Thursday, Nov 23rd

Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Sunday, 05 February 2017 00:00

Bringing CNY Cheers to Old Folks with Songs

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Yee Lee Ha


The “Out-of-Tune Band” formed by Tzu Chi staff, volunteers and students from Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre visited care recipient, Loh Mee Ping (centre) on the ninth day of Chinese New Year and brought her cheers through singing. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

On February 5, 2017 (the ninth day of Chinese New Year), a team of Tzu Chi KL & Selangor’s staff and volunteers formed a 7-member band with guitars and ukuleles, to bring CNY cheers to elderly Tzu Chi care recipients through their singing.


‘Out-of-Tune’ band delivering happiness

On Chap Goh Mei in 2013, Ho Wen Yee, a staff of Tzu Chi KL & Selangor, formed an ad hoc musical band at Tzu Chi volunteers’ request and visited some Tzu Chi care recipients to celebrate Chinese New Year (CNY) with them. Having witnessed how the care recipients were entertained and enjoyed their performance, she decided to do this again this CNY when approached by volunteers.

“I managed to get a few colleagues and students of the Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre, who like to sing, to form an ad hoc band, named “Out-of-tune Band”. It was so named so that the elderly would not place high expectation on us. It was also because we were untrained professionally and did not have much time to practise. As a result, we did not sing well and were often out-of-tune,” explained Wen Yee.

Wen Yee and her team hoped that with the band name, they would be less stressful and could enjoy the singing, accompanied by guitars and ukuleles, in a relaxed manner.

However, Wen Yee faced her first challenge when her band arrived at the home of care recipient, Loh Mee Ping. Wen Yee visited Granny Loh four years ago and had performed a few songs to entertain her 90 year-old-mother, who greatly enjoyed their performance. Now, with the demise of Granny Loh’s mother two years ago, the former is living and suffering from Lupus erythematosus (an auto-immune disease) alone. Despite her medical condition, Granny Loh remained friendly and was smiling throughout the visit, without making any requests for songs.

After performing two or three songs, Wen Yee thought that the atmosphere was less merry. So she asked Granny Loh if she there was any particular song that she would like to hear.

Granny Loh thought for a while and replied smilingly that she liked to listen to Huang Qing Yuan’s songs when she was young, and her all-time favourites were “Man Li” and “Three Years”. Wen Yee and her band were stunned, as they had never heard of the singer, Huang Qing Yuan, let alone sing his songs. After a quick search on the Internet, they discovered that Huang Qing Yuan was a well-known singer in the 60s.

“We had prepared a few New Year oldies for the elderly, but surprisingly, our oldies are not ‘old’ enough for them. Luckily, we can search for the songs online,” said Wen Yee.

With melodies playing from their smart phones, the band sang the requested songs poorly intoned; and they had to learn and sing impromptu the next few requested songs too.  

Despite their out-of-tune and flawed singing, Wen Yee and her band did not give up. Instead, they were gratified that Granny Loh was entertained by their sincere performance. Wen Yee felt especially warm when everyone formed a circle and sang hand-in-hand. She deeply felt that music could bring them closer, and the musical instruments had worked wonders in bringing love and happiness to the care recipient’s heart.

Love is always there

Lim Yen Kuan, a staff with Tzu Chi’s Video Production Team, was one of the band members. During her secondary school days, and as a member of Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Group, she had visited Tzu Chi care recipient, Lim Thoi Yat. After graduation from the university, she joined Tzu Chi Foundation as a staff and did a video recording at Granny Lim’s home.

Yen Kuan could never forget the recording on Granny Lim. This old granny had to take care of her eldest daughter with intellectual disability; second daughter with poor and deteriorating vision; and her visually-impaired third son. Yen Kuan understands that Granny Lim’s motherly love and worries toward her children will never diminish with her old age; and she felt deeply for her. Hence, she would visit Granny Lim together with other volunteers on festive occasions.

However, after her relocation, she rarely met Granny Lim. Despite that, Granny Lim was able to recognize her and held her hands happily upon seeing her on this visit. Seeing 89-year-old Granny Lim and her children spending their CNY just like any other days, Yen Kuan felt sorry for them.

When asked which songs she would like to hear, Granny Lim replied that any song would do. Yen Kuan then suggested that they sang some cheerful CNY songs for the family. While the band was performing, Granny Lim’s second daughter sang along occasionally and clapped her hands happily.

Granny Lim gave the band a big applause after each song was performed though she could not understand the lyrics, as she only speaks Cantonese. It seemed like the songs had warmed the granny’s heart and refreshed her memories.

Granny Lim’s family has been under Tzu Chi’s care for almost 20 years. Although there were some changes in arrangements and assigned volunteers who visited her, Granny Lim was able to recall their names and faces. Yen Kuan found it hard to recognise some of the volunteers named by Granny Lim as the volunteer team has since grown larger.

Yen Kuan was deeply touched when Granny Lim said that she will not forget Tzu Chi and each and every volunteer who had visited her. It was evident to Yen Kuan that love is always there, and has become the best memory for Granny Lim. She also realized from the granny’s smiles that a simple caring gesture can last in one’s heart forever and can warm him/her for a whole life.

Giving of love neither costs us a penny, nor creates any burden or stress on us. We can bring a lot of happiness to the elderly by just spending time and chit-chatting with them, as well as, singing them their favourite songs. Yen Kuan found such CNY visits extra meaningful. Before she left, Granny Lim gave her a kiss on her cheek and she returned with a sweet hug. The beautiful sight moved the heart of everyone present.

