Monday, June 28, 2021


Chan (left) with her brush painting. Next to her is U3A vice-president Lily Fu. (Photo: Julia Chan)

Retiree Rahmah Abdul Aziz, 79, says that joining the University of the Third Age (U3A) – a programme under the Lifelong Learning for Older Malaysians project by Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology – has given her a new lease on life.

“I was moping around the house, didn’t go out much, and had lost interest in life after retiring and illness prevented me from doing volunteer social work for certain associations I was a member of,” says the former English teacher who joined U3A in 2010.

“So I decided to give U3A a try after a friend told me about it, and it changed me,” she says, adding with a laugh that all her aches and pains and penyakit orang tua (old people’s sickness) went away.

“You know... when elderly people don’t do anything – they don’t move around or mix with people – they get into a rut, and the mind and the body deteriorates. So being active again and learning something new, ensures you don’t become nyanyuk (senile),” she adds.

Rahmah has taken many classes at U3A including art (acrylic, watercolour and batik), language (Mandarin, French and Japanese), choir singing, and photography. She also takes some of the classes together with her husband, such as Agama Islam, car maintenance, air-con repair and plumbing.

“Initially, I took about nine subjects (most students take a maximum of three at any one time) each semester for the first six years. It was crazy but it gave me a new lease on life and made me active again because I had to wake up early just to go out for classes,” she adds.

Rahmah reveals that even though she uses a walking stick, she made the effort to go all the way to the campus (in Serdang) to attend her classes before the pandemic. There are also some wheelchair-bound seniors who attend the classes, as most of the facilities are disabled-friendly, she says, adding that although she isn’t the oldest student at U3A, she is eldest in most of her classes.

Part of a Lifelong Learning for Older Malaysians project by Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology, (now renamed Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing or MyAgeing) U3A enables senior citizens to go back to university without worrying about taking exams or tests.

The emphasis is on “learning for leisure”, to provide opportunities for retired and semi-retired people to get together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment.

Siti Safura Mohamad Sarif, 53, from Seremban, Negri Sembilan, started taking classes at U3A in 2019. Some of the classes that she has taken are baking, traditional dance, art (watercolour) and floral arrangement.

“I’m happy because at my age, I can still discover my hidden talents in painting and flower arrangement. And, I’m happy with the results,” says Siti Safura who lives in Kajang, Selangor.

“We get to mix around with people from different backgrounds and make new friends. It makes me recall my school days too,” she says.

“It’s important for people to continue learning even as they grow older. Learning never stops no matter how old one is. It’s good to increase our knowledge and it’s good for health too, ” she adds.

During the pandemic, Siti Safura has taken several classes online, namely art (watercolours) and floral arrangement.

U3A vice president Lily Fu says: “After a year-long hiatus for many of U3A’s classes since the first movement control order in 2020, we decided to conduct last year’s classes virtually during the first six months of 2021.”

“Furthermore, Zoom allows us to go nationwide so it’s just not limited to the Klang Valley, ” she says.

“It was tough getting seniors to accept online classes initially but they eventually did. We held Zoom workshops and shared YouTube tutorials to assist them,” says Fu.

Blooming success

One of their success stories in online classes was Floral Arrangement.

“We thought it would be challenging for both the instructor and her students. But it turned out to be a wonderful showcase of how a practical hands-on course can be taught 100% online, ” says Fu.

Julia Chan from Petaling Jaya, joined U3A in 2019 and has taken several classes including Chinese brush painting, gamelan, traditional (Malay) dance, choir singing and ukulele.

“I believe in life-long learning and now – during senior years – is the best time to master and experience what I’ve always wanted to,” says Chan who is in her 60s. “U3A has given us a chance to graduate from these courses stress-free, at our own pace.”

Learning new things helps us to grow old gracefully, keeps us alert and updated on the latest technologies, says Chan who completed her ukulele classes virtually.

New intake for 2021

Registration for the new semester starts from July1, 2021 onwards and there will be over 50 short courses offered.

“I’m sure seniors will welcome this online learning and making of new friends during the extended stay-home period,” says Fu.

“It's been more than a year now since the MCO started. Seniors have repeatedly been told they’re in the vulnerable group and should stay home as far as possible. But then, seniors thrive on going out for morning walks, kopitiam chats and visiting friends.

So, it's really a challenge to remain at home most of the time,” she says.

