Of all the concepts that differ between Western and Eastern culture, I’ve found that age represents one of the deepest divides. When China celebrated its 60th year of founding their nation in 2009, I quickly discovered that it was more than just a multiple-of-10 anniversary; China had become a fully matured adult. The phrase for turning sixty is “年过花甲”, which is a cycle of 60 years; or literally becoming a flower. 花 is flower in Chinese, but in this case it represents the white hair of a 60 year-old.
There is a respect for elders here (in China and greater Asia) which I’ve never experienced before my arrival in 2004. Back home turning 40 means going “over the hill” which is a concept that doesn’t exist here. The jokes about “getting old” are supposed to be playful, but actually linger in our subconscious… Wouldn’t it be nice if getting older was a sign of wisdom and experience, rather than a reason to be pitied?
Times are changing. Its true that Asian people don’t enjoy getting old either. They also wish to stay young forever… and they certainly try! After about 20 years of life it seems both Western and Eastern cultures start getting nervous about age. Perhaps they should get married soon… have a child before 30… own a house by some other pre-set age… Parents out here are mostly at fault for causing the age-anxiety in their children. As for me, I’m just lucky to have very supportive parents who don’t set arbitrary expectations on their children. I’m taking my time and enjoying the ride. So, thanks for the freedom mom and dad; you won’t regret it!