Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Last, First Day of Classes

It is noon and the delicious, mouth-watering aroma of a grande carmel cafe is beside my beautiful MacBook Pro and it just hit me - MY LAST, FIRST DAY OF CLASSES!

I remember last spring when 80 percent of my household was so joyful at the thought of nearing the end of undergraduate school. Aside from mere jealousy, it was a small reminder that I still had another semester before I could join this wee celebration. Alas, my time has come! It's almost surreal, but I think the surreality will fade quickly and utter excitement will take its place. Who would not be enthusiastic about finishing a five and a half year degree?

It is quite funny the first day of class remains the same from semester to semester: professors do a quick (or slow) run-through of their syllabus, underclassmen appear a bit too dolled-up for class (It is my understanding that we are not enrolled at New York's Fashion Institute), campus bookstores are chaotic and upperclassmen sit impatiently on uncomfortable classroom chairs wondering why on earth they were required to register for Geology 101: Prehistoric Life - blogger's current thought.

For upperclassmen, the first week is not just redundant - buy books, go through syllabi, pay tuition, etc - but it is an opportunity for them to be leaders.

Last weekend, for example, I was walking home from work and a fellow student stopped me and asked, "Do you know where the Towers are located?" Why of course, just walk south on Washington Street and they are on the right. After the brief encounter, I continued on my path to my house with a high sense of seniority. Additionally, on Monday, I was headed to Kaya, a coffee shop, for French Conversation Hour and a woman leaned out of the window of her Jeep Cherokee and yelled, "Do you know where AnspaCH is?!" Unfortunately I did not have time to take out my headphones and respond, but the 'ch' pronunciation was clear as day and it just killed me. For those of you who are not in-the-know, the 'ch' is silent. Oh newbees...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Selective Eating

I love food. Plain and simple. Growing up, food was solely a necessity. There wasn't that passion to explore the various cuisines in the world. Basically, if I wanted to still be alive the following week, it was a good idea to chow down on my mom's goulash. Although, has anyone ever had goulash? I'd be lying if I said it was my favorite and the name kind of throws me as well. Goulash just doesn't seem to have that "mmmm" ring to it. Overall, my mom's culinary skills are more than adequate; I just happened to remember one of my least favorite meals she made once a month. When it comes to cooking, mothers do have it rough. They not only try to please their own taste buds, but those of their husbands, their sons and their daughters. Just imagine fulfilling the needs of six people. Ah?! So a wee toast to mothers!

As I think back to my childhood, I recall being quite selective of most foods. At local restaurants, for example, I always ordered the greasy chicken fingers and salty French fries. You know the type, right? For the most part, my mom stuck to the basics: no peas, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, bizarre fish concoctions, split-pea soup and surely I am forgetting others.

Oddly enough, after puberty, I was no longer a vexatious eater. In fact, aside from the repulsing fungi known as mushrooms, I will eat or at least try everything. If any of you are curious about my utter disgust for mushrooms, I provide you with a wee example: my mom would
sauté
mushrooms in a separate pan so they wouldn't mix with the spaghetti sauce. Do keep in mind that all of my family members thoroughly enjoy mushrooms. Pretty terrific mom, eh?

Pssh, this blogger is full of it! She won't try everything.


Isn't that what all of you are thinking?

Well, such a statement might not have been true two years ago when I was in France. My friend, Brandon Moblo, will back me up on this one for it was his host parents who invited me over for dinner one evening. What was on the menu? Cow tongue my friends, cow tongue. Both Brandon and I remember my slight burst of laughter along with a respectful decline. To be fair, there were several other foreign cuisines I did try while in France. It just so happened live prawns (with heads and all) and cow tongue didn't make the cut. Tant pis (too bad).

In China, however, everything made the cut: cow tongue, sashimi, whole fish (that is an entire fish plopped on a plate), fish eggs, shrimp (with the heads and all), weird ice cream, lamb, sweet milk tea with jelly, fried beef with mayo (interesting), pumpkin pancakes, the spiciest beef in Beijing, Tsing Dao (beer), Bai Jiu (white alcohol, delicacy), fried noodles, fried bananas, egg tart, banana pancake, slightly raw beef and chicken, octopus, Beijing duck, etc. Hungry? Everything I listed was delicious, with maybe one or two exceptions. In my opinion, there is no harm in trying something once. In some cultures, it is considered rude to refuse any food from a host, friends, you name it.
With that in mind, it seems simpler to just try it, enjoy it or suffer through it, and then just laugh about it with friends and family later. At the same time, if food poisoning does arise from adventurous tastings, permission is granted to those who wish to seek justice. Um...that traditional Mexican flan dessert you had me try the other night...yeah, I was bloated the rest of the night. Do I get some sort of compensation for the pain you subjected me to? At the same time, this kind of method is merely a one-timer. You might loose friends and loved ones if this becomes a repeated episode of justice seeking.


