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July 24, 2013

Darkening Skin and Tourist Expenses

Tom McLaughlin

Damai Beach, Malaysian Borneo – I am so proud of my Malaysian wife, Suriani. She certainly has had to put up with a lot from me.


She was born and raised in a kampung here near Kuching. After meeting and marrying me, she has shared my love for the sea. We both float above the water snorkeling at the wonders of the barrier reefs, yell “up and over” in the waves and take long walks along the beach searching for shells. The people here think light white skin is beautiful while we in the west feel a dark tan is preferable. There are many products sold in stores that will lighten the skin much as we have sun tan oils and lotions that will darken it.


The problem is the tropical sun. When Suriani and our son Dzul play in the sea or splash in the pool, their skin turns a much deeper coconut husk color in about 20 minutes. They skip the burning part. I, meanwhile, rub on number 30 on my skin but I still get burned anyway. This is mainly because I forget to reapply and don’t coat the bald spot on my head which, for vanity, I refuse to acknowledge is there.


At first, Suriani felt her skin was ugly because it darkened; but when my daughters came and they tried to get a tan in Bali, she understood that brown skin was really sexy, as I have been trying to convince her all along. She was very amused to see my daughters lying in the sun and turning red then peeling and then finally tanning, when she was born that color.


Today is the 15th day of Ramadan noted by the full moon. Unlike in the west, the Islamic calendar is a lunar one. Preparations are well under way for the end of the fasting month two weeks from now. We are purchasing new clothes for the occasion. We also acquire MYR $5 notes ($1.60 US) to stuff into small envelopes and will distribute them to the children. We will give the older teens about MYR$100 and her parents, one each for mom and dad, a larger sum. Suriani has been helping to clean the parent’s house for the celebrations. Everybody will look their best.


However, we have just spent three days at an expensive tropical resort near Kuching. I say expensive because unless you know the real local prices then it can be astronomical. Whereas those who make reservations on the Internet could pay over $350 a night, we pay only about $40. We associate with the wealthy people from Europe who think we are also in the same upper class income bracket. They learn rather quickly that I am a starving English teacher when I tell them where to buy good cheap local food as opposed to the horrifically expensive restaurant fare at the hotel.


Over the three days, we played on a clean, snow white private beach, swam in the huge infinity pool and dozed under thatched covered sun barriers. As usual Dzul and Suriani attained their tan which, I am sure, the tourists thought was acquired in Nice, San Moritz or other hot spots for the rich and famous.


One very good looking movie-star-looking couple always attracted attention from the other tourists. They were obviously “somebody” but I hadn’t a clue nor did I care. They kept looking at us wondering why we also did not fawn over them. We did civilly greet each other when our paths crossed.


On one occasion we saw them at Dami Central, an eating place where every stall cooked a different type of food. They could not understand why nobody was behind the counters and everybody was sitting down staring at their food. I had to explain about Ramadan and the ending of the daily fast. Suriani and I also broke our fast after an evening nap. I later found out they were jet setters from one of the royal families, which one I am not sure of as it was not important to me.


We returned to our condo in Kuching rested, revived and mentally ready for the holidays. Suriani had to walk into town to buy some items. When we shop, everybody stops her for a chat because most are relations or friends of relations. One looked at Suriani’s skin, noted how dark she had become, and wondered why she hadn’t prepared her skin for the celebrations meaning trying to make it lighter. She said I like this way. They looked at her quizzically and then understood the influence of the American white guy she married.


And I love her for that!


. . . . .Life is good. . . . .


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