Archive for January 2009

Musings On Massages, Mosquitos and Minorities by Diane

January 30, 2009

Ok – it’s been too long since we blogged about anything to anyone.  We’re sorry, but contrary to what you might think of our adventurous life, it’s full of the same stuff as yours – bookkeeping, dog grooming, family joys and woes, work obligations, finding time to socialize, privatize, economize, prioritize, exercise and compromise.  Thus, we sometimes go quiet, for lengthy periods of preservation.

obama-cakeNeedless to say, autumn was all about Obama. Everywhere, the world in smiling support all around us.  We had an Obama victory party and were amazed to see about 30 people in our condo – is it possible we KNOW 30 people already?  Seems so, and amen for that.  I had ordered a deluxe cake from one of the better hotels on Monday before election day.  They were amused by my high hopes and the clear victory message on the cake.  In fact, they sent me a congratulations email on Wed., confirming the cake delivery and their joy at the outcome.  Every cabbie, every colleague, every confused and coherent Singaporean we meet seems to echo the jaw-dropping surprise of it all and the bucket loads of hope the world is investing in Obama.  He is an Ox, according to the Chinese calendar and he’s become president in the year of the Ox, so there is much hope.  Everyone is trying to ignore that 44 (as in the 44th) is double-bad luck, though I did read yesterday that the combination of his birthdate numbers, 1961, is considered so amazingly lucky that it will overcome all other auspicious concerns.  Well I was born in 1961 too, same month as Obama, so I’m having to re-evaluate my expectations of self this year….

Finally a massage mystery solved in Shanghai. I now understand why they are called “parlors.”  Secreted on the 7th floor of a dingy office building was a massage parlor extraordinaire.  Oversized reclining stuffed chairs, four to a room, beautiful wood furniture, dimmed indirect lighting, orchids climbing the walls and comfort oozing through the door seams and floor boards .  There was no sign of anything clinical or colorful, no Enya or exotic asian music, and I started wondering what was going on.  My colleague told me he brought me to a place that was “good enough for the Japanese to frequent” but still priced right for Shanghaiese.  After a few peaceful moments, intended to achieve solitude through deep breathing, the door to our parlor slid open and in came two men each carrying, BY HAND, an enormous wooden cask of warm water.  Rope handles were all that held these barrel-sized behemoths from flooding our cozy parlor.  Steaming hot towels were delivered, waxy lotion applied from just above the knees to the tips of my toes and I surrendered to the refuge of reflexology.  No words were exchanged, beyond a few nods of approval.  Oh let’s not forget  it was still a polluted city full of crashing cars, spitting citizens and tainted milk, but I pranced through my  parlor dreams for the next 90 minutes. Supposedly, falling asleep is the highest compliment, so I’ll have to go back and give that my best shot.  On my “floating” walk home, I saw a sign in the intersection that said “We are polite people.  Please don’t step in street before green light.”   Compliance in China isn’t about laws, it’s about deciding to be comply at all.  Shanghai is ultra-modern, but there’s a contrast on every corner.

And now, just a few musings on our continuing life in Singapore…

*I recently moved to a window office at RD, but not until the Feng Shu master came in, reviewed the birth days, years and times of the managers, annointed the office, lit some joss sticks as a blessing, reangled a few office doors (that was costly!) and said that we would all prosper in our new surroundings.  Guess he wasn’t reading the papers back in November.

*I’ve brought my own lunch to work a few times – homemade soup, pasta leftovers etc.  Doing so guarantees anyone instant freak status in Singapore. Nobody really cooks at home, eating out is so cheap and prevalent, why would I ever even make soup?  Or pack it to work?  Surely craving a non-oily, non-Asian, veggie filled lunch isn’t reason enough.  Wonder what they think now that I bring my own espresso.  It’s NOT a coffee culture here and I just got fed up with lousy coffee so I bought a good machine and now I take my Illy coffee in my thermos, like the much-misunderstood Ang Mo that I am.