“U3A offers 53 (mostly online) courses in total, covering categories from music and art, to languages and living skills, to keep them happily occupied from July to December,” she adds.

There are 10 brand new courses this new semester, including DIY Repair, Declutter with Joy, Grooming and Etiquette, Charcoal Sketching and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

“Based on the philosophy of “learning for leisure”, there aren’t any exams but many courses do have assignments to complete. No academic degrees are conferred, but the members are very serious about the learning that takes place, ” says Fu.

At the end of each year, there is a graduation ceremony where certificates of completion are awarded. There is also a concert where the seniors perform and an exhibition where they can display their finished projects.

U3A is open to all Malaysians aged 50 and above. Seniors have to register to become a member before signing up for classes. There are three categories of membership: associate members (50-54 years old), ordinary members (55 and above), and life members (those who have been an ordinary member for two years or more may upgrade to LM.).

More about U3A at our facebook page: 

Our website is at

(The above was originally published online in The Star 28 June 2021 at this link. However, as many seniors do not have access to the online article, we are sharing it here for their benefit and information. Our aim is to encourage our warga emas to enrol for the courses as they will enjoy the benefits of lifelong learning. Not only will they remain mentally and physically active during the extended months of stay-home, but also make new social connections through learning together with their peers in a safe and friendly environment.)

If you are a first-timer, you must sign up for membership first and pay the fees. Annual membership is Rm25 plus a registration fee of Rm15. Associate members (age 50-54) and ordinary members (55 and above) must renew their annual membership. If you have been an OM for two years, you have the option to opt for life membership at Rm150. The registration link can be accessed at

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


My mother first showed signs of Alzheimer's Disease probably as early as 2008. She was 82 then. She couldn't remember dates, places and names of family members. She couldn't tell one day from another, and forgot what she just had for dinner or where she had left her purse.

That was 11 years ago. I had not heard of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) then. Like most people with elderly parents at home, I took these signs as part of the normal ageing process. It was commonly accepted that people turned senile (nyanyok) in their old age, so I wasn't too concerned about it. It was only later that I discovered having AD is NOT part of ageing. It does not happen to every elderly person.

My mom would repeatedly ask the same questions even though I had just given the answers. It was almost impossible to hold a simple conversation with her. Her attention would drift off to some distant places in her memory. It was as if a mist had clouded the clarity of the moment. She was there with me but yet not there. I didn't know then how to handle such a situation.

It took a fall at home and subsequent hip surgery for my mom in March 2011 before I learned about Alzheimer's. During the ten days my mom was in hospital, her doctor noticed signs of the disease in her behaviour. He suggested I take her to see a geriatrician for a proper examination. A visit to see Dr Philip Poi at UMMC Specialist Hospital and some tests later confirmed my mom had AD.

Learning more about dementia at Hogeweyk, Amsterdam, and pursuing an MSc degree in Applied Gerontology so I could better understand the ageing process.

Thus began my interest in reading up as much as I could about AD. In December 2013, I signed up for an online course on Living with Dementia: Impact on Individuals, Caregivers, Communities and Societies offered by Johns Hopkins University. In 2015, my passion to learn more about AD took me to Hogeweyk, the world's first dementia village in Amsterdam. In 2017, I enrolled for MSc in Applied Gerontology at NTU, Singapore. At 70, I was the oldest graduand in the pioneer batch. I attended numerous conferences to learn about the latest developments in AD research and treatment. As my mom's primary caregiver, I wanted to know how to provide better care for her. At the same time I could learn how to avoid ending up with AD myself. And as a blogger and founder of a seniors' community, I could share what I have learned with others.

The statistics for Alzheimer's are alarming. According to the World Health Organisation Report (WHO) 2019, there are currently 50 million persons with dementia (PWDs). This number is expected to increase to over 150 million in 2050. The World Health Organisation (WHO) 2014 report put the number of people in Malaysia with dementia in 2015 at 123,000. This number was projected to be 261,000 by 2030 and would continue to increase to 590,000 people in 2050. Alarming statistics!

What's the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's Disease?

I have frequently been asked this question. Put simply, dementia is an umbrella term for a host of diseases that affect the normal functioning of the brain. Depending on which part of the brain is affected, diseases associated with dementia include Alzheimer's Disease, vascular dementia, Lewy bodies (DLB) and frontotemporal dementia. The most common of these is Alzheimer's Disease which affects mostly the elderly. However, early onset dementia affecting adults in their 40s and 50s is on the rise.

