Ageing together: it takes a nation, family; more children if you can afford to


Chew mei funTHE Government cannot face the challenges of an ageing nation alone, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun says.The problem requires a joint effort involving the Government, local councils, developers, insurance companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals, she says.

“Everybody must be responsible and do their part,” she insists.

Giving an example, she says developers should plan townships for senior citizens to grow old within the community “like one big family”.

She says local councils also play a very important role in ensuring that the roads and buildings are accessible to the elderly.

To encourage collaborations between the NGOs, the Government gives incentives to corporations to run corporate social responsibility projects, she says.

She says individuals have to plan for old age by keeping healthy and active and saving for their future needs.

On plans to build more homes to accommodate the growing number of seniors, she says the ministry hopes to de-institutionalise homes because a family environment is always better.

However, legislation forcing grown children to care for their parents, is “not the way”, she stressed.

She says cultivating values like filial piety by stressing on the importance of family bonds through education, is preferable.

“We have nine (registered) old folks homes nationwide with a total of 1,590 residents.

“And, there are an additional two homes housing more than 200 bedridden residents, 70% of whom are above age 60.

“If we accept residents too easily, some will just send them to us because it’s convenient,” she says, adding that five activity centres for seniors will be built in addition to the existing 45 nationwide. The number will be increased steadily.

She says ‘caring complexes’ housing both seniors and orphans are in the pipeline.

“The idea is for kids to cheer up the seniors while learning from their elders,” she says.

She says better health services have led to Malaysians living longer with couples now having to care for their children, parents and grandparents.

Acknowledging that it’s a huge financial burden, she says the ministry is trying to educate young couples on how to better plan for their family.

Explaining that family planning isn’t just about birth control, she says it entails managing family finances.

“We’re not asking couples to give birth blindly but if you can afford to, you should have more children,” she says.

On June 14, Sunday Star front paged how urban parents can expect to pay as much as the combined price of a luxury car and a semi-detached house to raise a child up to degree level. The report followed a remark by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim urging Malaysians to have more kids to address the projected shrinking population.

National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia president Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh is “very disappointed” that the country’s seniors were left out of both the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plan, lamenting that the elderly are a neglected lot.

“There is no social security for the old,” he points out.

Calling for a national forum to be held fast, he cautions that the country may reach aged nation status even before 2030.

“Everyone will grow old. The only question is when.

“We must tackle these challenges together but the Government has to spearhead the solution with a detailed development plan.”

While supportive of the Government’s call for couples to have more kids, he feels that it won’t solve the problem.

Suggesting a private pension fund be set up, he says it will ease the financial burden on families caring for their old parents while giving the seniors a sense of independence.

Seniors who are poor and without family must be cared for by the Government, he insists.

“There aren’t enough government old folk homes nationwide,” he says.

“We need at least 90 but we don’t even have one per state.”

Those who can afford private nursing homes are also suffering, he says.

He estimates there are some 4,000 private centres nationwide but only slightly more than 200 are regulated.

“Some pay between RM500 and RM600 to live in very poor conditions where seniors are hosed down instead of getting a proper bath.

“These unlicensed homes are stinky and the living conditions very undignified,” he says.

He feels that country’s healthcare system also needs to be improved.

“The waiting time is too long and there are not many geriatric doctors.

“The seniors will be dead by the time they get treatment,” he says, only half-in-jest.

But, he stresses, the seniors themselves must grow old with dignity by keeping active.

Soon’s deputy, Susan Suah, says there’s a need for aged-friendly housing.

The interior designer is working to come up with building guidelines. Some problems in current housing include the lack of bathrooms on the ground floor, switches that are too high up and poor lighting, she says.

“We have rooms for maids but not for old parents?,”she says adding that aged-friendly homes must be made mandatory.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (School of Social Sciences) associate professor Dr Saidatulakmal Mohd notes that while some supermarkets and shopping centres have started becoming aged-friendly, none of the new housing developments are.It’s worse when residential houses are converted into nursing homes for the elderly as it has been proven to be non-conducive to their wellbeing.

“We don’t need to wait until Malaysia becomes an aged society. Many of the elderly are already being abandoned and abused, she says.

“While it’s easy to point to the Government for a solution, it’s important to note that welfare aid for seniors has risen over the years.”

To cover rising public healthcare costs, she anticipates higher taxes for the future generation.

But unlike their parents, youngsters today don’t expect their children to care for them in their old age.

“This is because they are facing financial hardship providing for their family while supporting their aged parents and don’t want their children to go through the same thing,” she explains.

She calls on the Ministry of Women, Family and Community to bring back the ‘elderly in the community’ initiative to promote active ageing.

To be a developed nation by 2020, we need active seniors who can contribute to the nation but this is only possible if aged-friendly infrastructure is ready and the elderly are financially supported.

“In the UK, I saw seniors shopping for groceries, paying their own bills and eating out – which is rare here.

“In Malaysia, seniors are seen as ‘abandoned’ if they do these things themselves.

“The perception needs to change.” – The Star/Asian News Network

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Not ready to age

Can Malaysia’s household debt at 87.9% in 2014 be reduced to 54% ?


BEING a teenager, my granddaughter started to pick up interest on how the economy works, what are the real assets and liabilities in one’s financial planning. As the topic itself can be slightly “dry”, I made an attempt to discuss it in a way that was easier for her to digest.

“Our national household debt to GDP ratio edged up to 87.9% last year. Is the number alarming?” she asked one day.

“It depends. We have good debts and bad debts in life. For example, 10 years later, our new cars may have depreciated more than 80% and our new clothes would have been worn out. Those are liabilities. On the other hand, houses are assets as they will appreciate in the long run. Debts which are backed by appreciating assets are considered good debts,” I said.

As she nodded in agreement with my simple explanation of good debts and bad debts, her question has piqued my curiosity to look into the details of our household debt.

Overall, is our nation having more good debts or bad debts?

Bank Negara report shows that our household debt was at RM940.4bil or 87.9% of GDP as at end of 2014. Residential housing loans accounted for 45.7% (RM429.7bil) of total debts, hire purchase at 16.6%, personal financing stood at 15.7%, non-residential loans were 7.7%, securities at 6.5%, followed by credit cards and other items at 3.9% respectively.

