Nobody seems to care that I live alone in my 70s. My two adult children and four adult grandchildren are busy living their lives. It’s hard to put into words the feelings of loneliness that overcome me.
I give many gifts to my children. Yes, I’m invited to birthday parties and graduations—any celebration requiring a gift—and now I am broke, living off Social Security, fearful I’ll soon be homeless. I’m lonely and in fear of my immediate future.
I have no social contact with others my age. Guess I’m an introvert, lonely and wanting a friend.
Here’s another reader, Brenda:
I’m alone in Texas. My four children are out living their lives. If I died, they would find out two weeks later. My oldest daughter might care. My second daughter wouldn’t care. My son might be slightly shocked, but he would get over it quickly.
My youngest is the only one who shows much care. She calls me every Sunday. She is all I have, so I will love and cherish her from 2,000 miles away.
In an earlier note about a short documentary, The Forgotten Ones, featuring an 80-year-old woman living by herself in Chinatown, I asked readers what it’s like to grow old without any family at home. If you’re anything like Maude, it means fun, independence, and a daily sense of discovery (not to mention sex with someone in his early 20s):
A reader remembers his self-reliant grandmother:
She spent all of her life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, living in an apartment like your video’s por-por [a Chinese term for “grandmother”], but her place was smaller and up two flights of stairs. (I never visited Manhattan’s Chinatown, but the feel and vibe seems not too unlike SF.) My grandma was also by herself, after my grandpa passed away in the ‘90s. She chose to live in Chinatown because it was a familiar place and everything she needed was there. She refused to move in with us, away from Chinatown.
Many older people in that neighborhood also do not want to rely on their children. They don’t want to accept that they need to be cared for in their old age. They are sentimental about Chinatown and want access to all of the things they’ve been used to.
My grandma’s friends were her neighbors, as there was a community kitchen and bathrooms with showers that were publicly shared. Each week we would visit her at the apartment, as it was a drop-off point between shopping trips. Her birthdays were the time our families gathered. As a teenager I would still make a trip to see her, but in my 20s those trips lessened.
While my grandma did not do what the por-por in the video did [go through garbage bags on the sidewalk for discarded baked goods], she would sometimes ask shopkeepers for food that cannot be sold anymore—which they would’ve disposed of anyway—and make something out of it. We insisted that she should treat herself by buying things fresh, but she stubbornly argued that they are still good. I thought in her mind she had won something for not having spent a penny.
One of the most popular videos we featured this summer was a 10-minute documentary by Mantai Chow profiling an 80-year-old woman named King-Sim Ng. Ng’s husband died in 1985 and she has been living alone in Manhattan’s Chinatown for 15 years. Here’s a snapshot of her life, as seen by Mantai:
“This is just so sad and disturbing,” says reader JT. Another one, Ben, also got emotional over Ng’s story:
I think a lot of people can relate to the woman in the video, especially people coming from immigrant families. I almost cried watching this video because Ng, like my mother, also worked in the garment industry and her husband, my father, had also passed away. My mother is in a different living situation, but I can imagine the hardship this woman must have gone through as an immigrant and now alone living in Chinatown.
Do you live alone in your old age and want to share your feelings about it—positive, negative, or somewhere in between? Do you enjoy your independence or wish you still lived with loved ones? Please send us a note at email@example.com.
At the end of Mantai’s film, Ng disappears after being hit by a car, leaving the audience in angst. One reader pleaded in the comments section, “Do you have an update on her?? I would like to know whether she lived or not.” Mantai replied:
I got in touch with Ng finally in June after the film is done. She is back in her apartment safe and sound. She seems to be fine but her legs are still a bit weak. [Her friend] Tay visits Ng in her apartment almost every day now to give her food and stuff. Her children also are helping out! I hope things will get better for her.
A few days ago, after I got a hold of Mantai, he went to see Ng at her apartment and filmed a short update for her fans:
Such a sweet lady! Thanks to Mantai for the followup and happy ending.
Back when the documentary first aired, one reader created a commenting account (ChinatownGirl) just to share this remarkable coincidence:
I came across on the street the lady who “disappeared” in the video moments after she was hit by the car. So here’s what really happened:
On a drizzly night, Feb 4 around 10pm, I was walking down Mulberry St. to the subway. I saw a little old lady on the curb, next to her shopping cart. There was a big Italian guy on the phone with 911/ambulance dispatch. Apparently he had swiped her with his car and she had fallen.
Three Chinatown punks (I use that term 100% affectionately) were taking a smoke break outside a bar. One of the punks ran inside and came back out with an umbrella to shield the old lady from the rain. I went over and put my backpack under her arm to keep it out of a puddle. The punks and I asked her in Chinese how she was doing and where it hurt. She said her hip was very painful.
