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A Touch of the Hand to the Head

Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In our pre-travel research and briefing sessions, we consistently learned that it is impolite to touch people on the head in Malaysia. This doesn’t seem like it’d be challenging, but in tight quarters and selfie photo taking situations, I’ve found myself being more cautious than usual as I try to observe this custom…

Yesterday, we were invited to speak and play at a school for children with dyslexia. When we arrived at the school, we were asked to remove our shoes; a first for me, and a funny day for it because Lesleigh and I were both sporting Green Bay Packers socks to support our team, though we are traveling half the world away.

When we arrived, the students (ranging from about 7-11 years old) were politely, quietly waiting for us. As we set up, they sat silently watching us. It was very sweet and humbling. I could almost feel their burning curiosity for the program that would soon begin.

I started by telling the students about our American Music Abroad tour, and then demonstrated how I build my guitar cast; I encouraged them in their own pursuits of their goals and dreams, and to persevere as they encountered tough days. If you’ve heard the term “old soul” it’s how I’d describe the room. For 7-11 years old, there was a maturity, and a worldliness that comes from having persevered as they are doing so early in life.

We started some music and taught some of our favorite songs like, “Lucky Fin Song,” “Hello, How do you do?” And “Daddy’s Takin’ Us To The Zoo Tomorrow.” The kids sang at the top of their lungs, and we all had a blast together.

When the concert concluded, we were swarmed with autograph requests, we all took photos, and then something very powerful happened… A young girl, about 11 years old, shook my hand and touched it to her forehead. The entire school followed her lead, one student after the other.

On the way home, the embassy staff told me that that is a sign of great respect for the students to do that. Wow.


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