China / Society

Community activities help older people adapt to city living after retirement

By Su Zhou (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-26 07:38

From 2000 to 2006, Zhao Deping frequently traveled between Changchun, Jilin province, and Beijing where his son had found a job and decided to settle.

Zhao, 63, who still has a Changchun accent, recalled the first few months he stayed in Beijing. "Everything was different. ... I had no friends to visit. I didn't know what to do after I got up."

Zhao is one of many elderly parents who follow their children to big cities such as Beijing. Living in strange neighborhoods far from their relatives and friends, many find it difficult to settle in a new city.

Unlike some of his friends who chose not to stay in Beijing even if that meant leaving their child's family, Zhao began to like Beijing and enjoy the ease it brings to his retirement, thanks to community activities.

"I participated in many of the local community's entertainment activities, like chorus, book club and recitation competitions," Zhao said. "This is not just about killing time. I have more friends, I have tried to learn to play some instruments. ... With all these old people together, we make other lives more meaningful."

One of the groups he participates in is the Happy Chorus at Olympic Forest Park. Its members, who range in age from their 60s to 90s, have met in the park to sing revolutionary songs since June 2011.

Zhao tried to study at a university for the elderly but gave that up, as all such universities are too far from his home. He said he prefers activities in his local community because they are more flexible.

Zhao's daily life is now busier than when he was teaching in Changchun. After retiring from his position at a middle school in 2006, Zhao settled in Beijing with his wife, who became involved in a local community dancing club.

"A lot of people like me to be in their clubs because I know how to update photos on social media platforms and I like to record things by writing blogs," Zhao said. "I am very busy and happy every day."

Gang Jun, head of the Happy Chorus in which Zhao sings every week, said it is not easy to organize such activities.

"At the beginning, many elderly didn't want to sing in public, and passers-by would laugh at us," Gang said. "A lot of the elderly were hesitant to join us because they were shy or they were not confident in their voice and skills. I had to encourage them that this is just for fun, and nothing else."

That initial hesitation has totally changed now. Gang said he receives complaints from some members if he wants to cancel the chorus due to bitterly cold weather.

The chorus received a certificate of appreciation from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program International, administered by the University of Maryland, in 2013.

"Many elderly cannot fit in city life, and it creates challenges for young people to take care of their parents after they get old," Zhao said. "To fit in through entertainment activities is a good choice, but there are still problems of how to carry on voluntary entertainment without funding support from government or businesses."

Hot Topics