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Count on our children to take care of us in our old age?

When the old Chinese man came up to the dustbin in front of the bus-stop, I thought he would, like many other old folk I had previously seen do, stretch his hands into it to look for used aluminium cans so that he could exchange them later for hard cash.
But, this man picked up a used bubble tea cup which he placed on the top of the dustbin. Then, he reached into the bin again and, this time, I saw in his hands a plastic bag - the kind used for storing take-away drinks. He proceeded to sip the remnants of the black liquid from the plastic bag after which he threw the bag back into the bin. The man continued on his way after picking up the bubble tea cup which still had some tea left. As he walked along the pavement outside Hougang Plaza, he sipped the tea, oblivious to the curious looks of those at the bus-stop.
That happened last Saturday. I recall witnessing a similar incident long ago as a 10-year-old boy in North Bridge Road where I spent my childhood. Then, I had seen an old Chinese man picking up leftover pig trotters from a swill bin and eating them there and then. But, that happened in the late 1960's - more than 30 years ago.
I told myself it couldn't be happening in Singapore now. But, I wasn't seeing things last weekend. There were several other people waiting for the bus too. They saw what happened. The old man outside Hougang Plaza didn't look like a vagabond. He was dressed just like any other grandfather one would meet in the streets. And he wasn't untidy.
Perhaps, this man was senile. But, he didn't look it. Today, as I read The Straits Times, my attention focussed on an article on parental maintenance. Among other things, it said that 105 cases were heard in the parental maintenance tribunal in 2004, up from 88 in 20031.
Apparently, siblings were quarrelling over financial maintenance of their parents. Ms Penny Tham, spokesman for the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents, was quoted in the article as saying, "Long-standing bitterness between siblings spawn such cases."
I cannot say for certain that the old man I saw drinking from the used bubble tea cup is a victim of similar circumstances. But, in my estate alone, I often see old people going around picking up used aluminium cans, and then flattening them with their feet before placing them in a bag they carried with them. They are a common sight nowadays in Singapore. Perhaps their children are not giving them any allowances. Perhaps, they need to feed a smoking habit for which their pocket money was insufficient. Whatever the reasons, I don't think it's fair for their children to be calculating towards them or neglect them in their old age.
I despair to think of my old age. If I get to live to a ripe old age, will my compulsory CPF savings be enough to last me through my twilight years. Will my children - that is, if I can persuade my wife to have children - be kind enough to support my wife and me when we are no longer productive and have to depend on them for maintenance.
I see many youngsters engaged in animated conversation over who has the latest mobile phone and I think, at this age, they have yet to earn money and they are already bowing to peer pressure and thinking of spending more than pocket change. When they come into the mainstream of society, will they wise up and live prudently or will their parents still have to support them then?
Yesterday, I was having lunch with my wife in a foodcourt in Hougang Mall. Seated at another table next to us was a family of four - father, mother, and two pre-teen boys. Forgive me for being nosey, but, I couldn't help noticing that both parents shared a bowl of Yong Tau Hoo while the two boys each had a western meal, complete with can drinks. It wasn't the first time I had witnessed such things happening.
My point is this - as parents we do our part, but can we count on our children to do theirs and take care of us when we grow old? I despair to think of the answer.
I need to find good reasons to give my wife to convince her to have children. Providing descendants to carry on my family name isn't a good enough reason for her.
1 The Straits Times 28 Mar 2005 (H3)



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28 March 2005