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A better lifestyle for elderly residents

By Wang Hao  (China Daily)

11:18, February 19, 2013

The word "relocation" has gained a negative connotation during recent years in the wake of reports detailing disputes and even bloody violence in the course of land reallocation and city rebuilding.

However, that was not the case with the farmers in Ordos, who have just moved into, and made a new life in, the new towns not far from their old farmland.

"If it is a move for the better, why not?" said Bai Yufeng, 62, who moved into Wanggui Xincun in August.

The move saw Bai, his wife and son leave their farmland. The land, with its low-yielding, saline-alkali soil, is now being returned to grassland or used for the cultivation of sand willow (salix mongolica), a fast-growing tree proven to be the most effective plant to prevent desertification.

The family endured a hard life on the sandy land as a result of years of over-farming, and the deterioration of the ecosystem. So they had no hesitation about moving into the government-subsidized apartment building. Bai and his wife receive a pension, while their son works as a public servant at the county's civil affairs department.

However, changing a way of life is not easy. Young people are more adaptable to change, but the elderly have found it harder to adjust.

In the multi-story apartment buildings for new residents, one can see the kang in the bedrooms - it's a type of bed made from bricks and heated by a fire inside - and is synonymous with northern farmers. However, unlike traditional kang, this one is heated by a hot water system and not a fire. However, the pickled cabbage in the jars by the staircase were real. Old habits die hard.

According to his household registration, Bai is still a farmer. Now and then, he can return and take a look at his sand willows and the other trees planted on the farmland that is still under his name. That provides another source of income for the family.

What surprised me most during our visit to Ordos was the well-equipped facilities for the care of senior citizens in the new community for farmers-turned-residents. Here, the elderly have easy access to basic medical treatment and nursing services, a gym, a painting and calligraphy studio and a canteen, which serves meals with menus tailored for various health conditions.

Visiting the elderly in the Xinhai Yihe nursing home, I could not help missing my parents, who are in their early 70s and live on their own in a town in East China. I must say, Ordos is doing a better job of caring for the seniors.

By the end of this year, China is expected to have 200 million people aged 60 or older. Lack of care facilities for the elderly and a low sense of urgency will both pose potentially big problems for the world's most-populous country in the foreseeable future.

Bai described his relocation as "a step right into heaven", as he benefits from a level of care for the elderly that most of his counterparts in large cities are, so far, unable to enjoy.

China's new leadership has mapped out an urbanization plan to upgrade the living standards for farmers and narrow the income gap. That does not mean simply squeezing farmers into cities. Given China's enormous size and different regional situations, there have to be effective and various methods of meeting the goal. Ordos offers a special, if not unique, way out.

The nouveau-riche city has spent big money on a significant and meaningful project - improving the eco-system, rural urbanization and the social welfare of residents. From the smiles of the farmers-turned-city residents, I could see that the investment is paying off.

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