Friday, December 21, 2012

The World’s Grubbiest Baby and the Joys of Grubbiness

The week I spent in rural Vietnam has given me a new best friend. He is the smart half’s grand-nephew. He is also the world’s grubbiest baby.

In the day I got to hang out with him, he managed to turn his white shirt black. He refused my help to blow his snotty nose (though my t-shirt turned out to be quite attractive for that purpose when he decided to do it himself) and he was quite happy to feast on something or other that was on the floor. He also enjoyed rolling in mud. What I’ve described takes a little getting used to. My friends who have become parents would be stunned and might be trying to call some authority or other.

I would urge everyone to stop and appreciate the Grubby Baby. He is a well-adjusted two-year old. He was not intimidated by dogs even though many of them were bigger than him and he had no problem meeting people, including strangers. He was also exceedingly robust. He slept throughout the night and went to day care without any hassle. In short he wasn't any worse off than kids who had a nanny to follow them all over the place preventing them from stepping a toe on sanitized floor.

Grubby Baby reminds me of a conversation I had with one of the prominent ophthalmologist who had been to India. He listed all the things that the Indian hospital had done which would get the doctors barred had they been in anywhere else but India. However, at the end of the conversation he made a valuable point, namely, “The infection rates are not higher than they are here.”

 I have to ask – “Have we become so sanitized that we’re unable to handle the world as it really is?” Yes, I believe modern science and knowledge about hygiene have worked wonders. Things like rates of infant mortality have gone down and people are living longer and healthier lives thanks to modern science. Today there is no reason to die of diseases that were once considered fatal. We should be thankful for all these things and we should push our quest for knowledge even further.

However, the conversation with the good doctor and befriending Grubby Baby has given me the belief that there’s a need to expose our young to some of the rougher things that nature provides. There is enough science out there to show that the human body has a way of adjusting to its natural environment. There is evidence to show that people from the developing world develop antibodies that people in the developed world simply don’t have.

I guess the point is that the body develops resilience because it needs to. Someone from the third world develops antibodies that someone from the developed world doesn’t have because the person from the third world needs to. The saying that “necessity is the mother of innovation” also applies to nature and medical science.

As a society we pursue comfort and convenience. However, I think of the nutritionist, Dr Udo Erasmus who said, “Whenever someone tells you something is convenient you better run away from it – life isn’t meant to be convenient.”

His point was simple; you need to struggle for the best things in life. The human condition becomes stronger whenever it has to go through struggle. I look at the Grubby Baby and his happy robust smile. He’s gotten that way because he’s had to survive through the things nature throws at him. He’s happy to deal with dogs and people because they are part of his natural environment. The standard joke with a friend of mine is that if we placed the Grubby Baby (age two) in a boxing ring with the Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek (age 22), Grubby Baby would end up humiliating him. Grubby Baby can deal with nature and has struggled while the Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek has spent his life avoiding every possible struggle that life might throw at him.

Now I take the value of struggle even further. I look at Vietnam and the energy of the people. These are the people who threw of the yoke of French Colonial rule and then proceeded to see the back of the Americans despite having several tons of bombs dropped on them. If that was not enough, they then gave the Mainland Chinese a very bloody nose when their giant neighbor decided to invade. Now that the focus has moved from fighting wars to economic development, you find that the Vietnamese are doing good things. In the few days I didn’t see a single beggar on the streets of Hanoi. Instead of begging, people were finding all sorts of ways to make a living – for example, every corner of Hanoi is a food stall.

Like the Grubby Baby, these are people who have been exposed to nature, which is exceedingly beautiful and exceedingly brutal at the same time. These are people who understand that you have to survive on your own and somehow you have to get creative.

I think back to the strike by the SMRT’s Mainland Chinese and the government reaction of “Why Take Things into Your Own Hands when there are Proper Channels.” The Singapore Government and Singapore people have become too used to dealing with political and legal machinery that has made both parties conveniently oblivious to the realities of nature. The Mainland Chinese and other Asians are used to dealing with the realities of nature.

When I read comments by Singaporeans on how the PRC Chinese should have known better and accepted the conditions they were given, I shudder. We have become a people who have lost our human instincts to defend ourselves and become reliant on the system to get it right. Ask your average Singaporean about the struggle that people like Tibetans and Palestinians go through and you’ll find them grossly unsympathetic. There is no empathy for people who believe in struggle and they’re dismissed as people who are too stupid to understand they’re place in the system. This is unnatural.

Well, now we’re dealing with people who expect life to be a struggle. Yes they can take punishment that most of us can’t. However, they've reached the point where they cannot accept being abused and so they’re acting to stop it. This is unfortunately for Middle Class Singapore a reality and part of human nature.

The tough half is determined to move away from her roots. I’m conflicted because as much as I see her appreciation for safety and cleanliness, I also believe that she outclasses most people because she’s had to struggle. I think that if we get round to children, I’d like them to spend their early childhood as grubby babies rather than artificially sanitized ones.   

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