At first glance, our residential housing loans were the highest among all types of household debts. However, a recent McKinsey Global Institute Report highlighted that in advanced countries, mortgages or housing loans comprise 74% of total household debt on average. As a country that aspires to be a developed nation by 2020, our housing loans that stand at 45.7% is considered low. In other words, we are spending too much on other depreciating items instead of appreciating assets like houses.

If advanced economies, which are usually consumer nations, have only 26% debts on non-housing loans, we shouldn’t have as high as 54% loans on items such as hire-purchase (which are mostly cars), personal loans, credit cards and others.

If we were to follow the household debt ratio of advanced economies, our housing loans of RM429.7bil should be at 74% of total household debts, and other loans should be reduced from 54% to 26%, i.e. from RM510.7bil to RM150.9bil. With such reduction, total household debt would be slashed significantly from RM940.4bil to RM580.6bil (existing housing loans plus reduced non-housing loans), the amount would be at 54.2% of GDP instead of 87.9%.

I am wondering why we can’t have a household debt to GDP ratio of 54.2% as illustrated above. Are we spending too much on depreciating items?

Non-housing loans comprise mainly borrowings for cars, personal loans and credit cards. Car value depreciates about 10% to 20% per year based on insurance calculation and accounting practice. Borrowings for personal loans and credit card are also likely to depreciate over time which can be dubbed as “bad debt”.

Perhaps it is time for the Government to introduce massive cooling off measures for non-housing loans in order to curb bad debt in our household debt.

According to our Deputy Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister, our homeownership rate currently stands at 50% and the Government strives to increase the number with more affordable homes. As a comparison, almost 85% of Singaporeans are homeowners.

We can expedite the above vision if more stringent measures are imposed on non-housing loans, it will free up more resources for household financial planning. The rakyat should be encouraged to secure a roof over their heads with effective execution of affordable housing policy by the Government.

It is time to re-look our debt categories and reallocate our resources appropriately. If we are willing to cut back on cars, clothes, shoes and other depreciating items, reducing a household debt to GDP ratio of 54.2% is not only an aspiration, but an achievable reality.

By ALAN TONG Food for Thought

And the more beneficial effect is, more rakyat will have the financial resources to own a house, which is both a shelter and an appreciating asset.

■ FIABCI Asia-Pacific regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

 

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Singapore is Asia’s best place to be mum, peoples back to being courteous & gracious


Singapore_mum best place

 A class for mothers carrying babies here. Singapore was ranked ahead of the next-best Asian countries South Korea and Japan in the latest Mothers’ Index. This rates countries based on five indicators relating to maternal health, children’s well-being, education, income levels and the political status of women. — ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Singapore is the best country in Asia to be a mother.

The Republic came out tops in the region in an annual index released by international aid agency Save the Children and was also ranked 14th worldwide, well ahead of the next-best Asian countries South Korea and Japan in 30th and 32nd spots.

Singapore moved up from 15th spot worldwide last year but short of its 2002 best of 13th.

Norway topped the international chart, beating last year’s winner Finland, while the United States was 33rd.

The 16th annual Mothers’ Index, released on Monday, rates 179 countries based on five indicators relating to maternal health, children’s well-being, education, income levels and the political status of women.

Singaporean women have a one in 13,900 risk of dying in childbirth while the infant mortality rate here is 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Gross national income per capita is US$54,040 (S$72,000). For these three measures, Singapore was placed among the top 10 countries globally.

But its ranking was pulled down by weaker performance in the educational and political arenas.

Children are expected to complete about 15.4 years of formal schooling here and a quarter of seats in the government are held by women.

In comparison, Norway recorded a national income of US$102,610. Political participation of its women is close to 40 per cent and children are expected to finish 17.5 years of school.

The US’ poor showing is partly due to its high risk for maternal death – one in 1,800, the worst level in any developed country.

Ms Sylvia Choo, director of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Women’s Development Secretariat, said Singapore has done well because of its strong investment in education and in ensuring that medical care remains accessible.

Since 2000, Singapore has cut its risk of maternal death by over 75 per cent, from one in 3,500 to one in 13,900.

Other experts say the findings, while commendable, should not be a reason for complacency.

They pointed out that the index tracks only parameters such as wealth, education and healthcare and does not take into account other pertinent issues specific to developed economies.

“It does not address the parent-friendliness of workplace policies, culture and practice,” said Ms Jolene Tan from the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). “Some countries ranked lower on the index such as the United Kingdom and Ireland have much more generous parental leave than Singapore.

“It also doesn’t consider security of employment. A mother who returns from maternity leave to find her position terminated has little recourse in Singapore, but she can invoke legal protection such as unfair dismissal claims in jurisdictions such as Canada, the UK and Ireland – all ranked less highly in this report.”

Save the Children’s chief executive Carolyn Miles said the data confirmed that a country’s economic wealth is not the sole factor leading to maternal happiness, but also that policies must be put in place to support mothers.

In the case of Norway, “they do have wealth, but they also invest that wealth in things like mothers and children as a very high priority”, said Ms Miles.

Ms Yeo Miu Ean, president of Women Empowered for Work and Mothering, said the fertility rate here remains low because some women want to avoid the dilemma of having to choose between work and children.

“They do not want to give their children the time or energy that is left over from work,” she said.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser agreed.

“Compared with the Nordic countries, we still need to catch up on gender inequality in terms of shared childcare responsibilities and work-life balance.”

By Janice Tai The Straits Times/Asia News Network, jantai@sph.com.sg

Singaporeans back to being courteous, survey shows

AFTER two years in which it seemed Singapore was becoming a less gracious country, one social barometer suggests it is back on its best behaviour.

The Singapore Kindness Move­ment (SKM), which has been releasing the annual Graciousness Index since 2008, revealed yesterday that the country scored 61 out of 100 this year, matching the highs it hit in 2010 and 2012.

It is a big jump from last year’s score of 55 and the record low of 53 in 2013.

The index measures “behaviour consistent with social standards and expectations based on the time, place and people around” and polled 1,850 people, including foreigners, between last December and February.

SKM general secretary Dr William Wan said: “If we as a nation continue this positive trend, kindness and graciousness can become part of our norms and national identity.”

He added that more stories of kindness were being reported on social media, while mainstream media had been highlighting disaster relief efforts.

Scores for people’s experience and perception of graciousness told different stories in the index.

They were asked if they had received, done or witnessed “a random act of kindness” in the six months before they were polled.

Scores in this component fell but were offset by improvements in the perception ratings, with respondents rating themselves and others higher when it came to being considerate, courteous and showing appreciation.

About 44% polled felt Singapore had become more gracious, up from 28% last year.

Asked who was responsible for making Singapore a gracious place to live in, more than seven in 10 respondents pointed to the Government, while six in 10 said themselves.

Dr Wan said the Education Ministry had an important role in fostering character development.

“I’d like to see 80% or 90% of people saying ‘kindness can start with me’,” he said. “We must take ownership.”

The SKM also studied attitudes towards neighbourliness and parenting.

Over 40% wanted more neighbourliness in their communities but among this group, fear and awkwardness were cited as stumbling blocks.

Nearly six in 10 respondents, including non-parents, felt parents did not lead by example when it came to being gracious.

Senior marketing manager Joyce Teng, 53, agreed that it was important for parents to be good role models.

Her daughter Emily founded Blessings in a Bag, which sends donated clothes and school supplies to the needy in Asia.

Teng said: “Instilling the qualities of kindness and giving is our responsibility as parents. I’m proud to see that Emily is now leading by example.” — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

How can Singapore improve its graciousness? Chief of Singapore Kindness Movement has some tips

By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 6 May 2015

Singapore scored 61 out of 100 in the latest Graciousness Index released on Tuesday. The Straits Times asked Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement what areas Singaporeans can improve in.

Public debate –
It appears to me that we have not learned to engage each other in real constructive debate. In choosing our sides of an argument, we neglect to listen and seem unable to consider viewpoints that run contrary to our own, and the next inevitability follows: name-calling, abusive statements, or worse. And to say the least, that is most ungracious! This behaviour is also not unique to the online space, but can also spill over into everyday life.

Road users –

Other than giving up seats on public transport which has improved every year, every other behaviour related to transport or road usage falls below 6. Our partners like the Land Transport Authority and the public transport organisations have now taken the lead in continuing to encourage more improvement in public transport behaviour, and we have
gladly taken a supportive back seat.

 

Our plans going forward include seeking out partnerships with bodies or associations dealing with private road users such as motorists, cyclists, pedestrians.

Cleanliness/environment –

We should treat our shared public spaces (our nation!) in the same way we treat our own homes. It’s not just about litter, it can even be as basic as the unhygienic scraps we tend to leave behind at hawker centre tables. We wouldn’t do that in our own homes, would we? Even if we had a domestic helper, we would ensure that the mess is cleaned up
immediately.

And when asked what is one area that could help Singapore make a big improvement in its graciousness index score?

Neighbourliness –
While our findings are quite positive about the current state, we also see the desire for more neighbourliness, but some uncertainty, fear or awkwardness on how to get started. If we live in comfortable and positive neighbourhood environments, it will be just so much more pleasant for us. And we will take that positivity and pleasantness to other people in other shared public spaces.

The Graciousness Index has continued to move up, from 53 in 2013 to 55 in 2014, and to 61 in 2015. This year’s rise is led by a growing sense of positive perceptions about kindness and graciousness in Singapore, with respondents rating both themselves and others higher when it comes to being considerate, courteous and showing appreciation. Read more: http://kindness.sg/blog/2015/05/05/graciousness-index-shows-further-improvement/

Hiking with children is good for the whole family


Hiking_family

Hiking as a family has built strong bonds, made beautiful memories and improved health. And everyone has learnt to be more creative in tackling obstacles as they are no longer couch potatoes!

THE day I traded my high heels for hiking shoes, the malls for hills and the stale city air for fresh jungle air, my life was never the same again.

It all began when my dear hubby Adrian Yeong took up hiking. He had been hiking close to six months to improve his health and fitness when I saw the changes in him: he had shed 13 kilos and was much fitter and healthier than before. Finally one day, I agreed to join him.

Wasting no time, he got me my first pair of hiking shoes. I had my first taste of hiking at the Challenger trail in Gasing Hill, Petaling Jaya, on August 1, 2010. Since then, Gasing Hill has become our regular training ground.

Friends who heard of our hiking activities thought we were crazy to hike three times a week and when they learnt that we also brought our younger four children along with us, in their dictionary, we were well…insane. Why bother doing such tiring activities?

Many would not consider hiking with kids, supposedly because: “They will complain!”, “They will cry!”, “They will not want to walk!”

Our children being city kids were no angels either. They were always trying to find excuses to escape from hiking so that they could spend time at home instead, watching television and playing computer games. But as parents, we had the last say and so our hiking journey began…

The writer carrying her youngest son, Joseph, on her back, while climbing Gunung Datuk.

By training our children, who were then one-plus, three, seven and ten years old to hike, all of us eventually got fitter and stronger. Our speed and endurance improved. In a short span of five months, Adrian and I did 50 hikes while our kids went on 30 hikes with us.

We had explored almost all the hills and a few waterfalls in the Klang Valley. After a while, it felt a bit boring hiking the same hills. I dreamt of exploring further but often doubted if we were up to the challenge of hiking more than an hour plus with our young kids.

Little did I know that one day I would get to know a Facebook friend, Michael Mui, and that our feet would soon hit real mountains. Mui got to know of our family hiking activities and invited us to join him to hike Gunung Angsi and Gunung Datuk (both in Negri Sembilan).

In his own words, he described these mountains as “a stroll in the park!” That was our first event with the Freewill Hikers Club, a dynamic hiking group based in Johor led by Captain Richard Yeoh. My husband, being an adventurous guy, took up the idea immediately and the rest is history.

On August 11, 2012, Adrian and I, together with our young hikers, hiked our first two mountains Gunung Angsi and Gunung Datuk, on consecutive days. My two kids Audrey (then aged 12) and Dylan (nine) hiked on their own accompanied by our new friends while I carried Joshua (five) on and off as he happened to be a bit moody in the beginning.

The writer with her husband, Adrian Yeong, and their kids on the peak of Broga Hill, Selangor.

My capable hubby backpacked Lil Joseph (three years old and 12kg in weight) up to the peak of Gunung Angsi and back. Hiking more than an hour with heavier loads than other hikers made it tough.

To make matters worse, wearing the new hiking boots I got him as a surprise, he twisted his ankle during the hike. Despite having applied some ointment over the night, he still had not recovered from the injury and so I volunteered to backpack Lil Joseph up Gunung Datuk the next day.

I remembered assuring my dear hubby that I would hand the little boy over to him should the going get too tough. My hubby agreed to my suggestion. That was my first hike carrying my son up a mountain.

It was my first experience and I found Gunung Datuk to be a steep mountain, with endless roots along the way. Carrying my little boy up weighed me down though I found it quite easy to go on all fours, pulling myself up by tree roots.

Our new friends from Freewill Hikers were very helpful and took care of our two older kids, Audrey and Dylan. While Audrey was slow and steady, Dylan flew up with them and managed to reach the peak in 1 hour 40 minutes; whereas, with my load, we took about 30 minutes more.

It was tiring and our friends kept bluffing us — “You are almost there”, “15 minutes more to the peak”, “Just another 15 minutes more” — in the name of encouragement.

To reach the actual peak of Gunung Datuk, the writer’s family had to clamber up these ladders.

Nevertheless, we made it. At the false peak, I told my husband: “Darling, you take over. I am too tired!”

I handed my little boy over to my hubby to tackle the metal ladder that leads to the actual peak of Gunung Datuk as I was just too exhausted. We had all made it up to Gunung Datuk!

Those were our first two mountains — tough but rewarding. The next few months that followed saw us at Gunung Lambak, Gunung Belumut and Gunung Panti (all three in southern Johor, near Kluang).

Our toughest hike with Lil Jo was Gunung Belumut. Our little boy now weighed 15 kilos and he had not been trained as he was small. He also often pretended to be a 4WD stuck in the mud whilst hiking with his siblings, an idea he got from the multiple off-road trips we had gone for.

I uttered a prayer in the morning, “Dear God, I don’t know how we are going to make it hiking up Belumut but I ask for your help and enablement, in Jesus’ name.”

I came up with a plan. Conserve our energies, get the boy who normally walked only for half an hour to hike as far and as fast as he could. Motivating him, I said, “Jo, you need to look for 10 ant trails and you will get an ice-cream.”

The writer (centre) with her children, husband (right) and Lee Keam Keong of Freewill Hikers at the peak of Gunung Belumut (1,010m) in Kluang, Johor.

So I promised him and we went hunting all the way. He played with twigs, pretending they were rifles and he was soon blasting and shooting away, chasing his brother Joshua and another a new friend, a boy about six, named Rain, who was the grandson of Captain Richard Yeoh of the Freewill Hikers Club.

He played all the way and when he was tired, I gave him some drinks to boost his energy. I also talked, joked and laughed with him in order to distract him from the distance we had to cover. Lo and behold, my four-year-old boy successfully hiked up to the peak in four hours without being carried. It was a miracle indeed. My prayers were answered.

On the way down, Lil Joseph was now tired and had to be carried by his strong daddy. Adrian later shared that it was easier to carry a 15kg bagpack rather than our little boy as he kept swaying to and fro in the baby carrier as he tackled the tough steep terrain, squeezing through tight spots and at times jumping over gullies and large tree roots. After descending for over two hours, his neck and shoulders were stiff.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and we’ve had to build up our strength as well as our endurance in hiking. Being positive has made us conquerors. With sufficient training and preparations, we’ve tackled various mountains.

Our conclusion on hiking with kids: it’s not easy and did not happen overnight. But it’s not mission impossible either as kids have new engines and are fast learners.

By clocking the hours and allowing them to master hiking skills, we’ve built up their fitness and confidence. After time, they have become capable hikers.

Hiking together as a family has been rewarding as we’ve built strong bonds and made beautiful memories. We’ve inculcated healthier lifestyles and our children have learnt to tackle obstacles, to never give up and be optimistic.

It has taught them outdoor skills and built their appreciation of nature. It has made them strong, courageous and creative.

This is a win-win situation and I strongly encourage families to take up hiking as a regular family activity. Just make a change in your life and that of your family. Bring them out hiking. All you need is a good pair of hiking shoes, determination and motivation.

Go for it folks, don’t be a coach potato!

Backpacks, trekking poles, head lamps, a dry bag, a sleeping bag and a poncho are among the prizes being offered for those who write in about their Star2 Adventure Challenge.

By JESSY PHUAH The Star/Asian News Network

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Wake up and live: Hiking can build confidence, health, endurance, stamina and fitness!


Hiking_Shereen Teng
Shereen Teng clambering up rocks at Gunung Rinjani.
It took death and sickness to make one girl change her life… and start hiking.

Shereen Teng? That petite girl … a hiker? You must be kidding. This was the reaction of anyone who knew me well back then.

I was a couch potato-cum-workaholic who was glued to the TV during my free time. After work, I rushed home to watch my favourite Korean actor in action – Lee Min Ho. During peak periods, I spent hours in the office working like there was no tomorrow.

But in 2011, my life took a 360 degree turn and I transformed from a typical “girlish” lady into an outdoor person.

Let me reminisce what inspired me to transform my lifestyle back then. I had just joined a new company and firstly, there was shocking news about a lady there. After being diagnosed with cancer, she passed away three months later, leaving behind her two little children.

Secondly, during the first week on my new job, I worked until the wee morning hours even though I had very high fever. To keep my temperature down, the doctor jabbed me with painkillers. I was eventually hospitalised for one night due to an extreme allergic reaction (my whole body was swollen).

