During my semester abroad, I have been actively involved Shanghai’s elderly communities, primarily through two different programs: the Xichen community english class and the BEANShanghai “Adopt a Grandparent” program. On Easter sunday, I spent 3 hours with BEANShanghai at one of the city’s elder care homes, playing games and trying my best to chat with the residents in my broken Chinese.
Many of the residents of these homes have no family to take care of them. Because of China’s One Child Policy, it is very easy for an elder to be left with no surrounding family members if their child has either passed away or moved overseas due to China’s rapid economic growth. Morever, Chinese society revolves around the nuclear family, and family is thought to be the most important thing in life: the factor that determines success, love, and stability. And it is therefore thought to be very shameful and dishonerable to be “put” in one of these homes (either by default or by your family).
At BEANShanghai’s “Adopt a Grandparent” events, the main aim to show love, care, and interest towards these elders. After meeting up with the other five volunteers at the home’s rec room (with also doubled as the cafeteria), I grabbed a table and set up a game of Jenga. Pretty soon, residents began to trickle in and sit down at whatever table had their game of choice displayed. My first vistor was an old Chinese lady who didn’t say a single word to me during the entire three hours she was at my table. She would careful and methodically pull out the Jenga blocks, obviously putting her full concentration into this somewhat simple game. Every time the tower tumbled to the ground, she would let out a deep “Ohhhhhhh” before setting to work re-building it.
Over the course of the event, people came and went from my table. Some were super competitive, others would shout whenever someone tried to move a “bad” block, and others would just sit pensively watching the entire thing go down. One of the ladies who played a few rounds with us was 92 years old and kept asking me “å†·ä¸å†·“ (are you cold?) as she poked at my bare arms. It was amazing to me how active and concious she was at 92! Maybe the Chinese are on to something with all this Tichi :)
Volunteering with the elderly has given me a new appreciation for the love and support of my own family. I have loved getting to know this generation of Shanghainese–for it has given me a fresh and new perspective of life in this mega-city.