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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


How many fingers do you have?

On my first visit to Cambodia some years back I met a few young people and as we were chatting some made some disparaging remarks about Thai people. 'How many Thai people do you know?' I asked.

'None,' came the answer.

'So, tell me—How many fingers do you have?'


'Mmmm. Same as Thai people. And what about toes? How many toes do Cambodian people have?'


'Just like Thais. How many eyes do you have?'


'So do all the Thais I've met. And ears—How many ears do you have?'


'The same as all the Thai people I know. You know,' I said. 'Thai people are even more like Cambodian people than I am. You can be friendly with me, why not Thai people?'

I don't want to put these people down. I don't want my Thai readers to think any less of them. They simply didn't know better. They'd never met any Thais but they'd been taught to dislike them. They perceived differences but I pointed out how much Thais and Cambodians have in common. How different their attitudes might have been if they were taught this as children instead of being told lies.

Mem Fox is an Australian storyteller and children's writer. I know that Mem and I share similar attitudes on this issue and others. It seems that Mem has undertaken to write a book to teach the same concept that I was talking about. It goes...

'There was one little baby who was born far away.

'And another who was born on the very next day.

'And both of these babies, as everyone knows,

'had ten little fingers and ten little toes...'

The text of the book does not mention any differences at all but Helen Oxenbury's illustrations show babies from many different races and the book subtly and beautifully suggests that we all have more in common than we are different.

I've bought copies of this book for my grandchildren. Maybe I should buy a few for my friends in Cambodia.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Mem Fox, Helen Oxenbury
Penguin / Viking, 2008
Mem Fox's website

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