This thingamajig here is my newest accessory, given to me by the mom of a friend of my son's -- who, I'd like to point out, really is a nice and wonderful person, and has looked out for me from day one. "For you," she said. "I know you bike to school in the middle of the day, and it's very sunny. So you have shade on the bike."
I know she means well. And I think this contraption is clever and pretty. I'm appreciative of her thoughtfulness and amused by her effort to keep me dry and "white." You see, the Thai people have this crazy obsession with light-colored skin. One big reason they love expats' kids, especially the blond ones. Even all the outdoor workers cover themselves from head to toe while outside to keep from getting darker. A bit too late, I hate to say. They're already as dark as they're ever going to get. Even their skin lotions and shampoos contain skin-lightening chemicals. It's weird, if you ask me.
And they are total wimps when it comes to the heat and outdoors. I don't know if it's because these women I know from school are used to being pampered and being waited on hand and foot, but on days that even I consider to be "pleasant" (i.e., temperature in the 80s and low to no humidity), they are whining about how hot it is and how sick they feel because of the heat.
So how did I become the center of Project "Keep Farang Woman From Getting Darker," you ask? Well, it all started last Wednesday, when I biked to school to pick up my son in the afternoon. I do this every Wednesday while my husband attends faculty and department meetings/professional development events and plays basketball with a group of teachers.
I got to school a bit sweaty from my 15-minute bike ride. The mom who gave me this asked why I was sweaty. When I told her, she looked at me with horror and admiration. Then another mom questioned why I was sweaty because I'm "skinny, not fat" (I guess only fat people sweat?!). When I told her I had biked to school, she was horrified: "Oh, that's 10 or 15 minutes away!!" Unimaginable! Both looked at me with pity that I don't have a driver to shelter me like they do.
A few minutes later, the second mom started to fret that her son's skin has been getting so dark, even though she puts "the sun lotion" on him (though, ironically, the Thai way is to put on sunscreen only when spending a considerable period of time outdoors, such as during swimming and not when the kids go to school). She made a point of telling me that her son's skin is "naturally light," but the sun has made it dark. They both seemed bothered by this. Then they both turned to me and silently looked at me, still sweaty and unashamedly tanned and will be for as long as I'm living here.
This conversation would have horrified any American listening in. There definitely is no such thing as political correctness here, which I find so refreshing and love. I am so amused imagining what a sight I must be to them: this seemingly "uncivilized" woman in her very informal shorts, tank tops, and flip flops, with poofy hair and sweaty and dark skin...meanwhile, they are always perfectly made up and dressed, beautifully accessorized, every hair in place, completely cool and dry, and most importantly, the complete opposite of tanned.
I am so curious what they think of us farangs, who deliberately (*gasp*) spend as much time outdoors as we can to bask in the sun and fresh air while allowing our skin to become brown. I wonder what they would think of many Americans' love of tans! The Thai people and their ways really can be so entertaining, just as I'm sure our quirks are to them!