Monday, November 25, 2013

What I Could Have Done This Year (According to Women's Health)

'Tis that time of year again when everyone is rushing around to bake holiday goodies, drinking egg nog, and simultaneously kicking themselves for every frosted sugar cookie that graces their lips. It is obviously your choice as to whether or not you want to eat the cookie, but I suggest that you do and that you enjoy it instead of diving into a soliloquy about how you "shouldn't have done that" and you've "ruined your diet" or how, this New Year's, your resolving a new you.

The old you is fine. And beautiful. And perfect.

As infuriating as this robotic jargon is, it's not infuriating as the myriad sources that perpetuate - no, encourage - it. There are countless magazines, Cosmo, Self, Woman's World, etc., that try to sell us weight loss month after month, but I'm choosing a magazine that purports itself as one of health (hey, it's in the friggin' title), to show you all what you could've done if you'd just given them money this year. Here it is: what we could've done in 2013 according to Women's Health.


•Ah, the start to my fittest year!
•I could eat anything - you heard me right, anything - and still lose weight.
•I could tone every inch in just minutes a day.
•Learn the sex secrets of 140,000 who apparently all have sex the same way and consider themselves experts.


•Ah, the spring shape up issue!
•I could accelerate my weight loss and transform my belly, butt, and thighs with their "strong and sexy workout."
•I could cure cure insomnia, PMS, headaches, and more by eating certain foods.
•I could get a raise.
•I could have more sex.
•I could never fall short of my goal again...with makeup.


•Ah, the special beauty bonus issue!
•I could finally have a flat belly!
•Be surprised by Vitamin N.
•I could get everything that will lead to my happiness: success and money.
•I could have sizzling sex (that will trump the sex secrets I learned in January/February) with Katharine McPhee's sex tips. I know she must have great sex because she's a thin celebrity.
•I could find the perfect yoga style, which is the only thing that hasn't made me roll my eyes.


•I could get the best. abs. ever. Even better than the ones I got when I transformed my belly two months ago.
•I could drop two sizes without cardio.
•I could look better naked.
•I could have unlimited orgasms. Which is good, because I'm sick of paying more when I go over my monthly allowance.
•Be a confident cook.
•I could not stress out about shopping for swimsuits.


•Ah, the fitness special. Because everything else was just...what? Laziness?
•Guess what?! It's abs season. Good thing I transformed my belly in March and got the best. abs. ever in May/June. But wait! There's more! A bikini belly workout. Because my best. abs. ever. don't cut the mustard if I'm wearing a bikini.
•I could "friend" someone in real life. (I thought that's what friends were?"
•I could have great sex every time!
•I could sip my way to a sharper mind. I'm not entirely sure what that means.


•Ah, the fall fashion special.
•I could LOSE MY BELLY! Although that would make it hard to do things like eat and keep my head on.
•I could be on the hot body express. My best. abs. ever. and my bikini body just aren't good enough apparently.
•I could have flawless skin.
•I could have killer legs.
•I could sleep better, find my soulmate online, AND take an amazing selfie. This sounds like a very full two months.


•Ah, the shape up shortcuts issue!
•I could resize my thighs, even though I just got killer legs earlier in the fall.
•I could have my best. sex. ever. Is this like my best. abs. ever.?
•I could thwart hunger.
•I could turn my frown upside down.
•Plus, I can keep my boobs safe!


•I can tone every zone, fast and easy, and remove inches without spanx.
•I can save my own life. I only hope this issue shows how to do an emergency tracheotomy on myself.
•I can be smarter than hangovers. I've met some very intelligent ones in my life.
•I can have crazy good sex! This isn't as appealing as the best. sex. ever. or the unlimited orgasms. In fact, it sounds a little lackluster.
•I can lose weight without dieting with their clever rhyme: "Eat, Drink, and Still Shrink!"

Dammit, if I'd just bought a subscription to Women's Health, my 2013 would have shaped up to be my slimmest, trimmest year wrought with incredible sex and "killer" legs and abs. But alas, my only subscription is to Cat Fancy.

Clearly, if these magazines sold anything that was worth a damn they would no longer have the need to be in business. Magazines like this, along with myriad other sectors, most specifically the diet industry as a whole, does not have a long term investment in our health, it has a long term investment in their profits. My suggestions? Put down the magazines, pick up a book. Put down the magazines, go for a walk. Put down the magazines, do some Zumba. Eat a cookie, drink some eggnog, eat your broccoli, love yourself. Just. As. You. Are.

Spit: A Haiku

Gobby, filled with phlegm
Glistening expectorate
Hacking, hacking, splate

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Survivor: China

This is my almost-half-way-there evaluation of living in China and, in it, I have chosen to focus on the dangers and annoyances of this country in case any of you decide that you actually want to come. (And you should, because Jake and I love and miss you.)

Getting Around - Driving                                                                                        

 China has one-seventh of the world's population and there are correspondingly roughly one-seventh of the world's cars. In Qinhuangdao, a "small" Chinese city, most streets run 6 lanes of traffic. There are traffic cops stationed at every intersection, but I have not once seen them do anything except point and their "super cool" my-shift-is-over dance, which involves saluting the relief worker, turning on the heel, marching away like a toy soldier, saluting from the middle of traffic, and then leaving. Plus, the women have to wear outfits which make them look more like cowgirls, adding to their pointlessness. 

Anyway, despite there being 6 lanes of traffic, "lanes" are just a theory here, not actual rules, as are the signs that tell you not to text and drive and the speed limit. So, cars driving really friggin fast swerve between lanes and oftentimes hang in between to pass anyone going slower than them. There are no seatbelt laws nor any signs of common courtesy, because in a country of one billion, individual preservation and satisfaction is a top priority.

Getting Around - Bicycles                                                                                        

There are bike lanes here, but unfortunately they also function as the lane all the cars want to use during a traffic jam and a hangout space for street vendors and the place where Ducars (like a motorized rickshaw) park. Plus, the bike lanes don't indicate direction, and, like with the cars, people are more interested in their own travels than making sure travel in general goes smoothly, so there's a lot of stopping and starting and brakes screeching. To top it all of, I haven't seen a single helmet. Not one.

