Sunday, April 20, 2014

Heaty Foods: The Far East Concept of a "A Balanced Diet"

In America, we learn that a balanced diet is comprised of the food pyramid.  With grains at the foundation, fruits and veggies the 2nd tier, dairy and protein/meat next, and the capstone being sugars and fats.  The Asian concept of a balanced diet is FAR different and merits a little description.  Stemming from what I can only imagine is an ancient Taoist belief, as one of Taoism's fundamental beliefs is that there is a balance of opposites in nature (yin and yang), many Asians believe that every food item falls into one of two categories: heaty or non-heaty, better yet, hot or cold.  What qualifies a food as a hot food, or what qualifies a food is a cold food is not always so obvious to assume.  For example, bananas are a cooling food while cherries are a heaty food.  What about chocolate? Any guesses?  I assumed, not exactly sure why, that it would be thought of as a cooling food, but nope, it's a heaty food.  So how do they determine what is heaty and what is cooling?  I honestly have no idea.

Is heaty bad?  Or is one better than the other?  The answer is simply, "no".  Seeing as the whole purpose of the classification is so that a person can achieve a balance in the foods they eat, it is obviously important for a person to consume both heaty and non-heaty foods.

The most interesting part of this theory is the ramifications a person will experience if they are off balance.  Asians believe that many common ailments are caused by an imbalance in their diet.  Things such as sore throat, fever, constipation, even a short temper will often be linked to their diet.  And this is not some dying ancient Chinese theology barely being kept alive by the older generations. No!  The majority of the younger adults my age, and children below believe in this.  I once mentioned to a Chinese colleague that I had a sore throat and she said I must have been eating too many heaty foods, and she bought me a special tea that was supposed to put my diet in equilibrium again.  This belief has come up among my younger local friends as well.  When I try to laugh it off as some ancient Eastern orthodox medical philosophy, they argue and defend it saying that if they eat too much of a certain food, they feel themselves get sick.

My opinion: I do not doubt that many people feel that they get sick and perhaps even actually get sick if their diet gets off-tracked.  However, as I do not believe there is any science to actually back this theory up, that this can only be explained as a placebo effect.  Asian culture believes in this theory so strongly that it has become supported biologically.  That because they believe that eating too much of a certain food will produce a certain undesired effect, that that actually is what happens.

Feel free to argue your opinion in the comments (be culturally sensitive!).  I just thought this was an interesting cultural theory that many people are unaware of.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fun in Singapore

It seems as if most of my blogs lately have just been about my travels, and that might give off the false impression that the only time I have any fun is outside the country.  So I thought I would share some interesting things that I have done INSIDE Singapore recently.

First, in mid-February, Singapore held a spectacular airshow which had many air craft, from fighter jets, to helicopters, to drones all on display for visitors to look at, pose beside for pictures, and even climb into if one was willing to wait in an extremely long que.  The show, however, was what everybody was there for.  It started with a heart pumping ariel acrobatic show with Singapore's Black Knights.  These are 6 F-16 pilots who perform death-defying stunts at incredible speeds.  My favorite trick was when two pilots would fly straight at each other and at the last second each turned the aircraft opposing ways where they would go belly-to-belly just meters apart from each other.  Other tricks included "the mirror" where one pilot flew normally while the other one flew upside down directly above him and they could stare at each other, "the helix" where one flew straight while another did loop-de-loops around him, and making a heart out of their exhaust smoke (or whatever it is that leaves the white lines in the sky).  Other displays were done by the Indonesian Air Force and a U.S. craft that can change from a helicopter to a propeller plane mid flight! It was a very cool show.

Then in early April my friend Ga-Hye and I "ran" a race here in Singapore called the Electric Run.  This was more of a party than a run, and the whole gimmick was to wear as much glowing stuff as possible and along the race, which as at night, there were different stations set up, all of which glowed of course.  Both before and after the race there were DJs to keep the party going and it was a lot of fun!

In late April, a local friend invited me to go to a Singapore Comedy show in our durian looking performing arts theatre, the Esplanade.  This seemed interesting to me because Singaporeans are not really known to be that funny, so I really wanted to check it out.  There were about 10 or so comedians and some were hilarious while others I could hardly understand anything coming out of their mouths (some due to the fact that they spoke mostly in Madarin, Hokkien, or Cantonese and others because their Singlish accent was so horrible).  I am glad that I waited until I had lived in the country for almost 3 years before going to the show because most of the jokes were cultural references that you have to have lived in Singapore for a while understand.  Many of the jokes were about racial sterotypes that exist in Singapore, some that I already knew and others that I didn't.  Also, one of the long time curiosities I have had got answered for me at the show.  Having lived in an heavy Mandarin speaking society, I have become aware at the incredible ignorance that most Americans have of the Chinese language and how it ACTUALLY sounds (for the record it does not sound like "ching chang chong").  And we are able to impersonate other languages that we are completely ignorant about, albeit completely inaccurately, just as shamefully.  This has always made me curious as to how would someone who knew absolutley NO English impersonate how English sounds to them.  The difficulty in this is obviously for anyone to enlighten me that they would have to speak English, thus disqualifying themselves from being a credible source.  However, at the comedy show, one of the comedians enlightened me on what he had been taught by his mother, who knew absolutely no English, on how Americans sound and it is equally as inaccurate as the misconception Americans have of Mandarin and equally as funny!  The closest I can get to the sound he made was something along the lines of "shnaw shnaw shnaw" haha.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Down Unda'

With all of the places I have traveled to there has always been one place that has remained on my list, but respectively closer to the bottom of that list, and that country was Australia.  However, as my time in Singapore is dwindling ever so rapidly to a close, I felt it necessary to visit this popular country/continent while living so close.  Consulting a few my Aussie friends as to what city I should visit, I kept hearing differing opinions between which was better: Sydney or Melbourne.  So I resorted to my go to solution when faced with a difficult choices; choose both!

