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The 75-year-old bead-swinging Orchard Road man shares his secrets to healthy living

What is the key to longevity? Bead-swinging man, Oh Ow Kee, reveals some of his thoughts on health, medicine, religion, and technology.

Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

The 75-year old man, Oh Ow Kee, known for his talented bead-swinging act on Orchard Road has been busking for over 20 years now.

A crowd of people looked on with surprise to see the physical agility of Oh at his age, while Oh clapped his hands swinging around bead-hoops from neck to waist on Saturday afternoon (August 19).

Two passing Caucasian 13-year-old boys even accepted Oh’s friendly invitation to try hula-hooping. Both of them commented on how the bead-hoops were much heavier than expected and found the experience thrilling as part of a new cultural immersion.

“[Hula-hooping] was quite difficult. For [Oh Ow Kee] to do [bead-swinging] is quite insane.”

– Jullien Caillol, 13

Justo Mantaras, 13, attempting bead-swinging next to Oh Ow Kee, on Saturday (August 19). Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

Jullien Caillol, 13, trying bead-swinging after his friend Mantaras. Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

Years ago, Oh’s friends had witnessed monks at a temple in China using beads-hoops and brought them back to Singapore. He has since been hula-hooping with different bead sizes to test which beads are most suitable for fitness.

After long experimentation, Oh has discovered that 55-millimeter-in-diameter bead sizes are best for staying fit and prolonging health.

DAILY LIFE AND ROUTINE

Oh spends his weekends – every Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. – busking on the streets of Orchard Road, as a way to not only stay physically fit, but also earn a bit of income.

Occasionally, he sells some of his beads at Toa Payoh Garden, successfully making up to 10 pieces a day. Oh remarked that all of the bead-hoops are handmade. He often orders the beads from elsewhere, but purchases ropes to string the beads together himself.

Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

According to Bangkok Post, prices go up from S$70 per string of beads depending on the length, ranging from 2.1 metres (weighing approximately 2.5 kg) to 3.7 metres long (weighing 5 kg).

Oh used to do small businesses before his busking sideshows, by selling clothes at a retail store in the 1980s. Now, he focuses on performing his bead-swinging stunts on the weekends, as he said that people are usually happier and more generous on both Saturdays and Sundays, as opposed to weekdays.

Oh Ow Kee’s busking license with the Singapore flag and articles featuring him. Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY

Oh still lives with his 72-year-old wife, Hew Lin Yin, whom he has been married to for over 50 years now.

He has three children and eight grandchildren. His youngest daughter has two children, the middle son has three children, and the eldest daughter has three children. Both his daughters reside in Singapore, while his son lives in the United States.

Oh remarked that his wife usually goes to look after their grandchildren every Monday to Friday, but in the mornings, the two of them go exercising together. Meanwhile, his wife enjoys joining the Hakka association to sing for entertainment on the weekends.

When asked about how he manages to maintain a 50-year marriage with his wife, Oh shared that a lot of their relationship stems from mutual understanding. He said that no matter “rainy days” or “sunny days,” the two of them respect that they have been living under the same roof for over half a century already.

“[My wife and I] are more understanding. We are together already. [We’ve] got children already. [We] must cherish it. We are soulmates together.”

– Oh Ow Kee, 75

Oh added that there is no perfect relationship, but him and his wife know not to give up because of the countless years they have spent together. Keeping dispute is “not good for health,” Oh said.

He shared one of the Chinese idioms he lives by: “家和万事成,” meaning that anything in life can be successful when there is harmony within family.

A caricature drawing of Oh Ow Kee and other articles featuring him. Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

HIS SECRET TO LONGEVITY

Oh disclosed some of his healthy-living habits at 75-years-old, stressing the importance of eating well. He remarked that food was his first priority in staying physically healthy and that the mind was virtually nothing without the body since one cannot think without a body.

He explained that he rarely consumes processed food or junk food. Almost every food he intakes is made from home and/or artificial-free.

Oh Ow Kee posing with his water bottle during a break. Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

Although Oh thinks that processed food can be beneficial at times, he believes that humans are better-adapted to all-natural food because of both evolution and biology. He referred to the importance of the human biological clock and knowing what time to eat, sleep, or walk.

“Physical health is resulting from food. Thinking is your religion, your culture, your experience. But food [results] in your body… ‘You are what you eat.’ “

– Oh Ow Kee, 75

In dealing with day-to-day exhaustion, Oh said one must accept the condition they are in, adding that while one may be tired, one is “still alive.”

He believes that “medicine is only temporary,” as a sustainable healthy lifestyle is about knowing how to eat and exercise.

While painkillers can numb pain for people, Oh asserted that knowing the underlying issues for health problems is more crucial than curing pain momentarily.

Oh Ow Kee hula-hooping with two strings of beads at once. Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

ON RELIGION, TECHNOLOGY, AND HUMANITY

Oh expressed that he does not identify with any particular religion, but insists that religion can be beneficial as well, in terms of promoting health, discipline, fair morals, and faith in people.

“Until today, I am a free thinker. But, I still think religion is good for people.”

– Oh Ow Kee, 75

As for envisioning how technology may impact health in the future, Oh noted that people can create artificial hearts nowadays and that in 50 years, “everything” will change.

Technology may not be necessarily harmful, but humans have the power to corrupt, and that applies to artificial intelligence, religion, or money, Oh said.

He added that people can change their skin now through plastic surgery, but in the end, Oh believes that humans are all the same, whether they are a “beggar” or “banker”.

Sharing that he looks up to one of his idols – business tycoon Li Ka-Shing, the #1 richest person in Hong Kong – Oh lightheartedly said that he hopes to become like him, joking about owning as many properties as him. However, he does hope to live as old as Li or perhaps even up to 101 years old.

Oh Ow Kee on Orchard Road. Observer+ Photo: Ariel So

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