Is Alzheimer's Disease hereditary?

This is the golden question for me. Aside from my mom, my great grandmother probably had it too. When I was growing up in the 1950s I recall seeing her playing with a baby doll, and treating it as if it were her own child. Another time I saw her packing a few personal belongings in a sarong, and telling the family she was going to take a trishaw 'home', meaning China. These incidents are etched in my memory. I have at least four members in my extended family who were diagnosed with dementia (AD) in their final years. 

Like my mom, one of my aunts also showed signs of behavioural changes in her old age. She would accuse everyone of conspiracy, of hiding her passport and stealing her money. All not true, of course. But when she told me so-and-so had stolen her valuables, I believed her. It was only later when she was diagnosed with AD that everything she said and did began to make sense.

Does that put me at risk? Yes, but at risk does not mean 100% or even 30% certainty. I may or may not develop AD. There are preventive measures I can take to reduce the risks, such as exercises and activities that promote brain health and cognitive functioning.

Read about the APOE gene that determines whether you may be at risk of developing AD.

I am very forgetful. Is this a sign of early Alzheimer's Disease?

All of us are forgetful, some more than others. How often have we forgotten where we parked our car, the name of someone we have just been introduced to, or the lyrics of songs we used to sing? We refer to these lapses of memory as 'senior moments'. Red flags of AD include repeatedly forgetting recent events and confusion in retrieving them. This Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or lapses in short-term memory may signal early Alzheimer's. Over time as the disease progresses, these memory lapses can potentially have serious consequences. My mom would forget to turn off the gas completely after cooking, forget to lock the front door when she left the house, or forget whether she had taken her medication. The latter could have resulted in a drug overdose. My mom also had mood swings, an obsession with collecting tissue paper and was prone to wandering around the house at wee hours of the morning.

My mom enjoyed browsing through newspapers and magazines. I bought this book for her in the hope the images would trigger recall from the deep recesses of her memory.

We often read in the papers of a missing elderly who later turned out to have forgotten how to get home. There are no statistics on the number of such cases in Malaysia. The Japan Times (June 2019) reported that a record 16,927 dementia patients in Japan went missing in 2018. Alarming indeed. Do not leave an elderly unaccompanied especially in an unfamiliar place e.g. a busy hospital or a noisy mall. My mom had on several occasions stopped midway to our neighbourhood supermarket, unsure whether she was heading in the right direction despite having walked there countless times before. Confusion with directions is common in PWDs.

Can Alzheimer's be prevented?

Thanks to Google and the efforts of the Alzheimer's Disease Foundation of Malaysia (ADFM) over the years to educate the public, we now know more about AD. Not everyone develops the disease in their old age. There are people in their 80s and 90s whose minds continue to remain sharp. 

At present there is no cure for AD despite what we read in the media, from coconut oil to ayuvedic treatment. Prescribed medicines for AD can only slow down the progress of the disease at best. Most of the drugs, e.g. memantine, have side effects. AD is a degenerative disease that can span many years, ultimately ending in death. I have watched my mom slowly change from a lively chatty woman to a shadow of her former self. After suffering a mini-stroke in February 2019, she lost her ability to speak, and her memory completely left her. She did not know who I was nor did she even ask. She would sit in total silence, in a world of her own where visitors were barred from entering.

When my mom was discharged from hospital after her second surgery, she was prescribed expensive drugs by one doctor after another. After several years of seeing little improvement in my mom, and on the advice of a doctor friend, I decided to stop all the medication. My mom remained mostly drug-free till the last couple of years after her stroke when she had to take prescription drugs as and when needed. In general she maintained a hearty appetite and slept well  That was good enough for me.

Here's what I would like to share from what I have learned and practised. Preventive steps for dementia do not cost much money. Follow a regular exercise regime and adopt a healthy diet. Monitor your sugar level, blood pressure and weight. Keep your brain actively engaged with mental stimulation such as learning a new language or a new skill. Travelling broadens the mind, so go on trips whenever you can. Finally, build a network of close friends and avoid social isolation.

What preventive measures do I take?

