elderlBy Cynthia Kim
A discotheque hidden among the back alleys of eastern Seoul is packed with hundreds of grey-haired couples on a Monday afternoon, dancing to local hits from the 1960s in a basketball court-sized hall
Kim Sa-gyu, 85, calls it his “playground.”
“What else would I do all day? My family is busy with work. I hate going to senior centres cause all they do there is smoking,” said Kim, wearing a beret as he sat on a bench at the edge of a dance floor decorated with fairy lights and mirror balls.
Seven days a week, he gets up at 5 a.m., has breakfast with his son and two grandchildren, gets an hour of massage therapy to relieve knee pain, then hops on a bus. His destination is the daytime disco for the elderly in New Hyundai Core.
Kim, who has been jobless since retiring as a hospital administer 20 years ago, is among about 1,000 customers each weekday at the disco, called a colatec. It is one of nearly 1,000 such facilities around the country.
Almost 2,000 people visit on a weekend day, said owner Choi Jung-eun.
Colatecs, a portmanteau of cola and discotheque, have arisen to serve South Korea’s rapidly ageing population, as a growing number of lonely, impoverished and ailing people rediscover ways to entertain themselves after decades of hard work.
Some are here because they simply don’t feel welcome at home.
“My wife yaps at me for breathing if I stay home. I love this music and no one minds me here,” a grey-haired man who identified himself only as ‘white boots’ said, after paying an entrance fee of 1,000 won (90 cents) – a fraction of what swanky clubs in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam charge their youthful clientele.(Poverty rate by age groups in S. Korea)
Well-dressed patrons can pay another 500 won for coat-check service. And despite the name, the disco’s best-selling beverage is 2,000 won probiotic yogurt, not cola.
ELDERLY AND DEPRESSED
The generation that helped rebuild Asia’s fourth-largest economy from the ruins of the 1950-1953 Korean War is now the poorest and most depressed among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The relative poverty rate of South Korea’s elderly stood at 49.6 percent in 2013, four times the OECD average, according to the latest available data. The elderly suicide rate rose from 35 per 100,000 persons in 2000 to 82 in 2010, also far above the OECD average of 22.
South Korea is ageing faster than any other developed country, yet there are few post-retirement jobs, or even cheap leisure, available for the elderly (Ageing population in the OECD IM).
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