A retired educator in Taipei is encouraging the government to set up more lifetime learning programs for senior citizens, as he keeps busy during his retirement with community service and being a volunteer teacher.
Born in China’s Henan Province, 88-year-old Hsiung Chih-jui’s (熊智銳) emphasis on education runs in his family, with all five of his children having obtained doctorates.
He is the author of a Taiwanese nursery rhyme called A Big-Head Kid, He has No Worries in the Rain (大頭大頭, 下雨不愁).
Following his retirement from a position with the now-defunct Taiwan Provincial Government’s education department, Hsiung started teaching Tang Dynasty poetry at Neihu Community College as well as running calligraphy classes for a cultural organization.
He is also a student; he has enrolled in a master’s degree program in literature at Chinese Culture University.
“One is never too old to learn,” Hsiung said, adding that he would like to see more lifetime learning programs set up for senior citizens.
“I’m happy and in good health, because I have the courage to keep on learning,” he said.
On retiring in 1996, Hsiung and his wife threw themselves into voluntary work, and he said that they were busier in retirement than when they were working full-time.
“For elderly retirees, if they stay at home and don’t do much, it is easy to get afflicted with ‘retirement syndrome’ with its accompanying health problems,” he said.
“When retirees just sit at home, marriages can experience strain. When social activities are reduced, people may be left with a feeling of emptiness and this may be compounded by illness and other problems,” he said.
He advised retirees to get out of the house and enroll in classes, which he said can help pass the time and provide fulfillment through learning. Classes can also help retirees make new friends and broaden their social circle, he added.
So far he has helped establish five volunteer organizations that focus on education and cultural activities.
While some people say it is difficult to learn as one ages, and that becoming a student again during retirement could lead to mockery, Hsiung disagrees, saying that learning can relax the mind and improve physical health.
“This reduces burdens and the cost to society. It can also set a positive example for people’s children,” he said.
“A life of learning means living life to the fullest. A family that learns is the most heart-warming. A society that learns is the healthiest,” he added.
Hsiung also writes a regular column for a magazine promoting the benefits of lifetime learning for senior citizens, adding that he has made three requests to the Ministry of Education for the government to invest more in lifetime learning programs for the elderly and provide ways to encourage people to continue learning during retirement.
Hsiung’s wife passed away seven years ago and all of his children now live overseas.
He chooses to live alone in Taipei, saying this suits him best.
“My kids are busy with their jobs every day. I would clash with their daily routine,” Hsiung said, adding that he routinely wakes up at 6:30am and goes to sleep at 10:30pm.
He said he usually goes to a local park for a 40-minute walk in the mornings and in the afternoons, and that while exercising he does not rest his mind, but uses the time to memorize Tang Dynasty poetry.
He teaches and attends classes, filling up his day.
“For me, this is living in comfort and happiness every day,” he said.
Hsiung has been teaching calligraphy for free since 2005.
He provides paper, writing brushes and ink free for his students, who average between 50 and 60 years of age.
“Our teacher’s spirit of lifetime learning is a good model for everyone to follow,” a student surnamed Huang (黃) said.