29 June, Bangkok, Clowning in Orphanage
I left Chulalongkorn Rotary Centre and ended up walking out the wrong exit to find the underground station. I walked along the road and discovered a Red Cross Orphanage. I popped in there and asked if they would like a clown. They said yes and asked me to come at 10 am the next day. I contemplated do I dress as a full clown and make my way on the subway turning up at 10 am or do I dress when get there. These are dilemma’s for a clown as I don’t know how people react to me and much energy goes out connecting with people.
I didn’t have a great night sleep but got up at 8am. I decided to dress there as I was half asleep. I got to the orphanage at 9.40 and sat waiting for staff. A lady came to me and asked if I was interested in adoption. I said no, I am a clown I came to clown with the children. I then saw the nurse who booked me in and I asked if I could dress there. They agreed. I spent time putting on my make-up and thinking what I will do, usually I make it up as I go, getting a feel for how the children are responding. The children were around 3-5 years old. The orphanage has 50 children who come to them from Chulalongkorn hospital where the children are abandoned. The staff member indicated to me that parents abandon children for economic reasons. So they are adopted and I was told mostly to Australians from South Australia. It was a sad situation and I wondered whether they got hugs. I recalled my experience in the orphanages in Russia with the children, they were orphans. Those aged between first borns and 5 year olds were sent to baby houses. At around 5 years old they were psychologically assessed and those emotionally strong (not imbecile) were sent to ordinary orphanages, the others went to asylums. In Bangkok they stay with the Red Cross for 1 year and then are adopted.
I saw a model of Ronald McDonald at the orphanage, I joking went up to this as a fellow clown, although later I thought about the positive associations being subliminally created with Macca’s not the healthiest for children. Anyway, I tagged behind the nurse and was taken into a room of around 30 children 3-5 years old. They sat around the walls. I started to juggle for them and then pulled at my twirling ribbon and then I showed them my bubbles. As always that goes down really well, the kids jumped up with excitement, one little boy in particular was so happy. I then twirled my pink ribbon balls and made noises. I brought out a balloon and blew it up to let it go, they liked the surprise in that. My chicken was next, I showed them the egg that comes out and then juggled it, always looks funny. A little boy picked up my ball to give it back and I made out he was chasing me. The kids laughed. I then got them to do a rhythm clap and tried to play and dance around that. I then blew up a few more balloons and patted them around the room, the kids laughed and played with the balloons hitting them to each other. It was a wonderful session and originally some kids had cried but they calmed down and a few came up to me fascinated they wanted to get close, I gestured to hug but I don’t think they knew what that was, so I gently tapped their shoulder and tried my best not to touch heads (against culture in Thailand). I nearly slipped up with the nurse, but pulled back just in time. Another little girl sat there with her arms folded, she was harder to reach, but I made eye contact with her and tried to pull her out of her sadness. So little around 2 years old, but I could see she was under stress. All these beautiful children without loving parents. The Red Cross tried to find their parents but often when they gave birth they registered under false names. So the kids would never see their parents again, all for economic reasons. What a world we created.
I got everyone to give a big clap and they presented me with a flower blessing, it is jasmine and is a Buddhist tradition to give me a blessing for coming. I stared at this gorgeous little boy and he bowed to me and I said ‘cup kun ka’, it was a beautiful moment. This is what I live for, to give to children. I find the adults at times can be so serious and they can be judgemental of others, but with children there is an innocence and I feel we can learn much from them. Looking through a clowns eyes, I also have an innocence, I am only looking for what I love.
I walked out of the orphanage and decided to test the clowning on the people on the street. Some looked at me with no smile, just wondering what I was I guess. I didn’t take offence, I am used to no reaction, often people don’t show their feelings. However, others did, one guy stopped and wanted to juggle, I received many smiles from older woman, younger girls, vendors and just juggled walking past commuters, some tooted as I walked. It was 38 degree heat, but I just kept on going to explore. I want to see how people react, if they are afraid or if they embrace a clown. You don’t see clowns on the streets of Bangkok so it is interesting to observe the novelty. The fact I am a woman is also interesting. I played with people made out I was directing traffic, smiled and waved, some just said ‘sawadika’ to say hello. I went to the underground train. I spoke to a lady walking wondering what I was doing. I told her I was on a world trip she was pleased. I just stood on the platform juggling and occasionally dropping balls and interacting. On the train I ended up throwing the ball to a young guy and then to a woman across from him, and then back to me and then to an old lady. I was able to break through the traditional silence. I also said hello to people as they walked on, as I made eye contact. I also said goodbye. A young woman started to speak in English about what I was doing and that she had friends in Melbourne. She worked in an office and her friend worked I a factory. It was nice to be friendly. There was only so much juggling and bubbles I could blow. It is good if you can clown with someone breaks up the focus on yourself. However, it was nice I waved at everyone. Then headed to the streets and again connected with street vendors, passers by, some smiled, some spoke others didn’t. I just felt relaxed and took it in my stride. They were fascinated by the juggling. I saw some motor bike (taxi) guy’s and I started to teach them how to juggle, the whole group just smiled and waved at me as they have seen me a few times now and are very friendly.
Clowning is a very interesting experiment to see how open others are, to see if they are able to venture past their comfort zones and communicate spontaneously, it is like breaking the trance like state of life or business as usual, this is the way we do things, we just don’t interact with strangers. Maybe on this day they felt a little sense of life creeping into the mundane.