I was just existing

There is always someone else in our life that has it worse off than we do. No matter what the situation, every life is different and has extremes of good and bad. When you are in a funk, or just cannot understand why you are still in the continuously spinning hamster wheel, just remember that there is someone else in the world that is probably struggling worse than you are, or there is someone who could actually use your help.

I think of that often when I have a bad day. I ask myself questions such as: “Will I care about this situation in a day, week, month, year?” If the answer is no, then I should probably let it go. Or, “Is this really so bad?” Whatever the answer we usually have options to change our life. Sometimes we just do not know which direction to walk or which door to open. I just finished a gut-wrenching memoir titled: “Chanel Bonfire” by Wendy Lawless. It takes you through her life and her experiences with her crazy (yes truly crazy) mother. She and her sister handle their situation differently. Her sister, Robin, fights her mom and reacts. Wendy is the caretaker and the smooth-things-over daughter. The result, she loses herself:

“Talking to him made me realize that I couldn’t talk about my plans or dreams because I didn’t have any. I was amorphous. I had no idea who I was, what I liked or disliked. I had spent so much time as Mother’s warden, and Robbie’s bodyguard, that I had subjugated a large part of myself that was, from lack of tending, small and undeveloped. When I walked into a grocery store, I would walk up and down the aisles, like a robot, aimlessly looking at all the boxes and jars wondering what I should buy. Did I like green beans? Cheerios? Cheddar cheese? I didn’t know. Living my little half-life, I was so used to not thinking for or of myself. I was just going along. Just existing.” page 266

While I did not have a crazy mother (far from it) or childhood that was in any way similar to Lawless I still felt I could relate to her. She goes from socializing with the upper class in London and Paris as a kid, going to some of the top schools, to having her mom lock her in closets and threaten to kill them all. I relate to Wendy because I found that after taking care of my mom for so many years (with my sister) I felt I could relate less and less with my peers, and quietly retreated into a quiet place. Since there was no one that knew at all what it was like to be 12, have a mom who was bedridden, where we had to support her every need, what was the point of talking about it at all? In so many ways it was my little half-childhood. I was just existing.

Lawless’ memoir will remind you how vastly different families live. A similar situation could be happening at your neighbor’s house. Be grateful for the good in your life, and help those that you know might be in similar situations.

Toilet Paper, Toilets, and Flushing

Over the past few days, after Chris has done his business in the bathroom he says: “Ah, how I missed nice toilet paper.” Oh how I know what he means. In China no matter where you were: a hotel, business, restaurant the toilet paper was tissue paper-thin. Actually thinner than tissue paper. Which baffles me because then you just need to use more of it. Most of the time it was one-ply instead of two-ply. So is two-ply toilet paper more of an American thing?

We saw a commercial this weekend for Scott toilet paper. Their Natural Tube-Free toilet paper. What a concept. The ad says that every year the US throws away enough toilet paper tubes to fill the Empire State building — twice. You then see an Empire State building made of toilet paper rolls. A good ploy for those that are environmentally savvy enough to care about the tube leftover. I am not saying I do not care, but I have to say this house is more picky about the paper on the roll!

So back to bathrooms in China. They varied. Chris warned me before my trip to always have kleenex with me and hand sanitizer. He was right. On one of the first days we were there, we were on a street that was stationary + pen store after another. My idea of bliss. The problem? No bathrooms, and well when I got to go, I got go. We found an old bookstore (one that had been around awhile, although the book titles were current.) I figured out that the bathroom was up this strange staircase and up I went. I get into the stall and found the toilet was in the floor and start to do my business as quickly as possible, only to look around and realize there was no toilet paper. Crap, I was screwed. There was only one thing I could do. Finish, go downstairs and ask Chris for the kleenex and hand sanitizer. (It also had no sink.)

Let me just say that when there was toilet paper it was thin, but my bathroom experiences were vastly different. My bookstore experience was probably the most primitive. Most other bathrooms where more mainstream. My hotel lobby bathroom was well in another era.

