This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Why Am I Talking About Nuggets
Ibiza was the place whose motto might as well have been: a place where both dogs and babies are welcome everywhere adults are. In Southeast Asia, it went beyond Ibiza. In Southeast Asia, every day was bring your baby/child/neighbor’s kid/nephew to work day. (This made me slightly uncomfortable when I saw toddlers in Laos carrying sharp objects like knives and hoes. I felt strange about it when there were kids hanging out at “massage parlors.” But at the same time, who am I to say what’s appropriate and what’s not when I would have all childcare options at my fingertips?)
This is awesome if you like children, terrible if you don’t. Children aren’t always pleasant. They scream whenever they want. They step in front of you on the sidewalk and make you trip. In that way, they’re almost as bad as when you have to dodge an animal in the road. They’re needy and just don’t understand social constructs. No, you just can’t slap strangers if you don’t know them well enough. But that’s part of the reason why I find them so entertaining. They just don’t get it.
In Southeast Asia, there was a community aspect to handling children. No one was weirded out when I high-fived their child for an hour. No one batted an eye when I picked up their child and walked away. One street vendor in Pai, Thailand was happy to pass off her infant to us multiple nights in a row. She was busy trying to get her stall ready for the night market. It’s like when they used to bring puppies on my college campus you could play with for half hour blocks of time. Except these are humans.
The Nugget of the Year Award Goes To…
So, you could say we had fun with lots of nuggets. There was one special chunky monkey in Hue. We stopped in his parent’s shop for some ginger and lemon tea after unenthusiastically walking in the mist through the Imperial City. This child, wearing a green sweater vest and mini basketball shorts, ran around unaffected by a cockroach caressing his foot (I shirked back but tried to play it cool. Not to be some prissy b****, you know). We sat in baby chairs and sipped our tea as he went tumbling down the length of the café pushing a seat on wheels, more times than not ending up crashing on the steps. An example of resilience and persistence. He would occasionally stop and look at us, screaming in Vietnamese. He treated us much like he treated the cockroach. He knew we were there, but we weren’t posing any sort of hindrance to his fun.
We finished our tea and got up to leave. When we waved goodbye to him from the front of the shop, he started screaming and running to the back. He motioned for us to wait. A couple of seconds later he ran with a packaged pastry in his hand. He gave it to my sister. Then he shuffled over to his mom and asked her something else. She nodded in approval and he ran to the back again and hurled towards us, this time bringing another pastry, this one for me. He gave us hugs. Something to the effect of a dramatic and girly “awwwwwwww” escaped us. We were so touched. Then, as fast as he had gathered our goodbye presents he had already run away again to continue with his games.
Children are so genuinely sweet, thoughtful, and happy to talk to anyone, no matter how ugly, fat, tall, short or skinny you are. They haven’t learned how to be racist or sexist yet, so that doesn’t play a role in how they relate to you either. That’s what makes them so special.
When Nuggets Aren’t So Fun After All
In all of our travels, we only encountered one sourpuss. And I didn’t like it one little bit. Nope. Because, what’s more appropriate for someone who advocates for children’s rights to get angry when a child doesn’t do everything she wants? Yeah, yeah you, how dare you not want me to pick you up and throw you in the air!
The one child who didn’t like me. I would even go further and argue that she might have wanted to murder me. She wanted to get rid of me and would have probably smiled as she did it. This girl is what I began to describe as “the devil child.” Because if you don’t like me, you’re clearly the devil.
Jennifer and I walked into our hostel in Pai, Thailand, Common Grounds. We went up to the front desk and handed the women our passports. The common room is an open air, concrete floored longue area with low tables and cushions. In the corner, to the right of the bar, I spotted a girl. She had short black hair and was wearing a bright sundress. She couldn’t have been more than seven.
When I saw her, I was thrilled. Not only do I love children, but while traveling you very rarely get to feel like you’re in a familiar space. I love feeling close to families, like in Hue Happy Homestay, which housed two families with babies along with 15 backpackers, or in Vang Vieng, where a bubbly infant made funny faces and bounced around in her mobile seat.
After we got our room keys, we walked past her. “Hi!” I screamed. I was expecting the usual abundance of smiles, laughs and broken “HI HOW ARE YOU” like we received from the rest of our children encounters.
What response did I get? Nothing. Her face was like an I’m-so-over-it-let’s-get-the-f***-out-of-here face. The kind that a nerdy 10-year-old might receive when she invites the popular girl to her birthday party. I felt personally victimized by Regina George.
I tried to shake it off. Maybe she was shy. Maybe she needed to know me more before she said hi. I was disappointed but determined to get past her ice-cold façade.
For the next few days, I noticed she would follow her parents from room to room as they cleaned. She put a cushion outside the shared dorms and watched TV shows on her Ipad. Sometimes she fell asleep. She was so adorable. As she stood out there, I kept trying to say hi. I still got frigid responses.
Finally, our last day in Pai, I tried once more to break through to her. I was sitting in the lounge area on a cushion with my sister, our friend Minh and our friend Bal. A few feet away, the devil child was laying down with her head propped up, her hands grasping an Ipad.
My sister had gotten sick with a nasty case of food poisoning. When she stood up several times to rush to the corner and spew, the devil child was unamused and unaffected. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard.
I got up to go to the bathroom. I had to walk past the girl to get there. As I neared her I picked out the familiar sound of Old McDonald coming from her IPad. She was quietly singing along. I stinging as I got closer. “E-ay, E-ay, O,” I sang.
As soon as she heard me, her eyes slowly lifted from her IPad to lock with mine. I smiled and continued singing as her disgusted stare pierced my heart. Then, she hit pause. And stared. And stared. And relentlessly intimidated me. This was one girl whose bad side I didn’t want to be on.
Figuring out this was leading nowhere, I stopped singing and started to walk away. Her eyes never leaving my sight, as soon as I was far enough she pressed play again. I looked back before I rounded the corner to the bathroom and noticed that she still had her eyes glued to me.
It was in that moment that I finally realized that all attempts to win her over had failed. All subsequent attempts would also be a bust. I shook off all notions of one day being able to chase her through the weedy and unkempt lawn at the hostel. I tried to block out my dreams of laughing and singing to English nursery rhymes with her. It just wasn’t going to happen.
If travel taught me any important lessons, it’s that not all children are going to like you, just like not all adults are. And that’s okay (please tell me you get the sarcasm…). You can’t force a child to be your friend. The devil child reminded me that you have to respect the limits children put on you. Otherwise, how are they going to set limits later in life?