I miss my old pals. I really hope I can go back and sing Huangmei Opera with them.”
“People back in Huaining envy me for living in Beijing, but I’m jealous that they can stay at home with old friends and relatives,” she said.
Walking a tightrope
Moreover, caring for her grandson full time was like walking a tightrope every day. “I could not allow accidents to happen to him. My life was basically centered on him,” she said, adding that cooking, feeding the baby, playing with him and lulling him to sleep left her little time for herself.
Jiang Xiangqun, deputy director of the Gerontics Research Center at Renmin University, said senior people have a strong attachment to their native places and longterm relationships.
“Being cut off from their familiar environment leads to a range of psychological problems, which many sons and daughters neglect,” he said.
According to the Statistical Science Research Center of the National Bureau of Statistics in August, a lack of social activity results in about 25 percent of seniors feeling isolated, anxious and depressed.
Five years ago, Zhang Shuqin, left her home in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and moved to Beijing to live with her daughter.
Unlike many of her senior drifter peers, Zhang came to the capital following retirement, and believing that the end of her working life signaled a new beginning. However, it still took time and effort to fit in.
When she first arrived in Beijing, she went to a restaurant for breakfast. She noticed that an elderly couple had ordered bowls of or fermented mung bean milk. Assuming that was Beijing dialect for soybean milk, she ordered a bowl, too, but “the sour taste almost made me vomit”. She quarreled with the owner and accused him of selling spoiled food. Later, she discovered that the drink is a Beijing specialty.
To avoid further embarrassment and blend in, the then50-year-old began reading about the capital’s customs and history, and visiting famous tourist spots.
Now, she talks about Beijing as though she has lived in the city for decades. “Even my neighbor, who is a real Beijinger, calls me a half-Beijinger,” she said.
Despite her greater familiarity a senior in Beijing with the capital, Zhang still encounters obstacles every day, such as a lack of medical insurance.
The issue is not just a pressing problem at her age, but also a constant reminder of the gulf between her and native Beijingers.
To claim reimbursement of medical costs, senior drifters like Zhang have to travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to their hometowns and go through complicated procedures.
The reason is that the system is based on a person’s
or household registration, which means medical costs incurred away from home can only be reimbursed in the place where a patient’s
is registered, usually their hometown.