Friday, March 29, 2013

Snoop Melly-Mel

That is what I used to call my friend and coworker Mel. If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you are already acquainted with Mel as Roberta’s love, from the entry titled Roberta Battles a Dust Rhino posted October 2012. Snoop Melly-Mel was my play on Snoop Doggy-Dogg’s name, in itself a joke. If ever there was a character less ‘Snoop Dogg’-like, it would be Mel.

Originally I was going to edit and repost the ‘Roberta’ entry to make it more Mel-focused. Upon reading it, memories of Mel came crashing in. So many memories! “No,” I thought “Mel deserves an entry all his own.”

“What has Mel done that warrants an entry all of his own?” you might ask.

He left our world. My friend Mel died last Tuesday. All of us who knew him, at least all of us that I’ve spoken to knew he would not be long behind his beloved Roberta. Not that we were placing bets or even wishing for it to happen. We just knew, with such a love as his and Roberta’s, he would soon rejoin her. Seems to be the nature of all great loves, doesn’t it? His passing does not come as a shock necessarily, but it does leave our hearts a bit emptier, this world a bit more drab and our eyes a bit more damp. In my case, a bit flooded.

When I met Mel, he was old enough to be my father, at least. No mean feat considering I was by that time a grandmother myself. Quite the curmudgeon was Mel, his outspokenness matching that reputed redhead temperament. Indeed, Mel was red-headed. He had a glorious head of hair, a trait he passed to at least one of his three daughters. I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting one but, no doubt if from Mel and Roberta, surely they must all be as charming, vivacious and… tall as the daughter I met. As tall as Mel.

Being 6’ tall myself, not many make me feel short. Lanky, wiry, reed-thin Mel had that effect. Especially when he was fussing at me. Fussing? Remember I did say that Mel was quite the curmudgeon. He had a certain way of seeing things that, if one was not in agreement with, he could get quite contentious about. He would then ‘launch a fuss’ as I called those episodes.

As we got to know each other better, Mel regaled me with tales of his life. He would drop little nuggets of information, like: being an Alabama native. You wouldn’t have known by his accent or his manner. He once confided he has a twin brother. Other times he spoke of serving overseas. Mel was a veteran of the Armed Forces and a Veteran of Civil Service. The man was a dyed in the wool patriot with strongly held beliefs and iron wrought opinions.

Over the years, with tales accruing I formed a mental picture of Mel that, to this day, if I close my eyes I can conjure up. One after the other the impressions he left play like a mind movie.

He and his brother, maybe 7 or 8 but certainly no older than 10, bib-all clad and barefoot, stomping through the creek behind the house, in the holler or down the road apiece, shock of red, wavy hair glinting like copper in the sun. Maybe fishin’, maybe hunting frogs, maybe playing some game of brave feats and derring-do, imagination always at the forefront as the two boys took turns furnishing details that fleshed out their games. Fast forward ten years or so, to the young man in uniform with sleeves too short and steel pot (helmet) too big – because nothing ever fit quite right on a tall drink of water like Mel. In his hands, a weapon unlike the shotgun he was so used to holding back home, come hunting season. He is slogging through another river, this time with fellow troops instead of his brother. Perhaps scared, lonely and homesick. At that time there would most certainly have been a drawl in his speech, and plenty of ‘Yes, Sir’s. Those Alabama boys know their manners, let me tell you! Maybe there was a sweetheart left back home? A picture of her in his wallet or a letter from her in his pocket?

I never did get that detail from his recountings because for him, Roberta was the only woman in the world. Whether there was anyone he was sweet on prior to his life’s love is a mystery to me, maybe the one gap in the mind movie that plays when I think of Mel. Because Roberta is where the great love story began, and it continued for decades.

I wonder if Mel ever pondered the cosmic grace that saw fit to bestow upon this boy from backwoods Alabama a woman so beautiful, so cultured, so refined and yet so ‘human’ that she saw fit to love him in return? Sometimes, from the awe in his voice or the mist in his eye, I believe that, every day he was astounded at his great fortune of having won Roberta’s love. I’ll never know that for sure and it is really none of my business. It only matters to my mind’s eye picture of him, painted from the details he shared with me. Insofar as that goes, I like to think Roberta and Mel held each other in mutual admiration.    

There are other memories I hold dear of Mel. His threadbare blue pants and his worn thin at the elbows hoodie. Dust motes clinging to his eyebrows and hair after repairing a particularly contentious machine. His way of speeding out of the building after work, head leading the body in a near lurch down that long hallway. Although by virtue of his tenure at our shop and quite friendly with most of the team members, come quitting time – time to rush home… let’s just say it was best to get out of the way. Mel might holler a g’night over his shoulder on the way out, and maybe even turn and flash a grin but there was absolutely no stopping him come time to go home. I believe he even resented the exit turnstiles one had to badge out of because it cost him an extra second or two away from home.

Digging deeper: more intense, and in a way more intimate details. Like the time Roberta took a bad turn and simply would not get better. I’d like to think it was because, by that time he and I were fast friends, but, being from a generation of men who are not allowed to express feeling, I’m sure Mel ascribed that phone call to being a professional, keeping his boss informed of his status.

He called me one day at work, from Roberta’s bedside. She’d been in the hospital 2 weeks already and was not showing any signs of improvement. Starting in tones most clinical and reserved he described her condition and prognosis, getting more and more agitated. I’ll not divulge any details, but I will tell you there was an explosive outburst from him, followed by uncharacteristic sobbing.

Not many men, especially men of that moral fiber and of that generation are prone to show what would be termed ‘weakness’. On that day I realized how deep our friendship was, and how thoroughly he trusted me. For my part, I recognized I loved this man who could unabashedly sob in fear of the unknown. We let the storm run its course, as if I’d actually been in the room with him instead of on the phone. Once Mel regained himself, in hushed tones we talked a bit longer, till Roberta showed signs of waking.

Fortunately she soon got better and was released. Mel returned to work and all was once again as it should be. I never expected that incident see light of day again. So, for him to come into my office to apologize for his outburst weeks ago… well, I was just horrified.

About him was an air of humiliation, as though having exposed the depth of his feeling had caused him some great shame. “No, Mel. Don’t you ever apologize!” I was honored by his trust, you see. There was nothing for him to apologize for. In a rare turnabout I took on the curmudgeonly, chastising tone while he stood, abashed.

Now, from the other side of the world I celebrate Mel and, by extension, Roberta’ life. While this week my Chinese friends will observe Qing Ming – Tomb Sweeping Day, a time to pay tribute to their ancestors, my friend will be laid to rest.

