…because not all of us have our Peking ducks in a row

Teaching My Elderly Chinese Parents the Computer

The other day, my younger sister, Annie, lamented to me over instant messenger,

“Mom forwarded me some weird email from one of her Chinese friends about eating all my vegetables so I won’t go blind!  And then another one with fluffy bunny pictures!  I don’t get it, how did she get this email address?  I only gave her my spam email….”

Blind Bunny who didn't eat his veggies but had too many deep-fried foods and carbs

And so it begins.  I thought with dread, like Theoden in “Lord of the Rings” when faced with the epic battle at Isengard.  My Mother has finally learned to use the computer.  Now, no one will be spared in her quest to spam the world.

Actually, I can’t take credit for teaching my Mother how to spam my sister, as I’ve never been able to teach my Mother anything.

Our “lessons” are always initiated by my Mother when I’m visiting.  My Mother likes to catch me when I’m in the middle of doing something, like stepping out of the shower dripping wet and trying to find the bath towel, which she had put outside on the clothesline to dry after my shower the day before.

“Aiya!  Susan, come here quick!  My computer — it’s BROKEN again!  Now I’ve done it!  Your Father will kill me!”

I’ve never known the word “broken” to have so many definitions till I heard my Mother use it in reference to a computer.

According to my Mother, a broken computer is one that may either be:

a) not turned on – well, actually, she DID turn it ON – by pressing something that resembled what she thinks a START button should look like somewhere in the vicinity of the computer – like on the monitor, the keyboard, the computer table.

b) on for a while, but has gone to “sleep” — a concept which is unacceptable to my Mother, as computers are objects and can’t fall asleep like human beings; or,

c) busy simultaneously opening up fifteen windows of the Internet Explorer browser, because my Mother clicked the icon fifteen times, in case the computer forgot to respond to the first fourteen.

Now, I’m not a child behavioral development specialist nor a gerontologist, but I have noticed similar patterns in the way both groups absorb new information.

Like three-year old Johnny, whom you’re teaching to play catch, my elderly Chinese parents have about a two- to three-minute attention span, in which they’re actually paying attention to what I’m saying.

During the next ten minutes my parents try to demonstrate the information they’ve not learned by asking bizarrely impossible questions about computers  — Should I unplug the computer at night to prevent it from blowing up?  Can I use the computer without a monitor?

Then, the rest of the time is a “hands-on” period, when they want to go from zero to a hundred by putting together multimedia presentations and downloading or managing music from their computers into their MP3 players, which they don’t yet know how to operate.

I’ve designed a comparison chart to illustrate the striking similarity in the learning curve between three-year-old Johnny and my parents (clicking chart will enlarge the picture):

I should mention here that my Father has better computer skills than my Mother, as he had been using one for work for decades.  But now in his semi-retirement, he mainly sits at home and manages the countless amounts of forwarded mail his same-aged, ex-army buddies sends him – mail that constantly reminds my Father of how little time he has left on this earth and how meaningless the time he does have left is – “How to Know if You Have Prostate Cancer”, “Five Places to See Before You Die”, “Bye, Bye, Flatulence”, “Life After Impotence”, “The Hidden Dangers of Laundry Detergents”, “Organic Stool Softeners”, “Common Colds – the Common Killer”.

It is because of his advanced skill in computers that my sister thought he could handle an instant messenger and Skype account.  One day, I got an excited instant message from Annie in Taipei:

“Susie, add Dad to your messenger!  His handle’s BigMackDaddy2011!  He’s on Windows Live and Skype now!!”

“Why is the handle BigMackDaddy?  That’s such a loser name!  Did he choose it?”

“LOL!  No, I thought it’s funny…HAHA….Besides, he doesn’t know what it means…”

So, I added BigMackDaddy2011 to my messenger and Skype and anxiously awaited Big Mack Daddy’s inaugural appearance online, but after several days of no show, I got this email from my Father instead:

Dear Susan/;

How ar uou?  My heart is beter these days , as I take the new medi cines the dr gave to me, but some days are bette r than o thers..  How are you?  How’s your new boyfriend?

