Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Cleaning ears

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How do you clean your ears? (Or do you?)

The way I understand it, the Western style is to use Q-tips. This probably happens after a shower when the interior of the ears have been nice and moist for awhile, softening any sort of earwax you might have built up. Some rubbing around catches that stuff and whisks it out. Or something like that… I can’t actually vouch for it since I don’t clean my ears that way. What I’m used to is the Eastern way, which I’m sure Eastern Asians in particular are familiar with, if not our more southern counterparts too.

tools used to clean ears including flashlight, ear scooper, tweezers, and q-tip

Tools of the trade.

Cleaning your ears becomes a bonding event since it requires the assistance of someone else. They take an ear scooper – sometimes metal, sometimes bamboo – and gently make their way down your ear canal as you lay on your side and they shine a light in your ear. Your earlobe gets pulled this way and that to help straighten out your ear canal for easier viewing. When a bit of earwax is targeted, the cleaner gently lowers the ear scooper in, using the little spoon-like curve to try to scoop out the piece. This may take a little gentle scratching around the area to loosen the earwax if you have the dry kind, or quite a few scoops to get the sticky wet kind. Either way, it’s a practice in patience, determination, and trust. Both sides have to remain relatively steady and slowly maneuver to get the earwax. I’ll even incorporate tweezers when a piece can be pinched away from the wall of the ear. It’s a delicate procedure that requires quite a bit of care. After all, you don’t want to cause any bleeding or pain in the dainty skin of the ear canal. You could very well create hearing impairment!

I quite enjoy having my ears cleaned and sometimes I ask for them to get a little bit of scratching even if there’s nothing to clear. Sometimes my ear canals just itch for a little bit of attention. It must be something born of the habit of cleaning my ears that way. It’s a part of the Chinese culture that definitely stayed with me.

365great Day 354: jade

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , , , ,

365great day 354: jadeGrowing up, we always had some sort of jade jewelry around. I remember my cousins each had a piece carved into the animal of their Chinese zodiac sign, which they wore on red strings around their necks. I had fun little pieces, like Buddhas and tear drops and even a pair that formed a heart – perfect for best friends to share. When I graduated from college, a few of my aunts and uncles were able to make it over. One of my aunts gave me a jade bracelet. It’s one of those that is never meant to be taken off. We carefully squeezed my hand through and got it on… over five and a half years later, it’s still here and I’ve never removed it! In Chinese culture, jade is believed to have protective powers and it becomes an extension of your body. It is probably one of the luckiest pieces of jewelry you could ever give or receive and is rife with tradition. Keeping it close to your body is supposed to be good for your qi, ensuring a good flow of energy throughout your body to help you maintain good health. No wonder it makes a great (and very meaningful) gift!

Having a baby boy in China is a BIG deal

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
chinese baby wrapped in poufy red swaddling clothes laying on bed

When I was born? Probably not a big deal.

One of my cousins in China recently gave birth to a baby boy and oh my gosh, it was such a big deal. You think you’re excited to have a kid? You should imagine how excited you’d be if that was the ONLY kid you were allowed to have in your lifetime. And let’s say you had a boy like my cousin – then you get to be super excited that your family lineage gets passed on. Yeah, boys are still valued more than girls over there (as in many countries, I’m sure).

Maybe I should also mention that you’re not allowed to know the gender of your child, so it’s a surprise for just about every citizen in China when their child is born. Of course, sometimes people “cheat” and find a way to find out, but by law doctors are not allowed to tell you (and they abide by it strictly). You better have some mad connections to get an accurate reveal ahead of time. So come labor time, there’s a ton of anticipation as everyone waits to find out the all-important question: is it a boy or girl??

If you’re confused about these crazy rules (laws), let me explain. You’ve probably heard of the One Child Policy in China at some point. Most people have an inkling that Chinese families are only allowed one kid. Maybe you didn’t believe it or didn’t think they take it so seriously. Well, it’s definitely a law that’s alive and well, though a bit more lax now (like if you remarry you’re allowed to have a child with your new spouse).

