Getting Old

One obvious thing I notice while vacationing in Korea is its elderly people. The elderly here seem to have longer age and are still very involved in daily social life. I suppose it is due to their very healthy diet (less meat, more vegetable) and addiction to working out. In getting to the point of this note, I cannot help but slightly compare how the elderly in Korea and in Indonesia, as much as I know, live their lives.

The elderly in Korea are very independent. They travel alone, or in pack whichever convenient, but they don’t seem to depend on anyone for daily activities. When they’re too tired to walk, benches are available almost everywhere, from the bus stop to the front part of a 24-hour supermarket. While exploring Busan I found out that providing public space is a necessity when you’re building something. It even has the legal base: Building Code Article 21 or something (CMIIW). I think it’s a very clever strategy for both the government and building owner. It puts less burden on the government to guarantee proper public space, and it enhances people’s interest in a building even by sitting in its yard, so to speak. This applies mostly for apartment, mall, and gallery buildings. When walking on stairs and escalator is too tiring, elevator is provided in most subway/train station, and even in crossroads where the traffic is heavy.

The elderly in Indonesia tend to hang on their family. I never recall seeing the elderly hanging out like a bunch of teenagers in a mal, much less sitting together in the park laughing over some private jokes. Most of the time they are seen in public spaces with children and grandchildren. I find it comforting that even when they’re old, the children still care for our elderly. Even though the dependence might weight on the children, it leaves little room for them to complain because in Indonesia it has been social expectation to care for your parents when they’re old.

The observed dependence leads to the expression and/or nuance I acquired while looking at the elderly here. As much as they look independent enough, I saw the lonely and lost look in the eyes of the elderly I met in subway station, park, shopping mal, to name a few. That is something I don’t think I ever see in the elderly eyes back home. At home they’re pretty much still living rigorously with family. And the life dynamics and progress of the young ones leave them little time to sulk over incompetency due to old age. Being independent and able to do your own things and run your own life is superb. But I can see in the eyes of Korean elderly how they miss the comfort and surrounding of family. When you’re old and the young days are behind, you live merely on memories. You might still have your friends when you’re old, but the conversation will be more or less about your family. You will stop having a job, your pension time will come, but family, the blood tie, never ceases to be there.

One day when my daughter and I were walking on Haeundae Beach, there’s this old man suddenly approaching us while giggling and trying to tickle my daughter. Putting a defense I shoved him and blocked him from coming closer. That time I realized that my action had caused him hurt. He was hurt, he was not wanted, he was sent away. He walked away looking slump and sad. And I was left feeling guilty. I could have been polite without being offensive. When my time comes I don’t wanna be like that old man, trying to get some attention. More importantly, I don’t want people to shove me when I’m trying to be sociable. This way of thinking is crucial for the mind of young and old people. Be content in whichever condition you are, and do to others what you want other to do to you.

We’re never getting younger. Those age-miracle skin creams only disguise our greatest fear of aging and death. Every second is ticking to older age, to the termination of this life. For myself and my spouse, I want the independence as well as the closeness to family. I want to still be able to drive by myself, cook my own meal, go wherever I want to, even though my back is hunched and I can’t see without a minus-12 glasses. But what I want the most, and thank God for making me think of this, is to leave some trails behind. To have people remember me with fond memories, to have them look at my children and see my legacy.

What are you doing now when you know you’re getting old?

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