Thursday, November 19, 2015

On Fridays I do walks around Singapore with a Meetup group. It's not only a bit of exercise but we walk slow enough so that it's very social and on top of that I get to explore places on the island that I may not normally see. This Friday we walked through the Singapore Chinese Gardens. It's monsoon season now and it rains daily, which it was doing as I rode the train to the Chinese Garden MRT, but the rain stopped ten minutes before our walk just as we were gathering at the MRT station and deciding whether or not to buy coffees and umbrellas from Cheers. 

The east entrance was specially constructed in conjunction with the Chinese Garden MRT station to ensure easy access for pedestrians visiting the gardens. If you watch reality TV, the bridge served as the finish line of the reality competition series The Amazing Race Asia 2. 

Red bridge at east entrance

Red bridges are throughout the Chinese Gardens in various shapes and sizes as red symbolizes good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture. There is also a Japanese-style garden within the Chinese Gardens.

Red bridge to Japanese Gardens

The pagoda is the same in the picture with the red bridge. Pagodas traditionally have an odd number of levels and sometime attract lightning strikes because of their height, especially if the finial at the top is made of metal. 

Views of the stairwell from the top and the bottom reminded me of a conch shell. From the top you can see four ladies waving up at me. From the top floor, though you cannot see them, there are three geckos on the ceiling. There is something about their toes that I find adorable!

Four ladies at the base of the stairwell

Pagoda ceiling
Through lattice windows at the top of the pagoda you can see nearby HBD housing. It was during the Song dynasty that sophisticated lattice work began.

Lattice Window
The ‘Bai Hong Qiao’ (the white rainbow, 13-Arch Bridge) follows the style of the 17-Arch Bridge at the Summer Palace in Peking.

Bai Hong Qiao

Though not a religious person, the closest thing to spirituality I can sense is in trees. When I see light through green leaves and hear breezes rustling through the leaves it calms me. Which is probably why I feel pure rage when I read about clear cutting and slash and burn practices. There are relatively few things humans need to survive: air, water, food, shelter. Trees provide all these things. If you doubt that trees provide water, see what happens to rainfall patterns when trees are removed from the equation. 

Light through trees just after the rain stopped
Chinese Gardens also include Scholar's Rocks, which are especially prized if they have been pitted and sculpted by erosion. I don't know what the symbol is, but I loved the contrast of the soft, natural rock against the shiny Chinese red.

Scholar's Stone

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Do These Thoughts Make me Look Fat?

How McDelivery Works in Singapore
It is a stereotype that Asians are thin and Americans are fat. Obesity is increasing in Singapore at the rate of 1% per year and after a week I realized people here are not that thin, at least not the ones under 60. Most are doughy, somewhere between Anne Hathaway when she's not training for a role and Lena Dunham in any role. I blame the snacks that are everywhere. In Singapore train stations smell like curry puffs and fresh bread. In the U.S. they smell like pee.

But still I expected people in Singapore to be thin so before moving to here I lost 5 lbs because I didn't want to be The Fat American. And then after living in Singapore for two months and walking to the Fair Price with my trolley for groceries and to the MRT I lost another 5 lbs, so suddenly I am thin. I have wanted to be not just thin, but skinny. A skinny that, when I see pictures of myself shot from any angle, no matter what I am wearing, the body part I look for first in pictures still doesn't look fat. I have wanted to be a skinny that concerns people, the kind of skinny that my husband calls "dirty skinny." 

I can savor the deep satisfaction and pleasure of my thinness here in Singapore. If I were in the U.S. I would be hearing things like "Well you don't want to get too thin" and "If you get too thin it will age you" and all the other things women say. "But perhaps we have different standards of what looks good" I think. That's what people miss when they comment about being too skinny. They assume you are dealing with a new and more vicious demon but it's entirely possible that you left an old one behind. 

I have reached a thinness rapture three times in my life; once in college, once about eight years ago, and this one. Though even at my fattest I was never technically overweight (if you believe BMI charts), thinness is privilege and ecstasy. If you've never been thin, I highly recommend it. It's freeing, like having a wallet full of gift cards you can spend everywhere if you want. Magical even. At a certain point my brain flips. I stop being hungry all the time, stop thinking about what I should and should not eat, and stop thinking about when I can eat next. And on the occasion when I do have pancakes for breakfast or my very own dessert after dinner, it's all the more exquisite because there is no guilty aftertaste.  

