Sitting quietly at the back of a common room in a centre for the elderly in Wan Chai, Wong An is reminiscing about the past. When she was growing up, she recalled, her grandparents were showered with attention from family members. But Ms Wong, now with nine grandchildren of her own, has realised she will not receive the same treatment in her own old age. She last saw her teenaged grandson before the Dragon Boat Festival in June. 'I went to his house to give him some sticky rice dumplings. I left shortly after; he did not talk to me much,' said Ms Wong, 75. She then added: 'It's fine with me. They are all so busy.' Many other grandparents in Hong Kong now face similar isolation from their grandchildren. Changing times have meant that grandparents are no longer the centre of attention in a family, nor the authority figures they were decades ago. The growing gap between the old and the young is a result of the former's declining influence and importance. Gerontologist Teresa Tsien Wong Bik-kwan, a lecturer in the Polytechnic University's Department of Applied Social Studies, attributes the widening gap between generations to the trend of family members living long distances from one another. 'It is more common now for grandparents to be living far away from their grandchildren and thus have few contacts with each other. 'Before, elderly figures were the key people who kept a family together. Now, since most people are busy, contacts between family members are reduced. Advanced telecommunications links lessen the need for people to meet in person,' she says. Chan Ping (not her real name), 73, is sad and disappointed that after helping to raise four of her 10 grandchildren, only one now sees her regularly. 'It is a pity, of course,' she says with a tinge of bitterness. 'I took them to school and cooked for them. But they don't call me now.' The one granddaughter who remains close to Ms Chan and her husband is now in her late teens and still pays them frequent visits. 'She either comes to our place or calls us when she is free,' Ms Chan says. 'It would be better if more family members came round more often. Some of my grandchildren do not even acknowledge my presence when I am with them.' But even this is rare as most of her children are so busy making a living, they and their children do not have time to come round. She complains: 'No one would probably know if we both died in our flat.' Social workers say it is important parents set an example for their children. Li Wai-king, who works for Caritas and among elderly people living alone in Ngau Tau Kok, believes parental influence is a major factor when it comes to youngsters' attitude towards their grandparents. She has found that youngsters whose parents are filial are more likely to also be respectful towards their grandparents. Some elderly people have few expectations from the younger generations. Even though he has deep feelings for his grandchildren, 75-year-old Y K Wong harbours little bitterness that his eldest grandson, with whom he used to have a close relationship, now only sees him occasionally. Mr Wong, a retired clerk, recalled how his eldest grandson was placed under his care as a small child by his working parents. He also remembers vividly the time when the child, at the age of four, was hospitalised due to an asthma attack. 'I visited him every day. Then one day when I got to his room, there was no one there and his bed was made. I was deeply worried. 'As I was about to leave the room, to my relief, I realised he was standing right behind me,' he says. His grandson, now 20, has long forgotten the incident. But Mr Wong remains attached to him. The two had a close relationship until the youngster emigrated with his parents to Australia. Now his grandson has changed and since his return to the territory a year ago he is not as close to his former caretaker. Mr Wong has learned to accept the weakened ties, though underneath he wishes the relationship could be warmer. 'Deep down,' he admits, 'I would love to see him more. 'I always took him on a tram ride in the evenings and he usually fell asleep near the end of the ride. Now I am satisfied when I learn from his parents that he is safe and doing fine. I do not want to interfere with his heavy schoolwork.' He seldom calls his eldest grandson, he says, as he does not want to be a nuisance to him. Mr Wong does not expect to establish close ties with his other grandchildren as he does not want to find himself in conflict with them or exert pressure on them. 'My other grandson told me that people of different generations have different thinking and need to be tolerant towards one another,' Mr Wong says. Ms Tsien disagrees with such a passive attitude. Grandparents, she says, should learn to take the initiative and keep up ties with their grandchildren if they want to. 'They can call the youngsters to say that they are concerned about them, to let them know what is on their mind. They should do away with the traditional thinking that only the young should take initiatives. They can talk to them on the phone instead of meeting them.' Elderly people would also lead a happier life if they were able to use their free time creatively instead of depending on relatives. Ms Li says: 'I have told those I work with to be positive and get involved in social activities rather than waiting for their family members to visit them. 'But it would certainly be good to have more activities promoting respect and concern for the elderly. People today are too occupied with their own matters, either schoolwork or career. I think people should look after each other more.'