There’s the poor. Then there are bullies.

By Alena Abdul Aziz Henriksen
Alena is a Malay expat wife in Bangkok with two precocious adopted kids, one obese cat and a love for sewing.

I am happy that my children have friends from different social classes. This is something that is taken for granted in Malaysia – at least it was for me. Perhaps it is because social mobility exists far more in my home country than it does here in Thailand. Perhaps it is because I come from a very big family of differing backgrounds. My father – the kampong* boy who made good in the city, yet never forgot his roots. My mother, with her middle class background and eccentric family. I think many Malaysians can relate to this melting pot sort of family.

But here, classes of people are distinct and separate from each other. Possibly this is due to the influence of Buddhism where the concept of karma tells us that the condition one is born in is the result of one’s past actions. Whatever the reason may be, having a circle of friends from the different social classes requires effort; an effort that I made deliberately for my children.

I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, but spent occasional holidays in the countryside with my mom’s cousin, who also happened to be our nanny. She lived in a rural village where there were no electricity and water supply. But my God, can I say that they were one of the most magical times of my childhood? The early morning walk to the well, swimming in the river catching fish, digging a hole and using that as a toilet bowl, and lighting up the kerosene lamps before the sun sets. We would set out to the rubber plantation and ‘help’ the family tap rubber. Then we would trample all over the rubber when it had dried up. What incredible memories they were and I thank my mother and father for that.

I wanted my children to experience that. To know how other people lived, how others had less, yet still had so much joy. And I think I am giving that to them.

However, my story today relates to an incident that happened this evening. My children have friends in the nearby slum area where our nanny lives. Occasionally evenings are spent there playing football and marbles, fishing at the khlong* and making the occasional trip to the water fall. I thought that it would be nice to invite a few of them for swimming today. Taufik and Inaaya were overjoyed and I was glad.

Evening came and the children brought three friends along. I left for Paradise Park to buy them some food – children are always famished after a good swim. But when I came back, the children were gone. There were other children splashing in the pool but not my kids and their friends.

Later on Taufik related to me what had happened. “We just swam for twenty minutes mommy.” he said sadly. “What happened sweetheart?” I asked him as he sat on my lap.

“Those kids in the pool, they told my friends to get out. They are not allowed to swim in the condominium. They told them that my friends should only swim in the khlong.”

There was the taunting, the pushing, the shoving, the threatening postures, enough aggressiveness going on in that pool to get my kids and their friends out of the pool quickly. Pepsi, the nanny, happened to be away at that moment as Inaaya was suffering from a nosebleed.

It sickens me. It makes me sad. And mad.

That these children we had invited into our home were made to feel less. They went back today feeling that they did not belong, were unwelcome and beneath us who live here. We who are supposedly superior because we are materially better off? I cannot describe the feeling in my gut.

If there is one thing I hope to part in this note, it is to remind all parents, as I know you are well aware of this – please bring up your children with empathy lodged deep within their soul. With empathy comes kindness, understanding and at the very least, tolerance.

We may be different people, of different religion, class, and background. But the superior one I am taught by my parents, is the noblest amongst us.

If this was an isolated incident, it might not have given me so much pause. But that this is a recurring bullying pattern means that I will have to address it tomorrow. Some children outgrow their bullying ways, some don’t. Let’s hope that this is just a phase, but it sure is taking long to pass. Till then, I will just have to ensure that this incident does not repeat itself.

*kampong – village

*khlong – canal (in Thai)

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