Hiking_Shereen Teng1

Teng (seated in orange) with her team mates at the top of Gunung Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia. Photos: SHEREEN TENG

These two events woke me up. I didn’t want to die as a person with a meaningless life. And so I decided it was time to make a difference in my life and all those around me.

Being a Facebook addict, I browsed through many groups and found Boots n Fins, which organises activities such as hiking and scuba diving.

I decided to try hiking. Who knows, maybe I would enjoy it.

I signed up for a hike to Gunung Datuk, Negri Sembilan. There were carpooling arrangements, and I braced myself to meet a couple of strangers – YY Wong and Tamil Selvam – in front of Subang Parade. People thought I was crazy because I might end up being kidnapped!

But I had to take my chances. Being my inaugural hike, I was not prepared with the proper gear. Instead, I was just clad in a shirt, long pants and sports shoes. After an hour of driving, we reached the place. It was a very bright sunny day, perfect weather for hiking.

The initial part of the hike past a river was reasonably easy. Then, we had to ascent a very steep trail. My heart sank and I thought, “Why in the world did I sign up for this? Why torture myself?”

I hardly exercised back then and I worried if my legs could handle it. But step by step, I pulled myself uphill, stopping many times to catch my breath. Along the way, I met a girl called San San and her friends. It was strangely conforting to see that they were also exhausted.

After hiking for about three hours, I reached the top. The view was breathtakingly beautiful and I immediately fell in love with the place!

At the top of Gunung Kutu, near Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor.

Then we had to descend and my leg muscles started to cramp. Oh no! We had to hike a long way back to reach the trailhead. I used all my strength and slowly pulled myself together. After hiking for an hour, I almost wanted to give up, but I had no choice – no one was going to carry me down.

San San and the other girls, kept on encouraging me and shouted, “Jia You! Jia You!” in Mandarin, which means “Do your best!”. Yet, I was exhausted and could hardly feel my legs. I felt as if I was crippled, sitting in a wheelchair.

Slowly, I kept on going, even though my legs felt like lead. After an hour more of sheer torture, I finally reached the bottom.

For a week after the hike, I could hardly walk. Yet it was the most memorable hiking experience ever. And it led me to many more adventures. Hiking has strengthened me physically and mentally. I have joined other groups such as the KL Hiking and Trail Running group.

I can hardly believe it … but I have made a difference in my life. I am overjoyed that I have succeeded in climbing many mountains, including Rinjani (Indonesia) and Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. My journey in hiking will never cease. I am glad to say that I am no longer a couch potato!

If I can do it, I am sure everyone can too. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!

By Shereen Teng The Star/Asia News Network

Building stamina: A hiker goes from hill to Mount KinabaluHiking_Jason Lim

Jason Lim made it to peak of Mount Kinabalu on his second try.

After struggling and sweating buckets, climbing a modest hill, one hiker has since done Kinabalu three times.

“Let’s climb Mount Kinabalu,” said a friend. That’s how it all started for my big climb up there.

Since joining the workforce in 2001, life was mostly about work and then spending the hard-earned money on food, gadgets, holidays, etc.

Exercise decreased and pounds were beginning to build up, no thanks to my job which sometimes involves hours of “yum cha” (tea drinking) business development sessions.

Mount Kinabalu first struck my interest when my colleague showed wonderful pictures taken during her climb to the summit. And in early 2008, when Ben, one of my “yum cha” kaki, suggested a climb to Mount K, I promptly agreed.

This was the beginning of my hiking journey. Prior to that, I had also noticed that my fitness level was at the lowest level since school days. Joining the trip was a way to push myself to be fit again and to prove that I still had what it takes.

Our training brought me to Bukit Tabur, Apek Hill and Batu Caves (all around Kuala Lumpur) as well as Gua Tempurung (Perak). These were places which I would not have thought of going if I had not taken up the challenge.

I still remember our first hike at Apek Hill in Cheras, KL. At the end, I felt like I had just gone through a detox programme, after sweating out what seemed like litres of toxins from my body. Though it was really tiring, I felt completely “refreshed” and knew that there was a lot more to be done.Hiking_Jason Lim1

Jason Lim (centre) with his friends on a training climb up Bukit Tabur, near Kuala Lumpur. Photos: Jason Lim

Among all the places I’ve climbed, I would say Bukit Tabur has probably the most wonderful scenery. It’s also challenging enough to build your endurance and stamina.

We had about six months to prepare for our big climb. For anyone planning to conquer Mount K, I would say it’s good to train up your stamina consistently. However, my training regime was not very consistent – I paid for this later.

Our climb was on Aug 30 and 31, 2008 (Merdeka Day) and the seven of us rented a van to send us to Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu (KK) city before sunrise.

The climb started in a joyous and excited mood, but close to the third kilometre of the trail, accident struck. The trail was wet and slippery from an earlier downpour and Ben accidentally slipped, fracturing his ankle. The team were shocked and sad for him as he was the one who had pulled the group together for this trip and made all the arrangements. He had to be escorted back to Kinabalu Park by our guide, and eventually transferred to KK for hospital admission.

Our spirits were a bit down but we continued our journey and eventually the last of us reached (the halfway point of) Laban Rata around 4pm.

Rain started to pour midway and we had to put on raincoat for the last half of the hike.

The journey to the peak started around 2:30am the next day. Of the six of us, only four completed it. One of us suffered from altitude sickness not long after starting the climb, while the other one who didn’t make it was myself. I gave up about 500 metres away from the peak.

But having made it that far, I was still very proud of my achievement, though there were some regrets till this day for not completing it. At that time, somehow I just didn’t feel like I had the stamina. Now you know why I say consistent training is important.

Drenched with rain at Laban Rata, halfway to the Mount Kinabalu.

 We continued our regular hiking sessions after his recovery, and less than two years later, I went back to Mount K again with Ben and different group members. Better prepared and trained this time, I eventually made it to the peak this round. However Ben didn’t due to altitude sickness.

But the most important part of it was, both of us had tried our best. And along the way, we built a friendship that we treasure. Thanks Ben for bring me back to fitness!

The climbs up Mount K have definitely brought back the “exercise mode” back to me. I started running, cycling and hitting the gym more from then on.

As for my health, I have managed to prevent my blood pressure level from going up further, and my stamina has also improved so much. I did a third Mount K climb in 2012 and the time taken to reach Laban Rata was 25% less than the first climb.

I have come so far since my first training session at Apek Hill where I was struggling to just keep up with the other regular climbers who were mostly uncles and aunties!

 

By Jason Lim The Star/Asia News Network

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Entrepreneur Liew Kee Sin from SP Setia to Eco World, passing the baton to the right person


Eco World_Liew & SonLiew and his son Tian Xiong (left) at the interview. The biggest shareholder of Eco World Development Group is Tian Xiong, who at 22 in 2013 became the major shareholder of the company.

Entrepreneur who drives the smaller Eco World group is still a much talked-about figure in corporate world

AT 57 years of age, Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin can easily count himself to be one of the most talked about personality in Malaysia’s corporate circle – by the Government, the private sector and property investors.

Amidst the unravelling of events over the past four years, including his exit from SP Setia Bhd, Liew continues to be among the corporate figures today that enjoy the adulation of some and the wrath of others.

Since leaving SP Setia a year ago, Liew has been furiously on the ball, trying to “regain” what he has lost. He has kept a fast and furious pace, though buffeted on every front by unabating current.

Although he has previously overcome challenges thrown at him, the pressure this time is different, in severity and magnitude. It’s a pressure cooker in Eco World Development Group Bhd (EWB), he admits.

“The momentum is on-going. It forces me to be the face of Eco World,” he says.

The positive side to all these is that he has about 300 out of a staff count of 800 who joined him from his previous company. This round of rebuilding includes his son, Tian Xiong, 24. That may also account for him being more driven than before.

While he has made a success of the 4,000 acres in S P Setia’s flagship development in Shah Alam years ago, today’s climate of high house prices and stagnant wages mean his team would have to work doubly hard. So far, however, most of his projects in the Klang Valley and Johor seem to enjoy take-up rates of 80% and above.

His latest launch in Batu Kawan, Penang, has prices hovering in the RM700,000-RM800,000 bracket.

Credited with making something out of 4,000 acres in Shah Alam, Liew is trying to do the same in Semenyih, Selangor, and Batu Kawan, Penang, on a smaller scale. Liew says his objective is to set a new benchmark in terms of concepts, ideas and designs for branding purposes.

Next month, he will be launching 1,130 units in London City Island with a gross development value (GDV) of £617mil, at a time when house prices are frothy, with wages stagnant. The May 7 elections is another dampener. The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has just sold a building at a profit and may be selling another.

The weakening ringgit works for and against him. For local investors, a property abroad is a good hedge against exposure to any possible future weakening of the ringgit. The downside is that the pool of buyers shrink with the weaker ringgit.

However, the target market for the London City Island project goes to Hong Kong, Singapore and London.

Even as he is keeping his finger on sales, other challenges faces Liew and the Eco World group.

Eye on SPAC

In October last year, Liew and his team proposed to list Eco World International Bhd (EWI) as a SPAC (special-purpose acquisition company). But the Securities Commission has yet to approve the application.

While awaiting the SC’s nod for the the proposed SPAC, in January, he and his right hand man Datuk Voon Tin Yow in their personal capacity, via a private vehicle, entered into a joint venture with UK-based Ballymore on a 75:25 basis to develop three projects in London – with the first slated to kick off next month.

The plan was to inject the three properties into EWI, which will be the vehicle for the proposed SPAC. Shareholders of EWB would not be left out as they would be offered up to a 30% stake in EWI.

It was a neat plan – at least on paper.

But the snag is that a SPAC is a blank cheque listing. It is supposed to list without pre-identified and ready assets, which is an issue when it comes to EWI. This is despite Liew’s plan to inject the private purchases “at cost plus holding costs” – meaning Liew and Voon do not profit from the asset injection.

“But this goes against the spirit of SPAC guidelines as set by the SC. A SPAC is a blank cheque listing … a cash box looking for assets,” says a merchant banker.

“To go global, we must react quickly to market conditions, better design concepts and learn. We have the skill set,” he says. He learned a lot managing and marketing Battersea. No matter how challenging a project, “you gotta break it down to smaller bits”.

Nevertheless, Liew hopes to see some development with respect to the SPAC application within the next month or so.

Keeping EWB and EWI on separate lanes will help him to manage the gearing of both companies and reduce dilution for shareholders of EWB that includes his son, who is the major shareholder.

Liew says he also does not want to park the London assets under EWB because they are too big for its balance sheet.

Although his stake has diluted from 35.05% in 2013 to 13.52% on March 27, 2015, he is still the major shareholder.

Visionary though he may be, time was on his side when Liew built his previous “priced possession”, which is S P Setia. He built S P Setia over the years at a more even pace while the momentum and task he faces today with regards to the Eco World Group has been nothing short but blistering.

Within two years, the company has accumulated 5,396 acres with a GDV of about RM55bil. Debts was up at RM1.15bil as at Jan 31, 2015, from RM215mil in September 30, 2014. (Sept 2013: RM52mil). EWB completed a rights issue raising RM800mil and will undertake a placement. At the end of the corporate exercise, EWB’s gearing will be less than 0.6 times and it will be sitting on a pile of cash that will be used for working capital to develop the massive land bank here.

Liew says he received a lot of offers to work with landowners.

“People ask, why so aggressive? It’s because of the brand. We want to charge ahead in Malaysia. We are using up about 800 acres a year.”

Dealt a good hand

Although Liew has been dealt a good hand in his working life, he may be losing another priced project, all within two years.

As he goes about tying up loose ends on the Battersea chairmanship, a legacy from S P Setia days, and finishing the restructuring in EWB by the end of this month, questions about conflicts of interest have surfaced.

The Battersea Power Station is a 40:40:20 project with S P Setia and Sime Darby holding equal share and EPF remaining 20%.

“When I resigned from S P Setia in April 2014, the Battersea board suggested I wait till September 2015. At that time, there was no Eco World Ballymore (Holding Co Ltd, a developer of the three projects) yet.”

