Joanne Poon loves the thrill and adventure of cross-country cycling. The 62-year-old retiree is currently touring across Vietnam with her husband Yeoh Keong Kok and a group of mostly senior cyclists. Since she started cross-country cycling eight years ago, Poon has cycled through Thailand, Laos, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Kunming (in China).
She’s even ventured as far as France and has plans of cycling through many more countries in the coming years.
Biking, says Poon, is a fantastic way of seeing a place as it allows access to stops that most tour buses miss. It is also very exhilarating, she adds.
“When we cycle, we go through places at a slower pace and can stop whenever and wherever we wish.
“But mostly, we get to see things that most tourists miss. In Japan, we went off the beaten track to villages and got to enjoy the calmness and cleanliness of the countryside. In Thailand, we also cycled to a village and came across a barbershop located in a barn with a cow sleeping inside, ” shares Poon.
Cycling through places has also enabled her to meet many people who are very friendly and kind and willing to lend a hand.
“When we go on our overseas cycling tours, we rarely book our accommodation in advance, ” reveals Poon.
“But, wherever we go, people have been kind and shown us love and incredible hospitality. On ourTaiwan trip, we cycled up a hill and reached our destination at about 7pm.
“We were exhausted, cold and hungry and stopped at a restaurant which had already closed for the day.
“The restaurant owner and his family were having their dinner. But she kindly offered us a meal and also a place to sleep.
“Another time, on a trip through Korea and Japan, we arrived in Osaka at the end of Apri, l during ‘Golden Week’, when the Japanese were having a long break. We had a hard time looking for accommodation and were forced to camp outside, with the permission of a house owner who allowed us to put up our tents in her compound. Also, a Japanese cyclist invited us to stay at his house.
“We ended up spending five days with Mr and Mrs Yasuhiko Kuroyanagi. We cycled, travelled and cooked together. It was a bonus for our trip, ” says Poon.
Though she used to cycle in her childhood, Poon only picked up cycling again after she turned 53. She was encouraged by her brothers who were avid cyclists themselves.
“My two brothers are my sifu. They trained me without mercy. I recall the first trip to Taiwan with them.
“There were nine of us, and all five of the ladies on the trip stopped because we couldn’t bear cycling under the hot sun.
“But we have improved since. In 2013, I bought a proper hydride (electric) bike and cycled round Hualien in the east of Taiwan.
“I really enjoyed it and the following year, I cycled around the whole of Taiwan island, ” says Poon who was a kindergarten teacher for 20 years before she quit to start teaching pottery.
The will to conquer
Poon brushes aside the notion that touring on a bicycle is too taxing for senior citizens. However, she concedes that some level of fitness is necessary.
“I don’t think that age is an issue. Fitness is. To be able to cycle long distances, you do need to be fit and determined.
“Having the right mindset is important because you will definitely face challenges along the way.
“But the rewards are great. You will gain self satisfaction, confidence and strength. I think I’m a lot healthier now, ” says Poon.
One of the most challenging trips, she shares, was in Laos. The landscape in Laos was breathtaking, but the road conditions were poor.
“Laos is a mountainous country. We cycled from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and the road conditions were bad, dusty and filled with small stones.
“Long stretches of roads were under construction, which made it even more difficult.”
Poon’s two children are extremely proud of their adventurous parents.
“They are very encouraging and so are many of our friends who have only positive things to say about our adventures. All they worry about is that we look after ourselves when we are on the road, ” says Poon.
Poon is one of 12 inspiring senior ambassadors featured in a 2020 calendar to raise funds for seniors in need.
Produced by Seniors Aloud, an online community of senior citizens, this calendar project aims to promote active living.
A calendar to inspire
“The calendars are made by seniors, about seniors and for seniors, ” says Lily Fu, a gerontologist who founded Seniors Aloud more than a decade ago.
“This is our community project to raise funds for our Grant A Wish For The Elderly initiative.
“The calendar features 12 seniors who epitomise healthy living. We have also included lots of tips on staying active and healthy, inspiring quotes and useful information for seniors, ” says Fu.
The calendars cost RM15 each and all proceeds will be channelled to our Grant A Wish For The Elderly initiative.
“This year, the funds collected will go towards the Vihara project, an initiative to purchase 70 mattresses, pillows and bedsheets for the abandoned elderly living at KL’s Tong Sim Senior Citizen Care Centre, ” says Fu.
Seniors Aloud, a blog started by Fu in 2008, highlights articles and videos that appeal to those over the age of 50.
It has since evolved to become a go-to site for senior citizens seeking information, inspiration and a connection with like-minded peers.
Apart from advocating for seniors and raising issues that concern them, Seniors Aloud provides a platform for seniors to share experiences with one another.
“Transitioning from one stage of life to the next can be quite challenging, more so for seniors entering semi-retirement or full retirement, ” says Fu.
Through this calendar project, the community hopes to change outdated stereotypes about what old age should be like.
Also featured in the calendar is 80-year-old retired matron Lim Lam Pheng who has travelled to all but one continent – South America. She aims to make that trip next year.
Kasummah Salleh, 70, dedicates much her time doing community service at various Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas (senior activity centres) as well as playing gamelan, which is her passion.
Not forgetting 72-year-old Henry Cheong who runs, works out in the gym, plays the piano and guitar and is now learning the saxophone to be “mentally stimulated”, while Andal Krishnan, who in her late 60s, is still busy running her own business.
Wellness and Qigong teacher Wan Chee Wing, 69, is another inspiring senior who is featured. The youngest in the bunch is Dr Ansgar Cheng, 54, a runner who won the gold medal in the 5,000m race in his age group at the 2016 Asia Masters Athletics Championships.
To find our more about these inspiring seniors, and to contribute to their community service initiatives, get a copy of the limited edition calendars.
They may even inspire you to join them in their regular activities, like joining the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Serdang, Selangor, to learn a new skill or two.
“I hope that this initiative will inspire people to look at seniors in a more positive way, ” says Andal, who runs corporate training programmes.
“Ageism is horrible. The perception that when you are older, you are no longer relevant or useful is just not acceptable. Of course, we seniors must make sure that we keep ourselves relevant and in touch with what younger people are interested in too.
“I don’t think that age should dictate what we can or cannot do. We are all growing older and many senior citizens are still able to contribute to society and workplaces. There is a space for people of all generations to work together and learn from one another, ” Andal concludes.
To order the Senior Aloud 2020 calendar, call 012-306 8291.