From ‘Old age is such a pain’, 19 Feb 2012, article by Sumiko Tan, Sunday Lifestyle
It’s not as if I were a young chick experiencing the amazing, eye-opening stages of ageing at the workshop. I’m already 48 and every year, every decade, has already brought a decline in bodily functions, not to mention physical appearance, and it’s only going to get worse.
The skin dulls, the hair loses its shine, the metabolism slows, the heart becomes less efficient, the bones shrink, the muscles weaken, digestion slows, kidneys take a longer time to remove waste, bladder becomes loose, brain cells die, memory fades, retina thins, hearing goes, teeth rot, sex drive diminishes and, baby, it’s really the beginning of the end.
One can try to cling on to youth by exercising like crazy, eating healthily, breathing slowly, driving fast cars, chasing after young women, or men, wearing sexy clothes, designer shoes, whatever.
But there’s no escaping the clutches of time and sooner than you think, you find yourself with cataracts, blindly manoeuvring hospital corridors in a wheelchair, the bottoms of your trousers rolled.
Nobody looks forward to growing old, especially Sumiko Tan. The point of her piece, despite complaining about how much ‘it sucks’ having been through some ‘Age-Friendly Workshop’ where they simulate vision and hearing impairment in particpants, is that getting old happens to everyone, and some understanding and patience is in order, no matter how unreasonable and cantankerous seniors can be. Fresh from being pummelled online for eating shark’s fin (Some consolation for Sumiko though, President Obama drew fire for WALKING into a restaurant because they had shark’s fin on the menu), this meditation on death and dying is less likely to receive verbal incontinence from her critics. But at 48, Sumiko continues to be morbidly obsessed with age, ageing and coming to terms with grim mortality, a recurrent theme that crops up throughout the history of her writings for ST.
Here’s a timeline of Sumiko’s thoughts and confessions on ageing, by Sumiko’s age:
2009 (45 years old): From ‘Charm of a Modern Dad’, on her then friend, now husband’s love of children.
…Do you not realise how old I am, I say. I’m past my biological baby-by date.
…Why would I want to sacrifice my time, freedom, money and beautifully laundered white bedsheets to have a child, and at my age too? I’d have to suffer him or her through years of diaper changes, school exams, holiday camps, pimple outbreaks, relationship woes and demands for bigger allowances. And to top it off, he’ll be riding out his rebellious teenage years when I’m hitting 60.
2007 (43 years old): From ‘The Secret to a Happy Old Age‘, in response to raised retirement age.
…Basically, I’m just afraid of old age. Maybe it’s because of the way Singapore society regards the old. There is concern for them, even pity, but when a person no longer contributes economically, his value in society dives. Unless you are (or were) an important or rich person, old people tend to get short shrift.
There’s also no running away from how age brings inexorable mental and physical decline. It’s enough to sometimes make me think that it’s better to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse, like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
2005 (41 years old): From ‘Marry him, Fann’, in response to Fann Wong marrying in her mid-thirties
Women do have sell-by dates. Women are physically less attractive as they age. Women do want to appeal to men. And having a man in one’s life is better than none.
…My theory is that 35 is the make-or-break age of a woman in the marriage market. Miss it – either through lack of choice or because you are too busy or fussy to commit – and it will take extraordinary luck or hard work for you to claw back into the market and get hitched.
And there’s more stretching throughout her entire journalistic career, too many to summarise here. But looking at her article headings alone, which is already as awkward and uncomfortable as stumbling on someone’s secret diary, a younger Sumiko did seem rather insecure and needy about ageing even in her early thirties. Perhaps it’s not just the going downhill mentally and physically that she was worried about, but the loneliness, something she doesn’t need to be concerned about much now.
2005(41 years old): ‘Will you still need me when I’m 64?’, 3 July, ST
2001 (37 years old): ‘Will I run on empty when I grow old?’, 29 April, ST
1997(33 years old): ‘When death stares you in the eye’, 19 Oct, ST, ‘The older I get, the fewer friends I have’, 18 May
1996 (32 years old): ‘Sadly, having children is no safety net for old age‘, 9 June, ST
1992 (28 years old): ‘Old folks next door’, 4 Dec, ST
1989 (25 years old): ‘Beware the consequences of looking down on the old‘, 15 Jan, ST. Here, young Sumiko defends against ‘ageism’ and misconceptions of the elderly being useless to society. She would revisit this plight of the old every now and then for the next 23 years.
So here’s a fairly recent picture of Sumiko in a wedding gown, and I’ll leave it to viewers to judge for themselves if she’s past a ‘sell-by’, ‘baby-by’, whatever-by date you want to call it. Personally I think she doesn’t look her age at all. Maybe the collagen from all that shark’s fin soup has something to do with it.