It is not until you shop for underwear in Asia that you become aware of the differences in body types between our Asian sisters and ourselves. While Kiwi women of my generation were force fed milk at the school gates, and stuffed to the gills with mutton and three veg every Sunday; our sisters over the seas were partaking of a more humble diet, eating whatever the gods of the seasons provided.
The resulting differences in our body types is as obvious as being a big brown moth at a butterfly ball, which is how I always manage to feel after about fifteen minutes in Asia. Worse, the kind of loose modest clothing required of women in the East only serves to advertise my incredibly hulky size 12 frame and so I am constantly caught in a kind of stylistic nightmare, which I relieve by wearing outrageously sexy underwear.
Six months in India is hell on your clothes especially if you travel with the bare necessities as I do. I allow myself three bras since a bra has a shelf life of six months, which is the length of my visa, I don’t foresee any problems when I pack my bag.
The lingerie news in India is not good. While India may be an emerging economic giant in the East, her knickers are trailing well behind. ‘Sexy’ and ‘Underwear’ do not go together within the mind of Indian underwear manufacturers. Underwear is rarely seen and never discussed.
It hasn’t been so many years since travellers from the West hoping to make some cash in India could arrive in Delhi at the beginning of the wedding season with a couple of suitcases of Victoria Secrets collections, book a room in a Five star hotel, advertise discreetly through wedding planners and be stampeded within hours by hordes of Punjabi wedding possies in such high states of excitement that a male friend of mine who did that once, still shakes uncontrollably when he recounts the tale.
Meanwhile back in the village where I mostly live, such delights have not even entered into the consciousness of desire within the hearts of the women I know. Their underwear is as serviceable as a nuns and not a topic of civilised conversation in any case.
A trip to Kathmandu to sort out another visa is going to be my opportunity to replace the original three with something a lot less serviceable than is on offer at the local market.
Despite the overwhelming political difficulties of the Nepali people, the crippling poverty and overwhelming hardship of life, or perhaps because of it, Kathmandu is the high altitude playground of the restless West. While a peoples war rages in the hills around Kathmandu, tourists remain untouched by the tragedy and move around under the protection of both warring parties.
Consequently it is possible to stuff your face with chocolate cake within three hundred kilometres of a war where the people caught between are living on the verge of starvation.
The gap between the rich and poor in Nepal is reflected in the plate glass windows of the five star shopping area where Dior objects are displayed beside other more generic labels of the west. Politics aside, that’s where I am headed on this day to track down underwear that reflect all the style and classy sexiness I have come to expect next to my skin.
At first sight, the ground looks promising. A department store selling plastic junk, flash labels and everything else we think we need in the west. The bras and knickers are easily found and sparkle before my eyes like forgotten jewels. There is colour and sexy cut and even bling! After feasting my eyes for a dizzyingly gratifying second, I plunge into the racks in search of my perfect fit.
“Madam is what size?” The assistant materialises at my side. She is half my age and half my size, suddenly I feel like a big brown moth at a butterfly ball.
“36C,” I respond.
Her eyes slide towards her friend as she approaches. They whisper together behind hands the size of butterfly wings while I exclaim in surprise at the feast of lingerie beneath my hands, what I see is bloody marvellous! I will be home by lunchtime as the saying goes.
I remember that I don’t know how 36C translates to a metric number; perhaps that’s why the girls are whispering together. But they seem to understand my request, but appear a little uncomfortable about it. Nepali hate to refuse a request, it takes ages to get a simple “no” out of them. My delight at the find of the year begins to dim.
They call in the supervisor and as they whisper my request, I slowly come to realise that my bra size has been lost in translation.
“No?” I prompt them for a straight answer. I am, as usual, too direct.
“No, no, no,” they assure me in the negative. “What you need, Madam is the upstairs department.”
The upstairs department is the baby and mother department. I look at a variety of maternity bras; decide that no matter how inventive I get with the fold down flap, they will just not do. I shake my head and slink down the stairs where the wraithlike shop assistants still huddle together with the shock of my outrageous request.
“Yes Madam?” They enquire. I shake my head. From the reactions of the sales assistants so far, it would seem that 36C is a temporary aberration brought on by pregnancy or a freak of nature. I remember that I am the latter. The karma of a lifetime of being a force-fed carnivore weighs heavy on my chest.
In a fit of rebellion, I grab a handful of sexy little knickers, ignoring the sales girls rounded eyes and raised butterfly brows as I pay and leave. It’s not until I get home and discover to my horror (and my French lovers delight) that they have no real front to the damn things that I understand the muffled giggles I heard from the shop assistants as I left and headed for the Chinese market on the further end of town.
Surely, I tell myself, somewhere amongst the flood of Chinese goods making their way across the Himalayas into Nepal is a cancelled export order of Chinese made bras that some enterprising Nepali has turned into a business opportunity. All that happens there is that I garner the sympathy of more reed slim shop assistants and end up with a surplus of rebellious knickers.
The sun is sinking over the horizon as I head for home with the sloping tread of defeat.
At last I spy an entire city street given over to stalls selling the export order I dreamed of! Diving in, I rush from stall to stall like a mad woman to discover to my crushing dismay that everything over an A cup is actually just optimistic sizing and evidence that no Asian bra designer have ever even laid their hands on a genuine C cup. Sorting the chaff from the c cups, I am left with two serviceable nun like bras which squash my breasts into sausage roll shapes seriously undermining my confidence for the next four months and limp back to India.
Later Bangkok, the city of Botox and boob jobs promises more. I reckon that the growing boob job market is good news for C cups but alas, it is not a promising start.
As I wait for a taxi to take me to the mega mall shopping area of Bangkok, a flutter of nothingness catches my eye. A dress no bigger than the kind of scarf I wear in India, light and breezy, impossibly sexy and totally inappropriate drifts out from the clothing stall where I wait. I admire the lightness of the fabric and briefly imagine how it would feel on my skin in a tropical breeze.
An old woman squatting beside her stall assesses me over a bowl of noodles.
She startles me back into reality.
“No hab what?”
The chopsticks hover before her lips.
“No hab your size,” she shoves the noodles into her mouth and chews for a few seconds. “Try jumbo.”
Dismissing me, she turns her full concentration on her lunch.
In retaliation, I rattle around her dress rack, determined now to upset this bloody smug A Cup until I find something long and loose that will be wearable in India even if I wouldn’t be caught in a bus crash in it at home. But my triumph lasts three weeks of people enquiring about my baby to realise that she had sold me a maternity dress!
The shopping area of Bangkok is a multi orgasmic feast of consumerism gone troppo, so I hold high hopes as I emerge from the taxi. This, I decide, is going to be a Big Bra Day.
The first few shops don’t seem to understand my request, they send me to a sex shop. I didn’t like the colours. I ask again and get sent to another sex shop but I explain that the point of having a bra is to cover your nipples.
Then I find my lifelong friend, Patrick the sales assistant who currently occupies the ‘between gender’ gender. As a fellow fish out of water, I sense a sympathetic soul. When I explain my outrageous request for a bra that is sexy but not from the sex scene and he murmurs in full understanding, I know I have made a sympathy hit.”A bra that will take the 36C weight from my shoulders without calling in construction crew,” I cry. He nods like a nurse in a hospice, I am totally encouraged.
“A bra that will say beneath these old-fashioned clothes beats the heart of a siren!” I think I shouted this last piece but he remained orientally disciplined as he gently took my hand and led me to the widest range of C Cups I have seen in South East Asia and the entire Indian subcontinent. I buy all three of them on the spot and I am home by lunchtime..