Mel, depression era born and depression era departed, having started life in (as my mind sees it) backwoods Alabama and from there seized the world. Mel, who had for himself a great love, who had traveled the world but whose depth of character was essentially unchanged from the fine, noble being he was brought up to be. I’m sure he will be next to his beloved Roberta. I’m equally sure that their spirits have rejoined and their souls have rejoiced. Mine does, at the thought of their eternal union.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Don’t Care How Fat I Get

“I like to eat. I don’t care if I get fat, I want to eat.” Meeting my new crop of freshmen for the first time, one of my students, Violet, thus introduced herself.

Upon meeting new minds, for our first session, among other things we always do introductions: Chinese name, English name (if they have one) and something ‘I like/don’t like’. Usually I will start out: my English name is _________, my Chinese name is Gao Le Si 高乐思. I don’t like to get up early!” Each student then follows that format.

Back to Violet. She likes to eat and doesn’t care if she gets fat. She proclaimed that with full eye contact, full defiance and more than full determination. Now, 2 years later I see Violet around campus. She may well be pursuing her passion for eating but she is certainly not getting fat.

She is an exception. The Chinese are starting to wear their passion for food around their waistline. More and more I’m seeing corpulent people, as reported in “Now They Really Are Fat” posting dated August 2012. Some of my current students could now be sized Extra Large. There is even one, Gina who rivals me for size, both girth and height.

Chinese culture prizes its culinary uniqueness. For all that the food is some of the healthiest in the world, the Western incursions - McDonalds’, KFC and others, along with a more sedentary lifestyle afforded by modern conveniences such as computers, televisions and personal vehicles have put the Chinese about 30 years behind America in personal growth. So much so that it has become a national concern.

With people getting bigger and fatter, all manner of things must be revisited. All those frustrations that I experience as a tall, reasonably girthed Waiguoren are now on the horizon for mainstream China. Bus seats are no longer accommodating to all Chinese. Train berths are getting too narrow and too short. Store aisles, designed for the average 100Lbs, 5’2” person are now too constricted. Entrance gates to monuments and entrance turnstiles at public offices, train stations and subway accesses are too narrow. Civil engineers are having to rethink a lot of what, for years had been sufficient.

America has already dealt with the question of what to do when the population, person by person, expands. Already their cars, store aisles, public transportation seats and even small commodities like wheelchairs and clothing have been super sized. Furniture is built of sturdy stock and is of hearty size. Which leads me to ponder: have these engineering forethoughts led to the overall acceptance of a ‘fat America’, or has America’s fatter population driven the need for larger design?

Whichever one led the other, the end result is a fatter America, now of great concern for health and economic reasons. The need to produce more and different food, a facet of this phenomenon is currently driving the search for healthy engineered, yet satisfying foods. While the FDA, food producers and labs all over America race toward this goal, the medical community is combating the immediate fallout of food fashion: obesity.

My own daughter, having been morbidly obese for most of her adult life has caused me much disquiet. Aside from the fear of her succumbing to any of the fatal conditions such a size could bring, I worried about the quality of her life, the possibility of her seeing her children through to graduation and her living long enough to enjoy grandmotherhood.

And then there’s the fact that people who are fat are seen in society with a decidedly prejudiced eye. Marjorie, my friend and paragon of humanity confided this sentiment after her lifelong battle with weight, finally vanquished by her faithful adherence to Weight Watchers’. Now a size 12, she recalls her days as a plus-sized matron: “I knew people were thinking bad thoughts of me… and now I feel a whole different type of reception when people see me.”  

I have to disclose: the one prejudice I hold is against people who are fat. I simply cannot fathom how one could let him/herself get to that extreme, nor can I comprehend how anyone can live, bearing all that extra weight. I am ashamed of this prejudice and, for my daughter and others in my life who, at one time or another have been more than large, I have worked hard to combat my bias.

That doesn’t stop me from resenting my own weight gain of twenty something pounds over the last year. Try as I might to ascribe it to whatever other handy reason I can find - having reached the half-century mark, where, by scientists’ claim metabolism will slow down; stomach problems, even my malaise of this past year leading to mostly sitting around - I simply cannot absolve myself of blame. I’m fat because I’ve not been responsible enough to eat right and stay in shape. Cream puff, anyone? (See Cream Puff Junkie entry, December 2012).

While the Chinese approve of my fathood not just as a sign of well-being and prosperity but as symbolic to foreigners everywhere, I loathe having to wear my lounging pants with stretch waistband everywhere I go. My students constantly proclaim my loveliness and snap countless pictures of me while all I can focus on is how difficult it is for me to tie my own shoes so I can even get to class. I worry about the end of winter, when I will not be able to hide my girth under countless layers of clothes.

I might be just a bit obsessed…

I’ve started exercising. Gentle moves, stretches and the like. I enjoy the burn of muscles, long disused and creaking into function again. After 2 weeks I’m at a point where I can touch my toes with only minimum discomfort. I am almost to the point where my arms will meet behind my back. The release of endorphins feels wonderful, prompting me to even greater physical feats.

My daughter inspired me to this change. While visiting her she uttered the phrase ‘body dismorphic disorder’. That is another potentially dangerous aspect to being oversized: eating disorders. Some, like me get it in their head that everyone in the world is mocking them for their huge… in my case, gut. Others flagellate themselves over their food intake and descend into the hellish depths of bulimia or anorexia. Recovering from a psychological ill brought on by body issues is maybe one of the more difficult aspects of excess weight a person can go through. Such a debilitating obsession is sometimes never cured, only ever managed. If not stopped, it can lead to death: Karen Carpenter, she of song (Close to You, Top of the World) succumbed to it barely into her 30’s.

The subject came up when Jenn dropped the bombshell during our visit: she was scheduled for a Gastric Bypass. After doing everything possible over the years to vanquish her weight she opted for surgery. I’m not sure what led her to choose this accelerated means of weight loss when, in the past she fought valiantly against her own tendency to indulge in unhealthy lifestyle practices. I applaud her decision and courage to see it through. Her surgery was last Wednesday. Nail-biting time for me, being on the other side of the world instead of being with her during this life altering process. I’m glad to report that everything went very well. 

Jenn did a lot of research prior to committing to surgery. Among other things she found – or, more exactly did not find much in the way of personal experience recounting. Why? It seems people who have undergone this process have not blogged about it, written about it, formed a support group or anything else. She had nowhere to turn to when looking for personal reflections or commentary on the subject.

She has picked up the ball. She is writing a blog about her experiences. It will serve both as a diary for her and a methodical, personal recounting of every aspect of this process. Not just the surgical process or the clinical approach to losing weight but the impact it will have on her life as, for the first time she will be ‘normal sized’. How are people going to look at her and treat her? Now that she will be able to shop for clothes where others do, will shopping be as satisfying as when she was overly large and found something to wear? (There is not much available to people of her former size). What about eating out? There are a bevy of considerations and changes someone who goes through this process has to make, usually turning their formerly quarter-sized life around on a dime.

