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: