An elusive age-old dream

Mdm Ho Ching and her dino pouch with America First Lady.

Mdm Ho Ching and her dino pouch with America First Lady.

“Funds amounting to RM1.15 million, diverted from the former 1MDB subsidiary SRC International, have allegedly been used to pay for anti-ageing growth hormones and home renovation.”

I was staring at the news flash on my computer screen on Wednesday (Aug 3) when the phone on my desk rang: “Hi, I’m Darren from Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS). I will be in Kuching on Friday and wonder if I could drop by to say hello to you.”

My reply was almost spontaneous: “Were you the one who supplied millions worth of anti-ageing products?”

Darren apparently caught my joke: “No, no, no – mine is healthy ageing, not anti-ageing.”

Anyway, people – naturally those who can afford it — are not overly sensitive about such “ridiculous” spending, if, indeed, there are elixirs that promise healthy ageing or anti-ageing. After all, who could resist a dip in The Fountain of Youth?

Darren knows. And many others believe it could happen as well. But then it got me thinking. Yes, fighting the ageing process to redeem your youthfulness can be a costly affair but does it really matter, if it is not your money?

We’re living in a time when God appears so far away. HE seems to have forgotten us – with so many wrongful deeds getting away scot-free and our prayers for justice going unanswered.

But should we despair?

On the same day that Darren, the man who champions healthy ageing, dropped by, I was reading an inspirational story about a blue pouch – the one that Madam Ho Ching, wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, brought along to the White House for a state dinner, hosted by President Barak Obama, to mark 50 years of Singapore-US ties.

It was a product of Pathlight, a school in Singapore for autistic children. Madam Ho was seen carrying the dinosaur-motif bag at the White House South Lawn where the President and First Lady Michelle Obama officially welcomed the First Couple from Singapore to the US.

The pouch, called a Denim Pouch-Dino, was designed by 19-year-old Seetoh Sheng Jie, according to an Instagram posting from the Art Faculty, a Pathlight School platform which promotes the talents of people with autism. It is sold for S$14.80 with the artist earning a royalty for every purchase.

On its website, the Art Faculty described the artist, Sheng Jie, as “extremely pedantic” about dinosaurs.

“The spelling of their full paleontological names, their detailed expressions are captured in the miniature replicas he creates – everything must be done just right. No reference books are used. All his illustrations and figurines are produced from his personal knowledge,” it said.

Hours after the photos of Madam Ho holding the pouch reportedly made their rounds online, stocks at retail store, Dino Silhouette, ran low due to overwhelming response! Within a day, they sold 200 pouches — and counting. Previously, it took the store four months to sell close to 200.

Ms Loy Sheau-Mei, senior vice principal and head of Artist Development Programme, Pathlight School, was quoted as saying: “We were pleasantly surprised and honoured she (Madam Ho) chose to bring this bag on her official visit to the US. It gave the participants of the Artist Development Programme and the merchandise at The Art Faculty such a great mileage. Ms Ho Ching is known to be very down to earth and practical and the fact that she carries a less than S$20 pouch to such a prestigious event shows she’s really confident and genuine.”

One Facebook user Ibrahim Hassan posted: “One of the most powerful women in the world chose to use this one bag, made by an autistic child instead of a highly branded one typically associated with people of her league. This is simply amazing and shows how humble she is.”

There were, naturally, some quick to point out the difference in dressing between Madam Ho and the US First Lady. Michelle Obama wowed in a brilliant yellow Naeem Khan dress, featuring intricate floral applique, a sleevless halter-style neckline and semi-sheer hemline, paired with nude heeled sandals and emerald green statement earrings. But Madam Ho earns her respect for being practical and humble.

I got to meet Darren of MHAS, a non-profit organisation, striving to educate healthcare professionals and the public on healthy ageing issues. Interestingly, MHAS’ first international conference on healthy ageing, in partnership with WHO (World Health Organisation), was held in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

From a keynote address delivered by the “Guest-of-Honour” (GOH) who was unfortunately implicated in the million-ringgit anti-ageing hormones purchase, I observed one salient point – that ageing need not always be seen to be negative and dark.

“We need to move away from the notion of ill health, wrinkles and loneliness as an automatic inference when we speak of ageing. While to a certain extent physical decline due to ageing may be inevitable, some dimensions such as knowledge and wisdom can perpetually grow and expand over time,” the GOH articulated.

And for good measure, the GOH at the conference came up with this Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shades they know they will never sit in.”

How well said.

But in a more serious tone, I told Darren MHAS had not quite achieved its aim if it were true that public funds to the tune of more than a million was “misappropriated” to purchase anti-ageing hormones.

We really need to work very hard to enlighten people about this thoughtful quote from one of the Society’s pioneers, Professor Nathan Vytialingam: “Most people think ageing starts when you are 60 years old or so. But healthy ageing isn’t just about the elderly. People age gracefully from young. We believe ageing happens form womb to tomb.”

According to Darren, MHAS will be holding a conference on “Secrets of Longevity” in Kuching sometime in November this year.

But it’s certainly not selling anti-ageing hormones.

There is hope when there are people like Madam Ho, Ms Sheau-Mei and many others of similar persona in MHAS — with their unconventional, perhaps, but, certainly, exemplary acts of humility and honesty.

In passing, may I share these words of wisdom and sapience: “Be as humble, courageous and beautiful as those who bloom and shine at any moment. Go forth, with every talent and ability and use them to maximum capacity and age gracefully. Proverbs 16:31 says a gray head is a crown of glory, it is found in the way of righteousness.”

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