Monthly Archives: September 2013

Squatty Potties


Since I spent class tonight demonstrating why certain digestive ailments are called “the runs”, I thought this was as good a night as any to do the potty post.

Westerners make a big deal about squatty potties.  Especially women.  I don’t know why.  We all know that every public toilet in America is technically a squatty potty- only requiring far more strength and balance to maneuver than the ones here.  As one of the faculty said tonight at dinner, “If I’m in a public bathroom that’s gonna be grimy anyway, I’d take a squatty potty over a western restroom ANY day.” We all nodded in knowing agreement.  You don’t have to worry about coming in to contact with anything.  I know one of my pet peeves is how small the stalls are in the states.  Too often, I have to lean against the toilet just to shut the door.   Not so in a squatty.  There’s nothing to have to move around.  And you don’t have to have ninja moves and amazing balance to be able to flush without touching anything- the flushing mechanism is usually a foot pedal.  Additionally, squatty potties are much MUCH better for your pelvic floor than a sitting toilet is.  Ask any Physical Therapist.

squatty potty

I’ve been to several places with squatty potties.  My first was Japan.  Theirs were cool- often on a sort of step-up thing where you could put a seat down and sit if you wanted to, or put your feet into the little feet grooves and squat.  Turkey also has squatties.  Like all Muslim countries, there are water spigot/hoses in every bathroom to clean yourself off with.  Loved those.   I also ran into them in a few Eastern European countries.  I want to say Romania had them.  I think Hungary did in some places too…  So the idea of squatties didn’t bother me- until I started hearing horror stories about some of the public girls’ toilets on campus.

Just so you know- the Chinese think sitting toilets are disgusting- and their logic isn’t something I can argue with.  The idea that we would sit down naked on a place where other people sit down naked –even people we know– grosses them out completely.   I get it.  I’m used to it- but I get how that’s foul, foul, foul.  Used to totally freak me out in the Czech Republic that the girls would wear such short skirts with thongs – so their bare butts are sitting on the chairs.  Didn’t know how anyone could wear shorts—let alone thong underwear—when you know the seat you’re sitting on has had bare butts on it all day long.  One of the things I’ve learned travelling is that we’re ALL gross, really.  Which is probably why foreign faculty is totally comfortable having potty-talk at the dinner table.  It all started with talking about the toilet-training toddlers with their split pants that will just squat and go wherever.  I saw a little girl squat and pee in the middle of European Square the afternoon before.  It’s shocking to the Western eye, but in watching some of my friends struggle with potty training, I recognize it’s a brilliant tactic to raise awareness for the child.  There’s no lying when asked “Do you need to potty?” when the kid’s got pee (or worse) going down their leg.

But all that said, I’ve been amazed at my body’s ability to hold on and get me back to my room most times.  I’ve got all kinds of issues and am one of those people that can easily go every 30 minutes.  It’s annoying.  It was one of my many many fears about coming here… and all the horror stories I’d heard about how dirty the toilets are didn’t help.  I’ve been amazed and grateful for my body’s sudden ability to hold on.   Tonight was one of the nights when I had to run in the middle of class, though.  My stomach is just NOT okay here. I don’t know what the deal is.  I’ve even had upsets with the food I’ve personally cooked.  Is there wheat in the ground fennel? The ground cumin?  Because everything else I’m using is totally fresh veg and herbs.  It’s got me living in fear, I tell you.  Living in fear.

The bathrooms do smell horrific.  The odor will knock you over.  But its not because they’re dirty.  Its because the plumbing can’t handle tissue, so you have to put your tissue in the bin there in the stall.  You know how people are.   If it was covered, it’d be all over the floor—which really is gross.   So in public bathrooms, the bins are open.  It doesn’t take long for it to smell like a diaper pail.  I don’t know how often they empty the bins, but I don’t know that it would make that much difference.  The one in my room has a foot-pedal lid.  I empty it often, but it is a daily battle with the smell. I keep a spritzer bottle with doTERRA Purify there on the bathroom counter.

Once I realized the smell is coming from the tissue bins and not because of filth, I was fine.  Glad I had this awareness early on.  It’s made life easier.   And spared me the humiliation of being that obnoxious American shrieking and freaking out in the bathroom (which I have run into a few times).  Just make sure you keep a package of face tissue in your bag at all times, and don’t forget your hand sanitizer—Not all places have soap and water…

Is that Meritocracy I see in that Burial Chamber?


J’s parents came to visit me weekend before last.  I love these people.  The sound of his mom’s voice just feels like warm sunshine.  She reminds me of my friend Rahima in Holland- graceful and light, generous and kind.  She has the same gentle inflection in her voice and upturn to the end of her sentences.  She’s a straight talker and gets right to business.  Meeting her allayed my fears that some day J’s patience would turn and I’d be on the receiving end of how I’m too… too… too…  He’s used to women that don’t have a problem taking charge. His dad is this adorable Hunan absent-minded professor type.  Everyone in the family calls him “Uncle Bear” since his last name sounds like “bear” in Mandarin.  He laughs all the time.  I usually have no idea what’s tickled his funny bone, but I’m always glad to hear the result.  The fact that I don’t usually know what he finds so funny makes the laughter that much more delightful.

It meant a lot to me that they were coming to Xinzheng from Shanghai to see me.  In the 20 years I’ve lived away from Memphis, I’ve had 2 visits from family- both from my mother, and both to actually see my son, not me.  I was absolutely giddy with excitement, and the students got in on it.  They bought flowers for them and wrapped them with care, and we made a card and bought little presents to give them at the airport.

Their flight was delayed more than 4 hours, so we ended up not meeting them at the airport after all, and instead had everything in their room for them when they got in.  Their flight was equally delayed when they left—which has me nervous about making my connecting flight in Seoul on my way out next week.  But that’s another matter…

In anticipation for their visit, I got a copy of Gary Todd’s book about this region. Gary is a history professor here at SIAS, and has written a book for laypeople about the deep and rich history of the Henan province- the birthplace of Chinese civilization.  Here in Xinzheng, where there are more than 600,000 residents but everyone refers to it as a “small town”, there is the burial site of a duke from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770BC-256BC).  He buried himself as a king- including 7 dings and wine vessels instead of the 5 that his station called for.

The burial spot of the Duke.  You can see the vessels around him.  The magnificent lotus & crane vessel is there in the corner.

The burial spot of the Duke. You can see the vessels around him. The magnificent lotus & crane vessel is there in the corner.

Asian culture is very specific about stations of rank, and the Chinese are no exception.  In ancient times, the amount of food and wine vessels and the other supplies that someone was buried with were regulated by their rank.  In some dynasties, even the animals that one was allowed to have on their vessels and dishwares was determined by station. As for the dings and vessels, Emporers had nine, Kings had seven, and so on.  The man found in the site in Xinzheng was actually the equivalent of a Duke, but buried himself as a King.  His fiefdom did very well under his rule, so he believed he deserved it.  The idea and attempts at meritocracy pop up again and again in the Chinese history I’ve learned while here.  (For a more modern treatment, the TED talk by Eric Li is very interesting)

Though apparently, the King he’d defeated in a battle at the beginning of his career didn’t agree with the Duke’s self-placement.  He buried “ugly people”, as the guide told us, at a higher level to ruin the feng shui of the gravesite.  I am often amazed at how people with so much power can be so insecure, and this little tidbit from the guide got me pondering this again.  That insecurity is the basis of greed.  It drives someone to think that no matter what they have, its not enough.   How often do all of us struggle with not feeling we are enough or have enough?  If its important to us to not be cruel, unjust, greedy and so many other qualities, then we must wrestle with the voice that tells us we’re not enough and don’t have enough that will drive us there before we know it.  Tyrants don’t see themselves as tyrants—they see themselves as victims.

The unwanted of that society- the old, sick, and handicapped- were buried at a higher level many years later. You can see the buried chariots and the Duke-King’s chamber at the bottom.

The unwanted of that society- the old, sick, and handicapped- were buried at a higher level many years later. You can see the buried chariots and the Duke-King’s chamber at the bottom.

Horses were put in first, then the chariots were put on top of them.  The chariots were dismantled so that other souls couldn’t use them in the afterlife.  When the grave was initially discovered and then later opened in the 1970s while apartment buildings were being built, the red paint of the chariots was still visible.  The air oxidized it so quickly that the paint can be seen no more.  I heard a few stories about paintings and fabrics changing and disintegrating seemingly instantaneously upon opening chambers and vaults.  For this reason, you’ll find many sites that haven’t been opened yet.  Having learned their lesson, they’re waiting until they can fully protect the articles inside once they’ve opened it before they unseal any more.

crane and lotus ding

Crane and Lotus ding excavated from Xinzheng

Crane and Lotus ding excavated from Xinzheng

The Crane & Lotus piece is the reason that the Provincial Museum of Henan was established in Zhengzou.  We headed there the next day.  Google maps said it would take us 45 minutes.  It took us more than two hours.  Zhengzou isn’t far, so getting to the city went quite quickly.  We’re in the harvest season, so the freeway was covered in corn.  First they shuck the corn.  The husks and cobs are later burned with other harvesting debris beginning  October.  There is a heavy soot that hangs in the air and gets on and into everything, I’ve heard.

corn on road

Then they separate the kernels and spread them out to dry.  In many places, they’d spread out over a full lane of the highway.


The next step is crushing and grinding the corn into meal.  There are many creative ways to do this- Kristine saw a motorcycle being used on her trip.

I can neither confirm nor deny that this moped was used to grind corn...

I can neither confirm nor deny that this moped was used to grind corn…

At one point, I saw a woman on a moped on the freeway with a 15 month-old toddler standing up between her legs as she rode along.  I couldn’t get my camera on fast enough to snap her picture as we passed by.  And we look back on the days of kids unbuckled in the back seat as being reckless!  I can’t help but wonder if the emergency room is full of toddlers that have tumbled off the moped in such a situation, or if it happens no more frequently than the accidents we have even with all of our straps and restraints and such.  I just can’t imagine such a little one staying still that long—but I guess they learn quickly about consequences if they don’t do what mom says…

But while we’re on the subject of things-seen-out-cab-windows, I thought I’d share this one with you:

pet store

This is a pet store.  At least I hope it is.  There are birds, parrots, kitties, puppies, rabbits and turtles on that truck-icle.  I saw this on the road leading up the museum in Zhengzou.  Zhengzou is the capital city of the province of Henan.  It is big, noisy, polluted and overly full with cars.  Traffic was wretched on a Sunday.  It took less than 30 minutes to get in to Zhengzou, but it took well more than an hour and a half to get to the museum once in Zhengzou.

We were told by the folks at the front desk here in Peter Hall that the train didn’t really go close to the museum, so by the time we bus-train-train-bussed it, it would be faster & easier to just hire a car.  Stuck in traffic, I wondered which was more bothersome.  The cab didn’t have air so we were either blown away by the air, or choking on the stagnant air.  The difference in air quality between Zhengzou and Xinzheng is significant.  I went straight into the shower when I got home—I just felt so grimy and disgusting.  Most Chinese take their showers at night for precisely this reason.  They don’t want to go to bed covered in grime, but slip into bed clean.

apartment building entrance

This was an entrance to an apartment building.  The name comes from a poem that was made into a (not so) mini-series, and is often used for dwelling names, even though the story itself was full of betrayal and all sorts of drama and intrigue.  We all like a pretty name, don’t we?

beijing peking duck

This is a famous Beijing Peking Duck chain.  The big plastic duck says “high class”, doesn’t it?  My original intention was to take some of my students out for Peking Duck my last weekend to treat them for all of their help.  Since getting sick twice, I’ve dropped that idea.  Jason’s mom said this place would probably charge more and one of my students could find something for less, but that we could come here and know it would be good.

Still can’t get over the bathroom-toy duck with a chef’s hat in front of such a beautiful façade…

We finally arrived at the Provincial Museum- at 11:15.  We told the driver to pick us back up at 3.

God, I love these people.  Made me so happy when Kristine exclaimed "What a beautiful woman!" when she saw this picture.  "What a beautiful and healing spirit she has!"

God, I love these people. Made me so happy when Kristine exclaimed “What a beautiful woman!” when she saw this picture. “What a beautiful and healing spirit she has!”

Once we got inside, we realized there is no café in the museum.  There goes lunch.  Probably just as well.  My stomach had been gurgling all morning.  I was terrified that it was going to decide that I needed to be near a lou in a very short time and I’d be stuck in traffic in a shoddy cab.  I’m so very happy to report that is not what happened.

The shape of the museum takes after the vessel shapes that were very popular in the early bronze period (around 2000 BC), which was about when the countries of the Levant were experiencing their bronze period- The Silk Road connecting the two eventually.  Unlike Western Europe, this period in history is not considered pre-history in China, but the time of an incredibly advanced and complex society.

Animals, animals everywhere, and not a bite to eat.  (Sorry, couldn't help m'self)

Animals, animals everywhere, and not a bite to eat. (Sorry, couldn’t help m’self)

This motif of an animal’s face is repeated through every dynasty until we got to the works of the 20 century where a purely geographic design took over the organic and nature-based designs and embellishments that went before.

There was this lovely summary of the most common animal designs outside one of the galleries:

most common animal designs

I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason that animal and animal faces were put on almost everything was to serve as a reminder that everything has an energy- a being- about it and to treat it with the respect that it deserves.  There are people that work for forensic departments that can touch an item and know information about its owner- or even be able to find them.  The materials to make the items, as well as the energy and intentions of those that use the item are held there.  Putting an animal face on it can act as a reminder to leave good mojo there—a reminder of the Buddhist admonition to “Treat all things with loving-kindness”.

Jungian ideas of the collective unconscious would also nudge us to look at the states of mind, qualities, and such that each animal would invoke within its respective society.  One of the things that got me into symbology, comparative folktales & religions was noticing that the same characters or symbols show up in tales from opposite sides of the world yet have similar meanings (or completely opposite- which says something about the way that each culture interprets core meanings or concepts).  My brain was buzzing with connections throughout the museum.  But I’ll have to save that for another post—another tale of meritocracy ruling the day—even if the museum signs brushed over it.

Karaoke or KTV?


Karaoke.  I don’t think I’m alone in my first instinct being to groan at the mere mention.  In the West, it’s seen as a special level of hell.

Where it feels like this

feels like this

But is actually like this

actually like this

because people sing in front of the whole bar

sing in front of bar

which requires copious amounts of alcohol

copious amounts of alcohol

which inevitably results in very poor choices.  That’s how we westerners end up singing Elvis and Carpenter’s songs so plastered we can hardly keep the microphone in our hand.

Don’t get me wrong, its good fun and I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve done it.  But it’s a kitschy pastime and treated as such.

So when the students wanted to have a KTV party after recruitment was done, I rolled my eyes at the mention.  “Come on, you can’t leave China and not do KTV.  You have to,” Andrea- a visiting mentor for the WAFW said.  She was right.  Like the “Oh God, I’m so sick” experience, karaoke is required when travelling to Asia.  I was looking forward to it about as much.

So last night was the night.  We’d been in workshops all day.  When we were done, everyone headed over there.  They would be ordering pizza.  I needed to eat my prepared-by-me food to be safe, so I told them I’d join them later.  I ended up meeting an amazing woman at dinner that’s here to do public health workshops as part of her graduate studies and talked well until the kitchen staff had cleared the steam table.  My phone began to ring.  “Where are you?” Karina, then Gloria, then Carol called to ask (literally within 2 minutes of each other).  Carol was in my room and would walk me over.  Mariam came with me.  We walked to the European Gate and over the pedestrian bridge.  The street vendors were all set up with yummy looking gluten bombs all down the potholed street.  The sidewalk is under construction, so we wove onto and off of it as needed, weaving through mopeds, taxis and other pedestrians.

Karaoke is not a mere pastime in Asia.  It is an institution.

My first full awareness of this came as a result of this building.

2013-08-29 08.48.25

I thought it was some kind of temple.  I found out the next day that it is a karaoke bar.  Well, I suppose it still is some kind of temple- just not what I’d originally thought.

Turning off of the torn-up side street that has all the smells and sights of side streets here, I certainly didn’t expect what I found at the end of it.


The lobby was opulent and sleek.  There was an equestrian theme with white porcelain horse head sconces on the walls.  The floor was black and white marble and there were chandeliers and gold accents.  We were ushered into an elevator by a server in a tux, and whisked upstairs.  There is a long hallway, and our room was at the end of it.

Not the place we went to, but you get the idea of the level of decorating and attention to every detail

Not the place we went to, but you get the idea of the level of decorating and attention to every detail

I walked into a room absolutely brimming with students and facilitators having a grand old time.

grand old time

This isn’t our room, but you get the idea.   This is the exact opposite of the sticky-floored cheap chair wobbly table places that I usually associate with karaoke.

opposite of sticky-floored

opposite 2

opposite 3

It was gorgeous.  It was comfortable.  It was incredibly fun.  Someone you don’t know singing horribly is torture.  Someone you know singing horribly is fantastic fun.  I loved seeing these students that I had experienced as being so polite and reserved belting it out to the crowd.  It was glorious.  Many of them were really good as well- I don’t know which I enjoyed more- the ones that were terrible and loving it, or the ones that were really good.  Most of the bottles on the table were lemonade and water bottles.  Every time an English song would come up, they would hand me the microphone.  Usually I didn’t know the English song, so I’d hand it back.  Finally, I got up and went to look at what songs they had.  Mariam and I picked Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”.  There is little as pleasing as knocking out students with unexpected talent.  I’m sure someone got video.  I heard they were talking about it the next day.  I hope it looks closer to how it felt than my second picture, but oh well.  I had a great time doing it.

We had the room until 2am, when the place closes, but since the dorms lock up at 10:30, the last few remaining students and I left a little after 10.  Many of the students took off around 8:30.  I thought I wasn’t reading my clock properly, but one of the students told me there were classes in the morning.

Still.  I can’t imagine American students clocking out of a free night out so early because they had class at 8 the next day.  I’m continually amazed at these students’ dedication and commitment.  22 to a dorm room with no indoor plumbing to get through high school.  8 to a room in college.  Classrooms with no heat or air.  The dorms lock up at 10:30 (earlier on holidays).  Yet they seldom complain.  They just do what they need to do and roll with the punches.  I’ve learned so much from them, and admire them so deeply.

So much of their approach and way of doing things is exactly the opposite of what we do in America.  Week before last, there were performances every night in the amphitheater across from Peter Hall.  When the students were asked about it, they replied “We want the freshman to feel welcome in our SIAS family.  They have left behind their families and homes and villages to come be here, so we want them to feel they are welcome here like their home.”  Exactly the opposite of the hazing rituals and general scorn and disregard for freshmen in the states.  It just melts your heart to hear it.  They talk of how scared and lonely they were coming to college the first time, so they want the freshmen to be happy.

