We knew before arriving in Vietnam that the locals were going to love Jack. In fact we were told most South East Asians were very kid friendly and drawn to Western kids. But we had no idea how intense their love would be!
From the minute we touched down into Ho Chi Minh City there were smiles and enthusiastic pointing at our little man. People seemed genuinely excited to see a Western boy.
When we took off around the city on foot Jack was being touched constantly or smothered in cuddles and kisses, mostly by women. He was very unsure and looked at us with a slightly petrified face saying ‘save me’, always turning his head in the opposite direction to their smiling faces. Chris and I also looked at each other a little bewildered but kept assuring Jack it was ok.
Men have looked at Jack and usually laughed. We still aren’t sure if they were laughing at our cute Western kid or at us struggling to push the pram down the poorly constructed footpaths. Some just stand next to him and wait for Jack to notice their stares. Many have said ‘very lucky’ as we pass because in Vietnam, you are considered to be very blessed to have a son as your first-born. It is not uncommon according to Kim, my eyebrow threader in Hoi An, for a husband to stray from his wife if she did not produce a boy. “You are very lucky”, she said, “me not so lucky”. Kim had a girl followed by twin girls and her husband had a first-born boy with another lady.
When Jack was loose running down the streets, an excited woman was poised at every corner ready to pick him up, show him off to her lady friends whilst yelling something in Vietnamese. If they managed to catch him before he frantically raced back to us, he would have arms stretched whinging at us to grab him whilst struggling from their embrace. Before returning him to us, on many occasions they would offer him food. Banana’s were a hot favourite, one of Jack’s most hated fruit. So no win there for them.
As our trip has continued, the constant clapping in his face, pinching of cheeks, patting of the head started to drive Jack a little mad and his sulking turned into ‘no’s’ and pushing their hands away. As soon as he hears “boy”, or “baby baby”, he makes a beeline to our legs.
When in Hoi An, our tailor Na took a fancy to him and soon became the first Vietnamese women Jack bonded with. It helped she filled his pockets with chocolates every time we went to her shop! Na explained that the Vietnamese people loved Western children because they believe they look so much happier than their children. They love their skin, hair and their facial expressions. It’s almost as if it’s too hard to resist touching them.
For us, we have seen some beautiful Vietnamese kids running around the streets. They always look so happy and content, usually with very little belongings compared to our children and happy to enjoy simple games of throwing a thong the greater distance, flying a kit or riding a trike down the street.
They too seem besotted with Western children and are constantly coming up to Jack, touching or hugging him. Jack seems to have warmed to the local kids now and is happy to play, wave hello and sometimes sneak a kiss!
So if you are thinking of coming to Vietnam with a baby or toddler, brace yourself. You will be mobbed by friendly faces all wanting to touch and talk to your celebrity child. There is nothing quite like it. It’s quite confronting and overwhelming, but never have we felt Jack was in danger. We are just hoping over the next few weeks Jack will become use to all the attention and warm to the locals. Maybe then we can hire a babysitter!!