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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Wednesday, 19 December 2018 00:00

Living My Best Life as a Senior

Written by  Yen Yu Chu, Malacca / Translated by Lee Hung Jiew

Ng Saw Hua enlisted the help of fellow volunteer Alex Tan Ah Lek in early February 2018 to refurbish the pre-loved goods resale zone. In the photo, he is removing excess racks to allow for more space. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The human life expectancy is increasing nowadays. However, living longer does not necessarily equate to living well. Ageing presents challenges like illness, degenerating physical functions, and the fear of becoming bedridden. What is the purpose of living then?

“Without Tzu Chi, I don't know what I will be doing now,” said 80-year-old volunteer Ng Saw Hua with a sigh.

Her children live abroad, leaving her and her husband alone at home after her retirement at 55. She had a domestic helper at home to help with the cleaning. And since she did not have to worry about the household chores, she often went out with her retired colleagues to indulge themselves. They had no qualms about spending up to RM1,000 on a meal. Recalling her past ignorance, she exclaimed, “It was such a waste!” Fortunately, she became acquainted with Tzu Chi in 1996, and has often been seen at Tzu Chi’s activities ever since, as she resists staying idle at home.
She also has more than 20 years of experience in yoga practice, and since March 2006, she has been teaching parent-child yoga classes voluntarily at the Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre in Malacca. In 2016, she started teaching yoga to the elderly volunteers at the Bemban Recycling Centre, Jasin. She even took a bus to the Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre in Kuala Lumpur to conduct classes. Since then, she had taught yoga four days per week and has been actively involved in Tzu Chi’s activities. She has finally found her purpose in life.

Taking charge of the golden years

As Saw Hua gradually ages, unable to escape the natural cycle of life, her children have stopped her from driving out by herself as they were worried about her safety. Losing her freedom to drive felt like losing both her legs. After undergoing surgery in 2017 to treat the pain in her knee joints and spine, she was forced to stay at home to recuperate, unable to go anywhere or participate in any Tzu Chi’s activities. The boredom was stifling her. “It felt as if I was being locked up in jail; I would have lost my mind if that went on any longer!”
So, she began copying sutra verses, Jing Si Aphorisms and texts of Master Cheng Yen’s teachings. She also spent time reading books by Master Cheng Yen. She was unable to commit everything to her declining memory, hence she copies the texts repeatedly by hand – an activity that also serves to keep her fingers and brain agile. Despite having a domestic helper to attend to the household chores, she could not help reorganizing her drawers and re-arranging items around the house to pass time. After being confined at home for extended periods of time, she would feel the urge to venture out of the house to partake in Tzu Chi’s activities. “It is not my personality to visit my neighbours, play mahjong or watch TV at home. I don’t want to be a homebody,” said Saw Hua solemnly.

After recuperating, she asked her husband to send her to the Tzu Chi Ayer Keroh Recycling-cum-Educational Centre. She was involved in sorting recyclables, assisting in food preparations in the kitchen, and arranging the kitchen utensils, among other tasks. She took the initiative in seeking continuous improvement, a quality that eventually led her to refurbish the pre-loved goods resale zone.

Cherishing resources from the heart

When sorting recyclables, the volunteers often find many items that are still in good condition. Some are even new or unopened, like clothes, books, ornaments, shoes and bags, which were all sent to the pre-loved goods resale zone. Hence, although the pre-loved goods resale zone was periodically maintained by volunteers, second-hand goods piled up in every corner very quickly. This made it difficult to search for items, as second-hand items were continuously sent in, adding to the inventory of existing items. The space became increasingly congested. It was also dim with poor air circulation, as the storage cabinets and miscellaneous items were blocking the windows. People had a hard time finding the items they need.

Saw Hua related that when she first saw dust settling on top of more than ten boxes containing cups, she doubted that anyone would want such filthy items. She proceeded to clean the cups and display them on the rack with fellow volunteer, Tan Pek Liok. Another set of boxes containing outdated but unused shoes donated by a factory was also covered with a layer of dust. Thus, they were unlikely to attract anyone to peruse the contents within and select a pair. This spurred Saw Hua to remove the shoes from their boxes and sort them into matching pairs, before arranging them on a shelf for easier retrieval.

For the convenience of all, and to attract the public to the pre-loved goods resale zone, Saw Hua started restructuring this zone about half a year ago by adhering to the concept of extending the usage lifespan of all items. Her efforts allowed the zone manager to easily grasp the inventory status of all stored goods, discard obsolete and unsuitable resources in a timely manner, and organize incoming resources by category to avoid excessive cluttering.

Cultivating wisdom by staying active

One day, Saw Hua happened to observe the agility of 70-year-old Pek Liok, a recycling volunteer, at work. She invited the latter to work together with her in re-organizing the pre-loved goods resale zone, to which Pek Liok happily agreed.

Pek Liok had worked in an electrical appliance store for more than 30 years. She lost her husband early in life and single-handedly raised her children. Having to balance both work and family commitments shaped her diligent and agile nature. After retiring two years ago, she resigned to staying idle at home, completing household chores, watching TV and sleeping. The focus of her daily life was to wait for her child to return home from work for dinner. Soon, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Staying alone at home made me a chronic worrier. I was always worrying about my illness and my children living abroad. Sleeping too much gave me headaches, leaving me dull and fatigue,” Pek Liok shared about her past.

At her sister-in-law’s suggestion, Pek Liok started to make her way to the nearby Tzu Chi Recycling Centre daily to contribute to recycling efforts. She used to wallow in her own feelings of isolation in her former state of constant loneliness, but with her newfound focus in life, she is getting livelier by the day. “Working here [at the Tzu Chi Recycling Centre] enables me to keep my mind active and my body healthy. Chatting with others makes me feel good. Every day is worry-free and filled with happiness. In the mornings, I clean up the pre-loved goods resale zone; in the afternoons, I head home to do the housework. I am getting younger each day by staying active.” She is contented with serving daily at the Recycling Centre, and asks for nothing else.

In the past few months, Saw Hua and Pek Liok have been working on cleaning, sorting, and organizing tasks at the pre-loved goods resale zone. Now, the zone is up and running, with an array of items all neatly displayed by category. Saw Hua proudly claimed, “We started by moving the items aside, disinfecting and cleaning the entire space before re-organizing the space using existing resources – all without spending a single cent. I am grateful to Pek Liok for being very cooperative and efficient.”

With one of them skilled in planning and the other in execution, the two of them continue to work together hand-in-hand to improve the pre-loved goods resale zone.

Being mindful of one’s own well-being

Goh Geok Lan, a 55-year-old volunteer, moved from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca in May, post-retirement, to care for her elder brother who suffered a stroke. The stress and labour involved in caring for a stroke patient seemed to be taking a toll on her. She said, “If I don’t venture outside to do something else, I will end up with depression.”

Geok Lan had been involved in Tzu Chi’s activities in Kuala Lumpur prior to her relocation. Now, she seeks refuge from her daily pressure by serving at the Ayer Keroh Recycling-cum-Educational Centre. She finds satisfaction in serving there, even if it is only for an hour or two for a few days each month. She is very experienced in recycling work, as she was in charge of organizing second-hand clothes during the monthly Recycling Day back in Kuala Lumpur, prompting Saw Hua to invite her on board to manage the pre-loved goods resale zone.

Ever since Geok Lan employed a domestic helper last month to share the burden of household chores, she works at the pre-loved goods resale zone daily, putting her experience and expertise in arranging clothes to use. Pek Liok was quick to praise, “She hangs up the clothes according to style and length, in an orderly fashion. It looks nice and tidy, and moves me to bring home some items for my grandchildren.” The addition of Geok Lan to the team spruced up the clothing section, and contributed to the increasing number of public members and volunteers buying the second-hand goods.

Age is not a limit

For many years, Teng Siew Eng has been purchasing second-hand goods from the pre-loved goods resale zone. On December 19, 2018, she was there once again to look for a suitable pair of sneakers for her husband. She commented, “When I first stepped in, it felt like a departmental store. It is easy to find the items I need. The whole space is much brighter and more comfortable. The items are neatly arranged, and second-hand paintings are cleverly displayed as decor, besides enabling the public to view and choose the paintings.”

She acknowledged the diligence and mindful efforts of the volunteers in ensuring convenience for all, as she no longer needs to rummage through stacks of clothes or piles of shoes. It is also much easier for volunteers to keep items in order. As a loyal second-hand goods enthusiast, she began to introduce the pre-loved goods resale zone to her relatives and friends. She also noticed that the reorganized pre-loved goods resale zone has attracted more members of the public, and its patrons are no longer limited to foreign workers. Besides serving the purpose of recycling, the widening outreach of the pre-loved goods resale zone plays a role in dispelling the widely preconceived impression of second-hand goods as items being left unkempt.

From an inventory of a few hundred cups and shoes, to the present stock of only about one-third of the items left, Saw Hua said with joy, “We want to encourage the public to cherish all things, and empathize with the needs of others. Most importantly, we should care for this place as if it is our own home. No matter how much effort is needed, we have to persevere and continuously improve, in order to make this ‘home’ run smoothly. Even in my sleep, I think about how to improve this place, and how to solve its problems!”
“Saw Hua is very inventive. The method of managing the jeans section was her idea. A label indicating the cut (male/female) and size is pinned onto each pair of jeans. All the labels are aligned to face outwards for a clear view,” said Geok Lan, who is in charge of the jeans section, with a smile, while assigning sizes to the garments.

The original size labels on some of the jeans have faded, and volunteers have to take measurements for them again, pair by pair. Although it requires much effort, the team persisted on carrying out tasks step by step, in order to lay a solid foundation for the operations of the pre-loved goods resale zone. Saw Hua affirmed everyone’s efforts by saying, “We rely on collective ideas, teamwork and cooperation to come up with solutions. I can’t stand for extended periods of time, lift heavy objects or reach high places, but Geok Lan and Pek Liok are around to help, so I take care of the cleaning and the planning. We truly enjoy everything we do!”
These retirees serve with joy, allowing them to forget their ailments and find an outlet for their emotions, besides gaining a gratifying sense of satisfaction and approval. Age, illness and family obligations are no barriers to living life to the fullest.

As one ages or retires, it is typical to face loneliness, emptiness, fear and worry; or, in the case of having to care for an ailing relative, the stress of being a care-giver. Nevertheless, retirement only denotes withdrawal from a job, not that one’s life has come to a halt. In the second half of their lives, Saw Hua, Pek Liok and Geok Lan leveraged their personal experience, wisdom, skills and expertise to realize their self-worth. They are truly living the “golden age” of life.



The brightly-lit pre-loved goods resale area, with the items neatly on display. Second-hand paintings were cleverly utilized as decorations. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]   Volunteers Goh Geok Lan (left) and Ng Saw Hua discussing the best way to display the jeans. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]

The brightly-lit pre-loved goods resale area, with the items neatly on display. Second-hand paintings were cleverly utilized as decorations. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]
Volunteers Goh Geok Lan (left) and Ng Saw Hua discussing the best way to display the jeans. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]
Teng Siew Eng (middle), a loyal supporter of the pre-loved goods resale zone, came especially to look for a pair of sneakers for her husband. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]   Tan Pek Liok (left) and Ng Saw Hua checked through the children’s clothing to remove old items. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]

Teng Siew Eng (middle), a loyal supporter of the pre-loved goods resale zone, came especially to look for a pair of sneakers for her husband. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]
Tan Pek Liok (left) and Ng Saw Hua checked through the children’s clothing to remove old items. [Photograph by Yen Yu Chu]