In short, I hope this post has encouraged selective eaters worldwide to try something new. It doesn't have to be cow tongue or octopus, but something that was once feared and left on the back-burner. Oh, and just to be clear...I will NEVER enjoy mushrooms.
Many have tried to make me get over my distaste for such a fungi and all have failed. Admittedly, there are certain vegetables, fruits, grains and dairies people can just live without. Although at least I've tried mushrooms. Have you tried something you dislike? Think about it.

The image above is fried dumplings - a shanghainese delicacy. The trick with these is to take a small bite and sip the soup out from the inside of the dumpling and then dip the dumpling in a spicy sauce or eat it plain. Delicious, inexpensive and filling - excellent combination.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obesity in America

According to the American Obesity Association, obesity is a disease that has affected nearly one-third of the adult US-population. Furthermore, roughly 64.5 percent of adults in America are classified as overweight or obese. Quite alarming figures, n'est pas?

Traveling to multiple countries has a tremendous impact on the lives of curious explorers - for which most world travelers can vouch. In addition to discovering unique cultures, this hobby can occasionally generate a sense of patriotism to even the most unmotivated American. Before living in France, my involvement in politics (or American patriotism) was rather limited, with the exception of my electoral vote in the '04 Presidential Election. As a democrat, a liberal and an anti-Bush Jr. activist, it was easy as pie to criticize the American Government while in France. Yet, at the same time, I felt an overwhelming sense of duty to persuade my foreign friends that America, in fact, isn't such as bad place. Not all Americans have a personality equivalent to that of Mr. Bush; additionally, not all Americans are overweight. For the most part, it's all fun and games. Traveling buddies from time to time will inquire about the eating habits of most Americans: How much fast food do Americans consume per week? Do they really eat French fries everyday? My personal favorite is a confused stare that is quickly followed by "You are so thin. How is this possible?" Hmmm...yes, every American is obese. I just happened to forget that wee fact while traveling. Obesity is a problem in America; this is fact, not fiction. At the same time, there exists millions of Americans who not only exercise, but scan the grocery aisles for 100 percent organic vegetables, fruits and grains.

Really, it's not their fault - considering the American restaurants available worldwide are Burger King, Dominos, McDonald's and Pizza Hut (to name a few). In addition to those unhealthy options, ice cream conglomerates such as Coldstone, Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's are easily accessible for the sweet toothers. Contrarily, the Subway addition to the list does tip the scale from excessively unhealthy to very unhealthy. Yey! Why is it only the most addictive, unhealthy restaurants survive abroad? Do these businesses get a special discount? Ten years from now, I hope America no longer has this ridiculous stereotype, but in order for this to be achieved, Americans need to change certain habits.

First, a bag of Cheetos does not equal a side salad appetizer. Furthermore, a side salad appetizer does nothing if accompanied with a cup of ranch or thousand island dressing. Second, after having read an article from TIME magazine - The Myth About Exercise - perpetual exercise does nothing without a balanced, healthy diet. It may seem as though the moist blueberry muffin from the local market is much-deserved after an hour on a StairMaster, yet the 77 minutes of cycling needed to burn off its 360 calories might tempt you otherwise. Portion control isn't a new philosophy; and for the most part, most Americans are aware restaurant chains, pop and candy bars are not acceptable substitutes for organic, nutritious, low calorie meals. So I ask you, if most Americans know this and have the means of balancing their diets, how is the percentage of obesity in America at 64.5 percent? Are Americans lazy? Are we apathetic? What can the American Government do to help control obesity in this nation?
Answers??

America isn't the only country with an obesity problem - check out China! The Chinese have been developing quite the sweet tooth lately. See below.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

SSB

What pray tell is SSB? It stands for Secret Single Behavior.

Within my small collection of DVDs, three terrific seasons of Sex and The City are squished between the sixth season of FRIENDS and Cujo (inside joke). Tonight, while adjusting the design of a blue jumper I got from China, I decided to watch a few episodes of faux-journalist Carrie Bradshaw. In season four, Carrie mentions SSB - wee habits women and men would never want their boyfriends or girlfriends to know.

Carrie's SSB:
"I like to make a stack of saltines; I put grape jelly on them. I eat them standing up in the kitchen while reading fashion magazines."

After that scene, "I couldn't help but wonder..." What other bizarre SSBs are out there???

