Today was a very busy day of eating wonderful food, site-seeing and a brief visit to Dr.Qiu’s clinic. With Dr. Qiu’s wife as my guide, I stuffed myself full with a hot pot lunch and then walked it off along a beautiful alleyway and in a public garden. We watched a show at a tea house and then met up with Dr.Qiu to visit a museum dedicated to DuFu, a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I was struck by one room full of life sized statues of famous poets. I love the way China reveres poets. I am used to statues of warriors, not peace lovers. DuFu and his ilk were a lot like Thoreau. Nature and solitude were their muses and many were rebellious against the upper class life style.
I was also surprised when I was told that the mandatory retirement age of women in China is fifty five years old! Men are only allowed to work until the spry age of sixty years. As I am close to reaching this milestone myself, I am tempted to jump on a plane and change citizenship! How civilized that seems, especially when Dr. Qiu explained the reasoning behind the rule is to make room for the younger generation which needs jobs. It gets better. There is a government pension (much like social security), a newly introduced health care benefit and most enticing– the “University You Never Graduate From”. The Chinese have always valued scholarly aspirations and I admire that. All across China, there are educational programs for those who are retired. For a nominal fee, retirees can learn to paint, dance, and engage in other learning to enrich their minds and bodies. I can envision myself brush painting a garden scene while sipping tea, tossing food to the colorful Koi fish and listening to gentle music. Perhaps I will write poetry too.
While I am jealous of the retirement system in China, I am not envious of the work week. Dr. Qiu’s office is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and he works six days a week. Dr. Qiu’s employees receive twenty paid holidays, the bulk of which fall over Chinese New Year. This is not too bad and pretty comparable. Our employees, depending on how many years they have worked, get anywhere from one to five weeks off, plus six recognized National Holidays. Still, I am under the impression that Europeans and Australians are far more liberal with time off. In terms of maternity leave, the Chinese are required to grant mothers two months of paid time off. Keep in mind; this was limited to one child until very recently. Interestingly, men get fifteen paid days for paternity leave. In the United States, employees (both men and women) can take time off, but they generally do not get paid. I took three months off after each my two pregnancies, and a bit less time after adopting my daughter.
International differences in retirement ages and vacation time highlight the need to balance hard work with a good life. These are universal goals that should be considered when decisions are made regarding public policies. We would all benefit from these comparisons and striving toward more generous policies everywhere. We should also be making more sculptures of poets.