Lao Ye and Lao Tai Tai


It’s the calf. I do not mean the source of last night’s veal that roams freely in the grasslands of Nei Menggu with the ponies. No, it’s that part of my body down the leg behind the shin that keeps reminding me that perhaps the bones have gotten too brittle for the Dong Bei cold, and the muscles have declared their utmost sympathies. It cramps with the freezing temperature as if blood flow had gotten out of fashion.

The graying of the earth’s population came to our attention when the grey panthers of Florida declared themselves a political force. In China, lao ye literally means “old man,” as lao tai tai is “old lady,” but given the culture’s honoring stance toward ancestors and the elders, the first is also used for “grandpa” and the second for “great madam.” The second is never called “grandma,” unless one wants to be ignored; however, she will smile with “auntie.” Laomai is never used at all save as an expression of hate. It means “aged” in the sense of “senile.”

Not so much the age as the body, is what we become aware of, especially when we hear the whispering wind murmuring desperately south to the tropics, and the knees quickly concur. I am musing over the reality of growing old.

Life expectancies caught our attention when we discovered that Jesus of Nazareth at 33 was actually an old man in his lifetime. Then the Anglican cleric Malthus opined that our food production only increased arithmetically while the population growth was geometrical. The markets endeared competition, and science mistakenly went onward with the notion that life is naturally a case of the “survival of the fittest.” That was not too far from Hitler’s belief that the Aryan race was the apex of human evolution.

The Malthusian theory was an ingrained economic given in the 1960s until we proved otherwise. Food not only was adequate but became abundant, and life expectancy everywhere rose. Three percent of the United States population is engaged in agriculture producing 125 percent of what is needed. The surplus has caused the government to pay some farmers not to produce!

Industrialization and information technology, particularly finances on the latter, has since come to dominate employment in the first world, and the imperial ethos of most of the developed world led it to move not only mechanized agricultural production elsewhere but also industrial manufacturing as well. The imbalance is stark as the cities attracted more farm hands than it can employ, and the financial markets set so that the rich have gotten just filthy. There are 85 folks in this planet who own the equivalent of the total worth of 3.5 billion people—half of the world’s population. That is not just unfair, it is criminal!

Seventy percent of China used to live in the countryside farming, one of the reasons Mao took the side of the peasants against the learned urban illuminati in 1949, and again, during the Cultural Revolution. The certificated and diploma-holders occupied government and business positions living an elitist life style. The balance has since shifted since mechanized farming was introduced and farmers who were no longer needed in the fields come out to the cities. The government registration system, the huokuo, did not catch up fast enough so that countryside registered folks are unable to access social services such as health and education in the city. That remains to be CCP’s current major challenges.

Another is the radical increase in life expectancy since the specter of famine had been eradicated after a fashion. The forced retirement age of men at 60 and women at 55 had just been upped by five years. The grey panther population poured their resources on their offspring(s) only to find themselves abandoned in old age in the countryside as the newer generation find their place in the workplace and are seemingly having difficulty at it close to home so they throve into the crowded cities of the land.

Industrialization cannot absorb the workforce fast enough. At the turn into the millennium, less than 30 percent of high school graduates enrolled at universities. Last year, 62 percent were accommodated to learn about the art and discipline of physiological, social, psychological, and mechanical sciences. The government sprouted college campuses in China, in the same way that the United States created land grant colleges of which NMC was a direct beneficiary in the CNMI.

But the ranks of the lao ye and lao tai tai are evidently filled. Consequently, China just relaxed its one-child family and upped the retirement age. However, the wisdom of the ages has been left to stray on its own as older folks currently of the realm who fought the wars of sustainable livelihood has seemingly forsaken the reflective capacities of the ancient sages.

One poster that graces my room is that of old Lao Tzu pictured with white beard and mustache, slit-eyed, bald headed and with grayed temples, sitting on stones up the hill near a pine tree, left hand stroking the beard and the other, half stretched out like a mendicant monk with this quote:

If you are depressed,
you are living in the past.
If you are anxious,
you are living in the future.
If you are at peace,
you are living in the present.

It looks like I have good company in the monastic cloister of the soul.

* * *

Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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