Archive for September, 2008

As an expat, I’m constantly on the lookout for places to live when we’re ready to move on. As much as I’ve loved every place I’ve lived, I know there’s always another country to explore just over the horizon. So when we go on our vacations one of the first things I do when I get home is decide if I could live there for a few years.

For example, I could totally live in:

  • Laos
  • Dubai (but only for a few years)
  • Italy (of course!)
  • Denmark
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
And, as of one week ago, I thought I could live in Shanghai, China. I had such a great time there last year and was so amazed at how vibrant and cosmopolitan the city is. Another great place to live in Asia, or so I thought.
I just went back again for the wonderful Learning 2.008 Conference (where I presented three formal sessions and two informal sessions) and boy did I get a eyeful. Or perhaps I should say a “lungful.”
We were only there for five days, but goodness, I really could not live there. The pollution was horrifying. So bad that when I got back to Bangkok and was walking on Lang Suan (a busy boulevard in the middle of the central business district) I was taking especially deep breaths to enjoy the “clean” air.
I don’t know exactly what was in the air in Shanghai (and I’m guessing the locals don’t know either), but it was disgusting. My throat and lungs actually burned for days afterward. It was like the “haze days” in Malaysia, but I guess it’s standard for Shanghai. The air was so fuzzy (for lack of a better word) that it was a cloudy white color. Yuck.
And then there’s the joys of the tainted food. I’m off milk now for a while just in case, but friends that lived in China last year were telling me that there are always tainted food scares (which of course is kept hidden by the government but eventually gets around to the expat population).
So there’s the bad air, the bad food, of course the restricted internet access, and the tightly controlled media. I guess I’m crossing that one (and a pretty big one at that) off my list….
Image from: http://picasaweb.google.com/johnjlynam/FirstWeekInChina#5059788477298388306

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I may have mentioned my extreme laziness here in the past. Suffice it to say that I refuse to purchase or wear button down shirts because they require not only too much prep time (ironing? No thanks!) but all that buttoning on and off every day is just more than the amount of effort I choose to expend when donning and removing clothing.

Therefore, I was quite disappointed to realize that with our new fabulous apartment downtown, I would now need to wake up an hour earlier to make it to school on time. Thus leaving me with a 5 am wake-up alarm.

At some point in the last two months or so, I (shockingly) decided I wasn’t getting enough exercise. Perhaps it was my fear of being physically unable to climb up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan when we go in October.

So, having purchased an elliptical last year which I had, to that point, never used, I figured I should hop on that little contraption for a half hour everyday after school until I was no longer winded when climbing up the stairs to the BTS.

Of course, my excessive laziness prevailed. Exercise? After school? Totally not happening. After zoning out on the hour-long bus-ride home, there was no way I could muster up the energy to actually “run” (and I use the term quite loosely here) on that thing for any length of time. Basically it was all I could do to fall on the couch and chill out with a new episode of the best show ever, The Wire.

After a few days of trying to enthuse myself about afternoon exercising unsucessfully, I tried something entirely unheard of.

Getting up early.

Yes, that’s right. Earlier than 5 am.

Astonishingly, I seem to be able to wake up (quite angrily for the first 30 seconds or so) at 4:30 am, stumble over (in the pitch darkness) to the guest bedroom/game room/workout room and hop on the old elliptical.

Over the past month I’ve upped my morning jogs from 10 minutes to 30 minutes and now I’m at the point where I actually feel like I could run for ages (this must be that mystical “runner’s high” people have been confusing me with for the last three decades). But I probably won’t because that would mean I’d have to get up even earlier.

Either way, it’s quite an achievement for me (aka: the laziest person I know).

I’ve always know that if I can make something a routine, I’ll just keep doing it forever, I guess I just never thought about trading sleep for anything. Ever.

So, since I am apparently on some sort of health kick, does anyone have any other simple routines I can pick up and add to the agenda? Keep in mind that getting up before the first number on the clock is a 4 is a deal-breaker, though.

Tiger’s Nest image from: http://www.leopalmerphotography.co.uk/tiger.htm
Alarm Clock image from: http://flickr.com/photos/laffy4k/367822192/

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I still remember the first time I enjoyed fresh strawberries in Germany – biting into a ripe, red berry, and finding a squirming beetle inside. Ew! But, I reasoned, at least that was because they don’t use dangerous pesticides, and really, isn’t all natural always better? 

This was around 9 years ago now, and I must admit I’m increasingly impressed with my ability to turn off my highly tuned gag reflex. 

This week put me to the test, though.

On Monday, I went to my favorite local grocery store – totally overpriced and specially for expats, but I still like it since it’s just down the street and everything is so easy to find. I was making one of my favorite quick meals – cous cous with zucchini, asparagus and broccoli. As I was chopping up my nice, round zucchini, I noticed it looked a little off – a brown tinge and a bit hollow. Figuring it was rotten, I tossed it away (thankfull that I had purchased two).

When I went to cut up the second one I noticed a little squirming friend on the cutting board. A tiny maggot. Delicious.

Managing to amaze even myself, I simply threw the maggot in the trash, washed off the knife and cutting board, and chopped up the second zucchini.

Hmmm. Perhaps I have adapted to my less-than-sterile environment here in Southeast Asia?

Today I got another chance to test my tolerance levels. We went to my absolute favorite pizza place in Central World Plaza (just a five minute walk from our house) with some friends who were visiting from out of town. I may have mentioned how much I like this pizza on one or two previous occasions to these very friends, so I was quite excited to bring them there for lunch.

Sadly, as I was about to bite into my second to last slice, what do I notice resting next to a tasty, salty black olive? A crunchy, leggy little cockroach. Nice and toasty, all baked into my beloved pizza.


Despondently I called the waitress over (she knows us so well, we don’t even have to order when we come in we just get “the usual”). Thankfully she was quite horrified (and removed the charge for the pizza from our bill) and had I not already eaten 95% of the pizza, I probably would have finished the rest.

Plus, I didn’t panic, didn’t declare that I was never coming back, and I definitely didn’t gag. It’s all part of the experience, right? The little daily adventures that make living abroad so exciting.

I consider this my personal “arrival” to the world of expat living. I may have been out of my anti-bacterial-obsessed-country for the last nine years, but being able to ignore a cockroach pizza, and simply toss away a maggot has to be a sign of adaptation, right?

No more hand sanitizer for me!

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