Getting Around - Walking                                                                                       

Yes, the bike lanes act as more than just bike lanes, but the sidewalks pull quadruple duty as a place to walk, a place to bike, parking lots, and that lane you really, really want to be in during rush hour when the actual street and the bike lane are full up. I was stepping from the crosswalk onto the sidewalk to day and some guy was angrily honking at me because he, too, wanted to be on the sidewalk and I dared to be in his way. I wish this were a rare occurrence, but it's more or less a daily thing.

As I mentioned, there are 6 lanes of traffic on average, and, much like in America, cars have the privilege of turning right even on a red light. However, unlike in America, cars take that to mean that they never ever ever have to yield for anyone. So, when the green pedestrian crossing light goes on, you still have to wait to make sure that no one is going to hit you from the right. This can result in one of two things: not being able to start crossing and not being able to stop crossing. When you cannot stop crossing, you have to wait precariously on the white line somewhere in 6 lanes of traffic while the cars whiz by you, often unaware of the concept of lines. This is a prime example of Social Darwinism, with pedestrians at the trough of the proverbial food chain.

Other People                                                                                                             

I can't say this enough: everyone here is self-centered. And not in a Paris Hilton "I'm hot and everybody needs to look at me way" but in a way like a 2-year-old is self-centered. You know how, when you see a toddler in a supermarket and they have no idea you're there and walk right into because they're two and they have tunnel vision? Imagine that, but multiply it by 3 million and then add adults. I have never ever encountered such a lack of courtesy that goes way beyond my American personal space needs, which obviously aren't being met. 

At home and in my travels, I always encounter a few people who have their heads so far up their butts that the rest of us always have to be aware, but everybody here seems to suffer from head-up-butt disease. It's part remarkable but most infuriating because everybody is cutting in front of you, cutting you off, bumping into you, stopping right in front of you, etc. 

Those Pesky Loose Bricks                                                                                       

The Achille's Heel of the klutzy and graceless, loose bricks are a huge annoyance in China. You would think that, in a Communist country where the belief is that everybody has the right to a job, they could find someone to fix the damn things, but no. Instead, we're left to trip over them while dodging cars, bicycles, scooters, and other people who have no seemingly no awareness. And if that wasn't bad enough, these loose bricks are like something out of a video game, and when you step on them, they shoot up ground water. Now, that would be annoying in America where you'd probably be pretty pissed that your pants and shoes got wet, but in China, that means you are now partially covered in diluted sewer water. 

E.N. and T (and H and S)                                                                                       

Ears: Noise pollution. They've got it. Horns honking, brakes screeching, loogies being hocked, stores right next to each other that each blare music, construction, street vendors shouting at you to buy whatever they have. It's endless, and almost impossible to carry on a conversation walking outdoors.

Nose: Smell. It's awful. Between the trash and constant smell of sewage in the air, I always find it a rare, noteworthy moment when we step by a bakery or a coffee shop or get a whiff of gasoline.

Throat: See "Loogies" and "The Air."

Hair: China's killing mine. See "The Water."

Skin: Dry and simultaneously oily. Has always been a little like this, but China has exacerbated the problem. See "The Air" and "The Water."


I'm having flashbacks to high school English when Mr. Devino used to hock up loogies into a tissue during silent reading...or any other time he felt the need to clear his throat. I'm having flashbacks, and wishing I was there. At least he had the relative courtesy to spit up into a tissue, which he would then discard on his desk. Here, it's a national pastime to spit and hock loogies onto the street. I cringe every time I hear it, which - and I am not exaggerating - is every time I leave the house and sometimes from the living room because the street is right outside. 

Beyond being a very irksome noise, it's so unhygienic. And this is the country that wears surgical masks when they're sick or worried that other people are sick! 

Betcha Can Eat Just One...                                                                                      

...because it's individually wrapped. I've explained to a lot of you the annoyance of buying things in stores and having a pile of trash that accompanies any grocery run. So, when you buy produce, you have to put it in a bag, even if it's just one lemon, it has to go in a bag so they can weigh it and put a sticker on it then staple it should so you have to rip the bag to open it and never be able to use it again. If you buy cookies, candies, or other processed food, be prepared to have to open normally one packet per two cookies. With chips, if you buy a Pringles can, you get two individually wrapped sections. You can even buy an individually wrapped, uncooked egg. Hey, no one ever accused the Chinese of overeating...

By the way, I did a Google Image search of individually wrapped eggs and I got images of Easter candy. Because there is no other time where one needs to individually wrap an egg. 

Roadside Fires                                                                                                          

No permit, no license, no problem. Just light your fire on the road and watch it burn. Or don't. You can leave your fire unattended and nothing happens.

Fire Escapes                                                                                                              

Many of our friends here teach at a school called English First, and they recently had a building fire. It was pointed out to me that EF doesn't have fire escapes, which got me wondering whether or not other buildings here had fire escapes. I haven't found one yet. To be fair, most of the buildings are just concrete slabs, which is are fairly difficult to set ablaze, but I'm going to go with not impossible.

Freelance Welding                                                                                                    

This one throws me for a loop. I think that, in America, we take safety to a ridiculous level, with hand sanitizer and uber-padding for kids who play sports, but I don't think that safety visors and gloves are superfluous for welding. But they do in China. Here, people weld sans gloves or safety visors ON THE SIDEWALK. I have been temporarily blinded several times by a freelance welder. 

Man Holes                                                                                                              

This isn't a huge one, but it's one worth noting. There are times when man holes need to be uncovered to do some work, and normally they are completely barricaded by flags or signs so people don't walk into them and fall into the sewer. China succeeds in barricading them partially but not fully. Plus, there are many man holes here that have small holes or loose areas where you probably wouldn't fall in but you might lose a shoe or get your foot stuck. These aren't marked at all. You just have to know.

The Water                                                                                                                

I'd take a picture of the river near our school or the river near our house, but I don't want to disgust you. Great, grey-green, greasy does not begin to describe the river, as we must add garbage, grim, grody, gruesome, and noxious. 

I'm not sure how purified the water is that we use in our shower, but my hair is falling out more than it ever has, my skin is dry and flaky, yet I'm breaking out, and unless I wash my hair everyday it gets noticeably greasy. At home, my hair doesn't get noticeably greasy until the third day.

