1. He’s young and alone on the flight from New York to Hong Kong. Or not exactly alone—he’s got an infant with him, a girl it looks like. Pushing her in a stroller on the jetway. God, he looks so young! In his mid-twenties at most, and from the way he’s dressed not an ABC. Maybe out of his depth, even without the baby. Where’s the mother? Why is he flying with such a small child? I can tell I’m not the only one asking this question, and not the only one too shy to ask it aloud. Later, I see him in the back of the plane, holding the baby, feeding it with a bottle.
2. The crowded Chongqing light rail stops, and even more people get on—including a dad in his late 30s, thin hair swept across his balding scalp in classic style-less Asian style. In tow are two kids, a girl of maybe 4 and an infant in his arms. My seatmates and I all get up to give them our spots, and he’s all smiles as he sits down. This doesn’t seem to be a big deal for him, even if it’s a surprising image to me. I just haven’t seen that many dads here schlepping their kids around on public transport. In cars, sure, and I saw one guy holding his 8-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked down a sidewalk, but it didn’t seem like quite the same thing. Could this dad be a househusband? I don’t know. He whispers in his daughter’s ear, and she looks shy. He does it again, and she turns to me and says, in English and in a very quiet voice, “Thank you.”
3. I’m walking through a park somewhere in Chongqing when I spot a tent. A nice one, big enough for maybe three people. It looks out of place here, a bit of high-tech outdoors gear in a grey-green manicured hillside. But when I glance through the screen, I see a guy holding an infant of maybe 6 months, feeding the baby with a bottle, then putting her down to sleep amid blankets. What could be going on here? Is he one of the region’s countless millions of migrants, forced by circumstance to set up a home here in the relative wild? Or just a well-equipped day-tripper hiding from the damp? I want to interrupt, but the baby’s asleep, so I walk away. When I return 20 minutes later, I see him standing outside, chatting with a friend. Both are well-dressed, definitely not impoverished laborers from Gansu province. But where is the mom? And why, in all of these cases, do I feel the need to ask this question?