Retirement Re-Badged

Aveo China Campus

Being part of a Retirement Village can have it’s benefits – beyond the obvious: like-minded neighbours; peaceful and quiet living; security of having retired neighbours watching out for your unit while you travel the world; no gardens to maintain – lawns to mow – pool to clean (someone else takes care of all of these).

If you’re in an Aveo Village, retirement just got a whole lot better!

Being part of an Aveo Retirement Village has an extra bonus – reciprocal visits to the China Campus.

The inaugural exchange happened in October 2016, and I’m proud to say I took the challenge and signed up for a two-week tour of the village near Shanghai. Residents of the Aveo Group of retirement villages in Australia were eligible to participate in the inaugural trip and 20 residents from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast opted to blaze the trail for future travellers. Aveo plan to take 4 groups each year, as well as arranging for our Chinese counterparts to visit our fair shores and see how we define retirement here in Australia.

My limited knowledge of China and all things Chinese had me believing that we would be teaching the Chinese residents a lot about being active in our later years. We were asked to bring equipment and expertise to teach the gentle art of Lawn Bowls, and I assumed we would be teaching a lot more than that while we were there. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Yes, we did take some Bowls, and yes, those with expertise did teach the finer points of using them, but that’s (almost) where our part of the exchange ends. We did manage to teach our hosts the words and actions of ‘Give Me A Home Among The Gum Trees’, but more about that later.

A very successful cultural exchange, on the croquet ground? Oh well, it worked.

As perfect hosts, our Chinese counterparts welcomed us with open arms and treated us like royalty during our stay.

The Chinese residents couldn’t have done more to ensure our stay was perfect in every way

My view of retirement until then was that retirement is passive. It’s something that happens to you at the end of a usually busy career. It’s when you start working your way through the long list of books you stockpiled over the busy years, with the words ‘for retirement reading’ embossed on each cover, even though the History of Russia will be ancient history by the time I actually get to read it.

Retirement is what we look forward to, but worry about finding enough to do to keep us occupied. It’s about winding down; taking it easy; being a lot more sedentary.

But that isn’t how it is in China. There are courses for those who may not have had the opportunity to go to College, and dedicated classrooms and teachers ensure that learning is successful. Some residents are studying English, while others master Calligraphy, Mahjong, or Music. The sounds and signs of practice can be heard and seen throughout the campus. The melodic notes from a piano or flute float down from an upper floor window and calligraphic signs adorn the walls and halls of the learning areas.

The evenings are for gentle exercise in the Quadrangle in fine weather, or the Community Hall if the skies open up.  The days are for the full rigour of the gym under the expert guidance of a personal trainer. And the residents are there: in the quad gaining strength of mind and body with every disciplined but poised movement; in the gym toning muscles and ensuring flexibility in the aging process; in the pool pushing laps; in the dance studio learning the ancient art of traditional Chinese dance or ballroom dancing; in the library stretching the mind; in the craft room creating exquisite masterpieces to share with friends. Participation is active and interactive. Retirement isn’t a passive phase that happens to them, it is a new stage of active learning and growth. Even ballroom dancing is undertaken with skill and precision and there were many talented couples tripping the light fantastic on the dance floor on our first night on the campus.

And the concert at the end of our tour was spectacular! Choirs sang, musicians played ancient instruments, and Mr Bridge Lee gave a very professional rendition of Santa Lucia and Moscow Nights. And the Aussies? Well, what else would you expect? ‘Give Me A Home Among The Gum Trees’, complete with actions, was the order of the day (hastily put together on the day, I might add), and was very well received by all. Our Chinese hosts loved it! and even requested an Encore after our Farewell Dinner the night before we left. Our Aussie host, Julie, was a bit ‘over it’ after the third or fourth time of seeing us all up on the big screen in the Quadrangle, belting out every last note of the song, but I suspect just a little of that stemmed from the homesickness the song evoked in her, having been away from our fair shores for more than just a few years while overseeing the setting up of the China Campus.

I came back to our village with a new perspective on retirement.  I want to re-write the script. There is no need for the retirement phase to be the final journey when it could so easily be reversed to become a new beginning.

The view from my balcony – and this is winter!

What could we achieve in our later years if we adopt a philosophy of learning new skills: A second language; Writing a novel; Learning to play an instrument? Anything is possible – we are limited only by our imagination. We just have to change our mindset from master to student, and actively engage in learning.

The difference between East and West is no more clearly defined than in the learning centres of the China Campus. The emphasis is on learning, training and discipline.

Happy Retirement!