WITH the oldest lady member Chung Ah Nee seated and younger Grace Tiong and the other ladies at the door to greet guests, more and more senior citizens filed into the well-decorated room with neatly arranged seats.
Although a few exciting performances were in store, there was no stage as the Senior Citizens’ Activity Centre, Miri, was a former government office.
But the hundreds of colourful balloons, strung from wall to wall, made it look as though magic was about to happen as the centre buzzed with excitement.
This was a room full of greying women and men, some using walking sticks with one being a wheelchair-user. There were more women than men.
Ladies were coming out of the restroom after adjusting their tights, shoes, hairpins, and costumes.
The welcoming committee assured we were in for a feast – visual and culinary.
Centre of attraction
Born in 1925, Chung Ah Nee was the centre of attraction. She has been a member of the activity centre for a long time, but in the last few years, could only come for the Chinese New Year celebration.
Her daughter, who joins the afternoon karaoke singing, keeps her informed. And this year, without fail, she brought her for the CNY function.
Chung is still very alert.
According to her family, she can still help in her grandson’s coffee shop at Boulevard Commercial Centre.
She is well-loved at the activity centre. When she went up to receive her angpow from Transport Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin, he was impressed by how straight the affable nonagenarian walked and he spoke warmly to her.
She received the special red packet as the centre’s oldest member. She walked gracefully in the queue without any help.
The celebration was held to pay tribute to senior citizens aged 80 and above who are members of the centre.
Most active member
According to Ling Ai Uong, from Monday to Friday (8am to 11am) senior ladies will come for tai chi, aerobics, line dancing, and karaoke.
There is also an afternoon session for those who cannot come in the morning.
Ling, a Heng Hua septuagenarian from Sibu, is married to a man from Miri and has been living in the resort city for more than 40 years.
She plays ping pong and practises tai chi to keep fit. She was voted the Most Active Lady member of 2019 and presented with a special angpow.
Asked about her fitness regime, she said she had always worked hard and since joining the centre, had been enjoying its activities.
“My children also encourage me to take part in the activities and make friends. I do gardening around the centre and love to plant flowers.”
Ling does not look like she is in her mid-70s – more like in her late 40s.
She has been working as a housekeeping staff member in clinics and hospitals since young. Still energetic and strong, she plants and tends to flowers, papaya, and tapioca in the backyard of the centre.
Every morning, she reports at 7am, plays ping pong, practises tai chi, and joins in the aerobics.
But on Wednesdays and Fridays, after aerobics, she goes off at 9.30am to do part-time cleaning. She has been doing this since her retirement at 70.
Special Cheongsam tribute
Looking exquisite in her cheongsam and ready for the Elegant Ladies’ Cheongsam Parade was Anna Chen, in her late 70s.
Her agility and physical fitness certainly did not hint that she would be parading in the grandmother’s category.
The young granny stays with her grandchildren in Miri and leads an active life. Once in a while, she will go back to her hometown in Limbang.
Her hobbies are singing, dancing, and travelling. She also loves planting flowers.
In the special New Year cheongsam parade, all the ladies wore flowers in their hair. Chen also wore beautiful hairpieces for the special item – A Tribute to Cheongsams.
Whenever the senior ladies are staging dance performances in public, Chen will help to buy costume accessories for her friends. She’s very good at selecting other accessories such as wristbands.
She told thesundaypost, “I keep fit by doing tai chi and aerobics from Monday to Friday with my friends at the centre. This gives me the confidence to perform on stage. Being fit, one can walk elegantly, especially when wearing the tightfitting cheongsam.”
The elegant parade with musical accompaniment, featuring eight ladies all over the age of 60, was not only to highlight the beauty and elegance of the cheongsam, the traditional costume of Chinese women, but also how well the senior citizens have been keeping fit in the past 15 years or so.
The figure-hugging pencil-cut shape with side slits was amplified by the ladies – very feminine and graceful.
When the ladies took their final bow, the audience gave them resounding applause.
It’s not often one gets to see such a parade of ladies who are more than 60 years old.
Grace Tiong, one of the participants, commented, “It isn’t every day that we wear cheongsam as it is tightfitting. For those of us in the parade, we had to practise our walk quite a few times. Our leader trained us but we had to practise at home, wearing high heels – whichh were actually not too high but enough to bring out a graceful walk.”
Organising chairperson Teresa Ling, who also took part in the parade told thesundaypost there were activities at the centre for senior citizens who wanted to be members.
“All are welcome. We’ve activities on weekdays except for public holidays, from 7.30 in the morning until noon.
“For many years now, we never stop our activities. We’re getting more members every month. I believe by staying active, we can be healthy,” she said.
Voon, wife of the former chairman, also wore an elegant cheongsam.
She loves being a regular at the centre’s karaoke and dance sessions. She also likes to travel.
She joined the centre many years ago and she enjoys performing dances with her friends in public.
The Senior Citizen Centre is often invited by associations to contribute items on various occasions.
Music and songs
A senior citizen said they could come to the centre every day for karaoke, adding, “People should join us. Today, our cheongsam ladies are parading to the tune of Ye Lai Xiang or Night Jasmine, originally sung by Zao Xuan. As we learn our songs, we also learn a lot about the history of Chinese modern music and songs.”
Lovely songs filled the room as the elegant cheongsam ladies took to the floor.
Ye Lai Xiang is Telosma cordata, or Tonkin Jasmine, or Chinese Violet. Its Chinese name means fragrance comes at night, as the beautiful little yellow flowers exude their best scent at night.
The song was made popular by Li Xiang Lang before the Japanese war. Four decades later, the late Teresa Teng recorded her version and made it even more popular.
The eight cheongsams, worn by the senior ladies, were all different in styles and fabrics and did not represent any particular era. But each was elegant, beautiful and remarkable.
The origin of the cheongsam (or qipao in Mandarin) is usually attributed to the Qing Dynasty, a Manchu dynasty, and the last imperial dynasty of China which ruled from the 17th century till 1910.
Qipao is from Qi, meaning the Manchurian people (Qi people) and pao means robe.
In the beginning, this conservative costume was an A-shaped robe that reached the floor with bell sleeves and a Mandarin collar.
It was usually made of the finest silk and worn by women of high standing or nobles.
At the end of the Qing Dynasty, the qipao evolved with the times. The slits went up the knees and it got more and more form-fitting with shorter sleeves (some have no sleeves at all).
It became the common dress of the ordinary woman by the mid-1930s.
During the decadent period of Shanghai, dance hostesses wore some of the most beautiful long qipao to dance on the floors of the most famous or infamous clubs.
The Chinese New Year programmes at the centre were a great success. The guest of honour, Lee said the senior ladies who wore the cheongsams reflected their great interest in health and Chinese cultural heritage.
He encouraged more seniors to join the activity centre.
While the activities showcased Chinese-style food and cultural performances, the cheongsam parade and the accompanying Chinese songs will remain in the hearts of the audience for a long time.
The senior ladies of Miri have done it again!