China Visit May 2016: blog update 8

May Trip 2016 China Update No 8: by Tricia Johnston

Tues 31st May – my last full day in Nanjing. I leave on an express train for Shanghai at 11.00am Wed 1st June.

Today has been spent with the Care of the Elderly Team, firstly in Ren Gu Home for the Elderly and then with the Community Team.

Currently Ren Gu is home to 114 people, the majority with dementia. All of the residents are in Ren Gu as they are deemed ‘homeless’ i.e. they have no family to look after them. Many were local farmers who lost their land when the Government bought it up as Nanjing expands. To give the residents the opportunity to continue using their farming skills a small plot has been set aside to grow vegetables. The plot is divided into strips and each strip is the responsibility of a team of residents who compete to see who can bring in the biggest harvest. The winning team is given a cash prize.

Amity’s Social Service Div (who are responsible for Ren Gu) are currently going through the paperwork/checks required to become registered as a Nursing Home. This process involves working with a number of government departments so things are not moving quickly but it is hoped to have it opened next month. The Government really want this to happen and are paying the salaries of the medical/nursing staff required. As part of the Nursing Home there will be a small Hospice Unit providing end of life care.

Many private nursing homes are being set up in China. There is one in Nanjing that charges RMB30,000 per month (approx. £3,000) and it has residents who are able to pay that.

The widening gap between the haves/have nots in China is very evident and a cause for concern among many. Just outside my hotel is a shop front with the title ‘USA City Exhibition’. I enquired what it was and it turns out to be an estate agent selling US properties to Chinese buyers. House prices in the likes of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzen are so astronomical that when people sell they are in a position to purchase an overseas property. The ground floor of the Shopping Mall where we had supper on Monday evening is only luxury shops – Gucci, Armani, Rolex, Cartier etc etc and this year they are celebrating 10 years since the Mall opened so there are enough customers to make it profitable. The other side of the coin is the Community Centre I visited this afternoon.

This Centre is situated in a part of Nanjing where the Government has built housing for poor families and migrants from the countryside. As part of its social service provision the local authorities are ‘buying’ the services of Amity staff to set up and run the Centre i.e. the local authority pays staff costs (other than Amity) and for the premises.

The Centre will provide lunches – for RMB5 (approx. 50p) you get 2 dishes, rice and soup; for RMB10 (approx. £1) you get 3 dishes, rice and soup and it can delivered to your home for RMB2.

Besides the lunches they have a sports room, massage room, a larger space for dancing, craft room, spaces where Chinese opera and plays can be performed, library, tea bar and a roof garden. There are also facilities for children and teenagers. In another Community Centre Amity had negotiated cost price ready made meals for sale but it wasn’t successful as people didn’t have much money so it was cheaper to buy the fresh vegetables and make everything from scratch. This community has even less income so that idea isn’t even being considered.

With the change in the family structure, the demise of the hutongs (old style courtyard houses) and the ever increasing number of high rise blocks of flats (often around 25-30 stories) the Amity staff are very aware of the social isolation facing many elderly people.

What is so often seen by visitors to China are flourishing cities, traffic jams caused by the thousands of expensive cars on the streets and many people with increasing disposable income. What is not seen is the hidden poverty, the breakdown of the traditional family and the many skills gaps in the healthcare system. While hundreds of millions of people are benefitting from China’s booming (many are querying that) economy, hundreds of millions aren’t.

Best wishes, Tricia

P.S. When I came back to my room last night here was an elephant made entirely from tied towels on my bed. Tonight I have the elephant and two swans! I’m still trying to work out how to move the swans (so that I can sleep in the bed) without messing them up!!!