The Air                                                                                                                     

Pretty much think of the water, but evaporate the liquid to a gas and add in car pollutants and then pump it directly into your lungs. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Pioneer Life

I went on a cooking spree tonight, which I am apt to do once in a while, particularly when the future-hubby is at work, and am moreso apt to do lately because I finally feel comfortable cooking with Chinese ingredients. We spent a lot of time in the first five months eating at restaurants - and we still do, because certain ones are dirt cheap - or eating chicken patty sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and broccoli with garlic. Now, broccoli has become rather inordinately expensive and I have grown particularly disgusted with the nuggety, breaded chicken. So, I've been investing - and by investing I mean spending the equivalent of about $10 - on huge bags of produce and seeing what I can make.

See, at home, I have more or less a luxury kitchen compared to what I have here, which is literally a hot plate and a toaster oven. At home I have 3.5 burners (one only works sporadically), an oven, a toaster oven, a juicer, a blender, counter space, and access to foods I'm comfortable with, like wheat-based noodles and veggie crumble (a soy protein mixture, which I often use in place of meat). Tonight, with two pans, my toaster oven, and my hot plate, I made five different dishes and a slew of dumplings.

Here, the nice thing is that I have no idea what things are, so I'm inclined to cook simply, which always makes me feel really superior about what I'm eating. The only thing I had difficulty with was the pumpkin. If anyone knows an easy (or at least moderately manageable) way to cut up a pumpkin and remove it from its rind, please make me privy to this information. Tonight I made:

Prapplesauce. I toyed with the idea of calling this aearplesauce or pearple sauce, but I like "prapplesauce." Ingredients: 4 apples, 1 pear, 1 cup of water (boiled, of course, T.I.C.), and 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Simmer and YUM.

Sautéed Zucchini and Carrots. Sliced thin and sautéed with a little bit of salt and some honey.

Zesty Pumpkin. For lack of a better name. It's pumpkin stir-fried with garlic and onions and a tablespoon or two of soy sauce. It tastes better than it sounds.

Cabbage Stew. Cabbage, lots of cabbage, simmered with one or two tablespoons of oil and about 1/4 of an onion.

Pumptato Hash Browns. I like the fusion foods. Shredded pumpkin and potato (more potato than pumpkin) fried up with some onion and garlic, and for good measure, I added some chopped up leftover chicken nuggets.

Dumplings. This was my first experience with dumplings, and thankfully I didn't have to make the shells. Our supermarket sells them pre-made in packages of, like, 30 for a little less 50¢. So I filled some up with the pumptatos and others with onions, garlic, and chopped up chicken nuggets, then put them in the toaster oven for about 10 minutes. Yields: 6,000. I have so many dumplings.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Can Be Anything

According to Wikipedia, Barbie has had over 125 careers since her plastic birth in 1959. I once loved Barbies, and especially enjoyed my gymnastics and ballerina Barbies, because, quite frankly, they were much more talented in those areas than I was. So, her is a salute to Barbie's careers because beauty is nothing without brains (though I'm not sure Mattel would agree).

1. Sign Language Teacher 

First off, hats off to Mattel for recognizing that there are Deaf children in the world who want to see themselves reflected in toys. However, everyone now please put your hats back on. That's a cool poster you've got there, Ms. Barbie, depicting twelve different signs. Can you show me with your hands? Oh, what's that you say? Your fingers are glued together? That must make it difficult to be a teacher of American Sign Language. One might note that Barbie's right hand is positioned in the "I Love You" sign, but it cannot deviate. Also, a miniskirt and bobby socks? Really?

2. Canadian Mountie Barbie

I wish this were a joke or at the very least a satire. But no. Although you can't in the picture, Barbie is sporting sexy leather boots with heels completely inappropriate for patrolling Canada. And, seriously, the one god damned time she actually needs a horse she doesn't have one? What's that about? 

3. Architect Barbie 

"Hey, Barbie! Where are you headed with that enormous thermos and tiny tool kit?" 

"Oh, just off to build some houses!" 

Apparently Barbies was present on the day she learned about hydration, but missed the rest of the units on actual architecture. I see she's got a hard hat, but I don't think it's going to fit over her stylish side ponytail. Also, I think she's going to have a difficult time navigating a construction site in those shoes. Maybe the hard hat or the tiny tool kit or the comically large thermos will break her fall?

4. UNICEF Barbie

I'm not entirely sure this counts as a career, but Mattel thinks it does so I'll go with it. UNICEF Barbie, I think, has never been to a job judging by her outfit, and clearly doesn't understand that sleeves are never appropriate for an evening gown and an evening gown is never appropriate for work... unless you're hiding pennies for UNICEF under it! But she's not. 

5. Surgeon Barbie 

Well, thankfully she left her heels at home, but apparently she left her pants there, too. It doesn't bode well when your alleged surgeon doesn't remember his/her pants. Also, I can pretty well ascertain that she didn't do too well in medical school if she thinks she can operate using a stethoscope and a towel. I would hope her operating room has a heart monitor and that her support staff would bring any necessary linens. Additionally, I'm pretty sure her hair needs to be up in that hairnet not hanging loosely around waiting to drop into an open body when she opens them up with her...nails? 

6. Astronaut Barbie

How Barbie got to space is anyone's guess, especially considering she's apparently removed the computer from the space ship. I'm not sure what's in that tiny little box, but I hope it's tools and not a PBJ. Kudos to her for remembering her helmet, but I think she's still going to have a difficult time negotiating heels in zero-gravity in that faux-satin Victorian riding suit. Plus, when she steps off the space craft, all the capillaries in her hand are going to burst. 

7. Nascar Driver Barbie 

...and once again, she forgot her pants. Seriously, this is a lady who's had over two careers per year, if we're doing math, and she hasn't figured out that some jobs require pants yet? Also, apparently with this career she missed the safety lectures, too, because she is sans helmet and riding gloves. Methinks she will not make it through a crash! Luckily, though, she did remember to bring her flag - rah! rah! - and her sunglasses. 

8. Firefighter Barbie 

Hat: check. Belt: check. Mask: check. Flashlight: check. Coat/shirt (can't decide what to call it): check. Extinguisher: check. Jeans (forgot my actual firefighting pants at home): check. Hooks: check. Phone: check. Boots: check. Ax: check. Pup: check. Bucket (for splashing bucketfuls of water onto burning buildings): check. Backgammon board: check. Because nothing says firefighter like a backgammon game.

