March 10, 2007
A Chinese cultural note: Chinese people love porcelain white skin. They buy creams, they bleach, they used umbrellas in the sun- anything to keep their skin as white as possible. It is unfathomable to them that American women and men (for the most part) desire to be 'tan'. The fact that we intentionally lay outside and let the sun make our skin darker is a shock.
When I explained the concepts of tanning booths, tanning lotions, and bronzing powders to my good Chinese friends their faces were the picture of horror. "Why? It makes no sense!", they said. I just shrugged and we had a great conversation about the definition of beauty in different cultures. One of the girls Christina has freckles dotting the brim of nose and cheeks- and one of her friends commented on her friend's "spots". "Spots? No, they're freckles. They're cute", I said. Again, faces of horror and a smile on Christina's face as the super white American (me) told her that her 'spots' were cute. I, again, explained that they are a sign of youth and many famous models in America have freckes. Christina said she was going to move to America so she can be considered beautiful.
I warned my friends that I would be traveling to Thailand over the Chinese New Year, and I hoped to get tan myself. After months of little sunshine in Nanchang- and my first real winter in my life- I was beyond white. My students called me "piao liang" sometimes which means beautiful in Chinese. But I longed for a hint of color. At one point someone took a picture at dinner with a porcelain cup in hand and indeed I was as white as the cup! The absolute definition of 'porcelain white'. The first day on Koh Phayam I got burnt, bad. Mikayla was a great friend and applied aloe and after sun lotion on my back for days.
By the end of our week on the island of Koh Phayam I had picked up some sun and felt great about it. I wondered what my students would think. I was now considered less beautiful in their culture. Before school started, my friend Tracy stopped by my apartment. The first thing that came out of her mouth was, "You are SOOO black!" and she shook her head in disappointment. I had to laugh- and then kindly explain to her that she should use the word 'dark'. I might be less beautiful in China, but it's so nice to see a couple freckles on my cheeks and not blend in with my tea cup.