Ah, the joys of womanhood, eh? Every one of us ladies can remember our first visit from Uncle Payne and Auntie Flo. Or that time, you didn’t know you were going to have it and how you decided to wear light pink pants that day. Or that time in Bangkok, the city of grit and sweat, you saw that tourist wearing shorts soaked in her own blood and you were mortified that no one told her, so you did. It’s a really hot city.
How about when you realized you had to start wearing a brassiere? And may I just add there is nothing more confusing and weird than having your FOB/fresh-off-the-boat mom refer to bras as brassieres. What? Oh, you mean a bra? Mom, no one calls them brassieres anymore…Geez, could my teenage life be any more embarrassing? What’s next? Corsets and girdles?
Yeah, being a woman can be LOADS of fun. Yes, I do realize I’m not exactly “stacked like the Library of Congress,” my blouse bunnies never blossomed or bloomed or boom-boomed. And at the time, I was like, “That’s it? That’s all I get?” I’m okay with the way I look though because, seriously, I’ve heard enough horror stories from fuller women who wear TWO sports bras in order to go running or getting a breast reduction so they no longer live with back pain.
I have what I have. And by this point in my life, I’ve also endured the “Why don’t you get a boob job?” suggestion and other thoughtful gestures from my mom like that slutty-looking top with the built-in bra in it. Uh, thanks. By now she’s given up on me having children and getting enhanced. The latest unending battle is “going back to America” and I plan on winning this one, too.
But back in 2009 when I first moved abroad, I truly did not know how long I would last out here. I was excited. I was in Bangkok getting my TESOL (Teaching English) certificate and I needed a new bra. Bet you never heard those two things stringed together before, huh? My favorite place was MBK in the Siam shopping district and once I found a lingerie store, I soon realized that I didn’t know my EU or international bra size.
So I said, “I don’t know my size.”
Then it happened.
She grabbed me.
Yeah, she did a quick/Flash Gordon style “assessment” and I know my face was one of sheer shock. It happened in a blink so I didn’t have time to be upset or laugh or anything. It was like the words were just caught in my throat and I looked frozen. Have you ever been touched by a salesperson in this way? Yes, please do leave a comment. Let’s talk.
When I announced this on FB, my friend Julie said it happened to her in Japan. So maybe this is an Asian American thingy where they “welcome you back to the Motherland” kind of ceremony. Of course, there were the “Where can I get this job?” remarks from the brighter sex (*cue Beavis and Butthead laugh*).
Oh, so did she get my size right?
And yes, I was a wee bit embarrassed by this event, but managed to purchase one bra and then go to the Tokyu department store where I could confidently enter knowing my size without any further shenanigans. That’s right, I said it, shenanigans.
Recently, I decided to ask a handful (no pun intended) of Thai women (that I know, this wasn’t an off-the-street survey) if this cop-a-feel assessment was considered normal. The majority said, NO and responded with laughter and shock, but one of them said, “Yes.” And then she started to talk about how some sales ladies would think this was impolite and for others, it was simply a perfunctory thing. We also talked about how some of them will put the bra on you right in middle of the store over your clothes like it’s no big thing.
My friend Kate, who I’ll gently refer to as Chesty Larue, said Thai sales ladies would laugh when they saw her looking for a bra. I actually know of many expat women who have had to endure the ordeal of finding a decent brassiere. I think the laughing comes from discomfort or hiding discomfort on the part of the Thais, but this doesn’t help the foreign women. In fact, it would probably drive me out of the store.
And even though I’m in size-heaven here (back in the US, they were always out of my size, always), I find the quality to be lacking. Even expensive, the only way to go if you want quality, wasn’t always a guarantee. After 5 years abroad, I have a drawer full of bras that I hate wearing. The best bra I ever owned was from Calvin Klein. I wore it like it was my only bra on the TV show Survivor. Buy a Calvin Klein bra.
Don’t buy a 39 baht bra from bargain bin at the Night Bazaar market in Chiang Rai. You will regret all three purchases. 39 baht? Yeah, that’s like a $1.16 bra where the underwire gets rusty after a few hand washings. And the wire feels like it’s poking you in the heart (it probably is). Each bra though had its own unique defect. I believe one of them changed shape, it was a shape shifter, and it was probably made in China.
Thank the Goddess, I didn’t have to buy a bra in Ecuador. All the women there have been endowed by the arts and that would have been another kind of iron maiden. I also did not buy any clothes there as I thought the fashion at the time was incredibly gaudy (cause it’s sooo much better in Asia).
We better not get into panties. Okay, underwear! Bring them from home. Finding cotton underwear that lasts after a year and that does not sadly transform into granny-wear can be a challenge. Yes, Thailand has so many Western amenities and you can find just about anything you want (for a price) and it’s really lovely, but being comfortable in your intimates, I think, is not just important, it’s essential.
Yes, I’m available to speak at Girl Scout meetings and play dates…