Rose Chang is 85. She lives at a senior citizens’ residence in the Tenderloin, and shared her story with us recently.
I’ve lived here for 11 years, and I participate and volunteer at the pantry every week. There are usually five or six of us, and we really like to do the work. It gives us a way to contribute to our community. And our fellow tenants, neighbors and friends are really appreciative of it. We make sure that everyone gets the same as anyone else, and it’s a really good feeling. It makes me feel like I’m contributing.
Typically, we hand out fruits, vegetables and canned food. This was originally a hotel, so we can’t have stoves. We all cook with rice cookers and hot plates. And that’s fine. Because we’re all elderly here, we can’t eat fried stuff or stir-fry anyway. We need to keep it simple. We’re really grateful for having the food and don’t really feel entitled about it.
Maybe because I’ve experienced a lot in my life, including wars, leading a simple life is a huge value for me. I graduated from primary school around when World War II happened. That was 1937, and the Japanese were bombing China. My grandma, my dad, my mom and I all fled from the city to our ancestral village near the border between Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. We brought nothing with us but ourselves.
Rose points to the location of her ancestral village on a map of China
After that, I grew up in a typical way, nothing special. My father owned a rice shop, and that shop sustained us quite adequately. We were able to feed ourselves with two meals a day. We were commoners. So my dietary needs and preferences when I was growing up were that, if it’s simple and good, then it’s good. Food is food. My mom did the cooking, and she made really good food. I wasn’t picky.
Now, I like to keep it simple. I don’t have any strong preferences about anything. Though I will tell you that I don’t eat whole oranges – instead, I squeeze them into juice. That’s because once, I got my dentures caught in a piece of orange and then accidentally threw them out. I swept the rinds off my table, with the dentures (unbeknownst to me) and tossed that down the garbage chute. When I came back to brush my teeth, I realized, “Oh my god! Where are my dentures?? They’re in the trash!” I called the building manager, and luckily, I was able to recover them. And so that’s why I drink orange juice.
I just take pleasure in the small tasks I have. In the morning, I cook some oatmeal and add in whatever I have – usually, some cereal, apples, sesame flour and milk. Then I go for an hour’s walk. I like to talk with other people, I like to play mahjongg, and I can spend meaningful, quality time with others doing those things.
My heart is very still and my mind is very still. I feel like I lead a very happy life, a simple life. I don’t worry or ruminate on anything. And if I can help people, then why not? It helps me to let go of everything and maintain a sense of stillness.
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