The Errant Hair

Have you ever looked down at your food in a restaurant and found a hair?  Or, have you ever looked at a paper you were writing on and seen a random hair?  Or, have you ever gotten into bed and looked down at your pillow to see “the errant hair?”

Errant hairs are everywhere.  It’s the nature of hairs to fall out at inopportune moments when you’re trying to keep everything neat and tidy.  I can tell you, there are too many hairs to count on my bathroom floor because I am losing my hair (both head and body), and when I towel off, I knock some to the floor.  I am an inherently hairy man, so it’s safe to say that a lot of the errant hairs I find in my food or on my papers are mine.  But there’s no way to be certain.  I think it makes me feel better to think that they’re mine and not some sweaty chef from the kitchen.  I don’t even want to think about the people in the kitchen that are making my food let alone have a piece of them in my soup!

The errant hair appears when it’s the most inconvenient.  I often spot the errant hair on papers when I’m showing something to someone and we’re both looking at the paper.  Usually I try to speak a little louder so the wind from my breath might blow it off the paper, unnoticed.  That usually doesn’t work.  Hairs often appear in dishes I’ve prepared because they are falling off my head and body at an alarming rate.  These hairs that end up in the food, unfortunately, don’t end up in my dish.  Then I’m embarrassed because I just served a hair with a meal around it.

It’s when I can’t blame the errant hair on myself that I get more annoyed and skeeved out.  When a hair randomly appears on or near my person, and it wasn’t created by me, I think “where the hell did that come from?”  Then I search the immediate vicinity to try to determine who’s hair it could possibly be….I’m never able to discover the culprit, but I have thrown away lots of food and drinks because of hairs whose origin I couldn’t determine.  What the hell are these people doing?  And why have their hairs ended up in my food or on my clothes?


Muscle Cramps

I am a large man, and I don’t exercise.  It’s a fact of my life and it will probably never change.  That being said, I get a fairly large number of muscle cramps throughout the day.  These are not the cramps of an athlete who has pushed himself beyond the limit, or the cramps of someone who has awakened muscles that were previously never used.  These are the cramps that come without warning.  Maybe they come when you’re sitting down watching TV, or walking to the store, or maybe they come when you’re sleeping, and they wake you up with pain.  Whenever they come, they come without warning and they stay for a long time…..if you don’t know how to get rid of them.  Here’s a good WebMD link about them:

leg crampI have become an expert at relieving myself of the cramps that occur in the calf muscle.  These types of cramps, my grandmother used to call “charley horses,” I don’t know where the name comes from, or who Charley was, but I’m sure he was in a lot of pain.  The best way to relieve them is to stand hard on the foot of the leg with the cramp and shift your weight to that foot.  This will force the foot flat onto the ground, making the muscle release it’s cramp.

I think my body has gotten wise, and it has become more creative with the locations of my cramps.  One of its favorite places now is in the muscles on my sides, just below the armpit.  I get these a lot, and I haven’t figured out how to counter them.  I just have to let them run their course.  The same goes for the cramps I sometimes get in my inner thigh.  These like to happen at night when I jump out of bed to use the bathroom.  It’s so painful that I can hardly put my foot onto the ground and I have to pee with one leg up, like a flamingo.  This, of course, then causes my hamstrings to cramp up….but I know how to set those back in position!

Sometimes my jaw muscles cramp after a particularly big yawn, or the muscles on the bottom of my feet tighten up while they’re curled under me on the sofa.  Once, the muscle in my hand that controls the thumb cramped up and my thumb was put into a strange position, sticking up from my palm.  Back muscles, neck muscles, stomach muscles, the muscles in my chin….they have all seized up on me at one time or another.  The problem is; you never really know when it’s coming.

One time I was at the movies and my hamstring cramped up.  I couldn’t get up and bend over at the waist (the way to counter a hamstring cramp) because I was at the movies.  So, I lived with the intense pain for the 10 minutes it took to relax and missed a good part of the movie.  Or, there was the time I was sitting in a taxi, and the muscle in my abdomen tightened.  This causes so much pain, but I was unable to get out of the taxi and try to walk it off, so I sat there, in pain, for the rest of the ride.  When I finally got out, I was sore in that muscle.  I get side cramps while teaching in the classroom, foot cramps when sitting at my desk and abdominal cramps when I’m using the toilet.  They all come without warning and, of course, at inopportune times.  It’s like they know…..and they plan… I being punished for all the bad food and lack of exercise I have given to my body all my life?

