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Archive for the ‘Weird Asia’ Category

 

Durians.jpg

Durians in Chinatown.

 

 

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It’s a common sight to see a Singapore LTA (Land Transport Authority) dummy acting to control traffic. The first time you see one, you might have a giggle as I did. It can seem a strange tactic and you may wonder if it works.

police dummy Singapore

LTA Mannequin – Photo not mine.

But what if we spin that scenario on it’s side? What about an LTA officer standing so still that you THINK he’s a dummy. This is what I saw on foot near Jurong East the other day. It took me watching for a while to realize this was an actual officer. I’m not sure if this was on purpose or not, but I have to think it was or the officer was practicing for a future career transition as a living statue ala Amanda Palmer.

Well done sir on the discipline. Standing that still takes a lot of hard work! In the end it was the small movements in your hands that gave you away.

LTA officer

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One thing about having interior designer friends is you get a totally different perspective on building design and public spaces.

For instance, I had long ago succumbed to the fact that establishments in Singapore don’t always have their own bathroom. You have to leave the premises to find a shared bathroom used by the building. While I find it a little off putting but just one of those quirks about living in Singapore, my interior designer friend was highly annoyed.

“How can an establishment this big NOT have a toilet?” moaned Lee.

“I don’t know, but speaking of, can you tell me where the toilet is?” I answered.

She pointed me out the building and around the corner. While there, I snapped a photo of this.

Clean Bathroom CampaignI sent the photo to my friend in the US who has spent some time in Singapore and also finds these campaigns fascinating. As I have mentioned before, the number of campaigns in this country is staggering.

“Hrm… is that really a problem?” she asked.

“I guess so,” I answered. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be a campaign for it.”

I shared the conversation with Lee and the other folks at the table and received back a unified “Yes, yes, YES. It is DEFINITELY a problem.”

“There you go,” I answered.

Here in Singapore, sometimes the loos are completely spotless, like at Changi Airport or the Zoo. At other times, not so much. It really shows you what an effort is put into keeping the clean ones clean. The next time I use the facilities at Changi Airport and am asked to rate my experience, I am giving the attendant full marks. It’s not an easy job, and often a thankless one.

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A post-dinner cruise through Chinatown had myself and a few friends stumble on this site.

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“Huh,” we thought. “Is this legit?” Stephanie immediately chucked the boxes out of the way and sat down for a try.

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Unfortunately, the massage chair didn’t work. Massage chair uncle in his most stylish tee came out to troubleshoot the situation.

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Ahhhhhhhh. There we go.

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A few minutes later we were on our way having made a few new friends in this ambiguous shopfront.

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You know, just everyday life in Singapore Chinatown.

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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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On weekends spent working at home, Husband and I will often have some noodles as a lunch-time around the house snack.

We buy two different types of noodles. I get the ones without monosodium glutamate (MSG) and he gets the ones with MSG. He swears it makes things taste better, and I swear it gives you cancer or some other sort of yet unnamed disease. He asked for proof and so I go down a rabbit hole of the internet.

The only knowledge I start out with is that an ex’s dad was so allergic to the stuff that he had to carry an EpiPen with him when he dined at restaurants just in case the chef slipped some MSG in. He ended up being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance one Thanksgiving when the family decided not to cook and go out instead. That alone is enough to freak me out.

Being a good science reporter (one of my day jobs), I couldn’t leave it alone at that. Besides, my scientist husband doesn’t accept anecdotal evidence.

MSG is isolated glutimate, the chemical that gives foods umami flavor – that taste found in asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat outside the four well-known tastes of salty, sweet, sour and bitter.  Pure MSG does not have a pleasant taste until it is combined with other savory food items.

My local grocery store in Singapore sells it alone by the bag full to cook with. The first time I ran across it, I couldn’t believe how socially acceptable it was as an ingredient and had to take a photo.

A bag full of MSG. Available at your local Cold Storage.

A bag full of MSG. Available at your local Cold Storage.

Glutamate is naturally found in many foods and a research study from 2009 revealed that the tongue has a receptor that is exclusively activated by the chemical.

If it’s naturally found in foods, then why are we so scared of it? Well, there’s quite a bit of research out there linking the isolated form of the chemical to obesity, headaches or other symptoms. And yet there are other studies saying it is just fine.

So how do you know whether to avoid or embrace? I’m no doctor but I say if it gives you headaches, Chinese Restaurant Symptoms or other difficulties, avoid.

When it comes to your food choices, personal anecdotal evidence (aka your experience) is OK.

Personally, I’ll continue to embrace naturally umami laden foods but avoid the stuff in its isolated capacity. There’s just something unappealing and unnatural about heaping the synthetic shiny white crystals out of their plastic bag and onto my plate. But then again I take my coffee and teas without sugar and sweeten my desserts with agave nectar.

Still confused on what to do? Don’t sweat it too hard. Just remember the words of Micheal Pollen.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

I’m pretty sure that bag of crystals is not a plant and I’m more than hesitant to categorize it as food.

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