#12 from SE Asia: Excuse me sir, but you are TOO dark…

#12 from SE Asia
from Dien Bien Phu, Viet Nam

When I rode my bike into the hotel in Dien Bien Phu, I was dirty. No doubt about it. Sweaty from 2 days of pedaling and no baths. Plus, when the trucks passed me on the road, the dust they kicked up stuck to me. I was clearly the dirtiest person checking into the hotel today.

As soon as I check in, I take a shower. Then I do my laundry. Or if I am staying a few days, I have the hotel to my laundry for me.

So I come back down to the hotel desk all clean and fresh with my last set of clean clothes on. Then the concierge and a few of the maids come up to me. They point out the contrast between my face and arms to the rest of my body. I am, right now, as tanned as I can get on my face, arms, and legs. But the rest of me is my normal pasty white winter self. The concierge pulls up my sleeve and looks at my white skin.

Good, she mimicks.

Then she points to my tanned arms and shakes her head. Bad. She tells me that I should cover my face and arms and legs better when I am outside. What she is saying is something believed thruout SE Asia. Lighter skin is better. You see it all the time. The women with their umbrellas protecting them from the sun, the long sleeves and dresses. A large minority of people, and especially women, wear face masks here. I thought it was from fear of exposure to disease. But many of the face masks come down at night.

Part of the reason is that dark skin is associated with working in the fields. And field work is associated with poverty. Light skin is associated with being educated and wealthy enough to not have to work in the fields. So I am cheerfully but roundly scolded for ‘too much sun’. I am not as white as I could be. One of the maids puts her arm up next to mine. I am even darker than her! Shame on me. I just happen to really like my tan right now.

Then they notice that my hair is a mess. My ponytail is starting to knot up on the road. I don’t want this, but it is so hard to maintain my hair while pedaling. They examine my hair. They are mortified. One of them draws a ‘Y’ on paper for my hair and then indicates with her hand the cutting motioin of scissors. No, I will NOT let her cut off my hair. They argue with me. One gets a translator. He explains that my hair needs ‘trim’. Ohhh. Split ends. When was the last time I did this? Maybe a year ago. They are again mortified. So I undo my ponytail and they proceed to cut off my split ends. When they are done to their satisfaction, I run my comb thru my hair. Not a snag. And I cannot even tell that it is shorter. They lecture me again. I cannot understand a word, but I can understand. Someday I will get this stuff right. I go out and buy a bunch of fruit for us to share.

It appears that every Viet Namese in the city has a mobile phone AND a moped. This has mostly happened in the last ten years. I have seen young women driving mopeds in the city while they are text-messaging. Really. Sometimes I think that a 20 yr old VietNamese has more in common with a 20 yr old American than either have in common with their grandparents. As I key this in, every other of the 18 terminals is occupied by 10-15 year old boys playing video games. Occasionally a young woman gets a terminal. I glance over and it is clear to me that they are social networks with their friends. Should I conclude that it is in the DNA? I think so.

Next: the great battle for Dian Bien Phu

3 Responses to #12 from SE Asia: Excuse me sir, but you are TOO dark…

  1. Dwight,

    You are truly one of a kind. have a safe trip and enjoy yourself.


  2. what you couldnt understand i will translate,”i bet this gringo goes out and gets us some fruit to share when i really could use a glass of cognac and some fries.”let me know if my translation still works.

  3. Sweetie, any white castles you can go to in area on valentines day? lololol have a special valentine dinner in memory! this is the most tan i have ever seen you! you look great! bubbles

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About the Author

Dwight Worker is an American professor, activist, adventurer, and fugitive. He escaped from the Mexican penitentiary Palacio de Lecumberri in 1975 along with the book and movie Escape about the story

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