In a shirt on a sunny day
Jingsong drinks in the shade
I’d rather tan in Thailand.
Today, in one of the rare, smog-free days of a Beijing spring, I am outside and semi-nude. No, its
not an attempt to get even more stares than usual, though I am succeeding
in making the neighbors look twice in shock. I’m trying my best to keep
some semblance of the rich, dark tan I had in Koh
Ever since my surfing days in the
tropics, I’ve tried to have some color. At times, mainly about March in
Russia, I would loose my tan lines, and split to Turkey for melanin
replenishment. Once I started wandering last May (yes, its been a year
now!), my tan darkened, reaching a lovely dark brown in Thailand as I
spent each day running, swimming, reading, and just plain chilling in the
warm tropical sun.
Since then, my tan has faded, as
I became preoccupied with hitching across Australia or surviving in China.
Unfortunately, Jingmei doesn’t help one bit. She’s not out in the sun
with me now, preferring to stay indoors. She even tries to increase her
ass-whiteness by applying special ‘whitening’ cream I’ve only
seen in Asia.
For Jingmei is not alone in her
quest to glow in the dark. Most Asians, the Thai’s a notable exception,
try to keep white in the most odd and extreme ways. I’ve seen Japanese
wandering along Perth’s beaches dressed in long sleeves, pants, and a hat,
while here in Beijing, umbrellas sprout at the first sign of a clear day.
Why do Asians have this crazy
fear of the wondrous sun? I can only offer my wealth theory. As far as I can
tell, like Victorian Europe, tan skin for Asians means outdoor manual
labor and therefore a low status in society. The rich need not plant,
weed, or harvest, only relax while others do such menial tasks, and white
skin shows this wealth of time and money.
Those of us in the industrialized
West have the opposite view, for we’ve been indoors for the last 100
years. We’ve worked in factories, then offices, for three or four
generations now, erasing our old prejudices against tans. Instead, we
glorify tanning, in movies, pop culture, and daily life.
Why? Because someone with a rich
tan must have a decent amount of leisure time, the scarcest commodity in
America today, to laze on a poolside lounge chair. Think of all the images
of super wealthy. Aren’t they always portrayed poolside, even if they
are in a robe under an umbrella?
Well, I’m not poolside, as I
would like, I am in a little patch of grass between buildings in Jingmei’s
apartment complex. Unlike virtually every complex in the USA, there is no
pool here, for Asians, as I’ve said already, do not tan.
They can’t even comprehend the
desire to do so, depriving Beijing of any decent tanning locations. No
parks allow sitting on the grass, much less stripping to a pair of shorts
or bikini. The river, which is more like a canal, has no sandbanks, and no
one is permitted to swim in the few lakes.
Actually, Jingmei wanted to drive
to one of Beijing’s reservoirs today, but when I found I wouldn’t be
allowed to swim there, I objected to the trip. Why drive two hours to
clear, cool lake, on a hot spring day, if you can’t swim in the
I still can’t fully understand
why I can’t swim there. The argument that too many people would foul the
water for Beijing makes me wonder how good the tap water filtration system
works these days. Maybe that’s why we never drink the tap water.