Doll Reader March/April Issue 2003

When my sister Valerie Mah, a school principal in Toronto, and I went to Tibet, we brought a
Lee Middleton Gentle Touch baby doll with us. The doll, named Bruce after my sister's school,
delighted nearly everyone we met and was a great tool for breaking down cultural barriers. At a school
for orphans and disabled children in the capital Lhasa, the children passed him from desk to desk,
laughing so much they almost cried.  Even the boys wanted to hold him. In one teahouse, Tibetan waitresses
tried to cuddle him, and one woman even held him laughingly up to her breasts. Bruce turned heads at the
 Potala palace and made everyone forget we were foreigners. Even a uniformed guard there couldn't take his eyes off of him or suppress smiles.

Men related to Bruce too, and a driver put him on his dashboard as we toured Lhasa. One child, the
son of the cook on our tour, held Bruce for hours, and without being prompted stroked his face gently
and kissed the doll. The boy was not much bigger than the doll. Valerie felt guilty when she had to put
Bruce away in a suitcase because he looked so real.

Most people's first reaction was to think Bruce was a real baby. When they realized he was a doll,
they usually broke into laughter. We drew crowds on the street, and we didn't need to speak Tibetan to
make friends. When we visited a family of nomads who follow their sheep and goats from pasture to
pasture in sparsely populated western Tibet, we encountered people who had never seen a foreign baby
or a doll before. There, both men and women were afraid to touch him. One woman burst into tears
and moved away when Valerie handed the doll to her. But that was unusual. Bruce usually broke down
all the barriers for us and made people forget themselves and our cameras.

If you undertake a similar project, consider what we learned. Bruce weighs the same as a real
baby, took up a lot of room in a suitcase, and cost my sister overweight fees. Certainly people
did wonder why a grown woman was carrying a doll. That said, Bruce certainly made our trip
very special.

-Submitted by Ruth Lor Malloy


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