The sight of people glued to their gadgets is ubiquitous in Beijing. Some play games while others catch up on emails or browse the news. The other day, I was killing time in a coffee shop when the lady at the table next to me made a FaceTime call on her iPhone.
In China, FaceTime and WeChat are so popular that people use them any time, anywhere without much consideration for whether they are disturbing others. They speak loudly, keep the volume on high, and generally make a lot of noise. This lady, however, was different.
She was almost whispering into the screen, but did so animatedly. I soon realized what she was doing: FaceTime-ing with her baby son, who was at home with ayi.
“Mama misses you,” she cooed in Chinese. “Mmmm, wow, that tastes good, thank you for giving me a bit of your cookie,” she said while pretending to take a bite out of what he offered her on-screen.
It was evident that her son was used to this way of interacting with his mother. He recognized her voice and her face on the other side of the screen. This was clearly the high point of the woman’s day.
As locals busily prepare for the Chinese New Year celebrations, I wonder how many other parents are separated from their children by long or short distances. To earn a living, many Chinese mothers are forced to leave their young children in the care of others often unrelated to them.
The woman at the coffee shop found a way to bridge the gap during the work week. She’s lucky, for millions of other mothers cannot go home to their children at the end of their day.
But the desire is the same: to maintain the precious parent-child bond throughout their kids’ growing years. They’ll do it any way they can, even if only through a screen.
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado