Old people living on their own.

In the past, it was almost unheard of for old Chinese to be living by themselves. Today, with many of my generation living abroad, those of our parents’ generation have to contend with the reality of growing old alone. We’d like to be there for them in their old age, it’s just that our own lives lie hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres away. The availability of cheap call plans and the advent of new technology enabling virtual face-to-face meetings may make it easier to stay in touch, but when it comes to communicating about difficulty or disease, nothing takes the place of being there in person to provide the necessary reassurance that everything will be all right.

Do we young ‘uns, thousands of miles away, definitely know everything will be all right? How can we be sure when we aren’t there to ask all the questions? To probe to our hearts’ delight? This matter was brought home over the weekend when my mother called to ask for my husband’s opinion on a serious health issue. Because I don’t want to compromise my mother’s privacy any further, all I can say is that it is a potentially life-threatening health issue. Because His Royal Highness was on-call, I was their go-between, relaying the health concerns of one to the other, the answers from those questions, as accurately as I remembered them, back to their asker.

All the while I was wondering, “Is what I’m doing enough? Should I take the next flight back to Malaysia to see her?”

Flights to Malaysia aren’t all that cheap from Brisbane. For the 3 of us to go home this school holidays, we’ve had to fork out $1200 each, flying a hodge podge of budget airlines to and from the Gold Coast, an hour away from where we live. In Melbourne, you can occasionally get flights to Malaysia or Singapore for $500+. If you’re prepared to pay $1200, you’d be flying a major carrier direct to Malaysia during the high season. That’s my only gripe about living in Queensland; the airfares to see my increasingly aged parents are prohibitive. Of course, if I really had to, there is no question that I would go.

Fortunately, unlike my father-in-law whose wish it was to die in his sleep at 70 (he’s now 74), who takes scant interest in his own health,  both my parents are positively health nuts. Before I hear of any new health-giving product over here, they’ve not only researched and sampled it, but if good, have probably stocked up on it and are promoting it to anyone who will listen. Take for example Kinotakara.

You say, “Kino taka what?”

It’s a Japanese invention in the form of a pad you apply to clean feet, composed of “tree vinegar” and other active substances, to draw out toxins from the body. My parents were enthusing about it 8 years ago. This morning, trying to get a replacement for my sinus-cleansing Neti Pot, which mysteriously lost its cover, I saw a half-size version of it at my local health food store. That’s today – over 8 years later!

In that time, my parents have bought themselves several of Dr. Lamar’s Actimo Water Energizing Units. What does it do? It makes hexagonal water by use of a high-powered magnetic field. And you thought Sheldon from Big Bang Theory was weird. They even presented one to me on the birth of Amanda, which I’ll be hauling along to Perth.

Along the way, they’ve been alkalising their bodies, exploring the Pritikin diet, swallowing vitamins by the handful and having full blood tests done yearly. If they weren’t so proactive about their health, I’d have more concerns about them growing old by themselves.

My mother routinely chides me, not just about being fat (my BMI is 19, hello?), but on eating out all the time. She likes to say, “People (as in my husband) come out with money, you come out with life.” Meaning: he pays with his wallet, I pay with my lifespan. Truth be told, up until last weekend, they probably had more worries about my health than I do of theirs.

Their latest life-improving gadget of interest is this machine that passes electric currents through the body. According to my mother, it’s given my father back tonnes of black hair. Well, I’ll have to see this for myself.  All the same, I wish they’d eat more and pad their frames out a bit. Every time I see them, they just look so skeletal.

“We have to take care of our joints,” said my mother, who lost a lot of weight recently, adding to my worry.

Why does she think being skinny is such a good thing when you need some fat reserves in case you get sick? 

Due to the seriousness of my mother’s health issue, I called my brother in Melbourne for a pow-wow. It’s as much as we can do with him having his end-of-year MBA exams and me waiting for Amanda to finish up her school term. He agrees with me that our mother losing weight is not good, but said, “Your ideas of weight are extreme too.”

Extreme? Need I remind anyone that my BMI is in the healthy range? What’s unhealthy is someone getting sunburned from the sun filtering through your chest, standing behind you. As the only son, my brother is lucky that I take an above average interest in our parents’ well-being. If not, he’d be left to cater to what few needs they currently have, all by himself.

“It’s a good thing you’re moving to Perth, unrelated to this,” he said.

He too knows of the cheap flights to Asia from Perth. I saw an advertised fare for Tiger at $350 return just weeks ago.

“I plan to go home a few more times next year. They are always advertising cheap fares anyway.”

“It’s ok if you’re a housewife. Everybody else has things to do.”

Things to do or not, we will all have to find the means and time to go back if need be. After all, we only have the one set of parents. When they don’t ask you for any upkeep and are as determined to be as healthy as mine, the least you can do is be there when they really need you.