My grandparents (grandma, especially) played a big role as caretaker in my life. My first words were “ai” and “mai” (which means “want” and “don’t want” in hokkien). Today, I can ride a bike and count in Malay, and swear in Hokkien, thanks to this not-so-unique Singaporean childhood set-up.
I love my grandma so much. (She’s the last of my grandparents left) These days, I try to see her as often as I can, and am proud to say I’ve successfully introduced her to the art of hugging. I make her cook me her awesome curry (she likes doing it) and even though the standard has dropped, I lap it all up, and never let it show. We reminisce some dead relatives and gossip about the ones alive. Recently, we started taking selfies. Then before I leave, I slip some money into her hands – not much – and I tell her it’s for a drink when she’s thirsty and some food when she’s hungry – something she used to do for me before I left for school.
Outside of that, all the gramps of the world have become my weakness. I clear my own table at the hawker centre instead of letting the old ah-ma do it. I remind myself to be patient with taxi uncles whose moods have been ravaged by time. I give my friends grief when they tell me they haven’t visited their gramps. I donate to causes that take care of the old. I share articles and read up on policies that affect that demographic. Look, I’m no big time philanthropist, nor am I a saint; hell I struggle to make ends meet too. I just try to take care of my own, and where I can, I take care of the rest, to the best of my abilities.
With this article, I hope to wake some of us up to new market realities:
1. Singapore is Ageing
Just look at the recent CPF chatter that’s got everybody’s granny’s knickers in a twist. Everyone has something to say, just look at this:
“Return Our CPF” the protesters chant,
“It’ll start an economic crisis”, says experts,
“here are some complicated measures to ease us into a win-win situ” says the government,
“we’re pulling out if you lose control”, says multi-national businesses,
“lalala, we dunnoduncare, we only know rave-party, not people’s action party” says the youth,
“you’re stealing” says Roy,
“the CPF model is a model to emulate” says other countries looking on.
As Singapore society ages, we are going to have to pay more attention to the help that is needed by the maturing age group. CPF is necessary, no doubt about that. But money isn’t everything.
Are they being cared for by their children? Are there employers who are willing to hire them if they want to work? If they want to contribute to society, are there enough organiszations that will involve them in their operations? How will Singapore integrate them?
Let’s go back to the population white paper fiasco – there has been so much debate about “6.9m” that people forget why this country NEEDS more people. It is not all about jobs and economy. It is about the burgeoning aging population that Singapore WILL experience in a few short decades. If there are no organizations and people to care for the elderly then, trust me – social problems will rise, crimes committed by the elderly will rise.
We are getting old, we’ve flown too close to the sun, our skin’s cracking, and we desperately need to moisturize.
2. Who needs to Wake Up?
When the population white paper was debated, e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y was just mesmerized about by the boundary numbers: 6.9m
Following which, the accusation begins: Why so many people? It is going to be uncomfortable! We will have competition! This country is not ready!
But ask people about what we should do for the maturing, elderly population – the immediate answer will be “the state”.
Oh yes, the state should wake up and tackle the situation of changing demographics and its impact; take care of the old, “if not out of respect for a generation, then at least out of respect for a healthier bottom line”, even if that’s classic hot potato.
Politics is science – like it or not, we are all statistics – yet it is having a hard time differentiating the old folks as assets or liabilities. So the state does what it has to, out of duty, and through a sorting hat, but it is the people who can bring art to this science, by supplementing it with love, with support.
Time for everyone to wake up.
[From the Editor] This country is not getting any younger. More people are choosing not to be married. Many are choosing to have no, or fewer children.
This writer is now in her 30s. When it is her turn to make curry chicken for her granddaughter, her peers will be equally old. Some of them will need wheelchairs, many will need expensive medicine and treatments. All of them will need extra eyes and hands to care for their frail bodies, protect their minds from fear/unknown and guide them with the new technologies and society of that day.
If this country doesn’t pay attention where this care is coming from, I fear the social problems today are just sneak previews to the horrors we will see in the future.