Lao Shiung! Lao Shiung! Pa’s friend from next door hollers out. This is just before the sun wakes up. He bangs the metal gate with a metal bar, clang, clang, clang, much like how bells toll. Lao Shiung arh, let’s go before the day breaks. It is a daily routine for them, waking each other up, and waking the whole neighbourhood up in the process. Pa just turned sixty, this was in 1976. Sixty is a magic number for ageing men in the 1960’s and remained so until the Gen Y’s turned up. Gen Y’s are dramatically different, there is more drama about their looks, which makes health their priority. We think about aged care, they talk about skin care. They care less when we discuss medicare. Turning sixty transforms Pa, he suddenly becomes a man who realises his own mortality. A year before, he got a rude wake-up call; he suffered his first of many strokes, during his 6oth birthday bash. Yes, his generation always counts themselves a year old as soon as they are born. Nine months in the mother’s womb is as good as a year on earth. Fortunately, the stroke is just a warning, it gives him ample opportunity (more importantly, time) to fix his lifestyle. Out goes all the smokes, what’s this about slowly weaning oneself off? What nicotine patches? What meditation sessions? That’s for the weak-minded. Pa simply stops. That is it, no more puffs, no more late night mahjong sessions – no more passive smoking in air conditioned rooms. No more mahjong actually. Quitting is easy, when you get a friendly warning. When you suddenly cannot walk and talk. You limp and you slur your words when you’re not drunk. No, Pa is not going to drool in bed. He has decided. And so he recovers! Out with the old, in with the new. The new means mixing with a new crowd, those who care about their health. Those who religiously go for morning walks before the morning breaks, even if it is spitting rain.
Some of my friends in Penang too have become obsessed with their health. They have turned 60! They are quick to rally one another; initially I suspected they may have health issues, after all, some of them are late-night owls drinking till the wee hours, and amongst a few smokers, there is one who wants to be a quitter. It’s 5 am. Rise up! Sound the rally call, ding, ding, ding, the sound of Good Morning wishes coming in on Whatsapp. Brain numbing wishes, every single morning. I flash my usual Keanu Reeves smirk. Ah, they are my buddies from yonks, maybe a half-smirk will be more appropriate. Let’s go. Let’s hurry. Let’s do it! Their rally is loud and clear every morning, even before the sun rises – and I am ninety minutes ahead of them in my time zone. Ding, ding, ding. I can see them charging up Penang Hill in their body-hugging lycra. There are those with walking sticks, they brag about the snake carvings on their sticks to distract me, they discuss the type of snake it is, brown, black, viper and of course the cobra. So elaborate! So intricate! But, I am not fooled, those are walking sticks these alpha males are holding, not Jedi lightsabers.
Yesterday, the penny drops. Someone mentions Penny, she finally shows up in our conversation. Penny, also a sexagenarian, teaches them Chia Mu Tze, a simple form of exercise for the less sure-footed, a slow version of aerobics, with nice hot bits. Oh, hot beats. Sorry, it’s the Penang lang diction. It makes my friends happy. It? She? She wears hot pants, they say it’s because it gets too hot there. Naturally, they rally. These sexagenarians are still pre-occupied with the opposite sex. Pa, I hope you too were pre-occupied, in the 60’s.