Sunday, July 31, 2022

REVIVING THE KAMPUNG SPIRIT IN CITY LIVING

We need a new model for community living in urban townships, and definitely a new role for residents management committee (RMC). We need to revive the kampung spirit and bring it into our cities and towns. Today we have the sad situation of neighbours living within the same block, sharing the same premises for years, yet not know one another. They are total strangers - no names, no smiles or greetings when their paths cross in the common areas. The two years of living under Covid SOP restrictions has shown that we need to support one another to get through difficult times. That's why reviving the community spirit is so crucial especially for older people.

I have always felt the residents' management committee (RMC) can play a much bigger and more important role beyond mostly collecting maintenance fees and supervising the common areas. I shall use where I live as an example. There are 288 units in my taman or housing area. I was among the earliest resident-owners to move in when the project was completed in 1990. I was in the first RMC.

Here are some of my proposals:

1. The first step is to start a residents' services directory. The management office already has all the files. Just add on other info of residents e.g. field of expertise, work experience, what services they can provide e.g. child/elder care, food catering, home tuition. The RMC can promote this to the residents who can decide whether they want to be included in this directory or no. Actually why not? This directory will come in useful for residents/tenants who have services to offer, whether on a gratis basis or as a side income. Think of going to work minus the anxiety of wondering whether your elderly parent is safe alone at home versus the relief of knowing that a neighbour is helping to care for your parent or your child. Consider the convenience of home tuition or home repair services just doors away, or meals, personal grooming, tailoring as well as physiotherapy, etc delivered at your door-step by your friendly neighbour. Or for car-pooling and getting a lift from a neighbour. Or getting neighbours over for a mahjong game. Or watching a sports event together on TV or a movie on Netflix. The acts of neighbourliness are endless.

2. The multi-function rooms or hall could be used for cooking demonstrations, health talks or skill-based workshops. I recall years ago we celebrated festivals e.g. Hari Raya, Mooncake festival, Deepavali in the garden. Neighbours brought their home-cooked dishes for the pot-luck dinner. The children had a great time running around while their parents chatted and made friends. I miss those get-togethers. They tapered off when the RMC underwent changes over the years with each new committee. The reason given was always lack of funds. I am more inclined to think it was lack of initiative. 

Some of the many fruits grown by the residents including bananas, papayas, mangoes and chikus. Pity the durian tree didn't survive!

3. My taman doesn't have a community garden but those on the ground floor have a small patch of greenery that many have converted into a fruit/veg/herbal garden. I love the neighbourly spirit of some of the residents. One good example is Puan Hafsah who lovingly tends to her herbal and spice garden daily. There is also Mrs Lim who prefers to plant flowers and vegetables. She has several varieties of orchids in her corner lot garden. Both are happy to share their herbs and veggies with anyone who asks. In the common areas the resident gardeners have planted moringa, tapioca, aloe vera, lemon grass, chilli padi and more. Residents can help themselves to these.



4. When the kampung spirit is there, it's easy to organise early morning walks or exercises e.g. taiji, led by a volunteer resident. Every morning some of my neighbours go brisk walking or slow jogging around the gated premises. We greet one another with a smile and Selamat Pagi or Good Morning. As there are nine blocks of apartments, going three to four rounds within the compound is sufficient for a good morning exercise session.  


5. Condominiums in up-market areas come with swimming pools, multi-function rooms and gym. Except for the pool (and that is mainly because of the children), these facilities are usually under-utilised or not used at all. Paying high monthly maintenance fees of RM500 or more, and yet not using these facilities makes no sense at all. In my taman, we may not have a pool, but we have a small convenience store that serves the residents with basic essentials including gas for cooking. There is also a small shelter for short-term stay for cats as when their owners are away. The management office staff helps to look after the cats. There is an outdoor gym and a children's playground. I love to sit in my balcony in the evenings and watch the children come out to play football or rounders, while their mothers chat in the background. There used to be a library/reading room where the children could go to read or do their homework. I hope the recently elected committee will revive this. How much are the maintenance fees in my taman? An affordable RM121 monthly. Hard to beat especially as the location is just 10 mins' drive or a few bus-stops away from KLCC.

I wrote to The Star about this concept a few years back. My letter was published but apart from getting some positive response from readers, the concept to start a residents' service directory didn't take off. 

Such a concept can be easily implemented via social media platforms like FB groups or Telegram and Whatsapp. Getting all residents to come on board would help to foster a community spirit. Really, there's no excuse for not trying it out. All that is required is to lay down some rules to prevent user abuse of the platforms. 