The Italian guy was talking to the 911 operator: “You wanna know how old she is? Er…um, I guess I’d say she’s 50-something?” I turned to the old lady and asked her how old she was in Canto. She said “I’m 80!” (White people REALLY can’t tell how old Asians are, I thought…)
While waiting for the ambulance, I asked her if there was anyone we should call? She dug into her many layers of coats/vests and pulled out the plastic ID pouch that all Chinatown grandmas have with their reduced-fare Metrocard. There was a worn piece of paper with her kids’ numbers on it. When the EMTs got there, I translated all the questions about meds and pain scale/locations. Then I called her son’s cellphone. He was in Queens. He was really concerned and thankful, and headed out immediately to meet her at NY Downtown hospital where she’d be taken.
Later that night, I got a text from him:
Hello Good Samaritan, Thank you very much for tending to my mother. I’m sure it was very reassuring for her to have you there. I am at hospital now but she’s getting x-rays, so I haven’t seen her yet. Thanks again & best regards
I sent a text back:
Sure, of course. A similar accident happened to my grandma at Chatham Sq a couple of months ago while she was crossing with her shopping cart too. I’m glad I was just passing by in time to help tonight! Hope she gets better soon. Good night,**--**
The next day, my uncles texted me, saying their old Chinatown friend told them I had helped his mom and helped him get to the hospital quickly. I asked my uncles how the stranger knew we were related? Because, they said, their friend only knew of one person named **--** in Chinatown!
Chinatown is not dead. It’s got to evolve, but it’s not dead. We are still here, our networks are centered here, and they run deep. I encourage more of us to re-engage and re-invent what we want Chinatown to be. What are the strands of the old Chinatown worth preserving? And how do we do that? I would like to hear your thoughts. [If you have any, please email firstname.lastname@example.org]
And for those who would ask, Why doesn’t the son have his mom live with him in Queens? Why don’t they live with her in Chinatown? Why would they let her pick trash in Chinatown streets and spend so many hours alone?
That gets back to the guilt/ambivalence over caring for our elders. Chinatown has been a community of working-class immigrants. We struggle to keep family connectedness across rifts caused by psychological economic trauma, relentless personalities that are required for survival, and the sometimes tragic success of working yourself out of poverty, only to transform your next generation into something that you are not. It’s a lot more complex than this video makes it out to be.
This video has gone viral among my Asian-American friends. I guess it speaks to a deep-seated guilt/ambivalence that many of us feel over caring for elderly parents and grandparents. Or a nostalgia for the Chinatown(s) of our childhoods that cannot exist anymore.
As someone who was born, raised, and is still working in Chinatown, I always appreciate a spotlight on the neighborhood, especially a narrative of relatively high production value like this one. However, I could not help but feel from the very beginning that this piece was somewhat sensationalistic. It leads you to believe, from the beginning, that this PoPo is eating out of the garbage, only to reveal moments later that she’s feeding birds.
The worst part is where it dramatically says, “she disappeared,” then reveals moments later that she was hit by a car. Then the video simply ends, mercilessly leaving the viewer hanging about the old lady’s well-being. A bit disingenuous when the filmmaker clearly knows what happened to her.
So now the comments section of TheAtlantic.com is filled with assumptions and condemnations for her “ungrateful” children who have supposedly “abandoned” her. The viewer is left with a sinking feeling that Chinatown is dead—just a husk of a once-thriving society, a place where a sweet old lady would be left alone to die anonymously in the street, a place that’s abandoned so hipsters should move in with their bars and galleries. No! I think this is actually a very dangerous narrative to broadcast, and somewhat irresponsible of the filmmaker!
Mantai replies to his critic:
Thanks for shedding light on what had happened that night. I am the producer and director of the film. I totally agree with you that Chinatown is not dead. The food sharing shown in the film is the proof. She helped her friend, meanwhile getting help from another friend. I think this is a beautiful picture. A lot of kindness and people take care of each other.
One thing I would like to clarify in response to your comment saying that “a bit disingenuous when the filmmaker clearly knows what happened to her.” I finished this film in March. The only thing I knew by then was she got hit by a car. I called and went to 20+ hospital but still couldn’t find her. I tried to reach out to her family members to no avail. At that point, I did not know her whereabouts and her conditions. Her friends and I only had her home phone number. All we could do was to wait until someone picked up the phone again. As a matter of fact, I [didn’t get] in touch with her until lately.
This 10-min documentary is just a glimpse into her life. I agree that it’s a lot more complex than that. This film is meant to stir up discussion and bring awareness to the society about the issues facing the elderly people in Chinatown, not to put blame on anyone.
This reader makes a great point in defense of Mantai:
It was apparently not intentional on the filmmaker’s part to leave out the information about her ultimate whereabouts and condition that elicited such strong to. However, it would be quite brilliant on his part to leave it out intentionally, because it would be consistent with the troubling feeling of loneliness and the disturbing sense of being practically invisible in a crowded city.
Otherwise, many viewers would not think much more about Ng or elderly people like her, much less take the time to write and criticize the filmmaker or express feelings of what psychology calls “disequilibrium,” which is required for learning, inquiry, action, etc. A neatly packaged video with a “happy ending” would be much easier to accept AND move right along to something else.
I speak as a second generation Asian American who—along with friends sharing similar backgrounds—has dealt with issues present in this thought-provoking film. When we pass by an elderly person (or people in similar conditions, such as the homeless or mentally ill), this film, and its unintended ending, reminds us to wonder about that person’s life challenges and actually do something that could help ease their burden, because it’s not just a movie; it’s real life.
One more reader for now:
As much as I appreciate this quick glimpse into Ng’s life, it begs a couple questions. The most glaring one has been asked by other readers: Where are her children, and are they aware of her dire straits? Secondly, is Ng aware of and able to access local charities and agencies that can assist her (i.e. Citymeals on Wheels and food banks)? Thirdly, is there some way that concerned audience members can offer assistance, such as a GoFundMe or a preferred charity?
As far as I know, Ng is aware of some community/charity groups in Chinatown. But I know there are elderly people including Ng who are somehow reluctant to reach out for help. The reasons might involve personal preferences, cultural issues, etc. It is a lot more complicated than what we think. I feel like it is the time to ask questions and figure it out together.
As to her family members, I have very limited access to them. To be honest, I don’t think it is fair to put blame on her children because we simply don’t know much about their family. They might have their own difficulties.
In terms of what we can do, I think we can keep our eyes open. When we see a need in our own community, we give a helping hand. It can be as simple as chatting with the elderly people in the street, buying them lunch and eating with them. This kind of support is especially important for those who are reluctant to reach out to the community centers and social services.
A few hours ago Bloomberg broke a story, by Alan Levin and Harry Suhartono, with a potentially significant detail about the first of the recent two crashes of the Boeing 737 Max. This was the crash last October of a Lion Air flight, into the sea off Indonesia, in which all 189 people aboard died. (The second, outside Addis Ababa, was of an Ethiopian Airlines flight this month, causing 157 deaths.)
Students don't seem to be getting much out of higher education.
I have been in school for more than 40 years. First preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, and high school. Then a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, followed by a doctoral program at Princeton. The next step was what you could call my first “real” job—as an economics professor at George Mason University.
Thanks to tenure, I have a dream job for life. Personally, I have no reason to lash out at our system of higher education. Yet a lifetime of experience, plus a quarter century of reading and reflection, has convinced me that it is a big waste of time and money. When politicians vow to send more Americans to college, I can’t help gasping, “Why? You want us to waste even more?”
Donald Cline must have thought no one would ever know. Then DNA testing came along.
Updated at 5:23 p.m. ET on March 18, 2019.
The first Facebookmessage arrived when Heather Woock was packing for vacation, in August 2017. It was from a stranger claiming to be her half sibling. She assumed the message was some kind of scam; her parents had never told her she might have siblings. But the message contained one detail that spooked her. The sender mentioned a doctor, Donald Cline. Woock knew that name; her mother had gone to Cline for fertility treatments before she was born. Had this person somehow gotten her mother’s medical history?
Her mom said not to worry. So Woock, who is 33 and lives just outside Indianapolis, flew to the West Coast for her vacation. She got a couple more messages from other supposed half siblings while she was away. Their persistence was strange. But then her phone broke, and she spent the next week and a half outdoors in Seattle and Vancouver, blissfully disconnected.
David Sirota had been working unofficially for Sanders while savaging the other Democratic candidates on Twitter.
Shortly before he gave speeches launching his 2020 campaign earlier this month, Bernie Sanders emailed his supporters, urging them to “do our very best to engage respectfully with our Democratic opponents—talking about the issues we are fighting for, not about personalities or past grievances. I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space.”
What he didn’t include was that one of the people already advising him and helping him write those launch speeches is one of his most famously aggressive supporters online.
Since December, David Sirota has, on Twitter, on his own website, and in columns in The Guardian, been trashing most of Sanders’s Democratic opponents—all without disclosing his work with Sanders—and has been pushing back on critics by saying that he was criticizing the other Democrats as a journalist. He centered many of his attacks on Beto O’Rourke, but he also bashed Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Mike Bloomberg, and even Andrew Cuomo.
The biology of mental illness is still a mystery, but practitioners don’t want to admit it.