But don’t let me tell you about it second hand. You can read it all, in her words and as she experiences them, at

As for Violet, and all these other Chinese who are getting bigger and bigger… what is there to say? Just like the industrialization with resultant pollution, the burgeoning capitalism with its inherent selfishness and fledgling democracy with its roll call of Judases, China will have to deal with this aspect of modern living, the more modern living grips this most ancient society.                         

The Sex Trade

If you read the last few posts you know that my current stab at isolationism is in part attributable to my gradual reversal of malaise, symptom by symptom, that has plagued me for the last 2 years, and in part due to the fact that I am again digging and delving into something I don’t quite understand yet.

The quality of friendship here versus in the states or anyplace I’ve ever been before is decidedly different. Once declared a friend, it appears nothing is off limits. As depicted in the Peeling the Cultural Onion entry, Sam has no problem walking around in his jammies when I’m at his house. While at my house, he and/or Gary are not above strolling around, investigating my bedroom, opening my refrigerator or even glancing through my purse. While I’m in attendance, they will even paw through my purse.

I’ve come to accept these behaviors as normal and as a sign of our deep ties, outrageous as they seem. I am still a bit uncomfortable with the familiarity but not as much as I was before. To wit: last weekend, when at a dinner with Mr. Wang (the campus maintenance manager) and his family at their home, of course I was treated as honored and revered, but also as family. Their son, a college student at another campus, could not tune in anything worth watching on the living room TV, so he suggested we go to the back room to watch the program he was watching before my arrival. With hardly a raised eyebrow, I made my way into his parents’ bedroom, plopped down on their bed and watched TV with their 20-year old son.

See? Familiar. Comfortable. Not standing on ceremony at all.

With all of this ease and comfort, all of this familiarity and for all that I am becoming family to my best friends I have to wonder: what would be a friendship deal breaker?

I believe that stateside, if a non-relative were to stroll through your house and go through your things you would probably be deeply offended. If one were to plop down on your bed and watch television, or play with their cellphone of their own accord while in your company or at your house for a dinner, you would probably never invite them again. And, most likely if one were to go through your purse or wallet they would probably be immediately thrown out and all ties severed.

I have to do a measure of adjusting when going back and forth between cultures. Not so much for what I would or wouldn’t do in any given country but for what would be perceived as acceptable versus unacceptable. To the Chinese it is unacceptable that I do not make myself familiar, comfortable and at home. Hence, off I go to the back bedroom to lounge on the connubial bed with my hosts’ 20 year old son. You’d NEVER catch me doing that in the states.

Had I refused to watch television with George – the son, or if I were to chastise Sam or Gary for going through my things we would still be friends, but not to the degree we are now. By not allowing them into my private space, I am communicating to them that I wish for us to have a certain distance.

But again the question: what would be a friendship deal breaker? What would actually be considered rude in China?       

Personal habits are nearly polar opposite to Western society, along with the permissiveness of friendship. Asking about age, income, and other (by Western standards) ‘off limits’ questions is not only acceptable but routine. I’ve had to do a lot of adjusting to answer cab drivers when they ask me those questions!

Sneezing and yawning are done with the greatest of gusto, preferably with mouth uncovered and as loud as possible. That’s in public, not just among friends. Blowing one’s nose onto the sidewalk and hocking loogies is equally accepted. Bodily functions in general, from breaking wind to urinating in public (mostly small children, but sometimes men) is perfectly OK. Some bathrooms are actually only semi-private. I once even saw a boy of maybe 8 defecating in a trash pile while the street vendors cooked nearby. I did NOT eat from any of those vendor stalls. 

The one thing that seems to be off limits is sex. Talk of sex, gender identity, gender roles, sexual preference, the sex act and even any allusion to sex is taboo.

When I first got here, I would have thought this is a country of eunuchs. While surely women were pregnant and babies were being born there was nothing alluding to any goings-on between the sexes. Not even so much as hand holding, not even in the movies or television. Over the past 2 years, either because my perspective broadened or, most likely because it became socially acceptable, couples started getting more physical: holding hands or going arm in arm, and sometimes kissing in public. Often couples can be seen snuggling on the bus or on a park bench. On my little campus kids have gone from chaste mentions of relationships, confided while blushing and turning away to nearly au flagrante copulating only thinly concealed by a bit of greenery, a tree or a shrub.

Yes, the campus police have their work cut out for them.

Many kids now opt to rent rooms off-campus and set up housekeeping. They support themselves with part time jobs and some lucky few have grant or scholarship money to spend. I’ve been to a few of their little nests; they are quite cozy. If I happen to know their parents, the kids ask me to not tell their parents they are living together, and some have even entreated me to not tell their parents they have a beloved.

This more open attitude toward sex is not just on campus. In the last year no fewer than 2 sex shops have opened up close to our school. You can imagine how many there must be city-wide. These shops display a generous range of sex-oriented items: lingerie, lotions and, if I’m seeing correctly from the bus window, even sex toys. Those shops often have people hovering around. Whether they are tentative patrons or shamed citizens forming protests is hard to tell from my brief glimpse, in passing.

Am I an old fuddy duddy? No, I don’t think so. I’m well aware that sex makes the world go ‘round just about as fast as money does. However, having been used to a chaste society, and reading news stories about government control over television programming to make it reflect the morals and values of this society, witnessing how fast things are – pardon the pun: opening up is downright scary.

Wanna hear something else that is scary? One of my former students is caught up in the sex trade.

She called one day, out of the blue. Mind you, this young girl who, in my opinion embodies The Essential Feminine as described by ancient Greek writings had been somebody I considered a friend. She had been to my house often. The last time she came here, with her boyfriend, she spent all of twenty minutes here and then ran out, in tears. The boyfriend took off after her and that was the last I’d seen or heard from her in a year.

Now she resurfaces, asking me to buy 500 FC2 female condoms. She provided me with a website I could order them from and a credit card number to use. It seems it is more efficient to buy condoms in bulk in the States and ship them overseas. Immediately concerned, I told her I do not think I like her job. My comment was met with a wink and a grin, and that was all the answer I got. She did emphasize the need for my help though. Being as I have a connection overseas I could feasibly make this purchase and involve my family members or friends in getting her package over here.

Yeah… I don’t think I’m going to do that. I spent the weekend wrestling with my morals: if I help her I am communicating that I condone her work in the sex trade. If I don’t help her, she may engage in her work with no protection, certain to catch something vile and possibly lethal. Either way, I’m not going to put my family or my friends stateside in a position of discomfort or outright illegality. Argument won: she’ll get no help from me.

