After thinking I was well traveled having been to Australia and Mexico in my teenage years, I figured I was ready for what Asia had to offer me culturally. Oh, how I was wrong, thick skin is an understatement for what you need being a healthy, tall, female woman foreigner traveling in Asia. It started in China during my layover. I do not make it a habit to budge in front of the person who entered the bathroom before me to use a toilet. I was standing in the washroom behind about four Asian women where I sat and watched woman after woman enter the bathroom from behind me bolt into the first stall door that opened. This continued for about 10 minutes as I watched in Awe as they all just trampled in front of one another… finally, I thought, “That’s it!” and charged at one of the stalls. I realized it was not just me they were doing this too and that it was normal procedure there, however, I was in shock that I had to barge through this crowd of tiny Asian women to use the toilet.
Only the Beginning
In Thailand, the feel was a bit different in that they were more socially aware of each other and me but, they had no filter between what they thought and what they said. As I met more travelers, I came to realize, this is common not just in Asia but Africa, Latin America and parts of Europe. I walked into the gym, I was there to train the local sport, Muay Thai, the first thing I remember is the trainers poking at my arms and thighs. They squeezed them and asked, “Why so big? Why your arm jiggle and my arm no jiggle?” Then the comments started,
Why you eat so much food?
Why you no workout?
You have a pimple.
Your leg very big.
Why you no work out in your country?”
And on and on
It took me several days to realize this is not only the way they talk to foreigners but also how they talk to friends, strangers, and even family members. After a few months of being around all the Thais, I could see their sweet nature and even though they do say what they are thinking, they also care about you as they say it. Eventually, I was able to pick up keywords in Thai such as fat or chubby. One time, as I was walking to the local market a bunch of men were in the back of a pickup truck and all pointed and laughed calling me fat in Thai. I looked at them and repeated the word fat and said back to them in Thai, “No good!” They all stopped laughing and looked quite embarrassed.
Don’t Mess with My Shopping
Shopping was even more eventful, the women would scream from their stalls as I walked through the market, “I have big size for you, I have big, big size no problem.” My friend who is about a size 10 US said the same thing happened to her while shopping in Shanghai. She said once, “I was looking for a bikini in Rio Vermelho. My natural D cups were not suited for mostBrazilian style tops. I thought I found a good one so I tried it on and the shopgirl said, ‘You look disgusting, I am not selling you that.’ I was so taken aback, I mean my nipples weren’t showing nor was a copious amount of side boob, I thought it looked okay. But I was so embarrassed I threw on my dress and ran out the shop.”
One woman laughed as I was looking at her shirts in a market in Vietnam and said,”my head same size” as she pointed at my breast. I just smiled and couldn’t help but to laugh as it was not mean spirited just so blatantly honest. Another woman at a food stall pointed at my neck and asked,”Why you have?” I realize she was pointing at a heat rash on my neck. I have never seen this woman before in my life and she is asking about a rash.
Who Doesn’t Love a Good Tan
Another friend said she was shopping in India with one of her cousins. My friend, who is American, has a morena complexion and her cousin was significantly darker. As they went from stall to stall, the women would pay the most attention to her. She thought it was because she was speaking with an American accent but then she and her cousin picked up the same fabric. The woman told her, “You are so fair everything will look beautiful on you.” Then in Hindi told her cousin it was not for her, she was too dark. She couldn’t believe the woman, a stranger would say something so off color, pun intended.
One of the best compliments I got was from one of the massage girls was, “Ohh, you so dark now, you go to beach too much.” I said, “Oh, why thank you.” I finally thought I was hearing something nice. She then scrunched up her nose and shook her head no. In Thailand dark skin is ugly, it implies that you are dirty and poor. All the face creams and deodorant have skin whitener in them. Thai woman go to all cost to cover their skin from the sun and stay as white as possible. I was in shock at this also and continued to slather on the tanning oil! One of the trainers at the gym said to my friend Yana “What happened to you? you white. You used to be brown like me, you need some sun, look sick.” So it can go both ways on the scale of light and dark.
While my skin had grown thicker over the months and trying not to take things personally, pointing and laughing at the way someone looks in any culture is rude. To this day, Thailand is still my favorite country in the world, I have never met a nicer culture in all my travels. However, I do have to prep myself before I return for the comments that will arise, recently I returned and one of the boys who works at the local restaurant I frequented over the years ran up to me excited to see me, then grabbed my belly, jiggled it and said wow so big now. I know he has a heart of gold and was genuinely happy to see me and the fact my belly had gotten bigger, so I just have to remind myself not to take it personally.
Image Credit: Lindsey