Expat life is not always kind. Or warm. It’s -9 degrees Celcius (16 F) here in Moldova as I write this and I long for things tropical and warm, for the feel of the sun on my bare skin.
I’m sure you’ve heard expats or tourists talk about the Indonesian island of Bali. How magical it is, this island of rice paddies and beaches, of temples and festivals, of smiles and serenity.
Bali has something for everyone. You can hide in the idyllic mountains and meditate and hope to levitate; you can cruise from temple to temple and catch a festival almost any day of the year; or you can party with the backpacker crowd, eat magic mushroom omelets, and hang out on the beach.
When my prince and I lived the expat life in Indonesia, on the main island of Java, we spent several weeks on Bali on vacation with our two young daughters. They weren’t into meditating or temple cruising, but the beach held great appeal. Balinese kids loved playing there too, as you can see on this photo, making not sand castles, but sand temples. Go figure. Anyway, come with us on our first day at the beach in Bali; it was a cultural experience.
We’re off to the beach and daughter number one has proudly donned her new bikini. Her Oma in Holland, my mother, gave it to her as a present. She’s nine years old and teenage hormones have not yet stirred from slumber and started their magic in her girlish body. No curves in sight anywhere, no blossoming bosom. The bikini is a string bikini, tiny scraps of fabric covering not very much. But hey, she looks cute.
We’re on a tourist beach near our hotel and there’s lots to look at. Vendors everywhere. You can buy drinks and dresses and sarongs and shells and jewelry and beach mats and secret stuff you don’t want to get caught with. And if you crave a massage, no problem. Coconut oil and the steely hands of a ancient granny are available right here in the sand. Or if you prefer a young male hunk, he’s available too.
I discern a potpourri of languages around me — Australian and English and Swedish and Japanese and German. People of all sizes and shapes are roasting in the sun, many of the females wearing bikini bottoms only.
Me? I’m wearing an elegant one piece number. Not because I am prudish (I’m Dutch), but simply because I want to spare the world the view of my mid-section and the ravages of two pregnancies. (My man will roll his eyes when he reads this. He thinks I’m gorgeous. Love is so blind, don’t you agree?)
So, the girls are messing around in the sand and I’m studying my half-naked sisters nearby, realizing that Mother Nature is very creative if not always kind when it comes to size and shape. Still, whatever your figure, getting an even tan is a noble pursuit, so go for it, is what I say. And as I’m considering this, it occurs to me that daughter number one, although lavishly anointed with sunscreen, is going to end up with some unflattering little triangles on her flat-as-a-dime little-girl chest.
“Listen,” I say to her, “why don’t you take off your bikini top?”
She lifts her blond head. “Why?”
“You can get an even tan that way. See, lots of girls here are topless.”
She looks around at the various topless females. I see her study the plump British girl nearby whose generous foreign breasts glow dangerously white in the tropical sun. My daughter glances back at me, her serious little face all sober contemplation.
“I can’t,” she says. “I’m too young to go topless.”
* * *
Tell me a story, anything to do with kids and their bodies, swim suits, the beach, topless sunning, people watching. Bali!
Hi Karen Interesting post. I have many problems with it however. Disclaimer: I am a hetero man. I enjoy seeing naked or semi-naked women on the beach. I also have teenage daughters. We are fairly relaxed at home – that is, we are very discreet and avoid nudity, but if it ACCIDENTALLY happens it is not the end of the world. But, regardless of your own private practices, I think in Asia you need to be very careful, and I think your post is very arrogant and self-important – who gives a fuck about European sensibilities? In Indonesia, etc., (semi-)nudity… Read more »
Cute story about your daughter! Here in Turkey, I think it’s terribly tacky for the European and Russian tourists going topless on the beaches! Especially when you see the more covered traditional Turkish women. As far as Bali, we only had had 4 lovely nights there last year, but we loved it all…except for the mosquitoes that took a liking to me. Mountain biking near Ubud, cooking classes in a village, eating pork and duck at Dirty Duck, watching colorful temple ceremonies, skinny dipping in our private plunge pool and laughing at the monkeys. It was almost like a 2nd… Read more »
Precious! I don’t have any cool story but I do recall that our kids’ sense of modesty has changed with each country we’ve lived in. From running around naked in Singapore to frantically hiding anything deemed immodest in the puritan American South, back to changing into bathing suits publicly on German beaches, and now settled comfortably somewhere in the middle here in South Africa, where my 13-year old son’s friends seem to have no problem swimming in their underwear when coming over after school…
Ah, you asked for a story, I remember one now. This was with another baby, also 6 months, in the middle east. I had been breastfeeding him all along, in public, under a lot of fabric like the locals did. Nobody minded, on the contrary, I got a lot off approving glances from other women. Our last few days we spend in a western resort, me on a sun-lounger at the pool. Where I found myself with a very hungry baby and no fabric on sight, so I decided to just go for it. There were only western guest, in… Read more »
I like your story! Good for you going right ahead and not caring! Interesting that those westerners didn’t see the hypocrisy in their attitude. What’s more normal and natural than breastfeeding, I ask you.