Since "secret" is a critical word within the acronym, I'll only deliver one of my SSBs: Fashion faux pas at home.
As far as fashion goes, outside the house, I am quite careful when coordinating my outfits with my accessories. For instance, I seldom wear a black top with a brown wristwatch - sure I've lived in France, but my brown and black combos are limited.
Inside the house, however, it's another story. In short, my fashion sense goes completely out of the window - a mixture of apathy, merely for self-amusement or nearing laundry day. Several friends, family members and college roommates can attest to this behavior; and if nothing else, it provides them with some mild entertainment. Comfortability is a vital aspect of outfits I enjoying throwing together; yet on occasion, colors and patterns often clash. Pssh...no big. I prefer not to dwell on the minor details in life. The picture below is classic example numero uno of my SSB. Do enjoy.



All of this SSB talk leads me to one inevitable question; one which arises between most couples. Should couples live together before marriage?

Sure, it raises a lot of questions; and for some, it's a rather controversial topic. (Hint: no sex before marriage.) At the same time, there is such a thing as will power. Couples learn a great deal about one another by living under the same roof: daily habits, quirks, pet peeves, etc. Thus, wouldn't you like to know your fiancé's SSB before marriage? Hmm...a nice, bold check in the 'Yes' box please.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thoughts on Sports

Sports are wonderful - full of energy, laughter, people, victory and defeat. In the past few weeks, I have thoroughly enjoyed living in my house at Central Michigan University for several reasons: (1) Able to catch up on some reading and writing; (2) Relax after a two-month internship with the Shanghai Business Review magazine; (3) Hang out with friends; (4) And participate in numerous activities - not exclusive to sports (biking on nature paths, rollerblading, throwing a frisbee in my front yard, etc).

An active lifestyle is a must for me; which might be another reason why I enjoy traveling as much as I do. In my opinion, getting involved in sport-like activities is not only an excellent way to occupy ones time, stay fit and healthy, but also an opportunity to build relationships. Without a doubt, the bond between Draper, Zetterberg, Helm, Datsyuk, Cleary and Osgood (Detroit Red Wings - hockey) is unmistakably different from let's say their university friends and neighbors. Sports bring people together - people sweat together, laugh together, cheer together, cry together and celebrate together. "In high school, sports gave me a sense of belonging - being a part of a team," said my good friend Laura Cochrun. At the same time, the Red Wings players may be a wee bit closer than the few regulars I play beach volleyball with every Wednesday night. Oh, the minor details.

A few sports I enjoy participating in, watching, or attempting to play are volleyball, soccer (or football for those of you outside the U.S.), hockey and American football - truly spectacular sports. I wouldn't say I am even close to the remarkable skills of Olympian Misty May, but I'd like to think my passion and love for volleyball runs neck n' neck - again...I would like to think this, but it doesn't particularly mean it's true. Misty's commitment to volleyball undoubtedly surpasses mine. But really, I would like to believe those who are active in sports have an inner desire to live up to the dedication and determination of any champion. Why not? We do it for everything else, don't we?

In China, my Mandarin tutor and I were discussing the sports we love. She casually slipped in her love of badminton and I just couldn't help but think it was also popular in the U.S...50 years ago. Again, minor details. It is always interesting to learn about the popular sports in different countries: Rugby in New Zealand, baseball in America, polo in England and soccer in most of Western Europe. Naturally, there are several countries with similar sport interests; I am merely naming a few that stick out in my mind.

All in all, sports or any physical activity for that matter add greatly to life. Some may be a bit more exciting that others (golf would be on my list of 'sports I could do without'), but for the most part all of them are entertaining and physically stimulating in one way or another. If nothing else, such activities are fantastic for releasing any negative energy lurking in our bodies. Bump, set and SPIKE IT TO THE GROUND!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Life after College

The next chapter of my life is creeping up to me rather quickly. It is something I can't avoid, nor is it something I want to avoid. There are of course students who fear life after college. The oh-so-troublesome questions inevitably haunt them: "Where will I live? Who will pay my bills? I can't sleep in until noon anymore...whhaaaaat?!"

Ever since my sophomore year in high school, New York City has been my calling. Before summer of '07, the city was merely a dream, an American version of Paris. Upon returning from my nine-month stay in France, the city couldn't have been more lovely. Within a little over a month, I did almost everything most New Yorkers do on a daily basis: rooftop films; Sunday picnics in Central Park; roughly 40 rice pudding options to taste and love from Rice to Riches; Friday trips to the Guggenheim; working in the upper east side of Manhattan; grocery shopping at the local co-op with reusable bags; emailing in Starbucks; sweating profusely in the subway; hotdog stands (not by Times Square); concerts featuring new artists (Alice Smith); and drinking a beer with my sister, Kathrine, whilst sitting on a rusty, metal "porch" on the third floor of her Brooklyn apartment. I knew, based off of these wee excursions and daily routines that New York was in my blood - we were destined to be together (as foolish as it may seem).

