If you have ever had the luxury of hiring a knowledgable tour guide or the luck of being taken under the wing of a benevolent local, you can understand that nothing parallels the way you see and experience the depth of a foreign city. When you might not have seen a tourist for days, have slept in some rather close quarters with livestock, or have even eat food that you couldn’t even attempt to put a name to, you know that you have become immersed, and often even lost in a culture foreign from your own; good for you, you have embraced and hopefully overcome a challenge and this will be an experience hard to forget. But for those of us that might not get so lucky to meet that local, or have the funds to at least simulate it these experiences, here is a quick and easy way to experience and learn about the most raw, simple, and uncensored side of wherever you are–meet some local children.
Now I am not condoning walking up to random children and starting to play with them–we all know how that could turn out. I’m talking about those kids waiting at the same bus stop as you, the kids of the guest house manager, or even those that play hide and seek with you while you eat your meals from a street cart. We’ve all seen them, and more often than not our reaction might be to burry our noses further into our guide book so as to not perceived as creepy for staring at someone else’s children. I challenge you to shift that view, talk to the parents, gesturing if necessary, asking if you can play with that child. You won’t be disappointed when you miss visiting that cultural museum or ancient temple because you spent more than you thought possible playing with rocks and sticks and loving every second of it. That will most likely give you more insight into the culture than a landmark you will take a picture and soon forget. Especially as it blends into the other 186 attractions you will most likely visit that week.
Seeing the city through the eyes of a true, impartial, and unbiased local child is like recapturing the innocence of place. Strip the city of its tourist outlets, and comforts, and what do you get? Smiles, laughter, and fun. Every time I find my small guides, I find myself seeing the world more like they do–putting down the guide book and searching in the bushes for frogs or swapping food recommendations in Thai at a local market. A three year old little girl picked put the most delicious fruit and the tastiest salty treats (something resembling coconut and banana flavoring, although it is still somewhat a mystery), and my dear friend Damian (going on seven years old) showed me how self sufficient and simplistic a life in the jungle could be.
So lonely planet may tell you how they suggest experiencing a city off the beaten path, but I challenge you to look no further than the glimmering eyes of that small child that is trying to get your attention as you read this–their insight is not only cheaper, but much lighter on the back than that hefty guidebook. Enjoy!