The 'left-behind' generation

Updated: 2012-12-26 08:39

By He Na and Hu Meidong (China Daily)

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"Although we have plenty of students, we see kids leave and go abroad every month. Kids generally leave China aged 5, because their US passports are only valid for five years. However, when they arrive here they are at a good age to learn a new language; the earlier they come here, the easier it is for them to integrate," according to Lin Xiuzhu.

Onscreen parents

Lin Dandan, Olsen's mother, saw him off at the airport last year. However, the boy was too young to remember that his mom was the one crying like a baby.

Since then, at 11 am every day, Liu Huizhen, Olsen's grandmother, ensures he is sitting in front of the computer, ready for a video chat with his mother when she gets home after her day's work.

"We have a video chat almost every day. Seeing Olsen's cute face and the little changes as he grows is the best time in my day," said Lin Dandan.

Although Olsen's grandmother has told him repeatedly that the two people in the computer are his mom and dad, the length of their separation means the little boy has little interest in the people waving to him on the screen and trying to attract his attention.

The 'left-behind' generation

Children at Guantou Overseas Chinese Kindergarten. They all hold foreign passports. Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily

However, practice makes perfect, and with lots of practice the penny seems to have finally dropped. Even though Olsen still doesn't fully understand, he always points at the computer when people ask him where his parents are.

Most of those who went overseas years ago now have a foreign nationality, but more recent arrivals still have a long wait ahead of them.

Huang Hui, Olsen's father, went to the US in 2002 and now works as a chef in New York. He was granted US nationality last year, but Lin Dandan, who joined her husband in 2008 and works as a waitress, is still waiting. She works more than 10 hours a day and earns $2,500 a month.

She's pregnant again, so to save money the couple lead a thrifty life, but they still provide for Olsen. In addition to sending him baby formula and diapers, they often mail clothing and toys.

"We can't be with him, so we just want to give him gifts to compensate for that," Lin Dandan said.

"My daughter hasn't been home for five years. She often cries when we are having a video chat and says it's because she misses us and Olsen. But I know she has a hard life overseas," said her mother.