Someone older, someone new

Updated: 2011-05-31 07:25

By Shi Jing (China Daily)

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'Most elderly people are a lot of fun,' says girl who volunteered for 12 yrs

SHANGHAI - The first time she was to perform in front of the gathered seniors, 9-year-old Xue Tingting was too shy to sing the Shaoxing Opera she had learned, and even cried a little.

Now Xue, a sophomore at East China Normal University in Shanghai, has come to enjoy spending time with the seniors so much that she's been doing it for 12 years.

"People tend to expect elderly people to be boring, which in most cases isn't true," Xue said. "Most elderly people are a lot of fun.

 Someone older, someone new

Xue Tingting, 21, has been taking care of a group of 13 seniors for a dozen years in Shanghai.[Photo/Yong Kai] 

"A 99-year-old grandpa I often visit, for example, speaks a few English words. It's very funny to hear how he throws a few English words in from time to time, and with accurate pronunciation."

Xue, 21, lived with her grandparents during primary school and got to know 13 elderly people living on their own in the Yuhua Community in central Shanghai.

"We had to form a special team during the summer, working under a specific theme," Xue said. "It occurred to us that we might be able to visit the elderly people living in my grandmother's apartment building. And that's how it started."

At first, Xue, along with her classmates, would visit the homes of the elderly, bringing along their musical instruments to perform for them.

She clearly remembered one time they visited an elderly woman who had lost her eyesight.

When they were about to leave, the grandmother held Xue's hands, tears in the corners of her eyes, and said: "It has been quite a long time since I've experienced such a happy gathering. Are you coming again?"

Xue was touched and considered it too cruel not to come back. So even when the team stopped visiting after graduation, Xue carried on by herself.

After a few years, she decided to hold a family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve with the seniors, since they had no relatives or children.

At first she used to depend on her "red envelopes" - the money her parents and grandparents gave her as a gift for the lunar new year - to treat the 13 seniors on Chinese New Year's Eve. But as she grew up, she started to use her money from part-time jobs.

Xue also visits them regularly on traditional Chinese festivals.

She said she enjoys hearing them talk about their past.

"Most of them have very good memories, talking about the past like it just happened yesterday," Xue said. "I always enjoy those nostalgic moments."

According to Xue's mother, Xue and the 13 seniors are now quite close.

"She will hurry to them when there is any news about her or our family," said Xue's mother. "She invited them to our new apartment every time we moved, giving them the feeling of home and family."

As Xue is about to pursue further studies in finance at Universite Montpellier in France next year, she will have to leave the seniors.

On hearing the news, some of them could not hold back their tears, while feeling happy for Xue. They have pooled their own savings to give Xue a big red envelope and a big suitcase for her trip to France.

"As they are aging, what concerns me most is their health. It will really do them good if some people would simply come to visit them regularly and talk to them," Xue said.