Frequently Asked Questions: Shaving

While “foreigners” make up about 1% of the population in Shanghai — which is a huge concentration by China standards — we are still extremely rare in most of China. This leads to a great amount of curiosity about our lives. Since there are very few foreigners in my neighborhood, and even fewer foreigners who can speak Chinese fluently, I have begun to encounter what I call “frequently asked questions.” These are questions I have been asked within five minutes of meeting new people in my neighborhood. Enjoy.

Today’s FAQ is “why do you shave your legs?”

Every time I get a massage, this is one of the first questions that comes up. Chinese women tend to have much less leg hair than us Western gals, and they don’t tend to shave it. So when the massage girls start in on my legs, they usually let out a yelp of surprise, run their hands repeatedly up and down my leg, and then they ask what happened to all my leg hair.

I’m not going to get into feminist politics right now, and I don’t usually get into it with them either. All I can say is, it just looks better to us. They usually think I’m sort of strange. Isn’t cultural exchange fun?

A Whale of a Good Time!

Those who know me well know that at least 60 percent of my dreams involve marine life, usually whales, and that a common nickname for me by my family is “whale.” So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lifelong dream of mine has been to go whale watching, and on Saturday, I did!

First of all, what an amazing day, made possible by Monterey Bay Whale Watch, which I can’t praise enough. They have marine biologists on each trip and share tons of information about all the wildlife you see. Plus, the crew was really helpful and took great care of us!

The day started with a delicious breakfast of waffles and strawberries — don’t forget this, it’ll come up later. After a leisurely morning, Jeff and I headed to Monterey and boarded our small whale watching boat, the “Sea Wolf II,” a humble vessel that looked like it had seen better days.

From the very outset, the trip was great. There were several otters in the bay, and though I didn’t get any good pictures, they were approximately this cute:

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The Monterey harbor is just lovely, with lots of boats that look like this:

In addition to otters, we also saw sea lions and seals:

The sea lions had taken over this wall of the harbor and were having a nice old time sunning themselves and splashing in the water.

Once we got into open water, the numbers of cute animals went down, but we still saw some albatross and pelicans.

It took us about forty-five minutes to get out to the whale migration highway, and though the day was clear, there were huge swells. I actually didn’t mind too much, and the pay off was great! We ended up seeing several different groups of whales over the course of the three-hour trip.

All the whales we saw were gray whales, which are no longer endangered and are currently migrating north. Did you know that gray whales only feed half the year? It’s true! Pretty incredible, but they go thousands of miles north to Alaska on empty stomachs!

After about an hour, the swells finally got to me, and I got gloriously seasick. Remember how I said breakfast would come up again? Well, it did twice with a vengeance. I actually didn’t mind too much, because it tasted good the second time around — more or less like a Jamba Juice actually — and as Jeff pointed out, the strawberries turned my upchuck a lovely shade of magenta. Plus I’d like to think that the sea creatures got a chance to have a taste of my delicious waffles and strawberries, a rare divergence from seaweed and krill.

Despite the seasickness, I LOVED my whale watching trip, and I think I’ll go again some time. But of course, the next time I’ll take some motion-sickness medications ahead of time to avoid the impressive puke fest that occurred this time. See how much fun were having?

At any rate, I highly recommend everyone try this! Whale watching was so fun, and March is the month to do it. If you go in summer, you can also see blue whales and humpback whales, so get out there!

The Essence of Caitlin

Being the cool cat that I am, I decided to follow the latest Facebook fad of looking up your name on Urban Dictionary. What I found was hilarious, mildly offensive and definitely worth sharing.

The definitions started out making total sense:

And then proceeded to enter the land of crazy:

Ya think some of these authors had a personal vendetta against a Caitlin in their life? Check your name on Urban Dictionary if you dare — I just learned so much about myself!

Dreaming of boytoys and rappers

People who know me well know that I have bizarre and entertaining dreams almost every night, but this one was too funny not to share with the general public. It goes like this:

I was at some sort of large party that my family was throwing, and had a boy problem. I was with my current boyfriend in the dream, and an old flame of mine came to the party. Long story short, they argued over me quite viciously, and I eventually ran outside to cry rather than choose between them. While outside, rapper Lil Wayne and his whole crew came over to me. Lil Wayne gave me a hug, and told me to just cry it out. Then they stuck around while I attempted to do handstands backwards.

Um…. what does THAT mean? In my humble opinion, it just good for the lolz. That, or foul-mouthed, prison-sentenced Lil Wayne is my fairy godmother.

Public Nakies!

Japan is one of the few countries in which people bathe together. It’s traditional for families to bathe together, and public bathhouses are still a fixture in big cities and small towns alike. So since it’s still such a large part of the culture, any self-respecting traveler has to at least try the public bath experience once.

Since hot spring baths —onsen in Japanese — are pretty much the biggest attraction in Hakone, Jeff and I were doubly obligated to try it out, so we manned up on our second night there and decided to take the plunge at the hotel’s public baths. First, we read our guide’s bath etiquette section a few times, trying to convince ourselves that we would be as suave as possible despite being, well, naked! Traditionally, one showers off and cleans thoroughly on a stool outside the bath itself. Once clean, you can soak in the steaming hot tub. Often  families will use one tub of hot water and take turns showering and then soaking in the bath.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: no big deal! We’ve all got the same bits and pieces, we’ve all gone swimming at the public pool. But when you’re in another country and another culture, I can assure you, insecurities skyrocket. You wouldn’t believe the possibilities for awkward situations to occur while fully clothed, so stripping down wasn’t easy.

Making the task a little easier was the separate facilities for men and women. After I entered the locked room, a sea of questions washed over me (where do I leave my towel? Do I bring my shower shoes into the bathing room? When do I get naked? Where do I leave my clothes? Will other women belittle my bits and pieces) I dilly dallied until I could furtively watch another woman’s example, then happily got about the business of getting clean.

Once I discovered that the hotel had Tsubaki shampoo, conditioner and body wash in the showers, two kinds of lotion in the locker rooms, vanities with hair dryers and a massage chair, I was sold on the experience. It was just like going to a spa (OK, I’ve never been to a spa, but I can imagine what it’s like), except that I was completely naked in front of other women, and I got to soak in a giant outdoor stone bath under the stars.

Needless to say, the first time was a little awkward and nerve wracking, but after that I couldn’t get enough. Jeff and I even went to another bath house in the town to get a well-rounded experience. I definitely recommend onsen to anyone going to Japan — added bonus: you get to see all the weird things that happen to a body as it ages! Relaxation and education in biology/physics/hygiene in one experience!

Robo-potty

I know Japan is famous for this, but I still have to blog about it after Jeff’s infamous China bathroom post.

So, the toilets in Japan are robots. At the hostel we are currently in, when you open the bathroom door the toilet seat automatically lifts up, and a small fountain colored by green lights starts in the toilet bowl. When you sit on the toilet seat, it warms noticeably, and there are several different bidet options. When you flush the toilet, a small sink above the tank starts, and the sink refills the toilet tank. Pretty ingenious, and a space-saver too!

Word to the wise though — these toilets are not for amateurs, just like squatties they have potential pitfalls. Namely, make sure you scoot your bum all the way back if you’re going to experiment with the bidet settings, otherwise you’ll end up with a lovely wet patch all the way up your back. Yeah… that happened.

It’s also important to note that Western toilets are apparently as mystifying to some people here as squatties were to us. This little sticker was on another hotel toilet.

I can only read about 1/3 of most Japanese, but I’m guessing it’s instructional in nature. Tee hee!

Spamateurs

Like most people, one of my least favorite things is spam. The evolution of spam — more of a devolution, actually —  is quite fascinating, however.

In the 1990s, the most common spam I remember was the “Nigerian Princess” meme. As I’m sure anyone Internet-savvy enough to read this blog knows, this involved an elaborate plea for money to save a Nigerian royal, who would return the favor by adding millions to said spamee’s bank account. Even at twelve, I knew this was a load of crap, but apparently, lots of people fell for it. Currently, many online companies do not accept transactions coming from Nigeria, so I suppose it caused quite a bit of antipathy. While these spam efforts seem flimsy, at the very least their goal is clear. They do use some amount of logic, providing a clear path from their e-mails to a spamee’s pocketbook.