The private vehicle belonging to Liew and Voon – Eco World Investment – has a 75% stake in EcoWorld-Ballymore while UK-based Ballymore Group owning the rest.

At about June of last year, he declared to the board of Battersea of his interest to go into property development in Britain. He was told to wait.

Six months later in January this year, Liew and Voon went public with their 75% stake in the UK-Malaysia joint venture. At that point, he felt “obligated to resign” but was told to wait.

“We have three projects which may seem to be competing with Battersea Power Station although in terms of price point, they are priced differently.”

The latest Battersea Phase 3A units are priced at £1,700 per sq ft while the EcoWorld-Ballymore units are being sold at about £1,000 per sq ft. About 90% of the EcoWorld Ballymore units will be less than £1mil.

Ironically, a vexing issue confronting Liew these days is his chairmanship of Battersea. The roots of the situation he is caught in today can be traced to his entrepreneurship that created Malaysia’s biggest property company that he lost control to Permodalan Nasional Bhd – after a protracted corporate exercise which started in 2011.

Liew, however, is still capable and motivated to use his set of skills to further create value for himself and those around him. But the dichotomy is between duty and interest.

“I do not want to offend anyone anymore. But I (also) feel duty bound,” says Liew.

The Battersea project, which is Liew’s brainchild when he was in S P Setia, has several key milestones in the next one year.

Phase one of the project will be handed over to buyers next year. Work on Malaysian Square – the pride and joy of Malaysia – has just started. Work on London’s underground Northern Line extension, which connects to Battersea, begins this year. These milestones will help the investment to appreciate.

The British authorities are concerned about the reconstruction of the four white chimneys and the restoration of the power station brickwork. So Battersea has quite a bit of important obligations to meet in the next one year and it cannot afford any slip-ups.

“I am under a lot of pressure … Morally, I should resign. But when I buy (my land in London), I also declare (to the board). I am duty bound to declare on the grounds of good governance. At the same time, I am also duty-bound as chairman because this year is crucial for the Battersea.

“I am trying to get out of this (situation) because I want to reduce the areas of conflict between myself, the Government and everybody else. I have lost S P Setia and I should gentlemanly give up (Battersea),” says Liew.

Time will only provide an answer.

With London mayor Boris Johnson ending his term in 2016 – and considering Liew has a good working relationship with him – there are are more than several reasons for shareholders of Battersea to continue to retain him for another year as chairman. Before works such as the construction of the underground station and reconstruction of white chimneys take off, there is a lot of interaction with the London authorities, something that is not easy to cultivate.

Interest versus duty

Whatever the outcome of his Battersea chairmanship, there are at least two broad contentious issues here. His fiduciary responsibility and duty of care is one. Liew has taken that duty seriously and returned value for that which was entrusted to him. The second issue is his skill set. Life has obviously given Liew a good card, despite his losses.

Now, the question that arises is if he should wait if opportunities come, complete all ties with Battersea and S P Setia before embarking on new ventures that may not come knocking every day?

Every day, directors are offered various opportunities which conflict with their fiduciary duty. Often times, the fiduciary duty of directors, parallel to trustees, can be onerous. But the law is the law.

Yet, in many ways, Liew’s situation is parallel to a 1978 case of Queesland Mines Ltd v Hudson. The company Queensland Mines was an iron ore mining company that established as a joint venture between A Ltd and F Ltd. Hudson was the managing director of A Ltd and had negotiated with the Tasmanian government for mining licences.

Just before the licences were issued, Hudson’s joint-venture partner ran into financial difficulties and was unable to proceed with the venture.

Hudson resigned, taking the licences with him, and formed his own company. At considerable risk and expense, Hudson exploited the licences and earned profits. Queensland later filed a suit against Hudson for what it claimed was abusing his position to divert opportunties for himself.

However, the courts ruled that although the opportunity to make profits came to Hudson through his position at Queensland Mines and was something that the board was made aware of, Hudson was not in a position of conflict.

The position Hudson was prior to 1978 is the predicament Liew faces today. In both these cases, the contention boils down to timing and turn of events.

If one were to consider the big picture and balance out the events surrounding Liew in the last four years, should he not be allowed to exploit the resources due to him because of his skills and expertise? Or should he be shackled by time and ties, despite having added value to those he has been entrusted with? That would be unfair to Liew.


The legacy issue – passing the baton to the right person

AT the spanking new Eco World International Centre in the Gardens office block in Kuala Lumpur recently, a photo session was in progress. There was a light-hearted camaraderie in the air.

Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin and his top management were present, all of them in their white Nehru-collared shirt with green trimmings.

The photo session was as much symbolic as telling. It was as if to say: “These are the people I will need to grow Eco World Development Group Bhd (EWB).”

With a staff strength of about 800, about 300 of them were from Liew’s previous company S P Setia Bhd. Despite the market conditions working against the property sector and crushing issues confronting him, Liew was his usual warm, confident self.

A lot of this has to do with the people around him. Liew was named chairman in March and his right-hand man Datuk Voon Tin Yow, previously from S P Setia, joined the group officially as executive director.

A notable addition was newbie Liew Tian Xiong, 24, bright-eyed and smiling. He first surfaced in 2013 and has been seen as a proxy of his father. The presence of that young man has changed the landscape for Liew.

Passing the baton

It is a legacy issue. As one considers the property sector, a number of the country’s developers have in one way or another paved their sons and daughters to join Dad.

There is Datuk N.K. Tong, 47, group managing director of Bukit Kiara Properties Sdn Bhd who joined Datuk Alan Tong, who is known as Condo King for his work in Sunrise Bhd’s Mont’Kiara.

It was the elder Tong who saw the potential of the area, then Segambut and bought 100 acres there. Over the years, Mont’Kiara has progressed to become a thriving suburb and is currently considered as “an aspirational location” among the young.

Ken Holdings Bhd group managing director Sam Tan, 35, joined his father Datuk Kenny Tan. That was 2004, and he was 24.

Over at the Sunway group, Sarena Cheah, 40, the daughter of Sunway Bhd founder Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah and anointed successor, will assume full control of the group’s key property unit effective May 1. She may well have been the youngest to join Dad, when she was just 20, in 1995. She started out in the corporate finance and group internal audit divisions.

