LIN Chen twirls a hula hoop around with abandon while walking in Jiangzicui Riverside Park. “I feel freer now,” she says, bringing her past childhood self into the present.
LIN Chen twirls a hula hoop around with abandon while walking in Jiangzicui Riverside Park. “I feel freer now,” she says, bringing her past childhood self into the present.

LIN Chen was a history teacher at the Taipei First Girls High School for thirty years before retiring at 55 in the Taiwanese calendar year 95 (or 2006), which begins with the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1911. As Taiwan’s premier high school, her students have gone on to successful careers around the world. Now 72, she is a picture of grace and resilience – soft-spoken and strong, warm-hearted and reserved, humble and accomplished – with a tenderness that belies her age.

These days, her life revolves around family and friends. After losing her husband unexpectedly to a heart attack in 96 (2007), she moved into her current apartment in a residential district in northern Taipei with her son and daughter-in-law. The decision to live together with some of her extended family was not difficult.

In 102 (2013), her only grandchild was born with Kabuki syndrome, a relatively rare hereditary condition associated with different features. The experience was overwhelming for his parents, in particular, who struggled with the demands of caring for a special needs child at a time when coping resources and support mechanisms within Taiwan were especially scarce. To help her family manage, LIN Chen went shopping at the outdoor produce market every weekend and prepared home-cooked meals daily, which she continues to do today.  

As with any family, however, cohabitation poses its own challenges. For example, sometimes her son and daughter-in-law nag her to clean up and be more careful. Nevertheless, the unconditional love they give her grandson helps them put aside their differences and creates family harmony. At the same time, LIN Chen travels, goes to group singing and dance classes weekly at the local senior citizens center, and gets massages and facials to restore equanimity and enhance mental and physical well-being.

Friends also provide a strong network of social support. Throughout her years of retirement, LIN Chen has kept in close contact with former colleagues and students from the Taipei First Girls High School. Technology plays a crucial role in enabling their engagement, which is now mediated through photographs, social media, and messaging apps. Together online and in person, they reminisce about their pasts and anticipate the future, while also taking great strength and joy in the present and each other.  

In these ways, LIN Chen finds happiness later in life and gains freedom in letting go. “We used to play with these at school,” she recalls, locating hula hoops hanging on a tree in a park in Taipei. Twirling her hips vigorously in a circle and waving her arms in the air, she smiles and says, “It reminds me of when I was young.”

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How does it feel to be 72?

My husband treated me well, but had a temper. I obliged him for the sake of the family, but that also had repercussions and over time we grew apart. Now, I feel free to live my own life. I can live alone, but I’m not lonely.

I share an apartment with my extended family and contribute what I can, but don’t sacrifice myself for them. Some things are still hard to reconcile. I’m one of six kids and my mother is in her 90’s. We’re estranged and it leaves me confused. I want to be a dutiful daughter and can’t.

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What do you look forward to?

My grandson can be very spontaneous. Out of the blue, he might say “I love you, Dad” or “Mom, I love you” like in the middle of dinner. But, he’s never said, “Grandma, I love you.” I look forward to the day when he does.

Otherwise, I enjoy singing, dancing, traveling, cooking, exercise, facials, and tuina (naprapathy or bodywork). I look forward to Wednesday’s singing class and will visit Kyushu in southern Japan with my family over the Lunar New Year. I’m also contemplating spending a week or two sightseeing with friends in Tibetan areas of western China next Spring.

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What is your biggest concern?

My biggest concern is my grandson’s future. He’s 10, but developmentally impaired and very dependent on his parents. I worry about whether he’ll be able to get a job one day and support himself as an adult. 

I’m also concerned about my children’s inheritance. I granted my son home ownership after we moved in together for my grandson’s long-term security, which upset my daughter. She deserves an equal share, which I can’t give her.

In more mundane terms, I worry about going somewhere unfamiliar and getting lost after coming out of the bathroom like at a rest stop. 

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Life expectancy 2023


About the photographer

Naomi Hellmann


Naomi Hellmann is a writer and photographer, whose work focuses on culture and politics in Asia. She has worked on several humanitarian projects in China and is currently based in Taiwan.

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