I was ready when she and that boyfriend of hers showed up for my final answer on Tuesday. Once said answer was given and the food I prepared was consumed, she whipped out her cellphone, pleaded a business engagement and ran out of my house, tossing pledges of devotion over her shoulder. Again, the boyfriend chased after her.

I’m still wondering what is considered blatantly unacceptable in Chinese society. I’d still like to know where the line of demarcation between acceptable and unacceptable lies, and what it is made of. So far, from what I can tell, it is made of sex and the refusal to help a friend in need.

There’s got to be more to it.          


Things have settled down around here. I’m back in the teaching groove, back to being gainfully employed and not just a lady of leisure, and indolent idler, a spendthrift of time. By no means am I saying that, like traditional 9 to 5’ers I’m living a rushed, hurried and stressful life. I’m about as stressed as I want to get for the little I do.

A few posts back, in The Proverbial Nail I said that I’ve eschewed all human contact. To the extent that that is possible while addressing 6 classrooms full of students, that still holds true. On my time I am not seeking any activity partners. I’m avoiding shopping at the more personal local markets in favor of the impersonal, big box retail experience. Even eggs and produce, which I can get for pennies – fen, over here - I buy washed and wrapped from a store rather than face the colloquialism of the farmers’ market.

Not only because of being cared to death, as related in the last few posts but also because I have some adjusting to do. Let’s talk about that.

Pretty much since I moved here I’ve had to adjust to feeling progressively worse, to the point that I was thinking of walking with a cane for fear of falling. Breathing was a chore. Vital energy was lacking. Leaving my apartment at times seemed an insurmountable task. Some days, even facing the day was a cruelty visited upon me. Methodically minimizing my sphere of living became my focus.

All that has changed, thanks to a wonderful discovery. Two of them, actually.

Let me first write this disclaimer: I am writing about my health again. I’m getting as tired of writing about the state of my health is as you are no doubt tired of hearing about it. But because it is central to this post’s theme, I have to delve into that topic one more time. With any luck it will be the last time. I’m hoping not to be just on the mend but to have permanently vanquished my ills. 

Now, for those discoveries.

Since my arrival here I’ve known there are two Metro stores in Wuhan. Everyone I talked with insisted there was but one. Even Foodie Janie, who owns the Aloha restaurant maintained there was only one such concern. At the time I thought: “Well… if Janie, a restaurant owner and longtime Wuhan resident only knows of the one, who am I to argue?”

Turns out I was right and she was wrong. The second Metro store is located in a district not usually frequented by foreigners, as attested to by the stares I got and the lack of perceivable foreigners at the time I went. Also, that store is even better situated: I only have to board 2 buses. Both lines start at or near my campus so I am guaranteed a seat by virtue of boarding at its first stop. The best part: it is a much bigger, much better and more diversely stocked store than the one I’ve been going to.

I took about an hour to stroll through every aisle, acquainting myself with all it had to offer. Food items such as ground beef and… BROWNIE MIX!!! (YAY!!), things not found at the other store offered themselves for purchase at this location. Small appliances like drip coffee makers and warming plates for hot beverage carafes abound. I can already see myself spending and spending…

But not on the day of my recon mission. I just went to see what was what. I did take a small shopping bag, ‘cause… you just never know what will beg to be bought.

That day my life turned around. While browsing I found a small air purifier/negative ion machine. Only 188Yuan! By this time doubtful that anything but 4 doses of Benadryl per day would relieve my breathing woes, I decided to take a chance on the air machine. Couldn’t hurt.

Didn’t hurt! From the first night, with it plugged right by my headboard I noticed a difference. The full lung expansion and waking up without wheezing was well worth the tradeoff of the mild headache from the ozone the machine produces as a side effect. And even those went away once I moved the machine to the other side of the room.

Now I’m suffering a strange phenomenon: a progressive reversal of all symptoms. I continuously remark (to myself) how great it feels to feel great. What is strange is that I EXPECT to feel lousy. I EXPECT to feel dizzy. I continue to anticipate falling and I’m very careful walking. That information – akin to a muscle memory perhaps, does not jibe with what my brain is currently processing: all systems go, no need to be careful.

This renaissance, the return to myself – energetic, seeing limitless possibilities and wanting to embrace every single one is now diametrically opposite to my current position.

From being seduced into sedentary life because of my fear of injury over the past 2 years I have all kinds of funds available to me for travel. The flipside is that I now have no time to travel or do much of anything else.

I now teach 5 days a week. Not all day I grant you but enough so that getting away is impossible. With only Wednesday and Sunday not committed, going for more than a day trip is pretty much off the table. The weather is a contributing factor. It is still yucky and chilly; the lingering end of winter. On the rare days of sunshine and warmer temps I do have the urge to frolic. Sometimes I actually do go out. Most often though, I choose to just stay home.

After two weeks of sleeping in my ‘clean air’ room, I’ve tackled the rest of the house. Now certain that the micro particle fine dust has been what caused my breathing problems all along, I’ve endeavored to rid my home of any such substance. To that end I found flannel to be the most effective.

My friends, I am now short one pair of pajama pants. One day, just sitting around I mused on how to best rid myself of this malignant dust. It just so happens I was wearing a pair of ‘house pants’ that I don’t usually wear. Having no less than 3 such garments but preferring the other two, I only wear that pair if, for some reason the ones I like are indisposed (as in: they are both in the laundry and I’ve been too lazy to wash my clothes – as was, in fact, the case). A few days later, clad in favored pants, I conducted an experiment.

A highly successful one, I might add. You should see my living room! Completely dust free! I actually moved all my furniture to get to dust that might linger beneath the couch or behind the bookshelf. While the furniture was in an uproar I positioned it in such a way that I now have a comfortable reading spot where I can prop myself up and enjoy a good book or watching a movie.

Till now the only comfortable place in the house to recline and enjoy was my bed. Nowhere else in the house offered a place to lounge around. While I am not averse to lazing the day in bed with a good book, especially a cold, drizzly day like today, I’d kind of like to make use of the rest of my apartment. Especially now that it is clean.

You’d think that, with all the dust flying around from my fit of cleaning and floor waxing I’d be back under the weather, breathing-wise, right? WRONG! Another ‘New Metro’ miracle: HEPA quality dust masks. They are pricey: 5.50Yuan for one individually packaged mask. But OH! So worth it! I did have some eye swelling the next day but no breathing symptoms at all.

Nearly this entire post is about my state of being and Metro, which brought about my reentry to living – as opposed to just existing. And I’m not done with that phase just yet. I’m still turning off the phone on my two days off. I’m still pursuing solitude, even at the cost of damaging friendships. I am now sure this is just a passing phase. Soon I will get motivated and embrace the full experience of living in China again.