It has been 15 years

When the band came to Thoo Sin Fah’s home, volunteers who had been caring for the latter were worried that he would refuse their visit upon seeing the guests. However, to their surprise, Grandpa Thoo welcomed them after he was told the purpose of the visit. Grandpa Thoo, who lives alone in a house with basic furnishing, felt apologetic for being unable to serve the guests some drinks. Wen Yee emphasized that their visit was to perform some songs to him.

After the band’s first performance, Grandpa Thoo did not say a thing. The band could not tell whether he was happy with their performance. When asked to make a request for songs, he happily requested for “Under the Banyan Tree”, a popular song in the 70’s not unfamiliar to the younger generation.

The band searched the Internet for the music video and sang along. Grandpa Thoo was amused when the band went all out to sing the high notes. After that, he requested for some English songs.

The band fulfilled his request and performed every song with the help of on-line music videos. Grandpa Thoo enjoyed the moment and would sing along occasionally. He said, “It has been more than ten years since I last listened to a song. I loved listening to and singing songs, but ever since my radio broke down, I couldn’t listen to these songs anymore.”

Yong Mun Fei, a cameraman on this visit, was touched as he noticed Grandpa Thoo’s face softened and even broke into smiles when the songs were sung.

Mun Fei recalled that he visited Grandpa Thoo in September 2016, when volunteers received report that the latter needed help to clean his house. However, Grandpa Thoo ignored them and even asked them to leave. Through gaps in the window, volunteers found that it was messy and smelly in the house. The spacious yard was also overgrown with weeds and untrimmed trees; and neighbours informed that there were snakes and mosquitoes in the bushes.

Volunteers also learnt from the neighbours and those who knew Grandpa Thoo that the latter had studied overseas and was a teacher. But no one knew since when he has been living alone. Seeing the aged and weak Grandpa Thoo going without meals sometimes, his neighbours would offer him some food.

Feeling sorry to see the skinny and unhappy Grandpa Thoo sitting alone in his house, volunteers started to visit him every few days and talk to him across the locked gate. They would also bring along home-cooked meals and leave them at his door, reminding him to take the meals.

Their persistence paid off as eventually Grandpa Thoo was willing to allow volunteers in. But volunteers did not talk much as he looked serious. He also rejected volunteers’ offer to clean up his house.

After gaining more trust from Grandpa Thoo, volunteers also sought and obtained his permission to allow the Municipality to trim the old trees and clear the bushes in his yard so that they do not become breeding grounds for snakes and Aedes mosquitoes, which will be harmful to him and others.

In October 2016, the Municipality came to clear the bushes and old trees in the yard, while volunteers took the opportunity to clean up the surroundings. Volunteers also tidied up Grandpa Thoo’s home bit by bit on their visits, and installed water piping so that the elderly did not have to rely on rain water.

Through his camera lens, Mun Fei has witnessed how Grandpa Thoo’s relationship with volunteers has become closer from the initial rejection to acceptance. Even though Grandpa Thoo would still get emotional and give volunteers the cold shoulder occasionally, he would welcome them after a short chat.

Mun Fei realized that love can break the ice and nourish a lonely heart. Today, Grandpa Thoo was especially happy, requesting songs to be sung one after another; and he sang along with smiles on his face. Being able to capture the elderly’s joyful expression for the first time, Mun Fei could not help but hum along. It was an especially meaningful CNY for him, for he had not only captured the beautiful memories with his camera, but also experienced pure happiness.



The last stop of the visit was Granny Ah Yong Kam Woon’s home. The elderly with mobility problem lives with her daughter. They courteously clapped their hands along with the singing.

Upon several requests from Wen Yee to name a few songs she would like to hear, the elderly replied gently and smilingly, “I like Indian songs! I used to sing Indian songs, but now I have forgotten the lyrics.”

The band surrendered when they heard her request, as no one could sing in Tamil even if they could get the songs from the Internet. They apologized to Granny Ah Yong and promised to learn to sing some Indian songs so that they could perform for her in future. Granny Ah Yong nodded and said “It’s OK”, but requested to take a photo with the visitors. To her, having Tzu Chi volunteers’ visit and singing performance during CNY was a moment worth remembering.

 

Even though the band led by Ho Wen Yee (1st left) had prepared some songs, they had to search the Internet for those requested by the elderly and sang the songs impromptu. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   Lim Yen Kuan (left) and Granny Lim Thoi Yat have known each other for almost 20 years. They were both happy to meet each other again. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Even though the band led by Ho Wen Yee (1st left) had prepared some songs, they had to search the Internet for those requested by the elderly and sang the songs impromptu. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
Lim Yen Kuan (left) and Granny Lim Thoi Yat have known each other for almost 20 years. They were both happy to meet each other again. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
The band performed some English songs at the request of Grandpa Thoo Sin Fah (left). [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   A usually serious-looking Grandpa Thoo Sin Fah smiled happily as the band performed. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

The band performed some English songs at the request of Grandpa Thoo Sin Fah (left). [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
 
A usually serious-looking Grandpa Thoo Sin Fah smiled happily as the band performed. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
Yong Mun Fei (3rd left) put his camera aside and joined the band to sing for the care recipient. [Photograph by Tan Kim Hion]   The band surrendered when Granny Ah Yong Kam Woon (left) requested them to sing Indian songs. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Yong Mun Fei (3rd left) put his camera aside and joined the band to sing for the care recipient. [Photograph by Tan Kim Hion]
 
 
The band surrendered when Granny Ah Yong Kam Woon (left) requested them to sing Indian songs. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]