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 The Sun, Skin Color, and Status in Thailand  (Page 13)
My balcony faces the north, so it gets very little sunlight, and during the day Woodstock is protected from the heat of the tropical sun. Once a day, however, my balcony does see a small amount of sunlight, just a sliver that appears temporarily and then fades. As you can see, Woodstock actively seeks out this sliver of sunlight and enjoys its warmth while he charges up on its life giving energy.

On the other hand, many Thais I know are afraid of the sun and avoid the beautiful beaches here because they are afraid their skin will get darker. It's a strange world we live in, it seems that no one is happy with the original color of their skin. My fellow countrymen who are white want to be tan. They spend a lot of money and time at tanning booths lying under artifical light to make their skin darker. Thais, who are already beautifully tan, want to be white, and many of them avoid the sun as if it were some deadly disease. Some of them, from the time they are children drink vinegar to bleach their skin white. Businesses that sell skin whitening lotions thrive on every corner and in every aisle. It really is a shame because in nature so many of the Thais have the most beautiful skin I have ever seen, with no freckles or blemishes, appearing so soft, smooth, and even in color. Sometimes, however, I see Thais with skin so white that it does not look natural, sometimes the pigment looks damaged, full of blemishes, and looks rough like sandpaper. From what I have observed, I believe this is not natural in the Thai population, that these people have abused their skin trying to make it something it is not.

Such are the pressures to climb the social ladder. In Thailand skin color is one of the three things that determine your social status. The other two are money and age. Money seems to determine social status in every country, while in Thailand a lot of deference is still given to people who are older in age. In fact, co-workers are referred to as "Pi" (older) and "Nong" (younger) with more respect given to the older workers.

So if one person has a lot of money, and another is older and has whiter skin, who is viewed as higher in status? The simple answer is that money always whispers and sometimes screams. One of our Australian teachers noticed that the children were giving one of her students a rough time about his skin being dark while they were always polite to another student of affluent parents. She noticed that the child they identified as dark and ugly actually had skin that was lighter then the rich student, so she put the two students in front of the class. Attempting to reform their behaviour she asked the class which student was lighter, but the class came back with the resounding contradiction that the affluent student was whiter.
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