Post-graduate destination cities are the topic of most discussions for seniors, fifth-year seniors, and dare I say it, sixth-year seniors. With the economy nowadays, though seemingly better than it was six months ago, students should accept the unavoidable possibility of NOT living in their home state. Sure, it is a scary thought, but hey, there ARE 50 other states in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico - :)) Some might not be the most desirable states to live in and I'll avoid listing those, but if jobs are lacking...start packing. The latest joke on the street these days is Trina Thompson, a woman who graduated from New York's Monroe College. Apparently, she is attempting to sue her alma mater $72,000 (the cost of her entire tuition), because she has been unsuccessful in finding a job. Huh, interesting - another prime example of the American philosophy - sue anyone for any darn reason. It is on these instances I wish I could teleport and look into these eyes of people like Trina and say, "Really?"

Honestly, I do not pity any graduate who has not found a job within six months after graduating college, unless of course he or she searched outside the comfortable, convenient radius of his or her hometown. Naturally, other factors may come into play if one hasn't acquired a job. Nonetheless, it might be risky to pack-up and move across the country, but what's the harm in taking risks? Considering the American theme nowadays is CHANGE, and Obama's "We Can" is sweeping across the world, take a chance...explore the beauty of the U.S.; explore the world.

Random facts to take into consideration: according to Time magazine, Michigan has the lowest employment rate at 0.01%, and Texas has the highest with 2.02%. Although Texas is NOT on my list of top five destination states, it may be on yours.

After graduating from CMU this December, if I haven't found a job - one that pays the bills -within four or five months of living in New York City, I will happily delete this post. Additionally, I toast to fellow students who aspire to go outside their cozy state borders. In short, venture out and experience life!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Marriage - remains a mystery

In July, TIME magazine published an essay titled Why Marriage Matters, by journalist Caitlin Flanagan. The byline read, "Infidelity is eroding our most sacred institution. How to make marriage matter again." The piece was well-written and interesting - a focus on politicians such as Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Mark Sanford. It was story after story and infidelity was the main plot - quite sad if you think about it. These days marriage has sort of thrown me for a loop; and the loop has twisted and turned greatly after having lived in France and China.

What is marriage? A bond between two people, a certificate with a legal stamp, or a rite of passage? Or perhaps a social obligation - all my friends are getting married, so maybe I should too?! In Shanghai, I was told on numerous occasions the importance of marriage to the Chinese. Everything was about status - good job, good car, good location, good house, etc. My roommate, Andrew (who was born in Hong Kong), once told me several women in Hong Kong would not even consider dating a man if he didn't have the following: a car, a relatively decent apartment and a promising career. This, of course, is just hearsay. I was still in utter shock and amazement as to the importance of status in not just Hong Kong, but mainland China as well.

Marriage has become quite the problem in China and the gender ratio does not help the issue - approximately 120 boys to 100 girls. It might not seem like a lot, but imagine such a ratio with a population over a billion. Wow. In an attempt to help young adults find love in Shanghai, every Sunday, parents and grandparents from all over the city come together and exchange the resumes of their daughters and sons. A resume?! Well, in short, a list including age, HEIGHT, sex, salary, interests and often without a picture. If the parents are pleased with the idea of their daughters and sons uniting, a date is set. According to several young adults with whom I spoke to in Shanghai, this practice is not all that favorable. I don't blame them, would you?

In the U.S., it is a bit of a different story. Getting married isn't the problem, keeping the marriage alive, however, is a problem. Infidelity, falling out of love, incompatibility, sex-life out the window, lack of adventure/loss of adventure and spontaneity, etc - a never ending list of reasons why divorce is so popular in America. It's quite sad really. I was watching a commercial in China and without boring you with the details I specifically remember one scene - an old man turning the volume down on his hearing aid to "mute" his wife. Sure, at the time, it was pretty hilarious. Although, after having thought about it a bit more, I would be quite upset if my husband of forty years did that to me.

Of course, I do believe there are millions of marriages that are still going strong. More power to them! My sister, Carolyn, and brother-in-law, Matthew, are a prime example of a quality marriage. And high-profile marriages such as Kelly Preston and John Travolta, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are doing quite well - or so the tabloids tell me.

Overall, I would consider myself the hopeful realist when it comes to marriage. I hope when/if I get married, it will last; I hope my husband always keeps me on my toes; and I hope my husband loves me unconditionally until death. At the same time, realistically, at 22, I do not see myself getting married anytime soon - stability is fairly important to me. Honestly, I am only 22...I've got time. Ladies and gents! Those of you who are around my age...you've got time! Really, no prize is given to the first married couple amongst your group of friends. Although, there may be a prize in the future if marriages last more than forty years. Kind of a scary thought, really - marriage stimulus package?

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The Great Wall
Beijing, China