When I first saw this contraption in the bathroom stall I at first thought it was more bidet-like, and realized these were just the flushing options for the toilet. Pulsating, front cleansing, rear cleansing, drying (click the photo to see it larger). Quite the experience. This was for lobby guests only, they did not give hotel guests the option to test out the features in our room. Although I did have a telephone. Not sure these days who would use a telephone in the bathroom, I mean we have iPhones for that.

IMG_1605The last interesting bathroom adventure while in China was in a restaurant bathroom. Each stall had a “water flow sound sensor.” I was especially intrigued by this due to the nature of our conversations at work about bathroom etiquette. When you pushed the button, it made the loudest flushing sounds and would do it again if you pressed the button again. It took me a bit to figure out that the sounds were meant to cover whatever noises you were going to make while using the commode. What is not to like?

The world works in mysterious ways especially pertaining to toilet paper, toilets, and flushing.

I heart SH: Food nostalgia

You never know if you are going to fall in love with the food in a new city, or if you eat and are always disappointed. During my two-week visit in Shanghai I tried to always eat as local as possible. I only had a few western meals, and other than trekking all over the city to find a good green smoothie (actually just a real green smoothie), I stuck to trying new things.

I have not been a fan of Chinese food in Portland. Most of the places we have tried have been too Americanized and are mostly bland options. For the most part Thai or Chinese food for us has been the quick “too tired, or too busy to cook” option. You do not really crave that kind of Chinese food, it is more of a convenience. So not really sure what to expect and knowing that I have definitely not really ever experienced “good” Chinese food, I jumped in head first. I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

photo 5Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed dumpling (or bun) that is made in bamboo steamer baskets, and filled with a tiny amount of broth. Xiaolongbao - Yum!They are usually served with slices of ginger, soy, and vinegar to dip in before popping in your mouth. I became addicted to the pork filled versions, although I also had some that had hairy crab inside. They have a thin, light exterior, and it is best to tear a corner and check the temperature of the soup, or just go for it and down it all in one bite, hoping not to burn your mouth in the process. They are little morsels of intense flavor and just so so so good.

Favorite location: Din Tai Fung (for those of you in the US, there is a location in Seattle). Roadtrip soon, Chris?

Sheng Jian BaoTheir cousins or siblings are Sheng Jian Bao (fried soup dumplings) and take a close second for me. My first Sheng jian baoThey are a breakfast speciality in Shanghai. Twice the size of the Xia long bao, also filled with pork and broth, but fried on the bottom. They also have a thicker exterior.

Favorite location: Yang’s Dumplings

I tried other local Shanghainese food, with differing opinions. Some dishes were bland, some just not the flavor I would crave. Junk food, street food, fine dining. More items with beans then I can imagine. By far my favorite were these two versions of dumplings. I have already started the hunt of where I can find something even close as to as good in Portland.

Dessert in Shanghai was few and far between. We usually were too full to care, but not in that ‘your pants are bursting’ kind of way. In more of a ‘that was amazing and I do not want to do anything to the flavors happening in my mouth’. However, we happened across a bakery selling a Cronut (croissant + doughnut), we could not resist.

CronutEver since we had heard about all the hubbub in New York City at the Dominique Ansel Bakery, we have always wanted to try one. While I appreciate that the fad has not blown up and been cloned all over the US, when you have never had one, and you see it in Shanghai, why not try it? They know that they are stealing the idea from New York City, but rather than completely steal the idea, we saw it marketed as “Cronut = Crack + Doughnut.” Whatever way they want to justify it, we found two bakeries that sold them. Worth it? Yes.

I enjoyed trying so many unique and local dishes and will miss Xiao Long Bao, but the adventurer in me will see if I can find them locally. Or, maybe Chris will play in the kitchen and see how hard they are to make right at home.

