Thursday, 15 November 2012


Well two of  the step-monsters have just spent the past fortnight with us. It's been.. interesting. Vop fell in love with both of them immediately, which is awesome as she can be quite reserved with strangers. Thanks to the miracle of Skype and FB, she's seen pix of them before, so I suppose that helped.

They also fell in love with her, and she totally rocked on with her "These are my white brother and white sister" self.

Here in PNG, it's not big deal to see a white man with a National wife, and kids all shades in between. Plenty of people, like The Husbang and I, are on their second marriages, so older white kids with younger mixed-race sibs are perfectly normal up here.

And talking about skin colour is not taboo, as it is in the West.

It's pretty damn evident that Vop is brown and her step-sibs aren't. But rather than glossing over the fact of skin colour, we've chosen to glorify it. There's no point ignoring the obvious.

And it was never more obvious than during the step-monsters' visit.

The step-daughter and I have a chequered history. We love each other, but our relationship is as complex as that of any natural mother/daughter. We've clashed heads MANY times, mostly over clothes.

She's in her early 20's now, so I figure she can pretty much make her own decisions- and I have openly supported them when others didn't (like the time she announced she wanted to work as a stripper to finance her course in child care).

However, up here, the cultural mores regarding women and clothing are very VERY different.

In PNG, breasts are no biggie. Most tribal costumes involve elaborate headdresses  and exposed breasts for women.

It's the thighs that are considered taboo.

Apart from the fact that people would run, screaming "Mein EYES!" into the night, I could probably go to the supermarket topless and not cause a scene. I mean, really, I'd bend down to get a can of beans of the bottom shelf at Food Mart, and my breasts would look like a pair of oranges in the toes of a set of pantyhose.

However, if I were to wear short shorts, or leggings where my thighs were not covered by a long t-shirt, I would be the object of much scrutiny.

It's why we dress up to go to the Yacht Club, one of the few places in town we can wear a short dress, or tight pants. Not that I do, cos me in leggings looks pretty much like two puppies fighting under a blanket, but you get the idea.

Rhee, the step-daughter, was actually pretty good about it. I had sent her an email detailing the above issue and also explained that rape and violence towards women is endemic up here.

Which is where cultural appropriateness butts up against my feminist principles. (but that's a whole 'nother post).

So, we're off to Salamaua for the day, last weekend, and Rhee decides to wear a teeny weeny see-throughey WHITE bikini. Which I have no issue with, as long as she wears a lap-lap (sarong) over her thighs.

So, we get on the boat and I ask her "Have you put on sun block?"

Now Rhee is as pasty a white person as you will ever meet. She is simply breathtakingly beautiful, but man, is she PALE.

She is also, I was told, a physiological miracle.

She "doesn't burn".

I explained, patiently, realizing I was wasting valuable Vodka-consuming time, that Lae is 8degrees south of the equator and the sun is much stronger up here, and we're closer to the sun because of the curvature of the Earth.... and.. and....

But she DOESN'T burn.

And, apparently, IF she uses sun block, she burns faster.

Who knew?

Neither would she wear the lap lap. Apparently it's "their" problem, and if she wants to wear a tiny g-stringy bikini bottom that becomes see-through when wet, then the problem lies with "them" She is, after all, a "fenemist" (sic).

Again, I tried to expand on issues of cultural appropriateness ("if someone turned up at your work wearing a penis gourd and  bone through their nose, wouldn't you say something?  That's what it's like for Nationals over here, you dressed like that. Shocking and inappropriate") But to no avail.

Well, by the time we returned from the island, she was classically lobster-red. The heat coming off her legs was insane. She spent the next two days bathing in milk and rubbing unguents of all types into her skin to ease the pain. The blisters appeared within 24 hours.

All of which fascinated Vop. She couldn't stop holding out her arm and comparing her skin colour to Rhee's. She's never burned and, I guess, never seen anyone who has.

The questions were endless. Why was Rhee that colour? Where did her white go? Will she stay that colour? Would the sun make Vop pink? Why is Rhee's skin falling off? Why did all those men at Salamaua keep staring at Rhee? Why don't bikini manufactures line white bikini bottoms?

(Ok, I made that last one up but Mommy had a few questions of her own. Like "Do you know what Schadenfreude means, darling?")

I explained, as best I could without using the words "melanin" and "Actinic Keratosis" and "Western arrogance" that it's just what happens when white people go out in the sun.

And I was met with possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever heard:

"Mummi, me no go pink and lose em skin. Me brown ALL over! Brown, em MUCH better."

Yes, it is, darling.  As a skin colour, but also as the colour of your bikini bottoms.



  1. You have me pissing myself laughing every time you post. Miss you, girl! And keep blogging! :) Together we'll write a book of our misadventrures! haha!

  2. All part of my evil plan to take over the world! With you as my evil Dr sidekick. I think we should call the book "The Evil That Expat Wives Do". Oh, and we need an evil lair. Salamaua? And costumes.

  3. I LOVE reading about your adventures with Vop. She sounds sooo cute! Do tell us more. Great blog, too!

  4. Well, SOM, what would you like to know?

  5. Well, tell us what it's like to have her around. What does she like to play? What does she like to eat? You're a mommy, don't most mommies LOVE to describe all their little kids' exploits? I do, and my little kids are hardly LITTLE anymore! So they don't get words mixed up anymore, they don't say things they're "not supposed to say in front of people" (but which are true, like when my then-little son pointed at a very "large" man and screamed out, "Mami look a FAT MAN!") anymore.