Monday, September 5, 2011

Jeepney Press 2011 September-October Issue page 05

TRAFFIC by Alma R. H. Reyes


“It is important to remember that aging and growing old are not necessarily the same thing. “
- Daisaku Ikeda, Japanese Buddhist philosopher

“Ojisan,” “Obasan,” Obahan,” O-san,” “Ba-ba,” “Ji-ji,” “Ba-han”…
These are some names you may hear Japanese use for elderly people, some with positive or negative implications. As Japan celebrates the Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro no Hi) on September 19 (September 20, this year), I’ve begun to grow sentimental about how it would be to grow old in Japan.

The whole world knows that Japan has the highest longevity record—with a few elderly reaching above 100 years old. Statistics also show that there are more than eight million Japanese over the age of 80. We always hear the term, “graying society,” referring to a population that sees more age than youth. With life becoming more and more sophisticated each day, and Japanese lifestyle becoming more and more materialistic, the tradition of bearing children has become such an old-fashioned notion that many young people brush it with a “who-cares” attitude. The DINK (double-income-no-kids) lifestyle is still very much alive, as it has been more than ten years ago. Despite the Japanese government offering incentives, such as child allowances, many young Japanese still value their independence, freedom and luxury.

Lately, elderly people catch my attention more than it did a few years back. Only in Japan I can find such contrast in how elderly people here cope with modern life. There is the kind that often ends up like a vegetable after retirement. Falling under the typical one-company-for-life syndrome, a typical salary man in this category dedicates his entire life to his company. When he retires, he has nothing else to do. He loses contact with his “friends” who are only his company colleagues; he has no hobby or social form of leisure; and often spends the rest of his days at home, sleeping, watching TV, reading the newspaper, eating, and being nagged by his wife to do something else than occupy space. He will die this way as well.

On the other hand, there is the elderly Japanese who goes out to the society after retirement, plays golf, goes hiking, joins community affairs, and goes to the gym regularly. It’s true that in Japan, you can find so many community activities for the elderly. City halls provide programs for elderly people to participate in, such as ikebana, tea ceremony, “Go (board game using black and white stones), “Shoji (board game with wooden chips),” classes in haiku, tanka (Japanese poetry), Shigin (chanting Japanese poetry), or more modern crafts, like decoupage painting, knitting, Nihonga painting, calligraphy, and more. There are even academic classes offered for the elderly who wish to learn about Law, Medicine, Business, etc.

Did you notice during summer festivals in your neighborhood, that most of the community organizers are Japanese over 50, 60, 70 years old? Volunteer organizations in Japan are generally spearheaded by elderly people. When you go to the park, you would even be sure to bump into at least one, a pair, or a group of avid photographers, wearing those photographer vests and camping hats, all around 50-70 years old. Mountain hiking is a favorite among the graying society. It is always easy to spot them, because they are all wearing the “elderly-fashion” hats, and carrying thermos bottles hung from their shoulders.

Sometimes, I look at all the staircases in train stations and everywhere else, and often wonder how excruciating it is for elderly people to survive in this country. Then, train stations have started to use touch panels, which even makes it more confusing for the elderly. Soon, vending machines will have touch panels, too. Adding to that, it is also a rare sight to see an average Japanese offer a seat to an elderly in the train or the bus, or to help an elderly cross the street, or carry a heavy grocery bag.

No wonder the Japanese elderly have to exert greater effort to rebuild their lives, take care of themselves, and enjoy their remaining life without dependence on their children. I myself go to the gym regularly, and am continually amazed to see so many elderly members there, with such strong, sturdy bodies, using the machines, or attending yoga. Hanga ako talaga sa kanila!

I wish the elderly in the Philippines were the same, but Filipinos are known for paying less attention to exercise and sports. Our elderly back home live with their children, who are often obliged to take care of them. In contrast, Japan does not have a very strong family kinship unlike the Filipinos’, and depending on their children is considered “meiwaku” (nuisance) so they would rather live alone, or be taken cared of by an elderly home, which, by the way, costs a fortune.

Oh no…I don’t wish to grow old in Japan! Will I find myself one day sitting in those community halls, learning ikebana, playing card games, sitting in the ELDERLY ONLY section of trains, and being called “Obahan!” Yaa da ne…!!!


YIELD by Christopher Santos

I usually have 3 sections in my column. However, this time again I will dedicate YIELD solely to a significant topic deserving of due focus. My editor and friend, Dennis Sun, told me I could write anything that’s good. So if truth does set us free, I think even a bad news will be justified.

Two days before writing this article, all paper assets experienced a shock when the Dow Jones plummeted, coupled with the historic downgrading of the US credit rating. Add the European currency woes to that and what do we have – a wakeup call? Nope, to those who really understand what it’s all about, it’s a simulation drill to say the least.

I’ve written in my comeback article about investing in precious metals based on my financial mantra “If you can’t touch it, you don’t own it.” What about it? Well, even Gold was affected by the recent event as it was used to cover for risked margin calls. However, if you bought your Gold here in Japan, with the strength of the Yen, you would have enjoyed the all-time record high value of the silver metal regardless of the fact that Nikkei went down as a reaction to US. Gold is always a safe investment haven. This was an overlooked fact during the good times. But when Reuters published recently that China stated the “good old days” of borrowing is over, no Senate nor Congress approval on raising the US debt ceiling can help anymore. What good is borrowing without a lender? Gold will then be back as the real currency, a direction some major economies are already considering over fiat currencies as discussed in the last G20 summit. By the way, I also wrote in that article that investment timing is a crucial element and, in this case, it really backs up the saying: “Talo ng maagap ang masikap.” So go figure.

The global economic gloom, just as dark clouds can signal impending storm, is a real indication that we need to prepare in case the actual storm sets in at its peak. The storm is here as you read this article, and we are just praying that we still have time to brace ourselves until we can fully take cover or, better yet, we collectively shift that storm into a different direction by
realistically making global financial sense. Or, at least, in our country. Our own homes. Or even in ourselves.

The digital age clobbered so many businesses. Take for instance, the CD business. How many businesses got affected by the consumers’ ability to just digitally download only selected songs? Printers, cover designers, physical record distributors, casing people – all on the verge of extinction! But when you come to think of it, we made it without these things decades ago. We were even happier, probably. Hey, I’m a technologist in career and at heart. And I’m all for optimism and faith. But there is no positive thinking strong enough that can combat what God wants us to experience in order for us to admit that we need to reset ourselves back to basics.

The main problem in the US according to my financial guru, Peter Schiff, is production. Ever since the then-almighty dollar released its peg on gold, a real physical asset, and US started focusing on paper ones than on real production, it gradually relinquished its power to those that actually produce. There are now more resorts and hotels than farm and livelihood lands. Nature is disrespected. And laborers are looked down on.

For us Filipinos, if we can collectively make this understanding strong enough to motivate our citizenry and make them realize what advantages we have today as a resource-gifted nation of hardworking people, only then we can convert these truths to real good news. And it will, in a practical way, set us free.

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