Pooping at work

Yes, I am talking about pooping at work. Yes, you might feel uncomfortable, but you are most likely slightly curious. Come on, you are. You are curious. From time to time, I have shared poop stories, but this one came directly from Fast Company. How could I not share? The article is titled: “How the Most Successful People Poop at Work.”

I will tell you it is often a conversation in my office. Maybe not pooping directly, but the office bathroom is often a topic. For one there is a fascination for what the men’s bathroom looks like, does it have urinals? Is there any privacy? The women’s bathroom has recently had a range of smells. Sometimes it smells like men’s cologne and other times it ranges to the rankest of smells. We continue to call the direct line to someone who might be able to help rectify the smell, but we think the culprit is the drain in the floor bringing back some foul odor.

Does it tell you something about office culture that we can talk about pooping? Or farting? If you look back on my blog posts, I have frequently mentioned farting on an airplane, speeding because I have to poop, the squatty potty, poo-pourri, and much more. So as you can see it is a topic I feel quite comfortable discussing, but do we all feel comfortable with the topic? No. Yet this article talks a lot about the food we intake and how that interacts with our bowels, and the etiquette we find in work bathrooms. You know what I am talking about: those that hover waiting for you to leave so they can finish their business. Those that talk to try to mask the noises coming out of their bum, or as the article mentions throwing toilet paper into the bowl to try to mask the sounds. Whatever the method, we all try to mask the bodily sounds and noises that come from whatever food is wrecking havoc on our bodies.

So…why is it so taboo to talk about it? Why do we all shy away from it? I think my team has become mostly transparent about it, we laugh about it, and discuss what we can do about the rampant changes in the bathroom odor, but are we unique? Are we normal, or do most workplace environments quickly hike the stairs or rapidly push the buttons on the elevator in order to escape to a bathroom on another floor?

What do you do? Be sure to read the article I shared — it will add a chuckle or two into your day.

Why can people be so gross?

I promised I would share stories of my trip to Shanghai, and I will – just not today. See my most recent memory of my trip is the airplane, and while I had a nice seat in business class, it was a bit ruined by the passengers around me. Let me explain.

I spent most of the flight shifting between readjusting the ear plugs and then putting the big headphones over them. When that did not remove the noise, I tried a movie and then some music at a pretty high volume. Why was I trying to tune out the noise? The man behind me cleared his throat, trying to clear the phlegm like clockwork every few minutes. After a great two weeks away, and extremely tired and exhausted — well, let’s just say I was more than slightly irritated. A few times I tried to turn in my seat to give him the evil eye in hopes that he would cut it out. I mean what do you say to someone you are going to spend the next 10 hours with: “Could you stop hocking loogies? The sound is horrendous.” I just was not sure how to politely do it. I even thought about getting the flight attendant involved, but what would she say? A few times I had to rewind: “Neighbors” (funny movie by the way) in order to hear what was said over the noise behind me.

Are people just clueless? I wondered if he knew he was doing it? I think the only worse sound I have encountered on an airplane is someone snoring. Hilarious, but quite annoying. On that flight I do remember the flight attendant waking the man up, I think someone complained. While I am on the topic of cluelessness, the state of the bathroom got increasingly worse over the flight. Why people think that it is okay to pee on the toilet seat and leave it is beyond me. See, I know we have all peed on the seat before. It is hard not to when you are in a shaking, moving aircraft and you are trying so hard for your pants not to touch anything, and you do not have much room to squat and make it in. However, if you do wind up peeing on the seat, WIPE IT OFF. How hard is it? Why should the flight attendant have to clean up after you?

Are we all slobs? You are in business class, have some class yourself. I am glad they give you the slippers to go to the bathroom so you do not have to put your shoes on each time. I loathe to think about the other passengers that I saw heading into the bathroom with only their socks. Gross. We are not savages. Stop being gross and clean up after yourself. While you are at it think of those around you–your fellow passengers and flight crew.

Apologies for the airplane rant, but hopefully we can all spread the word. Oh and to the guy that sat behind me for 11 hours, please go blow your nose.