to five figures and more. In Malaysia, creditors can initiate bankruptcy proceedings against anyone who owes them RM30,000 or more. 

To curb credit card debt, Bank Negara in 2011 introduced new requirements for credit card eligibility. Applicants must have a minimum annual income of RM24,000. The central bank has also capped the maximum credit limit to double the monthly income for those earning less than RM36,000 per annum. However, strict enforcement of these rules is a different matter.

In Singapore it's a similar situation. The Straits Times of Singapore yesterday reported the case of a marketing executive who said she would pay only the minimum sums on her seven credit cards. Over time her credit card debt ballooned to S$50,000! Credit Counselling Singapore data shows those being counselled for debt problems rose from 1,066 in 2010 to 1,480 during January to November this year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is also looking at introducing tougher rules to discourage credit card holders from spending beyond their means. On the flip side, the MAS is proposing to relax rules to enable retirees to obtain credit cards if they have at least S$15,000 annual income, net personal assets of more than S$750,000, or a guarantor with an annual income of at least S$30,000.

From The Straits Times 22 Dec 2012

Our young people shouldn't act so flippant about being declared a bankrupt. Once an individual is declared a bankrupt, he has a tough time getting loans from legitimate financial institutions. He has to give up his assets, including his home. He has a black mark on his financial record which follows him everywhere, even at immigration check-points. 

For those seeking help with their debts, do check out the free Debt Management Programme conducted by Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK), an agency set up by Bank Negara to help individuals take control of their financial situation and use credit wisely.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


As our circle of friends grows smaller with each passing year, it is easy to lose interest in social gatherings. We decline invitations to meet up with friends. We withdraw into our little cocoon that is our home.

Photo: The Guardian 10 Dec
But take heed. The Amsterdam Study of the Elderly  has linked loneliness to dementia. This is not the first or only study that has come up with such findings. People who have remained single or have lost their spouse and are living alone are at higher risk of developing dementia in later years.

However, there is a clear distinction between being alone and being lonely. Every now and then we do enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with solitude. We need the privacy of our own space, to do our own things. That is not the same as being lonely.

I have many friends who live alone, but their calendar is filled with one social activity or another. They are busier than ever in their retirement, doing things they enjoy, with people they like. They live alone out of choice, and not because of circumstances.

Older folks having a good time

We experience loneliness when we have difficulty connecting with others, or when we have few social activities. Keep loneliness at bay by getting out more often, or inviting friends over. Join a community group, attend networking functions or enroll for classes. The possibilities are endless if we really want to avoid feeling lonely and depressed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


We don't have to be Americans, or be residing in the US to recoil with shock and horror at what happened in Sandy Hook elementary school on Friday 14 December. As we follow the media reports and watch the news updates on our TV screens, we can feel the pain and anguish that the bereaved families are going through at the loss of their beloved little ones.

In the aftermath of this mass shooting and others in recent years (and there have been quite a number), there are many questions that need to be asked. All these gunmen were at one time adorable little children.
Adam Lanza at 12
How did they grow into young men capable of such unspeakable and horrific deeds? What turned them into merciless monsters that could gun down innocent people, including children? Did they have a score to settle? Were they influenced by the violence they saw in video games, on screen and in the real world? What went wrong to turn them into loners and social misfits? What was the last straw that triggered them into taking so many lives? Surely there must have been some signs to warn the adults around them that these young men were becoming a threat to their community?

May they rest in peace
It all comes back to the school and to the home. These are the two places where children spend most of their growing up years. Do our schools have experienced and qualified counsellors to help at-risk students who have difficulty coping with teenage problems? These problems could be a result of their parents' divorce, falling grades, unwanted pregnancy, low self-esteem, or rejection. Parents are usually the last people these troubled teenagers will turn to, more so if there is no real bonding between the two generations.

Parenting has become very challenging. We have to be on our guard against so many potential negative influences on our children. The most effective safeguard, in my opinion, is to ensure our children have a solid foundation built on parent-child love, trust and respect. We should start building this foundation as soon as our children are able to understand the stories we read to them.

We must also practice what we teach them, and give them an anchor, a goal, a direction until they are old enough to find their own. It could be religion, or a passion for something e.g. sports, music, art, community service. When they reach their teenage years, we will have less to worry about. And when they leave home for work or for further studies, we know they won't get into too much trouble, and if they do, they know they can always talk it over with us. They know they are not alone, and we are always there for them.

My views are based on my 36 years as a high school teacher and my sister's 37 years as a much loved pre-school teacher. It is also based on the mistakes I have made as a parent and the lessons I have learned from these mistakes.
So back to basics - How well do we know our children? Do we know the names of their best buddies, their favourite teachers, their likes and dislikes? When was the last time we did something together with our children? Have we visited our son/daughter's Facebook page? How long has it been since we last attended our children's school functions, or spoken with their teachers?

