Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lovers Over Sixty

Today is Lovers’ Day in China; their equivalent to America’s Valentines’ Day. While February 14th is celebrated here as well, August 13th is China’s designated day for love, unlike November 11th, which is Singles’ Day – because of the date: 11/11. So, whether you are in love or single, China has a day set aside for you. I have no idea why this date in particular was chosen for lovers, just as I have no idea why February 14th was proclaimed for that purpose in the West.

I do know that the western date for lovers makes it easier for people who are single to proclaim the Holiday Season the Single’s Unholy Triumvirate. It is very depressing for singles to have no one to kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas, or at midnight on New Year, and it is downright sacrilegious to be single on St. Valentine’s Day.

Fortunately we are not going to talk much about lovers, and we are not going to talk about lovers over 60 at all. I feel compelled to explain this title.

I was out today – Lover’s Day. Always nice to abuse someone else’s air conditioning, teehee… especially since this is China’s hottest summer on record. In fact, even as Typhoon ------  threatens, the inner areas, such as Wuhan are not going to see a drop of rain. Instead our temps are projected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in this latter part of August.

The ground is sere. The grass would be dead were it not for the early morning administrations of water by the campus pumping truck. All over the city water trucks are doing double duty: spraying the foliage as well as hosing the dust off the streets. The poor street sweepers – the men and women who, for 12 hours at a time dance with their twig brooms cannot keep up with it all.

Back to this title. While mentally composing this entry I thought: “Lovers’ Day”. Meh… not a headline grabber. The real topic of this entry, how those 60+ are dealing with all the changes in society and adapting from the stark, barren existence they knew as children into this new, glitzy world of commercialism and changing society mores, tentatively titled “Those Over 60”… less than ‘Meh’.

“Lovers Over 60”: Attention grabbing title!! We’ll go with that. 

The thought crossed my mind as I was waiting outside Grandma’s Kitchen for my takeout order. Being out alone and not in love with anyone, I decided to escape the crush of humanity crowding the sidewalks, malls and restaurants by hurrying home with my order and eating my nachos in peace. Yes, Grandma’s Kitchen is a ‘foreigner restaurant’, hugely popular to the Chinese, especially on special occasions like Lover’s Day. While sitting there a paunchy, successful looking man led a woman, maybe his wife and an older woman, his or her mother into the restaurant.

With her hair shapelessly cut in a utilitarian, close cropped style, mostly gray; her navy-and-white patterned top and green slacks; her flat loafers worn with no socks, and no jewelry or adornment, it was easy to guess her age at somewhere between late 50’s to mid-60’s. Just as quickly, but expressionlessly she pushed into the restaurant behind her presumed family.

A cascade of thoughts…

This woman was born at least during the Cultural Revolution. Her formative experiences and early life consist of a barren existence where she may or may not have been called upon to denounce her parents, grandparents, friends’ families, teachers and government leaders. The effects of starvation and possibly malnutrition most likely still plague her today. She has witnessed barren land and fallow fields, civic violence, a total lack of class structure and then the progressive evolution of her country into what it is today.

She might not have ever been able to conceive the idea of having enough to eat, let alone rich foods or such a variety as is now available. Her body might have exulted at the feel of fabric more luxurious than the regulation cotton she grew up in. For the rest of her life she might never take a step without being conscious of the cushioning in today’s shoes, as opposed to the simple cloth slippers with rope or rubber soles she walked in for the first years of her life.

Might she have ever conceived of the idea of television? Having time to sit down and watch a program, let alone having an array of programming to choose from? As a tender, terrified youth, might she have found pleasure in anything? Could she imagine, forty years into the future that life would be all about pleasure? Every time she opens her wallet today, does she remember the rationing coupons, and that maybe her parents would spare her a yellow, #1 ration coupon for a rare sweet?

When she partakes of a meal, does she ever flash back on those communal meals, prepared by the designated chef and eaten at long benches under central canopies, with everyone else from that work group and their families all chattering the party line? Did she ever get scolded for asking for more than her share of food?

How does she feel nowadays, when she goes into her own bathroom, in her own apartment? Does she think back on the days were each commune or work unit had their assigned central bathroom? Does she feel the cold more bitterly from the memory of having to walk to the communal bathroom in the dead of winter?

What about indoor plumbing and running water? Until the late 1980’s, those did not feature in dwellings, except for the richest and most well positioned government officials. Does she sometimes turn on the tap just to hear water rushing through the pipes? To see it gush out of the tap?

In a sense I get freaked out a bit by those over 60 who engage so completely in today’s capitalistic lifestyle. Cell phones, styled hair, jewelry wearing, foreign food eating… how is it that these people, who knew only of living minute by minute, only of oppression and deprivation in their formative years, who bore their children into a world not much more fertile or replete than the one they grew up in… a world in fact more in turmoil than the one they knew growing up. How is it that they now climb aboard a bus without qualm, head to the market with money dripping out of their pocket, eat McDonalds’ ice cream without any evidence of suffering any type of culture clash? How can they prefer today’s seemingly empty pursuit of life’s pleasures and riches when, in their lifetime their parents and grandparents, teachers and society indoctrinated them to selflessness, material starkness, and blind adherence to all government edicts? Where do they find the courage to rebel against such edicts now?

How do they reconcile government programs that benefit the elderly with the indomitable image of government intolerance they’ve no doubt carried and feared all of their life? Do they shudder when they see an authority figure such as a policeman or a government official?

Do they feel guilty that they are alive today to partake in all that is now available to them, while their childhood friend, or their family might have been… when they were children? Were they witness to that disposal? Even worse: were they instrumental in that disposal?

This, and the topic of my last post, the one that talks about the ability to abandon all that formerly was proclaimed as good, right and true; that seemingly un-Chinese yet uniquely Chinese ability of flipping a verdict with fervor and enthusiasm… it seems to be a necessary trait.

How can circumstances change so dramatically in one generation that those born to that generation are not only capable of rolling with the changes but of doing it so wholeheartedly and with such glee?

Such were my thoughts while waiting for my food, and then on the bus home. It took me about 3 hours to get home because I kept missing my connections. I had my head in a cloud, pondering these questions.

That’s not a bad thing. It took my mind off of it being Lovers’ Day, and my not having anyone but a Teddy Bear to kiss.                              

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