Learning > Inspiration

Bucket lists that never end: Ex-MP and Chinese physician Hong Hai will start free talks for seniors

Lee Siew Hua on 16 Aug 2019

The Straits Times


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SINGAPORE - Lively conversations at lunch with his friends often end with someone declaiming: "Now that we solved all the problems of the world, we can go home."


Dr Hong Hai, 75, has circles of friends, including experts, who are happy to discuss anything from global issues to wellness when they gather.


He himself is a fount of knowledge as he has dipped into many domains. A former Member of Parliament, he has also been an engineer, a corporate chief, a business professor, a Chinese physician and an author.


These days, he spends one afternoon a week at Renhai, the traditional Chinese medicine clinic he founded in 2009 after cultivating a mid-life interest in the discipline.


He is also an adjunct professor at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and is now completing a book based on a decade of lectures to mid-career MBA students.


He is seeding a new dream as well. Converging his networks and personal interests, he will start a seminar series on health and happiness for Third Agers. These are active retirees, now in a new season of life following middle age.


He hopes to inspire senior Singaporeans to rejuvenate mind and body at free talks he will stage soon above his clinic in a Neil Road shophouse. Younger people are welcome too.


"Third Age people are specially interested in health and longevity,'' he says.


He sees a troubling rise in the rate of depression in Singapore - but the remedy is not more medication. Create experiences that give people "a sense of belonging and connection to the community'' instead, he says. His talks will be along that vein.


"Singaporeans are not very happy. I think it's to do with the social pressures we impose on ourselves and the values implanted over 50, 60 years," he observes.


This leads to a state of being "easily unhappy". It can happen when someone else gets a fancier house or higher grades in school.


As a passionate lifelong learner, he is glad his cohort is still intellectually curious.


"For Third Agers, particularly those older than 70, there is still a strong sense of curiosity and thirst for knowledge,'' he says.


"I am not so sure about the younger ones. This is a cultural issue and needs as much attention as our per capita gross domestic product."


Born in Muar, he was a top student who won a Colombo Plan scholarship to study engineering at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He completed a PhD in philosophy at the London School of Economics fifty years later.


His sparkling resume includes: president and chief executive of diversified group Haw Par Corporation (1990 to 2003), MP for Kampong Chai Chee (1989 to 1991) and dean of NTU's College of Business (2003 to 2007).


It is certainly not all work and no play for Dr Hong.


He relaxes in a variety of ways, for instance, combining walking and socialising.


"I love taking walks in wooded areas, particularly if I have company. We enjoy hearty breakfasts after the walk,'' he says.


He lost his beloved wife of over 40 years about three months ago, after a long illness. He does not have children, but bonds with his many nephews and nieces and their offspring.


"Most of my relaxation comes from reading - from trivia to philosophy to politics. I love old movies from the 1950s and 1960s, both Hollywood and Chinese movies."


Next, he hopes to take up choral singing. "It is not only good for the lungs and delays ageing of the brain, but it also allows you to engage with others."


That is an infusion of health and happiness, much like the seminar series he is dreaming up.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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