As a vagabond, I’m pathetic. At least, I was. I’ll stop being pathetic once I retrain my brain to not caution my body to care when stepping out.

With the few words I have left for this post I give you: the offer of a renewed contract. Sam approached me about it last week. Cringing, afraid I would say ‘No, I’ve had enough of being here’, he popped the question. It should have been academic being as I’m overjoyed at having already attained tenure. Nevertheless, he still has to ask and I am still only here on a year to year basis. It appears I’m on for another year.  

Beyond that: the anticipation of travel, especially this summer when my schedule is less burdened. The excitement of discovery: not only planning where to go and what to do this summer (Gary is in on this, long distance because he’s back in Shanghai) but licking my chops for eagerness of pioneering the French curriculum this fall.

These are the odds and ends tidbits that I report on for lack of anything of substance to write about. That is what I get for hiding out. More later, when I actually have something not so self serving to say.   

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Old, Useless and Stupid

Whoo, Boy! Did I go off on a tear last post, or what? Can you tell this situation really bothers me? Again I plunge into the depths of thought, analyzing one culture’s more against the other. This whole week I spent thinking, thinking and thinking some more. Observing, asking questions, having conversations… trying to understand this phenomenon.

Lancy called. AGAIN! Not feeling it proper to run away from her forever, I took the phone call. It lasted twenty minutes and again mostly consisted of her admonishing me to get rest, not work hard, take it easy, eat good food and get good sleep. Of her accident – getting run over by a motorbike and ending up in the hospital, very little was said. Only that she did not want me to worry and everything is OK now.

I found out about her accident via Tristan, our mutual friend. He will resurface later in this entry. For now, my dealings with Lancy. Again I appealed to her that, if we’re going to be friends we should be on even keel. If something happens with her I’d like to know about it, and I promise that I will tell her if something happens with me.

It amazes me that, when such a topic comes up, my Chinese friends somehow lose the ability to understand English. No, not all my Chinese friends. Only the female ones.

On Saturday I taught my first session at the Lil’Uns school. Lea, as always was supportive and helpful, genuinely sweet. Treacle tart sweet. Cloyingly, nauseatingly, chokingly sweet. Mid-lesson I made the mistake of confiding in her that I could feel an allergy attack coming on by the swelling of my eye (VERY strange feeling, let me tell you!). Immediately she took over the class as though I were completely incapacitated. OH, NO!! When I told her about my eye swelling, I was just sharing a feeling, not implying I could no longer manage my class of 6 small girls! 

I miss the days when Lea and I were just friends. I could share my feelings with her and she would empathize, but was one step removed. Since we’ve started in this business together she has made me her business. She tells me what I can and cannot do. How to board a bus and how to cross a street. When I confided to her that Sam is arranging a volunteer opportunity for me to visit country village schools as a guest teacher this summer she took it upon herself to decide that that was too much work for me.

Later, having discussed schedules and after I thought that matter was finished, I shared with her that I would like to bring my friend Sam to meet her and her husband. She immediately enjoined: “Yes, you bring Sam (Teacher Song) here. I will make him understand that you should not do too much work.”

Why does she not think I’m capable of managing my own life? Furthermore, what if volunteering in small villages is something I want to do? (It is.) In the good old days when we were just friends I was managing just fine. OOPS!!!! There I go, ranting, again. That’s not the point I wanted to make.

My point is that I’m being cared to death. I’m being respected and venerated straight out to pasture. Lea and Lancy’s ministrations make me feel old, useless and stupid.

Since speculating on this subject I’ve taken to really looking at the old folks from the OTW community who amble aimlessly around our campus. Mostly the women. Their eyes inscrutable, hands behind their back they stroll, rolling gait announcing their lack of direction or purpose. These are not people who, after raising this generation of movers and shakers, and caring for their children’s progeny are enjoying their golden years. These are women who long to be seen as still valuable. Women who, but for cultural edict could contribute plenty to their family and to society. These women, coming from a generation that relegated females to second class status are most likely uneducated, maybe even illiterate. They cannot delve into a good book or even entertain themselves by watching television.

They do not understand the national language – Putonghua, what everyone in movies and on TV speaks. They only speak and understand their regional dialect. At age sixty, after they are deemed too old or too venerable, they are no longer required to help take care of grandchildren, shop, cook or even clean the house. Besides, their grandchildren are most likely in school, leaving them with nothing to do all day but sun themselves, gather on the corner and chat like magpies or hide their resentment at having been relegated to worthlessness by virtue of deep respect.

Conversely, men the same age still retain some worth, if only intellectual, or holding of patriarchal power. Traditional Chinese society is, of course, patriarchal. Whereas mothers are debased to the status of nags ready for the glue factory, fathers are truly elevated in status. Whatever the family’s eldest male says is what goes, no matter how the rest of the family feels.

Older men in China are in fact revered. The finest cuts of meat, the best portions of vegetables and the most comfortable chair are reserved for them. If an elderly couple boards the bus and there is only one seat available, the woman will forsake sitting in favor of their mate occupying it. With no qualms these men do in fact sit while their spouses remain standing.

The family’s elder male opinion is solicited before any decision is made regarding finance or life choice. Even a child’s – male or female – choice of mate is offered up for scrutiny, and this elder’s opinion and decision is in fact adhered to.

When old men amble around campus it is usually with a measure of vigor. They can be seen with their head held high, swinging their arms as they walk about. Their gait is more peppy and their eyes do not reflect that horrible vacancy and shameful frustration of being deemed useless. Old men are just as likely to nap extensively during the day as they are to while the afternoon away, reading or playing cards or checkers. Any activity of theirs is considered acceptable to the younger generation left to care for them. To my knowledge, no one ever tells old men they must rest, relax, or no do too much. They are in fact encouraged to do as much as they’d like, and resources are made available to them to pursue any passion they might have.  

Gary grew to understand that I do not need to be constantly admonished to care, nor do I need to be constantly watched over when we descended into the giant crater last year. (See Am I ever going to tell you where we went and what we did?’ entry, posted November 2011) After about three fourths of the way down where alternately Gary and Mask lagged behind to ensure my safety, and Gary even volunteered to pay for a porter to carry me out should the exercise become too much for me, I snapped at them both that I certainly can manage to climb a few (thousand) stairs and to just let the mother hen act go. Since then Gary has learned that I’m well worth my salt as a traveling companion and has never since mentioned that I need to be careful, take it easy and relax.       

