Ding Wen, 70, recently tried to enroll in a senior citizens' school near her home to learn how to make Western-style pastries. The Shanghai's Xuhui District resident was crestfallen to discover that all 20 slots for the autumn semester were already oversubscribed.
That's becoming par for the course in all aspects of life as Shanghai's rapidly aging population expands and services scramble to try to keep pace.
"I wanted to make some cakes for my grandson during Spring Festival, when he comes back from America," Ding told Shanghai Daily. "But now, I can only wait and try my luck in the spring semester next year."
Many senior citizens, who believe you are never too old to learn, have time on their hands and want to put it to good use.
Demand for educational services is on the rise, said Chen Yun, principal of the Xuhui District College for Senior Citizens on Damuqiao Road, where classes in English, computers, cookery, photography, painting, music, film and other subjects are offered. The school, established in 2012, is one of four branches of the Shanghai University for the Elderly, which was founded 30 years ago.
"Few people knew of the existence of the school when we first started," Chen said. "We had only 600 students in the first year. Now we are getting 6,000-7,000 students a year, and the number of applicants is even larger than that."
There are now more than 20 universities for the aged at the municipal and district level in Shanghai, 222 schools in sub-districts and towns, and more than 5,000 senior education programs in local communities, villages and nursing houses. Last year, 730,000 places were available for elderly students, according to the Shanghai Education Commission.
While the number of slots grew by 45,000 in 2014, the population of residents 60 years and older grew by 263,000 to 4 million.
Educational authorities said that they will try to double the number of community and village schools for the elderly and improve teaching levels in the next five years. Most retirees go back to school to learn practical skills, such as cooking and English, while others pursue vocational and artistic dreams abandoned earlier in life.
Chen said that singing, calligraphy, painting, computer operation, healthcare and foreign languages are popular because they can be practiced easily at home after class.
Ji Yangzhao, 67, has been learning English in the Xuhui school for the past year.
"My daughter is living in the US, and I want to be able to communicate with my grandchildren when I visit them every year," she told Shanghai Daily.
"And if I can speak English," she said, "I will be able to get out and about a bit while I am in America instead of being stuck all the time in my daughter's home. I might even be able to understand TV programs in English."
Ji said she usually enrolls in up to five classes each semester, each one lasting 90 minutes a time. Her husband is now taking courses in photography and computers.