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Archive for August, 2018|Monthly archive page

(NOT) Crazy Rich Asians

In News Reports on August 24, 2018 at 1:57 pm

So there I was trying to make my way through the hawker centre to my HDB flat and I went bang up against a sea of red. Red table cloths. On what looked like 100 tables or so which were laid out on any open space you can find in the neighbourhood centre. There were many empty tables with cutlery at the ready and plastic bowls and saucers. Pink serviettes were neatly folded into glass cups.

Some tables were half filled. Men and women of differing ages who looked like they had come straight from their shop, stall or whatever business they had in the neighbourhood sat around. I recognised a few of them. The woman fruit seller and another who ran a provision shop. We nodded at each other in recognition. I felt very out of place in my dress and heels. Everybody, whether seated or standing, were so casually dressed. Some men, I believe, traded up for a collared tee-shirt but in the main, it was a round-necked tee-shirt and bermuda crowd. Some tables had a Carlsberg bottle holding fort, which must, I believe, be the pre-dinner aperitif for some people.

I stared at the half dozen or so pig heads which stood on a table that took pride of place on that assembly area. Dark brown. Braised? Roasted? I don’t know. I tried to enter a passageway to cut through a car-park to my HDB block and this time, found myself bang up against a kitchen.  The cold dish(es) were all lined up and I wondered if they will be warm when they were finally served. Because it seems that the tables were NOT empty. The patrons were all in another part of the assembly seated on plastic chairs enjoying the getai.

I decided that I, too, should enjoy the show and found myself wedged in the back with people with all manner of personal mobility devices. I wondered if they too were accidental spectators or had made their way for the show. Friday, I said to myself. Nothing to do. No work tomorrow.

A skinny silver-clad young female was prancing on stage in her silver-coloured boots. She was belting out, I think, a Hokkien song. The crowd looked on – passively. It looked like they were doing an assessment of the show. Or they didn’t have enough Carlsberg in the system. I asked myself how the silver young thing knew Hokkien so well, and whether the audience knew what she was singing. So many years of the Speak Mandarin campaign, and it is still dialect which connects the Chinese heartlanders…

Song over, she carried on in a mix of Hokkien and Mandarin to address the audience, giggling about the “boy band” (in English) she had as her backup. Evidently a joke because the drummer, guitarist and organists have probably eaten a lot more salt than she has rice. The crowd remained stony-faced. Not enough beer, I thought to myself again.

Then the emcee came on. A big guy in a chilli-red blazer withe most incredible curry-puff  hair fringe I’ve ever seen.  The fringe stood straight up and I thought I could make out every strand of hair from where I was standing – or maybe there was just too much gel. He too, spoke in a mix of Hokkien, Mandarin and, I think, Teochew. He was introducing someone known as a ”princess”, which of course, got me pretty excited given how much of a fan I am of Chinese period dramas. Another skinny, silver-clad young female emerged, but this one also had a silver crown. Out came another song in a dialect I can’t recognise – or maybe her pronunciation was bad. The crowd was getting thicker. I thought to myself that these people had already had their dinner at home and had come out to see what the fuss was about.

Were there non-Chinese there? Yup, but not many. I don’t remember seeing Muslims or a Muslim table but a few tables had some non-Chinese – more likely Indian – men sitting there. I thought I would see plates, fork and spoon – but no, the table setting was just like the rest. I asked myself if there were dietary arrangements made for them – or maybe no need…

I spied a few non-Chinese in the standing audience. One sari-clad lady had brought her own chair and made herself comfortable. Some of the wheel-chair bound had their domestic help with them. But non-Chinese were far and few in between.

As I write this, the getai is still going on. I can hear them through my bedroom window and am bracing myself for the auction that has yet to come. Or maybe that segment was what I heard last night? Do they do it twice?

I thought about Crazy Rich Asians, which I must admit upfront I have not read nor viewed. But I don’t think it includes this scene of the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations, which isn’t quite in the class of the crazy, rich. If it was included, it might have been viewed as an attempt at injecting some Asian exotica. But it is probably more representative of the majority of Chinese Singaporeans than those who crowd Marina Bay Sands. Not crazy, not rich (maybe mediocre). But more real.

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Dear PM…

In News Reports on August 19, 2018 at 2:55 pm

I have a question: How are we going to pay for everything? I waited and waited for the penny to drop after your announcement on extending the Community Health Assistance Scheme and introducing a new Merdeka Generation package. Then there came the Home  Improvement Programme 2, to be implemented at an HDB precinct’s 60th year or so, as well as Voluntary En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme, which is essentially a very long drawn-out version of Sers.

I guess a National Day rally isn’t the place to dampen spirits with the niggling question of cost and we’ll get to hear more about the budgetary part of the programmes later.  I half-expected that the on-coming rise in GST would be mentioned, but you seemed to have let this thorny topic slide.

In fact, this could be a pre-election speech, with so many coming programmes as well as many very, very long term ones which, as you said, would be several general elections away.

I saw that you were misty-eyed when you spoke of the people of your generation who were born in the 50s but can’t quite be considered a “pioneer”. And how they too made sacrifices for the country. I suppose we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth but I wonder if there was some pressure exerted by the folk who missed the Pioneer Generation Package deadline.

To put it bluntly, the cost of  the Pioneer Generation Package will disappear along with this pioneer crop of Singaporeans much sooner than the Merdeka package. And don’t those in the Merdeka generation already have access to the Silver Support scheme if they need aid? It strikes me that we might be better off just giving everyone above a certain age a pension of sorts.

It looks like I am throwing cold water over your proposals which I believe will be very much welcomed by most people. I just happen to be one of those people who count pennies and don’t resort to the muddle-headed thinking that “the government is very rich” and therefore can afford to be generous. It is not the G which is rich, it is the State – and taxpayers will have foot the bill – unless we’re thinking of raiding the reserves.

Back to HDB flats…

I listened to this very carefully because I happen to live in a flat that is more than 40 years old and which recently underwent HIP. I see that you decided against entering into a debate about whether HDB residents are really home-owners or tenants and went straight into what a 99-year lease meant. I am not sure you satisfied those who decry the depreciating asset that they now live in. The problem, you see, is that people expect the value of the flat to always go up, but in recent years, those older flats appeared to have passed their peak prices and started going down. Yes, it is an unreasonable expectation. We all know about the 99 year lease, but choose to think of it as something far down the road. It is only when we try to sell an old flat that we get floored by a lower than expected profit margin.

I am glad, however, that some long-range thinking has gone into (or will go into) Singapore’s public housing programme, even though I may not  live to see them. I have always thought that a HDB flat is not worth leaving to younger people because it would have to go back to the State.  Now I have a reason to think about the flat as an inheritance. There’s HIP 2 and my precinct would be among the pioneers in the queue for Vers. Whoever gets the flat will still be able to unlock the value of this hand-me-down.

The video of the transformation of Punggol from a prototype 10 years ago to the real thing today was a stroke of genius. It was a forceful way of showing that your Government keeps its promises. Except that we never expected that the G wouldn’t keep its promises when it comes to development projects. We know it is an efficient machine which will get things done (maybe not the High-Speed Rail project). We’re used to it because at almost every NDR, you’ve projected us into Singapore’s future with bits of its physical transformation.

But you did not talk about its soul – beyond celebrating hawker food.

Yes, there were the examples of Singaporeans who made good and did the country proud on the international stage. I salute them too. But there is this gaping hole in the Singapore psyche now – a sense of drifting aimlessly.

I wished, for example, that you said something bold about the Malaysian drumbeat about water pricing instead of telling us to look up Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s speech made in Parliament. I wished that you addressed some issues like meritocracy and elitism, clean wages and ministerial pay – on top of the bread-and-butter ones that you chose. You didn’t even talk about leadership change. Instead you brought up your father.

I know the comeback: People are more interested in bread-and-butter issues than such “liberal” topics which concern the vocal minority. Of course, people are interested in the here and now. But it is the soul which will keep people together – the values and ideals – that will make the physical transformations come through far in the future.

One example: I was somewhat surprised when you spoke of gathering Muis, Mendaki and other Malay groups under one roof in Geylang Serai in a project headed by People’s Action Party MPs. I suppose it makes sense to share resources but I certainly hope it won’t be some kind of enclave for Malays only. There’s nothing to prevent the other communities from asking for similar centres to cater to the cultural needs and community preferences. And doesn’t this also mean less need for the community to go to national-type, multi-racial type, secular type of agencies?

I worry  that we seem to be emphasising our differences – in the same way I worried about the impact of having a “reserved” presidency.

But I have to say this: Your speech was better than last year’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meritocracy and mediocrity

In News Reports on August 9, 2018 at 3:27 am

Four years ago, I wrote about a slow-acting poison in Singapore’s political system: ministerial salaries. I argued that it had reduced the relationship between the ruler and the ruled into a commercial transaction, based on whether voters thought they were getting their money’s worth.

The topic is a lightning rod, with very few people weighing in on the merits of such a rational, pragmatic way of paying for good leaders who might otherwise be tempted to aggrandise themselves in other ways. It is, in today’s parlance, a clean wage shorn of hidden perks and privileges. Those who rally behind it are quickly shot down by others who think the pay formula is a disgraceful way of putting a value on national service.

Now, one of the chief champions of ministerial salaries, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, has ignited a fire-storm with his comments on ministerial salaries during a recent dialogue. Looking at the transcript of what happened, it appeared that Mr Goh got carried away when he was asked to give his perspective regarding  a question about whether a pension fund could be created by reducing defence spending or ministerial pay and so relieve them from slogging at cleaning tables. (He was sabo-ed by Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman).

He started by engaging the audience over whether they would do cleaning jobs for $1,000 a month, which segued into the problems of hiring too many foreign workers and then to the imposition of minimum salaries. It was an answer that was supposed to show how policy making is difficult, with one limb affecting the other and not necessarily in the national interest. But he also seemed very taken up with the “populist” question and made the point that ministers are hard to come by.

“I am telling you the Ministers are not paid enough, and down the road, we are going to get a problem with getting people to join the government, because civil servants now earn more than Ministers. Are you aware of that? And where do we get our future office holders from? From the private sector?”

He went on to say he tried to recruit two from the private sector in the last election, but they turned it down because of the salary sacrifice.

Mr Goh took a blunt approach which is unlikely to elicit empathy from people who are grumbling about the cost of living.  People are not likely to say that ministerial salaries are low, especially when compared to their own, and even compared to political leaders in far bigger countries. Ministers who tried in the past to talk about the cut in their private sector salary, or whose past salaries were referred to, have regularly been flamed. It is now the unfortunate Edwin Tong’s turn to have his past earnings (more than $2m a year) splashed in the media. The Senior Counsel has just been appointed Minister of State, therefore making far less. Mr Goh said Mr Tong had sought his counsel because he had “a house, parents-in-law and his own parents to support”. To highlight the travails of a high-income earner, no matter how honest, was bound to attract derision since these are normal circumstances for most breadwinners.

What was more disturbing was his comment equating merit with salary. He wouldn’t recruit someone who earned less than $500,000 a year because “you are going to end up with very very mediocre people, who can’t even earn a million dollars outside to be our Minister.”

“Think about that. Is it good for you, or is it worse for us in the end?”

Okay, so let’s think about it.

First, it’s odd that our civil service salaries have outpaced those of ministers. I suppose Mr Goh meant the salaries of junior ministers rather than full Cabinet ministers. But I don’t know the facts here. In fact, one of niggling problems I used to have was how civil servants (and not really top-ranked at that) had been parachuted into key government positions on their election. Doesn’t this leave them open to questions about whether they are in politics for the higher pay, which they might never achieve if they stayed on in the public sector? I suppose the counter would be that because they are civil servants, political leaders would have a better measure of their character, competence and ability. They would have worked together, you know.

Hence, this self-perpetuating closed circle of members of the Establishment.

Second, the difficulty of canvassing candidates from the private sector has been a long-standing complaint. The way I see it: the People’s Action Party wants only the top brass, but these head honchos do not want to put nation before family and wealth. And the PAP is critical of the not-so-at-the-top private sector types, because it thinks their salary is a reflection of their lack of brilliance. Worse, it is suspicious of this “type” whom it perceives as wanting political positions because they pay better. (Read: opposition politicians).

Conclusion: The PAP doesn’t know or trust enough private sector people. (And vice versa?)

Mr Goh has tried to correct his faux pax by posting this on his Facebook: “Salaries is not our starting point in looking for Ministers. Character, motivation, commitment, selflessness, practical abilities, competence and proven performance are the main attributes we look for. The first four attributes are veto factors.”

He stuck to his point that when it comes to assessing abilities, it is a person’s salary which reflects his competence and performance. (I don’t suppose he ruled out self-made businessmen who pay their own salaries? Or will this come down to the size of the business?)

The two points aside, his statements merely reinforces the notion that everything in Singapore can be bought, “from durians to clothes to football players to military weapons”. So too quality political leadership.

This is the attitude that pervades our society which is why I have been writing columns to argue that the move towards a skills-based mindset can only come about, sadly, if there is “money” – not even power – attached to it. Why would any parent want his kid to enter a trade or be a master craftsman when the pecuniary rewards are small-ish?

Here, we calculate everything in dollars and cents – how much sacrifice, budget constraints, trade-offs. Then we laud ourselves for being pragmatic and getting our money’s worth. We apply the same yard-stick to ministers and ask if their exceptional salaries lead to exceptional performance? (By the way, no one even knows what performance bonuses are paid to ministers, except the Prime Minister.) Sometimes, we are simply hypocritical, arguing that we should not expect the ministers to be governed by the same calculations that we have.

At the end of the day, the issue of ministerial salaries will always stand between the rulers and the ruled. You cannot engender trust, if people can only think of the payment made.

I made this suggestion in a column in January this year about the sort of imprint the 4G leaders might want to make: To ditch the ministerial salary formula and come up with another one.  “Then maybe people won’t be so tetchy and demanding of their money’s worth and the talented wouldn’t be so afraid to be derided for working for money.”

I am not hopeful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hack of a little to report, actually

In News Reports on August 6, 2018 at 11:46 am

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a news report, because there isn’t much new to report regarding the SingHealth hack. But I suppose I will share with you some of the acronyms which came up in Parliament.

  1. CII, which stands for Critical Information Infrastructure. There are 11 sectors like media, transport and telecoms and they straddle public and private sectors. When the Cyber Security Act passed in February takes effect, the CSA or Cyber Security Agency will set some minimum requirements for these sectors to comply with to secure what data they have on you and me.
  2. APT, which stands for Advanced Persistent Threat. Such APT groups are usually state-linked and make it their business to steal data or disrupt operations. SingHealth was hacked by an APT group but the G can’t say which or what or who because of national security considerations. In fact, it might not even get it right – at least it might not stand up in a court of law. Such an APT group had done the same before, attacking National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University’s computer systems.
  3. ATP, which stands for Advanced Threat Prevention. This is not a group but some kind of security system that is being put in place in the health sector. There is also a “visual router’’ that is being piloted somewhere in the healthcare system.

Phew. Now that the technical part is over, here are some interesting bits.

What has the G got to do with SingHealth?

We already know that the July 20 press conference announcing the hack was fronted by Communications Minister S Iswaran and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who apologized for the hacking incident. Personal data of 1.5 million patients and outpatient medication records of 120,000 people, including the Prime Minister, were stolen.

But why was Mr Gan apologising and not the SingHealth people, asked Workers’ Party’s Sylvia Lim.

Mr Gan said it was because he was part of the healthcare family, adding that SingHealth had apologized too. Mr Iswaran had the better response. Right from the start, he said that SingHealth was a private company “not a statutory board’’ but because it was part of Singapore’s critical infrastructure, the G had to get involved.

That delay between discovering the hack on July 4 and telling the public on July 20 – what gives?

Mr Gan gave a long answer about having to secure the system, to make sure there were no remants of malware and to investigate what happened. Right up to July 19, there were attacks and that was when the decision to do an ISS was made (Sorry. Forgot about this acronym – Internet Surfing Separation). It’s a pity that there wasn’t more dogged questioning on this point – were the authorities really so convinced even at such an early stage that no patient will be affected by the stolen data in the meantime?

Would ISS, if put in place earlier, have foiled the hackers?

This is where it gets interesting. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had said after the hack that ISS would have done the trick. Yesterday, Mr Gan didn’t give a yes or no answer but went to great lengths to explain why this was difficult to do in the healthcare sector. It would inconvenience patients and doctors and lead to longer waiting times. He also made it plain that the healthcare sector wasn’t asleep; its professionals had been trying out different ways in the meantime to secure data with as little inconvenience to patients and doctors as possible.

He added that the ISS, a temporary measure, might well become permanent for some parts of the healthcare sector.

Was there any negligence on the part of SingHealth, asked Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh. Mr Iswaran’s answer was to ask that people do not go “down the path of allocating blame’’. He noted that a Committee of Inquiry had been set up to look at what happened. The police and the Personal Data Protection Commission will be investigating as well. The COI will deliver its report by Dec 31.

Should we worry about our stolen personal data?

Mr Iswaran wasn’t as blunt as CSA head David Koh who has been pilloried for saying they were of “no commercial value”. Instead, he made it clear that very little use can be made of them, because most online transactions required much more than personal identification details to proceed. (Unless, of course, you’re silly enough to use your IC number as your password).

Both ministers stressed that only name, birthdate, gender and race and IC number were stolen, not credit card numbers, email addresses or telephone numbers. Nor were any details in the system changed.

I wondered at that point if Workers Party MP Png Eng Huat would stand up from his seat to ask the question he had tabled: whether the G would bear responsibility for any stolen identity crime committed as a result of the hack. He didn’t.

Sitting in the gallery, I thought the MPs were pussyfooting about the issue. First, no one asked why the SingHealth cyber people only spotted the hack on July 4, when it actually started on June 27. Second, since an APT had been levelled at the two universities in the past, what has been the outcome of those investigations that might have been learning points for others? Third, even if the APT group can’t be named, did our cyber sleuths let the supposed state know that we know? Or do they already know that we know?

I suppose we should leave everything to the COI, which will open some hearings but not those which touch on national security. Then it will publish its report.

Goodness! That will be next year!

 

 

 

Ben Davis is no Joseph Schooling

In News Reports on August 6, 2018 at 9:58 am

Dr Ng Eng Hen didn’t just shut the door on Ben Davis’ application to defer his National Service stint. He locked and bolted it.

In fact, he was tougher than the Mindef statements on the youth’s aspiration to play for English club Fulham, which has led to some pretty polarizing discussions on the internet. It wasn’t just about deferment for “exceptional talent’’ (you might as well use “exceptional circumstances’’ too) but exceptional talent that serves the national interest, said the Defence Minister. As far as Mindef was concerned, Ben Davis was putting aside his citizen’s obligation to pursue a personal interest.

It was by far the most convincing statement I’ve heard about the rejection of the youth’s application. Dr Ng referred to the Enlistment Act which made plain that all male citizens must be treated equally and should not be allowed to enlist at their “own personal convenience and choosing’’. The judiciary too had emphasized “equity’’ when it upped sentencing benchmarks for NS defaulters last year. So far, 13 such defaulters have gone to jail.

There were little nuggets of information that Dr Ng let fall which hadn’t been widely canvassed in the media. One of them: That Davis would be playing for Fulham as an Englishman and, according to Fifa rules, he will always have to play as an Englishman or for England. That sort of puts to rest arguments that he be allowed to hone his professional footballing skills abroad so that he can bring glory to Singapore at a later date.

The youth’s father, Harvey Davis, didn’t come out looking good at all in Dr Ng’s ministerial statement. Mr Davis wouldn’t give a time frame for his son’s return to do NS. In fact, the senior Davis’ pronouncements made it clear that he intends for his son to pursue a professional footballing career for as long as he can, said Dr Ng. He had said, for example, that Ben could be given an extended contract by Fulham, be sold or loaned to other clubs or sign up with another club. He had also raised the notion of renouncing citizenship.

“The application by Mr Harvey Davis for his son’s deferment is to further his son’s professional career first and to the longest extent possible… Singapore and her interests, including his son’s NS obligations, are secondary consideration, if at all.’’

Whether he intended to or not, Dr Ng pointed to a possible pecuniary incentive for the Davis’ posture. Mr Davis had said the successful deferment would be an inspiration for the students registered with his company Junior Soccer School and League Singapore (JSSL). It is a youth football club and academy business run by Mr Davis and “advertises itself as having links to Fulham FC”. It also has 500 Singapore youths…

He also suggested that after receiving hundreds of pounds playing for Fulham, and possibly a lot more later, the youth would be unlikely to return to Singapore.

Did the ministerial statement answer all the questions that have shrouded the NS enlistment issue?

In some ways, yes. Deferment is a privilege and comes with strings attached. Swimmers like Joseph Schooling have benchmarks to meet – or risk having his deferment curtailed. Dr Ng also spoke of medical students who are allowed to defer their stint but this was because they would serve as medical officers during their NS. In 1992, Singapore disallowed deferment for those pursuing overseas medical degrees, because enough doctors were produced locally.

While Dr Ng appeared to have used the term deferment and disruption inter-changeably, he didn’t touch on the issue of Government scholars who seem to have been given some leeway on national service. He should have, because the concern isn’t just over the building of sporting or artistic talent, but how it is balanced against developing young people with good grades.

Nor did he talk about the conscription systems in other countries such as South Korea, which is popularly believed to be less stringent in its enlistment requirements. Perhaps, it was because no MP raised the point, which is a pity.

There was a question from MP Lim Wee Kiat, who asked if the youth would have got his deferment if a deadline on his return was pledged. Dr Ng went back to first principles – was this in the youth’s personal interest or the national interest?

The door has been shut, locked and bolted. I think Dr Ng also threw away the key.

How do you age gracefully?

In News Reports on August 2, 2018 at 5:03 am

Are you afraid of growing old? I am.

Now that I’m back in the neighbourhood I grew up in, I see the formerly hearty coffeeshop owner silenced and in a wheelchair after a heart attack. I see a gregarious grassroots leader without a foot because it had to be amputated because of diabetes. I see formerly sturdy men hunched over a walking stick ambling somewhat aimlessly at all hours of the day.

Even the well-off elderly, dispatched by the family members to the elderly day care centre nearby, look grim, either staring at the wall or each other when the social workers or volunteers aren’t conducting a singing session or a game.

It’s scary, even if ageing is a natural part of life. You start realizing your mortality when your eyesight starts failing and you get strange aches and pains in various parts of your body. And when you are no longer as quick to grasp things as before and, worse, you’re getting deaf. It is enough to make anyone depressed.

I have always wondered at the way older people are portrayed in the media. They are either extremely sick or terribly healthy. Or dead. We are assailed with messages to eat right and exercise more and are presented with picture-perfect grinning old folk who run marathons. On the other hand, we are told about the travails of the elderly poor, who kill themselves out of loneliness or some other trauma.

Nobody really talks about the people in-between or the “young elderly’’, to give advice on how to grow old gracefully and how to accept that we might never be able to do the things we used to do, at least not as fast and as efficiently as before.

I notice two ways people react in the face of ageing.

There’s a group which will make much of growing old, complaining and exaggerating their “defects’’ in the hope of eliciting sympathy. The other group will fight against nature and insist that they are still as energetic as before and even attempt to demonstrate their youth – to the amusement of younger people, or to their horror.

What is the balance that should be struck? How do you cope with realizing that you are hard of hearing and that young people shy away from you because it’s just so difficult to talk to you? How to acknowledge that what other people say about you being “slow’’ is really true? What sort of feelings are the “right’’ feelings when you realize you need to sit down or lie down when other people are bustling all round you?

Nobody really prepares you for this stage of life. (Instead, you’re told how to die a good death!) Sure, we try to meet the elderly’s outward needs, like making sure a hospital bed is always available, the CPF retirement sum is adequate and social workers are on hand. There’s the Pioneer Generation package of generous discounts and the Silver Support scheme which helps the elderly poor financially. We’ve become much better at respecting the elderly, giving up our train or bus seats for them – so much so that it has become a societal trait!

But we seem to have missed a step – on adapting our minds to acknowledge that we’re ageing (as individuals) and have the capacity to cope with the changes that come with it.

These days, I think about growing old more often. It might have to do with living with my mother who insists that she is as young and as strong as before and gets upset when she realizes that she isn’t. Her laments are loud and long. Yet I would think my mother is a wonderful advertisement for growing old gracefully. She dresses well, manicured and pedicured and never leaves home without lipstick on. We can pass off as sisters rather than mother and daughter.

But underneath the shiny facade is a resentment about ageing, which I assume is the case with most of the elderly.

Nobody really wants to grow old or be acknowledged as elderly. Once, when a younger woman gave up her MRT seat for me, I told myself it was time to dye the grey in my hair. Should I? Why is so hard for me to accept that my hair will turn grey or even fall out?

Then over the weekend at a school alumni re-union, I met up with my ex-classmates of 37 years ago. We joked about how much older we looked especially when compared to the current students. We tried to pass ourselves off as 10 years younger. It was all in good fun of course.

There was one ex-classmate who turned up with a full head of beautiful silver hair. I asked if the hair had been bleached or coloured and was told it was natural. She went through some lengthy hair treatment to make sure that the grey would eventually even out, rather than come out in patches on the head.

I thought to myself that that this is one way to grow old gracefully. Nature will take its course – and we can also help it along.  We can’t all be marathon runners and we are not yet on the verge of death.

We need to find a way to reconcile ourselves with getting old. Or, maybe, it’s just me.