Monday, February 27, 2006

a gross misrepresentation of myself

You Are Animal

A complete lunatic, you're operating on 100% animal instincts.
You thrive on uncontrolled energy, and you're downright scary.
But you sure can beat a good drum.
"Kill! Kill!"

Seriously, I don't know what happened.

Things I did not know

There once was a company called Anglo-Persian Oil that found a rich source of oil in Persia which became Anglo-Iranian Oil, which became British Petroleum, and is now known as BP.

When you step on a dirty rusty nail and go get a tetanus shot it's not because that nail is rusty. It's because you have a puncture wound. Tetanus is anaerobic. It won't survive in the open air but if your puncture wound closes up the tetanus has a nice warm airtight place in which to thrive.

In the 1800's there was a Regent in Korea who got suspicious of some Catholic missionaries. He thought they were starting some trouble and had them beheaded. Some of these Catholics were French and in response to this outrage the French sent some battleships to go kick some Korean ass. They were rebuffed. But not before they managed to steal the print plates for some very old books. It is called the French-Korean War.

People have done a whole analysis on the science relevant to boiling an egg.

Brown rice (unlike white rice) does not keep for long periods of time. The good stuff in the outer part of the seed will go rancid after about 6 months and so it's best to store your brown rice some where cold and use it in a timely manner.

Bottled water is a rapidly growing market in countries where tap water is safe to drink. A company in the Netherlands called Neau sells empty plastic bottles at bottled water prices and donates the profits to the water projects of Non-Governmental Organizations like UNICEF. The bottles contain informational flyers on why they are doing what they do. It's the activist version of the Emperor's New Clothes. story link their website (in dutch)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Exile from Girlville

While in Beijing I was introduced to CE's friends, her favorite haunts, and the various spas that help her look good.

Dolly Parton said in "Steel Magnolias" - "There's no such thing as natural beauty." Not true. CE's a looker with or without her regimen. But apparently, the beautiful glamorous well groomed girls judge and live by standards well beyond my experience. Added to that, in Beijing labor is cheap cheap cheap and so going to spas and having things done and done well is cheap compared to what the cost would be in the States. One example of this is that for three dollars (probably less) you can have someone wash and dry your hair for you.

In Beijing (and also in Seoul) there is a candor in the way people will assess you. CE said that if she wanted to know how she was looking she had only to get a manicure. On entering the salon the manicurists would say "You've gained weight." or "So skinny!" (approvingly) or "You look tired."

I experienced this myself in Seoul when my aunt took me pants shopping. She warned the shopkeeper that I was kind of chubby and needed a large size. On measuring me out and having me try on a pair of pants the shopkeeper informed my aunt that despite my waistline, my rear and legs were of a reasonable size and therefore she would not consider me chubby. Yeah. Candid.

My second day in Beijing CE and I went to get foot massages. On entering the spa we were lead into a beautiful room with low light and two huge lounge chairs and handed pajama bottoms to change into. I had not anticipated taking off any clothes or a wardrobe change to get a foot massage. Added to this I had not shaved my legs. I had figured that feet were the focus and as long as mine were clean I'd be fine. Wrong. A foot massage at this place entailed shoulders, arms, back, spine alignment, foot and leg massage.

My third day we went to a different spa to get facials. On entering CE was informed by the girls that she needed a rejuvenating treatment. They informed her that my eyebrows were like catepillars and needed serious shaping and tweezing. Candid. They decided on a shape they called "flower style."

To get this shape they broke that cardinal rule of eyebrow shaping and tweezed from the top. *gasp*

The facialist motioned that I was to disrobe from the waist up. The facial, it seemed, included the whole neck to the collar bone. CE told me that at her friend F's favorite spa, one was expected to entirely disrobe for a facial. I don't even want to know why. After this, each day before leaving the apartment I asked CE if there would be any partial or full nudity required for any of the activities of the day. It just seemed wise to check.

My fifth day CE and I went to Nails+ to get a manicure, pedicure, and eyelash planting. The first two I had experienced before. Although in this case they were each done with considerable skill and attention. It took an hour and a half. My cuticles were frightful. The pedicurist chastized me and advised me to oil them. The pedicurist and manicurist both did a gorgeous and meticulous job.

I have thin, short, practically invisible eyelashes and have always envied those men and women with the full long lashes. There are answers to this problem. The most common one is mascara. A more challenging one is false eyelashes. And the alternative I was introduced to at Nails+ was eyelash planting.

A young women of considerable patience and skill named Maggie put me on a table (entirely clothed), placed a little piece of saran wrap under one eyelid at a time and then glued individual plastic eyelashes to my real eyelashes. It took a very long time to do. Briefly, it occurred to me that I was insane to let someone use sharp metal tweezers and scissors and glue so close to my eyeball. There was potential for a reenactment of that scene from Oedipus Rex, no? No. Maggie had the steadiest of hands. The hands of a brain surgeon. The hands of a Swiss watch maker. An eyelash artist, really.

The effect was quite dramatic.

lash 1

The "lashes" of my left eye were so long that they bumped up against the lens of my glasses.

lash 2

At least, the effect was quite dramatic without glasses. With glasses it was way subtle. Still, it was a thrill to me, no question. I had lashes to flutter. In the words of that song from "Oklahoma," I would take time to "sigh and gaze at me," rather, gaze at my lashes in every mirror I passed. Even in the throes of sick I would look up and admire them. (more on that later) But I don't think all that many folks besides CE took notice.

They have about all fallen out now. Which is okay by me. It has curbed my urge to preen like a parrot: "pretty bird, pretty bird." *skwaaa* Plus, they were uncomfortable.

I cannot figure out how to preserve the "flower style" brow on my own. So with time I am entirely reverting back to original form. Beauty is a discipline that requires constant attention.

CE practices the discipline of beauty for herself. She enjoys it and enjoys its results. Whereas in my experience whatever beauty effort I make doesn't seem to do all that much. Contrary to what the beauty magazines imply, it's not like I change the shape of my brows and I start getting free drinks and random marriage proposals at the bar. Whatever I do, I end up looking like me. Some days that drives me nuts. More days I'm fine with it. My exile from Girlville frees up my energy and attention for other things like loitering in grocery stores and libraries.

That said, my favorite beauty tip from CE is a comment on symmetry. While we often think that it is in the eye of the beholder, scientific studies show that one of the traits admired almost universally is bilateral facial symmetry. It is thought that this might stem from some kind of association between symmetry and health. In gentle rebuttal to this theory, we have the following graceful sentiment related to CE by the woman at the Laura Mercier counter: " Your eyebrows are sisters, not twins." They share a resemblance. But one should not force them to try to be identical.

Reading and Comprehension

Two times recently I have been within earshot of the children's section at Border's Bookstore and overheard a scene between a parent and child in which the parent is refusing to buy a book for the child ont he grounds that the reading level is too difficult.

P: "Next year when you're in 3rd grade we'll get you this book. For now, why don't we find you a book at the 2nd grade level?"

C: "Waaaaaaaah!"

Hearing this exchange distressed me. It's not like the kid wanted a copy of Judy Blume's "Forever" or "Lady Chatterly's Lover." Y'know? Not being a parent, maybe I am missing something here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Two things

that made me laugh my ass off today:

The first
The second

L as in Lucky, M as in Money, H as in Happy

CE found that she could not use Western names when spelling things out over the phone in Beijing. H as in Harry meant nothing to the person on the other end of the line. Other words would garner quicker and more universal recognition. It makes perfect sense. Still, the first time I overheard her doing so, it gave me pause.

All cultures have their quirks and superstitions. Beijing (and China as a whole) is no exception. The second time I got on the elevator in her building CE pointed out the button panel. Look closely. What do you see? Or rather what do you not see? That's right. 4, 13, and 14 are absent. In Mandarin the word for the number 4 sounds very similar to the word for death. So 4 is considered to be very unlucky and the 4 and 14 are gone. In some dialects of Chinese the number 14, in particular, sounds like "guaranteed death." Great for a horror movie but bad for an apartment building. It's a pun-y kind of superstition. As a consideration to their North American friends, the builders also took out the number 13. People, particularly business people are very careful about the street number of their location and the digits of their phone number.

I picked up very little in the way of manners or superstitions having spent most of my time with CE and the ex-pat crowd.
A friend of CE's insisted that you must always make eye contact when you clink glasses in a toast. If you don't you'll have seven years of bad sex. CE joked that the sex was assured to be good if you made eye contact and then winked. All this coordination was a bit much for me while trying to get my drink on. But in the interest of avoiding a Chinese curse of bad sex I kept up the best I could. I have no confirmation that such a thing is more broadly practiced in Beijing or China. But the following things, I think, are.

-The spout of the teapot must never face anyone at the table.

-It is fine to grab the teapot by the spout rather than the handle.

-You pour tea for everyone at the table with space in their cup before you pour yourself a cup.

-When a whole fish is served at the meal the head should be pointed towards the honored guest such that good fortune flows towards him/her.

-When the tea pot is empty at the restaurant and you need a refill you set the top ajar or place it up/inverted on the pot.

-At a fancy meal/banquet asking for a bowl of rice is an insult to the food and the host. You don't eat rice or noodles at a restaurant until the end of the meal, if at all. You don't fill up on carbs when there's good stuff on the table.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Did you know

There is a dinosaur at the O'Hare airport?! Just chillin' out and being tall.

I was rushing by from gate to gate and I saw her out of the corner of my eye. Naturally, I had to go back and get another look. And then again to take her picture.

There are many times in which I wish I could hold my pinky and wink an eye to take a picture. To capture a sunset or the look on someone's face, friend or stranger. Most cameras are so bulky and heavy. And intrusive. It interrupts the flow of being there the whole stopping to take a picture. I take myself out of an experience to capture it. Added to that I cannot take a picture of myself in the scene so the image can't document my being there. And I do not have the skill as a photographer to capture a thing exactly as I see it. The mountain is not tall enough, the sunset is not red enough. So there are many times when I decide that what I really want is to be there and if in the end memory fails and I cannot recall it, so be it.

I took pictures. But in trying to blog, I wish I had taken more. Many more.

On the plane from the Lou to Chi a young woman boarded with a Nalgene water bottle. As she passed me looking for her seat I saw that inside this Nalgene was a siamese fighting fish. I have to wonder if she had to send it through the X-ray machine or if security let her just bring it through the metal detector. I hope the little guy made it home safe.

I am told that the cleanest most beautiful airport in the world is in Singapore. In my more limited experience with airports I would say that mostly they are pretty much the same, although certain corridors of the Atlanta airport are quite charming. Clean and new with interesting art displayed at each gate. And Hong Kong International airport is quite lovely with many restaurants to suit any taste, lounge areas with upholstered chairs and a mini mall of stores.

Flying is not as much fun as when I was a child. The seats were enormous and there was tons of leg room. I loved the meals and the thrill of ordering ginger ale from the drink cart. Now the seats are small and crowded. I still order ginger ale. And I am lucky to get a hot pocket. This flight did have meals. United offered an endless rotation of movies I would not ordinarily watch. "The Corpse Bride" was cute and equally enjoyable dubbed into Korean. "I, Robot" was amusing and "Good Night and Good Luck" was quite good. Distressingly, "Pride and Prejudice" had the entire last scene edited out. The flight attendants did their best to keep us hydrated and their "late night" snack was a bowl of instant ramen noodles with an almond cookie. It was as decent as an economy class international flight will get.

Some ex-pat fellas complained about the age and the, uh, girth of the flight attendants on the international flights. One was described as barely squeezing down the aisle. My father tells me that this is done on purpose. For some reason it was found that very skinny women who flew long distances complained of pain. Joint pain and back pain. So on some airlines stickfigures fly domestic and nonstick figures fly international.

I feel a little like Herodotus telling you such stories. I cannot confirm that they are true I can only pass along the hearsay. Much of my trip was like this. Full of stories that I now pass along to you not because I know them to be true but merely because they interest me.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Things that seep in

It is funny what you will pick up from the air without realizing. It is funny how quickly something foreign can become familiar and viceversa.

In my second week in Beijing I had picked up a new conversational tick. When someone made a statement and I wanted to express that I was on the same page I would say "Ah, ah, ah, ah." Or "Ungh." Where before I would say "Uh-huh." or make some other kind of sound that I can no longer recall.

I remarked on this and CE pointed out that the repetitive sound is a common way to respond in Chinese. "Dey dey dey"( right right right) or "Hao Hao Hao" (good good good) And the "Ungh" grunted response was also quite prevalent. Somehow after a little over a week in which I did not speak to a single Beijinger I had picked this up from the air, the sounds of the streets, the interaction between CE and many a cab driver in navigating about the city.

It is actually still with me like a stubborn bar stamped ink mark from a wild night. I wonder if it will stick or fade with time. Rather how long it will linger. Surely, everything fades with time.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

That cliche about the weather? So true.

The weather was unseasonably warm today so I decided to walk to the Library. Too warm for a coat but remembering years of admonishments from my mother, I took one anyway. Coat on arm, I greeted my neighbors and enjoyed the fresh air.

After taking some time to loiter at the library, prowling the stacks, requesting books through interlibrary loan, I got my fix and stepped outside. There was a little rain. But I had the fabulous leopard print rain coat! The rain seemed pretty light ... yeah, why not walk in the rain? It would be like something out of a movie - a French one, in black and white with an Astrud Gilberto tune in the background.


Not half a block later the rain got harder. And harder. To my left dark scary clouds were coming in fast. I walked faster. The rain was pooling under the collar of the raincoat of fabulousness. My pants drenched up to the knee. Soggy socks in sopping shoes. And then stuff was bouncing off of me. The weather had dropped 30 degrees. It was hail. Hail?.! Movie, my ass. Maybe "Noah's Ark 2: the Ark of Darkness." I ducked into the doorway of a mysterious business called "Birthplace" until the rain let up a bit.

Sirens started to go off. Tornado warning. Yay! Walk faster. When I got home and jumped in the shower, cold water seeped out of my hair onto my shoulders.

Life lessons?

It's good to be home. My mother is wise. Leopard Print is a classic. And I love my car.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Back in the Saddle

I could log on to Blogger from Beijing but I could not access my blog. I couldn't access yours either if you were a blogspot. I missed y'all terribly, you have no idea. In fact, I had no idea how addicted I am to constant access to internets until I was deprived of wireless in home and out.

In this deplorable situation I could not write. Seriously, much of the editing gets done after the first time I throw up a post. I could not blog blind. I have some saved drafts that attest to this. It was only the loss of Wendy that spurred me to post from Beijing.

It was four weeks of being away. And now that I am back it is hard to sum up where I have been. It is hard to process what it means. So I warn you that for a while I will be throwing up posts and asides that are prefaced "In Beijing ..." "In Hong Kong ..." "In Seoul ..." This be your only warning on that front.

And onward to the usual suchnots and whatnots that I offer:

Jet lag is kicking my butt. I went to bed at 10:40am and woke up at 8pm when I got a call from CE.

I went to the grocery store today. There's barely anything to eat chez moi. Considering it was midnight, the guys doing the floors were not happy to see me wander through dirtying the floors again, nor was the harried cashier facing the late night rush with no bagger. But walking down those aisles able to read and recognize everything on the shelf in a grocery store ten times the size of any "western style" grocery I visited in Beijing, I started to feel like I am back again.

Though, I will admit that I kinda miss Lay's spicy crab flavored potato chips. Lay's has potato chip flavors tailored to the tastebuds of folks all over the world. Tomato meat sauce flavored, chicken flavored, seaweed flavored, spicy crab, and so on.

I have developed a new fixation. Before I boarded the plane from Chicago to Beijing I bought a book called "Sudoku Easy to Hard." I did twelve of them on the twelve hour flight over. (in ink) I have solved the "Light and Easy," some of the "Moderate", and a few of the "Demanding." To date the "Beware! Very Challenging" puzzles are beyond me.

The constraints and the goal are seemingly simple. The assumption is that there is one way to solve each puzzle and the grid has enough numbers to give you the hints necessary to solve it. And has the added advantage over the crossword of not requiring knowledge of trivia or latin.

With my ridiculous jetlag hours I am grateful for the Winter Olympics. At stupid early hours of the morning I can watch reruns of the Olympics rather than infomercials. My menstrualness is making it a teary experience. The profiles of different atheltes, watching the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and worst of all the cheesy copy that announcers are reading call for tissue upon tissue.

Watching Zhang Dan get up from that nasty looking fall and skating with her partner Zhang Hao to a silver medal. Wow! I wept a lake watching that one.

Tears aside, that Johnny Weir is a cutie.

I am in search of new words to express "good or really really very extremely good." Cool, awesome, fantastic, fantabulous, marvelous, great ..." *meh* whatever. I need new words. Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wendy Wasserstein

I got an email from MomVee telling me that Wendy Wasserstein died at the age of 55. I am shocked and so sad. In college I had the opportunity to see "The Heidi Chronicles" but chose instead to see "Black and Blue" which was a pretty decent tap and blues revue but shows me to be a big moron.

Because a year later I got to see "Uncommon Women and Others" staged at school and learned to regret that I did not jump at the chance to see another Wendy Wasserstein play performed live. Her writing was smart and funny and wise and true. And her characters were women. They were not female impersonations written out of cliche or defined in relation to men. They were women I knew, or women I was, or women I might become, or women I was afraid I might become. It is so rare for the world to turn its attention to women as they are.

In later years I would have to settle for reading her plays and her articles. I waiting and waited for her plays to be published so I could read them and think and laugh and cry.

I thought she would always be there to tell me what was up ahead. She would help me and all the other Bachelor Girls figure out how each of us might try and reinvent the wheel and become our best selves. Not by having the answers but rather by asking the questions and sharing stories.

I guess we are left to take up the task ourselves. Blessings to you, Wendy Wasserstein. Thank you for everything that you have done. I don't feel as alone or as strange or crazy and I owe that in part to you. I still haven't tasted my own menstrual blood but I also haven't shake-n-baked myself to death and I keep faith that I'll be amazing in my 40's.

And deepest sympathy to your family especially to Lucy Jane.

quick note on me

I have been in the East for a few weeks. Not the East Coast, rather The Far East. This is a picture from inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

in the forbidden city

everywhere a starbucks
This is me in front of the Starbucks they have set up inside the Forbidden City demonstrating how cold it is in Beijing right now. Yes, that's right there is a Starbucks in the palace of the emperor. I have a t-shirt to this effect. Take heart, though, dear friends, it could have been worse - McDonald's wanted the location but the city went into an uproar in protest. Some lines even a really good french fry cannot cross.