One last word - with Malaysia's population moving towards aged nation status by 2040, and with the number of older adults living alone rising, reviving the kampung spirit makes a lot of sense. There will always be kind neighbours looking out for one another. And with ageing in place (at home) being the most popular choice of living options in old age, I hope more residents management committees will take up this model of community living in their housing area. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

WHEN THAT LOVING FEELING IS GONE.....


Divorce among older couples especially in Asia was virtually unheard of 50 years ago. Marriages were meant to last a lifetime. Even when death took away one partner, the other would remain faithful till death. My mother remained a widow for 60+ years when my father passed away at an early age. Couples in those days stayed together because they took their marriage vows seriously, more so if they married in a place of worship and exchanged vows before God.


In reality and in these days of freer social interaction between the sexes, remaining faithful to one person for the rest of one's life seems to be strictly for the firm believer in story book fairy tales of the genre 'and they lived happily ever after'. The reality is this is only the beginning of a marriage.

In South Korea, for example, longer life expectancy, gender equality and better financial support for divorcees have been cited as reasons behind the high rate of silver-haired divorces. The number of couples that decide to separate after living more than 30 years together increased 7.5 percent on-year and more than doubled compared with a decade earlier. (More Koreans end marriage at older age: data). 


It's the same in Malaysia and Singapore. With a global ageing population, it is not surprising that gray divorces are on the rise. I believe a lot also has to do with the emancipation of women. Baby boomers were the first generation to break through the gender discrimination barrier. With access to higher education and better job opportunities, older women are now able to support themselves. They are in a more secure financial position to break free from a marriage that no longer holds any meaning for them. 

No longer considered a social stigma, divorce now means liberation for many women, and an opportunity to start afresh on their own. (Image from The Daily Mail)

This is unlike our mothers' generation (those born in the 1920s-30s) who depended almost entirely on their husbands for support. So when the children have grown and flown the family home, it is time for these older women to pack up and leave too. Many divorcees are enjoying the single life again, or entering into new relationships. There is even less reason for them to remain in the role of the long-suffering wife, especially if their husband has been unfaithful or abusive to them. 


Sure, there are couples who are blessed to have found their 'soul mate' to share the rest of their lives with. They truly exemplify the meant-for-each-other marriage. But for many middle-aged and older couples, they are more likely to find themselves stuck in an unhappy marriage, wondering what happened to that sweetheart they once loved and married so many years ago. Both parties have changed and have become disillusioned with each other.

It's the same story in Singapore. What is interesting is that the number of older divorcees re-marrying has risen. Social stigmas associated with divorcees and second marriages have generally disappeared.

This is especially true for women in their 50s and 60s who feel trapped in their marriage. Emboldened by the rising number of silver-haired divorces they read about, they no longer think twice about initiating divorce proceedings. They no longer feel pressured to keep up a pretense of a happy marriage. They no longer fear facing the future alone.

70 years together "in sickness and in health". Unfortunately such loving elderly couples are a rarity these days. (Read the touching full story at The Huffington Post)

To be fair, there are husbands who want to leave their wives too. Some women are no angels, and do cheat on their husbands. Others are gold-diggers or title-seekers. Still others are so insecure, they become overly jealous and possessive of their husband, while many are born naggers, constantly harping on their husbands' perceived faults. Such women can make marriage a living hell for their husband. Of course, as shown in the recent Amber Heard vs Johnny Depp court trial, women can be the perpetrator and men the victim but such cases remain in the minority.

Divorces are usually messy, ugly and expensive. The only winners are the lawyers. Regardless, women will proceed to file for divorce rather than endure more years of suffering mental and emotional anguish in an unhappy marriage. Often their decision has the support of their adult children who do not want to see their mother in misery.

As long as neither party wants to give their marriage another chance, or if one partner is adamant about splitting, no amount of marriage counselling can help. When a marriage has irretrievably broken down due to irreconcilable differences, the best solution is a divorce. 


Here are some tips for a long-lasting marriage.

1. Appreciate your spouse and show it with little acts of love.
2. Communicate. Share your feelings, your views, your worries,
3. Continue to have sex and intimacy. Have weekly date nights.
5. Never criticize or humiliate your spouse in front of others.
6. Have realistic expectations of each other.
7. Embrace your differences.
8. Have your own pursuits as well as shared ones.
9. Learn from each other.
10. Support each other in maintaining an active healthy lifestyle.

(Reposted from an old blog article I wrote, and last updated on 4 July 2022.)