Articles in simrat sharma’s travel blog
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The fifty-something woman with curly hair peered into my eyes and asked me in Chinese, “How old are you?” When I told her I was 20, she laughed good-naturedly and immediately drew me into a conversation about her life and family.
Recently retired, she lives in a senior citizen center in Yuxian, a small city three hours’ drive west of Beijing, where her days were filled with dance classes. To my delight, my new friend’s degree of candor quickly escalated. She started sharing the rather intimate details of her children’s lives with me. As fellow members of the center showed off flamboyant dance moves in a performance for our group, the woman told me about that her daughter had three children, a clear abridgement of China’s one-child policy. She then proceeded to outline her daughter’s medical history in surprisingly frank detail. Before coming into China, I had assumed that cultural norms here rarely permitted the discussion of intimate matters with a stranger, much less a foreigner. Her openness was as surprising as it was refreshing. . . .
In Xi’an, you can hear the buzz of a Starbucks espresso machine and then, five minutes later, after a stroll through center of town, experience the sound of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer at the Great Mosque. The area known as the Muslim Quarter swarms with tourists haggling for souvenirs and imitation goods with men in white caps and women in head scarves belonging the local Hui minority. Yet as in many other minority communities, the migration of urban youth threatens a traditional way of life. . . .
For all too many of China’s seniors today, work life does not exactly glide into a blissful or even comfortable retirement. Ideas of relaxing holidays and peaceful independence still, in many cases, remain the stuff of dreams because workers hit the mandatory retirement age (55 for women, 60 for men) without having the luxury to stop working. For some this means taking up a second job in their retirement while for others, it means hoping their children will ultimately choose to care for them when health problems and infirmities kick in.
For Zhang Yuan, 55, retirement was a light at the end of the tunnel. She started working at a children’s clothing store in the near Nan Liu Gu Xiang in central Beijing after she officially retired from an administrative job at a local supermarket three months ago. “This job is a lot better,” said Zhang.
Although Zhang is 34 years older than her employer, she does not mind working for the young entrepreneur. The extra money Zhang earns finances her daughter’s college degree in multimedia design.