Pillows That Lose Their Fluff

flat pillow

I can’t sleep on flat pillows.  I need fluffy, semi-soft pillows under my head or I have trouble sleeping.  I’m one of those people who folds the pillow over to make it more fluffy when it’s not up to my fluff standards.  The pillows on my bed are fluffy….now….but they’re starting to show signs of flattening.

fluffy pillowI bought my pillows at a store called Auchan, in Suzhou, China.  It’s a French chain, but they have opened in China recently (for those reading this from Spain, it’s the same as Ocampo).  I bought the more expensive, nicer pillows because my mom and brother were coming to visit and I wanted them to have a comfortable pillow to sleep on.  Turns out, they became the most comfortable pillows in the apartment and, when I moved to Singapore, I brought them with me.  I love my pillows.  In my first weeks here, before my shipment arrived, I bought cheap Ikea pillows that are too soft.  I don’t use those much anymore, they decorate the guest bedroom now.

As with all pillows, my wonderful Auchan pillows are beginning to flatten.  They lose a little fluff each day.  I can feel the stuffing beginning to separate and they’re getting slightly lumpy.  The wonderful pillows that I love are dying.  This happens with pillows, but I expect it to happen less with pillows that cost more.  These were very costly pillows (for China), and I expected them to last at least a year with daily use.  It’s been less than that.  I will have to begin folding them over soon so I can feel the thickness under my head.

I think what I need to do is travel to a nice hotel somewhere with comfortable pillows.  Ask for extra pillows from the front desk and just walk off with a couple of them.  Nobody will ever know…..

Plastic (and Vinyl) Furniture

chairWhen I was a kid, my grandmother used to cover her sofa in clear plastic.  This was the style in the 1950s and 60s to keep the fabric clean and to keep pets and guests from spilling or making a mess on them.  I will always remember her gray French Provincial sectional with the fleur-de-lis pattern, curved legs, metal nail covers along the bottom and top edges, and the tiny wooden corner table that sat behind it.  I hated sitting on the that sofa and, most of all, I hated sleeping on that sofa.  The sofa was fairly comfortable, but the plastic was thick and hard, with sharp edges that hurt.  It was also very warm in the summer.  When you sweated on the sofa, it would sit on top of the plastic cover (one of the good points of the cover, I guess) and wouldn’t go anywhere, so you would continue to sweat and just get warmer and wetter.  It was a disgusting cycle when sitting in her living room on the plastic sofa.  I would always turn her air conditioner up and blame one of my brothers.  She also had a matching chair with a plastic cover, but that was her chair and we didn’t sit in it (not that we weren’t allowed, I think it was just out of respect that we chose not to sit there).  Needless to say, I have always sought out furniture with fabric since then.  I guess it had a permanent effect on my inner furniture-selecting psyche.

Very similar to Grandma's sofa

 Very similar to Grandma’s sofa

I have been lucky since moving overseas.  All my apartments have been furnished and I haven’t had to buy any large furniture items.  This helps when moving around the world because they only give you so much of a moving allowance, and have to pay the overage.  Needless to say, I paid overages in the move to China AND in the move to Singapore.  My apartment in Madrid was equipped with a fairly ugly, but functional, red fabric sofa-bed.  I loved the sofa-bed aspect because it was a small apartment and it was handy for when people came to visit.  Madrid got very warm in the summer and, without air conditioning, I was very happy to have that absorbent sofa under me.  It got so bad that sometimes I would drape towels over the sofa so that it wouldn’t get so wet.  It would even seep through the towels on the hottest of days.

In China, I had another fairly ugly, but functional, yellow sofa and chaise.  This was a little less comfortable because it had fake leather armrests and headrests.  They were pleather, and they were beginning to wear down, so sometimes I would get little bits of the plastic leather on my arms as I sat on the sofa.  It was also very warm in summer to lean my arms on the pleather.  It was comfortable, however to lay down and watch television.  The core of the cushions was like memory foam and it would conform to my body.