Passing the baton cannot be done overnight. There is a lot of planning to do. There is also the task of moulding and nurturing the right person for the job and looking over the shoulder of the young person to ensure they are constantly on the straight and narrow. If there are more than one, then there is the selection process of who will take up the position of annointed successor.

After the painful lesson of having lost S P Setia, Liew would clearly circumspect legacy and stewardship issues.

Which takes this story to next level.

Who is working for who?

The years of passing the baton may be painful, for both parties. This explains why the years of preparation are so crucial before the final moment of actually handing over the reins. In each of the three cases – N.K., Sam and Sarena – the children joined Dad and allowed themselves to be moulded.

Which takes us to the next question.

Is Tian Xiong working for Dad, or is Dad working for Tian Xiong?

Every parent wants the best for their children and Liew is no exception.

By joining the company now, Tian Xiong will have “the history” of the company. But will he be able to take on turbulent times?

He ponders: “It’s a pressure cooker here.”

If the staff do not accept him, he will never be the “real boss”, says Liew.

Of late, Liew has been keeping the young man closely by his side.

The rationale, says Liew is that, whatever Tian Xiong had learned in EWB in the last two years, he would take years to learn outside. So he better learn fast and learn now.

Stewardship

It is not just passing the baton. It is stewardship.

Says Tian Xiong after Liew steps out of the room: “Every night, from 9 to 10pm, he would nag me about how I dress, my tie, what time I get into office, how long I took for lunch and what I did after lunch. And other larger office and market issues.

“He also told me that I have to earn it, that it is not going to drop on me, that I have other siblings,” says Tian Xiong.

On whether he was pressured into returning to Malaysia from Melbourne where he graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Melbourne, Australia, he says he returned on his own free will.

The young man first surfaced in 2013 as a buyer for a little known company Focal Aims Holdings Bhd. His emergence “caused a tsunami” because during that period, there was many questions as to Liew’s move.

Tian Xiong started out in corporate finance department for the first two years and is currently in corporate marketing.

By Thean Lee Cheng The Star/Asia News Network

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Chinese women’s marriage criteria,logical search for a mate


72% of women consider housing as a key requirement for a marriage partner, says the latest report of the Chinese Marriage Status Survey 2014, issued by China’s leading marriage service provider Baihe.com on Jan.11, 2015.

Researchers collected the results of 73,215 online questionnaires and held in-depth off-line interviews with 200 single men and women from 34 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.


Why still single?

The report shows that 63% of single men and women spend an average of more than six hours alone on their rest days; and 32% spend more than 10 hours alone. Surfing the internet, hanging out with friends, and just “quietly” staying at home have become the top three activities for single people.

32% of single women follow TV dramas while 67% of men scan websites, killing their private time at home.

The report concludes that the main reasons for remaining single is too much time spent alone – too few social contacts is the top obstacle to meeting the right person. 80% of single women report this.

Gender differences in marriage requirements

Nowadays, love is no longer the only passport for two people to enter marriage. The report says that more than 40% of single men and women are only willing to get married with a person in a suitable situation. People are becoming ever more rational and realistic when choosing their spouses.

The top three concerns for single men are appearance, physical health, and emotional experience. Single women attach more importance to a partner’s financial situation, physical health, and career.

33% of single men and 27% of single women have experienced interference from parents in their relationships.


Focus on housing

The report shows that 71% of women view housing as a key requirement for a potential marriage partner. 18% of women counted car ownership as one of the basic requirements, a rise of 9% compared with 2012. Both men and women said that a stable income and some savings were important factors.

Nearly 60 percent of women do not intend to have a second child, according to the report, although China has relaxed its birth control policy to allow couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child.

The report also shows that 33% of women think that Chinese men do not deserve Chinese women, in terms of “self-accomplishments and ability to care for themselves.” – (People’s Daily Online)

Home_Love The logical search for a mateChina_Love

‘Love’ takes a back seat when seeking prospective life partners

LOVE is not the only criterion for marriage in China. A recent survey shows that more than 40% of Chinese look to marry someone who suits them in appearance, educational background, social status, income and other characteristics.

Baihe.com, a major dating portal in China, released its 2014 Chinese Marriage Status Survey Report on Sunday.

The site has tracked marriage trends in the country since 2007.

The latest results show that 44.4% of male and 49.7% of female respondents said the reasons for their choice of a marriage partner include their prospective mate’s coming from a family of equal social rank.

“This means people are much more rational when it comes to the marriage decision,” the report said.

“They would like to match each other under every single standard. Love is no longer the only pass.”

The report also said that more than 70% of female respondents said they would consider marriage only if the male partner owns property.

And more than 70% of the women hoped their future husband’s income would be double their own.

Zhou Xiaopeng, the chief marriage consultant at Baihe.com, characterised the phenomenon as “supermarket marriage”, where people come with “money in hand” and want to select the best “products” after shopping around.

Tu Ying, a researcher at the portal, said that seeking a partner with quantifiable requirements is efficient.

“In everyday life, it is more and more difficult to find the right person and get to know him or her – not to mention the cost it comes with,” Tu said. “If people start with quantifiable standards, and then develop their relationship based on that, it is more likely to be a stable relationship.

“Starting marriage with money cannot guarantee stability from the beginning.

“Every relationship needs cultivation from each side.”

Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at Renmin University of China, attributes the new approach to marriage choices to changes in society.

“Chinese people’s view of choosing a mate has undergone many changes,” Zhou said.

“In the past, marriage was arranged by parents, which reflected the will of family or country. Then it became a personal choice, or socalled love choice. And now it is more related to material standards, or what we call materialism in marriage.”

“This is simply because people live in a materialistic world: A couple needs an apartment to live in, which costs a lot; the couple needs to find a good school for their children, which costs a lot; the couple who live far away from their parents need to find a way to support them, which also costs a lot,” Zhou said. “It is a vicious circle.”

Zhou said to reverse the materialistic trend, the country needs to continue its anti-corruption campaign and improve social welfare, and young people need to know that money is not the solution to everything. – China Daily/Asia News Network

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