They look out for each other.  They tell each other announcements. They make sure they know about assignments and changes to assignments.  Though many westerners complain about it not being organized because there are so many changes and last minute changes to the changes, there is a flexibility that comes with the way they do things here that is precisely the reason they’re leading the world in manufacturing and poised to continue to dominate the world business scene.

Metaphor Marketing-The Hidden Secret in Stories


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The Requisite “Oh, God, I’m soooo sick” Post


It wouldn’t be a trip to a developing country without a post about severe reactions to food.

Though mine isn’t about street food or ingesting soup made with contaminated water.

It all smelled amazing- but I didn't have any.

It all smelled amazing- but I didn’t have any.

I’m gluten intolerant.  China is showing me just how gluten intolerant I am.  Gluten-intolerance or Celiac’s is something that’s not really well-known here, nor is it taken seriously.  From what I’ve been able to gather- now that I’ve had another attack even after stopping eating in Peter Hall and showing my “no wheat, soy sauce or MSG” note to restaurants- this is one of the most difficult countries to be gluten-free in.  The combination of soy sauce and barley vinegar in everything, low English levels, not taking it seriously, and a face-saving culture that is inclined to assure rather than warn knocked me out again yesterday.

Last Tuesday, I woke up feeling like hell, even though I’d slept about 11 hours.  I was utterly exhausted.  I knew that the build-up of traces of soy sauce and MSG in the food was getting to me, so I went to see the acupuncturist and get a foot massage to stimulate everything.  I wrote a post about it that you can check out here.  After leaving there, I felt woozy and weak, so I went and laid down.  I resolved to no longer eat in Peter Hall since the chef said he’d lay back on MSG, but not soy sauce or wheat to thicken.  The students took me to a restaurant here on campus and we ordered several dishes to go.

My partner’s parents came in town this weekend and we had a wonderful time.  I’ll write more about what I learned when I’m feeling better- suffice it to say for the moment that Fu Hao is a monumental badass, (High Priestess AND General?? Whaaa?) my new hero, and you will be hearing more about her.

Yesterday, it hit again.  Only much worse than before.  The freshman drills had been moved up from 9 to 8:30—apparently per emails that we didn’t get that went out sometime after 9 the evening before.  My stomach was not happy, and running to the bathroom was slowing down my morning routine.  The crew left without me. Once I was ready to go, I went to the administration building where I’d been hearing since I’d gotten here that all this would took place.  Nothing.  I climbed all the *%&#$@* stairs to see if they were on the town side.  Nope.  Walked this direction- nothing.  Walked that direction. Nada.  They’d said something about a parade, so maybe they’re on the avenue that runs behind European street… nope.  So by 9:15 I’m soaking in sweat, my stomach is complaining louder than I am, no one’s answering my calls or returning my texts, and every faculty member I talk to is just as clueless as I am about where it would be.  I give up and go back to my room.

Just as well, since I was to go to the bathroom 6 more times before lunch.

My most frequently visited site in China...

My most frequently visited site in China…

I’ve joked with my colleagues here that I don’t know which is worse—that I haven’t had a solid stool since I’ve been here, or the (totally rational) fear I have that my toilet would back up were I to have a well-formed stool.  But all that aside, this is a bit much.  It’s only the second time that I’ve gone several times in a day, and it’s clear that something is really not okay.  I ate white rice with a few peanuts for lunch.

A student picks me up for computer lab.  By the time we climb to the 4th floor and walk into the un-airconditioned room, I feel like I’m going to pass out.  It’s all I can do to write the assignment on the board.  By now, I know that I’m reacting to having eaten gluten, so I try to find articles on being gluten-free in China that may have clues as to what I’m eating that I didn’t even know to look for.  I’m not able to get more than 2 sentences in to any article before its re-routed to Baidu, the Chinese google.  This is what happens when something is being censored. They’re censoring articles about staying gluten-free in China.  Seriously?  Seriously.

So I pose to do Ctrl A, Ctrl C faster than Wyatt Earp at noon and get the info into a word document.  I’m able to read a couple that way.  There is gluten in the flavoring that’s used in stock.  There is also a hydrolyzed starch that’s used in a lot of flavorings that has gluten.  Crap.  There is a note on this blog that says “I will die a horrible death on your restaurant floor if you feed me gluten!”.  I think I need to print that one out.  The image of my mountain-woman body writhing on their floor may just be strong enough to get them to take me seriously.  These cards from Celiac Travel would also be good to have if you’re planning to come to China and need to stay gluten-free.


Visit for more info and to read travel stories no matter your destination.

Visit for more info and to read travel stories no matter your destination.

