MANY people wonder if they will make it to the golden age of 100. Chen Yunsheng doesn’t have to bother. He is 102 years old. The Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, citing his “dynamism,” awarded Chen one of its 10 “Longevity Stars.”
Chen was born in 1912, two years before the start of World War I. It was the year when Sun Yat-sen established the Republic of China and the Titanic took its ill-fated voyage. He was born before telephones, television, jet planes and computers revolutionized the way people live.
Shanghai Daily visited Chen to learn how the simple things of life can bring happiness.
Chen said he maintains very simple eating habits. With only a few teeth left, he sticks to congee as his major staple.
For breakfast, he and his wife grind sesame seed, Chinese red dates, medlars and walnuts to add to the rice porridge for extra nutrition.
“I don’t like tonics,” he said. “As a doctor, I believe food is the best tonic.”
Chen said he prefers vegetables to meat. His wife Chen Jiachun often mixes several vegetables together as dumpling stuffing. To keep her husband’s digestive tract flowing, his wife also serves him stewed pumpkin.
Chen said occasionally eats meat. He prefers fish to pork but won’t say no to a very soft braised pork in soy sauce from time to time.
“Fish is the easiest meat for me to chew,” he said. “My wife has several recipes she uses.”
Chen doesn’t smoke and doesn’t drink alcohol, strong tea or coffee. His usual beverage is just boiled water.
“I think that’s adequate,” he said.
Chen has always engaged in physical exercise, but he said he doesn’t “work out.” Overdoing sports does more damage than good to his body, he added.
His exercises start even before he gets out of bed in the morning. After waking, he spends 15 minutes doing stretching exercises and a stomach massage.
Weather permitting, he likes to walk a bit in his neighborhood. When the weather is poor, he roams around his apartment.
Chen said he doesn’t like to stay in all day. “I love to accompany my wife to the wet market or the supermarket,” he said. “Walking is the best physical exercise. At the supermarket, I man the trolley while she checks the shelves, just like we did when we were young.”
Unlike many older Chinese, Chen and his wife don’t want to depend on their children. Even though they have a large extended family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the couple prefers to live on their own.
“I never pinned all my hopes on my children,” Chen said. “I love living independently, and I’m content with what I have. Neighbors, friends and colleagues still care about me. I wanted my children to have their own lives.”
Chen said he sometimes doesn’t feel well, but he said the vicissitudes of old age don’t impair his love of life. Too many seniors complain about being old, he said with disdain.
“Age is not an excuse for not doing anything,” he said. “People are only hurting themselves by thinking that way. I can still read. I’m not blind or deaf. I can still do some housework and go out of the house. I strive to make every day count.”
And then there’s enduring love. Chen said his wife is still the most important thing in his life. Even after more than 60 years of marriage, the couple remain close and caring.
“When I was young,” Chen recalled, “I came home only on weekends because of work. My wife never complained. She took good care of the family. And after I retired, she gave me meticulous care. If I could, I want to live with her for another 20 years.”
Centenarians in Minhang
According to the Minhang District Civil Affairs Bureau, there were 88 centenarians in the district at the end of November, and 250,000 people 60 years or older. The oldest person in the district is 106.
Most centenarians live in seven areas, among them Xinzhuang Town, which has 20 people 100 or older, and Hongqiao Town, with 13.
The bureau said centenarians can get a monthly subsidy of 300 yuan (US$48), and towns offer their own extra subsidies.
Chen Yunsheng’s daily schedule
6am Wake up, do stretching exercises in bed for 15 minutes
7am Breakfast of milk, a hard-boiled egg, congee, and bread or steamed bun
8am A bit of housework with his wife
9am Out to shop for groceries
Noon Lunch, usually congee
1pm An hour’s nap
2-6pm Watch TV or do some other recreational activity