Oddly, in the years since these e-mails were rampant, the logic of spam has inexplicably deteriorated. When I got a Gmail account, the most common kind of spam I got was simply filled with gibberish. I’m not really sure what this was supposed to accomplish. It never seemed to be selling anything, and if it contained a virus, my little Mac was never affected. As useless as these are, they don’t really hurt anything and are pretty tame.

However, most recently, I have come to see how far the brilliant intellectual exercise of spamming has fallen. This brings us to my current blog, which garners a completely new kind of spam — the spam comment. I don’t really understand spam to begin with, but this is really mind-boggling. I think that the point of a spam comment is that it will appear on my site, and visitors will click on the links, creating some kind of revenue for someone. However, since all comments need to be approved, this is quite unproductive, and a huge waste of my time. I’ve found that since being in China, the number of spamments I get per day varies, ranging from two or three to over 20.

These spamments come in four varieties:

1. Run-of-the-mill gibberish. These comments contain links and random numbers and letters. They’re pretty intellectually harmless, and at their most productive could plausibly be made into postmodern poetry.

2. Run-of-the-mill Viagra advertisements. I don’t have a penis, and I certainly don’t need Viagra, but apparently I’m still worth the spambot’s time. I really don’t get this.

3. Run-of-the-mill porn advertisements. Pretty self-explanatory.

4. Really, really sick porn advertisements. Explanation likely not desired by readers, but here‘s a sample if you’re curious.

It’s category four that really gets my goat. As I’ve previously stated, it’s incredibly unlikely that a spamment like this would appear on my blog. But even if it did, it still has to be one of the dumbest attempts at spam in the history of the universe. And it’s the most numerous of all four categories. That’s right. On a given day, I go through up to 60 of these ridiculous comments, deleting tens at a time.

Here’s the thing. If you’re attempting to spam someone out of money, you’re up against pretty big odds. Most Internet users today are pretty aware of spam, and can easily spot the signs of it. Accordingly, to improve their odds, spammers need to reach a huge number of people in hopes that a select few will actually believe that some girl with large breasts really is waiting to chat a stranger up online, or a Nigerian prince truly trusts his future to some housewife in Nebraska. To do so, they often appeal to our human weaknesses of pride, sexual appetite and/or greed.

The Nigerians clearly grasped this concept, in that their offer appeals to pretty much everyone. It offers both the ego-stroking idea that one could be someone else’s savior, and the bait of millions of dollars. Motivation-wise, it’s pretty solid. Run-of-the-mill porn spamments also pass the motivational test, since most people do have libidoes, and certainly some will click out of curiosity.

However, very, very few people are into beastiality and incest — or even more specialized categories within those categories. So what exactly is the logic behind my really sick spamments? They use a method — commenting on a family blog — that is highly unlikely to succeed, and they use bait that few people find attractive. Who exactly thought this scheme up, and who approved it? It just doesn’t make any sense. I know I probably shouldn’t be upset that spammers seem to be getting dumber, but I’m someone who believes in evolution and progress. Is the devolution of spam really a victory for us as a species, or does it speak to an unstoppable slide into complete idiocy?

Apologies if I ruined anyone’s appetite with this post. Now you know what I deal with every day just to keep my blog “family friendly.”

Caitlinpedia Brown and the case of….

In this thrilling second installment of Caitlinpedia Brown and the Case of the Apparating Bugs, Caitlinpedia Brown gets to the bottom of the mysterious flies and dead cockroach — but will the answer to her bug riddle come too late?

It had been over a month since Caitlinpedia Brown first opened the case over a dead cockroach on her floor, and clues had been few and far between. She had left the cockroach body on the bathroom floor, carefully avoiding sweeping it up so that nothing would appear disturbed. Every day she pondered its fate, and her own, during her morning routine. Where had it come from? How did it get there? What did it mean?

Midterms came, and the cockroach became little more than a passing afterthought. There were more important games afoot.

While she had been distracted by tests and papers, a far more sinister yet seemingly innocuous threat had gained the upper hand in Caitlinpedia Brown’s apartment. In a bout of business, dishes had piled in the sink. After days, Caitlinpedia Brown put down the books and set to washing the dishes. It was then, that she solved part of the mystery that had plagued her all month. Those little fly suckers were breeding in the sink drain.

Annoyed but not disgusted, Caitlinpedia Brown grabbed her bleach and kitchen spray cleaner, and set to drowning the small colony of flies. She thought back to her earlier act of kindness toward the flies on her bathroom sink, and decided that their backstabbing breeding deserved the cruelty of chemical warfare. Then, she dumped bleach, cleaner and boiling water down the drain. For the rest of the week, she kept the dishes clean, and kept a watchful eye on the sink drain.

By the next week, however, the flies were back. This time, she scrubbed out the drain as best she could, added more bleach, and vigorously dumped chemicals down the drain for 15 minutes. It smelled lovely, and she was satisfied they wouldn’t be back.

Another week passed, and hardly any food crumbs were put in the sink. But the flies had returned. Now she wondered if she had been too late in declaring war on the fly population. There were little dead flies in her clean cups, little dead flies in the sink, little flies in the drain, and they just wouldn’t leave.

Defeated, she went to the bathroom and sat down.

The cockroach — it was gone! She hadn’t swept, and she hadn’t moved it. It had been there earlier in the day, now it was gone. She got down on her knees and searched the bathroom floor, but the little roach body was gone without a trace.

Suddenly, she felt a keen sense of loss, confusion and paranoia. Had someone moved the little cockroach, who against all odds had become a comforting friend and source of stability during the duress of midterms? Had the flies colluded to distract her with their breeding? What was the meaning of this? Where had the body been taken, and for what purpose. She was plagued with doubt.

Days passed, without a sign from her cockroach. She checked the bathroom floor every day, eagerly hoping it had just been pushed by a gust of wind, and she hadn’t noticed it. But it wasn’t there.

Then, like the sun bursting forth over the rocky mountains at dawn, she found her dead cockroach’s body behind her shower slipper, at the foot of the bathroom step. She still didn’t know how it had gotten there, but she carefully preserved the roach’s new resting place and decided not to move it lest she miss some important clue.

Midterms finally ended, and in a sudden burst of clarity, Caitlinpedia Brown solved her mystery—

The cockroach had died, because that’s just what bugs do. The flies had bred, because that’s just what flies do. They had all colluded to annoy her, because that’s their purpose on Earth. And, as for why the cockroach body had moved, she decided she’d likely never know. But what was more important was why she had become so dependent on a dead insect not moving as a source of comfort and stability. Resolving to lessen her eccentricity and become less pathetic, Caitlinpedia Brown swept up the cockroach, threw it out, and with no small pang of sadness, vigorously cleaned the floor where it had laid for so long.

Having solved her biggest case yet, Caitlinpedia Brown wondered whether, despite the pain it had brought her, solving the case had allowed her to grow. Perhaps, just maybe, her next case would take outside her own apartment, and into the dizzying and overwhelming confusion of the bustling city below. Stay tuned…

Officially Wise Update

Today I discovered that another wisdom tooth is growing in and starting to poke out. This time it’s the bottom left. So far, my righties aren’t showing any signs. When I told Jeff, all he said was,

Oh, you’re so smug.

I think he’s just jealous his wisdom teeth were removed, and he’ll never get to watch a new body part grow again!

Officially wise

So, yesterday I felt like I had a piece of food stuck on my back gum, and I couldn’t get it off no matter how I tried — kind of like when you get a piece of popcorn kernel suction cupped onto your gum, you know? After obsessing over it for a while, I stuck a finger in to investigate.

Turns out it’s a tooth! I know everyone complains about wisdom teeth, and how they’re a pain and whatnot, but I’m kind of excited. I mean, my body just grew a new part! Isn’t that wicked cool?

I invited Jeff to investigate with his own hands, but I guess my new tooth isn’t as thrilling to him. That, or he doesn’t think sticking his finger in my mouth is worth it.

Last time I went to the dentist, he said there were no signs of wisdom teeth. Then, right after I left for China, I started having awful tooth aches. Well, now we know for sure those little teeth exist, and they’re moving in. I hope this won’t turn out too badly for me. I have over a month until I come back to the land of licensed physicians and safe x-rays. How long does it take for new wisdom teeth to wreck your alignment? Just wondering…