I had a great conversation with Tristan a few nights ago. Remember: he and I have Lancy as a mutual friend. He expressed what a great girl she is. REALLY a terrific person. Honestly, I could not agree with him more. Lancy is truly a gem of a girl: sweet, devoted, doting, caring… caring me to death.

Somehow I was able to make Tristan understand that, while I ‘get’ the Chinese cultural edict that requires younger ‘family’ members to care for seniors – mostly women, the level and extent of caring expressed does not make me feel loved, respected or venerated at all.

It makes me feel old, useless and stupid.

Sam had to agree with me. There is a world of difference in how older men and older women are treated. He averred that, come time for his parents to need such a level of care, it will be up to him and his wife to do the caring. He already anticipates long, meaningful conversations with his father, while Penny will be admonishing her mother in law to just sit, relax and do nothing.

Somehow I just can’t see Sam’s spunky, fun loving, passionate mother being put out to pasture. Maybe I should talk with her and learn how to handle being esteemed into uselessness.  

The Proverbial Nail

This is not about that nail that, but for want of the shoe was lost. This is about that nail that got pounded square on its head, driving down to grip all the boards and thus putting my thoughts completely in order.

Talk about mixing metaphors!

Starting with my experience at Guangzhou airport, transferring from international to a domestic flight – historically no problem but an exercise in aggravation this time around, I’ve not felt happy to be here at all. In fact, coupled with the thought of all those conveniences and comforts available Stateside and the sharp pang of loss at leaving everyone I love across the ocean, I’ve actually wondered what I’m doing here. 

That’s not good.

Since touchdown in Wuhan and after my initial joy at reuniting with my friend Sam, I’ve basically eschewed all human contact. I spent a great deal of time sleeping those first two days, and then running away the rest of the week. I’ve heaped onto myself tasks that I would normally stretch out over days. Things like shopping for food or other post-travel essentials: laundry, unpacking and allotting gifts. Not even the anticipation of gifting my friends and colleagues those few trinkets I had fun shopping for brought me pleasure. I’m not looking forward to the start of the school year.

REALLY not good!

What is wrong with me? Is my China honeymoon over? Am I ready to move on, discover new horizons, start anew? No, that doesn’t feel right. I still feel at home in my apartment and on this campus. What, then?

After fervent cogitation I came upon my problem. Well, not MY problem; THE problem. I can sum it up in 3 words that just happen to be names: Lancy, Lea and Long Ge.

Lancy calls me every single day, sometimes two or three times a day. Her constant refrain is: “I worry about you!” If I choose to not answer the phone, she will send panicked text messages. If I don’t respond to those she’s sending someone by my house to check up on me.

What is she so worried about? 

While living on campus Lancy lived her life and I lived mine and I treasured the times we could meet. The one time I did need her help she came at a gallop and, believe me: I am super grateful to her for it. Since she’s moved to Guangdong it seems I have turned into a nail biting burden to her, especially after my head wound. Not only does she send people to my home to check up on me if I don’t answer her but she spies on me by checking Gary’s Weibo – China’s Twitter equivalent. As long as Gary occasionally posts something about me, she knows I’m doing fine. She’s been known to call Gary too, asking him why I don’t answer her. She was dissatisfied with his explanation that she has crossed the line between actual caring, right into becoming a burden.  

My own children, while I’m sure they’re missing me just as deeply, do not harass me so. They seem to accept that I have chosen this life and that, if something dramatic happens I’ll be sure to contact them. If it is really dramatic, they know they’ll hear from Sam or Gary. Lancy does not seem to accept that I have things to do, a life to live and have no need to be compulsively watched over. Nor does she seem to have an inkling of how irritating it is to be constantly told “I worry about you! Please take care of yourself!” Does she think I am incapable of doing so without her every day admonition?

Interesting to note is that Lancy will contact me IF it is convenient for her, and by the method SHE chooses. She will not respond to emails I send her, nor will she answer the phone when I call her. Perversely, I call her when I KNOW she is at work or otherwise engaged. Am I not to be worried over on my timetable, only on hers? And what if my call were engendered by genuine need? Would I then go ignored?  

Moving on now…

Last semester I felt like I was living in a pressure cooker. I had taken on the task of teaching little children in a full immersion curriculum. Not finding any suitable materials here, I designed and created the entire curriculum from scratch. On top of my university lessons which also debut in my head and become reality in the classroom, my life consisted of nothing but teaching. If I wasn’t in the actual act of teaching, I was thinking up, designing or producing things for my students. School became my life.

During this past month I reflected on last semester. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy being creative. I do not enjoy being under the gun to come up with something novel, interesting, engaging and age/learning level appropriate to meet the demands of the parents whose little ones I teach during my time when I’m not obligated to the university.

This is the Lea/Long Ge portion of the story. They do not seem aware that teaching is great fun, but the act of creating and rehearsing curriculum takes up considerably more time. They are eager for me to get back in front of the class and resume the Saturday lessons, if possible spending even more time, effort and energy in the act of doing so.

A lot of my running away this past week has been running away from Lea and Long Ge. They are the nicest people and wonderful friends. As business partners they are vampires. They look at my calendar and see that I have some free time and immediately want to fill it up with a teaching obligation.

Prior to my leaving for the States I committed to them my Saturdays, and that is all I’m prepared to commit to. Lea would like for me to come over and spend 3 hours during the week with just her daughters, tutoring them. She fails to realize those 3 hours turn into twice that, what with getting there, getting home and psyching myself to perform. Long Ge suggested I turn my Saturday and/or Sunday mornings into teaching opportunities. Neither one of them seems to understand that I do not want, and will not commit to more than I’ve already promised.

I am overwhelmed, just at the thought of their gentle but persistent pushing. Thinking about how it is going to feel, being under the gun to produce, to create and to teach, I just want to shout: “Stop spending my time!!” I do not want this semester to be like last semester, where I was consumed by teaching. I’m a nervous wreck as I make my way, finally, to their coffee shop.

Sam says I work too hard. Gary accuses me of thinking too much. Could they both be onto something?

Why am I working so hard to create a curriculum for the Lil’uns school when approved programs are all over the place here? Why do I spend so much time at the computer, designing worksheets when they are free all over the internet, but for hassle of finding and printing? Why do I scour page after page of ESL references, looking for songs, ideas and art for my kids to work on?

Yesterday I met with Lea and Long Ge. After the initial joy at good friends well met we got down to business. I went over my university schedule with them – a schedule that allows for plenty of free time. I told them what I was prepared to give them. At every incursion beyond what I’m willing to commit to I resisted, gently but firmly.

Assertiveness, not cowering is the answer. I am in charge of this situation; it does not command me. If Lancy can’t seem to get it through her head that I do in fact have things to do and am not living in limbo, lonely and lost and bereft of company, that is her problem. If Lea and Long Ge insist on filling my every minute with teaching duties I will have to sever that relationship. Regrettable as losing a friend is, I have to ask: what is a friend who bleeds you dry?