Identical to the sofa in my apartment now.

Identical to the sofa in my apartment now.

Here in Singapore, the hottest of the places in which I have lived, I’m plagued with a vinyl (fake leather) sofa and love seat.  They are not too comfortable to lay on, but what’s worse is that they are non-absorbent and, therefore, too hot to sit on in this sticky Singapore climate.  I have bought cotton blankets from Ikea to place over the pleather, but it doesn’t matter, the plastic doesn’t breathe and it holds my sweat against my body.  I like to relax on the sofa after a long day at work and watch some television.  It’s virtually impossible to do that on these plastic sweat traps.  My apartment has a beautiful breeze that blows across, and I can’t enjoy it because I am too hot, so I turn on the air conditioning and spend the extra money for something that I don’t really need because I have the beautiful breeze.

I wish furniture manufacturers would find a fabric that mimics leather, but breaths.  I know they found out that cotton can be brushed to resemble suede, perhaps there’s a fabric out there that resembles leather, but breathes.  If I decide to stay in Singapore for several years, I think it would make sense to buy my own sofa…..but until then I’m going to keep covering the vinyl with cotton blankets from Ikea….now if I can just get the cat to stop scratching at them and pulling out threads…..

People Who Spit When They Speak

spittingToday I was talking to a colleague.  They were very animated about the conversation and they were speaking very quickly and forcefully.  As I was listening, I noticed that they were spitting a lot more than most people do.  The little droplets of spit were beginning to cover the notebook I was carrying and I could only imagine what they were doing to my tie.  I’m not sure if this person usually spits when they speak because I haven’t spoken with them much before.  I will be more careful next time, or perhaps wear a poncho.

daffyIt’s made fun of a lot in cartoons, sitcoms and movies, but it’s a very real affliction that many people have.  There are some people who can’t help it, and spit constantly when they are speaking.  There are others that only spit when they speak loudly.  It doesn’t matter when it happens, it’s still disgusting.  Let me say that the once-in-a-while random spit drop that flies out of someone’s mouth is not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about people who chronically spit at others when they are speaking.

There have been times that I had to speak in front of an audience after one of these spitters had spoken, and the microphone was drenched with saliva.  I have chosen to forego the microphone in those cases and just speak as loudly as I could so people could hear me.  I have also had to use telephones after spitters and I have politely wiped them with a napkin or tissue before using them.

Some of these people can’t stop because of a problem, like a hairlip or protruding upper jawline.  These people HAVE to spit when they speak, and others understand and just deal with the downpour.  Many people who do it are perfectly normal people who just release saliva when they converse.  The worst thing that can happen is when a bit of food or something flies out with the spit.  Then you’re forced to clean up while the other person is still speaking up a rainstorm.  These people may or may not realize they’re doing it, and need to be told.  Since they don’t mean it, they need to be told kindly, but forcefully, so they think about it the next time.

You need to tell these people that they spit when they speak!  I know if I were a spitter, I would want people to tell me so I can be more conscious of it next time.  I admit, I have spit a couple of times while speaking (even shooting a few food particles around), but I’m not chronic (or at least nobody has told me I am).  I don’t like leaving conversations only to go into the bathroom and towel off.  These people need to be told the classical saying: “Say it, don’t spray it!”



Shanghai, China

A normal day in Shanghai

A normal day in Shanghai

Today I’m going to write about one of my least favorite places in the world.  I have to admit, it does hold a special place in my heart, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the city.  Shanghai, China, is a disgusting hole of a city that overgrew its boundaries and never paid attention to the dirt, trash and particulates it was creating.  Any day in Shanghai is a day where you can expect to breath as if you smoked a pack of cigarettes, you can expect to get jostled around as you walk through the overcrowded streets and you can expect to get completely nauseated by the smells that permeate the air at every turn.  Shanghai is a hole.

