Saturday, December 13, 2008

The naked truth: postscript

Just an addendum to my earlier witterings about The Fermata; I read the book last weekend, in a beach hut near Pattaya, east of Bangkok. From the window, I could see lots of (Western) people in various states of undress: bikinis; topless; those tight thongs that German males of a certain age deem to be appropriate beachware. Now, all these people knew they were lurching towards nakedness; but did they know that, by Thai cultural standards, they were exceeding the boundaries of decency? Several Thai families were on the same beach, swimming fully clothed, as is the Thai way. When a scantily-clad farang loomed into view, they just looked in the other direction, feeling awkward but not wanting to make a fuss; as is also the Thai way. Unless the Westerners were being particularly crass and insensitive (possibly believing that with the Thai tourist industry in such a dire state, the locals should be pathetically grateful for their mere presence) I presume that they just didn't know the effect their unclad state was having, the message it was sending.

By watching the Westerners parade about with their nipples twinkling in the sun, the outlines of their genitalia clearly visible, was I being another Arno Strine; seeing them exposed to an extent they didn't necessarily realise? Should I have alerted them, like the serpent in Eden, awakening Adam and Eve (or Helmut und Heidi) to their own fall from grace? Or should I have just watched from a distance, hoping that none of them reads this?

8 comments:

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

A question of 'manners makyth man' vs. 'pudenda makyth man'?

Chris said...

Clearly it was your duty to alert them.

'My fine fellow, I have been studying your trunks and the outlines of your genitalia are visible at a distance of fifty yards.'

'Madam, do you realise your nipples are twinkling just so in the sun? Allow me.'

That kind of thing.

garfer said...

Where there any lobster red Brits disporting themselves?

Charles Frith said...

You should write a book about Pattaya Tim. It's nothing less than a modern day Sodom & Gomorrah and needs a really objective eye cast over it.

It's always tricky trying to convey that Thai culture extends from hotspots of full-on sleaze to what one anthropologist described I think as sexual neurosis. I may have to check on that description.

Tim Footman said...

Christopher: Or justifying the ways of baggier swimwear to man.

Chris: Indeed. But in German.

There were a few further down the beach, Garfer. But they were a little more discreet. One sported a rather natty Panama.

Yes, it's an interesting one, isn't it Charles? Any form of sexual behaviour is OK, provided one doesn't draw attention to it. It's at once liberated (gay people and transsexuals are accepted in most environments) and inhibited (God forbid that one of your workmates starts talking about his boyfriend).

And there's also that streak of pragmatism - nobody wants a daughter who's a bar girl, but if she sends funds back to the village, her dad's not going to ask any awkward questions.

Steerforth said...

I'm with the Thai people on this issue. I like their combination of tolerance and restraint.

I can understand why northern Europeans go mad when they see a little sunshine, but we should all obey the 'when in Rome' rules and exercise a little discretion.

When my body started to lose its Adonis-like qualities, I sunbathed with consummate modesty rather than inflict it on an unsuspecting public.

As for thongs, they should be outlawed.

Tim Footman said...

Thongs even look bad on good bodies, Steerforth. Not that there were any of those on display.

kim said...

And it's not just nakedness - this video clip I came across yesterday made me embarrassed to be British...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDVbBJQSmG0