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English>>Life & Culture

The single life - love it or hate it

(Shanghai Daily)

08:58, November 06, 2012

Chinese Singles' Day is coming up (November 11, 1111) and lots of activities involve dating. Wang Jie interviews five people living alone and hears four singular views on the single life.

When Tan Wenying divorced her husband at the age of 35, she didn't expect that she would be living alone for the next five decades.

"I have no children, it's difficult to describe what I have undergone these years," says the 85-year-old Shanghai native. "There is no one I can turn to, and everything depends on myself.

"The night especially gets longer when I think about spending my remaining days on a 2,000-yuan (US$320) monthly pension. Miserable days for a lonely elder!" she adds.

In Tan's day, there were not too many solo dwellers (du ju zhe ?à?ó??) in China, since traditional culture places a high value on big connected families, which dominate the fabric and customs of the country.

But after the nation adopted the opening-up policy in the early 1980s and since it has been increasingly exposed to Western culture, more and more people today are living alone, whether by choice or by circumstance.

According to market research firm Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone globally is skyrocketing, rising from about 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011, a 55-percent increase in 15 years.

"My wife died two years ago, and now I live alone," says Xu Huaiyu, a retired professor in his 70s. "I have a son with his own family. He wants me to live with them, but I refuse. It's clear that the living habits and values of the young and the old are widely different. I don't want to get involved."

Xu says he has his own plan. "When I get older, I may go to a nursing home. Some of my friends suggested a new marriage, but I have seen too many family conflicts on TV shows. The relationship between stepchildren, my inheritance and savings, my apartment - it's all too complicated. I am now an old man, what I want is a peaceful life."

For many elderly people living alone, insecurity and an uncertain future are their biggest concern.

Although his son takes his granddaughter to visit him every Saturday, Xu still feels lonely most of the time. He misses his deceased wife. "But I have to adapt and I have a small dog that at least will make some noise."

He has hired an ayi to help with chores by the hour. "I have heard disturbing stories about nursing homes," he says, "so living alone like this is my only choice. After all, everyone has to die, of course, without a companion."

But Christine Liu, a 38-year-old HR manager for an international company, enjoys living alone.

"I am one of the so-called sheng nu or 'left-over ladies' - good looking, with good pay and good taste," she says. Six years ago, she bought herself a small apartment downtown to escape her smothering parents. She's busy in her spare time, taking tea break with friends, practicing Chinese painting, doing yoga, having spa treatments and traveling "whenever and wherever I like."

"Some of my friends with children envy me because I am a free person without any ties. If I said I never felt lonely, that would be a lie, and I do have some weak moments, but I get used to them and work it out," Liu says.

She appears younger and more fashionable than many of her peers. Her life mirrors the Chinese saying, "If one person is satiate/full/satisfied, the whole family is not hungry."

She spends a lot of time and money on herself to convince herself "that I still can live better than others."

Thomas Wu, a 38-year-old financial consultant at an auditing firm, is a so-called "diamond bachelor" meaning that he's a handsome single man with a decent job and a high salary.

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