My patience level with copying and pasting into another document is dropping fast, so I just focus on finding remedies for dealing with symptoms once you’ve been glutenized.  Many hail something called Glutenzymes.  But that’s not available here, I’m to find out later.  If you’re coming, find it and bring it with you.  As well as activated charcoal.  A student is going to get me some fresh ginger, caraway and fennel seeds, and some digestion tea from an herbalist.   Kristine brought me some bananas and yogurt this morning.  I feel like I want antacids.  I feel like crap.  I sent my class over to Kristine’s vision board class last night and thinking I’ll have to cancel the 2 sections I’d planned for today.  The Mid-Autumn Festival starts tomorrow, so I was doing a class after Open Forum today to make up for those that would be missing tomorrow.  I don’t know if that’s going to happen.  I feel really weak, and need to save my energy.  I’m doing an academy-wide workshop on MBTI tomorrow afternoon, and the day after that we’re going to Dengfeng Pagoda Forest and the Shaolin Temple.

Though the idea of eating nothing other than steamed vegetables and plain rice until I leave makes this spice-lovin’ foodie very sad, I can’t do this again.  I’m scared of what’s happening in my body that its reacting so strongly.  Its much worse than I’ve ever had happen back home, so I’m worrying about cross-contamination at this point and scared to eat anything cooked in a well-seasoned wok, even.  Did those words just leave my finger-tips?  Sacriledge!  Yet, here I stand. Or rather, here I lay. Crunched over and moaning…

So it was good that happened?


I’ve got these–wait–I had these click-together wire mesh storage cubes in my closet.  Bought them I-don’t-know-when because I didn’t have money for a chest of drawers.  They’ve moved with me from place to place, and by the time I got a chest of drawers, I had too many clothes to fit in them, so they were used for things that don’t fold on a shelf, and all my folding clothes have gone in the wire cubes.

Then this guy–this amazing guy–came into my life last year and before I know it, he’s here all the time and I’ve got to find space for him to keep some clothes around because even engineers will notice if you come into work in one set of clothes and come back from lunch in another.  I had no idea how.  I’d combined drawers to make some room- but now I had drawers so crammed I could hardly get them opened or closed.

So a closet already over-stuffed with hanging clothes, folding clothes, shoes, bags, purses and scarves needed to hold just a little bit more… especially since I’d taken to buying him sweaters on a fairly regular basis.

The cubes are, well, were stacked about 7′ high on one wall of my closet.  They’re bound together with things like hairbands and long twisty-ties.  Its all very scientific and precise. High Klass. Nothing but High Klass.  There’s a shoe organizer that’s more stable (slightly more) propping it all up on the door side.  I know its propping it up because when I wanted to move said shoe organizer to the downstairs closet so I’d stop having pairs of shoes all over the place, the cube-topia groaned.  The shoe tree is a load-bearing wall. It would have to stay, and I’d renew my vow to carry shoes upstairs every night. Again. Even if it meant two trips.

Last week, as we rushed to get out of the house before paying guests arrived, the button on the back of my jeans caught on the corner of one of the cubes. I stopped immediately, but I knew.  I knew it was too late.  It was.  There was a groan as I turned around… it waited for me to fully turn before collapsing so that I could see it happen in play-by-play, agothe screamnizing, slow motion.


I just wanted to cry.  I was stressed out. Tired. Exhausted. Had way too much to do and far too little time to do it in.  I wanted to give up.  I didn’t want to go to the wine-tasting event my friend was having, I just wanted to go to J’s and lay in my pajamas and watch “The Vicar of Dibley” and cry into a glass of wine.

“No. No. No. No, you can’t. You just can’t!”

J came running up the stairs to make sure I was okay.  He rubbed between my shoulder blades- soothing the back door of my heart. Its what he does when I’m freaking out. He’s very good at it.

It worked.  I didn’t collapse into a similar pile on the floor.

“Well. Its not going to clean itself,”  I sighed.

I tried to pull it up. Tried to sort it out.  We hadn’t even finished packing to spend the week at his place. I realized that there was no cleaning this up quickly.  Everything would have to be toted out before any sense could be made of it.

We began pulling out the cube walls we could get to so that I could at least get at some of the clothes.  They were stacked under the bed and the corner knobs tossed in the nightstand drawer.  I managed to pull some clothes out and get them into my carpet bag.  No matching all packed components this time.  It was grab what-cha-can. I made sure I had at least one matching business-appropriate outfit for my Monday appointments and would just have to search more when I came round to scoop the cat box.

Being who I am, doing what I do, the metaphor of this collapsing closet didn’t escape me.  I spent the week mulling and meditating on it… a system that was not designed to handle the load it was being asked to carry collapsed.  At the worst possible time (as they do).

After the guests checked out, I went hunting for organizational systems.  “This time I’ll get something more substantial.  I’ll really organize it the way I’d like,” I thought.  I spent time on the interwebs looking at all sorts of closet organizing ideas.  Closets so cute you could live in them. Work in them.  I thought I’d do something not so cute, but equally drawer-y, shelf-y, pull-out-rack-y.  Til I saw that we could spend the weekend in SanFran for what that’d set me back.  My vision became more minimalistic.  Sturdiness was the central requirement.