In 1886, Clark Bell, the editor of the journal of the Medico-Legal Society of New York, relayed to a physician named Pliny Earle a query bound to be of interest to his journal’s readers: Exactly what mental illnesses can be said to exist? In his 50-year career as a psychiatrist, Earle had developed curricula to teach medical students about mental disorders, co-founded the first professional organization of psychiatrists, and opened one of the first private psychiatric practices in the country. He had also run a couple of asylums, where he instituted novel treatment strategies such as providing education to the mentally ill. If any American doctor was in a position to answer Bell’s query, it was Pliny Earle.
Between 1965 and 1969, more than a million American soldiers served in combat in Vietnam. One can argue that they should never have been sent there, but no one would argue that, once committed to battle, they should have been given inferior equipment. Yet that is what happened. During those years, in which more than 40,000 American soldiers were killed by hostile fire and more than 250,000 wounded, American troops in Vietnam were equipped with a rifle that their superiors knew would fail when put to the test.
The rifle was known as the M-16; it was a replacement for the M-14, a heavier weapon, which was the previous standard. The M-16, was a brilliant technical success in its early models, but was perverted by bureaucratic pressures into a weapon that betrayed its users in Vietnam. By the middle of 1967, when the M-16 had been in combat for about a year and a half, a sufficient number of soldiers had written to their parents about their unreliable equipment and a sufficient number of parents had sent those letters to their congressmen to attract the attention of the House Armed Services Committee, which formed an investigating subcommittee. The subcommittee, headed by Representative Ichord, a Democrat from Missouri, conducted a lengthy inquiry into the origins of the M-16 problem. Much of the credit for the hearings belongs to the committee’s counsel, Earl J. Morgan. The hearing record, nearly 600 pages long, is a forgotten document, which received modest press attention at the time and calls up only dim recollections now. Yet it is a pure portrayal of the banality of evil.
“Variety doesn’t really matter to me. I would be perfectly happy to eat the same Caesar salad or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich every day.”
Vern Loomis, a retired structural draftsman in West Bloomfield, Michigan, had a standard office lunch: a peanut-butter sandwich, with various fruit, vegetable, and dessert accompaniments. He ate this, he estimates, nearly every workday for about 25 years.
His meal underwent slight modifications over time—jelly was added to the sandwich in the final five or so years—but its foundation remained the same. The meal was easy to prepare, cheap, and tasty. “And if you happen to be eating at your desk … it was something that was not too drippy,” he told me, so long as one applied the jelly a bit conservatively.
Last year, Loomis retired from his job but not his lunch, which he still eats three or four days a week (now with sliced bananas instead of jelly). “I never stopped liking it,” he says. “I still do.”
Unwritten rules underlie all of elite-university life—and students who don’t come from a wealthy background have a hard time navigating them.
Last Tuesday, the Justice Department charged 50 people with involvement in an elaborate scheme to purchase spots in some of the country’s top schools. The tactics described in the indictment were complex and multipronged, requiring multiple steps of deception and bribery by parents and their co-conspirators to secure their children’s admission to the schools of their choice. The plot purportedly included faking learning disabilities, using Photoshopped images to make it seem as if students played sports that they did not actually play, and pretending that students were of different ethnicities in an effort to exploit affirmative-action programs. The alleged scheme was led by a man named William Singer, who called his business venture a “side door” into college. On Tuesday, Singer pleaded guilty to all charges.
Stars like Antonio Brown are supposed to sacrifice for their team’s sake, but teams don’t repay the favor.
The idea that NFL players might put themselves before their team is a scary proposition for the league. Because if the players really start understanding their own value, they just might get what they’re actually worth.
The wide receiver Antonio Brown did. After months of friction with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a key piece of the offense, and with the quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Brown pushed his way out of the team. Last week, the Steelers dealt him to the Oakland Raiders.
For this, Brown has been categorized as selfish and petulant. “To be able to play with an all-time quarterback like he’s able to play with, I don’t think he understands how good he has it,” the respected veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this month, before the trade materialized. “It can get tough out there.” The additional $30 million in guaranteed salary that Brown received from his new team has been cast as a reward for abandoning his old one. “Antonio Brown quit on his teammates & exhibited highly erratic behavior,” the NFL analyst Ross Tucker tweeted, “and as a result got a $20M raise with $30M guaranteed. Great lesson for all the kids out there.”
Trump’s continuing attacks on John McCain reveal a worrisome state of mind.
Donald Trump is not well. Over the weekend, he continued his weird obsession with a dead war hero. This time, his attacks on John McCain came two days after the anniversary of McCain’s release from a North Vietnamese prison camp. He tweeted this:
Spreading the fake and totally discredited Dossier “is unfortunately a very dark stain against John McCain.” Ken Starr, Former Independent Counsel. He had far worse “stains” than this, including thumbs down on repeal and replace after years of campaigning to repeal and replace!
So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) “last in his class” (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!