Thought crosses my mind: Lancy. Lea and Long Ge. Limbo, lost, lonely, losing. That is an awful lot of “L” words. Maybe my problem is not time distribution but the overabundance of “L” in my life! Oh, drat! Another “L” word!           

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Musings Besides Pig Snouts

NOTE: this was the original conclusion to the previous post. But then I consulted my notes and saw that one more issue I’d like to tackle. Issue, fallacy… you call it.

I’d like to know about these things too, and I kind of like the way it is written. So here you have the semi-serious close to the previous entry, without a word on that most serious aspect of flying that I’ll get into… after you read what should have been my closing rant.

Was I delirious from all the flying or just wildly imaginative? Or just being my usual self? Have you seen such an oxygen mask? It is in fact shaped exactly like a pig snout, but that is not enough for me to make the comparison. Not only its shape but the two circles on the face of the mask that appear to depict nostrils lead me to believe those masks are specifically designed to look like pig snouts.

Have you seen such a mask up close and personal? Because they are sealed, there is in fact NO PURPOSE that I can determine for those circles on the front of the mask! If you know of one, please inform me/us. We’d love to know whether the airlines have our safety first in mind, or are they just trying to make us all look like yellow-snouted pigs.

I’d like to know about those curtains between first class and the rest of us travelers too. Seriously: do the powers that be who govern the airlines not think that those curtains are see-through? Are they supposed to prevent ‘commoner cooties’ from migrating into the airspace of those with socially elevated cooties?

Do they not know that we frequent and informed travelers are well aware of the perks of traveling first class? It is not like they don’t point those perks out when they offer to upgrade your seat for a nominal fee of $100 to $150. It is not going to hurt or offend us to witness those passengers getting a second alcoholic beverage for free, and we already know that the seats are roomier because we parade through first class on our way to the lowly coach section.   

What about being instructed to use the lavatory in our class of service? Will the plane somehow self-destruct if I, a lowly Zone 5’er pee in a rarified First Class toilet? What if someone in first class has a desperate need for a bathroom and the one unit in their class of service is occupied: do they have to hold it till they can use their own potty?

Why can’t we congregate in the aisle? We have to congregate in the aisle to get on the plane and back off the plane, why not mid-flight? What makes a midflight congregation raise TSA’s hackles so that that edict had to be introduced? What could happen mid-flight that couldn’t or wouldn’t happen at boarding or debarking?   

These are semi-serious musings that I wanted to close the last post with but, as usual ran out of room for. Now for the very serious issue of noise abatement.

Pilots are encouraged to use noise abatement procedures, which basically consist of cutting engine power by half upon takeoff, while steering ninety degrees from their scheduled flight path in order to keep the suburbanites living close to the airport from suffering traumatic damage to their hearing and nervous systems.

A bit of history. When air travel was in its infancy planes were nowhere near as digitized or computerized, and nowhere near as quiet and fuel efficient as they are today. Flying was considered a luxury, an amenity available only to the elite. Airports were built outside of urban areas and far away from what could possibly be considered viable encroachments of suburban life. However, with the proliferation of suburban housing developments and their ensuing popularity – again with those who had the financial means to live outside the city and commute to work, communities sprang up ever farther from city center, ultimately bordering lands projected as buffers between human life and the nuisance aspect of air travel.

The conundrum: those very people who could afford air travel also could afford suburban life. As they flocked by the thousands to ‘country castles’, developers made fortunes buying up unused land next to back lots of airports.

Next thing you know, people are living right next to airport runways. Babies could not sleep and everyone suffered from the constant barrage of noise and vibration as aircraft alternately landed and took off. Apparently no one thought to question or charge/indict the developers of those living communities; instead they successfully attacked airports and won the legal right to less noise… even though the airports were there first, and platoons of planners and civil engineers had studied this matter at length and made recommendations to not juxtapose housing to airplane runways.

Enter noise abatement procedures. Surely jet engines are powerful enough to bring a flying sarcophagus full of humanity aloft at half power. No need for them to take off at full power, roaring and disturbing babies and grownups alike. Furthermore, why observe a direct flight path over suburbia when they could just as well veer off by 90 degrees, count on the change of course to keep the bird aloft and then course correct later, when safely past where decent people are trying to live?

As I understand it, pilots the world over are still chagrined over this now global edict, which was first handed down in the late 1960’s. I can’t blame them. By no stretch do I claim an understanding of even simple physics, but even I can see that cutting engine power by half, when surely full acceleration must be needed is an exercise in folly. And, as one who traditionally sits over a wing or some other undesirable seat location within the plane, I can actually attest to hearing the diminishing roar as the pilot cuts back on power and banks his turn over the city.

No wonder every flight starts with the attendants intoning safety measures and then securely strapping him/herself in, as far as possible from a porthole. I’m guessing they don’t want to see the craft as it pummels, earthbound, either.

Most of this information I gleaned from the exceptionally well written Arthur Haley book titled Airport. While it is a somewhat dated tome, it accurately reflects the culture of its time, focusing on the nascent airline industry.                        

Mr. Haley wrote a string of one-word-titled novels between 1965 and 1979. His writing career spanned twice that length, but during this particular timeframe he excelled in weaving dramatic personal/fictional situations into America’s changing socio-economic climate. His trademark, besides one word titles, was deep research into his subject matter. He would spend on average a year researching his subject matter, another six months reviewing his notes and a year or two beyond that writing the book. Much of the research he undertook himself, rather than hiring a team of investigators. The public was spellbound. Nearly every one of his books made the bestseller list, and every one of his books depict a facet of (at the time) burgeoning commerce or industry. If you are looking for a good book or ten, I highly recommend anything he’s written.

Back in our airplane now. We’ve been briefed about our seats being flotation devices, how to buckle our seatbelts and where the emergency exits are. We are all strapped in, ready for take off. The plane taxis into position and pauses at the head of the runway. The engines roar, signaling our imminent ascent into the heavens. It is nighttime. My seatmate already had his eyes closed and his head back, priming to nap the flight away. I glance out the porthole he kindly (or inadvertently) made available to me by his intent to sleep. I like looking at the lights below, cities laid out like gridded jewels, amber in the night from arc-sodium lighting.  

Thank goodness we were instructed to keep the window shades up during takeoff and landing! Otherwise I might have missed the “Thank you for observing noise abatement procedures” sign.

Never thought I’d actually see such a sign.    

