Travels with Barney in Malaysia and Thailand- 1996
Updated: Jan 4
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans" John Lennon
In 1996, we had an opportunity to establish a business in a (then) booming SE Asian economy. Here’s a small part of what happened to us:
When my husband and I married, we celebrated with a year- long honeymoon backpacking adventure around the world. Eleven years later, we welcomed an opportunity to again explore Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. But this time we would not be alone: our two children, aged 2 and 6, were coming too!
Despite friends’ and relatives’ trepidations, we felt confident that all would go well. We had encountered many families on our world trip – even some with babies – in all sorts of remote and primitive locales.
In the hectic weeks before flying out of Vancouver, we sold most of our furniture, packed and moved the rest of our belongings into storage, and struggled with the arduous task of deciding what we should bring on the trip. We allowed one large bag per parent; the kids’ things were consolidated into an additional large bag and then, of course, there was the day bag for holding necessities including diapers, wipes, food, camera, notebooks, pens and an assortment of toys and books.
The children were allowed two stuffed animals for the trip. For Rosalie, our two-year-old, one choice was particularly easy: Barney, the Purple Dinosaur, was going on a holiday!
Despite Rosalie peeing on the plane seat not long after lift-off, our kids proved to be natural travellers and managed to recover from the twenty-four plus hours in flight much faster than their poor parents.
As for me, I lost my breakfast on a busy Singapore street the morning after we touched down. As I crouched on the sidewalk wondering: “what on earth did we think we were doing, taking our children half way around the world,” the sweet sight of their concerned faces heartened me and I gathered enough strength to carry on.
Jonathan and Rosalie were big hits wherever we went. Heads would turn at the sight of our blonde, curly haired, blue eyed offspring as they walked wide-eyed down exotic streets and laneways. We were asked countless times for permission to take their picture. There are now many Japanese tourists who have pictures of Rosalie with Barney poking his purple head out of her tiny backpack.
Rosalie derived great comfort from her purple pet. He certainly helped make strange hotel rooms in exotic lands a little homier and he also doubled as a pillow on long train trips or bus rides. However, it didn’t take long for us to appreciate a certain fear: what if Barney disappeared somewhere along the journey? We were in a land where he was not exactly a household name- in fact, we hadn’t seen another Barney anywhere!
Jonathan, our six year old, a former Barney devotee who now loathed him with a passion, would certainly have been happy to see the detested “purple idiot” disappear, but we knew that Rosalie would have been inconsolable.
Consequently, before leaving every hotel room and disembarking from every plane, bus, train, boat or tri-shaw, we would check and double check to ensure Barney was still in our presence. In our zeal to prevent his loss, we usually managed to overlook other possessions so our load lightened with each leg of the journey, including one calculator, a miniature suitcase filled with little toys and crayons, food, clothes- even the stroller, left on top of a pick-up truck taxi. We felt lost without our “wheels” but managed to retrieve them several days later as luckily, we kept the business card of the driver’s sister, a hotel rep who had been trying unsuccessfully to persuade us to stay at her hotel.
One day, during our stay on Koh Samui, our favourite Thai resort island, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we spotted another Barney perched on a chair in a small shop down a quiet laneway. I felt a glimmer of hope that if we ever did lose Barney on the island, maybe we’d be able to convince the shopkeeper to part with him.
We made it to Bangkok with Barney safely in tow but decided to move out of our downtown hotel after a couple of days. We had literally become sick of the noise and pollution that accosted us each time we stepped through the doors of the hotel onto the street. We were also fed up at finding cockroaches the size of small cats lurking in our bathroom or crawling up the bar fridge. We decided to splurge on a posh hotel in a quieter part of the city.
Before checking out of the old hotel, Rosalie required a last minute potty stop. I had carefully noted that she had Barney when we rushed back into our room but it wasn’t until we arrived at the new hotel, that I realized with a shock that Barney had somehow gone AWOL.
Had we left Barney in the cab? Maybe he’d been dropped somewhere on the Thai capital’s street and was now steam rolled by the mass of Bangkok traffic into an insignificant purple blot?
Chances were good that he was still at the old hotel. After a couple of confusing phone calls we ascertained that yes, the hotel staff had indeed found Barney lounging on the bed in our room (apparently, the cockroaches hadn’t bothered him a bit) and that they would hold him for us at the front desk.
The next challenge was making the long journey back to fetch him. Chris doggedly volunteered to do the job, after a day’s recovery from the debilitating effects of our ordeal staying in downtown Bangkok.
Despite leaving bright and early, Chris did not manage to escape the insane Bangkok traffic. In an attempt to amuse himself during the endless bus ride into the heart of downtown, he composed a poem:
On a Bangkok Bus Construction ahead, behind, sideways Traffic cops in gas masks wave Vendors on the side of the road sell their lead enhanced fast foods The ticket taker rattles her little steel drum full of change and tickets At the next red light drivers in our convoy are obsessed Throbbing at the wheel as they rev Onward in the City of Angels
Five hours later, Chris reappeared at the hotel, hot, sweaty and exhausted but with the purple beast tucked under his arm. The look on Rosalie’s little face when she spotted her beloved Barney was indeed reward for his efforts. Barney looked a bit worse for wear too, so a bath in the sink was in order. I was getting good at this little chore and by the next day, he was back to his old self again.
After travelling through developing countries with two small children for three months, we realized Canada was where we wanted to be. As for Barney, having made it home in one piece, his favoured status has been erased out by a succession of other toys.