Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Naturalista's Experience in Thailand Where Natural IS Cool Enough!

In my  last post, I shared detail about my recent travel to Asia for seven weeks during the summer of 2014, where I explored whether Natural Is Cool Enough, in various locations including Singapore, Bali and China.  In this post I will share my thoughts about the last place I visited, Thailand, from a natural vantage point.  In Thailand, I traveled to Phuket and Bangkok. We (my husband traveled there with me) began our journey in Phuket, which is a lovely place where the primary focus is the beach/ocean.  It is a beautiful, natural location and our favorite spot was the marvelous caves that we explored in a canoe.  Once again, as expressed about the other locations in Asia, I felt no unusual behavior existed in regard to how people viewed my natural locks.  There were no odd stares, no requests to touch my hair or inquiries about it. In Phuket, most of the people were focused on the natural environment that we were in and the ocean.  I felt a sense of oneness with nature there and felt that my natural locks were perfectly in tune with the environment that we were in.

The limestone caves at Phang Nga Bay were absolutely spectacular and included a process of journeying through some of them lying flat on our backs in our canoe as some caves had low hanging limestone pieces and were dark inside, with only dim, natural light. Some images are below: 
Caves at Phang Nga Bay
Lying down in our canoe in the cave due to the hanging limestone...

Our next experience was Bangkok.  I'm not sure where to begin with this location but I guess I will start with the elephants. This was an absolute highlight as the elephant walked us gently through the wilderness.  We bought a very large bunch of bananas and watched him gulp them down before we started our journey.

This was an incredible experience that I tried before in a prior journey to Sri Lanka but my husband was not on that trip with me so riding the elephant with him near Bangkok was especially wonderful.   We also ate amazing food in both Phuket and Bangkok.  What stands out the most about Thai food is the seasoning and creativity for the cooked meals and the beautiful and delicious variety of fruit.  Every morsel of food that we ate was delicious, from the fruit to prepared dishes, and of course Thai beer and fresh fruit juices.   I also enjoyed having delicious fruity concoctions straight from a pineapple. 

Assorted fruit provided in our hotel room everyday in Phuket


The Patong Beach Area: A cool night spot for strolling in the evening and swimming during the day...

Tailors are everywhere to have clothing handmade for both men and women

     As for traveling around the city of Bangkok, we often did so in a Tuk Tuk, which is a small motorized vehicle.  They are fun to ride around in throughout the bustling city and very cheap. You have to negotiate and determine the price before getting in or you can really get taken for a ride, in terms of the cost.  We also took many taxis but for us, the Tuk Tuk was the most fun.

Tuk Tuk Traveling in Bangkok
    The sights in Thailand are amazing although too many to name here.  The most exciting for me were Wat Pho (the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand) the Grand Palace and  Khao San Road (an excellent shopping and hangout street) and the Floating Market (a culturally marvelous shopping experience). Pictures are below to give you a glimpse of these sites.  


 Wat Pho:  The Largest Reclining Buddha in Thailand

Khao Sam Road

 The Floating Market

     Overall, my conclusion is that, as was the case with every other place that I visited in Asia, natural hair is not an issue.  Based on my experience, I believe there will be no odd stares, no desire to touch your tresses and no questions about your natural hair at all with the exception of adoration or comments about how lovely your hair is (which happened in China).  In Thailand, my hair was a non-issue and from my vantage point, I believe that in both Phuket and Bangkok, Natural IS Cool Enough and that's N.I.C.E., of course.  I definitely recommend a visit there naturalistas, for a wonderful cultural experience!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Naturalista in China: African People, Culture and a Full Circle Experience!

During my journey to Asia during the summer, I spent considerable time in China in the city of Guangzhou, primarily,  took trips to Chengdu (where the Panda Bears are) and Macau (a "Las Vegas style" city).   It was an exciting experience with an opportunity to meet many people from all walks of life.  What I have heard often is that on mainland China, people are bewildered by Black people's natural hair and touch it and are very inquisitive about it.  Once again, as was the case per my posts on Bali and Singapore, I did not find this to be accurately explained. What I found was that people were intrigued by my locks and found them to be very beautiful.  My locks are long, so sometimes, I braid them in one long cornrowed braid, where them in a ponytail or just loose.  No matter the style, there was no untoward behavior about my hair, but rather nice, polite comments. In one store, where interesting snacks are sold in Macau, which is not on mainland China but quite close to the city of Guangzhou, I did have an encounter where a Chines woman working in the store said to me that she really liked my hair.  She told me how beautiful she thought it was and she called over some of the other workers.  They were looking at it and me admiringly and one of them asked if it was mine.  I said yes and they had looks of amazement on their faces.  One of them did ask if she could touch it so I held out one of my locks and let her feel it.  She said "so beautiful" and they all had big smiles on their faces.  I said Zai jian to them, which means goodbye and waived as we exited,  and they all waved goodbye back to me.  It felt pleasant.  I didn't feel any negativity at all from the experience. I felt that unlike at home when this hair touching scenario happens, very rarely I might add, the Chinese women were genuinely curious because they generally do not see many Black people in Macau or mainland China, except in one particular area in Guangzhou.