Haha. I, on the contrary, am too old for toplessness. Thanks for the story, it transported me to my youth in Malaysia, which I revisited last summer with my kids in, yes Bali. Oh, how I miss the sun. In the UK the winter has finally arrived and all my kids are ill. I do not remember much toplessness there. What I do remember is all those lovely Balinese ladies cradling my 6 month old while I ate my (fabulous!) dinner in Peace. My 4 year old playing footbal with local boys twice his age. And that same boy being… Read more »
Oh, that is so sweet! I can just picture her in my mind saying that.
The last time I visited Bali, it was just my husband and me. We’re planning to return in April, this time with our two small boys. I’ll have to let you know how it goes and what our two-year-old has to say about the topless ladies.
Oh, do let me know your boys’ reactions! Kids have such a cool way of seeing the world!
That’s such a great story!
Its really feel good to spent in that kind of sunny beaches having a topless, Even i love it. So comfortable!
My daughter (in her twenties) and I went to Punta Cana a few years ago and were determined to be cool and go topless. We managed, but it was a very odd feeling to sit there with no top on!! Especially when one of the male employees of the resort came over, sat down and had a casual conversation with us. I’m sure he thought nothing of it; we were surrounded by topless women but it was a little crazy to us!
I think it takes a little getting used to, but it doesn’t take long when nobody around you even cares and everybody is doing it.
BWAHAHA! That’s so funny! Love this story!
We were once on vacation in Senegal and were swimming in a pool. Abel was about 5. A topless French woman popped up next to him and Abel looked at her and said, “Oh. Nice suit.” His dad and I were in convulsions.
Wow, what a “grownup” comment for a five-year-old! Thanks for sharing–it gave me my first laugh of the day!
I loved your daughter’s remark!
I wouldn’t say that seeing topless women on the beach takes getting used to, but it is not very common where I come from – not even in nearby Brazil, where bikinis are the tiniest possible you can imagine. Weird, uh?
Does your daughter remember saying this? My 3 sons vacationed with us in Corsica. I remember how they got used to the topless women much faster than I had expected, especially coming from the U.S. Enjoyed the comment from Darcey about Denmark. I can see her look.
Oh, how I love this story – priceless! Too young, too old – it’s hard to know when’s the right age to let it all hang out. I recall my time in Brazil visiting Brazilian friends. I had just bought a cute two-piece bathing suit at home in Seattle, but when I got to Rio, my friends told me, “You can’t lie on the beach in that!” They insisted on taking me shopping immediately for a tanga. I kept trying to pull the bottom down to cover my cheeks before realizing there was no more fabric, which is when my… Read more »
Pssst…no snow in the tropics.
But NO SUN either, recently.
And it’s slightly chilly.
I miss the sun.
That is precious, what your child said.
Children and nudity…children can be such prudes. When my cousin and I were teens, if our nighties rode up our legs, and we were lying in bed, in the bedroom, where no-one else could see us(!!!) my sister, then 5 or 6, would haul down the hem. Good grief.
Ha ha..loved your daughter’s great punch line! I still remember when I moved to Europe in my twenties and went topless on the French beaches for the first time ever. It was a real liberating experience for an American!
How lovely to think about sunny beaches as the snow is falling outside. We’re in the middle of France so have to make do with lake beaches, rather than the seaside. Plenty of toplessness there and I join in so as not to let the Irish side down!
Hehe. I still can’t get use to the topless-ness. Cute on kiddos, though.
Topless-ness normal on Thai beaches too. My Aussie husband keeps wanting me to… 🙂
I can relate to your hubby, Janet, I can relate… 🙂
I was an exchange student in Denmark when I was 16; one of my host families decided to go on a summer holiday to Fyn and let me come with them. Everything was going wonderfully until we got to the beach… and I realised that there were a lot of topless women. And bottomless women. And bottomless men. My poor little freshly-16-year-old American brain nearly imploded; topless I’d expected, entirely nude not so much. The laissez-faire attitude of Danes just meant “hey, do what you have to to get sun”, and it was only a few moments after my clearly… Read more »
What a fun story! Wow, Polar Bear swimming! I’m impressed by your guts to get into that cold water, and applaud American-you for having progressed to swimming in the nude. I was an exchange student in the US as a teenager and must have shocked my family with my Europeaness a few times!
My wife and I smiled when we read this post. So cute and innocent! 🙂
It’s one of my favorite kid stories, and it makes you realize that kids do look at the world differently than grown-ups.
Oh, that child is wise for her age!
Massages on the beach? Now, that’s indulgence.
Actually, massages on the beach often involve sand — not so good on the skin!