Saturday, May 1, 2010

No Boundaries

May 1, 2010-  REDANG, MALAYSIA & NORTHERN THAILAND- One of the sweetest joys of travel is connecting with the local children wherever I go.  Be it the children I taught English as a high school student in the mountains of Baguio or the little kids playing in the beaches of the Philippines, they always manage to make me smile.  Children freely act and connect with out-of-towners like me. Without the inhibitions of adults, they come close to the stranger. Check us out.  Sing, dance and say hello numerous times.  Often times, if there is a camera involved, they would ham it up for the camera.  I thought it was unique to Filipinos and our fascination capturing every moment in a photo.  But my recent travels proved otherwise. 

shot in Sugar Beach, Philippines (photo courtesy of Scott Woodward)

Last week, my travels brought me to Redang, Malaysia. On my way to the island, I stopped by a pier.  There were a handful of stores selling hats, t-shirts, and sarongs.  While my companions went shopping for island paraphernalia, I spotted a little boy in a hut.  From a distance, I waved. He smiled.  We laughed. He was adorable. 

Without his shirt, he sported an apple cut hairstyle typical of little kids.  But it was the innocence of his grin that melted my heart.  I took photos of him.  He put fingers in that funny pose many Asians kids do. His little playmate, a toothless girl joined in.  

An Aussie editor traveling with the group said, “You’re obviously a people photographer!”

I said, “Not really!”  He watched amused. Later, he said, "Can I join in the fun?"  "Sure!," I said and shared my little model.  

I did not speak Bahasa Malaysia. Neither did the little boy speak English. But it didn’t really matter. We connected. And every time I look at my photo of this innocent little angel, I smile.  

my favorite photo 

Two months ago, I found myself in a resort in Northern, Thailand.  Engrossed in the riveting love and travel adventures of an Australian author, I heard some noises outside my hut.  There were three little kids from the Lisu tribe at play. Their spirited laughter was pure and contagious.  I left my book, and joined them. Losing my footing, my feet landed straight into a muddy puddle. They laughed.  They spoke Lisu. I spoke English. The oldest of the trio, a little boy who was probably five years old, talked to me.  He didn’t care if I understood or not. I talked to him in English. 

my three little playmates in Northern Thailand... 

Then despite being in a rustic, remote setting in the mountains without TV or online connection, the trio started singing and dancing.  “Nobody, nobody but you...,” they sang over and over again.  It was a popular song sang by the South Korean group Wondergirls, frequently played on the radio.  “Wow, even on the mountains… mainstream culture has made it even to the tribes,” I thought to myself.  

I start singing the same three words and we were bonded.  We danced together.  They offered me fruits and flowers.  Right at that moment, I was in awe. I was celebrating my humanity with these kids, where language, culture, religion or race mattered.  Whether we understood each other or not, it did not matter. 

what do you mean... Goodbye?

This went on for an entire hour.  They followed me back to my room.  Not accepting the words “goodbye” when I wanted to return to my book instead of playing with them. I crawled back to my room.  But when I opened my door, they were still there waiting for their grown up playmate.

Children in my travels remind me to laugh, to smile, to play, and to celebrate my humanity.  There are no boundaries.  


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