Everyday there is a new clothing high. In Singapore it's too hot to wear my skinny jeans so I try them on periodically, an idea I got from a UK expat who lost a couple of kilos after moving to Singapore. I turn the aircon down a couple of degrees and try on my skinniest jeans with heels, the pair my husband bought me three Christmases ago, only now they look as they are supposed to. Citizens of Humanity. In my pajamas I get glimpses of my arms and legs, shaped differently than they used to be, and I cannot believe they are mine. And I own three pairs of shorts that I wear with sandals and silk camisoles, a coup because for three decades I hated myself in shorts so much that I dreaded casual summer weekend outings--also maxi dresses and hot shoulders didn't exist in the 90s. When young girls in clothing stores tell me right away that they have small sizes I think to myself "I am wearing a size Small in a brand from Taiwan." I want to hug them when they show me a diminutive dress, even though it has one of those Peter Pan collars I hate. 

My brain tells me that the reason for the weight loss is that I am walking in the heat instead of driving in aircon, but there are parts of me afraid that the thinness will be taken away, a temporary reaction to the stress of moving to a new country or to the heat. I hear from other women that they lost hair from the move or from the humidity and heat, and their hair is only now growing back. So I worry that someone say at my next meetup will say, "Don't worry. You gain it all back. And then some." So I am cautious. I want to buy a food processor so I can make my recipes again, but then I think "What if the weight loss was not having the homemade bread, vegan chocolate chip cookies, and endurance crackers around the house?" So I haven't. And though most of my clothes are too big for me now I am procrastinating finding a tailor. At home every single piece of clothing would have been altered already, which is what I tell everyone else to do when they lose weight because it's only the feeling of wanting to loosen your clothing that keeps you from eating more, but I haven't looked for a tailor. 

If it seems like a small thing to worry about five pounds or two kilos, not worrying about it, or not addressing it, can lead to big things. Because if every U.S. adult reduced their BMI by 1 percent--the equivalent to a weight loss of roughly 2.2 lbs for an adult of average weight--this would prevent the increase in the number of cancer cases and actually result in the avoidance of about 100,000 new cases of cancer. A pretty good argument for skinny jeans.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Things that Must End ...

MRT Station Potty
Creative toilet use. Learn to use a toilet, sink, and anything else related to restroom facilities--trash cans, hand dryers, soap, and towels--and then leave. If you visit another country with higher sanitation standards (yes I said higher and not different) elevate yourself and adapt to those standards. Why do you think it's called a toilet seat? Nobody should have to wipe footprints from toilet seats. 

3 years ago posts in my Facebook feed. I barely cared when it was 3 seconds old. 3 years later it looks desperate.

Different usernames/passwords for every site and app. I can't read a recipe without creating a username and password and deciding whether or not to subscribe. You can't use the same username and password for every site, not just because it's not secure but because the rules are different, e.g., with letters, numbers, characters, for every site. I would gladly submit to sphincter scan technology if it made these passwords go away. 

Gate-ifying. Deflategate, emissiongate, emailgate. Do millennials know the origin of this scandal? There aren't even any reviews on Yelp for what looks to be a gorgeous hotel.

Clothing size inflation. The smallest size at JCrew is 000 and the largest is 20. Will negative powers be next? It's time to hit the reset button and align with the UK and Australia whose size range is 0 - 24. How can we ask for honest food labels if we can't be honest about what size clothing we wear? If you want to wear a smaller size, be smaller. Or do a photoshop equivalent on the labels sewn into your clothes and pretend.

Pretend coffee. Frappés are milkshakes and milkshakes are dessert, I don't care where you buy them. And if that doesn't make sense to you let me break it down ('cause that's what your body is trying to do). Coffee = 0 calories. Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino = 590 calories.

