August 11, 2004

To make a little girl smile

I often meet fellow travellers who lament that they have not travelled to many countries. It is often the complaint of those of us who come from less wealthy countries and less welcome passport — we always lose out on the exchange rate and have to go through extensive visa process before we can travel.

I tell them about this one time in Bangkok.

The Korean enclave at Sukhumvit is one of my favourite places. Whenever I am in the city, I often end up here for a bowl of cold noodles. This time around, I was at a travel agent’s, looking to find a way to Pyongyang. There were some raised eyebrows; not many go to the North. The travel agent looked for a book for the airport code. With a knowing smile, I said, try FNJ.” The travel agent was probably now convinced that I was a spy or a nuclear weapons dealer.

Through the glass door, I could see a little Korean girl with a giant water gun. It was the second day of the Thai water festival, and kids all around Thailand were spraying people with their water guns. The little girl looked up expectantly at people walking by — mostly serious looking neighbouring Korean shopkeepers. She was hoping to get their approval to soak them. Most just glared at the little girl. She gave up and sat down in a corner with a sadding face.

I excused myself from the travel agent. I walked out to the little girl. I raised my hand in surrender and called out to her. Chingu” (chingu = friend). She looks at me stunned, but soon enough her face turned happy. With a loud shriek and fierceness of a North Korean secret agent, she emptied the water gun on me.

You can travel half the world. But, there is no point if you can’t make a little girl smile.

The little girl from Koreantown


Thailand Korea


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