no country for old men (and women)
no country for Chinese New Year cast-offs either - image by J
I am not sure if the Media Development Authority's move to have more "co-productions" between Singapore and foreign film studios is a formula duplicated for TV, but there has been several really well-made mandarin documentaries and even travel programmes, typically featuring Singaporean, but also Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Chinese stories in parallel.
One of these was screened just last Sunday evening.
It was an a well-shot documentary. But as if Sunday evenings were not depressing enough, the documentary was about growing old alone in Singapore. The point was not just growing old alone, but growing old and alone - and childless. The parallel story was set in Taichung, Taiwan.
In the former, there was nothing to live for - except the volunteer who would drop by perfunctorily to check on the 87 year-old woman [if she had died] and to assure her that he would take care of her funeral. There were scenes of her cooking skimpy meals for herself, dozing off on her couch or walking along slowly the dark corridors of her block of 1-room HDB flats. Her 75 year-old male compatriot (yes, old, alone, poor and childless) was similarly shot in his 1-room flat, dozing off. He gives a line or two about rising food priceous. She lives on just over $100 a month. We see her pouring a bit of soy sauce into what looks like a pot of porridge.
In the latter, the 71 year-old man trims his fruit trees. He does not live alone, but with a wife of 26 years who is mentally handicapped (he was "cheated" into the marriage). They at least had a kid, even though the boy had died young. The soundtrack for this segment is decidedly chirpier, as is the setting - we see sun through the leaves and a dark-skinned and still hale old man. He tells us his only worry is dying alone. But even so, he does not think much about it. It is nearing Chinese New Year and a whole troupe of volunteers had descended on his little house to clean it and give it a new coat of paint. There is almost a celebratory mood as the volunteers try to cut his wife's hair despite her protests. He is always smiling.
At the end of the programme, we see trailers for next week's stories. Yes, similar stories of aging, alone, childless but in Hong Kong and Japan. And going just by the 30 second trailer, it would seem that no country except this island is so inhospitable to growing old.
If there's some government propaganda underlying this documentary to get folks like us to have kids through the all-too-familiar technique of instilling fear, I'm not quite sure it will work. For some, fear motivates, but for others, it paralyzes. So while I confess that J and I have been wondering out loud if it would be all too sad if one of us dies first (an inevitable chronology of things) and the other is left entirely alone - a reality we witness every Friday since Ma J died - we're unlikely to ever go past the fear and wondering.