Thursday, July 9, 2009

Golden Girl at Zoo Negara

While most seniors would prefer a less active lifestyle, Patricia Zahara Ariffin, 71, is out and about, living her life to the fullest.

Nature lover: Patricia is well-known at Zoo Negara for her hand and face paintings. All proceeds from her work go to the zoo for the animals’ upkeep.

VISITORS of the National Zoo will not fail to notice Patricia Zahara Ariffin while waiting to take the train ride at the starting point.

There she’ll be, with an entire forearm stretched out to show off the various animals she has painted on her skin. Get your face painted, this sprightly 71-year-old will try to convince the children. Won’t it be cute to have a little dolphin on your hand, she’ll suggest.

Sometimes, she’d be mobbed, surrounded by those eager to have her “masterpieces” on their skins. Sometimes, she strikes a solitary figure under her large umbrella with her tubes of water-based paints and brushes.

Patricia is no Picasso. At best, the art critic may describe her depictions of owls, eagles, tigers and fishes as “cute”. Nothing more. Of course, this is not a big deal to the English native who came here after marriage to a Malaysian in the 1950s. After all, she only ventured into face-and-hand painting in March when the Malaysian Nature Society needed something novel to attract the crowd for its Raptor Watch week in Tanjung Tuan, Melaka.

But what keeps Patricia stationed at the train ride come rain or shine most Saturdays, is the fact that her paintings bring joy to those who will wear it.

“It’s not so much the money,” insisted the former headmistress who revealed that all proceeds are given to the zoo for the animals’ upkeep.

“I have seen some of the children jumping up and down after getting their face painted and that gives me the most satisfaction,” she said.

Patricia brushing on more smiles on little Levene Chan.

Despite her brief jaunt as a body artist, Patricia never tires of telling about the awkward moments she has experienced.

“Some people have slippery skin which makes it very hard for the paint to stick so you have to apply thicker layers. Another problem is hairiness which makes it impossible for any work to be done,” she said.

“Unless they shave, there is no way the paint would stick. One guy proposed that I do a painting on his neck which was about the only spot that didn’t have hair,” she laughed.

Patricia was once a TV personality who had her own show, Focus, which made its debut in 1965. Back then, there was no such thing as editing, and if one made a mistake, there was no choice but to start all over again. Recalling her days as a talk show host, Patricia recalled the taping sessions in a small, sound proof studio in Jalan Ampang where space constraints meant that they had to open an office door so that one of the subjects she was interviewing could do a flying kick.

Listening to her stories would make it seem like Patricia has never known sorrow. On the contrary, after losing her husband, the late Jamil Ariffin, to bone cancer four years ago, she spent the last three years of her life grieving.

But something in Patricia jolted her to her senses to make her realise that this was not the way to live. And she later joined the MNS.

Ten-year-old Vinosha Nair displays a tiger painted on by Patricia.

“Being old does not mean that you should give up an active life. If you are not going to use your faculties you will lose them and many old people lose their flexibility this way. The best remedy for a backache is to go walking,” she pointed out.

Patricia belongs to three groups in MNS. She goes bird watching, looks out for frogs, snakes and other reptiles and has followed the marine group for a snorkelling trip in Tioman. She also supports the World Wildlife Fund For Nature and has been to Terengganu and Melaka to patrol parts of beaches which have been gazetted as turtle sanctuaries.

Patricia, who is asthmatic and uses an artificial hip, is also a volunteer with the National Association of Strokees of Malaysia and in her own words, “being old helps” as the stroke patients are encouraged when they see her at their physiotherapy class.

Meanwhile, the golden girl who goes line dancing to keep fit, has already planned to visit India to see the Taj Mahal.

“I want to see the monument of love before it crumbles,” she said.

To contact Patricia, e-mail her at

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