Way too complex cash transactions. Rite Aid has a litany of steps just to buy trash bags even when paying cash. It's ridiculous. Can we just do that? No, I don't want to ... 
  • type in a phone number for the wellness program
  • provide a zip code
  • donate $1 to this month's charity
  • purchase a bag for 10 cents
  • complete customer service surveys
  • deal with your receipts that are 2' long
I am a faceless human being who gives you a ten dollar bill and gets trashbags, change, and a receipt. Now that Walgreen's is buying Rite Aid I hope this ridiculous behavior ends. 

New Boogeymen. Pretending that anything other than climate change and the food we eat is a threat to civilization. Sure, today it's automatic weapons and last month it was a terrorist group responsible for Syrian refugees. But climate change threatens the air, water, and food supply and will kill us all tomorrow. And so far ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the heart disease and strokes killing us today.

Back seams. I don't buy clothing from H&M, Zara, and the other companies that make clothing entirely out of fossil fuel because I hate back seams. Though back seams make the garment easier to construct and use less material, but they are unflattering and make dresses look cheap. I guess this is why I practically live in Lululemon. But high five to H&M for recycling clothings and allowing us to drop our old stuff in their bins. 

Yahoo! issues. I think Yahoo has gone to crap because MM fired everyone who wouldn't come into the office daily. But I am tired of the constant spinning wheel of death when I try to access Notepad or my email. It's been years. Please fix it already.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

You Won't Do that in LA

Singapore is so different than the U.S., but it's the little things you notice. 

Leave the house without my sunglasses, even when it's sunny and hot. When I arrived in Singapore I wondered why I was the only person wearing sunglasses. I also wondered why my face was so hot. You can't wear sunglasses here, at least not the ones that sit on your face. It's just too hot. Did I mention that it's hot?

Give two barefoot guys standing at my front door--who speak no English and have no appointment--access to every room in my home because they are wearing matching shirts, and carrying tools. But they "service" and "management." We are renting an apartment, which means that the management company is responsible for maintenance and sometimes sends people to service things. Our first year of aircon maintenance is free. Not gonna screw that up.

Make plans after my appointment with the cable guy, gas man, or government agency. Everything in which the government has a hand is extremely efficient in Singapore. My husband scheduled an appointment with City Gas the day we moved into our apartment. The appointment window was 12 - 1, the technician showed at 12:05 and was done by 12:30. My husband scheduled an appointment for two days later for wifi/fiber, the appointment window was 9 - 11, the technician showed at 9:05, and was done by 9:40! But most amazing was the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) which is the equivalent of INS in the states. I was on time for my 9 am appointment to receive my dependent pass, my name was called within 15 minutes, and I was out the door 7 minutes later. 

Carry an umbrella because it's raining, or sunny. There are two songs about California that are very true: "It Never Rains in California" and "Nobody Walks in LA." Nobody carries an umbrella because it never rains and people drive everywhere, so on the rare occasion that does rain you'll either be in traffic, at work, or at home. Go ahead, ask someone if they have a story about rain at the Hollywood Bowl.

Take a train or a bus in a dress or suit. Public transportation is disgusting in LA because many people who ride it behave in a disgusting manner--changing diapers on bus seats, picking their noses, eating greasy food despite the threat of fines. The Singapore trains and stations are clean because people observe the "no eating or drinking" rules. Sit on the Singapore MRT in white linen pants. It's fine. 

Take a shortcut through a public housing development to get to the market ... to buy fresh vegetables and organic oat milk. An estimated 80% of residents live in public housing flats (HDB) in Singapore, the goal of which is to build a nation of homeowners. The complexes are near markets, hawker centers, schools, and MRT stops. They remind me Leisure World in Seal Beach, CA for all ages--green, clean, pleasant and well cared-for. 

Walk a deserted road through a jungle to find the MRT. I took the bus to visit my dog in quarantine my first week in Singapore, but the traffic on the return route convinced me to take the train. Google Maps doesn't know the walking route to the MRT from quarantine and gave me the long route around the army base, which added 30 minutes in 87 degree weather at 78% humidity. As it turns out this road leads to a HDB park next to the MRT.

At the end of that road is the MRT?

Hang everything you wash where it's visible to everyone. We have not yet received our first electricity or gas bill so I don't know how punishing the dryer and aircon will be. The dryer seems to operate more like a water extractor than the clothes dryer I am used to, so I purchased a drying rack for The Yard where I hang most things. In LA I hung dainties and Lululemon on the rod with hangers we built special over the sink, next to the washer and dryer in the garage. Here people hang sheets, socks, towels, everything. They also hang it on their balconies which we never do in California. Though it may be environmentally responsible it looks ghetto, so much so that HOAs ban it.

Say "sorry" all the time to everyone everywhere. I know Amy Schumer would hate this, but it seems to be something more like "excuse me" here. It's not really apologizing but showing deference or respect for another person. Everybody does it--men, women, old, and young. It's not like at home where women apologize for being present as Amy suggests. Maybe it's to show that you are not a loud American demanding ketchup immediately?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time Bending is the New Time Management

The phrase "time flies when you're having fun," though a misnomer, is easier to remember than "time slows down when you are trying new things." Time perception is a matter of brainpower. The more that is required, the slower time seems to move. Unlike taste or sound, we perceive time rather than sense it. “Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up” according to neuroscientist David Eagleman. 

Take, for example, the 48 hours my husband and I spent in Tokyo this summer. Most signage in Tokyo is in Japanese, requiring extra brainpower. Everything is different--purchasing a metro ticket with yen from a kiosk, using a vending machine menu to buy tickets for ramen at a restaurant, or trying every feature of the sophisticated toilets. Nothing is what you're used to: Yelp reviews and your saved places in Google Maps pop up in Japanese. The best sushi restaurants are in train stations. And nobody wears sunglasses. Those days in Tokyo seemed to last twice as long as those I have spent around a pool in Hawaii, which is exactly what makes Tokyo so wonderful yet so foreign.  

Yelp Review: Tokyo

How else can you slow time?

Get Your Om On

Mindful meditation creates longer perceived durations of time. When participants were asked to listen for ten minutes to a meditation exercise designed to focus their attention on the movement of breath in the body, they overestimated durations of time compared to participants who listened to an audiobook for ten minutes. Either by improving the resources that allow us to pay more attention to time passage or by shifting our attention internally, we slow time. 

Break out the Earbuds

Though time flies when you listen to pleasant music it moves more slowly when listening to fast music. Tempo is the major factor that produces time distortions--music is judged longer with a fast than a slow tempo. Fast music is more arousing and high-arousing emotional stimuli (facial expressions, images, movies) produce a temporal lengthening effect--time moving more slowly. So turn on something fast and engaging during your weekends and then switch to something pleasant yet slow for you Monday morning commute.

What if you want to speed up time?

Multitask Like a Millennial

Media multitasking is using one media in conjunction with another, e.g., TV plus laptop, and creates the perception of time passing quickly. (Media companies get really excited about this, especially among millennials.) In a study where participants either only watched the ads or performed tasks while the ads were playing, participants who performed on-screen tasks while commercials were playing perceived time as passing more quickly compared to those just watching the commercials. 

This may have to do with gaze duration and switching. Participants switch at an extremely high rate, in one study switched between the TV and computer at an average rate of 120 switches in 27.5 minutes. Gaze duration is mostly between 1.5 and 5 seconds--78 percent of television gazes and 49 percent of computer gazes lasted less than 5 seconds. During television viewing gazes of 1.5 seconds or less are categorized as monitoring i.e., looking up at the TV to check that you're still watching Shark Week. Gazes of 1.5 - 5 seconds are categorized as orienting, i.e., looking up at the TV when characters are yelling because the great white is getting close to the boat. Neither monitoring nor orienting gazes require significant brain power, all heavily repeated behavior that causes time to speed by.

Routinize Like the Leader of the Free World

Retrospectively we view routine periods of time as taking less time than nonroutine periods of time. Obama pairs down his decisions and focuses on important stuff instead of what to wear or what to eat. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Even though Obama is the leader of the free world and my life has been about building portals that get more eyes on ads and preventing the build-up of goo (i.e., body fat, brown stuff staining my white dog's face, hard water deposits), I can relate to routinizing. Just as the sites you visit frequently load quickly in your web browser because they are cached, your brain uses less processing power for things you do repeatedly, making time seem to move faster, which is why the mornings when you get ready for work or get your kids ready for school can seem shorter each day. 

Very timey wimey.