Hailing from a family of expats, I know how hard it can be to keep in touch with people scattered around the globe. My grandparents moved to Dubai in the 70s and my parents moved my brother and me to Paraguay in the 80s. My other grandmother has lived in India and my stepmother wandered around South America. They had no internet; so no Skype, Facebook, WeChat, Watsapp, and no Google maps. No other means to communicate then post and telephone.
In this time and age I almost feel overwhelmed with ways we can stay in contact with our friends and family. One person does email, the other person does Watsapp and all our new friends in our new life in Beijing do WeChat.
I wondered how expats stayed in touch with friends and family so many years ago. My father explained that he used to write letters from Paraguay to The Netherlands and it took around six weeks to get a letter back. By that time he got a reply the things he wrote about before were not relevant anymore.
Around 20 years ago it took two weeks for a letter to arrive in Europe from China, not a far cry from the ten days it takes these days. Telephoning from China required buying a card from the corner store and scratching of a code that needed to be entered in the home phone together with some other codes to get connected to Europe.
If my father would call my grandparents in Dubai from The Netherlands in the 70’s, they would answer the phone not with “Hello” but with “What’s wrong?” My grandmother has still saved all the letters she received in Dubai written on very thin paper, to keep the postal cost down.
My father explained to me that when our family lived in Paraguay, the man at the newspaper and magazine stand would stop my father’s car to sell him “new” magazines. These were magazines that were left in the airplane and ironed, so they looked new. Expats in Paraguay used to call each other when corn flakes would be in the supermarket.
My mother has hours and hours of video tapes of our lives in Paraguay. We watched them over the summer before we moved our family to Beijing. We can argue that they were boring, but these tapes are the closest thing we have to our fast and savvy internet that we use nowadays.
Pauline van Hasselt has just started working for Beijing Kids. Born in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, she moved with her husband and her 3 year-old daughter to Beijing in June of this year. Prior she lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, Paraguay, Texas, and London, studying and working as a chef. Pauline enjoys biking around Beijing, finding markets and new restaurants, reading crime and fantasy books in bed, and most importantly, turning her house into a home for her family.