When age really is just a number

Tanong and his running pals

In Thailand’s greying society, the elderly are leading more active lives in every sense

Songkran is not just about splashing water but is also an occasion to pay respect to the elderly, a tradition that started during the administration of late PM Prem Tinsulanonda. But people aged 60 and over are no longer the same seniors as their predecessors, who were defined as old. They are more active and constitute more than 20 percent of the Thai population.

And just as the social context has changed, so have the elderly themselves. Today they are still very much active in various ways. Many of them still play an important role in the workforce, as most companies employ so-called senior citizens to make the most of their experience and efficiency. Gone is the archetypal stay-at-home senior of old. This new generation has their hobbies and favourite sports or games. They love going out and live their lives differently from their grandparents.  We look at four individuals who represent today’s elderly.

The marathon runner

Businessman Tanong Metacharoenwit, 74, continues to do the things he enjoys, especially running. He is among a few marathon runners in the 65-year-old-and-up bracket.  “I started taking running (seriously) when I was 67. I ran with my kids. After running 3 km, I felt exhausted and that motivated me. I wanted to train for a long run,” he recalls.

Since then Tanong has joined more than 200 running events and has finished 42.1 km marathons on eight occasions. He has established a club of senior citizen runners called “Num Nao Sao Suay” and has organised the “City Run” event for 12 consecutive years.

Running makes him happy and fulfills his physical ambitions. He is proud to have been selected by the Sports Authority of Thailand to take part in “Flag of Nation Virtual Run” where he will run alongside sport heroes including Olympic gold medal winner Somluck Kamsing to carry the flag to Suvannabhumi International Airport.

Tanong, the Marathon Runner

The Food Delivery Man

Former sales manager Wichai Termtanawat doesn’t look his 72 years. He has three decades of experience as a sales manager and his motto is that learning is a journey that never ends. He doesn’t feel old and he’s never thought about retirement.

“Many people think I should take a rest and stay home, but they do not know that happiness, at my age, is to go out and open myself to new experiences in life,” he says.

Continuing working at over 70 would have been a dream decades ago but these days it’s possible, at least with Grabfood where he has chosen to work. [There’s no age limit for Grab partners – the oldest driver-partner for the platform is 79 years old].

WICHAI, the Food Delivery Man

Whichai decided to be a Grabfood delivery-partner, delivering food to people living in the Pinklao area where he lives. The work provides him with a chance to meet new people and exchange opinions apart from earning some always welcome income. “This job makes my life more meaningful, allowing me to go outside every day, enjoy driving and meet customers.” More importantly, it brings him a little happiness every day and avoids the sense of loneliness that comes with staying at home.

“One thing that I’ve learned is to evaluate myself. Our capacity may not be as great as before. If we overdo it, there will be no benefit to ourselves. For example, at first, I started by taking 8 jobs a day, then it went up to 10 jobs and later 12 jobs. We need to find a balance between work and health.”

The Instagram Foodie

Seventy-five-year-old Pensri Pansab used to cook for a living but now she’s retired she cooks for fun and shares her dishes on her Instagram account @pensri_pantab. She’s not a Net idol in the food category but she could be a micro influencer.

Pensri has so far shared over 6,000 images mostly of the food she prepares. Some of the dishes use ingredients she can find in her garden. “People thought I used social media because I had a lot of free time and was lonely. That’s not true. I have plenty to do each day like working in my garden and cooking. And when I finish I post my dishes on social media,” she laughs.

She is a chef, food stylist, photographer and foodie in one. Her dishes are mostly typical of home cooking. Like Jamie Oliver, she creates a dish from what she has in her fridge or in the garden. The hobby keeps her occupied and she is happy to share her menus with others. “I have no real plan as I cook when I’m hungry. I make a dish according to what I have available. When I’ve finished the dish, I take a photo and if it doesn’t look good, I may turn the plate a bit.”

Pensri is happy to share her food photos as she thinks it may inspire others, or at least gives them ideas about what to eat. As she used to cook for a living, she can throw a dish together fast. At her age, her dishes are mostly suitable for seniors or health-conscious foodies as they constitute ‘clean’ food and contain a lot of veggies.

She thinks living in the present makes a person content. “If we understand life and the way it is, we don’t have to go to the temple to find peace and happiness.”

The taxi driver turned Grabcar driver

Decha Charoenkijkachornchai, a 65-year old Grabcar driver, spent over a decade driving a taxi to support his three kids until all of them earned bachelor degrees. As a single father, he has done his duty. But he doesn’t think his role as a father has ended and he certainly has ever thought of retiring. “I still have a dream to have my own house and increase stability for my kids to grow up happily and healthily so I decided to keep working.”

DECHA, the GrabCar driver

For him, a big decision was to leave his comfort zone and learn new things. He embraced technology after 12 years of driving a taxi. “I read that instead of just waiting for passengers on streets, ride-hailing apps help us gain access to more back-to-back passenger bookings. So I decided to try to use the app as I realised that driving tirelessly to seek passengers may not be a good choice anymore.”

To him, the most challenging part was learning about technology and how to use the app. He struggled at the beginning, but now, after more than 3 years, he’s become familiar with it. Like driving a taxi, the harder one works, the more one earns. But the real benefit of using the app, especially for senior drivers like him, is that safety tech and tracking systems ensure both driver and passengers have peace of mind.

By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Patcharee Luengutha

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