My first experience with Shanghai happened within the first couple of months of my moving to China.  I lived in a small city called Suzhou, a fairly nice city….by China standards.  One weekend, a friend of mine decided it would be fun for a few of the newcomers to explore Shanghai.  She had lived there and knew some fun places to go.  Another friend thought it would be cool to spend the night, so it was set up that a bunch of us would go to Shanghai for the day and a few of us chose to stay until the next day.  The ride from Suzhou to Shanghai was nice (about an hour on the bus), but once we arrived, I was not impressed.  I got less and less impressed as I spent time in the city.  This city is the first one I have ever been to that has unimpressed me the more I spent time there.  I left the next day wanting never to return, but the promise of cheap tailored clothes and fake Louis Vuitton wallets got me to come back.

A regular sight

A regular sight

First, Shanghai is extremely polluted.  You hear about the air pollution on the news and you hear people who visit China complaining about how difficult it was to breathe.  It IS difficult to breathe, and the Chinese people who wear the facemasks don’t do it for fashion (although fashionable facemasks has become a burgeoning industry in China), they do it so they don’t inhale the dank and disgusting air that blankets the city.  The air pollution is the most reported-on, but not the only pollution.  Second to that is the trash you will see in the streets.  If the stinky tofu smell doesn’t kill you, the trash smell will.  The Chinese people in Shanghai don’t seem to know how to use their trash cans.  They throw everything onto the street.  And, most of what they throw onto the street is biodegradable (a good thing), but when it degrades, it rots…..creating a wonderful bouquet of aromas and scents as you walk down the street.  Even the “nicer” parts of Shanghai are not immune.  I very often saw (and smelled) piles of trash in nice areas like the French Concession and Xintiandi.

From the river

From the river

The water is also heavily polluted in Shanghai.  The Chinese government have built up a riverfront area for tourists and locals called “The Bund” along the Huangpu River.  I don’t know why they have decided this river would be a good place to send tourists.  I have never been to The Bund and not seen scores and scores of trash floating in the river.  I’m not only talking about a few plastic bottles or candy wrappers.  I’m talking about severe pollution; sludge, oil, dead animals…..hell, they even had a whole farmload of dead pigs float through once (  This is probably more severe than the air pollution, but it doesn’t directly effect people, so they don’t complain about it enough, and it doesn’t enter the rotation on the news stations as much.  So, most things in Shanghai are polluted, it’s not just the air.

Waiting for the Metro

Shanghai is Crowded

Shanghai is also severely crowded.  There are over 24 million people in the Shanghai area.  They’re all vying for a little bit of space in an overcrowded and polluted metropolis.  The Shanghai government has tried to alleviate the crunch by allowing developers to build ever higher and people are now living in apartments on floors above 50.  The Shanghai government has also worked hard to expand their existing metro system.  It works, and I have to say it IS cleaner than the one in New York, but not by much.  It’s definitely more crowded than New York’s subway system and it definitely smells worse (and that’s saying a lot… anyone who’s ever ridden in a New York subway in the summer when the air conditioning wasn’t working can tell you).  The metro in Shanghai only works if you can get on it, and the few times I actually allowed myself to squeeze into this sardine can on rails, I had to wait for several trains before I could fit in one and then I was squeezed up against too many people to count (many without any concept of deodorant).

Waiting for the Shanghai Metro

Waiting for the Shanghai Metro

The last thing I want to talk about in Shanghai are the people.  The people are rude.  I don’t think they mean to be.  I think years of living in this crowded, stinking place have made them hard.  I think they are so packed in like sardines that they don’t realize when they’re pushing into someone.  The don’t realize that people need a certain amount of personal space.  Not just that, but they are also very “touchy.”  I don’t mean that they are sensitive and get their feelings hurt, I mean that they like to touch people.  They have no problem reaching out and touching you when they want your attention, or grabbing your sleeve as you’re walking away to try to sell you something.  I have a friend with a young daughter with blonde hair.  They are always trying to touch her hair.  They don’t realize that this is unacceptable.  This is something that’s just not done.

They also drive like maniacs.  Being a person who used to drive regularly in Manhattan, it’s difficult for me to say anyone drives like a maniac.  Shanghai drivers are maniacs.  I understand why: they have to dodge the bicycles laden with furniture 20 feet high, the carts selling food that jut out into the street, the people who run across the street against the light because it’s easier than jostling through the crowd when the light changes and the piles of trash in the street.

