The weather in Bangkok leaves me pale-faced


Me and my umbrella. (Photo by Bjorn Karlman)

“Winter” in Bangkok has definitely ended. Forget everything I said previously about humidity being manageable. I can not handle it.  I laugh now to think that I once wrote that humidity is “negligible; I wouldn’t even know it was there except that my hair is in perma-fuzz mode.”

Yesterday, when I stepped out of our apartment building, it felt like a 20-foot barefoot giant who had just run a marathon stepped on me and I was trapped in the cracks between his toes. There was so much moisture in the air it was hard to breathe and so much heat it felt like a physical weight. My energy (and most of my deodorant) flushed away within minutes. Every quarter of a mile, I had to stop and go inside a 7-11/mall/anything that was full of air-conditioned glory. My switch quickly flipped from “happy adventurous Jammie” to “cranky, brush-by-me-again-with-your-clammy-arm-and-I-will-go-monkey-nuts-on-you Jammie.” Every step I took just made me feel worse, and this was with an umbrella!

Yes, I use an umbrella now. Yes, I have become super Asian.

I avoided using an umbrella for the longest time. In Asia, using an umbrella is associated with trying to have whiter skin. While that may be true for some, it is not for me. As a lighter-skinned Filipina, I am on a forever quest to put some color in my skin and avoid looking like a “Twilight” movie extra. At the least, I would like to be as tan as my Swedish husband. While I know there are health benefits to not getting too tan, I think it’s plain weird to blend in with walls or sheets of paper. This opinion has been strengthened after seeing two stylish, whiter-than-white, otherwise attractive Asian women the other night. They looked like they were glowing in the dark. It’s crazy unnatural the shades of white for which some Asian women strive.

I use an umbrella because it helps in my fight against my true nemesis: heat exhaustion. Not only does it provide some welcome relief from the rays beating down on my tender head, but the umbrella also is a handy tool for knocking fruit from trees and/or whacking possible purse snatchers. And it does it all without messing up my hair!

Most of the women I’ve seen use an umbrella in Thailand are (shall we say) “mature,” leading me to believe that umbrella-use is more for shading than keeping white. (When I was younger, I would be embarrassed that my grandmother would always walk under the shade of an umbrella. At the time I didn’t realize it was for shade; my kindergarten-mind could only grasp that umbrellas were used in the rain. “Grandma,” I would whine vigorously, hoping fervently that none of my classmates would see us, “it’s not even raining! Put that away!” She wisely ignored me.) I have finally come to terms with my heat-resistance being only slightly greater than that of an albino rabbit, and my umbrella is my faithful companion on all our walks.


I decided to go with Johnson & Johnson because it’s a brand I recognize, but the description on the back (“To protect the naturally white skin & healthy pink glow you are born with…” ) makes me feel a little sick. (Photo by Jammie Karlman)

It’s been harder getting used to the skin-whitening lotion, though. (I know, I know; wasn’t I just talking about wanting a tan?) Believe me, I didn’t want to get the lotion.  I laughed at the ads everywhere touting skin-whitening lotion/serums/shower creams; the absurdity and unnaturalness of lightening skin color. It seems self-hating to want to change your skin color. And I’ve never really understood the Asian fascination with white skin. Doesn’t darker skin mean you have more protection against the sun? Plus, I am morally opposed to the marketing campaigns because they equate whiter with better.

But then I ran out of my moisturizer with SPF 15. While I like tans, I am not into looking wrinkled before my time or melanoma, especially as I’ve had a brush with a weird-looking mole on my hand before. I looked everywhere for an SPF lotion, but could not find one that did not tout skin-whitening abilities also. I delayed for as long as I could, but the freckles on my skin got darker (and I thought) looked larger. My facial skin looked rough and dry scales appeared on my legs. I freaked out and caved.

So now I use an umbrella and skin-whitening lotion (for SPF purposes only). I can only guess that balloon pants, something I also said I’d never get, can’t be too far behind.


10 thoughts on “The weather in Bangkok leaves me pale-faced

  1. Hey Jammie, at first I couldn’t believe that Johnson & Johnson would help perpetuate that mentality, but then I thought, wait….they’re a multi-billion dollar company that will do whatever it takes to make more money, even if it means exploiting cultural taboos, so actually it sounds about right. It also makes me think of this article that I read about these Chinese swimsuits that cover people from head to toe literally so they don’t get darker at the beach. I think it’s sad that this mentality is so pervasive among practically all cultures. By the way, that’s funny about the humidity. I felt the same way when I went on a cruise and stepped off the ship into the Caribbean air.

    • I was disappointed in J&J, too. I’ve been using their baby lotion since I was, well, a baby, but I think you’re spot-on in your assessment of the company.
      And you’re right about this mentality being found in almost all cultures. I just ask, why??? I don’t understand it. Sigh.

  2. Haha Jammie! Caught between the toe cracks of a sweaty giant, that image made me wretch a little you are so funny! Glad you guys are having fun. 🙂

    • Actually, I like how you phrased it better — much more succinct. You could have a future as an editor. 😀 Thanks for the comment and hooray for sweaty fun! (No, wait — yeah, that sounds bad, but I’m gonna leave it. :D)

  3. Your comments about humidity and heat remind me of the miseries of March and April during our years in Hong Kong. We had to keep dehumidifiers going around the clock to prevent mold growing on the walls. Yes, airconditioners are great!

    • Hi Roland! Yeah, I’m not so great at dealing with humidity. It’s probably why we spend so much time in air-conditioned malls. 😀 But Bjorn is doing very well in this weather; his childhood experiences with it must have left him immune to humidity’s effects. 🙂

  4. Hi Jammie,
    I also remember what it was like in Hong Kong with 95 % humidity and around 35-37 degrees Celcius. We emptied both our dehumidifiers of about 10 litres of water each/24 hrs and our children still remember the yellow little mushrooms that grew out of a little crack in the wall inside our house. It was not enough for a mushroom stew though and they might not have been safe to eat!

    • Hi Inger,
      Oooh, good thing you had dehumidifiers. I know that if I saw mushrooms growing out of a crack in a wall, I would want to play with them, even at this age. 🙂 And though I love mushrooms, they sure can be deadly!

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