The answers lie with us. And for many of us, it's time to step up as responsible parents.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


In the bustle of daily living, we rarely give any thought to life's big questions. It is usually in our quiet moments, or when we have experienced a life-changing event, or when we arrive at the departure lounge of life that we begin to reflect on our lives and ponder on what lies ahead for us.

BBC recently screened the 3-part series "Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life". Each episode follows Richard Dawkins, renowned atheist, English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author and former University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science, as he sets out on a quest to seek answers to some of life's big questions: Does God exist? Is there meaning in life? What part do we play in it? What is the role of sex in religion? Is everything, including natural disasters, predestined?

Join Richard Dawkins in his journey that takes him from the casinos of Las Vegas to Buddhist monasteries in the foothills of the Himalayas, to India's slums and to Joplin, Missouri, a city devastated by a tornado.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Still active and able to carry on working at 60+.
(Front page article of New Straits Times Dec 8, 2012)

So it's confirmed. The Minimum Retirement Age 2012 Act comes into effect on July 1, 2013. Under this Act which was passed in August last year, it is mandatory for employers in the private sector to retain their staff till they reach the new retirement age of 60. This move will affect close to 11 million workers.

Good news or bad news?

That depends on who you pose this question to. Employers in the private sector aren't exactly celebrating the news. Retaining older workers for another five years means higher pay-outs compared to hiring new and younger workers at a lower starting pay. Even among workers, not everyone is jumping for joy. Some have already made plans to retire at 55 and pursue other interests. Others can't wait to clock out for the last time and enjoy their golden years.

Dwindling value: RM1m won’t be sufficient
to retire for long.
Frankly, except for the few who have wisely planned ahead for a financially secure retirement, most people have little choice but to carry on working for as long as they are physically and mentally able to do so. Their EPF savings and pensions are simply not enough to see them through the next 20+ years given the average life expectancy of 75. Financial experts say that we would need to have at least RM1 million in retirement savings to enjoy the level of lifestyle we were accustomed to before retirement. How many of us have that much money saved up?

As it is, we are already complaining about escalating prices and soaring expenses. With inflation eating into our nest egg, we just have to keep on bringing home the bacon, especially if we have college-going children and elderly parents to support.

The impact of inflation (Source: The Star)

The younger generation of workers lament the loss of job opportunities and promotions when older workers stay on longer in their jobs. My response to them:

  • Be glad that your parents are self-supporting. It means you get to spend more of your salary on yourself.
  • Be glad that your parents have a job to keep them physically and mentally active. Would you rather have them bored and depressed at home?
  • Not all younger workers have the wealth of experience that older workers have. How can they even think of replacing these older workers?
  • Older workers can stay on to mentor younger, less experienced workers.
  • The birth rate is declining while life expectancy is increasing. There will be fewer young people supporting the elderly. So the longer older workers remain employed, the lesser the pressure on the young to support them. 

Former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew, 86, advocates removing the retirement age. "You work as long as you can work and you will be healthier and happier for it. If you ask me to stop working all of a sudden, I think I'll just shrivel up, face the wall and just that."..."Many of our workers have a preferred retirement, and then they die early! It won't be long before the message sinks home that if you keep doing what you're doing for almost the whole of your life, the chances are you will stay interested and engaged in life, there's something to do tomorrow and you keep going. If you start saying,'oh! I'm old!' And you start reading novels and playing golf or playing chess, well, you're on the way down." (Source: Channelnewsasia)

Ultimately, it's the individual worker's choice
Well, I am for options. Employers should offer older workers the option of early retirement at 55, or continue working till 60. I recall in the 1990s (or was it 1980s?) teachers were given an option to retire at 45 (for women) and 50 (for men). 

Not all retirees want to work till they drop dead. They may want to opt out and have more time for the family, and more time to smell the roses. We should let the individual worker decide. It's his life after all.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


From plan to bricks, from vision to reality

The elderly in Kuala Lumpur now have a place to go to to learn new skills and  make new friends. The AUTORR Foundation Centre finally opened its doors last Sunday 2 December 2012, almost eight years after the ground-breaking ceremony in January 2005.

AUTORR Foundation founder, Lin Chia
The centre sits on a 4-acre piece of land donated by Lin Chua, grand-daughter of Yap Kwan Seng, the last Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur. For Lin, it all started with the search for a place where her elderly mother could spend her time gainfully in the company of her peers instead of being alone at home the whole day. Frustrated at not finding such a place, Lin realized that there was an urgent need to build one. Thus the seed for the AUTORR Foundation Centre was planted.

The opening ceremony was graced by the presence of past Golden Awardees who were honoured by the AUTORR Foundation for their contributions to society. (From left:) Datuk Lum Kin Tuck, Puan Sri Christine Khir Johari, Datin Paduka Mother Mangalam, Tan Sri Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Augustine Ong, Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr Mahadevan, Tan Sri Datuk Seri Lee Lam Thye, Ms Lin Chia, Dato Dr Low Bin Tick and Mr Liew Fook Choy. 

