Photographer Chuan Looi @ Yipieyaya Studio
Styling & creative direction Ibnu Aswan
Make-up artists Joey Yap & Wan Ning
Hair artist Angeline Low
Photography assistant Muhaimin Kamarolzaman
This story was first published in Prestige Malaysia March 2019 issue
20s: Tanzanite Lournard Chandran
Text by Justin Ng
Underneath the façade of sharp facial features that could deflate a balloon lies a gentle soul. As the third child of Dato’ Sri Bernard Chandran and Datin Sri Mary Lourdes Chandran, Tanzanite Lournard Chandran has inherited their physical semblance. Posing for the camera is like a second nature to him. Hence a trail of gasps that follows when one learns that Tanzanite has yet to venture into modelling on a professional basis. Instead, he has enrolled in Trinity College, Dublin. This spring marks his freshman year as a student of biomedical sciences.
“As a kid, I was always interested in biology. I wanted to be a doctor. But things changed. I think this is something close enough. The research field is always more fun for me. I like to discover new things. Of course, it is not going to be as easy as I think but at least this is a start. I would like to go in and find out for myself what it is like,” says the soon-to-be-21-year-old who cites X-Men and its geneticist protagonist Professor X as one who sparked his interest. While he is still open to ideas, for the next five to 10 years, Tanzanite sees himself spending quite a bit of time in a lab or wherever the course takes him.
“My dad told me to really think about what you are saying. You are not a child anymore. You can’t just speak your mind in a rash moment.”
Born in 1998, this coming July 9 marks his coming of age. Turning 21 years old is a rite of passage permeated the fabric of society. It upholds our rights to drink legally and governs our rights to vote for the government. It is also regarded as a milestone for the beginning of adulthood. Although physically “it is just another year”, Tanzanite feels the “expectations are now higher” now that he will finally enter adulthood.
He cites decisiveness as an indispensable quality an adult should possess. That also means owning up to his acts should things go awry as a consequence of his action or decision he has made. “My dad told me to really think about what you are saying. You are not a child anymore. You can’t just speak your mind in a rash moment,” replies Tanzanite when asked about what advice his father gave.
On a personal development level, the past year was spent at honing this particular facet of his life as he lived away from his parents while pursuing a foundation course in Ireland, realising there is much more to life outside the cocoon of comfort.
“I definitely became more independent. You develop your personality a lot in a new way, like doing a simple chore like washing dishes, discovering how to do certain things, maintaining the house on my own, etc. At home I was just comfortable lying around. I had no motivation to improve myself. Now that I am on my own, I really want to make myself a better man,” Tanzanite says of his metamorphosis.
He adds that he has observed such transformation in his older siblings. He noticed that they would cease to act in a certain way, while he remained playful. Being a close-knit unit, the older siblings often show Tanzanite the ropes, looking after him and advising him on education, career and even life choices.
It comes as no surprise that the thing he misses the most is his family, in addition to the delicious Malaysian food, while studying abroad.
“My dad asked me in January so what do you want to do this year for your birthday? It was a bit like the whole life I have been looking to turning 21. Now that I turn 21, it is definitely a shock to me,” Tanzanite says, revealing that for his birthday, he just wants a good time with his friends and family.
“I am not really one to ask, say materialistically, for a present,” Tanzanite underscores his self- effacing manner.
30s: Francesca Chia
Text by Julie Yim
By 30, most people think they should have life all figured out. But Francesca Chia believes therein lies the biggest misconception as life is just about to begin for her in the next decade. “Looking back at the past 10 years, I had such amazing experiences,” says the co-founder and CEO of GoGet who ushered in her 30s last year with her closest family and friends.
