A Black Face

The summer holidays are fast drawing to a close. The funny thing is that the temperature started rising last week. It peaked at 41.5 degrees Celsius. During the year, we usually average at 32 degrees Celsius which is hot but bearable. You get used to it the longer you stay here. Some people reckon that your blood gets thinner so you don’t get so hot. But, I don’t think that is so true. I think I am finding the heat more bearable because I am becoming more Thai.

What does that mean? Well, for a start, you need to slow down. And I mean everything. Your walking and your thinking. You can always spot the foreigner in the distance because he is walking fast with long strides. You cannot do that. You need to slow right down and stroll as if you are going no-where in particular. The same goes for your work life. Don’t take everything so seriously. You will get all worked up and hot under the collar. Relax. In Thailand there are two speeds: slow and slower.

All of the teachers had to go into school this week. First sign the holidays are now over. It is a completely different atmosphere at school at this time as there are no students present. Most of the teachers were like giggly schoolgirls as they hadn’t seen each other for a while. Sitting around and gossiping. I didn’t teach summer school so this was the first time I had seen many teachers for about two months now! Do you know what the first thing they said to me was? It was “na dum” which means “black face”. I don’t really have a black face. Not even a brown face. But I do have a tan which was mainly from my mid-day walk last week when I went looking for the beach in Paknam.

Now, in Thailand, people don’t usually go out in the mid-day sun. Nor do they sun-bathe like the crazy Westerners. So, they didn’t ask me if I had been away on holiday somewhere exotic. All of them just asked, did I go swimming in the sea? For them, that is the only plausible reason to have a tan. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun. I decided the easiest answer was to just say “yes”. I went on holiday to the beach and went swimming every day!

It’s funny that. When I first came to Thailand I always tried to get a good year-round tan. Then I became more Thai and I started to avoid the sun more. I don’t mean I rubbed whitening cream over my body. I did things like standing in the shadow of bus stops and walking with a newspaper covering my face. I also avoided going outside in the heat of the day. As a consequence, the second or third time I went back to the UK everyone asked me how come I didn’t have a tan! So, after that I had to make sure I had a beach holiday a couple of weeks before I went back home!

If you watch television here you will see by the advertisements that Thai people are crazy about pale skin. Whitening cream is big business here. Everyone I know wants skin the same colour as mine. Though, at the moment, I have “na dum” so apparently I am not so attractive. Next week, some of the kids will come to school with “na dum”. Their friends will tease and taunt them. It is not good to have dark skin here. It is a sign that you are a laborer. Even the laborers want to pretend they are not laborers by wrapping up with ski masks and towels and big hats.

It is always funny when things are turned on their head. Westerners pay a lot of money to get a tan and Thai people pay a lot of money to get white skin.

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