As yuo know/ your sister Ann i has been staying here//// with us for a month and s/eh teach us some Comp uters , but she is not pateint and somtimes has figith with mom.

I don’t c care about Annie’s patience:; however, Im not so hap-py recently with the things Anni does/  For

example, she got me the Chat but she choose the nam . e which Is not lucky for me , as i hv the bad heart problem, as        you know/  I cannot ea t greasy foods any long e r,   But Annei calls m e the BIG MAC , …/

i can”t eat any more BIg Mac after the Big Heart Srgery…and the name is not go od for my Recovery , it is inauspicuos but she thinks it;s so f

unny.  Does she think my bad Healthy is the joke/?  maY be Annie thinks yr mom is the chikcen macnougat./?

Anyway , I want yuou as the old er siter to tell her   to stop that! AS yu are old er than anne//

This l etter may Have many mis takes//////………….

thats all for now

YOur Dad.

Big MacDaddy and his ho, Little Chicken McNaughty

So, the next day, as the dutiful older offspring would, I told my younger sister in Taipei to change our Father’s handle to something more “befitting” of a man his age, so my Father finally came up with the name, BossDaniel2005, as 2005 was the year he first started using the computer and he will always be the boss.

But several days ago, my Mother called me all a-quiver via Skype from her new iPad, which our Aunt Gloria had given her as an early Christmas present.

“Susan, Susan!  Your Aunt Gloria was kind enough to give us this iPad and teach us how to use it!  Now I can call you and Annie whenever I want!  And I can send you emails too.  Your Aunt Gloria just showed me how!”

“Uh…oh, Mom…oh, that’s GRRRREAT….”

“Yes, yes!  You give me your email address right now and I input it into the iPad….”

“Um…my email address…?  Um, okayyyy.  It’s uh, a-n-n-i-e….”

My Mother input the address halfway then stops.  “But that’s Annie’s name!”

“Yes, yes, I know!  B-b-but I don’t use my REAL name for my email address, you know…for… uh…um, SECURITY reasons.  In case the spammers get your REAL name and bank information.”

“Ohhhh…ohhhh yes, yes!  That’s makes so much sense!  You are right, I will remember that.  In fact, I’ll try to send you this cutest email I got: one with some bunny pictures and then the other about eating your vegetables.  You can never eat too many vegetables!  Oh, I can send you emails everyday now!”

Bunny of forgiveness

15 comments on “Teaching My Elderly Chinese Parents the Computer

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  7. sparklebright
    December 30, 2011

    My elderly mum got a laptop for Christmas and as part of her Christmas present my dad told her that I (not him) would teach her how to use it. Thanks for selling me down the river Dad!! Great story!! 🙂


    • lostnchina
      December 30, 2011

      Thanks for stopping by.

      PS: Your Dad sounds like a *smart* man. Good luck with teaching your mum the computer!


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  9. twentysomethingwaitress
    December 12, 2011

    This made me laugh out loud!


    • lostnchina
      December 12, 2011


      I’m sure my parents would be tickled pink to know that they’re a source of endless amusement, without meaning to be.


  10. breezyk
    December 6, 2011

    this is amazing! I love the bizzarely impossible questions about computers.. and your dad’s e-mail. Oh, and that rabbit has scared me into eating an apple right now at my desk. True story.


    • lostnchina
      December 6, 2011

      Well, Chinese parents are the true pioneers of bizarrely impossible questions about most things. Thanks for reading!


  11. Connie
    December 3, 2011

    I’m sorry for any inconvenience you may experience as a result of my parents giving your parents an iPad. Hopefully they won’t FaceTime you at midnight when you’re all scrubby and makeup-less with your entire extended family behind them watching on like they did to me last time…:/


    • lostnchina
      December 3, 2011

      Connie, I’m sure my parents will do the same…and more often.

      I’m just surprised your parents managed to teach my Mother what I couldn’t. But hopefully, she’ll forget what she’s learned in a week.


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This entry was posted on December 3, 2011 by in China, Humor and tagged , .
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