Living in this tropical metropolis with its close proximity to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches would have any sun-worshiper soaking up every bit of it. But Thais not only stay out of the sun, they do everything possible to mitigate its effects.
Westerners soak up the rays at every opportunity. Thousands are spent on beach vacations so that we can plunk down a towel, strap on a skimpy swim suit and deepen our tans. We pay hundreds of dollars at a tanning salon in the middle of winter to get that warm golden hue. We stand naked in a booth and spin around to have a fake tan sprayed on. We will do anything for that “healthy glow.”
But Thais, with more opportunity than most, want nothing to do with the sun. Thais, like most Asians, covet pale, porcelain-like skin. It appears to be a sign of class and pedigree; those you see with dark skin are the street vendors and construction workers spending their days laboring under the hot tropical sun. But in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is at its most glorious peak, you see men using newspapers and women carrying umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun’s evil rays.
Just as Westerners buy creams and gels to give us a a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) tan, Thais too have a cream-counterpart. Whitening cream.
The shelves of local drugstores and supermarkets are filled with countless brands of creams that promise to whiten, brighten and reduce the appearance of sun damage. There are eye creams, face creams, body creams. Deodorant. I still haven’t figured out the purpose of whitening deodorant. I have never gotten sun damage there even when sprawled out on the beach in the snow angel position.
So while Westerners flock to Bangkok to get one-step closer to skin cancer on Thailand’s exquisite beaches, Thais see beauty in a natural visage. And though I admire their responsible attitude towards skin care, I think I’ll take my chances with my shoulders bare and my face to the sky.