Why Do They Look Like Pig Snouts… and Other Airline Musings

In the past month I’ve boarded no fewer than eleven airplanes. Might have been more what with connections and transfers and layovers but, quite frankly I am too lazy to cross my office to actually look at my collective flight manifests. Besides, 11 is already an impressive number, considering I did all that traveling in less than 30 days.

I’ve been on planes so old they still have ashtrays in the armrests, and planes so new they have ‘turn off electronic devices’ in place of the traditional ‘no smoking’ next to the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign on the underside of the overhead compartments. It was on that antique plane that I met Tina and that we fishtailed so wildly upon landing (see 2 posts back – A Shout of Sunshine). The apparent age of the plane is in part what caused my disquiet.

For luxury, comfort and amenities I vote for the Airbus 330 that I flew from China. While great for long flights I doubt the everyday traveler will see some of those conveniences. Conversely I hear that one airline wants to try out a ‘leaning seat’, a mere post to park one’s derriere, with no back and no footrest: a commuter plane in order to accommodate more passengers. I swear: air travel is getting more like moving cattle every day!

In the course of all this traveling, and indeed during past travels, certain questions cropped up. By the time I get home or near a computer I always forget to write about them but this time, I’ve made it a point to make notes specifically pertaining to air travel, so… wait no more, dear Readers! On with some air travel observations! Please note that, no matter what country and no matter what airline or carrier, these observations hold true: what one airline does, they all do. What one airline has, they all have. Therefore I’m not naming specific airlines.

I’ll get to the pig snouts in due time. I’d like to do this in chronological order, from boarding the plane to getting off at destination. The first comment surely has to go toward how passengers are welcomed aboard.

“Using the red access lane, we welcome our first class passengers on board.”

A few privileged ‘first classers’, sedately conscious of their elevated status promptly step up to the red lane, present their boarding pass and proceed down the gangplank, the first of the cabin’s occupants.

“Using the blue access lane, we now welcome all Preferred flyers.” One or two passengers will self-importantly take the blue lane, present their boarding pass and make their way into the plane’s bowels.

After that come Platinum, Gold and Silver members, Dividend Miles members, Skyline members, members of the military, people traveling with small children, and finally the rest of us slobs, seated in zones 1 thru 5, all instructed to use the blue lane. Depending on the airline, there are a few more class distinctions or passenger designations, but these should suffice to illustrate my point. Those needing help with boarding, such as the wheelchair-bound, get to board last. Poor suckers! By the time they board, there is no more room in the overhead compartments and all of their carry-ons have to be stowed belowdecks.

I’m usually a Zone 4 or 5 flunky. That leaves me plenty of time to wonder: what is the difference between the red access lane and the blue? As far as I can tell, it is just two poles, 5 feet apart with a tensa-barrier between them. The carpet is not cleaner on the red side, the air is not more rarified, the same gate agent scans tickets… there is, in essence no difference between the red and blue lanes other than they are so marked.

Of course I get a good chuckle in because, with all the breakdown of passenger classes, only one or two people qualify for each of the designations so, approximately every 10 seconds the gate agent is making another announcement, welcoming another group to board.

Why is first class boarded first? That just means that, for all that their fannies are supposedly more dignified than us coach travelers, they get banged into and stepped on more than those Zone 1 people who sit at the back of the plane. More specifically: they get banged into and stepped on BY those Zone 1 people who sit at the back of the plane. How is it that first class passengers tolerate being stepped on by commoners? Wouldn’t it make more sense to load us commoners first, make us suffer the long wait in the back of the plane and load those with rarified fannies last? That way they could stay in the lounge longer.

And what of those flimsy curtains that separate first and business class from the rest of the horde? Don’t they think we can see through that curtain? But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’ve got to wonder…

“The captain has turned on the seatbelt sign”.

What? The CAPTAIN has turned on the seatbelt sign? The BIG, BAD CAPTAIN wants US to fasten our SEATBELTS??? Why, we Certainly MUST capitulate to what the big, bad CAPTAIN wants!

Why am I reminded, each time I hear that admonition, about Father Knows Best and all those other mid-50’s TV shows where Daddy had all the power and Mother had only to remind the misbehaving child to wait till Daddy came home for his/her (usually his) punishment?

Why can’t we passengers just be told “The Fasten Seatbelt Sign is Lit.” Surely we are all mature enough to comply with such a directive without invoking the fear of a big, bad Daddy, aren’t we?

And speaking of Daddy. Remember when you’d go on those family vacations or Sunday drives? Father firmly in the driver’s seat, mother monitoring all action in the back, reminding us to sit still because Father needs to see out YOUR back windows to back up?

Why is it that, upon taxiing, the plane’s window shades have to be up and the cabin lights are dimmed? It is not like the pilot (The Captain!) is stretching his arm along the top of a mythical bench seat, looking over his shoulder through YOUR side window to properly gauge distance to prevent backing into a ditch or a tree, is it?

Upon actively pondering that question I decided to ask. The first flight attendant I approached fairly sneered at me: “it is so we can see if there is a fire or something wrong with the wing or the plane during takeoff or landing.”

Ummm… Sorry, Sneer Boy: during takeoff or landing, you and all other flight attendants are securely strapped in to your webbed gear at the back or the middle of the plane nowhere near a porthole, and you are in no position to check for fires or wings falling off. While I didn’t exactly sneer back at him I did leave him non-plussed, as with all the other flight attendants I asked. It seems no one really had a viable answer to my question. 

I think I speak for all passengers that, if the plane is on fire or we lose a wing we would just as soon not watch as we plummet down to earth at however many miles per hour. Likewise we’d just as soon be told that we should watch out for such conditions IF that is the true purpose for leaving the window shades up and dimming the cabin lights. Till I get a clear answer on this I’m going to maintain the visual of the captain carefully looking over his shoulder to back up, just like the Daddies of yore who ever so carefully shifted their hydramatic transmissions into ‘reverse’ and looked over their shoulder before backing the car into the street to start their fun filled, family vacation or Sunday drive.

Now, for those pig snouts. Were you wondering where they fit in?

Poor flight attendants! How many times have they intoned the safely preamble to every single flight you and I have ever been on? How many times have they waved their arms at emergency exits, demonstrated how to buckle and unbuckle seatbelts, how to use a seat cushion as a floatation device (even when the projected flight trajectory would take us nowhere near water), and how to put on an oxygen mask in the event of cabin depressurization?

In all the times they’ve done that, has any one of them noticed or remarked on the fact that those oxygen masks, but for being yellow, look exactly like pig snouts?

I’m out of room and I’m out of time, but I’m certainly not out of musings. I think I’ll write a ‘part II, because there is a rather serious issue I’d like to bring up and get into in some depth. In part II I’ll delver further into the topic of pig snouts and broach all my other musings… you’ll just have to read on to find out what they are.