Some kind of bird on a stick...probably small pigeon.

Some kind of bird on a stick…probably small pigeon.

The food that the people of Shanghai (and China for that matter) eat verges on disgusting.  Yes, some of it is very good, in nicer restaurants that are clean and have good cooks.  I’m talking about the unregulated street food.  The stuff that, when you eat it, you’re never quite sure what it is or how it was made.  When you chew it, it has a strange chewy/sticky consistency and a flavor like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.  You’ll get to experience that flavor many times in the next few hours as you burp it back up.  There are even people who sell food on the street that use oil recycled from trash (  Food in Shanghai is definitely not the same as the “Chinese” food that is served in Western countries.  That Chinese food has been homogenized and toned down for westerners.  You’re not likely to find Chinese restaurants in the US or UK roasting starfish, boiling chicken feet, frying duck tongues or serving jellyfish on ice.  I’m sure, if you’ve never been to China, you’ve never smelled the pungent (only way to describe it) odor of fermented tofu that has been grilled on a skewer on an open flame .  Shanghai street food ranges from dirty to disgusting to vomit to “oh my god, their frying scorpions!”

"Fresh" fish ready for the grill at a street vendor.

“Fresh” fish ready for the grill at a street vendor.

I have no plan to ever visit Shanghai again.  The only way anyone will ever get me to return to that smoky, nauseating, cramped excuse for a city is if they promise lots and lots of money.  Even then….the visit will be quite short.  Living in Suzhou, I didn’t particularly like Shanghai, but I spent a lot of time there.  It was a different place from Suzhou (which became more and more boring by the minute), but, I have to admit, I liked the relaxed atmosphere of Suzhou.  Also, with about 5 million people, Suzhou is considered a small town compared to Shanghai.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to bring myself to visit Shanghai again, even with the promise of money.  The odors, cramped quarters, pollution and trash are just too much to handle.  I have to give some credit to the Chinese government.  After their “cultural revolution” tore down anything with any historical value, they have been trying to build Shanghai into a cultural center.  They have placed several nice museums, concert halls and other venues within the city.  They are architecturally stunning (if you can ever see them through the pollution) and they attract big names.  Unfortunately, they are in Shanghai…..and nothing can make that place appealing!

A man who collects cardboard and paper for money.  Such safe streets they have in Shanghai!

A man who collects cardboard and paper for money. Such safe streets they have in Shanghai!

Bathing Suits That Don’t Dry Quickly

bathing suit rack

This is often the scene after a dip in the pool; a rack full of wet bathing suits that take hours and hours to dry.  These suits will sometimes even be damp the next morning, when you want to go in the pool again.  With so many quick-dry fabrics out there and so many people researching new man-made fabrics, it’s amazing that clothing manufacturers can’t make a bathing suit that dries quickly.

If you remain out in the sun, the heat will help the suit dry more quickly, but it still takes much longer than it should.  These things should be designed to dry in a matter of minutes.  Who wants to hang around in a wet bathing suit while enjoying your friend’s company, eating lunch, walking along the beach or sitting in a car going home?  Many people change before they go home from the beach or a public pool, but that just forces you to find a plastic bag in which to carry the wet suit.  There is no reason anyone should arrive at home with a suit still dripping with water…..damp, ok…..but DRIPPING?!?!?

I’m sure clothing designers are missing out on a million-dollar idea.  If they can find a fabric that dries quickly, and make bathing suits out of that fabric, people will buy it.  I know I would buy it.  As it is now, I have to wait hours and hours for my suit to dry.  I’m not fortunate enough to have a drier, so I’m stuck with line drying (or towel rack – as seen above).  Often, my suit is dripping when I hang it up, which means I can’t wear it again until the next day.

When I spent some time in Mallorca for a couple of summers, I would often go in the pool several times a day.  It was very difficult to slip that wet bathing suit back up onto my body.  It would stick to my skin and chafe as I pulled it up.  That suit should have been dry in minutes, but it never was.  Clothing manufacturers are missing out on a lot of money!  Let’s get them to research new fabrics that dry quickly!