Even my minimalistic revisions were further amended standing in the discount aisles looking at storage systems.  I settled for two plastic 4-shelf racks intended for the garage, a clear 3-drawer caddy, 3 shower rods, and some packages of s-hooks.

Standing before the aftermath, I felt completely overwhelmed.  Where to start? I started hauling clothes out of the closet and sorting them into (wrinkled, chaotic) piles on the bed.  That’s all it took. Getting started.  Once I started moving, the momentum kept me going.  Ideas started popping. Things were shifted. Scooted.  Moved. Rearranged.

By the time it was all done, all my shoes, purses, and scarves were now housed in the downstairs shower.  It didn’t get used anymore since my son moved out and I converted the downstairs bedroom into my office.  Perfect.  Now I wouldn’t have to haul shoes, scarves & purses upstairs anymore.  They could get changed and donned downstairs- which is where it always happened anyway.

The shifts opened up two racks and four drawers for J to use.  My closet was so open I had room to put a folding chair in there so I wouldn’t have to sit on the bed to wriggle into hose if getting ready before J had to be up.  The space! The air!  Now I could organize my clothes again by type then color– as I liked to– instead of by length, which the old system had required.  Did I mention that moving the shoes downstairs meant I could use the over-the-door  shoe organizer for hosiery and hats? Well, I did. Also organized by type and color so that I could find what I need without turning on a light for early-morning appointments.

I’m not a clothes-hoarder if things are neat and systematically organized, right?

When J got home from work, I couldn’t wait to show him the results of my day.  I wanted him to behold the order I’d shaped from the chaos.  He was shown the coat closet, then the shower-now-accessory closet, then taken upstairs to see the spare drawers and racks in the armoire, to the glory of my closet.  No pjs on the floor.  No shoes thrown in the back. Rainbows of color. All the skirts together, all the sweaters together, all the shirts together, all the dresses together. Order.

“So it’s good it collapsed, huh?” he said, rubbing my back.

“Yes.  Yes, it is.”

(There’s a metaphor in there… apply where needed.)

Pins and Needles


The flight, as detailed here, was brutal.  My sciatic was flaring up by the time I got to campus.  Within a day or two, I was directed to a massage parlor near campus.  There is a cosmetic store on the ground level, and you go up a flight of narrow stairs to get to the massage place.  I took a picture of the front so that I could find it again.  I’ve since shown this picture to many foreign faculty on campus so they could find their way to some hurt-so-good sweet relief.


When I walked in and saw the acupuncture charts all over the walls, I knew this was exactly what I needed.


“It’s not like what we think of as massage” Kristine had warned when I told her I was going to go. Understatement of the year.  There are 3 narrow tables in the main room.  The window to the street is open, and the music from the shop next door blares through.  People are walking in and out of the room, and the masseuses are carrying on conversation with them and each other.  You don’t take your clothes off, but they still drape you- so they can dig down without actually pulling off your skin is my guess.

The woman that works there started on me while I was face-up.  She dug down my thighs with her thumb along the meridians.  I sounded like I was in a Lamaze class I was breathing so deeply.  When she got to my knee, it felt like she was trying to shake my patella off and loosen whatever was under there.  I don’t know what inhuman noise I made, but it got her to giggling.

She was to giggle often in the time we spent together.

I flipped over on to my stomach, and when I heard talking over me, it was a man’s voice.  I could see the shoes moving around the table.  Sometimes the socked-slippered feet of the older guy I’d seen would appear.

There was this move he did with my calf at the end that hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  It was as if my entire calf muscle was some zit or blister and he was working to pop it.  The breathing I had to do through that to not jump off the table was enough to give me a bit of a rush.

I came back 5 or 6 days later and had another massage.  This time, I got the older guy that always wears a tank-tee and the socked-slippered feet.  He does these chiropractic moves where he bends you up like a pretzel, the leans in on you like he’s trying to rip you back apart again.  Then nimbly runs his fingers up your spine to make sure everything’s back where it ought to be.  He also had me sit up on a stool at the end and he worked more on my shoulders and did a few more chiropractic moves.

The next time I returned, the trace amounts of soy sauce and MSG in the food in the dining hall had caught up with me and I was feeling absolutely miserable. Monday had felt like a Friday, and the following morning it was all I could do to get myself out of bed even though I’d slept more than 9 hours.  Monday took me there so she could translate.  My joints were inflamed and killing me, and I had absolutely no energy.  I was hoping they could help—I was going to try acupuncture.

She explained what was going on and he asked where I had the most pain.  I showed him and told him that I wanted acupuncture and a foot massage.

He did the acupuncture on my sciatic, so I had to take off my britches so he could get to it.  It was morning, and they’re very slow—I was the only one there. The look on Monday’s face when I told her I’d never done acupuncture before made me even more scared than I already was.

So there I was, braced for this wretched pain… that never came.  I would feel a pinch.  I would feel sensation along the sciatic nerve.  That was about it.

