Toddlers

At home in the United States, I help out with the Childrens Ministry at my church on Sundays. The age group that I work with is the preschool age (ages 3 and 4 years old). While I don’t have a child of my own, I get to observe these kids every week when they’re learning, playing, and interacting with others in class. I also get to see them interacting with their parents when they were dropped off or picked up before and after the class; some were more attached to the parents than the other, and some parents were more protective of their children than the other. It’s interesting to compare this to what I saw in other countries / cultures, especially those that may not have as much resources as the United States.

When I was traveling in Southeast Asia, especially as we went to villages in Cambodia and Vietnam, we encountered local children there. Some were a bit older (around 10 years old), but we also encountered kids that were in toddler age (5 years old and younger). I thought what’s interesting was to see these kids running around freely without much supervision from their parents. I suppose from one perspective, when you live in small village, you know everyone who lives there, so it’s probably okay for the kids to go around on their own. However, there are places around the village where it seemed to be dangerous for these kids to go (mountain cliffs, streams, even rice fields). I know if I had my own child with me I would be very careful and don’t want them to go to these places lest they hurt themselves. However, it seemed that the kids were going around fine and no one was worried they would get hurt. Compare this to the United States, where I saw many parents were very protective and for legal reasons we even have to have a strict policy for checking in and checking out kids (even simply to go to rest room, a volunteer cannot take a kid alone due to the worry of child abuse or potential issue around that).

Another aspect that was interesting to note was to see how everything in the United States seemed to be clean and sterilized. Children from young age were taught to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, etc. All good behaviors to have, but sometimes I wonder if we’ve gone too far in the direction of being dependent on chemical substance that the children’s body were never trained to build their own immunity. Compared to the kids I saw in Vietnam, they pretty much run around, play in dirt, etc. I’m sure when they get home their parents tell them to clean up as well, but I doubt they have all kinds of cleaning supplies like what we have in the more developed country to clean up everything. One thing I noticed from the children in my class was that many these days also have allergies (to peanuts, lactose/milk, eggs, etc.) that even when we want to give them snacks during the class we have to be very careful and only give them a certain brand and kind of snacks that we know is safe from the allergies. This was unheard of in the developed countries — you’re very happy if you can even give kids snacks. So I wonder, is this problem existing everywhere, but only detected in ‘sophisticated’ countries like the US, or has the sterilization of everything caused the immune system of the children in the US to be worse than their counterparts in developed countries?

When Kristi and I were enjoying our little snacks at the food stand during our trek to the Cat Cat village near Sapa, Vietnam, we saw several kids (likely in toddler age) coming by. It doesn’t matter where you are or what culture you’re in, seeing young kids like that makes everyone smile. I wonder, what do these kids think of the foreigners going through their village on daily basis. One thing I learned from my preschool class was that at this early part of their lives, the kids grow and learn quite exponentially. I wonder how seeing these foreigners going through their village at such early age affect their perception of the world as they grow up.

Toddlers

Local Kids

As we continued our descend to the valley on the way to the villages near Sapa, Vietnam, we reached an area where there was a logjam of many hikers with their guide and local women entourage trying to go through a narrow and steep descending path. It was getting uncomfortable stopping and waiting on the incline, though finally there was a flat area with a couple of houses where we could take a break before continuing the descent.

At this area, there was a local lady opening up a little shop selling souvenirs and handicrafts. She also had some bottled and canned drinks — a welcome sight for many of the hikers who by then had gone through at least about an hour or two into their trek. No one from my group went for those, however. We just stayed there for few minutes waiting for the group in front of us to walk through the path. While waiting, I noticed a group of several local kids, mostly under five years old, hanging out and sitting near the souvenir stand. I guess the kids came there with their mothers who were selling souvenirs, or they probably live nearby? In any case, it was interesting to see these little kids at a spot in the middle of a steep trail between the main road to Sapa and the village in the valley. I wondered how they got there… either they came with their parents, or somehow they made it there on their own through the rough terrain that made us the visitors who came with our fancy hiking gears looked like rookies when it comes to navigating through there. I also wondered what these kids think of the strange-looking people going through their ‘neighborhood’ every day; I suppose they’re used to seeing foreign tourists after a while.

The photo below was taken while we’re waiting in that area and when I observed these local kids hanging around there watching the tourist traffic passing by.

Local kids