Lonely no more in Shanghai

L is for the way you look at me,
O is for the only one I see,
V is very, very extraordinary,
E is even more than anyone that you adore can..

Love, is what today’s post is about. We have had so many songs of romance since the birth of music and L-O-V-E was the final album released by Nat King Cole before he died in 1965. But what is the connection then between today’s special focus on love, the elderly and (to spice things up) Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA?

In Shanghai, the IKEA in Xuhui district is quickly becoming a mecca for dating seniors. According to an expert from a U.S.-based management consulting company, this is because of the casual atmosphere that acts more as a place of leisure than a place to buy furniture. At a weekly session of romance in IKEA’s cafeteria outlet, the seniors would gather in a group of 70 to 700 to chat over a cup of free coffee offered to holders of the IKEA Family membership card. Staffs can expect to hand out as many as 500 cups of coffee every time the group meets up. When quizzed on why IKEA was chosen as a matchmaking location, some seniors pointed out to the availability of similar lonely hearts that throngs the outlet looking for either friendships or relationships.

You can find a boyfriend or girlfriend, or just make friends and chat. It makes you a little bit happier,” says Ge, a smartly dressed 50-year-old woman who retired not long ago.

Ge’s friend, with the surname Han, is a retired bus-ticket seller also explains, “If I meet a guy and he’s appropriate for me, we can call each other. But if he finds someone more suitable for me, he’ll help and introduce me to the other guy.”

This phenomenon can be traced to China’s soaring divorce rate, shifting demographics and the relaxing atmosphere of the stores themselves. Shanghai is fast becoming an ageing society and as early as three years ago, retirees have started to frequent the IKEA in Shanghai. Some such as Ge however, understand that they are living off the goodwill of the company through their extended ‘coffee dates.’ They believe that an ideal solution would be the establishment of a similar setting in their communities, a suggestion worthy of consideration for the government.

Social support is important, especially for the elderly who are living at a fragile age. In Singapore, social support services and programmes in the communities not only cater to the lonely and vulnerable elderly, but also seek to encourage active lifestyles among the seniors. The Chinese government could perhaps adopt such concepts as they plan the blueprint towards elderly-friendly communities in the city.

Meanwhile, for the divorced and lonely seniors in Shanghai, where do broken hearts go, can they find their way home?

They certainly will, in IKEA , as love will keep us alive.

(Source: NPR)

(Image source: Whats on Xiamen, Mark Ralston)

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