As I am at higher risk than others of getting Alzheimer's, I make sure I stay active physically and mentally. I have always been active, interested in and curious about a lot of things. I read a lot, especially on ageing-related issues. I write a lot too. Curating for news and events to share on Facebook keeps me mentally busy daily. These activities stimulate the brain. That is why I enrolled for my second masters degree at a late age. I also took up singing, line dancing and learned to play the ukulele. Memorizing lyrics, dance steps and ukulele chords helps to stimulate my brain cells. I have been attending courses offered by the University of the Third Age (U3A) since 2011. Lifelong learning keeps the brain well-oiled and the social connections I make will hopefully keep AD at bay. 'Never too old to learn new things' has become my mantra for living life with a positive mindset.

The Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) is widely used to test for cognitive function. My mom refused to draw the clock when the doctor told her to. She probably could not remember the order of the numbers.

If you are curious to know whether you or a family member has early AD, you could try taking the Mini-Mental State Examnation (MMSE). It is a popular test for cognitive functioning, and includes tests on memory recall, language and focus. There is even a Malay version. The scores will provide an indication of whether the person has any cognitive impairment. As it is only a simple diagnostic test, it should be followed up with a visit to the geriatrician for a full examination. 

When the pandemic SOP allows it, drop by at ADFM community corner at Wisma Atria, PJ, to find out more about AD. There are weekly group activities there for PWDs (persons with dementia) and their caregivers.

(The above article was first posted in Nov 2019. It has been updated after my mom passed away in February 2021. Her journey with Alzheimer's lasted eleven years from her diagnosis. I am glad most of those years were relatively happy ones for her.)

Friday, April 16, 2021


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 expensive route to looking 'youthful'? Not many.

This tongue-in-cheek 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 (and neck) tell the truth - that we are no spring chicks. More like autumn hens, or turkeys 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. When my grandson was 4, he used to be fascinated by the folds on my hands and kept trying to see if he could smoothen them out!

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. No wonder we seldom see older women react to jokes no matter how hilarious!

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.

10. Penis
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 life-saver for grandpas that still want some action..

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.

I will turn 73 in June 2021, and I wear my age with pride. 

All living things including humans have a life span, an expiry date. Let us not tamper too much with God's creations. There are only so many face lifts one can have, or number of botox jabs our body can tolerate before our entire body crumbles and collpases under the strain. And we end up looking very much worse than if we had left our body especially our face, alone and allow it to age naturally. 

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.

A truly loving spouse, partner or friend will see beyond the external and look deeper into that beauty of soul and spirit that still reside inside all of us. But we must continue to nurture that inner youthfulness and keep it forever young. 

Monday, March 29, 2021



Ageism is closing the doors of opportunity to our senior citizens. Whether it is looking for employment, getting a place in an HRDF upskilling course or applying for a bank loan to start a business, our age puts us at a disadvantage. It shouldn't.

The recent announcement in the media of the government speeding up the introduction of 5G in the country is leaving many seniors out in the cold, especially those now in their 70s and 80s. They are lagging so far behind in digital literacy that it's unlikely they will be able to participate actively in the digital economy. Many of these elderly are either single living on their own or are empty nesters.

Who is there to help these older people learn how to use the internet and get connected online for e-services? There is as yet no educational institute where they can enrol for courses on social media apps and entrepreneurial skills. What we have currently are piecemeal ad hoc workshops offered by NGOs and IT companies. These usually comprise a few hours of instruction or a one-day workshop at best. Grossly insufficient.

What we are asking for is a government-supported initiative where digital skills courses are offered throughout the year. IMDA Singapore started Seniors Go Digital in 2017. Since then more than 140,000 seniors have benefitted from this programme. But this is in Singapore. Can we have something similar here in Malaysia?


There is also the National Silver Academy which offers a wide range of courses including digital literacy courses. Seniors are literally spoilt for choice. Fees are affordable. Seniors can pay from their SkillsFuture Credit of S$500 given by the government to all citizens.

Seniors themselves must also be responsible for their own learning. Where there is a will, there is always a way. We have to adopt a positive attitude towards learning. This is part of the ethos of lifelong learning. There is no such thing as being too old to learn something. When an opportunity to learn something new and useful is made available to us, we should take it. We shouldn't let the fear of failing or the lack of confidence be our excuse. 

I recall in the late 1990s when teachers were told they had to start using the computer to teach, some of my colleagues opted for early retirement. They didn't want to be stressed out learning this new technology. Others took up the challenge and eventually were able to teach confidently using the computer and the projector instead of depending solely on the textbook and blackboard.