Layer on top of that the outlawing of gender revealing during pregnancy and you’ve got one mad nation (as in crazy – specifically, boy crazy – not upset or angry per se). Can you imagine how curious you’d be? The reason that you’re not allowed to know the gender of the baby is because boys are heavily favored for passing down the family name and whatnot, so many people would have an abortion if they knew it was a girl. This probably wouldn’t be such a big deal to families if you got more than one chance to have a boy. But as the laws go, you only get that one chance.

Not only did the announcement of a boy stir up a whole lot of chatter, family activity has picked up as everyone makes their way to send their well wishes. Traditionally, each family is supposed to send one representative, but since my family is all the way here in the US, one of my aunts is representing our family as well. It’s time for my cousin to get showered with gifts and attention (though really it’s probably all going towards that son of hers).

Having a boy is so important that family members are pitching in to “guard” him. Yeah. They’re afraid he’ll get stolen or swapped out. I mean, that’s how big a deal it is. Are they overreacting and paranoid? Maybe. But you never know… with so many couples desperate for a boy, they just might do crazy things to get one.

The emotion of driving

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

Lately I’ve really noticed how much feeling and emotion is tied to driving.  I’ve been going around town in a 1999 Camry speckled with water spots and covered in dust and it has made me self-conscious in a way I’m usually not.  I’m afraid of other drivers looking over and noticing how dirty the windows are and judging me for it.  There’s something about a dirty car that makes me feel bad about myself, probably because it’s obvious that I haven’t taken care of the vehicle lately.

You see, the car has been sitting on our driveway in the sun, next to the sprinklers, and under a tree for ages.  In that time, it has suffered stains from getting sprayed every day by the sprinklers, getting beat down on by the sun, and getting particles falling from the tree.  The tree’s branches were so overgrown that they were scraping against the car.  Not exactly the best conditions for storing a vehicle!  I kept telling myself that I would wash the car one day when it wasn’t too hot out, but I kept putting it off.

Now that I was driving the car, I wondered what people thought of my old, beat up car as they drove by in their shiny sports cars and SUVs.  Were they wondering why this car was so filthy?  Were they trying to get a glimpse at me to see what kind of person would drive this car?  Who knows if they even cared, but I felt like they noticed.  After I got the car washed a few days ago, I immediately felt better about driving it around.  Now it was just an older model car – not some dirty or run down piece of junk.

This whole experience was in total contrast to the feeling I got driving my family’s Lexus.  Not only does it drive better, but it’s not subjected to various weather conditions.  When I drove long distances, I would take that car, and it would always boost my morale.  I felt better because it was clean, because it is a good brand, and because it handles really well.  Sitting in it is more comfortable both physically and emotionally.  While I had felt a difference driving this car vs. the Camry in previous years, it was never so apparent as when the Camry was also much more dirty.

It’s funny how we let something like this affect our internal well-being so much.  But I guess it’s just how our culture runs – when we have nice things, we feel better (to a certain extent).  Not just because other people see that we have these nice things, but also because they are designed to make us feel good.  Makeup can make people feel more beautiful, titles can make people feel more powerful, and cars can make people feel more in control or affluent.  Americans in particular seem to love to express themselves via their cars, so there’s an even higher value for them in this culture.  I never really realized I was so affected by these things too.

Mini cultural adventure

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , ,

Wow, I was in such a food coma last night that I totally collapsed on my bed and fell asleep soon after getting back from dinner.  Next thing I knew, I woke up sometime around 5 in the morning with the light still on!

I guess the Ethiopian food we had earlier in the night weighed pretty heavily on me.  Then again, it was a lot!  If you’ve never tried Ethiopian before (at least the Americanized version that is available in the states – who knows what real Ethiopian is out there), you should really give it a shot.  One of my friends who went last night – I’ll call her Duchess – had eaten it once before (like me) and we both enjoyed our experiences.  So there we were, many moons later, taking some others out for their first experience.

The place we went to was decided by a Tippr coupon that I bought a couple days ago, for a place called Little Ethiopia located in Little Ethiopia (hah!).  That’s a small strip out on Fairfax not too far from downtown LA.  It was a nice little place, though they had an entire room on the side that lay empty.  I guess when business was better they’d use both sides.  We ordered a veggie platter, tibs, and Little Ethiopian tibs.  The veggie platter had a variety of vegetables cooked in different sauces.  The tibs was chunks of beef and the Little Ethiopian tibs was those chunks of beef with potatoes and some other veggies mixed in.  Everything came out on a fantastically large tray lined with their special bread.

tray of ethiopian food with veggies and tibs

In the center is the Little Ethiopian tibs, the meat on either side is the tibs, and all those colorful splotches are part of the veggie platter!

basket of ethiopian bread

The bread - spongy and slightly sour and very soft and supple!

Oh that bread!  When Duchess and I were trying to describe it on the drive over, the closest thing we could come up with was a sourdough pancake.  It’s a dense, spongy thing with a hint of sour and there’s something wonderful about it.  You use the bread to grab some of the veggies or meat and then eat it in a little morsel (at least we think that’s the right way to do it).  Oh yeah, the thing about Ethiopian food is that it’s eaten with your hands, much like Indian food is supposed to be.  And so we ate, getting basket after basket of bread until we were stuffed.  The waitress then came and offered us some second helpings for free, since they had a lot of excess in the kitchen.  We couldn’t resist and spent another half hour trying to finish it all.  By the time we left, I was so full I could hardly stand.

But our adventure wasn’t over!  We decided to go for dessert and ended up choosing Persian ice cream.  The first time I went, I got the orange blossom.  This time I was too full to get a serving myself, but I shared a white rose with Apprentice.  Yes, their ice cream flavors are very flower-oriented.  I feel like I’m eating a garden and it is the strangest sensation.  It turned out to be a nice complement to the food we had earlier and both were awesome cultural experiences for the newbies.  When I finally got home, it’s no wonder I lay on the bed to recover and ended up sleeping for the night.  Next time I want to deep sleep, I’ll make sure to get Ethiopian again.  🙂

Childlike wonder & curiosity

laelene Posted in general blog, video blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was watching this video of Aimee Mullins about adversity, and the thing that struck me, strangely enough, was not her main message, but the moment when she spoke of “childlike curiosity.”  I do agree with her message and the powerful way that language sets a precursor, as well as the strength of the human spirit.  So I suppose that’s why everything else she said didn’t hit me the way that the reference to curiosity being childlike did.

Why did that part stand out?  Well, because I wondered why attributes like wonder and curiosity and innocence are so often described as “childlike.”  It’s as if we no longer recognize that adults can be like that and when they are, it’s a rare thing.  What’s wrong with “adult-like” curiosity?  What has happened in our society that makes everything children do so great and everything that adults “grow into” so bad?  Actually, I think that’s exactly what happens because of society.  Because we have this sort of structure, at a certain age, things like responsibility and maturity take hold.  Expectations develop into more serious ones and we lose much of our freedom to do what we want, enjoy as we like, and not worry too much.

The good thing is that it seems our culture is more and more tolerant of “childlike” activities in adults.  After all, records of generations past make them seem rather rigid, but that could just be because what is recorded is not the playful silly moments shared, but the serious and “important” moments had.  Nevertheless, I still do feel that generally we are heading towards habits that allow more carefree expressions from older people.  I just hope that soon we can progress to such a point that people who sing in public because they are happy aren’t given strange looks as if they’ve lost their minds.  Or that fully-grown men and women can get child’s meals without feeling shameful.

Speaking of, why is it that small portions are only allowed to those under a certain age?  It’s like the problem with McDonald’s Super Size meals – when you offer larger portions, people will get them*.  And when they get them, they try their very best to finish the portions in front of them.  So why not just offer smaller sizes and alleviate this pressure that people have looking at their uneaten food?  I think we still stuff ourselves full much of the time because of our hunting and gathering days, when food wasn’t so easy to come by.  Nowadays, it’s far too easy to overeat, and judging adults who want to get a “child’s” meal is part of the problem.

