Tend­ing the mind

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR -

CAP­TAIN Ho Weng Toh is all of 91 years but the WWII bomber pi­lot is not about to end his love af­fair with life. He still flies around the world, “not from in­side the cock­pit now”, but seated in­side pas­sen­ger jets – to meet old friends and ex­plore ex­otic places.

“I was just in the United States vis­it­ing my squadron mate Howard Halla. He is also 91. We were in the unit known as The Fly­ing Tigers. There were be­tween 15 and 20 of us then. To­day, only four of us are left,” said Malaysian-born Capt Ho, who be­came a Sin­ga­pore cit­i­zen in the 1970s.

The Fly­ing Tigers unit was the first Amer­i­can wing of the Chi­nese Air Force, and its Cur­tiss P-40 fighter – with its dis­tinc­tive shark-faced air in­take – is still among the most recog­nis­able war­planes of WWII vin­tage.

Capt Ho joined the mil­i­tary by chance. He was a stu­dent at Sun Yat Sen Univer­sity in China when war broke out.

“I spot­ted an ad in the cam­pus pa­pers look­ing for bomber pi­lots. I put in my ap­pli­ca­tion but felt that since I was short in stature, I would not be picked. I got picked,” he said, laugh­ing.

He never looked back. In fact, his life af­ter that reads like a script for an epic war movie.

His stints in­cluded La­hore in Pun­jab for ba­sic flight train­ing. He then shipped out to Colorado in the United States for more ad­vanced fly­ing for a year be­fore head­ing to Cal­i­for­nia to await as­sign­ments.

It was not long be­fore he re­turned to China, first to Guilin, then Wuhan, to fight the war on the side of the Chi­nese.

It was dur­ing his year in Colorado that Capt Ho fell in love for the first time.

“She was an Amer­i­can but noth­ing came out of that re­la­tion­ship. Noth­ing could, since I was off to China to fight a war,” he said wist­fully. They never met again but he re­cently vis­ited her grave when he was back there.

Af­ter the war, he stayed in Wuhan as a trainer for the Chi­nese air force be­fore leav­ing to be­come a com­mer­cial pi­lot in Shang­hai.

It was there that he met and mar­ried his wife, Au­gusta Ro­drigues, af­ter court­ing her for three years.

In 1951, Capt Ho moved his fam­ily to Sin­ga­pore where he worked as a com­mer­cial pi­lot. Later, in the late 1950s, he helped train a pool of lo­cal pi­lots for the fast-grow­ing air­line in­dus­try.

“It was at Paya Le­bar Air­port. We didn’t have flight sim­u­la­tors then. I trained them on the run­way, and we made about 35 land­ings ev­ery day,” he said with much pride in his voice.

For a man who has led such an ex­cit­ing life, he found it “rather try­ing” when he re­tired at the age of 60.

“I was both a trainer and an ex­am­iner just be­fore I re­tired. That meant I was soar­ing high, then sud­denly plum­met­ing to ground zero with not even a pri­vate fly­ing li­cence. It was hard for me.”

So, to keep his epic story go­ing “for a cou­ple more episodes”, Capt Ho dove head­long into sports – play­ing golf, as well as tennis, three times a week.

He also started trav­el­ling and vis­it­ing friends scat­tered all over the world. On his trav­els, he would ex­plore the less trod­den paths. In Au­gust, for ex­am­ple, he vis­ited Shun Tak in China, where his an­ces­tors were from.

His ac­tiv­i­ties kept him ex­tremely busy un­til five years ago, when he con­tracted a bad bout of pneu­mo­nia, which weak­ened him phys­i­cally. “I was afraid I’d fall and hurt my­self so I de­cided to take it easy. To­day, I just swim or play bil­liards or snooker.”

To keep his mind ac­tive, the fa­ther of three and grand­fa­ther of two not only plays bridge with friends, but also uses e-mail and his smart­phone to stay in touch with loved ones.

“Peo­ple I meet of­ten ask what is my se­cret to a long and healthy life. I don’t have one, re­ally. No se­cret, no for­mula of sorts, not even a recipe. I be­lieve I am not dis­ci­plined enough,” Capt Ho said.

But his older son Fred, 61, a re­tired ad­min­is­tra­tor, said: “My dad’s se­cret for­mula ac­tu­ally is hav­ing a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­wards every­thing and ev­ery­one, and hav­ing a great love for life.” – The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore/Asia News Net­work “I DON’T think there re­ally is such a thing as a ca­sual gar­dener,” says oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist Rose Deskavich from Green­field, Mas­sachus­setts, the United States.

Deskavich has been de­vel­op­ing meth­ods to as­sist peo­ple with var­i­ous age-re­lated ail­ments, so they can en­joy their gar­den­ing hobby – or pas­sion. “Peo­ple have a strong tie to gar­den­ing. It’s a loss when you can’t do it phys­i­cally or men­tally,” she adds.

The eas­i­est and most adapt­able way to work with some­one who has mem­ory lim­i­ta­tions is to cre­ate lists and charts, she sug­gests. Cre­ate a cal­en­dar to des­ig­nate days when wa­ter­ing, weed­ing or har­vest­ing should be done. “Make lots of lists. The key is re­fer­ring to the lists.”

As mem­ory im­pair­ment in­creases, it be­comes es­sen­tial to have a part­ner to as­sist with gar­den­ing.

“You need to have some­one to guide them. You can’t just tell some­one (who is mem­ory im­paired) to go over there and weed that por­tion of the gar­den. He won’t re­mem­ber by the time he gets there.”

The gar­den­ing part­ner goes over what needs to be done and stays with the per­son dur­ing the project. Deskavich rec­om­mends the men­tor ap­proach: “You tell him, ‘Do what I’m do­ing.’”

The part­ner also needs to be very con­sis­tent, giv­ing spe­cific step-by-step di­rec­tions. “For ex­am­ple, you might tell him to just pick the red veg­eta­bles.”

The over­all ex­pe­ri­ence of gar­den­ing, the bright colours, hav­ing your hands in the dirt, the as­so­ci­ated sounds and the strong smells trig­ger pos­i­tive sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries.

“Even au­di­tory things like hav­ing a wind chime in the gar­den is great sen­sory stim­u­la­tion. Water foun­tains are also great and very sooth­ing,” she says.

Gar­den­ing brings a sense of not only re­lax­ation, but a sense of achieve­ment. “They can look back at that tomato or car­rot they grew and cared for and have a sense of ac­com­plish­ment,” Deskavich says.

But, you do have to watch them in terms of hy­dra­tion or too much sun. It is also bet­ter to work on gar­den­ing projects in the morn­ing or early part of the day. “Peo­ple (with mem­ory im­pair­ment) func­tion bet­ter in the morn­ings. They are clearer and have more mem­o­ries in­tact.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion, gar­den­ing is also an ef­fec­tive stress re­ducer for those who are care­givers for loved ones who have mem­ory im­pair­ment. – © Mc­Clatchy-Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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