Me and some of the mums from school were discussing Christmas presents.
“I’m going to Garden City to buy Lego,” one announced. “I’m getting my sons Batman Lego.”
“I’ll be getting Amanda intensive Kumon lessons for after the new year,” I said.
They all turned to look at me.
“Amanda has got between 5 and 10 years to thank me,” I joked. “I’m very patient.”
“It’ll be one of your family stories,” said another mum with a laugh. “Remember the time when mum got me intensive maths lessons for Christmas?”
“Have you told Amanda yet?” asked the first mum who was going to buy Batman Lego.
“No, I just told her I have a very special surprise for her waiting in Malaysia,” I said, unable to suppress my glee at being able to deceive my seven-going-on-eight year old for that long. I plan to get her a few other gifts to sweeten this one; a couple of new outfits should do the trick.
“You know what I reckon would be the best present?” said the mum who wasn’t buying Lego. “Going abroad to see the world. Just being in Malaysia will teach Amanda so much. Children here are so privileged, so sheltered.”
“You’re right. She’ll get to see hardcore poverty first-hand; the kind that is inherited, not the result of drug or alcohol abuse.” Although Malaysia has poverty resulting from and reinforced by alcoholism in the rubber estates. “She’ll see children younger than her serving her massive bowls of hot soup, working – my mother used to point them out to me all the time and say, ‘How lucky are you when you could easily have been born that kid?’ She’ll see the limbless begging at the sides of the roads, some trying to sell packets of tissue as we eat. She’ll be shocked out of her system all right. Already I’ve been talking to her about thieves and robbers, kidnappers, molesters, drug and human traffickers; of children abducted from schools, shopping centres, at the night market, never to be seen again. I’ve prepared her to meet the dredges of society we don’t see in our sanitised world.”
It’s a land where parents still spank, if they don’t belt, whip or box, many among the uneducated brazen enough to do so publicly. It’s also a land where we don’t help the old, the young or the invalid, basically anybody, at airports in case they are drug traffickers. We ask to see what’s in the bag before agreeing to carry it even for family or friends.
“Many of our kids get the shock of their lives when they go overseas,” she said.
“I bet they do.” I hear Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz saying to Toto, her dog, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
Here in Australia, it is so safe. Barring very few areas, you can walk down the road during the day, decked out in bling like a Christmas tree without fear of being robbed or molested at knife point. These are things that never even cross your mind, living here.
I highly recommend families in first world countries take their children to see what lies beyond their 5 star resorts when on holiday in Asia. It will open their eyes to the hardship and human suffering beyond our privileged shores and make the next generation of what might be potentially spoilt-brats, thankful for living here. Privileged Asians in Asia, cloistered in their rarefied affluence, should try living without the maid and air-conditioning for at least a week of every year to get a perspective of how the other half live. Perspective is the gift that keeps on giving long after the season’s decorations have been taken down. You can’t find it in any store and it’s bound to be one the kids remember for years to come.