*I had to return unopened liquid shower soap when I noticed it had bleaching agent in it.  It’s really hard to avoid skin whiteners in every day products.  Those properties are such a benefit that it’s often not even mentioned…so it’s pretty easy to apply small doses of Clorox to your skin without knowing it.  Don’t even think about getting a tan, and don’t leave your building at mid-day without an umbrella, lest the sun pink your cheeks.  OK, I know they’re right but what about the benefits of Vitamin D and getting 20 minutes of sunshine daily?  Jeez.  It is a land obsessed with personal beauty – we are barraged with advertisements for all manner of surgical corrections – the most popular of which is corrective eyelid surgery.  It’s about $2,000 per eye, to make double eyelids, but it’s cheaper in South Korea if you’re ever headed that way.

*To keep things equitable, and keep parents honest, height is used to mark age, instead of what mommy and daddy protest.  So to decide if Junior pays child’s busfare or is entitled to a child’s plate, you simply stand next to the measure line.  No verbal exchange required.  Love that.

*There are “Dengue Kills” posters everywhere, with microscopic close-ups of the mosquito with massive stingers.  Full sides of buses are covered with “If They Breed, You Bleed” advertisements.  It’s jarring to look at and I have no idea if it’s effective but it sears the mind.  Malaysia, our neighbor to the North and East, has had 4,000+ new cases in January 2009, including 12 deaths.  That’s triple the same month last year.  Uh-oh.  Needless to say, I’m starting to choose long sleeves and light pants more often.

*I had a Muslim lady tell me that I looked like the Bee Gees lead singer.  Or maybe his sister, she wasn’t sure.  A few minutes later she said, “never mind, it’s really Lucy you look like…and you sound like her too.”  Two days later, a cabbie told me that he was “honored to have Julie Andrews” in his cab – meaning me!  “You do KNOW the Sound of Music, right?”  Oh yeah, I even danced to Edelweiss with my father at my wedding, but never saw/felt/conjured the resemblance.  It was clearly a compliment, though I thought what he needed to see most was my Madonna Halloween costume from a decade ago – then he would know a few of my favorite things! Being and looking and sounding different just elicits truth from strangers – there’s no time or words for polite diplomacy.   It got me thinking though about my identity as I’ve traversed this world – I’ve been a Haole in Hawaii, an English in Amish country, a Gringo in Puerto Rico and now an Ang Mo in Asia.  I’ve always identified with minorities, and now I wonder if I’ve morphed into one.  But Andy Gibb?  I think I need a new hairstyle…

*September was the Muslim month of fasting, and I thought about using it as a weight-loss opportunity, but scratched that idea.  Five of my eight-member team were fasting from sunrise to sunset for 30 days – no water, no caffeine, no snacks, nada.  I had to deal with the grumpiness and the hunger and the low energy of all of them, while keeping my own desk snacks hidden from view and minimizing my trips to the water cooler.  They didn’t care about my habits, but I thought a dose of old-fashioned Catholic guilt was clearly called for.  I couldn’t muster the solidarity for the fast, but I did enjoy the end of month feasting that followed!

*For the first time in all my travels, I had to visit a US embassy.  I’ve had a passport for 22 years and have been to at least 22 countries but luckily never needed to take refuge in a US embassy.  I think I’ll nickname myself the Fortunate Traveler.   No injuries, no natural disasters, no arrests, no passport theft, no political asylum – an awful lot of fun but no need to seek the shelter of the stars and stripes on foreign soil.   Well, while waiting to have additional pages sewn into my current passport (lots of multi-country trips now) I took notice of a sign in the waiting area.  In case you’re curious, here are a few things the American Embassy will NOT do for you, and I quote:  We can’t search for your lost luggage, we won’t settle hotel manager disputes for you, we won’t get you a driver’s license or a job and we won’t call a credit card company for you.   Imagine that they get asked to do this often enough that they had to print the sign?  Americans Abroad – there’s a scary subject.  I think somebody working at the Embassy needs to write a tell-all book soon.

There’s always more to say and always, if luck holds, another installment from the Fortunate Travelers.