China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2013/Aug

Age and wisdom

The bible has much to say about caring for elderly parents and other family members who are not able to care for themselves.

In the New Testament, we read, “Honour your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3).

Hopefully most of us will do our part when needed, but not all elderly people need or want constant live-in care in their children’s homes.

They may prefer to live in a community with other people their age, or they may be quite capable of complete independence.

An article in the China Daily newspaper caught my eye, Circling the globe on three wheels…two pensioners plan to visit 100 countries on a tour of the world in their homemade solar-electric tricycle.

Many people might dream about travelling around the world, but this husband and wife team is actually doing it and on a tricycle!

They know they can do this as they have already gone all around China visiting the provincial capitals, the four biggest deserts and 15 mountains higher than 4,000 metres in two years. They also visited a few Asian countries.

Li Linxiang and his wife Zhao Yafan are in their 60s and they set off from their hometown, Shenyang, on 25 May 2013. They expect the trip will take five years.

They will ride their specially-designed solar-pedicab, with a backup of three electric motors, along the whole route except for two voyages, across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

They will leave China from Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, travel to Kazakhstan, cross the Middle East, and spend the winter in Ethiopia.

They plan to enter Europe via Turkey in spring, go to North Africa in December 2014, head south and cross the Atlantic Ocean to Argentina, before riding north to the United States of America and Canada, then taking a ship from Los Angeles to Japan.

They will return to China after visiting the Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The couple saves money by sleeping in their vehicle, which can be converted into a tent, and carrying cooking utensils, such as a stove, as well as simple ingredients to prepare their own food.

To communicate and introduce themselves, they write on a piece of paper: “We are a retired couple from China. Our dream is to visit 100 countries with our self-made solar vehicle. We want to stay here for a night, please nod for agreement and shake your head if it is inconvenient.”

Li remarked, “Everyone nodded, some even asked if we would like a shower, or wanted to charge our vehicle, or treated us to dinner in their own home.”

Their travels may cost more than planned, but if needed they will sell their apartment. Their son is a young adult and he supports his parents’ dream.

They have a notarised document at Shenyang Medical College stipulating that their bodies and organs be donated to a local medical organisation if they meet any misfortunes on the road.

Zhao says, “People live different lives, some like to play cards at home, but we like to enjoy ourselves in nature. It was hard at the start, but we made the first step and now we will never stop.”

They also expect their story will encourage more elderly people to go outdoors, enjoy the beauty of nature and live healthy lives.

“Happy minds mean healthy bodies and traveling also leaves you with precious memories,” Zhao said. (China Daily, 18 June 2013)

Here is another older but wise woman

Xu Fengxiang, who is 81-years-old, is still active. She is an ecologist interested in the relationship between humans and nature, and has a passion for a place she did not visit until later in life. Tibet!

Her love affair with Tibet started as a young girl even before she entered college, but she did not actually visit there until she was 47-years-old.

By then, Xu’s life was already inexorably linked to the land she loves so much as it still is today.

Xu is well-known for her ecological research involving all four Tibetan ecosystems -the frozen tundra, wetlands, alpine pastures and forests.

Her collection of photographs, specimens and data helped to fill the void in the scientific study of the highlands of the Tibet autonomous region and has been recognised as a highly valued contribution.

She felt the pull of the land early and while working with the Nanjing Forestry University, she was always looking for opportunities to work in Tibet. Finally, in 1978, she followed her calling and arrived in Tibet as an aid worker teaching ecology. This lasted 18 years.

Occasionally, Xu went to Beijing and there she became the head of Beijing’s Lingshan Tibet Museum Park, where she introduced many Tibetan plant species to facilitate research and education.

It has been a long and often rocky road for her.

She was the first to use a little wooden hut that functioned as the world’s first ecology research institute on the Tibetan plateau in 1985, when she was officially transferred there at the age of 54.

Huang Zongying, the writer and playwright who documented Xu’s adventures in her 1984 book, Little Wooden House, said her story is something encountered only once in a lifetime.

From her first visit to Tibet to her latest inspection tour in 2009, Xu’s footprints have covered 130,000 kilometres and all of Tibet’s 20 major forests.

She also visited the Qomolangma Base Camp twice, 5,400 metres above sea level.

For her commitment and her scientific research, Xu has garnered countless honours, including one of China’s highest environmental awards, the Globe Award, in 2005.

Known to her neighbouring Tibetans as Siona Zhuoga, or daughter of the forests, Xu has often been compared with Jane Goodall. And like Goodall, she has brought the spirit of her work with her wherever she has been.

She retired to Beijing in 1995.

Xu’s priority now is to spread a more informed understanding of Tibet to younger generations.

“Tibet is very precious and it can only live on well if every one cares for it. It depends on the future generations,” she said.

She still lectures nationwide and gives guided tours of the museum park. Dong Yongshu, Xu’s assistant at the park for 15 years, said, “We are touched and transformed by Xu’s endeavours. I used to be an ordinary clerk, but all of us are eco-conscious because of her.”

Xu’s view of humanity vis-a-vis nature is: “We are but one tiny element of the entire ecosystem. We are like the ants. Why should nature comply to only our needs?”

Her book, Dream of Tibet, is a heartfelt confession of her out-of-the-blue infatuation with Tibet.

“Tibet is my cause. I’m a preacher for Tibet, a preacher for the way of nature” (China Daily, 25 December 2012)

These two stories are fascinating and are examples of following one’s dream no matter what one’s age may be.

Through their own ingenuity these people have inherited a great knowledge about others, different countries and cultures, and most of all, they have enjoyed the wonders of nature.

Ageing is part of life for all of us. In China, where the philosophies of Confucius and Mencius prevailed for thousands of years, ageing also means an increase in wisdom, rather than the absolute decline of body.

It is important to keep an open mind and live life to its fullest.

As Christians, we are told to see the elderly people in our lives as blessings, not burdens. We should value the wisdom they have acquired through living long lives.


I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

Rabindranath Tagore