Growing old peacefullyThe Hunza Valley in the northern area of Pakistan is famous for mysteriously beautiful scenery that has been preserved since ancient times. The valley was the inspiration for Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizon.” It is also the backdrop for “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” a manga series and animated feature by Hayao Miyazaki.
The Hunza Valley is not only famous for its natural scenery, but also for residents who live very long lives. Along with Aphasia in the Russian Caucasus and Vilcabamba in Ecuador, the Hunza Valley is known as one of the three places for longevity in the world. Situated amid large mountain ranges, they all have access to clean air and fresh water.
Although it is an island, Okinawa in Japan is also a place of longevity. Among its 1.3 million inhabitants, there are more than 700 senior citizens over the age of 100. In Okinawa, they say that a septuagenarian is a child and an octogenarian is a youth. There is even an old saying: “If your ancestors call you to heaven when you reach 90, tell them to wait and that you’ll think about it when you’re 100.” There was even an “Okinawa program” in which people could follow the lifestyle of the Okinawans. The island’s residents consume 18 kinds of food, 78 percent of which are vegetables. Their staple foods are grain, vegetables and seaweed. When they do cook meat, it is not roasted or grilled.
Although all kinds of people have dreamt of eternal youth since ancient times, no one can stop the passage of time or prevent hair from turning gray. Thus, the only thing we can do is grow old gracefully. And we can take a cue from people who live in villages known for the longevity of its citizens - they all live lives of leisure. Instead of going against time, they advise us to get used to it. Probably for that reason, people use well-aging, not anti-aging, cosmetics these days.
Recently in Japan, missing centenarians have become a social problem. The government tried to determine the whereabouts of 40,399 centenarians but couldn’t locate 18 of them. They have reportedly been out of touch with their family members for a long time, ranging from years to decades.
This amounts to a desertion of the aged, not leaving them alone. It’s the dark side of an aging society in which we face three major problems: the dissolution of families, the collapse of community and society’s mismanagement of the aged.
On the other side of the seas, this is also a problem. In Korea, 5,659 senior citizens over the age of 60 went missing last year. Most of them suffer from dementia, and 42 of them are still missing. Being alone is sadder than growing old. One of the ways we can show respect for the aged is to give them our attention. After all, senior citizens were our fathers and mothers and we will all grow old someday.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Jong-kwon