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Lensman trots the globe to search for oldest people

It was minus minus 3.3 C the dead of winter in Mongolia when Jerry Friedman stepped off a plane in Ulan Bator and resumed his search for the oldest people on Earth. Friedman was in awe the next morning when he met Damchaagiin Gendendarjaa, a 110-year-old Tibetan Buddhist lama: He had earned a doctorate in theology at age 106.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2005 12:10 IST

It was minus minus 3.3 C the dead of winter in Mongolia when Jerry Friedman stepped off a plane in Ulan Bator and resumed his search for the oldest people on Earth. Friedman was in awe the next morning when he met Damchaagiin Gendendarjaa, a 110-year-old Tibetan Buddhist lama: He had earned a doctorate in theology at age 106.

He had all his teeth. He had never seen a doctor in his life, yet mild arthritis in his lower back was his only ailment. "He was the holiest person I've ever been in the presence of," Friedman recalled of his February 2003 trip. The lama was one of more than 50 'supercentenarians' people at least 110 years old whom Friedman interviewed and photographed for a book, Earth's Elders: The Wisdom of the World's Oldest People.

Friedman, 58, a commercial photographer, closed his Connecticut studio so he could travel and track down his elderly subjects, verify their ages and document their life stories. Friedman started his project in Massachusetts, where he interviewed 112-year-old Ann Smith. Smith made him wait an hour while she finished her dessert.

"She was testing me," he writes. Ten of his subjects were from Japan, which Friedman describes as the "gold standard" for how a country treats its elders.

First Published: Dec 31, 2005 12:10 IST