There are also many examples of successful learning when there is strong motivation to do so. The need to remain in touch with family and friends is a powerful incentive especially during the pandemic stay-home period. Hence older people have learned to use social media apps e.g. Whatsapp and Zoom. Facebook is now dominated by older users, resulting in younger people migrating to Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok. But aside from social media usage, seniors are still slow in making use of online services such as paying bills, booking a ride or making purchases. 

Instructors who conduct courses for seniors must bear in mind that older people learn differently from younger people. Hence, they need to be familiar with geragogy - the theory of how older people learn. For instance, seniors learn at a slower pace, and are more at ease learning with their peers than with much younger students. 

A case in point. Last month SeniorsAloud was among 29 NGOs selected from over 200 applications for a 4-week digital skills course conducted online. The objective was to help upskill NGOs and amplify their social impact. At 73, I was by far the oldest participant. The others were mostly in their 30s and 40s, including the instructors. My team mate Kamil and I took it as a challenge to learn as much as we could. The pace was fast, and the course content was demanding. Fortunately the instructors were very patient and encouraging, providing guidance at every step. We learned a lot especially how to use apps such as Canvas, Slack and Trello. Also Design Thinking and the Business Canvas Model which I had learned before but not applied. It was a good refresher. Digital knowledge needs to be applied to be of any use. It is easy for older learners to forget how to use applications after a lapse of time. 

The benefits of empowering seniors with digital tools are enormous. Aside from the convenience of carrying out tasks online and engaging socially online, seniors who run home-based businesses can make use of apps to promote their products or services and have the know-how to reach a wider market. 

So the ball is in the government's court. With seniors, time is of the essense. How many more years do we have to wait for a building or a sustainable programme specially dedicated to re-training and upskilling our warga emas?

(The above letter published in The Star on 13 March 2021 is accessible at this link:

Sunday, February 14, 2021


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 embers 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.


(This post is updated from an earlier one posted on Valentine's Day 2019. It is also posted in memory of my beloved mother who left us 10 days ago on 3 Feb 2021. She would have turned 95 in Oct this year.)

Thursday, January 28, 2021


During the long months of stay-home, my daily dose of feel-good endorphins came not only from exercising but also from music. I have always enjoyed listening to music across many genres, graduating from jukebox top hit singles during my teenage years, to rock, blues, R&B, country and folk. I remember meticulously copying by hand hundreds of song lyrics into a songbook to sing along to. Those were the pre-Spotify days of radio and vinyl records.

Imagine how excited I was to discover Vintage Radio Sg a few months ago. It enabled me to relive the 1960s pop music scene again. There are four DJs helming the shows, spinning records for in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil for listeners in Singapore, Malaysia, and the diaspora. The radio runs 24/7. I do dancercise to Brian's selections every morning. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of 1950s-70s pop music.What amazes me is that I can remember many of the lyrics even though I last heard the songs more than 50 years ago! Proof that the last thing we lose when our memory fades is music. 

(Click on Vintage Radio Sg and find out more about the shows and other goodies there, all specially curated for seniors. You can download the app on your phone. Doesn't take up much data.)

In my high school days I lived on a music diet of Britain's Top of the Pops, and later Casey Kasem's American Top 40 and Billboard Top 100 on the radio. I never missed Dick Clark's American Bandstand on our family's black and white TV. In my late 20s, I was crazy enough to apply for a DJ position at Tin Mine discotheque, Hilton Hotel. The interview with Juliana's of London included testing my knowledge of popular songs and singers. I did a tryout at deejaying one night. I decided it wasn't for me, and dropped out of the shortlist of applicants.

I was a typical teenage, infatuated with the cute idols of those days - Cliff Richard, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Johnny Tillotson, Bryan Hyland, and their female counterparts like Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Helen Shapiro. 

My friends and I were into the latest dance craze as well. We did the jive, rock and roll, twist, ago-go and rumba to bands like Bill Haley and the Comets, The Shadows, The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Cascades, The Monkees, the Beatles and so many more. They were the forerunners of today's boy bands and K-Pop groups. 

(Above) Who can ever forget 'Shanty' by The Quests? I was still in high school when it shot to the top of the charts and stayed there for months.

The 1960s music scene also saw the rise of local bands in Malaysia and Singapore doing cover versions of top hits. They had quite a following among university students, and regularly played at tea dances and concerts. Some of them like the Teenage Hunters, the Falcons, and the Quests (above) were so good they did gigs overseas in Germany, Hongkong and Vietnam. 