Like many startup founders who had the foresight to envision a new reality, Francesca founded GoGet at the mere age of 25, transitioning from a corporate career to a startup life. The past five years have been spent tirelessly building GoGet to be the leading marketplace for on-demand errands and deliveries powered by a community of runners, specifically amounting to 10,000 GoGetters and a permanent team of 12 today. “These amazing 10 years have taught me so many tools and skills and I’m excited to see how these skills are honed in my 30s. My husband and I often joke that your 20s are your boot camp years. You just have to commit the years to hard work, say yes to as many things, attend as many events and meet as many people as you can,” Francesca shares.
A new decade also brings forth a new set of challenges and it comes as no surprise then that Francesca has a list of objectives to accomplish. Her own set of goals – be it long-term, medium-term or short-term, is inclusive of all aspects suchas work, family, health and happiness. “I do this with my husband when we’re on holiday as we talk about what our goals are,” she says. On the health front, staying fit remains a top priority and she has signed up for a duathlon with her husband which will take place this March.
“My husband and I often joke that your 20s are your boot camp years. You just have to commit the years to hard work, say yes to as many things, attend as many events and meet as many people as you can.”
Professionally, she shares that her 30s will be about taking GoGet to the next level as she scales the company. “I started GoGet very naïve but I feel I needed to be naïve to start something, else it will never happen. Two years after bulldozing through, I learned a lot of lessons about the business, how to make it sustainable and how to make sure the model works,” she says before adding, “at 30 now, I feel what’s ironic is that I feel more empowered to dream a little bigger because we have broken even as a business. Now how do we dream to the next stage? So it’s going back to that sense of naivety that we had in the beginning but hopefully with a little bit more sense in us.”
With two years into marriage now, starting a family is also on her mind as she embarks on what she calls a “transitory decade”. “I really look forward to the day I start a family. I have this vision of a day in my life when I’m much older. It begins with me in the kitchen cooking a yummy meal and I have my children with their partners over to my house to eat,” she says with a grin.
Looking back, there were plenty of changes she had to make on her own as she transitioned through the various life phases. As a child who grew up receiving both Chinese education and British international education, Francesca openly shares that was one of the biggest transitions she had to make during her adolescent years. “The way the two cultures educate is very different. I had a huge paradigm shift in my mind when I shifted schools,” she remarks. The next big change she encountered was when she started GoGet as there were no rulebooks or guidance offered. However, she shares that one of the milestones she hopes to achieve with GoGet is to impact the way work is defined. “I hope people will eventually picture work in a very different way. Work can take place anywhere, be much more flexible, mobile, not 9 to 5 and GoGet will play a role in that journey.”
40s: Hannah Yeoh
Text by Rubin Khoo
The most obvious thing about turning 40, says Hannah Yeoh, is that she has to dye her hair regularly. “Every new root that comes out now is white,” she says with a laugh. Her response, coming as somewhat of a surprise, considering her entering a new phase in life coincides with her taking on a greater role in politics.
“As we enter into a new season for Malaysia, I haven’t really had time to think about what I want to accomplish in my 40s because I have been so busy with work,” she adds.
It seems as if Hannah’s life markers are aligned with the changes she hoped to accomplish when she entered politics at the age of 29. By 30, she had been elected state assemblywoman for Subang Jaya, part of a new movement that heralded a new era for the state of Selangor as the then Pakatan Rakyat assumed administration of the state.
Now her turning 40 coincides with a new role as a first-time member of parliament and as Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. Her first couple of months in government proved to be quite challenging as the ministry was thrust into the spotlight when in June, the case of an 11-year-old bride enraged the nation and in July, when the highly publicised case of abuse involving baby Adam Rayqal Mohd Sufi Naeif left us in shock.
“As a mother, it was emotionally difficult. Every time you read about child abuse, it is very tough,” says Hannah. “In the last seven months, I had to learn to separate myself from the news and to be focused on policy changes and reforms.”
There was a process of adjustment which was fairly similar to when she first entered politics more than a decade ago. Then she recalls that despite being confident, she at times remained uncertain as to her decision making. Now, with the advantage of age and experience, she finds that her confidence is backed by certainty. “I think that is the benefit of turning 40,” she says.
The other plus point is that she now finds herself relatively unperturbed by criticism. Perhaps, her heart has hardened, she says in jest, before adding “I hope not, but I am emotionally stronger today and I don’t take offence so easily.”
In the past, a tweet or a negative comment would affect her quite a bit. But now that isn’t the case. “I have learnt to laugh at myself and accept that I am not so perfect,” she says.
Her resolve to make a difference, however, remains intact. And now that she is part of the federal government, she wants to see if she can bring about “real change” after having spent a decade as part of the opposition.
Her longer term plans, however, appear a little less certain as having devoted much of her time to politics, Hannah hopes that when she turns 50, she is able to spend some time indulging in simple pleasures.
“I have learnt to laugh at myself and accept that I am not so perfect.”
Hannah admits that having entered politics at a young age meant that her 30s were somewhat “sacrificed”, but she is also very aware of the fact that she was given the opportunity to achieve much at a young age. In 2013, when Hannah was appointed speaker of the Selangor State Assembly, she broke barriers by becoming the only woman to have held that position and the youngest of any legislative assembly in Malaysia.
“I realise that there are many people my age who cannot do what I do today, so in that sense, it makes up for the time that I think my youth was taken away,” she says. For now, she is content with what she has achieved, “I can look in the mirror and be happy with myself.”
Like others who have hit the milestone, Hannah says she plans to watch what she eats and live a healthier lifestyle. She has not planned the next 10 years, leaving the course of her life to divine intervention. Much of how long she remains in politics, she says, will largely depend on the needs of her daughters.
“In 10 years, they will be teenagers and if they are very secure, I can do more but if they need me, I may have to pay the price and I am willing to do that. I almost feel like I fell off a cliff … so it is hard to predict the next 10 years.” Particularly since the last 10 brought about a change that seemed so impossible. “A lot of people didn’t think they would live to see the day,” she states. “And every single Malaysian fighting for change is blessed.”
To the younger generation, Hannah advises to “never throw your ideals away.” She has observed a lot of passion in the many interns she has worked with. And as most of them are still free of commitments, they are able to devote more time to developing their passions.
“You should make use of that,” she stresses. “Don’t forsake your ideals but make sure you remain teachable. Some people are idealistic but not teachable so it becomes arrogant, a kind of misplaced passion, but if you are passionate and teachable, you become an asset to any organisation.”
50s: Michael Chan
Text by Julie Yim
Second chances are rare but Michael Chan counts himself fortunate to be given a new lease in life as 2019 is set to be a huge year for him. “It’s all part of a plan to be honest,” the CEO of MYTV Broadcasting impishly declares, his humorous nature showing through. Last year, he got down on one knee and proposed to his fiancé as they plan to tie the knot this year to coincide with their 40th and 50th birthday celebrations.
On the professional front, this is also the year Michael is looking forward to delivering the analogue switch-off that he had been tasked to the government which he describes as his toughest gig yet, juggling between different stakeholders and the government. And then there is his bucket list of 50 things to accomplish before his 50th birthday in October, which encompasses baking to sponsoring an underprivileged child’s education. “When I turned 40, I remember telling myself if I get to 50, I want to celebrate my 50th birthday in Hawaii because of Hawaii Five-O,” he chuckles.
It may be hard to imagine that life had been very different altogether for Michael back in his 30s and 40s. He describes his 30s as the time when he was all about establishing his identity. “I went from someone who worked in advertising and marketing to thinking hey I want to be a client and determine what marketing campaigns are. In my 40s, I wanted to be my own businessman and even though I lost my wife who passed away and there was no support, I always said there is still a chance to do business. It was also in my 40s that I realised the concept of giving back is very important,” shares Michael who also founded two orphanages together with his late wife. It was also then that Michael started mentoring young entrepreneurs and business owners on a pro-bono basis, connecting them to relevant people.
