When we were in Hanoi, we visited Vietnam’s National History Museum, which contains a variety of ancient statues on open air display. Coming off a month in China where people tickled Buddha bellies, stuck fingers in Buddha ears, and generally disregarded any posted rules, Asher thought the Vietnamese relics were fair game. It was difficult to make her understand that 700 year old artifacts are to be admired from a distance, not poked, prodded, ridden, or kicked. Cambodia’s spectacular Angkor complex proved more fulfilling for the kids, since its myriad temples, ranging in age from roughly 1100 to 800 years, were made to be climbed, traversed, and touched.
Fortunately, our guide, Ponheary, is an expert on all things Angkor and Cambodia. Before the rule of the Khmer Rouge and in the days before the land was peppered with landmines, Angkor Wat was her playground. She ran the corridors, scaled the staircases, and searched for treasure inside the sacred walls. At first I worried when the kids tired of ancient Hindu stories and their attention wandered to grassy courtyards and stacks of fallen stones. I hoped Ponheary would not be offended by their limited attention spans, but she was unphased. She was quick to help them catch crickets, showed them which stones were safe for climbing and jumping and pointed out the best places to play hide and seek.
The kids were thrilled on our second day of Angkor touring when Ponheary brought her 3-year old nephew FeeFee along to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat with us. It took him a little while to warm up to us, but soon he was giggling, chasing, and jumping like a regular Andrus. The kids had so much fun with him that morning that they asked Ponheary to bring him the next day as well. He joined us in the morning and even brought along a toy truck to share with Asher.
Most other tourists seem to enjoy kids, even ours. They usually find them a novelty and in some situations go so far as to praise their behavior. Because it is holiday time and school is out in countries around the globe, we’ve run into an increasing number of them. One particular group, however, was not impressed with our brood or a few others at Wat Prohm, the jungle temple of Tomb Raider fame. Somehow three American families had converged at the same spot at the same time and all wanted to take the same pictures. The first two families posed their kids in the doorway in a highly efficient manner, taking perhaps three minutes total for their shoots. A small group of ***nationality hidden**** tourists shouted “Bravo” as the second family completed its shoot. I thought they were sincere. Why wouldn’t they be? The kids were adorable and well-behaved. Tom then hustled our kids in and took another two minutes to snap our pictures. One of the waiting tourists had had enough and rudely shouted, “Could you move? We are trying to take pictures here.” Tom asked, “Oh, you want pictures of the kids? I’ll be happy to get out of the way.” He was being facetious. He had picked up on the man’s nastiness, which I had missed…probably because of the accent. I was still coming off our experience in China, where each of the 1.5 billion inhabitants wanted to take pictures of our kids, so why should these people be any different?
After we finished, we waited to see what possible photographic masterpieces could warrant such boorish behavior. Had they wanted to take pictures of their wives or their friends in this scenic, world famous spot? Nope. They just wanted pictures of the spot itself, something they could buy in a postcard and that provided no proof they had ever been there. Ponheary apologized and expressed her regret that she understood their language and the anti American insults they were hurling at us and the other families. (You might be able to guess their nationality by now.) One member of the group whom we had met before actually apologized to McKane on the way out for her travel companion’s breach of travel etiquette. We took some consolation in the fact that it wasn’t just us they disliked; when we got to the next good photo spot, one of the men rudely and impatiently chased two young women out of the way for the same offense–having the nerve to take their own pictures in a place they traveled thousands of miles to reach.
Grandma Lorelie has taught us that everything is worth documenting and we refuse to visit a place without creating a visual reminder that we were there. We are truly sorry that these fuddy duddies couldn’t find any joy in temporarily well-behaved kids creating memories with their parents. It’s ok though. We’re in good company. We’re far more inclined to hang out with these Chinese kids who understand that pictures can and should be fun.
It’s hard to tell what the kids, especially the little ones, will take away or remember from this year. When they look at the pictures they might remember, “Hey, that’s where we caught that praying mantis,” or “That’s the time we kicked the sand,” but there’s also a chance they will remember the Naga, the mythical Cambodian serpent, or how the Hindu king destroyed all the faces of Buddha in the temples. They might even realize that the buildings they visited were more than 1000 years old. No matter how you cut it, the takeaway has got to be worthwhile…unless of course you’re a grumpy old tourist from an unnamed country who gets his kicks harrassing happy travelers.