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Cycling around Kep

22 Dec

After a “I hear Kep is supposed to be nice” comment from  fellow traveller Raf, we were on a bus to the little coastal town, not far from Kampot in Cambodia (where loads of pepper is grown).

Once we arrived we secured a bamboo hut on the hill side (they were pretty comfortable, though electricity only came on from about 5pm), with a beautiful view of the bay. We rented a couple of bikes and along with our friend Raf we scouted out the local area.

Kep, once a popular resort area until the Khmer Rouge came along and forced everyone out, it now had an air of abandonment; but not it a trashy way, just reclaimed by nature and time. The old fancy broad-walks along the coast, now cracked and grown over in some places, coastal homes lay gutted. Though next to all this decay there were also a few wonderful local restaurants and newer resorts (like our own).

We stopped to try the local crab (which the area is known for), and did not regret it. We ate peppered crab with pepper from down the road and crab not more that 30M from where we sat and ate on the shore.

The next day, feeling energetic we set off with our bicycles once more in an attempt to find more old abandoned houses whilst we circled the hill which a part of Kep sat on. We cycled for miles through the most beautiful countryside. Passing locals retrieving mud from the river (not sure either…) and field after field of rice. Stopping here and there to say hello to the local children of picking up playing cards (once again not sure either… ask Clare). As we doubled back to round the other side of the hill, we happened upon a mosque almost in the middle of nowhere. It looked pretty incredible against the swirling skies of an ominous looking storm.

 

2 Minutes up the road we ploughed into the nearest restaurant/cafe/shop/thingy at the side of the road, rain just on our heels. As we propped our bikes up and ran under the tarp that was the front of the shop thing, the heavens opened. I know! I know! Its a massive cliché, but there really was no other way to describe it. SO MUCH WATER FROM SKY! We sat and ate some chewy fried things and nibbled on some hard cinnamon baked things whilst we waited, watching the road become a river.

After a surprisingly short time the rains just stopped and on we went.

We cycled only a short distance and discovered an amazingly blackened building in the middle of a luscious green field of rice. We all stopped to take pictures and after a minute we realised how quiet and peaceful it was around there. Well, not entirely.

“What’s that sound?” Raf asked.

“What sound?” I replied

“That sorta whooshing rushing sound? Sounds like TV Static? Oh my god is that rain?!”

“Shit, CLARE RAINS COMING, Run!”

We grabbed our bikes and peddled as fast as we could in the direction of the nearest building, which happened to be a farm house with a pig-sty next to it. Not seeing anyone in the house we ran for the iron lean-to that was the sty. And then the rain fell, heavy as before, soaking Clare to the bone as she was a little way behind us (she had gone up to explore the building).

Eventually the rain slowed enough (the owners of the farm house had seen us standing in the sty) and we we’re invited into the farm house. It was an incredibly humble home, with dirt floors wooden beds with no mattress only mats and a barrel in a back room for washing. We spent quite some time in there, waiting for the rain, in the warmth of the simple home. We made the time pass by trying to bridge the language barrier; playing with the children  (Clare teaching them yoga and getting them to play ‘Simon Says’ which was more like ‘Copy Clare’), drawing pictures in a little note book, teaching the kids to count in English and showing photos from our camera’s. I don’t think I have felt that welcomed by strangers in a long time, though there was no common language and we had nothing to give to them in the way of thanks, we really did feel so welcomed.

Eventually the rain let up and we left, waving and shouting “Ar Kun” (thank you). After a short ride we finished the circle, to climb the guest houses hill once more, arriving exhausted and sweaty.

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Skin Lightening in Thailand

16 Sep

Like tooth whitening adverts but with skin.

Before arriving in Thailand, I had no idea how obsessed some Thai people are with the colour of their skin or how accidentally racist the beauty industry is out here.

There are adverts everywhere showing Thai women with bleached out, flawless faces, advertising some sort of skin lightening product with captions reading, ‘We make you beautiful.’

As a teenager I worked at the Body Shop for a while and sometimes when I’d apply make-up on Asian women they’d ask me to make their skin lighter. This always struck me as odd but it’s pretty obvious why now.

Not only are there excessive amounts of skin lightening advertising everywhere here but all the Thai models, actors and actresses are incredibly white, and in every shopping centre there are skin whitening beauty salons, often several in a row.

It’s also not uncommon to see people who aren’t out to rob, wearing black balaclavas in the midday sun- fearful of their skin becoming darker.

Whilst in Chiang Rai I asked a Thai man who worked in the hostel we were staying at why people are so eager to lighten their skin. He said, “a lot of people don’t want to be confused with  labourers or rice field workers who have darker skin which is seen as a sign of poverty.”

He went on to say that many Thai people are heavily influenced by Japan, Korea and western countries. And in Bangkok it’s popular for women to get nose jobs “to make their noses less flat like western people and skin lightening injections.”

I started to realize that if I needed to buy moisturiser in Thailand, it’d be a mission to find products that don’t contain lightening ingredients. In a way I find this more disturbing; It’s assumed that everyone would prefer lighter skin whether they want it or not.

And finally, the lightening obsession doesn’t just end with skin. Yesterday I discovered that even the biscuit sections in shops only seem to stock white Oreo’s. I couldn’t even spot any of the original kind. Things have clearly gone too far.