“But because we are human, we continue to make the same mistakes. One of the things I’ve learnt is to identify those patterns that are toxic and get out of it.”
While dreams and ambitions are often more than enough to carry one by, Michael has come to the realisation that one becomes more realistic with age. If anything, he has been a lot more focused now. He opens up about a particularly difficult period in his life when he was juggling between being a single father to his son Junior and finding love again. “I have been dating my fiancé for 10 years now. Two years after we dated, I asked her to marry me but she was not convinced with the idea of marriage. We started growing apart as our careers took centre stage and actually had a break in between,” shares Michael, who adds that the break also happened during a difficult time in his career as he had to shut the Bloomberg TV Malaysia business down during which he helmed the position of CEO. It wasn’t long before his now fiancé Eve made the effort to reconnect and their relationship was stronger than ever as they became more committed to each other.
As a single father, Michael also shares one of the hardest moments of being a parent is waking up one day and coming to realise that his son did not need him anymore as he entered university. “The most crazy dynamic thing is you sit down asa parent and you realise that there were days when Junior was the one bringing me up especially when I was going through grief,” he says candidly.
When it comes to regrets in life, Michael has no qualms as he believes everything he has done has brought him to this point. “But when I say no regrets I’m also not fooling myself as I do have regrets. I regret some relationships I’ve had that end up being very toxic, I regret some jobs that I’ve gone through that end up bad and I regret some decisions I made financially. But because we are human, we continue to make the same mistakes. One of the things I’ve learnt is to identify those patterns that are toxic and get out of it.”
60s: Ivy Josiah
Text by Justin Ng
Now in her 60s, Ivy Josiah knew there was no turning back the moment she walked through the door of the Women’s Aid Organisation’s shelter for domestic violence victims and their children in 1982.
“Malaysian men don’t beat their wives. Come on Ivy, this is a Western thing, right?” Ivy, one of the pioneering names in the championing of women’s rights in Malaysia, says with a shrug, harking back to the days when the advocacy for women’s rights was still in its infancy – a far cry from the universal stance of today where women’s rights are a cardinal part of human rights.
“Back then, we didn’t even dare to use the word ‘human rights’ until finally we had a human rights commission… It was a very protective kind of attitude. We were very afraid that our shelter would be closed down in case we were too critical of the police,” she further dissects the difference between then and now. “The difference is this: there is no longer fear. Our work has made us, throughout the years, stronger and fearless. Today, because of social media, a lot of young people are involved in social reforms, trying to make society better. They may not belong to women’s groups or official NGOs, but there is a lot of awareness amongst young people, whether it is environmental justice, sexuality rights, freedom of expression, etc.”
To create a safe and dynamic society, she points out, one can’t isolate women’s rights from the wider civil and liberal rights. “As a women’s rights activist, the rule is very clear: We need to be part of this big reform journey because women can’t be protected or claim their rights in an undemocratic environment,” she stresses.
“I am going to carry on this work until I drop dead, but my role as I grow older will be different. For me, it is not necessarily that it will be a leadership role, but I will be mentoring younger women.”
When the Domestic Violence Act was passed in the parliament, after nine years of lobbying, at midnight in 1994 to a cacophony of tawdry jokes about domestic violence made by members of parliament, it marked a watershed moment in Malaysia’s legislative history. However, when it wasn’t gazetted two years later, Ivy and fellow activists took to the streets and that peaceful but effective protest landed them on the front pages of popular dailies. The show of people’s power paid dividends ultimately. A few years later, the amendment in the Constitution that puts citizens equal before the law regardless of their genders further solidified Malaysian women’s rights.
Yet there is still much improvement that can be made such as better access to welfare services, progressive interpretations of religion that preach compassion. This, along with understanding there is no end game to social justice, continues to motivate her to persist with the arduous pursuit. Ivy puts it simply, “you don’t retire from social justice”, no matter your age and she has been doing just that since 1982.
