“WHAT’S a pyjama?” the question posed by a shabbily dressed little girl in a tiny nondescript village near Jodhpur, India, tugged at the heartstrings of Puan Sri Siew Toh Ee, founder of Nordic Walking UK Malaysia. She had been asking the village children earlier about their clothes. “Do you wear pyjamas to sleep?” she wanted to know.
The answer she received shocked her. She learnt that they hardly changed their clothes, and more often than not, used the same clothes they wore during the day, for sleep. There were no bedtime readings or bonding rituals with their parents, just as how she used to do with her own four children. She left with a heavy heart, wondering if children in Malaysia suffered from the same plight as those wide-eyed youngsters in that remote Indian village.
She was travelling through India in December last year on a photography tour, and her chance encounter near Jodhpur was accidental, but proved providential. The intrepid traveller whose passions include photography and Nordic Walking (a total body walking activity carried out with specially designed poles), discovered her true calling.
Gathering all the information she needed on underprivileged children, she shared her vision of donating pyjamas to children with a group of friends from Nordic Walking UK Malaysia. It didn’t take long for her to get a response. Sponsors, funding and donations-in-kind including pyjamas and children’s storybooks, started pouring in.
Staying true to the value of giving back to society upon which Nordic Walking UK Malaysia is established and to honour her newfound calling, Siew and her charitable group will be hosting the inaugural Charity Pyjamas Walk next Saturday at Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur. Participants are encouraged to wear their favourite pyjamas for the walk which will be flagged off at 8am. About 600 children from 10 homes will benefit from this event.
Siew’s house at Tropicana Gold Resort in Petaling Jaya is quiet except for the faint hum of the air-conditioner in the living room. The echoing footsteps break the stillness that shrouds her home and soon enough, the exuberant woman enters the hallway with a warm smile and hands extended in greeting.
Clad in a navy blue blouse paired with a pair of beige silken pants, she looks amazingly fit, with a zest for life that belies her age (she coyly tells me she’s in her 60s). She credits her “Nordic Walking of course!”
“So, Puan Sri, why pyjamas?” I don’t waste any time asking, as we settle in our seats.
Taking a deep breath, she begins: “We often take for granted the simple joys in life. Pyjamas and bedtime stories are usually the norm for children in urban homes. My children certainly had those privileges, but there are many whose bedtimes aren’t as carefree.”
The Pyjama Walk, she hopes, will be able to raise awareness on the importance of giving children a wonderful childhood experience. “There’s nothing like a warm, clean set of pyjamas and a good book to end the day and help a child look forward to tomorrow,” she enthuses, smiling. She adds that through this project, she hopes the selected homes will focus on giving children a fun bedtime routine while encouraging them to read, thus cultivating the habit of reading.
“Have you done Nordic Walking before?” she asks me with a smile. Shaking my head, she proceeds to tell me that the Pyjama Walk is also a perfect opportunity to promote and inspire people to take up that activity.
Nordic Walk, she explains, is fitness walking with the use of two specially designed poles.
“Are they similar to trekking poles?” I ask curiously. “No!” she replies, chuckling. “They’re quite different actually.”
The Nordic walking pole, I’m told, with its glove/strap attached to the side of the handles, is fixed to the pole while in use. As Nordic Walking originated from cross-country skiing, the pole is planted at an angle rather than in front of the walker and this requires a push through the strap as you move forward (not unlike a skier gliding along).
This movement provides propulsion and enables the walker to increase stride and harness the power of the upper body. The normal trekking pole, on the other hand, often has a strap but it’s usually simply looped around the wrist in order to ensure the pole isn’t lost in the event of a stumble.
“Nordic Walking isn’t as popular here as it is in Europe and the US,” admits Siew, adding that the upcoming walk will present the perfect opportunity to introduce this fitness regime to the public. “There’ll be free lessons given out called Tasters, specially for those who wish to learn more about Nordic Walking,” she promises. She’s a Nordic Walking instructor herself, having obtained the UK certification in 2015 after intensive training and a slew of examinations which she passed with flying colours.
“There are so many benefits if you do it properly,” she enthuses, adding: “I often come across people using their trekking poles to go walking. That’s not going to do you any good. Nordic Walking can give you the benefits of a full body workout. The walk engages all your muscles from neck down, spreading the workload evenly, especially on the knees as well as your entire body.”
Most people assume that walking with poles is for the elderly and Siew is determined to change that perception. “Walking with poles is good for anyone of any age. There are many different types of walking regimes out there. You could practise mindful walking to destress and declutter your mind by focusing on the present, breathing deeply with each step. There’s also the social walk which you take with your friends in the morning for a brisk workout and great conversation. It doesn’t really matter what you choose and how old you are, as long as you’re comfortable and it benefits you,” says Siew.
IN THE NAME OF CHARITY
It’s clear where her passion lies. Siew relates that she stumbled upon Nordic Walking during her visit to the Swiss Alps five years ago. She met with Martin Christie, one of the founders of the original Nordic Walking trainer courses in the UK. “The beautiful outdoors and a good workout form a great combination. I took to it almost immediately,” she recalls.
Determined not to waste her knowledge, she returned to Malaysia and set up the Nordic Walking UK Malaysia and roped in her friends. “My lifestyle has changed tremendously” she confides, adding: “The sense of lightness, the speed and power that comes with the regime has improved me not just physically but mentally as well.”
She shares that she packs her poles and takes them with her wherever she travels. “Thanks to Nordic Walking, my circle of friends has widened,” she shares, adding that at present, the group has about 120 active members from all walks of life. “I’m not doing it for the money,” Siew asserts emphatically. Since the establishment of Nordic Walking UK Malaysia, she has been raising funds for charities, including Meals-On-Wheels (which feeds the homeless and the underprivileged) and Angsana Care (which provides music and art complementary therapy to paediatric palliative care patients in the University Malaya Medical Centre and the Paediatric Institute Hospital in Kuala Lumpur).
“I make it a point to do charity work wherever I go,” says Siew. She recalls fondly of her time in Bhutan where she took a group of 15 Nordic Walking members for a walk in the Himalayas. “We went up the Tiger’s Nest (a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex) and to a remote school in the Ha Valley. We made hand-painted art with the schoolchildren and introduced traditional games like congkak to them. It was so much fun!”
While most visitors would simply donate food items and basic necessities to such schools, Siew and her band of walkers did things differently. “The headmistress asked if we could help finance the recording of the school song and I jumped at the chance!” With a hearty laugh, she adds: “We left behind a song in exchange for the heartfelt gratitude of the headmistress!”
The rewards, believes Siew, can be manifold. “People have been calling me and testifying how Nordic Walking saved their lives. There’s a cancer patient who now attributes this activity towards her recovery. She couldn’t walk straight before and now she can,” relates Siew, adding: “Some have told me that they’ve managed to lose a lot of weight as well. To know that you have the ability to change the lives of people both humbles and amazes me.”
As for the Pyjamas Walk, Siew says that she’s overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response and that she can’t wait to meet all the participants clad in their favourite pyjamas. “I’ll be there in my animal onesie!” she says, chuckling heartily before urging me to join in the fun. “Come along in your best pyjamas! It’s going to be fun and who knows? It might just change your lifestyle for the better like it did mine!”