9. Dr. Barbie 

While it's true she is a doctor, I'm a bit miffed that Mattel couldn't define her career further. If their true intent is to show young girls that women can do or be anything (and I'm not fully sure that is their message), calling her "Pediatric Doctor Barbie" or "OBGYN Barbie" might have been more in line with their goal. Here, Barbie shows us how to hold a baby - just kinda grab on and balance it because newborns can support themselves just fine - and a first aid kit at the same time all the while wearing a stethoscope. Mattel is privy to the knowledge that multitasking is a highly sought after skill by employers.

10. Veterinarian Barbie 

Worst. Vet. Ever. I think that pretty much sums it up. Apparently Barbie was too busy dangling kittens from archaic basket scales to pay attention in medical school. Apparently a check-up at Barbie's Vet Clinic consists of getting your cat weighed, put in a basket where it's photo is taken, it's given a shot, and offered some medicine, then pushed down a slide into a bucket of water. This ends well. But she's got her trusty stethoscope. 

11. Yoga Teacher Barbie

Finally! A career that Barbie is suited for. While real-life yoga teachers need to be zen and practiced in the art of chakras and setu bandassanas, Barbie has a trump card here: flexibility. She can literally spin her arms in a full windmill without bending her elbow or having to move her arm away from her body. She can also lift both her legs above her head - at the same time. Someone ought to warn her about that tiny chihuahua about to lunge at her crotch, though. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

You Wanna Hug Me? What Rhymes With Hug Me?

And they're, like, it's better than yours. 
A friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article regarding Robin Thicke's hit single, "Blurred Lines" asking what I thought of it. You can read the full article here, but here's a summary for those who don't feel like reading the entirety. This article contrasts the initial feminist interpretation of the song and suggests that the feminist parody of the music video is actually more offensive than backwards than the original song and video, which this particular author finds at least somewhat progressive.

For those of you who haven't heard the song or watched the video (and, might I add, I need to loofa my eyes after that video), it is essentially four or five women strutting around topless while Robin Thicke and two cronies sing about/to them, and intermittently we see a message on the wall that "Robin Thicke has has a big dick." Oh, the cleverness of you. Perhaps the most problematic part of the whole video for me is a girl on her hands and knees, booty-tooching like crazy with a miniature stop sign posted on her butt. You don't have to read too far between the lines there.

Anyway, let's start at the very beginning - that's a very good place to start. The first time I heard the song I enjoyed it. It's got a good beat, it's catchy. The first time I saw the video, well, suffice to say I was unimpressed. Firstly, as I've already explained, it's just a handful of half naked women walking around, so their only allure is that they're conventionally beautiful and half naked - uh, congratulations? - and I think, for the purposes of this video, nobody was really looking at their faces anyway. I didn't have any sort of feminist meltdown or strong reaction to it, but I did (do, really) tend to think that things like that aren't empowering or progressive, but I will get to that later. After I read the article, I started to read more articles and I watched the feminist parody of the video, which was pretty shaming and made me think that, although we'd definitely seen the same video, we might have heard different songs. Then I watched the original video again. It was then I realized that I've heard more or less the same thing at every single bar ever. It's a pick up song, and Thicke actually uses some relatively empowering language like, "You're far from plastic" and "That man is not your maker" and "Just let me liberate you." But here's the feminist punch in the groin: I didn't need you to give me that power. It is mine implicitly.

Which brings me to my next point: feminism. It took me a long time to identify as a feminist. For many, many years, my vision of feminism was a bunch of Neanderthal women who didn't shave, convening around a cauldron, conspiring to rid the world of men while they cooked one for dinner. But then somebody told me that was stupid. And he was a white man in an average to above average socioeconomic bracket, so of course I had to believe him. Feminism is about choice and the ability and freedom to make that choice. I can choose to shave my legs and wear makeup, and other women can choose otherwise. I can choose to flirt with you all night and then not go home with you, and you can be annoyed or angry, but it is my body, my life, my right. But you don't have to have a college degree to see the disparity apparent between the sexes. It is truly a man's world, and, in my opinion, Thicke's video is a prime example of that.

There is an argument among the feminist movement as to whether nudity, sex, porn, and other related things widely available to the public can be feminist and empowering. I really struggle with this concept, because I see a little of both sides, but can't fully grasp either. On the one hand, throughout history, sex has been truly a masculine activity. Women were married off, rape was considered a right for raiders, Victorian women who enjoyed sex were thought to be psychotic, the list goes on. When I think about these things, all I can ponder is how utterly backwards that is. But when I think of public domain nudity and sex being empowering, here is where my mind goes: A staple of the feminist movement is that women are more than just sexual objects to men. But parading around topless or feeding into that fantasy recognizes the fact that many men just see women as sexual objects. So feminists are using an exploitation that they readily complain about as an advantage - totally hypocritical - and as I've said previously, hypocrisy is ugly. But then what's a woman to do? Closet herself in an unseemly burlap sack and never acknowledge the fact that she is sexual? No, that's stupid, too. And then it cycles.

I mentioned before a problematic area of the video - the woman on all fours with the mini-stop sign on her butt. A very problematic area of the lyrics for me, considerably more dubious than the video frame, is "You know you want it." Why, you ask, does this pose a problem? Well, because this is classic power-hungry, victim-blaming language. You asked for it by wearing that short skirt. You told me it was okay by flashing me some cleavage. You shouldn't have been walking home by yourself. It's your fault because you brought this on yourself. RED FLAG RED FLAG RED FLAG. It is never, ever, ever, ever, EVER okay to blame the victim. If a child on the playground gets beat up for having glasses you don't say, "Well, you should get rid of the glasses." So, this whole idea of "You know you want it" doesn't sit well with me. BUT and this is a but that's bigger than mine, all the women in Thicke's video, despite being objectified by nature of what they're doing, are not in any sort of submissive positions or roles where they are depicted as being anything less than confident.

So here's what it comes down to. Do I think Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" is contrary to feminism? No. Do I think it's empowering and female-friendly? No. I think it's a pick up line in verse form with all the qualities of a man who means well but doesn't quite get it. But truly, I think we're all missing the point. Given on the hype surrounding his song, you'd think he'd be a more adept lyricist, yet he wants to know "What rhymes with 'hug me?'" and here are some answers for him.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Takeoffs and Landings

When we arrived at Beijing National Airport on September 22, we were greeted with an unpleasant surprise: our flight wasn't leaving from that airport. It was leaving from Nanyuan Airport, a solid hour and a half away. 