Lin set up the AUTORR Foundation and donated four acres of land in Ampang to build the centre. Over the years, various events were carried out to raise funds for the project. When news spread about the construction of a centre for senior citizens, the public responded generously. They were touched by the vision of this remarkable woman who selflessly sacrificed so much of her time and energy to building this haven for the aged.

If you have elderly parents and are looking for a place where they can enjoy the company of like-minded senior citizens, the AUTORR centre is the ideal choice. They will love the tranquility of the surroundings as the centre is nestled among hills in the outskirts of Ampang. Every care and thought has been put into the design of the centre with the comfort, safety and convenience of senior citizens uppermost in mind.

For those interested in checking out the centre, please refer to the map and address. Do call up first if you want a guided tour. Contact number: 03 - 4295 2261. Membership is now open at the promotional rate of RM600 a month. This covers two tea breaks, a vegetarian lunch, as well as classes. Opening hours are from 9.00am to 4.30pm, from Monday to Friday. Transport will be provided to and from Ampang Starline Station.

Here's a virtual tour of the centre.

If you would like to make a contribution to the AUTORR Foundation, please click here. All donations are tax-exempted.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Here we go again. Some women (and men) never seem to learn. No matter how many times they have been warned about it, they still turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. I am referring to the recent spate of articles in the media about online scams targeting these gullible souls.

What sort of women make easy victims of these unscrupulous Romeos who hide their identity behind the anonymity that the internet offers? The first word that comes to mind - LONELY. But then again I know of women who are lonely but they know better than to be suckers for scams. What they are not is DESPERATE.

Cover story in The Star 4 Dec
When a woman is desperate, she makes herself vulnerable to anyone who shows even a tiny speck of interest in her. She laps up all the flattery that is showered on her. She is so desperate for attention and love that she throws caution to the wind and grabs at what she believes could be her last chance for happiness.

Why this desperate? Because she knows the clock is ticking against her. Because she has left behind too many broken relationships and desperately want this one to work. Because she has such low self-esteem that she wants to believe any compliment paid to her. There must be scores of reasons why such women willingly part with their life savings, their jewelry, their property to men they barely know.

When a woman is this desperate, she goes online to look for friends. Facebook makes it so easy to connect with people. I get messages daily from guys wanting to know me better. I have not replied to a single one of them. I am not that desperate, nor will I ever be. I have too much going on in my life to fret over my single-hood.

To all those who are lonely for companionship, find an outlet for your loneliness. Volunteer for community service, join a social network group that you can trust, sign up for a course where you meet like-minded people of your age.

In Singapore, the large number of single women became such a matter of concern to the government that in 1984, it set up the Social Network Unit under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to promote opportunities for singles to meet and hopefully find a life partner. In 2006 the unit was renamed Social Network Development (SDN). The matchmaking and dating services were outsourced to the private sector.

Love Gifts vouchers offered by dating agencies accredited by the Social Development Network (SDN).

All dating agencies in Singapore must be accredited by the SDN Trust Accreditation.  How successful is SDN in meeting its objectives? Statistics are not available, but one thing is certain - you won't find unsavory Romeos and Valentinos lurking behind pseudonyms to prey on women with lonely hearts. Not when Big Brother is keeping a watchful eye on everyone and everything that is going on.

Perhaps Seniorsaloud should start organizing social networking events to foster new friendships among our community members. I know there are singles out there as well as widows and widowers looking not so much for (re)marriage, but for companionship.

Drop me a line at if you would be interested in attending a networking luncheon for the 50plus. If we have enough response, we might just organize one to celebrate the coming festive season.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


A typical Granny Pod. There are variations, of course. (Source: The Times)

With the world population rapidly ageing, and with baby boomers demanding better options for housing when they retire, innovative ideas for elder housing have sprung up in the USA and elsewhere.

One such housing option is the Medcottage or more popularly referred to as the 'Granny Pod'. Here's how the idea first began...

Now for a look inside the granny pod.

The concept of Granny pods is really not that revolutionary. I recall back in the 1980s, one of my many cousins had a self-contained annex built in his backyard for his elderly parents. It had a bedroom, a sitting room, bath and toilet, and a small kitchen. Electricity, water and phone line were linked to the main house. My cousin's live-in maid did all the cooking and family meals were served in the main house. His parents helped babysit the children when he and his wife were at work. It was the perfect solution to parent-care and childcare.

From PALS website
Of course, this situation worked as long as his parents remained active and independent. But when they got on in years, and required assistance with daily living, they had to move into the main house.

The major difference between a granny pod and my cousin's backyard annex for his elderly parents is that the former is portable, and apparently can be set up in four days! Think of it as a giant container that you could lift with a crane and move to wherever you want to place it.

Will granny pods take off? What do you think?

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