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Archive for June, 2013

The other day I noticed this odd sign in the office I sometimes work from. It has detailed instructions on how to wash your hands. I mean, I get it if you want to put up a sign reminding people to do it, but are there really people out there that don’t know how?

I apologize for the blurriness, but have you ever tried to discretely take a photo in a busy office bathroom?

An expat friend of mine and I send each other photos of things we think are unusual in Singapore, so naturally this was immediately sent to her. She replied with one of her own. No tutorial but a less than gentle hand washing reminder from an angry cartoon.

Have you???

Have you???

The next day I’m in the hawker market ordering a juice. I am waiting for the juice lady to finish dealing with the trash. She has her fist happily plunging ahead into a bag full of waste for a full 3-4 minutes of my waiting time, before she comes to serve me. I order my juice and patiently wait for her to a.) wash her hands and b.) prepare my juice.

You would guess it, she never took care of part a. She did not even bother to change or remove her glove. When I asked her if she was going to wash her hands, she pretended to not understand me, alienating me with a funny look on her face. What was the strange foreigner asking of her?? Surely it was too difficult and taxing! Let’s intimidate her by furrowing our brow and pretending not to understand why she might be upset or flailing about across the counter. Another lady, a nice one who communicates well in Singlish, had to tell her what was going on. Her hands. The germs. The glove. The trash. My juice.

She leaves halfway through making the juice and another lady takes over. What to do now? Take the juice half way made by trash glove lady or walk away thirsty?

I did not get a juice that day. I also did not get diphtheria, so you win some you lose some.

The takeaway to this post seems to be two-fold.

1.) The wash your hand signs in the bathroom may not be so silly after all. Perhaps it’s not a ritual everyone is accustomed to.

2.) Do not buy juice from the juice stand at Lau Pa Sat.

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I grew up in small town Texas in the 80s. You can make some basic assumptions about the lifestyle and diet there. It’s now a haven for the world’s most amazing tacos, but before the changing demographics, it was known for fried food and BBQ, and subsequently obesity.

My brothers and I were thin by nature. Tall, lanky types who could eat an entire week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. You didn’t leave food for later, it wouldn’t be there. Even if you hid it in the back of the fridge someone would find your stash. We didn’t try to be this way, we just were. We played like normal kids, alternating between outside and the TV.

And people would comment. We were described thin, bony, tall, slinky.

“Look at that girl. She’s so skinny. Wowee! And blonde too, one day she’ll be a model.”

Skinny, dripping with more envy than smart kind or even wealthy ever held. To be described as skinny held even more status than the bible-belt mandated description of Christian.

Skinny was their issue.

Skinny was my virtue.

Skinny became my identity.

lanky

My brother and I on my first day of eighth grade. Make no mistake, I’m not posing. I’m standing like that because I’m uncomfortable with my height and weight. Also, fringe/bangs are an anxiety ridden bathroom DIY job and shoes are a size to big, purchased on sale at Kmart.

In 1999, I moved away to Austin and attended the University of Texas. As you do, I gained 10 pounds in beer and buffets. It was a mad slap to the face.

I started to workout for the first time in my life. Not because I was interested in being healthy, but because I had lost my value. I may have still been thin and healthy, but I was not skinny. I had fallen from grace.

I’ve spent the last 14 years dealing with some level of body dysmorphia. I am not overweight. I am perfectly suited to my frame. I have amazing long legs and a slightly protruding belly. The belly protrudes partly due to my love of food and partly due to structural hip issues. My pelvis tilts forward due to postural problems and hypermobility. I had hip dysplasia at birth. It’s me. It’s my body.

There have been times when I have tried to cheat the system to find my lost virtue. Crash diets, starvation, diet pills. and then there have been times when I have tried other solutions. Postural realignment, exercise, self acceptance. These days I manage OK.

And then there are the days when hell really is other people. I don’t just mean MTV culture and pressure to be thin. I mean other people’s constant comments on your weight. I went to dinner with a friends family, most of which were obese. The dinner chatter kept circling around to my weight. I wasn’t the one doing it.

“Eat, eat, you’re skinny! You can have more!” I wasn’t starving myself, I was full. “I wish I was that skinny, you skinny Minnie!” It wasn’t my body issues that kept an entire dinner’s conversation circling around my size. It was someone else’s.

Or the look of glee on my mother’s face when she relayed a story of my brother arguing that I was not average sized, I was thin. I didn’t share the joy. I know it was suppose to be a compliment, but I could not be comfortable with the knowledge that my family was conferencing over which category of body size I fit in.*

It is uncomfortable to have one of my most personal things, my body, under scrutiny. Uncomfortable when done by strangers and acquaintances, but more intrusively by friends and family. Your daily intake and expenditures, your most basic life choices are watched and judged. You see, once you’ve been skinny, you will only ever be skinny or formerly skinny.