Cut to uncomfortable shuttle bus ride back to Dongzhimen Station and sardinish metro ride to Xiwuman followed by a bizarre pseudo-taxi ride to an airport down a decrepit street on the outskirts of Beijing.

Needless to say we made it in time for our flight to Chengdu and a long night sleeping on the chairs in the airport.

When we got back to Nanyuan Airport, after a turbulent flight, we were greeted with umpteen cabbies who kept saying "Mei yo" to our destination - Beijing Central Railway Station - and many a scam taxi driver offering to take us there for 100Y. We finally got a cabby who didn't "Mei yo" us, but he took us first to the South Station and then to the Central Station, so it ended up costing us 97Y anyway (ridiculous). 

We get there and we hadn't bought our return train tickets to QHD because, truthfully, we weren't sure when we would get to the station. We got in Line 41, which looked the same as all the other lines except it was moving faster.  We stood in that line for about 20 minutes. When we got to the counter the woman working said, "Buy tickets?"


"Counter 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48." The lines stretched to the door. 

After standing in Line 43 for the better part of an hour, being jostled by people weaving through the lines, standing behind a guy who smelled like week-old boiled cabbage, and watching - no, hearing - some attendant back up spit bibs twice in the middle if the floor, the woman behind the counter didn't speak English. So we waited - Jake patiently and I less so - for her to fetch someone who could assist us. And wouldn't you know it was the woman from Line 41.

All the morning D-trains (a.k.a. the fast, clean trains) were filled and all that was left before 1:30 p.m. - mind you, almost exactly 12 hours subsequent to us purchasing tickets - was one seat and one standing room spot in the Y train. At least it wasn't the K train (a.k.a. the slow, dirty train) or as I like to call it, the Shit Train.

So we got our tickets for the Y train and headed past the scads of homeless people into Beijing Railway Station. People with apparently similar itineraries to ours but who had obviously arrived first were sleeping triple, quadruple, pentuple, sextuple wide in some cases on the benches, leaving the rest of us to bunk on the station's questionable floor for a long night only to be awoken at 5:30 by a woman with a megaphone personally visiting everyone and demanding they stop sleeping.

What a weird place.

XingXing and BangBang

The Chinese name for the giant panda is dá xiongmao which literally means "bear cat." These archaic creatures have survived over 8 million years, 3 million years longer than the average lifespan of any creature. This is pretty much an evolutionary miracle because the panda essentially devolved over time. 

At its most primitive form a ferocious carnivore, these now docile vegetarians are still classified in the carnivorous order because their teeth and their stomach are made for chewing and digesting meat respectively. Around 8 million years ago, the giant panda became omnivorous and now almost exclusively eats about 60 of China's 500 different types of bamboo. Unfortunately, bamboo is low in any sort of nutrients for a large, warm-blooded mammal and the panda's digestive tract can only absorb about 20 percent of the meager nutrients (predominately sugar) that it does contain. As such, the panda spends pretty much all of its day sleeping so as not to expend any calories, and eating, so as to absorb as many calories as possible.

For all intents and purposes, pandas are evolutionarily challenged and probably shouldn't be living. In addition to their questionable dietary choices, pandas are also sexually reluctant and, when they do mate, require a specific match. If these bears do mate, a female panda in the wild will likely only give birth to one cub, and, scientifically speaking, that cub will be born prematurely. 

At 1/1000 the weight of its mother (for comparative purposes, human babies are roughly 1/30 the weight of their mothers), the baby panda is born blind and remains that way for quite some time. Unfortunately for the baby panda, it is dependent on an animal who takes time to develop maternal instincts, who often swats the baby around because it cries, in the best case scenario only endangering it.

In captivity, pandas undergo artificial insemination and, like humans, are thusly more inclined to multiple births. Additionally, the scientists have a better ability to nurture and care for the newborns, taking them out of harms way and supplementing their diet with cornbread and specially designed baby formula.

It's estimated that only about 1000 pandas remain in the wild, and while I admire the vigor and passion of scientists who have devoted their lives to panda maintaining, a large part of me questions the usefulness of this endeavor. 

Already dubbed "living fossils," these bears have outlived their shelf date by 3 million years, and that makes me wonder whether their seeming process of devolution is nature's way of saying, "It was fun, but you've gotta go now." Don't get me wrong: pandas are beautiful, diverting creatures who look like living teddy bears and I certainly don't wish for their demise. But I do wonder if all the efforts we're making for their conservation aren't better served elsewhere. 

Anyway, the whole point of this blog, and I guess this was a really roundabout way of saying it, but all day at the panda research center I kept singing the only line I remember from Yoav Guttman's song (he was on the same trip to SouthAfrica with me in 2004 and brought along his guitar) about pandas. It goes like this: XingXing and BangBang, why won't they mate and create a little panda and save the panda fate?

Happy Kitten Store

I have seen umpteen animal-related occurrences in China that have just broken my heart, but in the relatively sleepy town of Leshan is a cat sanctuary.  Aptly named The Cat Club, this half cafe, half free range cat apartment serves up free coffee, juice, soda and snacks and charges you just 24Y hourly to play with and snuggle their dozen or so cats. 

The owners are fabulous and do their best to inform you (via iPhone English) the cats' breeds - Russian Blue, Scottish Fold, English and American Shorthairs, and Persians - and that the cats are bathed weekly. 

The environment is very comfortable, big plush chairs and nice, glass tables, where the kitties roam freely, alternating between sticking their small faces in your coffee cup, trying to steal your snacks, and crawling all over you. 

In a country that, thus far, has delivered only grimy, homeless cast-offs, this place truly stands out as a philanthropic institution worthy of note.

Suffice to say it's my dream job to serve up coffee in a place that houses and cares for cats. I can't imagine a better feeling than knowing that one dozen felines are awaiting my arrival at work. I would never take a sick day! And it gives me hope that here, in this nation where animal rights doesn't seem to be a real thing, such an institution seems not only to be succeeding but flourishing.


Emei's Endless Stairs
Emei Shan is a formidable mountain - so formidable its peak isn't even visible from the bottom - wrought with lush, green trees and peaks that ascend past the clouds. Seemingly endless steep steps - some that are so long you can't even glimpse the end - carry you up this holy Buddhist mountain, leading us from temple to monastery. Amazingly, as we huff and puff our way up the stairways, we pass people carrying substantial, rickety packs on their backs, loaded with rice, vegetables, toilet paper, and other necessities for the still-inhabited monasteries. 