So, what I found very interesting is that in Guangzhou (which is located in Guangdong, Province) there is an African community.  Guangzhou is China's third largest city. The African people live and work in an area that is known as "Little Africa" in Guangzhou and are mainly from West Africa including countries such as Nigeria, Guinea and Mali.  The areas where the African people live and conduct business are Xiaobei Road and SanYuan Li.  I had the opportunity to visit these areas. The pictures below provide a glimpse of what I saw there.

In terms of hair, I saw lots of women with braids and places with advertisements to get braiding accomplished.  There were also advertisements for perms and weaves, with lots of hair for sale.  I saw a couple of people with locks but it did not seem to be common.  We met and chatted with a young man who was from Mali who spoke fluent English and Chinese. It was so interesting to walk through the streets in China, all the while feeling like I was walking through Harlem or a community in Africa. We also ate at a fantastic restaurant with amazingly delicious Rwandan food. I think it is difficult to share my experience there based on pictures alone. This article with video, does a great job doing so.  You may want to take a moment to check it out as I did not have time to take my own video footage.

Mannequins wearing African clothing

Hair for weaves sold in the market.  Not everyone in this community believes Natural Is Cool Enough

Overall, I would say that my experience in China. from a natural hair vantage point and beyond, was extremely pleasant and the time spent in the cities that I visited in China this summer for five weeks was as excellent as my time there last summer (2013) when I visited Shanghai, Beijing, Xian, Suzhou and Hong Kong for six weeks.

Below are pictures from the summer of 2014 with captions.

Chinese Young Women Wearing Natural Is Cool Enough T-Shirts in China!  Thank you ladies! Looking Fabulous!

A Mutual Braid Admiration Moment ( I braided her hair and she loved it!)


Letting My locks down in and out of the water at our place in the City of  Guangzhou

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A woman that we chatted with in the park with "sister-locks" in the City of Guangzhou

This is a baby Panda, about 1.5 years old.  Essentially, you visit the Panda reserve, pay a fee and you have a chance to have a private sitting with a Panda.  It was awesome.  He is licking Bamboo with honey on it.  The bamboo is actually too hard for him to eat at his age.  He was playful and cuddly.  It was an experience of a lifetime for me and my husband. You also get to see Panda families as you can see in the picture above.  This was a different kind of "natural" experience but truly memorable, never to be forgotten.

A Naturalista  Strolling With her Braids in the Subway (Metro) Station.  She was not in the African community mentioned above so it was surprising to see her. 

Enjoying a moment with a "Face-Changer" after his performance in Guangzhou
Face changing is a performance technique commonly found in Sichuan Province, which is where the city of Chengdu is located. Chengdu is where I saw the Pandas.  However, while in the city of Guangzhou, we went to a Sichuan style restaurant and there was a face changer there.  They were so excited to have us at the restaurant, that after the performance, the Face Changer took a picture with us. I am wearing his head adornment that he wore during the performance.  He gave us gifts afterward.  It was an awesome experience.  By the way, at the Sichuan restaurant and in Sichuan, the food is extremely spicy.  One of their most famous dishes is hot pot, which I love. Water is boiled at your table and you cook it yourself at the table. Truly delicious!!!

HOT POT...So Delicious!! I actually have a hot pot in my home now and make it often!


Enjoying traditional Sichuan food in a popular neighborhood restaurant in Chengdu.

Jade in the City of Macau at the Hotel Lisboa

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Traditional Attire
 A Lovely woman in traditional (ethnic) attire in the city of Chengdu.  The main group of people in China are of the Han people but there are many smaller ethnic groups who have their own unique, cultural styles.  Notice her lovely braids and adornment on her head.


K-TV (Karaoke)!

A Full Circle Moment

Standing in a traditional Chinese doorway with my husband in the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province.

I appreciate the circular doorway, which I am told represents the full moon and hence happiness. Exploring cultures makes me happy, so this picture is very befitting.  It is a pleasure to travel the world and to know and experience the reality that Natural Is Cool Enough and that's N.I.C.E.  I would love to share more with you about China but it is time to move on.  Next, I hope you will look forward to my sharing with you, my natural hair experience in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand!