It was a sunny afternoon in Kuala Lumpur. Like in previous days, the sun had been relentless, and I was desperately looking for some shade and a place to rest. As I approached the children’s playground in the KL City Centre Park, I saw a beautiful paddling pool. I decided to sit by the pool and dip my feet in the water, whilst contemplating the views of the skyscrapers, the Petronas Towers and the lush greenery of the park all around me. I couldn’t have been happier to find this heaven of tranquillity in the middle of the bustling city.
I was travelling around in Malaysia and, as much as I loved the country and was fascinated by its culture, I was surprised at how much attention I was receiving as a Western woman travelling alone, even in a cosmopolitan city like KL. People stared at me constantly and I got stopped quite a few times to be asked for selfies with me, or even asked out! I also felt intimidated at some points when followed in the street.
Then suddenly something magical happened. I was relaxing with my feet in the water, I saw this group of children playing around, splashing each other and laughing out loud. Some of them seemed from Malaysian origin, some Chinese, some Bangladeshi. Then one of them turned round and saw this little boy sitting near me with his mum, who was French. He run towards him and asked him if he’d like to join him and his friends, which the boy happily did. Another boy turned round, saw me, gave me a smile and went back to playing with his friends as if nothing had happened.
It was a beautiful moment, and it made me think how pure and amazing children are. While they undoubtedly notice differences amongst cultures, they accept them and they just see people. It’s only as we grow up that our environment shapes our perceptions and views of the world, even if we don’t realise, and we start to think about our culture as “normal” and anything that differs from it as strange, odd or even wrong. For that reason, it is us, as adults, who have a responsibility to teach them to appreciate, value and respect cultural differences as they grow up, because those differences are what make the world so interesting and wonderful.