Saturday, February 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

Yes, Happy Birthday to me. Today is my birthday. So what?, you may ask. It's just another birthday, you may say.

But to me, it's not just another birthday. You see, it's my 55th birthday! So what's the big deal? What are the implications?

The 'big deal', according to my friend who turned 55 a few years ago, is "YOU HIT 55 ONLY ONCE!".

The implications are many. But the most important of which is the Malaysian government classifies those 55 years and above as Senior Citizens. After all, 55 used to be the retirement age for civil servants, me included. But the retirement age has since been increased to 56 a few years ago and, since last year, 58.

After all, the retire at 55 policy was one of the many legacies left behind by the former British colonial government. It is believed that the expatriate officers delibrately set the retirement age at 55 so that when they return to Britain they would still be young enough to enjoy their retirement life.

But even 58 is still young, if compared to a lot of other nations. For example, Malaysia's neighbour Singapore's civil servants retire at 62. Even then, they are talking about further extending it. Filipinos, if I'm not mistaken, retire at 60.

So, coming back to my case, under the old system of 55, I would have retired today; assuming today is a working day for civil servants. But what happened a few years ago was, I think, the Malaysian government finally realised that if one retires when he achieves 55 years of age, he is actually retiring on his last day of 54. So,by extending it to 56, only then the mistake was corrected. In other words, I was "saved by the bell", to borrow the title of a Bee Gees song famous in the 60s-70s.

Then, last year, the Malaysian government finally realised that even 56 was still too young for one to retire; considering that most other countries have higher retirement age. Besides, it would be a financial burden to pay a retired officer his pension and still have to pay his successor full salary.

So, the solution is to increase the retirement age and this the Malaysian government did last year, further increasing it to 58. Going by the present global or at least regional trend, and according to rumours, there is every hope that the Malaysian civil servants' retirement age would be further increased to 60 in the near future. Hopefully, this would become a reality before I hit 58 in 3 years' time. If that happens, I would then be saved by the bell a second time.

Coming back to my newly-gained Senior Citizen status, other benefits include special treatment when you use government facilities. Such as at government hospitals, you get priority when taking a number to wait for your turn including at the pharmacy.

Another benefit, though I am not sure if they still do it, is getting half-price for Malaysian Airlines' economy class tickets.

Though the retirement age for Malaysian civil servants has been increased to 58, a member can still withdraw all his Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) savings when he reaches 55 as the EPF Board has not changed its law. Unfortunately, I am not a member as, being a civil servant, I am on the Permanent & Pensionable scale.

So how did I spend my 55th birthday? Lucky for me, today is a non-working day for civil servants so I didn't have to wake up early. I woke up at 8am only because I was hungry. Accompanied by my wife (my two sons still sleeping), I went to Hilltop shophouses for fish slice soup as breakfast. The corner shop facing the Lintas highway, next to UNITAR at Wisma Prudential.

Read newspapers when I got home and then fell asleep again. I woke up after 2pm, again feeling hungry (the fish soup was not heavy). Wife said she wasn't cooking as she wasn't hungry (women eat less than men). So I helped myself with biscuits I found in the kitchen, then took my bath and get ready to go to Church for evening Mass.

But what made me so sleepy? Last nite I waited the clock to strike 12 when I would be officially 55. I wouldn't want to miss that moment, just like people waiting for New Year. Then I knelt down before the altar in my house and prayed. I thanked God for allowing me to live until 55 and, hopefully, many more years to come. Then only I went to sleep.

I am not trying to potray myself as a holy man here, but, after seeing my brother-in-law died suddenly at the age of 46 ten years ago, I know how precious life is. It was also his death which brought me closer to God and converted me to a 'renewed' or so-called 'Born Again Christian'. After being a member of the Benevolent Ministry (whose job involves praying for the dead at the funeral parlour and the deceased's home) of my church's Prayer Group for almost 10 years now, I know how fragile life can be and how God can take away anything anytime. How can I ever forget, for example, one Christmas evening a few years ago, when most Christians were celebrating, I found myself praying, playing the guitar and singing religious hymns at the funeral parlour for a young air hostess killed in an accident on Christmas eve.

So I am now a Senior Citizen now! But am I ready to accept that? Am I really that old? Isn't age just a number? Do I want to be called old? Or even an uncle? The first test was the Evening Mass at the church a few hours ago. The front rows were reserved for Senior Citizens. But would I sit there? No way! After all, those sitting there are normally those in their 70s or at least 60s. May be I'll join them in a few years' time when I officially retire but certainly not now. Pride? Ego? Blame it on human nature. I am human, remember? As they say in Malay, 'kalah malu!'.

After Mass, my family brought me to the King Hu restaurant in Tanjung Aru for dinner. They knew it was my favourite. They also knew my favourite dish there was the Peking Duck which comes with complimentary duck-bone soup. The way to eat it is you put the duck meat slice on a popiah skin toigther with onion leave, add the special sauce, wrap it, and put it in your mouth. Not cheap though, one duck RM70. Then went home, then only they took out the surprise birthday cake. I spent the next few hours until midnite writing this post which you are reading now.

Some of you might notice that my last post was in January, despite my New Year resolution of one post a day. They say that promises are meant to be broken. But they also say that it doesn't matter how many times you fall but what's important is getting up each time after you fall!

So, my birthday (55th, remember?) gave me another chance to make amends. Let's see if I can do it this time. Give me another chance, will you? Even God forgives people. Even prisons give inmates a chance to lead a new life after their release by rehabilitating them. That's why USA calls their prisons correctional facilities. Even drug addicts are rehabilitated by the government.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Do come back. Give this 'old man' a chance. Thank you and God bless.