“Opening eyes greet the morning and another day of work” — this is the motto which 100-year-old Chao Mu-ho (趙慕鶴) adheres to every day.
However, it is more than a motto that has earned Chao the respect of younger Taiwanese, it is his spirit of living and desire to learn every day.
Born in China, Chao graduated from Shandong Normal University and was forced to move around to avoid the many wars raging throughout China at the time. He made his way to Taiwan at the age of 40 and taught until he retired at 65.
Now retired for 35 years, Chao never stopped learning, spending his days reading, writing calligraphy, learning to use a computer, learning English and going to shows.
One of Chao’s most stunning feats was taking the bus everyday from Greater Kaohsiung to -Chiayi’s Nanhua University to earn a master’s degree at the age of 98. For two years, Chao never missed a class despite his lengthy commute, displaying his great determination.
“What the young can do, I can do too,” Chao said, adding that he wanted to set a good example for his classmates.
Chao’s vitality backs his words. Living alone on the fourth floor of an apartment building, Chao is entirely self-sufficient and though he has become slower at climbing the stairs, he is still able to handle many daily chores, such as tending to his garden.
Chao couldn’t help laughing when speaking about his decision to get a post-graduate degree after retiring, saying it all started when he sat the colleges’ entrance exams with his grandson.
Chao and his grandson both made it into college, with Chao getting into National Open University.
He graduated from college at the age of 91.
His decision to pursue his post-graduate studies echoed his journey to college, as he made a deal with the son of a friend to sit for the entrance examinations, a ploy Chao said was to encourage the young man to focus on his studies.
Even his eventual attainment of the master’s degree did not slow Chao down. Instead, he became a volunteer worker in hopes of contributing to society, as well as planning an exhibition of his famed “bird-worms” style of Chinese calligraphy.
Chao learned the bird-worms style from an old calligrapher during his youth and he is now considered a master of the style, writing words shaped as lively birds and worms with a wave of his brush.
When the Huashan Social Welfare Foundation and the Genesis Social Welfare Foundation raised funds for zongzi (粽子) to give to elders without family, Chao was asked to write the words “Helping elders as an elder,” and contributed further by rewarding people who donated by giving them some of his calligraphy.
“That’s what should be done,” Chao said, adding that he felt that writing for charity events made the calligraphy that much more meaningful to him.
Chao said many younger Taiwanese were curious about his life philosophy and the secrets to his longevity.
In his view, there was nothing special other than to live simply and happily, provided there was also physical and mental activity and stimulation.
TRANSLATED BY JAKE CHUNG, STAFF WRITER