Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why nudity made Malaysia go berserk

In my last post which I wrote when I was still on holiday and had to be rather brief, I talked about the adverse publicity that naturism had been getting lately in the Malaysian press after a group of naturists were arrested more than two months after they went nude on a deserted beach in a remote part of Penang. A video of the event which was uploaded on went viral and it caught the attention of the Penang Chief Minister and that led to an unnecessarily hyped up outcry in the Muslim majority country. Incidents of people going nude on Malaysian beaches are not uncommon as the Chief Minister himself has said but there was an obvious political reason why the Penang incident was blown out of proportion. See this for other incidents of nudity in Malaysia.

People in Malaysia and presumably other parts of Asia are usually in the dark about who a naturist (or nudist) is and what it is he does at a naturist gathering. Too often, the public associates nudity with sex and the first thing that springs to mind when they are confronted with a naturist incident is to assume that some outrageously debauched orgy is going on among the participants. That was precisely the kind of reception I got when I told my friends I had been to a naturist gathering in Taiwan last year. When I told them that I took a lot of photos and my wife was quite amused by some of the photos, they thought I had gone mad. One of them asked me if my wife would consider a divorce.

It took me a long time before I understood what really went on in the minds of non-naturists. It's easy for those of us who are naturists to dismiss non-naturists as sex-crazed or having an obsession with sex to such an extent that they associated the human body with it but the fact is there are so many more non-naturists in the world and it's not helpful to begin an explanation of what naturism means by insulting those who are not naturists.

A naturist is simply a person who does not accept the ridiculous notion that there is a part of the God-created or nature-formed human body (depending on your religious persuasion or an absence of it) that is obscene, indecent and so vile and filthy that it has to be covered up. A naturist refuses to accept the worldview that the human body is so base and has such a corrupting influence that anyone looking at it uncovered might be lured to lead a life of debauchery and licentiousness. A naturist believes that the human body is wholesome and decent and worthy of our respect and full acceptance. A naturist accepts and respects the human body in all its colours, imperfections, defects and whatever shortcomings that flesh is heir to.

When someone says that he or she won't go to a nudist beach unless he has gone to the gym for months and has lost 10 kg or so, you know he's not a naturist. He's viewing the body in the light of pornographic culture and that has nothing to do with naturism. It's very hard to explain to non-naturists that a naturist does not look at the body the way viewers of porn do and even after I have explained many times to them, they still revert to thinking of nudity the pornographic way.

Some Singaporeans remind me of the A*Star scholar who walked down crowded Holland Village one evening stark naked with her Swiss boyfriend and insist that they were naturists. But they were probably not naturists. They were more likely people who wanted to shock the public into some sort of reaction. Most naturists are not extreme nudist activists who will insist on having their space in society to go naked. Most of us just have a healthy respect for the human body but we are perfectly aware of societal norms and we conform to them strictly. A naturist is usually extremely tolerant and considerate and he will not do anything offensive to the rest of society. Attention seeking people who expose their nakedness in public for its shock factor are not naturists. Neither are flashers who seek the perverted thrill of being seen by women in dark corners on lonely streets. These are by no means naturists.

Because naturism is so uncompromisingly non-sexual, true naturist gatherings are usually very strict about the conduct of naturists in the resort. Naturists do not stare at one another and any hint of sexuality is a no-no. If for some reason a person appears to be in a state of arousal, he will immediately cover himself with a towel. That's basic etiquette in naturism. Many naturists bring their entire families including young children to a nudist place and I cannot overemphasize the fact that naturism is a family-friendly lifestyle that has nothing to do with sex.

But we are all individuals and of course not all naturists are the same. We only have one thing in common - our respect for the human body (with all its defects) and because of that, we do not view the body as obscene or vile which the rest of the world does.

I knew about the Penang Nude Games but I didn't want to go for a few personal reasons. Although the Games would be held on a remote beach, I was still afraid of being pounced upon by the police and I knew I would be so anxious that even if I did go I would probably not have had a good time. The other thing is my personal taste. I don't like organised games at a nudist place. If I do go to a nudist beach or resort, I would rather be left alone to tan in the sun, swim on my own and read a book without having to participate in fixed games.

