Israel Manuel was two years old when his mother left, first to work in Singapore then in Hong Kong.
He was raised by his father and grandparents -- but despite the distance, he always felt closer to his mother. He was an only child, and loved spending time with her during her annual visits home. Once social media became widely accessible, they called each other every day.
Manuel’s mother played an active role in his life, gently steering him towards his studies instead of video games in high school. It paid off -- he got into college, and is now a criminology student.
He also felt her presence through gifts. Throughout his childhood, she would send games, new clothes and toys like soldier figurines and miniature car models. This year, she bought him a real vehicle -- a motorbike, as a gift “for being a good son,” he said. He loves the bike, rides it every day and often spends time diligently cleaning it.
“I feel that it’s a way for my mother to make me feel her love,” said Manuel, now 20.
But, he added, he hopes she will return home once her current job contract ends.