The recording studios were quick to sign up these bands and singers. Virtually every one of them released 45rpm records of their songs. There were Naomi and the Boys, Keith Locke (later replaced by Vernon Cornelius) and the Quests, the Ventures, the Stylers, the Blue Diamonds, Matthew and the Mandarins and others. There was also a proliferation of Malay and Chinese singers and their back-up bands like Jefrydin and Pop Yeh Yeh, and Rita Chao dubbed Queen of A Go-Go, the dance craze at the time, especially at the popular Sunday afternoon tea dances.

(Above) Matthew and the Mandarins made famous their original country hit 'Singapore Cowboy'.

While some of the 60s era singers and musicians have passed on, those that have remained never gave up their passion for playing music. They continue to perform at fund-raising events, reunions, and corporate functions. Others, like my friend Jimmy Lee, have been keeping the memory of Elvis Presley alive via the Elvis Presley Friendship Club of Singapore. Credit also goes to the Singapore government for promoting 1960s music with free concerts in October in conjunction with International Day of Older Persons.

I attended all three of the above Elvis Tribute concerts in Singapore. Click on the links below to enjoy the videos I took of the performances. 

Then there are those, both musicians and fans alike, who gather at each other's homes to jam and sing all those favorites of yesteryears. These get-togethers are always fun. Research studies show that music is therapeutic. It helps to improve wellbeing and reduces the risks of Alzheimer's.

D-Asiatics (above) playing a cover version of 'Midnight in Malaysia' made popular by Boy and His Rollin' Kids.

(Above) Mike Ho & Company: Chow on drums, Paul on rhythm, Jimmy Rampas on bass guitar playing The Shadows classic instrumental 'Apache'.

(Above) Alfred Ho was the winner of Malaysia's first national talentime contest in 1971, and was in Asia Got Talent 2017. All three judges loved his singing. He was busking weekly at KLCC LRT station until the MCO shutdown forced him to stop in March 2020. He has since retired but his CDs are still available on sale at RM30 a copy. You can reach him at 012-3461232. 

Music keeps us feeling young, energetic and socially connected. If we can't play an instrument, we can sing, or dance to music. Music feeds the soul and nourishes it. We need music in our lives. Period.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

At 72, she made her first documentary to advocate against ageism


If there is one thing that gerontologist Lily Fu wants to achieve in her life at the moment, it is to debunk ageist stereotypes and create an awareness of the immense potential and possibilities of older persons.

Yes, she’s also not too keen on terms like “the elderly” and instead replaces it with “older persons” or “older adults”.

Olders, she believes, can get on with life like the best of them - they can learn, they can dance and they can most definitely enjoy a fruitful, fulfilled life.

And, she’s a fine example to go by.

At 72, Fu has just completed making her debut documentary, with a grant from the Freedom Film Festival. Titled Meniti Senja, the full-length documentary addresses the alarming rise in cases of elderly persons being abandoned at aged care homes in Malaysia.

“The protagonist of the documentary is Muji Sulaiman, a retired nurse who started an aged-care home back in the 1990s, ” says Fu, 72.

“Muji’s story is absolutely amazing. As a nurse, she saw first hand how so many older people were abandoned by their family at the hospitals.

"She decided to take them into her home - after all she was a single mother with room in her house to spare, ” she shares.

Word got around about Muji’s efforts and she found herself with more and more older people at her doorstep.

She was then offered a space - an old mosque - to house her abandoned wards.That was how Muji set set up Al-Ikhlas, her aged-care home in Puchong, Selangor, about ten years ago.

Fu hopes her documentary can help highlight the issues faced by older people, many of whom are
abandoned and alone.

Fu was compelled to venture into documentary making because she believes it’s the medium to raise awareness about the issues of the older population, and to advocate for better services and provisions for them.

“So many of them are abandoned and alone, and the issue just don’t get covered enough. The media has highlighted the issue but they are often one-off reports when some news breaks and then things go quiet again.

“With a documentary, it can be online and shared over and over again and, hopefully, spark discussion and action.

"And because it’s a full-length film, we can explore the issues in greater depth, ” shares Fu who is the founder of Seniors Aloud, an online platform for seniors with over 1,000 members.

The challenge ahead

When she read about the Freedom Film Festival grant in March this year, Fu decided to submit her idea for the documentary.

“I submitted my pitch, and I made it to the final selection. Then, I had to do an online pitch in front of the judges and we got the result immediately.

"I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found out I was selected. When you think of filmmakers, they are either experienced people or young people. And there I was, a 72-year-old who hasn’t done this before, ” relates Fu.

“But the Freedom Film Festival has been absolutely supportive. Whenever I faced a challenge, they were always quick to help me through it.

“Even though they provided us with workshops to hone our skills in filming, there was no way I could manage shooting the documentary on my own - a three minute video, no problem, but not this.

"So, they helped source for a cinematographer, so that I could focus on the narrative, source for a protagonist and handle other aspects of the documentary, ” she adds.

Muji Sulaiman, the protagonist of the video, was a nurse who saw how many elderly were abandoned at the
hospital she worked in. She took a few back to her home and years later, started her aged-care home.

Because of the pandemic and the movement control order that was enforced in March, the direction of Fu’s documentary shifted from her original pitch.

“When we first started the title was Unwanted and my focus was the homeless older people who were abandoned and neglected in KL. I spent months on the streets, so much so that the community actually opened up to me and some even thought I was there for food.

"But with the MCO, there was no way we could access them the way we needed to for the documentary.

“So, I focused on older people in an aged care facility and I focused on just one home so that it could be more comprehensive and insightful.

"I found Al Ikhlas online. But because we couldn’t go there during the MCO, I used the time to do research. It was only during the recovery MCO that we could visit the home, meet Muji and the older people living in her home.

"Most of them could not speak, so she related their stories on their behalf, ” says Fu, who enlisted her daughter, Belle Lee’s help because of her experience in TV and film.

“She has a degree in TV and film production and has produced TV programmes before, which was a boon. She was also someone I could bounce off ideas with, ” says Fu.

With the documentary, Fu’s aim is to share the stories of the older people in the home without judging or placing blame on anyone.

“We want to give a very balanced view and highlight the issues faced by them without taking any stand. I think one of the things we wanted to get through is that sometimes, children have no choice but to place their parents in homes.

Working children, those who cannot afford to care for their parents themselves or those who may be living abroad... we understand the reasons.

“And Muji shares the same sentiment: it is ok if you cannot look after them, she will. But please visit them. There was a resident who shared that he has 10 children and he was just waiting for them to come and visit. It is very depressing, actually, ” says Fu.

A message to everyone

Meniti Senja is in the last stage of post-production and is scheduled to be screened, online, during the Freedom Film Festival, from Dec 10 till 13.“The festival, which was originally scheduled for September, will go nationwide after the MCO ends.

Fu wants older people to be given opportunities, either for work or upskilling programmes,
so that they can continue to be independent and contribute to society.

“It has been very challenging. Apart from the technical aspects, I also learnt that from the start till the end, things can change.

"From the story to the language - it was supposed to be in English but is now in Bahasa Malaysia - there will be developments because of external circumstances or input from others and so on. But I am happy with it and it has given me the confidence to, hopefully, do another one, ” she says.

Fu hopes the documentary can move people to action: the government for better policies and services for older people; the younger generation so that they can plan and set aside money not just for their retirement but to care for their aged parents, and also society so that they don’t simply disregard seniors, and include them in jobs or learning opportunities.

“I am glad that the government has paid some attention to older people in the Budget 2021 but more needs to be done.

"We mustn’t wait until 2035 when we become an ageing population because if we do, we will be in trouble. We need better infrastructure and more nursing homes to cater for the growing older population, ” says Fu frankly.

She also hopes the younger generation – who will decide whether to care for their seniors or abandon them – get to see what the situation is like for neglected seniors.

“Financial planners advise you to set aside money for your children and your retirement but they hardly ever talk about the need to set aside money to care for your elderly parents or relatives, ” she says.

And her message to her peers is to change their own perceptions of ageing.

“We should all be thinking not just of enjoying longer lifespans but longer lifespans in good health, ” she emphasises.

“Currently, society has a very negative perception of older people and it’s time we changed that. And the change has to start with us. Those of us who are 60 and above must not think of ourselves as “old already” or “too old to dance” or “too old to study”.

“If we want people to change the way they perceive older people, we have to change the way we think about ourselves. Don’t practise ageism on ourselves, ” she says. 

This article was first published in The Star on 2 December 2020 at the link below: