Age is just a number

Mr Siregar Johnnie (John) and Ms Boo Hong Kwen with photos of their younger selves. The senior guides will share stories about their youth as part of the Dialogue With Time exhibition, using their photos as visual aids.
Mr Siregar Johnnie (John) and Ms Boo Hong Kwen with photos of their younger selves. The senior guides will share stories about their youth as part of the Dialogue With Time exhibition, using their photos as visual aids.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Seniors become guides at new Science Centre show, sharing their secrets to ageing well

Growing old may be dreaded by or even terrifying for some people.

Yet, not many would strike a conversation with their elders about how it is like to grow old - from feeling frustrated as their bodies slow down, to the gratification of seeing their children fare well in their endeavours.

A new exhibition aims to set the ball rolling on such discussions.

Come Friday, the Dialogue With Time showcase will open at the Singapore Science Centre, featuring photos, videos and interactive exhibits such as a photo booth.

The permanent exhibition is jointly organised by the Ministry of Health and the Science Centre.

At the core of the project is a group of 32 senior guides who will be on hand to share their personal take on ageing. They will take turns daily to lead the tours, which take about 60 to 90 minutes each time.

These guides, who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, are very much young at heart-some have a day job or do volunteer work. They were selected from 380 applicants, and will get a token allowance for the job.

The Straits Times speaks to three guides ahead of the launch to find out about their insights on ageing.

  • 'Experience' different stages of ageing

  • The Dialogue With Time exhibition, which opens on Saturday to the public, allows visitors to rethink and learn about ageing and what it means to age well.

    A person can visualise how he would look as he ages at a special photobooth, and also hear real-life experiences from senior guides.

    These retirees will lead tours lasting 60 to 90 minutes long. The tour runs every 30 minutes from 10am to 6pm daily.

    The key highlights of the tour are two discussion zones where the senior guides will facilitate dialogues with visitors on stereotypes or misguided assumptions associated with old age.

    Visitors can check out five exhibits that simulate age-related limitations. One can "experience" the different stages of ageing, such as a weakened sense of hearing, vision and mobility.

    The tour will also engage visitors in discussing the future of ageing in Singapore.

    The exhibition will also shed some light on how science and technology can help ease the ageing process; there will be displays about innovations in robotics, in the home, as well as mobility devices.

    Usual entry fees to the Science Centre apply, and there is no additional charge for the Dialogue With Time tour.

    Cheow Sue-Ann

MR SIREGAR JOHNNIE (JOHN), 85, FORMER DETECTIVE

The oldest guide in the team, Mr Siregar signed up because he believes the best way to stay happy and healthy is to remain active.

"Ageing to me is ensuring that I am as happy as possible, that I can live as long as possible without being a burden to anyone."

He had devoted 26 years of his life to the police force, doing detective work.

He remembers pushing the envelope even back in the force, he said, and also organised new activities such as scuba diving and chess championships for his colleagues.

He has seen many changes unfold in Singapore through the decades. "When I joined the force, Singapore was a third-class nation, with many poor people, and thieving was rampant. While I was in the force, Singapore gained independence... To see people become more polished and take on different habits was very interesting."

Now that he, too, has accumulated work and life experience of his own, he wants to share it with the younger generation.

One way the 85-year-old grandfather of four is achieving this is by being a trainer with a workplace literacy programme run by Workforce Singapore.

He has been with the programme since it started 10 years ago, teaching general work skills such as writing memos and answering phone calls in a professional manner.

The former detective has also stayed healthy. He has, for instance, been vegan for the past 40 years, and makes sure to squeeze in at least an hour of exercise daily.

"To be able to live this well and this healthily is not without effort... I have had to be very disciplined about my lifestyle."

Still, he sometimes faces negative stereotypes due to his age.

For example, many people think that after the age of 65, he cannot function well at work, he said. Some people would also assume that he is not healthy or not mobile.

However, that could not be further from the truth.

"In the past 10 years, I have never requested a stand-in or missed a day of work. There are so many younger people who do so, but not me," he said.

MS BOO HONG KWEN, 65, FORMER PROFESSOR

She is an avid mountain-climber, a sport she picked up only after retirement. Last year, she climbed the highest mountain in Vietnam, the 3,143m-high Fansipan.

The former Public Service Commission scholarship holder said her secret to ageing well is to stay active and continue contributing to society. "Younger people all think old folks are inflexible, but it is not true - we can still learn new things."

She has one 22-year-old son, and said she is able to keep up with him. But she has noticed that some people would treat her husband differently as he became older.

She said: " Sometimes he feels invisible, like as if just because he is no longer holding his important job, he is somehow less important."

"We want to avoid that feeling of being diminished," she added.

"Some may think that old people are a burden, but we want to work, we want lifelong employability."

After retiring from her post as associate professor at Nanyang Technological University teaching science about 10 years ago, Ms Boo set up her own education consultancy. She works with schools to train teachers in pedagogy and assessment methods.

She hopes her job as an exhibition guide will allow her to show younger people that growing older does not make one less interesting and less valuable. "Ageing adds years to your life while growing adds life to your years," she said.

NOT JUST WAITING FOR THE END

Age to me is just a number, why would anyone want to live sadly towards the end? If I can continue to inspire and show young people that ageing is not something gloomy and scary, that puts me in high spirits.

MR CLEMENT TAN, 77.

MR CLEMENT TAN, 77, TRAINING CONSULTANT WITH SECURITY COMPANY

As a sprightly 20-something, Mr Tan was a police investigation officer who would be on his feet all day on the ground and at crime scenes.

These days, his legs may grow tired more easily but he still spends several hours a week holding classes for security guards, teaching them the tricks of the trade.

Mr Tan, who works for Silver Spring as a trainer, also serves as secretary of the Tanglin Toastmasters branch, an oratory and public speaking organisation.

The grandfather of one remains an avid runner, jogging and hitting the gym twice a week. In fact, he is preparing for a 20km run next year.

The exhibition will give him a chance to show that ageing is not just about waiting for the end.

Mr Tan said: "Age to me is just a number, why would anyone want to live sadly towards the end?

"If I can continue to inspire and show young people that ageing is not something gloomy and scary, that puts me in high spirits."

His passion lies in teaching and working with others. "Having been a police officer for a long time, you learn to love people, so as long as I can teach people and work with people, I will be very happy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Age is just a number'. Print Edition | Subscribe