Travels with my tot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 12:00am

Should parents take very young children on holiday? My parents often tell the tale of how they left me with my grandparents when I was 18 months old and still crawling. My grandmother promptly filed my mother's carefully penned, multi-paged list of instructions for my upkeep in a drawer for the duration of my one-week stay, by the end of which I'd taken my first steps.

My son, Joshua, who'd already been to Thailand, France, Holland and Britain twice by the time he was 18 months old, has proved to me that parents can take young children on holidays that are way off the beaten track.

Our last family sojourn, to Harbin, in northeast China, which is famous for its winter festival, was scorned as irresponsible by those who know us. 'For a week?' friends asked incredulously, when we told them we were taking him to a city just south of Siberia, where the seasonal temperatures often plunge below 25 degrees Celsius. Even the more robust Harbin folk themselves echoed their concerns with the likes of: 'We don't even take our own young children out.'

In fact, since we were travelling with Joshua, a seven-night stay was needed to see the city. Without him in tow, we could have done it in half the time, but we'd allowed for naps, feeding times and nappy-changing (not a quick operation when we had to find a suitable heated room and deal with umpteen layers of clothing. We limited our outdoor trips to about an hour.

Dusk fell at 4pm, but some of the attractions were best seen at night anyway. While his mum and dad were wowed by outlandish, internally lit ice sculptures, the tallest of which rose to about five storeys, Joshua's eyes were firmly fixed on his new bulky snow boots, the source of hypnotic amusement as they crunched through the ice. One sculpture, however, dragged his eyes upwards: a snowman, towering six metres high.

When Harbiners weren't chiding our foolhardiness, they were charmed by our son. His curly hair and Eurasian looks, and the fact that his mother speaks Putonghua, captivated locals. For a male tourist, who's generally experienced anonymity when travelling alone, and hesitated before talking to locals for fear of how it would be perceived, my son proved to be a passport to a more enriching holiday.