Nudism and Karaoke

…Now she’s afraid to come of the water, and I wonder what she’s gonna do,                      

              now she’s afraid to come out of the water, and the poor little girl’s turning blue…’


Itsy bitsy teenie weenie, Bryan Hyland

Yes, no matter how tight, if she’d at least worn a bikini! Tourists with very tight swimwear or ladies who take off their bikini tops are a nuisance throughout Asia, even in Greece.


Worst of all, however, are those taking a swim or a sunbath in their birthday suit. These ‘progressive’ nudists consider Asian people as backward-minded because they feel offended when grown-up people bathe in the nude. I’m not prone to lump all Asian people together, but I assume the overwhelming majority of them object to nude bathing. In their opinion, clothing is one of the things that differentiates humans from animals. When I wrote my M.A. thesis about tourism in Sri Lanka in the early 80’s, I spent a lot of time on Sri Lanka’s east coast at beautiful Nilaveli beach. Nude bathing was prohibited in the country by law, but nevertheless, some foreigners couldn’t resist the temptation to strip naked. Only to be chased away by the police sooner or later. 


Nevertheless, they kept looking for a new spot. After finally finding an ‘undisturbed’ place, the nudists could get really angry when they felt stared at. In nearby Trincomalee, a savvy local hit on the idea of offering rides to see the naked ‘hippies.’ He chartered a minibus, and anyone who wanted to see naked women (they were probably less interested in the men) could come along for a fee. The guys knew exactly where to look because finding what they were looking for never took long. Then they squatted in a circle around the naked hippies and gaped, made ‘funny’ remarks, and cracked jokes. The victims of their curiosity initially tried


to ignore the uninvited guests. Then, they sought refuge in the water, but they had to come out again at some point. And the onlookers were patient and made themselves comfortable on the beach. It didn’t take long for the ‘hippies’ to get mad. I remember a group of young Italian nudists on a Nilaveli beach. First, they insulted the onlookers verbally, and eventually, one of the young guys had enough. He approached the audience and snapped at them: “Fuck off, there’s nothing to see here! Or do you want a knuckles sandwich?”. His threats didn’t impress the locals, and as he gestured angrily with his willy bobbing up and down, I couldn’t resist a fit of laughter. 


After living in Burma for over 25 years, I’ve almost ‘gone bush,’ as the saying goes. Take nudism and karaoke, for example. Many ‘foreigners’ don’t have the slightest problem exposing their naked bodies on the beach. And now, let’s have a look at the Burmese. When you see them bathing in the river (which is the rule in rural Burma), they will be dressed in a wrap skirt (longyi, sarong). The females pull it up to cover their breasts. This serves a practical purpose, too, because the air under the longyi gives them buoyancy while they swim. And it’s the same on Burma’s beaches.


Most probably, most of the Burmese have never undressed completely since childhood. “How is that supposed to work?” you may ask. It is very simple: You keep the old longyi on while showering and use it as a washcloth. Afterward, you fumble a fresh longyi over your head. And while you lower it, the old one slowly goes towards the floor – that’s how to do it! For a Burmese, as well as for all Asians (with the exception of the Jain sect of the Digambaras, the ‘light-clad’), naturism is simply horrible. Many Westerners may consider them uptight for this. 


Easy does it! Now let me tell you something. I suppose that nowadays everyone knows what karaoke is. This Japanese word may be translated as ’empty orchestra’. That means you sing well-known pop songs to musical accompaniment from a tape. In addition, little flicks are shown which – at the best – are somehow connected to the lyrics. You often see scenes from European cities like Paris, London or Lucerne (Switzerland). Snowy landscapes – absolutely exotic for Southeast Asian eyes – are particularly popular. The lyrics (in pink for female singers, in light blue for male singers, so there can be no confusion) are subtitled underneath. So you can sing along even if you don’t know the lyrics. Karaoke is the biggest hit in East Asia.


There are bars (in Myanmar they’re called KTV) on every corner where pretty girls actively support the guests while they sing and drink. Additional services are usually not included and have to be negotiated separately. Anyone who has ever witnessed how wrong a song can be sung will never forget it for the rest of his life. Especially when the singers are drunk! But that doesn’t bother anyone in the audience, everyone is enthusiastic and encourages the misguided singers. And so, with growing enthusiasm, they sing Hotel California by the Eagles, Summer Wine by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, Tie a yellow ribbon, You are my sunshine,


The green green grass of home and worse. For ‘advanced’ singers there are real rock’n’roll songs like Born to be wild and Smoke on the Water. As long as the songs are in their original form it’s actually fun, but when Jailhouse Rock is being played on the Hammond organ it’s aural cruelty … Anyway, everyone is having a good time. And since I also like to sing myself (some call me The Frisian Nightingale), I used to invite the clients of my tour groups for a sing-along occasionally. It’s amazing how embarrassed people can get if being asked to sing a simple ditty. Unless you’re drunk. Now, no Burmese can understand that – and neither do I