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'Hell' of US elderly a model for China

  • Source: Global Times
  • [21:18 September 09 2010]
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Illustration: Liu Rui

By Rong Xiaoqing

The Chong Yang Festival, when Chinese people pay their respects to their elders, is just around the corner.

It may not get quite as much attention as some major holidays in the next few weeks, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and China's National Day, but the festival on October 16 this year re-ally is something to celebrate.

There isn't a holiday dedicated to seniors in the US and in many other countries. From the Chinese, many Westerners show little reverence in the presence of the elderly. They may even call them by their first names sometimes rather than Mom and Dad.

Indeed, there is a popular Chinese perception that the US is "heaven for the young and hell for the old."

It would be enough to make my patriotic pride swell were it not for a nagging realization that the "hell" somehow doesn't seem that bad.

Take a friend's parents who came from China five years ago to become permanent residents here. Despite their son's six-figure salary, the couple are in their late 60s, have no job or income, and therefore qualify for almost all types of welfare for seniors. So they are now living in a one bedroom senior apartment for free, and they get plenty of food stamps and stipends that are worth $1,000 per month.

Every day they go to a senior center where they can attend English and computer classes or play bingo and sing karaoke. At noon, the center feeds them with a nutritious lunch that costs pennies.

Then there is my next door neighbor, an 80-year-old granny who can no longer walk stably on her own feet and lives alone. But no worries, she gets two home attendants paid for by the authorities to come by each day to do chores for her. When she's in a good mood, she gets out of her fourth floor apartment and sunbathes in a neighborhood park.

Our six-story 1940s building, like most other buildings here in New York, has an elevator that stops on every floor and a wheelchair accessible ramp that leads directly to the street.

I cannot imagine what life would be like for these seniors if they lived in China. But I wouldn't be surprised if they'd lose at least part of the convenience, respect and dignity they have in their lives.

Free senior housing and senior centers that provide activities and nutritious meals are scarce, if any. Seniors who don't have strong legs may have to be permanently home bound because the law only requires elevators for floors seven and above and only for buildings constructed after 1999.

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