In May, at around the time the Penang Nude Games were held, I went on my own to a naturist resort (which I subsequently discovered was rated by a travel magazine to be the 8th best in the world). I was very fortunate indeed for I had, until my final night, the whole resort to myself. I had a very good time lazing under the sun, swimming and reading at the large resort with nobody in sight except for the staff of the resort. Admittedly, some people who are more gregarious may not like such a quiet holiday and like I've said, we naturists are no different from other individuals in that we have our different personal tastes.

Luxuriating by the pool where I had the whole resort to myself.
Notice the dove just a few feet above me? Where else can one
take a pic of such sublime serenity?

The press and more specifically the comments of individuals online have been rather scathing of the activities carried out by the participants of the Penang Nude Games which included crab walks and relay races but the one activity that many would single out with some disapproval is the game in which a person would crawl over a few people lying facing upwards on the sand. Personally, I would be very uncomfortable with such a game but that's just me. Non-naturists would immediately give a sexual interpretation to the game but it is very obvious to me that the naturists who took part in that game did not view it in that way at all. If you had seen the video, you would have noticed that they were more concerned about having to bear the weight of the person crawling on them and some of them could be seen pushing the person on top so that he or she might move over to the other side more speedily. There was not the slightest trace of impropriety, sexual or otherwise, in the entire video.

Two weeks ago, when I was tanning myself on a nudist beach in Croatia, I learnt about the uproar in Malaysia over the Penang Nude Games incident. I really believe the furore has a lot to do with a total misunderstanding by Malaysians of what naturism really means. Every online article I read had some negativity towards the concept of naturism.

The participants of the Penang Nude Games clearly had no intention of offending or insulting the modesty of anyone. They chose such a remote and inaccessible part of Penang that absolutely nobody knew about the incident until the public saw the video more than 2 months after the event.

Ironically, the participants of the Penang Nude Games were in all likelihood the only people who did not engage in any sexual activity during their stay on the beach. I know some of the participants and I really can vouch for them. It's the non-naturists who if they were to stay overnight on such a beach would probably indulge in some sex. I wonder if the more fanatical Muslims in Malaysia might have been placated if they had understood the real meaning of naturism and were satisfied that the participants did not do any sex, which presumably is what Islam forbids and what the general public was upset about.

Acceptance of nudism really depends on a proper understanding of it.
Near this beach which is ranked the world's 3rd best nudist beach, there
is a beautiful bay and many boats and canoes have to come close to the
beach to get to the bay.  Those who object to nudism and cannot bear the
sight of the human body will probably have to give a trip to the bay a miss.
But as it happens, Europeans are generally not uptight about nudity and
there is a healthy harmony between naturists and non-naturists as they
meet at the shoreline that divides the "FKK strand" from the clothed world.

It really boils down to the people's understanding of naturism. A society that understands naturism is usually quite accepting of it. Last year, when I was with the Taiwan Naturist Association, we rose early to go to a beach by the Pacific Ocean to view the sunrise. A beach ranger from the Police Department came on his buggy and spoke to the President of the Association. Anyone would have thought we would all be taken to the police station for being naked on a public beach if we had been in Penang. But all the policeman wanted was for us to move further up the beach because there was a family not far from us on the same beach. We moved about a hundred metres further up the beach. What happened after that really surprised me. Someone asked the policeman to help take photos of us and he readily obliged us. He even allowed us to pose on his buggy for photos. I have quite a few photos of me sitting au naturel on the policeman's beach buggy but since we naturists are considerate people who do not wish to offend the general public, I won't post the photos here. As you can see, all the photos that I post here are the sort that even the Ayatollah can have no objection.

 By the Pacific Ocean and posing with the policeman's red buggy.
The policeman was the photographer who snapped this pic.

It's sad that Malaysians lack a proper understanding of naturism and because of this misunderstanding the participants of the Penang Nude Games were treated like criminals. If only the authorities in Malaysia knew how spotlessly pure and decent their conduct and intention were on the beach, there would have been no uproar in the first place.

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