My body is my body. It is what it is. Most importantly, it works. If I eat healthy and take care of it and avoid any major accidents, it will hopefully continue to work just fine. Strong and healthy. This is the mantra I tell myself daily.

For the last year I have lived in Asia where I am large by comparison. I tower above the girls and boys just like in junior high, except this time I am not skinny. I am surrounded by very slight Asian girls. This is their body type. They are not this way by virtue, just like I was not skinny by virtue at age 10.

I step onto my patio and say hello to my neighbor’s domestic helper. We are both hanging morning laundry to dry. I am dressed for an office meeting.

“Oh you look so fat!” she compliments me.

My dress choice of the day is slightly more Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss.

“Oh it’s the dress,” I laugh. I understand that her intention is to describe me as voluptuous, not fat. Her culture values curves and womanliness. I am slightly working the va-va-voom.

I go inside and change clothes anyway. It’s not my culture to aspire to voluptuousness. But then, I don’t really want to be skinny either.

I just want to be me. Healthy and capable. Preferably free from other people’s issues, expectations and judgments, but most importantly, free to pursue other things in my life than skinny.

*Editor’s note: Blessings to my mother and all her good intentions, she didn’t know she was going to have a writer for a daughter.

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I come back from a weekend away to find myself choking on smoke and acrid air in Singapore. I start to ask everyone around me what is going on. I’ve been here a full calendar year now exactly, I thought the surprises were over.

Sadly, this is what it took for me to care about the deforestation of Sumatra. OK, the words “to care” are not exactly right. “Be aware” is more appropriate. With so many things going on in the world, how do we just pick one cause? We usually get cause fatigue and sink back into our slumpy little holes of wine and cheese or working out or television or whatever else we can find to hide away in and feel better. I’m not judging. These are my drugs too.

But when it’s in your face, in the air you breathe, I suppose you can’t ignore things anymore.

If this is the future, it’s scary and awful, y’all and I don’t know what to do about it. Think I’m being melodramatic? Check out this photo taken atop the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands.

Photo from Reuters

Photo from Reuters

Permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains of Indonesia’s rainforest into palm or acacia plantations. This smoke covering Singapore comes from the clearing of those lands by fire. Visit Sumatra and Borneo now because in 20 years the forests there will be gone. Accompanying the eviction of animals and plants from their land is violence. Communities that had lost their traditional forest fought multinational companies and security forces in more than 600 major land conflicts last year. All according to the Guardian.

This isn’t some far away place anymore. This is Singapore’s backyard. This is MY backyard.

What can be done about it? Well I guess we can stop buying palm oil for a start, but it seems like we just consume and replace one thing with something else- another cash crop perhaps? I’m not putting down the palm oil ban idea. It could be a temporary Bandaid. The rainforest might really appreciate a Bandaid.

The mantra “Live simply so that others may simply live” sounds really groovy until you realize it’s being spouted by one of the world’s wealthiest and most privileged. Before you start asking me for a loan thinking I have some CEO type gig or inheritance, consider that 80 percent of the world live on under $10 a day. If you are reading this, I am pretty sure that you too are among the world’s most wealthy.

So tonight I eat vegan – it requires less land mass to raise grain and vegetable than animals. Besides, we are all headed there anyway eventually. I contemplate growing a garden and whether its responsible to have children, how many, and what resources one should give them. I self congratulate myself for driving a scooter instead of a minivan. Then I think about how many shoes I really need to own and my love for travelling on airplanes.  I think about emerging economies and their rights to own shoes and travel on airplanes. Or even sometimes their right to just try and feed their families.

I think – does it really matter what I do? “I’m one person and even if I manage to figure out something, the rest of the world is not going to come with me,” says a small voice. Regular interactions on Facebook have schooled me on this one. “Are you kidding me??” was the response to my suggestion to reduce carbon footprint if you didn’t have cash to give to a charitable organization.

“We think it’s so cute that you care about people,” was a response from a good friend who doesn’t see eye to eye and married a man who doesn’t believe in global warming.

“OK,” I mumble to keep the peace. “I guess the jury’s still out?”

Now I’m cynical and sad. And I crawl into bed doomed by this whole new problem of unsafe air, deforestation and homeless orangutans when the other day my biggest problem was whether or not the cab driver was ripping me off $5 and having an annoying heat rash. (BTW, heat rashes are super annoying.)

I’m grateful for the perspective but not very happy about the rest of it. I snap out of my wallowing.

Who’s got time to be butt hurt over stupid things when THE RAINFOREST IS BURNING. The one next to my house, not the one on the other side of the world anymore.

As for raising awareness, the smoke seems to be doing it, you see. It’s got my attention and my lungs.

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