“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” – Sophia Loren
How old are you?” asked the elderly woman I had just met. I took a deep breath and told her I was 47. She clapped her hands and said, “So old! But I’m much older than you.” She looked at me proudly. “I’m 78 and my husband will soon be 80.” I live in the U.S. where questions about a woman’s age are not only considered impolite, but in some circles downright taboo. But I wasn’t in the U.S.
I had come to China to teach English, and I realized there’s a lot to be learned from a culture where old age, rather than youth is revered. One day, during my last year in China, we had a class discussion about cultural dos and don’ts. I mentioned that in America people, especially women, often don’t appreciate being asked their age. After class, one of my students, Li Juan, a beautiful young woman just finishing up her degree at Hainan University, asked me why. I tried to explain how youth and beauty is so valued where I come from, but when the words came out, they sounded shallow. Li Juan couldn’t comprehend. “I’m looking forward to getting older,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to grow old and gain all that wisdom.”