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July 15, 2010 / Katie

Under My 雨伞

Summer in the city means lots of sunshine, but you won’t find Chinatown locals slathering on sunscreen like the rest of us (whiteys). Not too long ago, I came home one sunny afternoon to find many a 中国成小姐 (Chinatown lady) walking the streets in the shade of a brightly colored umbrella, just like 美女 do back in China.

Short of calling Chinese people racist (although let’s face it, everyone is a little bit racist sometimes), let’s just say that traditional Chinese notions of beauty value fair skin over the dark and tan. Unlike Americans, who willingly douse themselves in suntan oil and spend small fortunes on artificial spray tans, which then turn their skin an unnatural shade of orange, Chinese people have no love for a healthy summer glow. The whiter, the better. Pasty? Perfection.

Freckles (i.e. sun spots) don’t fair much better in the eyes of the Chinese beauty aesthetic. You may want to think twice before complimenting a Chinese friend on her newly bronzed complexion or those cute little freckles across her nose–chances are she won’t find them quite as charming.

As someone who rarely tans and more often burns, though, I can appreciate the advantages of carrying around an umbrella in lieu of sunscreen. In fact, I often relied on my trusty 雨伞 during blistering Shanghai summers. When paired with sunglasses, it also made for a nice disguise–I found I could “pass” for a local as long as I didn’t open my mouth. But I eschewed my fobby ways once I left China for New York.

What’s to say, however, that this umbrella-toting business isn’t a custom that harkens back to the Victorian days of yore, when a lady covered herself from head to toe in flannel and lace and traipsed through the countryside underneath the cool of a dainty parasol?

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