The Social Interactions of China’s Elders

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How often do you go beyond your own little “bubble”? The places you work or go to school? The places you shop? The people with whom you speak? And, if given the opportunity, are you open to learning from, or about, complete strangers, and considering the possibility that they might have something wonderful to share?

Over the last two weeks I had the opportunity to travel in China and was lucky enough to find myself way beyond my personal bubble. Of all the magnificent sights to be seen, a day in a public park among the “senior citizens” brought untold joy.

First, you must understand that, according to our guide, mandatory retirement for women comes at the age of 50 and, for men, 55. While I cannot speak as to what all Chinese do upon retirement, I can tell you what I saw hundreds, literally hundreds, doing on a typical day in that park.

  • Group upon group of people were gathered together playing cards. Sitting on a short brick wall, men and women all seemed to be playing the same card game while they talked and laughed together.
  • Other groups of people were gathering to join one another in exercise. Yoga, tai chi, jump rope! These people were nimble and spry, and their laughter and smiles were almost beyond anything I’ve ever seen.
  • Music contributed to two activities. In one large mass, a few people played instruments, following the direction of one man who led a small band while hundreds of people followed along in songbooks and raised their voices in song. Still other groups, many other groups, were busy dancing! All in their own groups, some in costumes and others in their regular street clothes….smiling and laughing while moving to lively-paced tunes. Again smiling and laughing, and thrilled when they noticed anyone taking their pictures.
  • Some people were knitting, others played dominoes or checkers, and many others just chatted with one another. There was even a man playing a version of badminton who was busy inviting the tourists to play, a group playing hackey sack, and another group dancing while doing routines with a ball and curved paddle…and seldom, if ever, dropping that ball!

Our guide was careful to explain that these weren’t all people who already knew one another. These people reached the age of retirement, and simply came to the park and found others with similar interests. A few people happened to bring their instruments, and suddenly they had a small band. Some brought their decks of cards and, before they knew it, they had regular card game groups.

The pleasure each person derived from these social interactions and physical activities was obvious. They were able to lose themselves in their pursuits, sometimes as competitions and others as cooperative endeavors, as they created, focused, learned, calmed, and found a multitude of ways to enjoy themselves.

According to both the Mayo Clinic and the Alzheimer’s Association, these activities also benefit people by improving brain function, stimulating the mind, boosting creativity, improving relationships and connections with others, helping participants feel more energetic, and, at the same time, help reduce depressive disorders.

So, the next time you’re bored or find yourself with nothing to do, take a hint from the elders seen in China. Join in, make new friends, stay active…and, if you’re really lucky, take a trip to someplace beyond your personal bubble. I’m pretty sure you’ll meet some really wonderful people.

Enjoy your travels!

Dr, W

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