The main reason for my trip to Asia was to spend time with my Ah-Ma (grandmother in Taiwanese) and hopefully help her out with some things.
After Ah Gong (grandpa) passed away almost 20 years ago, Ah Ma stopped working. They used to own a general store (in Taiwanese, we call it 柑仔店 Kám-á-tiàm; in Mandarin, we call it 雜貨店, which literally means miscellaneous item store; they sold different types of daily items). Ah Gong and Ah Ma’s store was pretty successful. Ah Gong’s passing was very sudden (because of that, a will was never made).
Ah Ma is a traditional woman. Although, with that being said, you should not picture her as a woman who stayed at home and that her life was to serve her husband. She did help out with Ah Gong’s business. She also traveled and took part in community activities. Most of all, she was a generous woman. She liked to help people and she did – lending a hand financially or helping to take care of children. (Ah Gong was the same way too.) They loved us (their children and grandchildren) equally (Ah Gong was more stern and strict, but fair).
Many of my Ah Ma’s views were (and still are) very traditional. In addition, she did not have much schooling and became mostly dependent on Ah Gong (especially financially). After Ah Gong passed away, she gave much of the inheritance to my younger uncle (although this is not the traditional way of passing on inheritance, my younger uncle essentially became the head of the household, due to family reasons).
Ah Ma had very little left that belonged to her.
She gave much of what she owned to her son and his family (this includes the house she is currently living in). That was the tradition.
My parents were similarly giving to my brother and I when we were young. My mom devoted her time to my brother and I when we moved to Canada. She stopped working and became a full-time mom. My parents invested a lot in our education: tutoring, piano lessons, violin lessons, art lessons, swimming lessons, skating lessons, and much more. Even when my brother and I were in high school, they told us not to worry about finding a part-time job and that they wanted us to focus on school (the view of most Asian parents). It was not until university, that I started getting jobs independently and trying to help pay for some of my living expenses while attending McMaster University. They would continue give to me until now like the way Ah Ma gave to her son if I had not told them not to.
Between Ah Ma and my aunt-in-law is a classic mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship conflict. Unfortunately, Ah Ma is getting old and more importantly, she needs someone to live with, to converse with, and to walk with. They both refuse to live with each other.
Ah Ma’s health is deteriorating (although at the moment, it is not at the point where improvements cannot be made). The main reason is because she does not go out (there is no one to make her go out) and take care of herself very well (due to the fact that she lives by herself, with little interaction of the outside world). She also spends much of her time worrying about her financial situation. When my parents, husband, and I went back to Taiwan (on our recent trip), we convinced her to go out grocery shopping with us, go to a family wedding with us, and go to Taoyuan to visit a retirement village with us. (A live-in helper from Indonesia was hired – paid for by my aunts, my uncle, and my mom. However, due to language barrier, little conversation goes on. In addition, because the help is not family, it is difficult for Ah Ma to completely trust her. This solution does not seem be much of a solution sometime and also creates some problems.)
As a result of the tradition of parents moving in with the oldest son (or whoever becomes the head of the household i.e. whichever son to receive the inheritance), the retirement homes are fairly inexpensive. Most of the people who take advantage of these retirement homes are people who lived abroad and wanted to retire back in Taiwan. Many of these retirement villages are beautiful and well-organized.
I was very happy that Ah Ma agreed to come with us to Taoyuan and visit one of these retirement villages. The one we went to is called 長庚養生文化村 Chang Gung Health and Cultural Village.
Chang Gung Health and Cultural Village is associated with Chang Gung Hospital. As a result, there are shuttle buses for seniors from the village to the hospital for medical care. The village is located in Turtle Mountain Township 龜山鄉 (east of Taoyuan city 桃園市, on a hill). The property is spacious with a lot of greenery – a very nice location.
On the property, there are trails for the residents to take walks and fields for seniors to plant vegetables. They offer various classes to seniors: calligraphy, computer, language, dance, etc. I believe for some of the classes, you pay a deposit and if you have 100% attendance, the deposit is returned to you.
You can live there by yourself or with someone (sibling or partner).
To live here, you have to fulfill the following requirements:
- Age: 60+
- Pass the health examination – must not have contagious disease, psychological disorder, epilepsy, dementia, or other unstable conditions
Ah Ma has dementia but it has not progressed to the point that she would not be able to pass the test. Some of the things they ask you on the test is repeat words, copy hand signals, and talk about yourself.
Accommodation Fee include accommodation, health care, emergency service, maintenance of public facilities, community activities, and other expenses. (They provide buses that take seniors to Taipei or other places in Taoyuan to buy food from the market or other shopping areas. It’s neat that on the second floor of building A, there is a 7-Eleven – can’t live without it!)
Note: Ping (坪) is a unit of measurement used in Taiwan (part of Japan’s influence on the country from the occupation). It is a measurement unit for area/floor space. One ping is the size of two tatami mats 3.306 square meters.
14 坪 (ping) Room – 18000 NTD (618.76 CAD) per month (Single Occupancy); 23000 NTD (790.63 CAD) per month (Double Occupancy)
22 坪 (ping) Room – 26000 NTD (893.76 CAD) per month (Single Occupancy; 31000 NTD (1065.63) per month (Double Occupancy)
The main difference between 14 坪 and 22 坪 (due to size difference) is the dining room. 14 坪 rooms do not having dining rooms.
Deposit This is equal to one year’s accommodation fee and will be returned when you decide to leave the village.
14 坪 (ping) Room – 216000 NTD (7425.06 CAD) for Single Occupancy and 276000 NTD (9487.58 CAD) for Double Occupancy
22 坪 (ping) Room – 312000 NTD (10725.09 CAD) for Single Occupancy and 372000 NTD (12787.61 CAD) for Double Occupancy
Food – 4500 NTD (154.69 CAD) per month, approximately
There are many options for food and they also sell fresh fruits and vegetables on the second floor of Building A.
You have to pay for utilities. Each unit has a water and electricity meter.
Furniture is included. There is an electric stove. The bathroom is designed for you to move around easily. There are emergency buttons in the room.
You can “test live” here for a while (fee paid on a daily basis).
An access card is used for each unit. The computer system at the village keeps track of when you have swiped in and out. For safety purposes, if you have not swiped your card in 24 hours, the village personnel is notified. (You inform them in advance if you will be away.)
There are many other services provided (some free, some with a fee).
On our tour of the village, we were able to talk to some people who were already living there and one guy who was about to move in. They looked like they enjoyed living there. Our tour guide also mentioned that there are some people who were sent here by family and they are still adjusting. This was not their idea of how to grow old.
My Ah Ma thinks the same, too. She could not get past the traditional way of doing things (“You don’t send your parents to retirement home.”) And of course, change is hard. She has lived in her house in Xihu for so many years. She did start to recognize the fact that the three-storey house was not good for her anymore. I worry about her every day as she needs support (financially and having someone to live with). I jokingly said that she could come live with me in Canada. That made her laugh. (Though, it is not a feasible option as the plane ride would be torture to her in addition to the huge language barrier – as is, I speak broken Taiwanese to her, she is not as strong in Mandarin.)
While researching about the elderly in Taiwan, I came across a law. Due to the aging population and the increase in number of elderly people abandoned by their children, there is a law to support elderly parents 65+ whose children abandon them. I can see the reason for a law like this.
We are trying to deal with a complicated situation and it is frustrating because we can only do so much (it has been very hard to work together as a family and some of difficulties were caused actions based on traditions). Although, I have come to realize that, in any culture, growing old is hard and realizing that the life you lived is going to change is also difficult.