PENANG IS OFTEN regaled a paradise for retirees. But conditions differ greatly, as one would expect. Penang Monthly interviews a few aged residents to get a feel of the situation.
No Place Like Home
Ray Rozells is something of a household name in Penang, and at 71 years of age, he continues to excite crowds with his jazzy and energetic music performances. Ray left Penang and the country as a young man to pursue a career in music and entertainment, a journey that took him to Thailand and then, to the US where he lived for 36 years.
Despite his extended sojourn overseas, Ray still very much regards Penang as his home. And so, his return to the place of his birth was only a matter of time. Ray moved permanently back to the Island in the early 2000s, and cites the low living costs, tropical weather and excellent medical benefits as the main pull factors.
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For many like Ray who are under the Malaysia My Second Home programme, living in Penang is a dream come true. Those aged 50 and above are required to only place a fixed deposit of RM150,000 in any of Malaysia’s local banks upon approval. “It’s affordable considering the conversion. It also seems like the local banks offer better interest rates,” he says. This is pretty encouraging for foreigners who plan on settling here, since most currencies translate well. “Grab rides are also cheap; I don’t even need to drive anymore. But I do wish there’s more entertainment for folks like me in Penang.”
Living the Simple Life
Cikgu Phoon served his full tenure as a teacher at SJKC Chong Cheng for 39 years, which now entitles him to a 60% pension. “As a government servant, we are generally well taken care of and receive medical benefits too.”
To explain briefly, 60% of a government servant’s last salary is the maximum pension rate one is entitled to receive for completing the maximum years of service; while a different rate is imposed for those who opt for early retirement. This is stipulated under the scales and schedules of the government services, known locally as the “Jadual Pengiraan Pencen”.
Though retired, Phoon is not resting on his laurels. His love for teaching is still strong and he has developed his own online teaching platform blessings.my that features online interactive courses which are reflective of the local Malaysian syllabus.
Lim Lee Sin.
“I am able to get by because I live a simple life,” says Phoon, though he admits that having “enough” is subjective to each individual. He does not fancy frequenting extravagant places, and keeps his expenditure under control. Phoon and his wife Judith hope that their online teaching platform is able to supplement their expenses in the coming years. “Food is in abundance and is still relatively cheap in Penang. I’ve even started growing some of my own!”
However, Penang is far from the rosy picture it is painted out to be. “It is very costly to own a property now,” Phoon says ruefully. He recalls the days when purchasing a house was still an attainable goal. “Back in the 1970s and 1980s, a wage earner of a few hundred Ringgit could still buy a house for slightly over RM10,000. These days, a decent property can go up to the millions on the Island.”
It is fair to say that while having a pension allows one to cover the bare necessities, luxury may not be afforded without other supplementary income streams.
No Time to Retire
“Things are really expensive to own now,” concedes Lim Lee Sin. At 62, Lim is one of Penang’s most prominent cake artists and is the founder of I <3 Cakes. Lim has garnered quite the fan base on Facebook, with an ever-growing page of over 8,000 likes and plenty of engagement.
“The cost of living here is precarious, especially since Covid-19 hit,” she says, adding that the cancellation of events throughout 2020 has badly impacted her business. “And I do not want to depend on my children, they have families of their own to care for.” Adamant at being independent, Lim says she is unlikely to fully retire any time soon.
“The cost of living here is precarious, especially since Covid-19 hit.”
She is also among the many who have no pensions or EPF retirement funds to fall back on, still Lim chooses to see the glass as half full. “Even if I am given a chance to retire overseas, I’d never take up the offer. I’ve been abroad plenty of times to visit my sons, but it just does not feel like home. I like how easy it is to get around in Penang, but the public transport system, though better now, can still do with some improving. Perhaps, the government ought to look into giving senior citizens free rides.”
At present, free transportation for seniors is not yet available, but the elderly do get to enjoy a discount via the purchase of a concession card from Rapid or the Rapid Emas card which imposes a flat rate of RM35 for locals to enjoy unlimited rides for one month.
To Give is to Receive
Jimmy Tan, a cheery person of 76, fills most of his days with community and charity work. Like Phoon, Jimmy leads a simple life and finds great joy in lending his time and energy to those in need. “I am happy, I am healthy and I’m not sick in any way. What more can I ask for?” he grins.
Jimmy worked as a DJ at the Merlin Hotel during the 1980s and did some broadcasting projects for which he was handsomely paid. After dabbling in show business, he became a musical instrument repairman at Cheng Lee, the famed music store during the heydays of Penang’s nightlife. But those days have long since passed.
Today, Jimmy lives with his son who financially supports him, and because he is widely recognised for his charitable work, Jimmy also gets a lot of anonymous support to help him get by. But since Covid-19, he accepts that things are no longer the same, “especially if your income depends on your services.”
Proficient in multiple creative disciplines, Kelvyn Yeang is a musician by night and media content creator by day. When he is not writing, designing, or creating, Kelvyn wanders the streets of George Town in search of a good story and a cup of coffee.