“I am going to carry on this work until I drop dead, but my role as I grow older will be different. For me, it is not necessarily that it will be a leadership role, but I will be mentoring younger women. I want to be able to write more, share my experience and whatever wisdom I have acquired. Your role changes (with time). One of the challenges of growing old is that I don’t want to cling on to what I have and assume it will always be the same. You have the tendency of not letting go and not letting younger people lead the way, so I don’t want to be that kind of woman leader who doesn’t let go. I want to be able to play a role of mentoring, writing, reflecting but still actively involved in bring about change – not necessarily in a leadership role,” the erstwhile executive director of the WAO ponders her future.
70s: Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam
Text by Justin Ng
If you were unaware that she recently celebrated her 72nd birthday, as clichéd as it sounds, you would have never guessed her real age. Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam glows with radiance. She is as vivacious as any person you will ever chance upon, to which she quips that she was probably born hyperactive. “My mother would actually say for God’s sake, please sit down to eat,” she regales with a colourful account growing up as a lass in Batu Gajah, filled with sporting pastimes, ranging from netball to badminton. In fact, sport is still anchored in her daily life these days. It was only an untimely injury while on the pitch that brought the curtain down on her footballing hobby. Thereafter, she picked up the more languid golf.
If you have been an audience to her numerous adventure narratives, you may opine she is one fearless individual. Being an intrepid traveller and steadfast Buddhist, she has embarked on pilgrimages to the vast wilderness of Mongolia, traversing creeks and clambering up rocks to reach faraway monasteries.
Her approach to staying young is to lead a wholesome lifestyle, including paying attention to the fuel one puts in one’s body. She admits that she customarily skips food loaded with carbs. “My whole family was very disciplined when it comes to food,” she adds, citing the habit was instilled in her from a young age due her family’s health history and further strengthened after a severe bout of illness many years ago.
It is thus her balanced sensibility of regimented and gung-ho attitude that seen her going places in her career. She was scaling the roof when her peers were concerned about finding the stairway to the ceiling. Siew Yong was the male-dominated Malaysian Tobacco Company’s first woman executive. Then she helmed the spokesperson and head of PR position at Malaysia Airlines for 17 years.
“I was brought up in an environment of ‘hey, you can make it’. I have never felt that suppression that you are a lady, you aren’t supposed to do this.”
“I must credit my dad and my brothers who gave me the opportunity to grow. I was brought up in an environment of ‘hey, you can make it’. I have never felt that suppression that you are a lady, you aren’t supposed to do this,” she enthuses, declaring her encouraging father a personal hero.
Nonetheless, she understands perfectly that others may not have access to such supportive environment. Hence when she took early retirement from Malaysia Airlines at the age of 50 in 1997, she promptly jumped at the opportunity to lend her leadership skill to Soroptimist International on a full-time basis, to help incubate a conducive environment for women who are less fortunate. She ascended from club level to president of Soroptimist International South West Pacific.
“Just before I became president in 2012- 2014, as president-elect, a lady asked me, ‘Would you take on the chair of the 21st International Convention which will happen in 2019?’ I said, ‘Huh? You’re asking me in 2010 for something happening in 2019?’” she says with a laugh. She did, however, accept the challenge on the basis that it has never been held in Asia.
The convention will be staged at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from July 19 to 21 and will host delegates from 122 countries, highlighting women’s issues and United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. One of the speakers of the panel sessions is Christina Lamb, a revered British journalist who has covered wars in the Middle East, the plight of women living under the constant terror of Boko Haram and co-penned the empowering book I Am Malala.
“I am so happy that I have this opportunity at this stage of my life to step into something and really take it seriously up to this level, whereby I can still do something for women and girls. In a way, I am proud of this (convention) because it will help my country to be exposed (on the international stage). From Malaysia Airlines’ days, I have been a promoter of the country. It is something that is very me to want to promote the country.”