Ai Thua Dum
Before moving to Bangkok at the tender age of 11, I was an avid sports player. I was on the softball team, basketball team, soccer team, swimming team; you name it, I played it. As a result, I developed a rather nice tan during my childhood years, which I never really thought much about growing up. However, when we moved to Thailand, the first thing my mass of cousins and relatives did upon seeing me was gasp and exclaim, “Ai thua dum!”
Ai Thua Dum literally translates into “Black One”. Coming from America, I remember thinking back then that their comments were extremely discriminatory and racist, and a whole lot of other things probably not very appropriate to mention here. However, over time, I came to discover that it wasn’t just my relatives who had an obsession with skin color, but practically the whole of Thailand as well.
If you were to plop yourself down in front of the TV, I can guarantee you that your eyes would most certainly be entertained by a variety of skin-lightening commercials within a short time span of ten minutes. And how inventive these commercials can be; there are skin-lightening products with pearl extract, Vitamin B, and even junk to prevent crow’s feet. The works, basically.
Walk along the street at any given hour during the day and you will be able to immediately spot at least one woman rushing (if the city’s busy daytime streets permit her to) in fervent search for cover. Should shade not be readily available to her, you will be able to notice that she uses a variety of odd objects – pieces of paper, shopping bags, folders – to block her face from any impending UV rays. While this may look a little odd to the passive observer on the other side of the road, she couldn’t care less because fair skin is a precious and much coveted commodity in this part of the world.
Apparently skin-lightening products and fair skin are also extremely popular in other parts of Asia, namely Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. In fact, a large majority of the skin-lightening products sold here in Thailand hail from the aforementioned Asian countries. So I guess it’s safe to say that this mentality runs deep in our fellow neighbors as well. The irony of it all is that while we Asians are running away from the sun and towards skin-lightening creams, our Western counterparts are avidly scrambling for tanning beds and the beach.
Anyways, over the years I stopped playing sports and my tan eventually faded. Actually, it’s completely disappeared and I now look like an anemic ghost. Now, while I would like to get some of my previous color back, whenever we get together, my relatives always say, without fail, “Thank goodness you’re not thua dum anymore.”