We began our climb at the foothills of Wannian Temple, and when we reached this place, packed with gawking Chinese tourists, we commented, "Wow, that took no time at all!" then looked at our map - "Andy's Map" - to our next destination. Andy's Map is first encouraging, then extremely discouraging before it gets encouraging again. The next stretch, which looks to be roughly the same distance from our beginning to Wannian, is two hours. Two hours of hiking up, up, up, stair after endless stair. The map estimates 5 hours to our night's destination, Elephant Bathing Pool, but it just took us two hours what looked like, judging from the first ascent, should have taken 40 minutes.

There are so many stairs! And just when you're thinking your legs will give out if you have to climb even one more monstrous flight: a small reprieve. Two to five stairs at a time, interspersed with flat landings requiring 3 or 4 joyous steps.

After Wannian Temple, we were essentially alone. The rogue, humble seller or an occasional traveller, but nothing like the normal droves if Chinese tourists, who walk in packs that cover the width of the stairway and push you out of their way because you dare to walk single file through their brigade. But for a while we had a clear path. Just us, trees, the sounds of nature, and the pounding of our hearts as we climbed the million stairs. 

When we finally reached Elephant Bathing Pool it felt as though we'd been walking all day, despite it
Elephant Bathing Pool
only haven taken 5 hours. 5 hours, 9.5 miles. Not bad for a day. So we paid for our rooms and a woman led us to a dark, cold dorm with five beds laid out haphazardly. Mercifully, electric heating pads. Unmercifully, damp beds, no heat, and cracks in the floor boards and holes in the wall. Jake wrapped a t-shirt in a plastic bag and jammed it into the most noticeable hole, but I was not dissuaded.

We moved outside to breathe in the scenery and be out of that dark, dank room, which reminded me of every book I've read based in or about the 18th century. Outside was beautiful. Here was this immense monastery, nestled over 2000 meters above sea level and from it, we could see another monastery in the peak of a slightly lower hill and the dense, rich mountains surrounding us. 

"We better see some monkeys tomorrow," Jake said. We had been warned about the myriad Tibetan Macaques who trail the forest in search of handouts. One girl at the hotel we were staying in in Emei Town had even shown us a bruise from where one had attacked her in pursuit of the orange in her pocket. "I'm bummed we didn't see any today."

"Do you think we can get our money back if we don't see any?" Half joke, half serious.

We explored the monastery for a while, peaking into different unoccupied rooms and braving the bathrooms; primitive to say the least. We ate expensive apples - they had cost us 18Y earlier up the mountain - near the small bathing pool after which the monastery was named and met its resident turtle, who I named Bob. Bob is exceedingly wary of people but highly entertaining. His comically large feet are magnified by the water and his shell looks to have a painting if a dragon in it. 

By then it was nearing 6:00 and our tummies were rumbling for something more substantial than the apples. We wandered into the dining room where a cook urged us to sir down then served us a fully vegetarian meal of green beans, some sort of sour root with chili peppers, squash, Bok Choy boiled in oil and water, and a communal cake pan of rice. 

Photogenic, Sociable Macaque
We were about half way through our dinner when the monks rang the dinner gong and some other visitors showed up. Confident and assured, in strolls a Macaque who, with virtually no hesitation, jumped up in the table holding the cake pan of communal rice. One of the cooks grabbed a broom and with what I can only describe as a battle cry of, "Aaaiiiiieeeeeeeee!!!" chased the monkey from the room. (Remember, they're all Buddhists, so they're potentially among the only people in China who aren't going to hurt the animals.) But the monkey didn't go very far. He found a spot in the courtyard and was joined by his monkey friend, who decided that the ancient fish declaration was a great place to sit. 

We hurried to finish our meal so we could gawk some more st the monkeys. Eventually the cooks chased them outside and we followed, and outside was a monkey paradise. At least two dozen monkeys, including several babies, were making themselves comfortable near the bathing pool and on the outside fixtures of the monastery.

Monkeys are absolutely incredible to watch because they're so innately human. With their long fingers, expressive eyes, and incessant itches to scratch, coupled with their playful, social nature, it's almost like you could jump right in and they wouldn't notice. 

We must have watched the monkeys for two hours, particularly one. He hopped up on the side of the building, perched precariously on a narrow piece of cement, and just stared with thoughtful eyes towards us.

"What are you doing, monkey?" Jake asked, then responded, "Oh, just thinking about life." I dubbed
Thinking About Life monkey
him Jerry, a.k.a. Thinking About Life monkey. There was also Tasting My Wiener monkey, who spent an uncomfortably long time alternating between playing with his junk and licking his fingers, Posing For Animal Crackers monkey, who, I swear, knew what a camera was and fully understood that he was the entertainment, and Hurt Leg monkey, who hobbled deftly on three legs, holding one back foot up like he'd sprained it. At first I felt bad, but the monkeys came back the next morning for breakfast and Hurt Leg monkey seemed to switch hurt feet. First it was the back left, then the front right, so I renamed him Asking For Sympathy monkey. 

After the monkey business, we had some tea and got ready to hunker down for the night. After squatting over a sliver of a hole in a room lined with them but with no stalls or doors and that smelled like a jar of putrified human waste, there was nothing to do but slowly lower myself into the damp bed and wait for the sunrise. I tried not to think about why the pillows, blankets, and mattresses were so very damp. I tried not to think about the number of unfavorable creatures that could crawl and slither through the cracks between the eroded floorboard and the walls. I tried not go think about the musty smell that permeated the room and my clothes. I tried to think about the heat rising up from the electric heating pad. I tried to think about how I was wise to leave the overhead light on, however annoying it may be, and how Jake was smart to pack the eye masks. But at 2:49 when I woke to go to the bathroom, holding my breath the whole time, all I could think of was three hours until sunrise.

A few monkeys arrived before the sunrise, and amazingly, Thinking About Life monkey returned to his same precarious perch and looked at us with the same thoughtful eyes as the sun rose behind him. 

The second day was supposed to be easier than the first, just six miles up and 2.5 miles down, but the ascent was, to put it mildly, endless. After reaching the first landmark, Leidongping Bus Station, where the droves of Chinese tourists returned, buying snacks and souvenirs for their short hike to the cable car station near Jieyin Hall, we felt encouraged. Apart from the plethora of Chinese tourists saying, "HellO?" and "Nice to meet you!", we also met many who encouraged us on. "Just one more hour if go fast," said one man who was descending. One more hour go fast my ass. More like two more hours go like a snail because the steps are almost fully vertical and very, very steep.

The Golden Summit
And then, mercifully through the mist shone a huge golden pagoda; Pu Xian riding his elephant, towering into the clouds, touching the heavens. Devout Buddhists slowly ascend the stairs to the Golden Summit, stopping every third or fourth one to kneel and pay reverence to their god. Those who have reached the top gold their hands in prayer and walk in deference clockwise on the red rug surrounding the periphery of the gargantuan pagoda. The air is a mix of mist and incense smoke, from the myriad offerings lit and burning for Buddha. Incense alters and at least 20 elephant statues guide the way to the monument, which once was so clear and now was covered in an ethereal mist.

Mt. Emei is a pilgrimage from some, being an historical mountain shrouded in Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. It was on this mountain that many of the religious martial arts, including Monkey Boxing, which imitates the actions of the macaques, such as, as one plaque explained, "drunken monkey pooping one arm." It was on this mountain that many of China's now-revered philosophers and religious thinkers, like Lao Zi, took refuge when their thoughts were not popular among the Chinese populous. It's easy to find the spirituality of this mountain, shrouded in mist and mystery. And I feel truly lucky to have seen it and experienced its grandeur. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hi, I'm Tyra Banks and I'm Personally Redefining Real

ANTM Cycle 19 "Fiercely Real"
Contestant, Yvonne
For my 100th blog post, I decided to admit a guilt pleasure: America's Next Top Model. I know, I know - it's pretty much against everything I stand for, but I really get a kick out of watching the competitions.  ANTM has featured "plus-size" models from its origin, probably due to the fact that the show's host and creator, Tyra Banks, has dealt with an enormous amount of body-shaming. The once-Victoria's Secret angels, turned Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover, turned business mogul with more flesh than the modeling industry is used to, sticks her neck out for her "plus-size" models, and one, Whitney Thompson of Cycle 10, even won. 

Quotes Banks, "It's my mission to expand the definition of beauty. To show unique, atypical, fiercely real, quirky, clumsy, five-headed girls through all of my many media projects and businesses. So watch out for what I have in store next!" (For the record, "five-headed" doesn't mean girls with five heads.)

Fiercely real??? Compared to what? Unless this is a competition where a woman, regardless of size, is competing against inanimate objects, I hate to break it to you, Tyra, but everybody's real. Or as real as you can get in the modeling industry, which, as you might surmise, isn't very real at all. 

ANTM Cycle 10 Contestants. Find the "fiercely real" one.

ANTM Cycle 19 "Fiercely Real"
Contestant, Alyssa
Tyra's titling of her "plus-size" models is reflective of the mantra that often oozes from the lips of any woman who isn't naturally skinny: "Real women have curves." Actually, genetically real women were born with female reproductive organs. And, in my opinion, real women have the desire to identify as a woman. LGBRQ implications aside (and there are many), and to reiterate Dance's With Fat blogger, Regan Chastain's idea, from that fat woman perspective, we really can't expect anyone to treat us and our bodies with a modicum of respect if we're turning around and doing the exact same thing. Hypocrisy is ugly, yo. 

Trust me. I understand the temptation. Chastain, among others, notes "thin privilege," the unfortunate but very real fact that thin people are better treated in Western society than fat people just because they're thin. However, thin privilege isn't going to stop just because a bunch of disenfranchised women are shouting, "Real women have curves!"

But I digress-ish. In addition to Banks' fiercely real models having no genetically or identifiably realer qualities than her "industry models," there are a couple of other problematic things with this terminology. 

ANTM Cycle 10 Winner,
Whitney Thompson
First of all, let's look at ANTM winner Whitney Thompson. She's 5'10", and her measurements are 36-32-43 (breasts, waist, hips). Another ANTM fiercely real model was Toccara Jones. She's 5'9" and reports her measurements as 36-30-46.* According to the CDC, the average American woman is 5'3", weighs 166 lbs., and has a waist circumference of 37.5 inches. I'm seeing some substantial differences in the women Banks is representing as "fiercely real" and the average reality of a population. I personally think the term should just be trashed altogether, but in lieu of that, I firmly believe that Tyra should hold a competition for women who fit this criteria. She can call it "America's Next Fiercely Real According to Some More Realistic Standards Top Model."

Beyond that fact that few of us are "fiercely real" enough to meet Banks' standards, despite her assertion that these models represent women who don't look like models, let's figure out why these fiercely real/plus-size/non-industry models need the moniker at all. Why can't they just be models like all the other models that don't need a definition before their job title? What if we did that with all jobs? Here's your teacher, and here's your fiercely real teacher. I'd like to welcome our new plus-size president. Give a warm welcome to the non-industry doctor. 

I want to end this blog on a positive note. It's very easy to be a naysayer when somebody who is fighting for a similar cause as you goes about it in a way that makes you cringe, like Tyra Banks is doing. The truth is, that she's among a very small contingency of individuals in the beauty industry trying to show any diversity at all. And Tyra chooses models of color, models of (somewhat) varying shapes and sizes, "short" models (they were all about 5'7"), and recently male models. It's obviously not an industry that's going to change over night, but I hope Tyra takes bigger risks than she has and rethinks her labeling of models.

*I got these measurements from a sight that makes me want to put a barrel in the mouths of the American public. The site is called "" and it updates their information very regularly and contains links such as "The Perfect Woman Body," "Fake vs. Real Breasts," and "Female Body Shapes," of which there are apparently five, three of which are named after fruit. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Google Translator Needs a Translator: Part II

Gearing up for our upcoming trip to Chengdu and Emei Shan, I thought I'd check out some restaurants and sites in the vicinity. As one of Jake's students wrote, "Put the peduncle in." I think that more or less sums it up.

"Spent 50 yuan at the door hired an artificial explanation, is pretty good." Not bad for an expensive lie.

"Very fate is actually in our house upstairs, I thought. Vacation last week, when specifically requested a person to go to their private kitchens taste, taste really good, chef's knife is superb." I think there's some cannibalism afoot. 

"We especially like their home Suannibairou and guppy." Who doesn't like guppy?

"Food taste good, color is very pretty and more refined. It seems to eat up all people very satisfied. Oh, ate a dinner talk to ten at night, huh, huh, like this one!" I think there's some musical cannibalism afoot.

"Each dish is vegetarian, each dish has meat, the name of each dish let us sit in half a day." Thoroughly perplexed.

"Did not eat, you can try the next." Will do.

"My husband does not like mushrooms so drained away. I'll go along with mushroom lovers once." Why not twice?

"Too adorable baby panda is too cute. I feel so happy baby panda." This one slays me.

"Panda is active when the best time to see them with friends and two people through the rain to see a panda, see them naive look, feel onwards Kazakhstan is also worth drops early." Onwards and upwards, Kazakhstan! 

"There are a lot of fish and peacocks ruthless, the panda is very deep, naive, lack some sleeping inside address identifies the signs are very clear, it may not be a big loss." If it dies?

"Panda cute. Suitable for use with dolls together." I've always thought so.

"Visit the museum to see 3 points 7 points to listen." Got it.

"Overall, nothing special. Very recommended." For those of us striving for mediocrity. 

"Also watched a movie with a baby, movie hall, a total of only three individuals, already afraid, plus too loud, began to shake the seat motionless, afraid the baby frightened, hurried out, the two flower 40 million watched it three minutes worth ah! Do not look at the future with the baby still recommend this movie, huh, huh! Visit to the exhibition hall, outdoor play, there are bridges and sand and pebbles." Feel like I'm in some else's acid dream, huh, huh.

"Well managed, there is no secular coins odor. Very elegant place, no tickets, no hawkers everywhere selling incense, only volunteer aunt who, hehe, to the inside felt his heart very quiet." I was relieved there was no secular coin smell, but then it got ominous...

"Rub hear that there are really too great, for Li Bingpei service was five-body cast." FIVE-body cast?!

"There is nothing greater than this? Hate to be fooled guide." #Searching for Something Better

"Play down, I feel like a general." New tag line, I think.

"Moreover, the staff so fierce, but also ferocious sentence: It's not like you ah! Alas, I did not do is that you? Who boring to play pretend ah." Who? Who?! I demand to know. <-- Ferocious sentence.

"I think it means nothing. Park place to eat too, are more expensive and unpalatable Hamburg, Sausage like the relatively poor." Class warfare. 

Jiao Shan

"Here, further up the mountain slope than there was ever any hope..." - Robert Frost

Photo by Paul Wisenborn
Jiao Shan towers overs Shanhaiguan, a formidable force and show of strength, prowess, history. The entrance to the mountain is just a short, 20 minute walk from Shanhaiguan, a once-walled, defensive frontier now a sleepy home to countless stray dogs. A busy, old restaurant, that has been on the same site for 100 years and advertises "No Smonking" serves one daily type of jiaozi and myriad vegetarian dishes, including a tasteless porridge, nearly as yellow as corn. After lunch, the walk to Jiao Shan takes you from the quiet, ancient town down a mountain road that feels a world away from the incessant horn-honking and brake screeching of Qinhuangdao. Sunflowers, corn, and vegetable gardens wall the streets, snakes slither and toads tittle by the roadside, and spiders grow to the size of your hand, spinning webs of legendary proportions. The mountain is in the distance and the Wall snakes up it like a dragon. You think it looks steep, but not too difficult. You are about to be proven wrong.

The first ascent up Jiao Shan is typical of any other Great Wall site: vendors hawking hats, beads, and "waterbeerjuiceicecream" all vie for your attention. Stepping onto the Wall the first thing you notice is the height: steep and formidable. It's a wonder people ever traversed it, never mind built it. Russian graffiti is chalked onto some areas of the Wall and signs posted every so often warn "No Running," as if you could anyway. Even the heartiest among us looked like he was fighting against a non-existent wind as he lunged up the abrupt incline.

Jiao Shan, at least the newer, reconstructed part, comes with its own peculiar, unpleasant smell, different to the peculiar, unpleasant smells of the city. Likely the fumes from one of China's plentiful factories, the air stinks of a mixture of wet cat food and cat pee that has been set ablaze. Even breathing through your mouth doesn't quite eliminate the permeating aroma.

But then the reconstruction ends and you're left with a literal blockade. A Wall to climb. A once-fortress to conquer. On your left is the ground and the steep safety of the Old Wall. To your left is the far away ground. Ahead of you is remnants of the Old Wall, untouched, unaltered, uneven, and tremendously beautiful. Your friend says, "This part is a little treacherous" and hops over the wall, standing atop the fortress. You're only 5'3" and the Wall comes up to your armpit. On your first attempt, you sink back to the left, feeling that too much momentum - or what you think is the necessary momentum - will send you plunging to the right, so you send two or three people ahead of you. On your second attempt, your knee scrapes the wall and bruises, but you stay low, hold steady, and shimmy, rather ungracefully, to the other side, whether the going gets really tough.

Remarkably, though, the minute you hit the other side, the flaming cat pee-food smell disappears. In its wake is fresher air - not fresh, fresher - and the original long and winding road. It's not an easy journey. It's up and away and rocks and stairs with enormous steps, but the top is in view, even on this hazy day. You lead some, then you follow some, then you reach the top and realize that you can't see for miles, but what you can see are eerie silhouettes of lakes and rocks below you and an impenetrable mountain in the distance. You don't lean over the edge - the fall is too far - but you watch from a respectable distance as your friends shimmy up a huge boulder that seems to just give way to an abyss. Everything at the top is quiet, except the distinctive noise of a baseball bat hitting a rock off the edge of the world. But there is no city. There are only the mountains, the sky, the lake, the Wall, the above, the below.

On the way down, you stop at a Buddhist monastery where friendly dogs, one young and chipper, the other older looking with a disgruntled underbite, greet you and show you around. In the center of the monastery is an immense willow weighted down with wishes strewn on red ribbons tied around its ancient trunk.

The walk down is easier, but still not easy. It's a steep path that puts
pressure on your toes as they collide with the tip of your shoes. The Wall is to your left and you are under its protection. You know you're almost down when that permeating stench returns, before things even begin looking flat again. You're back to where you started - back on earth, ready to traverse the quiet road back to Shanhaiguan and then back to the city, leaving behind you a mountain taciturn and allegiant.