On the first full day of my 20-day visit in Vietnam, I noticed something very obvious and conflicting, with my eyes while in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
Everywhere I go. Everywhere I look. The thermometer read +35C (95F). The heat. The humidity – oh the humidity – it was about 95%. Luckily by this time, I had started to acclimatize to the crazy hot heat of Asia – this took 1.5 months. However, it still felt like a ginormous sauna / steam room to me, every time I leave the comfort of air conditioning.
I am an odd ball. By the time I was a teenager, I knew I could never wear jeans while visiting family in Hong Kong. But yes, the rumours are true, I was born in Hong Kong and lived there for 10 years before we immigrated to Canada. The weather in Hong Kong is simply too hot and humid for my physical body. My skin needs to breathe. So naturally I did not pack a pair of jeans into my luggage for Asia (April to July of 2013).
However, countless women below 60 years of age in Vietnam wore thick long-sleeve sweatshirts or jumpers along with long pants, gloves, hats or helmet with face masks if they are riding their scooters. The women with a dress or a skirt would have something that resembles a long apron that covered their bare legs when riding a scooter (I wish I got a non-blurry photo to show you).
They were literally covered from head to toe – as though it was a frigid day in Canada with a temperature of +5C (41F). WHY!?!? It was such an oddity to my naïve eyes. I sweated extra when I looked at them – dumbfounded.
Meanwhile the typical Caucasian tourist sports tank tops, t-shirts and shorts. Then there is me, wearing Indian style cotton tunics called Kurtis and capris. I wear what I wear because I cannot be bothered to slather on layers of 60 SPF sunblock every 10 minutes. Also with my shoulders and knees covered, I can easily visit temples without bringing or borrowing a sarong. My skin gradually darkened by the sun and the tan gave me a “healthy” glow.
I HAD to ask Why?! – my curious mind wanted to know, to understand.
The answer I received from the locals: BEAUTY.
All for the sake of maintaining fair-coloured skin. Not to protect themselves from sunburn. Not to protect themselves from harmful UV rays which could cause skin cancer. Not to protect themselves from flying debris when riding their scooters. All the extra clothing is meant to help achieve or maintain pale skin for the sake of beauty.
Is this all part of what I call modern day Americanization?? But then if I think again, the Geishas in Japan have been painting their faces white for over, a century for the sake of beauty. Why do human beings have such a hard time accepting themselves for who they are (inside and out)? Why do we constantly look outside and have the desire to be something we are not.
Is outside approval more important than inner acceptance??
Recently, I have started pondering this question. Since I was a child, I have always seeked approval from others. Pleasing others and making sure others are happy and taken cared of was my priority. I was 2nd or 3rd important on the list of priority. However, I have come to realize that it is impossible to make everyone happy. It is most important for me to be happy – this might sound selfish. However, if I am happy innately, naturally, then there is one less person in the world that others have to please and take care of.
So I am working towards inner acceptance – allowing myself to be my true self, without a fascade. With integrity. With authenticity.
For years, I remember walking into beauty supplies stores in Hong Kong and watch Asian women from all over stock up on Whitening products from Japan and Korea. Even my mom have bought me whitening products, in hopes that my skin will look more porcelain white like hers.
During my 3-hour scooter tour of HCMC, I asked my driver/guide to help me find one of the masks many of the Vietnamese ladies wore. Originally I just wanted one simple one that resembles a medical mask, to filter out the exhaust fumes. He thought I wanted one for avoiding the sun and preserving my skin. So he bought me what resembles a ninja mask! This is no simple mask! There’s a beak a the front for shade, back flap to cover the nape of my neck and a velcro-ed front piece that covered my nose and mouth. Actually come to think of it, this looks like a niqab.
When I arrived in Hong Kong, my 4-years old nephew claimed it to be a mask for a superhero and kept it for himself. Kids, they have their own interpretation for everything! HA!