I recently paid a visit to the Sitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區) in Nantou County, a mist-covered park belonging to National Taiwan University.
After an early morning, I walked all the way to Sitou University Pool. A sense of human warmth was present the entire way as tourists — including many senior citizens — greeted each other with “good morning.”
Everything was fine except for one thing: Some visitors indulged in loud and empty talk on their cellphones, the noise particularly disturbing in this quiet environment, and some groups competed to occupy the picnic table and chairs at the pavilion.
Known for its ecotourism, Sitou has become an international site for nature education and “forest therapy,” attracting more than 1 million tourists each year, particularly seniors.
Older people love Sitou not only for the beautiful views, but also for the cheap ticket: only NT$10 for seniors. One newspaper even reported that Sitou has become a “club for the 18-percenters” — retired public servants.
The large number of tourists is not the problem; the problem is people’s actions that lack concern for others, such as lying down in the forest, cooking food illegally or occupying the pavilion. Such actions ruin the environment and the quality of tourists’ experiences.
Based on the “user pays” principle, the university six months ago announced that it would increase the senior ticket to NT$80 in the hopes of reducing visitor numbers, but this caused strong protests and was canceled after a legislator questioned its appropriateness.
It was indeed a bit much to raise the senior price from NT$10 to NT$80, although it is still lower than the regular price of NT$200 on holidays or NT$150 on weekdays. How much of a discount should older people enjoy?
This is an issue worthy of discussion.
In pension reform, seniors often cite the principle of “legitimate expectation,” stressing that the government cannot cut a single dollar from their pensions.
Last month, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Evaluation and Discipline Committee director-general Chen Keng-chin (陳庚金) even encouraged public servants to “goof around and milk their jobs as much as possible to drag down the government together.”
He ignored the potential bankruptcy crisis facing the pension programs. More seriously, he ignored the problem of inter-occupational and inter-generational injustice.
Such attitudes and arguments clearly contradict Confucius, who said: “When one is old and one’s powers are decayed, one should be cautious against covetousness.”
They do nothing to help older people win society’s respect. Some retired military officers who have taken turns joining a long-term protest outside the Legislative Yuan are also making fools of themselves by calling themselves “warriors.”
In comparison, Japanese writer Ayako Sono has been promoting an “old age aesthetic,” stressing that being a senior is neither a title nor a qualification. Older people should not take it for granted when people offer help, she said, because being old does not give you the right to trouble others. She also said that seniors can live a quality and happy life only when they are independent and take responsibility for their own lives.
Taiwan is an aging society with a low birthrate where older people have to take responsibility for themselves. Instead of looking at their children or the government as automated teller machines, they should relieve the burden of the next generation and society. By doing so, they would gain greater dignity and give Taiwan an even better tomorrow.