In contrast to the foot massage.  Which was sheer freakin torture. He started out by running his thumb up my calf in a move that felt like he was trying to filet my leg.  I don’t think there was more than 3 minutes of the hour massage that I wasn’t off the chair huffing like a woman minutes away from giving birth.  It was absolutely excruciating.

But it worked.  I was able to go upstairs using both legs afterwards.  I hadn’t been able to do that since I got here.

So I went back the next morning to get some more acupuncture to work on my left knee a little more.


The knee was a bit more uncomfortable than my sciatic.  There were 2 pins in particular that hurt going in.  The way they seem to do everything here is to keep at it until it doesn’t hurt anymore… then they release you.  There is no soft relaxing movement.  If the body is tense and tender, that’s where they apply the pressure.  Once the tenderness is eased, they move on.  I know that’s because the purpose of this is to make you feel Good, not just make you feel good… but still….

He also did acupuncture on my left ankle.  That was quite painful.  Whereas most of the needles just caused the tiniest prick when they went in, the ones on my ankle felt like big huge long needles being jabbed against very tender tendons.  Then he would jiggle them.  He would be watching me very carefully—concerned that the first treatment hadn’t gotten rid of everything.  I don’t think he’s used to not having his touch heal instantly.  My pain was an indicator we were getting right in to where we needed to, so he’d smile.  “You like this!” I’d joke.  By this time, there were several people in the room all looking at me like I was insane for allowing myself to be used as a pin cushion.  That all the Chinese people were looking at me like I was nuts for doing a traditional Chinese treatment amused me enough to make the pain a little more bearable.

“How can you do that?” they would ask me through Grace.

“Trust me, it hurts way less than the massage!” I answered.

I’m doing much better now- able to climb 4 of the 5 flights of stairs to my evening class before I have to resort to only climbing with my right leg.  I’m still having a little pain behind the knee, though.  When we’d talked about it yesterday, the woman said if the pain is directly behind the knee, acupuncture may not be the best treatment.  She described the treatment, but Grace said she didn’t really understand it.  As I told others what they were suggesting- I realized they meant cupping.

Don’t know if I’m brave enough to try that just yet… though I know a student that had it done at the beginning of the week.  We’ll see…

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend | Video on


See on Scoop.itLove Your Body

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case.

Jacqueline Freeman‘s insight:

"Chasing a life of meaning is much healthier than avoiding discomfort" McGonigal answered when asked if its better to take that stressful job if you think you can handle it. How we perceive the body and its responses deeply impacts your health. Do you trust your body to always be doing what’s best for you?

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Trending Redirected


This week in my lesson plans with the World Academy for the Future of Women, I’ll be transitioning the members from listening to their own bodies to define the ideal female leader in a global setting.  So tonight, the women will be writing/drawing/telling their stories.  I wanted to do a little internet research to find examples of different kinds of stories- and found a fantastic article on the way that magazines editorialize on women’s lives, giving us these “trends” we’re to worry about, but not actually telling us anything about women’s actual lives.  These stories are the cooing of a false friend that claims to be helping you, but is actually pumping you full of fear and anxiety about who you are, where you’re going, and how you’re getting there.  These stories have been in women’s magazines since there were women’s magazines.  Naomi Wolff wrote about them in the early 90s, as did Susan Faludi.  Many many writers have since then.  The stories have not gone away.  Now they’re in the Times.

I found this fantastic piece on trending lifestyle stories on Salon.  It was written in July.  I managed to get it on my Buffer, but in trying to, I keep getting directed to a Baidu (the Chinese google) page surrounded by ads for breast enhancers.  I thought it was a good story as soon as I found it.  The fact that it’s being yanked before I can scoop it makes me like it even more.

I will get the story into a word document and get all my students to read it today.  After we try to find it on the web in computer lab and they too are taken to a page surrounded by giffed breast enhancement ads with the boobies popping out of their bras.  And we’ll have a fantastic conversation about how the media shapes the way we think about ourselves.


It’s time for an end to “women’s stories”


See on Scoop.itVasilissa: Connecting to Intuition & Standing in Power

The never-ending parade of features about college hookup culture and other “women’s” topics is hurting everyone

Jacqueline Freeman‘s insight:

I found this article and wanted to share it with the World Academy for the Future of Women members in computer lab this afternoon since we’ll be working on their stories of being women tonight and tomorrow in class.  The link kept being redirected to a Baidu (Chinese google) page covered with ads for breast enhancers.  This message "You, the story says, have the opportunity to lead the life of a good woman, if only you do everything exactly right. But the women on the outside of the story, the women who were not interviewed or photographed, do not have this opportunity. They, the story  implies, are already lost." is clearly threatening to the powers that be.  So after many tries, I’m getting the article into a word document to share with my students- but only after we look for it in class so that they can see how they’re being redirected to ads for breast enhancers.

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