Winds of change: The interests of the young and the old are slowly converging

Wan Lixin
From canteen meals to tour groups, the traditional lines separating generations are beginning to melt.
Wan Lixin

I once had a meal with a middle-aged acquaintance who dined with his son at what is known as an "elderly canteen." They were regular customers, and though they didn't qualify for the senior discounts, the pair found the food there more inexpensive than many mainstream eateries and the meals very tasty and healthy. At a nearby table, an elderly couple was sharing a meal with their daughter.

Elderly canteens have been set up over the years to offer seniors nutritious meals at prices they can afford. The emergence of younger patrons, sharing facilities and conviviality with an older generation, is a welcome sight.

And it's not only elderly canteens where the age gap appears to be narrowing. This trend is becoming obvious in other venues, such as community colleges and tour groups.

Businesses, take heed!

When I strolled around a cultural park over the weekend, I came across an elderly band of saxophonists playing a familiar tune. Although their playing was amplified by loudspeakers, the music had competition from an elderly couple a few meters away, who were singing loudly, with abandon and passion.

In the same area, young people were enjoying snacks at a camping site or lying on hammocks, buried on their mobile phones.

A college student, who accidentally joined a tour group comprised almost exclusively by senior citizens, was heard to remark, "The elderly were quite socially assertive, while I, by comparison, was retiring and timid and in need of being looked after constantly on the tour."

I remembered once visiting a seniors' residential complex in Fukuoka, Japan, where management operated a program that invited college students to visit the elderly.

It was a win-win situation. Foreign students who participated in the program got to practice their Japanese and hear interesting stories of long-lived lives, while the seniors were given a rich opportunity to get out of their rooms and mingle with the ideas of the young.

When I discussed this phenomenon with Xiao Jiao, a vocational college student, she said, "The life led by grandparents is slower, simpler and filled with plain-spoken talk. As our society develops rapidly and becomes intensely competitive, many young people yearn for what they see as the more uncomplicated life of the past."

Some sociologists suggest that the appreciation some young people have developed for the lifestyle of the older generation may actually make them more rational consumers, eschewing the popular trend of conspicuous consumption.

The realm of packaged tours is also feeling the effects of the new phenomenon.

Tours designed for the elderly usually are longer and take in more sights. In the past, that pace was believed unsuited to younger people, who wanted to visit more sights in less time, with particular attention on the conventional must-sees.

Young people who go on tours designed for an older generation generally feel less social pressure to conform, and there's no fear of lagging behind in the group.

The rise of e-commerce has had many business people racking their brains to create business scenarios that appeal to the young demographic. But their assumptions may be wrong. Young people may really want something more mundane or slow-paced.

In a recent interview with Workers' Daily newspaper, Zhu Di, an expert on consumption at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, observed, "The young and the elderly are strongly complementary, and their converging interests in entertainment or travel can enhance their experiences and mutual understanding."

Age may separate us demographically, but isn't it nice to see that it doesn't necessarily separate us socially?

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