Being a project manager is quite a unique position – as, while ensuring an ongoing quality all over the world with somewhat similar experiences, the cultural adaptation is what makes the work the most challenging and the most enjoyable. Especially Dialogue with Time is subject to many alterations along the way. While physical limitations caused by aging are the same all around the globe, the societal implications, as well as the ways this topic and the demographic change are tackled and looked at vary intensively from country to country. Thus, I was very excited to start the work on the first permanent Dialogue with Time exhibition in Asia, namely, at the Science Center in Singapore. After the official opening on November 17th, the exhibition, kindly supported by the ministry of health and the ministry of education, will now run over a period of at least 3 years.
Both the team of the Science Center and the newly recruited batch of seniors were highly motivated and brought a wonderful spark of laughter and light-heartedness to the training and construction period which made the work for everyone easy and delightful. Indeed, being both fit and light-hearted is a specialty that most of our senior guides around the world carry deep in their hearts, but the level of engagement and youthfulness we found in Singapore made me question the real age of our seniors more than once. So, this might be one of the first lessons I took away: Looking and acting your age, while being generally something that can be questioned in any case, varies broadly from country to country. I remember well the confusion in our team at home when being confronted with the first group picture: „But they all look so young!“ Turns out, we all have our stereotypes about aging, and I surely make no difference.
Talking about stereotypes – after many senior guide trainings, I was sure I knew the challenges along the way. And how wrong I was! When the day of the retirement training came up, I arrived at the center with worry. For those who have not yet visited the exhibition, in this part, some of the visitors are sent into “retirement” and are no longer allowed to participate for some minutes. This is usually one of the most challenging parts for our seniors, as it means interrupting the visitors, attracting attention and probably upsetting the visitors in the cause of events. Being in an Asian country, I feared it could be even harder for our seniors, given the high level of politeness I have experienced in this part of the world. Little did I know when the first one took the microphone, played the music and joyfully send the others to the bench. „I love this“, proclaimed Clemens, aged 72, after snapping the microphone from one of his colleagues with a wink of his eye. Call me flabbergasted.
Time flew past, and the days of the soft opening came closer. Our senior guides would have to facilitate their first discussions outside their group, in a country with a projected work-old age-ration of 2 to 1 in 2030. I waited in anticipation: How would the visitors react? Would they be worried about the future? Would they see the many old people as a burden, as we have seen it in so many European countries? Would the young people feel cheated, pressed down by the mass of old people?
You might have guessed the answer already: No, they did not. Some did – some always do. But while our European guides were sometimes having a hard time making the people see the good part of the future of aging and turning the peoples‘ mind to the perspectives of old age, the Singaporeans greeted the news with joy and amazement and discussed at length what they should do to keep fit and to ensure the enjoyment in old age they had imagined. Old age, it seemed, was something to look forward to for them – no news for us, but usually, for many of our guests. And all this despite having not the same pension securement in place as many of us in the Western world still do.
As the last point, I noticed that often, the question of working as seniors came up: Do so many people over 70 work because they want to or because they have to? There are surely many answers to this question, but one thing is clear: Singaporean Seniors have not retired yet and do not plan to anytime soon. Hopefully, our senior guides will neither! I, surely, will not anytime soon.