Personally, I believe in expressing your joy.  People sometimes find me too enthusiastic or hyper when I am happy and excited.  Generally, they enjoy it, though they are wary and wonder if I’m just a bit cuckoo.  But why is that?  Why can’t I burst into song because it was playing in my head?  Why can’t I be giddy over the smallest victories?  Why can’t I jump around and share my positive emotions?  Well, I can.  Just not without being judged.  And that’s ok, I’m used to being judged.  When I’m happy, I’m happy and I’ll show it if I want to.  I think more people should.

I hope that people will learn to stop putting up the walls around themselves and open themselves up the way they did before society taught them otherwise.  I think that’s what people mean when they refer to those childlike qualities.  It’s freeing yourself from the bounds that society puts you in, even if just a little.  Let’s not become drones and make all the motions going through life without experiencing and enjoying the way we did before the clamps started to pin us down.

*The issue of portion size and the poor eating habits is up for discussion in a future post – ironically, I just watched another TED video, this time about America’s (and now the world’s) eating problem.

Now that’s cultural immersion!

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

dsc04830Though I’ve been getting little tastes of Singaporean culture throughout my time here and occasionally something will remind me of China, it wasn’t until last night that I truly felt a strong cultural impression in everything around me.  We had gone to East Coast Park, where there’s an outdoor cafeteria of sorts with stall upon stall of laksa, satay, dong dongs (I can’t remember what they were called), stingray, and who knows what else.  I felt at once lost and amazed among all the dishes I’d never seen and had hardly heard of before.  Paths cut through the park to allow bike riders, rollerbladers, and other such athletic activities to ensue.  A little stage consisting of a piece of carpeting and a half watermelon backdrop provided the scene for an acrobatics show.  On one side, we could look out across a small patch of trees to the ocean beyond, which was filled with ships.

Dong dongs?  Use those sticks to pull'em out of their shells.

Dong dongs? Use those sticks to pull'em out of their shells.

Upon arrival, we wandered around looking for a table for the six of us.  I noticed one recently vacated and we went to stand there as we waited for one of the table clearers to come by with a bucket.  After it was cleared, a nearby one opened up and since that one fit six exactly, we quickly shifted over.  With the dishes removed and the table wiped down, we sat down and discussed what to eat (more like I sat there listening to them!).  A guy with a handful of disposable plates in his hand said something to us and I think we ordered our satay that way.  I went for a walk around the stalls with Starfish’s best friend Foodie, who ordered food with Zen and Mac (our company’s creative director).  Zen pointed out a stall that is very well-known for its good beef noodles and is also notorious for opening and closing as the owner pleased.  Even when a minister from Hong Kong came by hoping for a bite, he refused to open up to serve the man!  Haha, now that must be some amazing recipe.  Meanwhile, Starfish and Violet (Mac’s wife who comes by to the office regularly) sat and watched the table for us.

Oyster omelet!

Oyster omelet!

We ended up getting an oyster omelet, the satay, stingray, those “dong dongs,” some fried chicken wings, fried tofu, and some random noodles.  And thus I was introduced to “Singaporean junk food” at their oceanside park.  I tried a little bit of everything, even the scary-looking shells with the rubbery insides.  I hate rubbery foods and this was not much different, but at least now I’ve tried it!



The stingray was surprisingly good and not at all the rubbery texture that I thought it would be (come on, don’t they look like they’d be super chewy things?).  Instead, the meat was tender and much like some of the fish that I like to eat, so that was nice.  It was a pity that it was topped with some sort of spicy sauce though, so my mouth was burning the whole time and I mistakenly took all the food to be spicy when it was just that one thing!  Thankfully, when we were done eating, we got some nice cooling drinks – sugar cane!  I was surprised that the drink was a green shade, but I guess it makes sense since it’s from a plant.  The taste of that kind of sweet is very distinct from traditional sugar and it reminded me of a time in my childhood when I gnawed on the cane itself.  All in all it was a refreshing experience and I truly felt the vibe of a different culture.  Singapore in many ways is both Eastern and Western, so it was nice to see something that did not remind me of either China or the US.

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