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UPDATED: August 24, 2012 NO.35 AUGUST 30, 2012
The Happy Retired Life
An oil-rich city builds comfortable senior centers
By Bai Shi


GOLDEN YEARS: Zhang, a retired oil worker, holds his grandson on a stroll with neighbors' children in the courtyard of a daytime center for senior citizens in Karamay on July 26 (BAI SHI) 

Karamay, located near the Junggar Basin and founded in 1958, is famous for abundant oil fields and a developed refinery industry.

Despite the hostile desert environment, people in Karamay do their best to make their city a better place to live and work.

Citizens of Karamay enjoy a relatively high standard of living. According to statistics published last year by the Xinjiang Statistics Bureau, in 2010, Karamay's GDP was 71.02 billion yuan ($11.17 billion). Its total economic output ranked among the highest of cities in Xinjiang. That year, per-capita disposable income of local urban residents reached 17,295 yuan ($2,721), and their year-end savings balance totaled 19.56 billion yuan ($3.08 billion).

However, the challenge posed by an aging society has puzzled the city for years. Elderly Chinese traditionally prefer to live with their children. But most young people do not have enough time to look after their parents because they work in remote oil fields outside the city. Moreover, a great number of senior citizens are unwilling to move to nursing homes for the rest of their lives. It is an urgent task for the local government to help senior citizens spend their retirement years comfortably and happily.

After years of effort, Karamay has made outstanding achievements by providing post-retirement living assistance without sequestering elderly people in nursing homes.

The city built senior centers to meet the demand, providing retired people with all kinds of health care services and leisure facilities for free. The only service seniors are expected to pay for is meals, affordably priced at 7 yuan ($1.10) per service.

The Golden Time Senior Center (GTSC) showed off a colorful atmosphere when Beijing Review visited in late July. It is fully equipped with a gym, home theaters, sleeping rooms, massage rooms and art studios, and can supply nursing care service for about 70 senior citizens.

In the courtyard of the senior center, a retiree surnamed Zhang was taking a walk with his grandson. Zhang was dispatched from Beijing to Karamay in 1968 to work in an oil field. He dedicated his prime years to this place. When he retired in 2004, he and his wife were apprehensive about moving into a residential care center.

"My wife and I don't want to go into a nursing home. We'd rather live out our lives in our own homes. But my children are worried we cannot take care of ourselves," Zhang said.

In 2010, the GTSC opened for business near Zhang's house, allowing him to rely on a helping hand without leaving his familiar neighborhood.

"The service and environment in the senior center are pretty good. We can play and chat with our old friends in the center during the day, and go home to sleep in the evening. It is really convenient for us," Zhang said.

Wamuha, a 65-year-old Uygur woman, chatted with her friends relaxing in the courtyard. She comes to the center almost every day. Wamuha said that her husband passed away several years ago, but her life at the senior center is happy.

"I live with my daughter. When she goes to work in the day, I come to the senior center to spend time with my friends. In the evening, I return home with my daughter. I like this comfortable life," Wamuha said.

In addition, the center provides job opportunities. Paid caregiving positions at the senior center play into Karamay's efforts to boost employment.

In a rehabilitation room of the GTSC, a middle-aged nurse surnamed Chen was helping a paraplegic man do exercises. Chen was laid off several years ago, and without any income, her life was tough. But the local government provided her a job at the center, giving her confidence.

"I like the job here, getting on well with so many senior citizens. Someday when I retire, I will be among them," Chen said.

 Email us at: baishi@bjreview.com


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