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

Teaching My Elderly Chinese Parents the Computer

First published December 3, 2011

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 Mac with his main squeeze, Chikcen Macnougat

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….

Related Posts:

Lies My Superstitious Chinese Mother Told Me & the Longevity Panties

My Favorite Chinese Stereotype – The Dragon Lady vs. The Lotus Blossom

Things My Elderly Chinese Parents Say to Me

22 comments on “Teaching My Elderly Chinese Parents the Computer

  1. Pingback: A Very Chinese Home Remodel | lostnchina

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  3. Pingback: Hells Bell’s Palsy: The Symptoms of a Chinese Mother | lostnchina

  4. elmer
    January 31, 2013

    Just keep your folks off of Command and Conquer..


  5. bronxboy55
    January 30, 2013

    I can’t wait until your parents start blogging. Can I subscribe now?


    • lostnchina
      January 31, 2013

      Under my expert tutelage, my parents will be as successful with blogging as I am with losing my last 5 lbs.


  6. Jean
    January 29, 2013

    Good for your parents. My parents aren’t that advanced. My father has cancer so we’re not pushing him. Nor mother who’s wondering what life will be like without hubby.


    • lostnchina
      January 29, 2013

      Sorry to hear about your parents, Jean. I’m not sure whether computers help or hinder elderly Chinese parents. Somehow I think it perpetuates their Chineseness. For example, my dad nearly spent $40 buying coins for the online slot game on my sister’s iPad just the other day. And my mom is much more paranoid about diseases and the possibility of getting a disease by eating/not eating something. I think it’s fine your parents haven’t caught on yet.


  7. Miss Snarky Pants
    January 24, 2013

    Freaking hilarious. I can totally identify with this. My mother is a graphic designer and, hence, she works on a computer all day. Still, she can’t figure out how to use Facebook, how to find my blog online or how to operate the Kindle we bought her. How is that possible? When I suggest that she play with it and try to see if she can figure it out herself (’cause that’s how the rest of us have been doing it for years now), she just sighs and plays the age card. “But I’m a little, old lady.”

    “Mom, you’re 65 years old. You work for a technology firm…on a f**king computer all day long. You are not helpless,” I retort. Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped my mom from calling me at all hours to ask me to look up information on this illness or that product that she’s interested in.

    When I ask why she doesn’t just Google it herself, my mom always says, “Oh, I forgot I could do that.” Really? How did she think that I was going to find the information? In a hard copy of the World Book Encyclopedia? How does anyone forget about Google? I swear that company visits me in my dreams at night.


    • lostnchina
      January 26, 2013

      I consulted with Miss Snarky Sr and she assured me that your story was, in fact, the other way around. She said that the reason there was such a long lag between your blog posts – from November 6 to January 23 – was because you’d forgotten the password to your WordPress account after so many months and kept putting in your ATM PIN number as the password. When I asked her when your next blog post will be coming out, she told me to Google it, but then gave me the link to Bing search. Tricky one. Your 65-year old mom.


  8. diapasonliason
    January 21, 2013

    I cry with laughter everytime I read your posts!! Trying to stifle it at work though haha!


    • lostnchina
      January 22, 2013

      Thanks…I should also mention that this blog is not responsible for job loss, hair loss, nor loss of bodily functions through laughter.


  9. WSW
    January 21, 2013

    Hilarious and so sadly familiar. Last time I tried to talk my mother through the copy and paste function of her new computer — over the phone — my eyes rolled permanently back in my head, my hair caught fire, and I ended up pouring four fingers of scotch over my Wheaties. I may have to change my name and move.


    • lostnchina
      January 21, 2013

      You are the consummate multi-tasker, Wendie. I’m not sure I’d have the fortitude to be pouring four fingers of scotch over my Wheaties when I can’t see out of my eyes and my hair’s on fire. Kudos to your mother, who’s raised a fine daughter.

      PS: I just tell my mom there’s no such function as cut and paste and let her re-type everything.


      • WSW
        January 21, 2013

        You are a tricksy minx, Susan.


  10. Pigeon Heart
    January 21, 2013

    Ha!! I can so relate. My pops sends me at least 4 emails a day w/ an uncanny wide range of unimportant topics, while my mom still can’t figure out her cell phone despite my tutorials and notes to help.
    Very funny stuff. Glad to see you’re writing again.


    • lostnchina
      January 21, 2013

      Thanks for stopping by! Be thankful your mom hasn’t figured out the cell phone, cuz she she does, guess who’s going to get a dozen calls a day??


  11. becomingcliche
    January 21, 2013

    Wait until you have to talk them through making an online purchase over the phone. Start drinking now.


  12. Edna
    January 21, 2013

    Once again, choking with laughter. Briiillliant.


    • lostnchina
      January 21, 2013

      Thanks, Edna. How’s the snow in Paris?


      • Edna
        January 21, 2013

        Oh it’s beautiful…in the places where it hasn’t turned to slush…


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This entry was posted on January 21, 2013 by in China, Family, Humor and tagged , .
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