For seniors’ sake, let’s share burden

Home > National >

print dictionary print

For seniors’ sake, let’s share burden


I grew up in a small city, where a municipal nursing home was located on a hill. It was the biggest building in the village, and people called my village “nursing home town.” It was built by U.S. forces after the 1950-53 Korean War, and their unit contributed to the operation greatly. U.S. soldiers used to bring trucks full of flour, cornbread, powdered milk, cookies and candy. Thanks to the underprivileged senior citizens, children got to enjoy treats. I remember getting sick after drinking sour milk and being frightened after mistaking chewing tobacco as a snack.

In the 1960s, Korea was so poor that we had to get help from other countries. We could not support our own elderly. I used to play in the garden of the senior home with friends, and I often spotted seniors having simple meals. When they passed away, they were kept in a dark storage room for a couple of days, and when no family members or relatives came to collect the body, they were covered in straw bags and carried to the cemetery on a handcart. Young children used to test their nerves to go into the room with the body of the deceased at night. I feel very sorry for this disrespectful behavior.

In 1965, senior citizens at the nursing home over 65 were mostly born between 1880 and 1900. They were born in the last years of the Great Han Empire and experienced the fall of the empire, colonial rule, the Korean War and authoritarian dictatorship. They may be the most unfortunate generation in modern history. And they did not live to taste the fruits of economic growth, and the keywords of their lives were “poverty” and “suffering.”

Today, the elderly poverty rate of Korea is the highest among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but seniors today are far better off than those who died in the 1960s. How about we look at the ongoing basic pension dispute from the generational point of view? I think the easing of long-term financial burden should be prioritized rather than keeping a pledge. So I support the government’s plan. Those with desperate needs should receive benefits first. Korea was built on the sacrifice of the older generation in the 1960s. For future generations, we need to learn from the sacrifices of our ancestors.

I am not the only one willing to share the burden. Painter Kwak Hoon, 72, is well over 65 but still pays for subway tickets.

“Nothing comes for free. When I can afford the subway fare, why should I ride for free?” said Kwak.

A few days ago, Seoul National University professor Oh Jong-nam, 61, said, “If the government pays me 200,000 won ($187) in a few years, I will bet 200,000 won worth of worries. I’d feel more comfortable not taking the money.”

The 200,000 won may be as valuable as 2 million won to some, while others could spend it as quickly as 20,000 won. It is wrong that those who aren’t desperate claim that they’re vulnerable and needy.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)