A couple of days ago, my partner and I found ourselves reading the FT and playing gin rummy at a soulless chain restaurant in the most sterile neighborhood in Hong Kong. Next to us, a small group of Japanese women were splitting a side salad and sharing a cola while they occupied the best table in the house. So Japanese. One of the women had the cutest baby I’d seen in a long time. The pudgy bundle was strapped into a stroller and outfitted in a pink-rimmed summer hat and matching sun dress. So Japanese. The baby was content to sit and do nothing, glancing about the room and smiling at anyone who caught her eye. So not Japanese.

The baby was also quiet. No screaming. No whining. No crying. No discernible baby-like behavior, except for the occasional coo or giggle. It’s as if the baby somehow knew instinctively that making a nuisance of herself would disturb the Wa, disrupt the harmony.

I was tempted to engage the table in conversation, to show off a little of my third language and bombard them with the Japanese I learned to navigate their capital city for four years. My partner gave me a look that said, “Please don’t.”

And so I didn’t. Which is fine given how much the baby seemed to like me making faces at her. It’s not hard to go from gushy gaijin who loves babies to creepy foreigner downing his second margarita.

My partner and I immediately started discussing how strange it was that Japanese babies could be so quiet while Western babies–hell, babies in general– could be such terrors. My parents couldn’t even take me to restaurants until I was 13. Seriously, by the time I knew how to use my hands, I was throwing knives and making threats like any other normal Mexican baby.

Maybe the self-imposed isolation that Japan experienced for generations isolated the Wa gene. Screaming babies were left to fend for themselves in the wild. Quiet babies were allowed to stay home and thrive. “Bad” babies died out, and the “good” ones grew up.

An American friend in Tokyo once told me that she was ushered into a special room to nurse her baby after the line she was waiting in to nurse her son grew too long. There she was, the sole Westerner among Japanese women and their hungry babies. The Japanese babies fed quietly and without incident while her baby cried, ripped at her blouse, nursed loudly, belched, and then for good measure, farted. She was mortified.

Before we left the restaurant, I lifted my empty glass and quietly toasted the bright-eyed baby. If all babies behaved like Japanese babies, I might even want one someday.

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