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Retirement - A New Beginning
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You're retired! It's time to do what you always wanted. Ditch the mahjong tiles and the grandchildren. It's time to hit the road, buy a motorcycle, get a tattoo, take up hanggliding - or maybe immerse yourself in the ancient poets.


Most would say climbing Tianshan Mountains or exploring the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is no big deal. But these challenges, and others like them, increasingly are taken up by retirees over 60.


As health improves and life expectancy increases, as children become more independent, the definitions and expectations of aging are changing. The 60s are the new middle age and "oldsters" are doing what once only youngsters did.


They travel, climb mountains, play sport, teach school and do things that once were considered the province of "young" people. And activities like surfing the Internet and playing online games are open to everyone, young and old.


Retirement for many in good health is a new beginning, a time to do what they always wanted. They don't have to take care of the grandchildren. They don't have to sit around and watch TV and play mahjong - if they don't want to.


Take Bao Yuzhen, 62, a former architect. Like many other people, she has found a wider world after her retirement. She loves painting. She is a member of the Jiu Jiu Watercolor Association; she goes to scenic spots to paint, such as Luzhi, Lishui and Qiyun Mountain. She even held a four-day solo exhibition last year.


"I want to be a happy old woman. I make my own decisions about my life, and I'd like to have a happy life of my own," she says.


Bao is a writer as well as editor at the Shanghai Senior Citizens' University. Her articles about her experiences are often published in community newspapers. She volunteers for the "Care for the Next Generation" project, teaching kindergarteners. Sometimes, Bao delivers talks at senior high schools.


Around 20 years ago retirees either took care of their grandchildren at home or idled away their life. But the traditional thinking has changed dramatically, as they are presented with more choices. And so their lives have changed.


There are two big reasons for the great changes in lifestyle and attitudes of senior citizens, says Professor Gu Xiaoming with the history department of Fudan University.


"First, since life expectancy is now 80, far exceeding that of several years ago, the definition of 'old' has changed subtly. Retirees are in their 60s, which can be regarded as middle age. They have enough vigor and energy to undertake a variety of activities. They find themselves too young to sit around at home.


"Second, social recognition has altered too," says Gu. "The gap between the old and the young is getting bridged. The 'old' do what the young people do, such as using the Internet."


The support of the young generation also contributes to changes in the oldster's lifestyles, says Gu. Understanding is crucial, and more important, the younger generation is more independent, physically and financially. The older generation doesn't need to worry about their children, which results in plenty of leisure time for themselves.


Chen Weifang, an accountant in her 40s, agrees. She is delighted that her father is keen on traveling. She says the widower, who is in his 80s, has been active for years. Being connected with society and keeping pace with it is good for seniors, isolation will only bring down their spirits, she says.


"Elderly people have their own lives and it is not their responsibility to take care of grandchildren," Chen says. "Parents can always find someone to take care of their children. It's the parents' responsibility, not the grandparents' task."


Another busy gentleman is anything but retiring. Wang Jixuan, a former designer in an institute of micromachinery, goes to school full time at the Shanghai Senior Citizens' University. "The decision makes a great difference to me," says Wang. "I have benefited a lot from it, both physically and mentally, because I enjoy studying here and find company in my classmates."


Wang is one of the 6,000 students in the university. There are four such city-level universities with 23 branches, offering courses in music, musical instruments, literature and the arts, calligraphy and painting, photography, health care, history, computer science, languages and many other subjects. They are affiliated with 17 organizations related to art and culture, journalism, computer science, literature, photography and other fields.


"Studying here means doing what I like with whom I care for in a place I fancy," says Wang, who goes to class from Monday to Friday, morning to afternoon.


"I consider this a realization of my own value. I take delight in the study and the association activities. There is still much I can do for others. I take great pleasure in seeing and talking with classmates and colleagues. Life here is relaxed and colorful. After dozens years of hard work, at last I have enough time to do what is really of interest," he says.


According to the Shanghai Senior Citizens' University, 60,000 people are taking courses through television or the Internet.


While some are busy studying, some are busy traveling.


According to Yuan Peizhen, vice president of the Shanghai Senior Citizens Travel Committee, about 2,700 oldsters took their tours in the first half of the year.


In some communities, courses on traveling culture are very popular among senior citizens to ensure good, quality and safe trips. As Yuan puts it, travel seems to become a part of life for old people.


Zhao Wenfa, 64, is a travel lover who takes a trip every two months. "It's a happy get-together with my friends who have the same interests. And it's good for my health, I enjoy the fresh air and the natural scenery."


Before retirement Zhao was on the administrative committee for retirees of an entertainment company, so he knows his field. In retirement he has covered most of Zhejiang Province, including Shaoxing, hometown of Lu Xun, godfather of modern Chinese literature, and Anji, the sea of bamboo. Every time he visits Hangzhou and Suzhou he gets different impressions.


"Making money is important, but what's more important is to enjoy yourself with the money," he says.


For most old people, retirement used to mean the beginning of the end. But not any more. It now means a brand-new beginning, the beginning of a new chapter of life.


A warm caring place for elderly folks


Every day around 30 senior citizens who are really old are picked up by a shuttle bus and taken to the Guangzhong Community Service Center in Hongkou District. There they can enjoy the sunshine, practice tai chi, play mahjong, read, watch TV, chat or just rest.


The entire fourth floor - with a lovely terrace and cascading gardens - is devoted to the seniors. It has an activity room, a tea room with a refrigerator, a medical care room and physical therapy equipment. It has 40 beds so that seniors, most over 70 years old, can rest. Nurses are on staff.


The center is open from Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM.


Everyone is smiling. The seniors are in good health for their age, which is hard to tell by appearance. Their attitudes make a difference.


The center offers the feeling of home. The staff shows great warmth and concern. Chen Yiyun and Zhang Hong are especially popular for their loving care. They trim the nails of those who have problems with their joints.


If someone doesn't turn up at the care center, they call. In some cases, they even pay a visit to make sure everything is all right.


Nurses give the old people their medications and basic physical checks twice a week.


The day center provides a place where seniors can find confidence in each other as well and practice their hobbies.


The cost is 300 yuan (US$39.70) a month, including shuttle bus, lunch and activities.


(Shanghai Daily August 7, 2007)

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