First up was Sydney.  As soon as I got checked into my hostel I immediately dropped my bags and went exploring.  The first place I set off for was this place called Mrs. MacQuiare's Chair, that I had read was the best lookout point of the Sydney Harbour which framed the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  After patiently waiting for the other tourists who felt the necessity to take what would have constituted as about 5 rolls of film a decade ago, all of essentially the exact same picture just moderately different poses or slightly different combinations of who got to be in the picture (I feel like this is a potential math problem: "There are seven people of a specific racial group and they want to take a picture with every possible combination of their group at a very popular tourist destination.  How many photos will the rest of the tourists have to endure watching them take before they too get an opportunity to take a photo?"), I eventually got the picture I had walked nearly two hours for.

On my way back to the hostel, which was a much shorter walk now armed with the knowledge of where I was actually going, I stopped to eat at this little hotdog stand on the side of the road called Harry's Cafe de Wheels.  Now there was nothing that really looked impressive about this place, and after eating their hotdog there indeed was nothing all that impressive with this place, but I was excited to eat there simply because one of my most sweet hearted students, who had lived many years in Sydney wrote out a list of her favorite restaurants that she really wanted me to eat at, and this one topped her list.  So this was for Julie and I am glad I could share the experience of eating at her favorite hotdog place (this would not be the last place I would eat at based on Julie's recommendation either).

The day I flew into Sydney coincidentally just happened to coincide with the same day that Major League Baseball's first ever Opening Day game would be held overseas in none other than the city of Sydney.  Sadly, being the huge baseball fan that I was, I did not even know about this historic game until about 3 days before I was to fly off, which then put me in the dilemma of whether or not to fork out the money to get a ticket.  I held off on getting a ticket, but when I realized that the stadium was only about a 30 minutes walk from my hostel and I had all the time in the world to spare, I decided that I might as well check out the gameday festivities and see if couldn't snag me a ticket.  Even though I was not the least bit interested in either team playing (LA Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks), it was still neat to see the excitement of baseball starting and there were many people, like myself, who were just there because they loved baseball and proudly displayed their allegiance to their different teams from all over America.  When I went up to the ticket office and asked if they had any of the cheap seats still available, I was shocked to find out that they did!  Excitedly, I asked the clerk how much they were and he replied, "$390".  There was no way I was going to pay that!  Instead I decided to try my luck with the scalpers.  I approached a few and asked what their cheapest ticket was, to which, wanting to always be in control of the negotiation, they asked back what I was willing to pay.  To that I explained my contentment in not watching the game, and that I was merely curious of the ticket prices and if one happened to be what I deemed as reasonable then perhaps I would purchase it.  Again, they stubbornly asked, "how much?" to which I replied that I would pay around $50.  No takers.  However, while I was talking to a scalper, a normal person with presumably a respectable job, came up to me and explained that he and his friends had an extra ticket due to the fact that one of their friends had bailed on them.  Not wanting it to go to waste they wanted to sell it and make some of the money back.  I then asked him how much he had paid for it and the told me that he had paid $220 for it.  Honestly I told them that I wasn't able to offer anything near that, but when they persisted that I give an offer, I again told them $50.  Again, they didn't want to let it go for that cheap which I totally understood, but I told them if they have trouble selling it and it comes close to first pitch and they just wanted something for it rather than nothing, then I would be waiting in roughly the same spot with my $50.  Sure enough, about 15 minutes before first pitch the guy came walking up and said, "Can you give me $60?", to which I laughed and said that yes, I didn't mind paying $60.  The novelty of the game was what made it special.  Watching it with a bunch of Aussies was pretty cool too.  The game itself was pretty uneventful and LA won 3-1, but I am still sure glad I was there!

The next day in Sydney I did not do a whole lot.  I went to a very popular beach, called Bondi Beach, where there were tons of people.  It was a nice beach, and I could imagine it being a lot of fun to hang out there all day with a group of friends, but I was alone so I didn't stay for long.  However, there was another restaurant from Julie's list that was right by the beach, so I decided to stop by and have lunch.  The place was called Hurricane's Grill, and they had some pretty darn amazing ribs!

For my last day in Sydney, I had saved one of my most anticipated activities on my "things to do in Australia" list, which was to touch (preferably hold if possible) a koala bear.  Prior to my trip, I had seen people with photos of them holding a Koala bear and so I tried to research a place where I too could do this.  However, everywhere I read said that anywhere near Sydney or Melbourne it was illegal to hold them because supposedly the constant handling by humans makes them uncomfortable.  I was told about a place where you could still pet them, however, and so I was content in settling with that.  Featherdale Wildlife Park was about an hour and a half commute by train and then bus.  The day was a bit rainy, but since Koala's live in trees, rain doesn't seem to affect them so much.  At the park, they have all sorts of indigenous animals of Australia, all of which you can pet! They had koalas, wallabies, wombats, dingoes, Tasmanian devils (which are shockingly similar in behavior to the cartoon, the thing never stopped running in circles for the entire five minutes I watched it!) and much more.  It was a lot of fun, and koalas are even softer and cuter than I had imagined.  This concluded my trip in Sydney, it was off the next morning for Melbourne.

Where Sydney had a more modern art type of feel, Melbourne definitely reflected more of the colonial style and seemed much more rustic than Sydney.  There were numerous colonial buildings, undoubtedly named Victoria "something", and they even had cable cars as public transport rather than buses.  The city had a neat feel to it and it was enjoyable to just walk around, which is precisely what I did my first two days there.  Having had enough of walking around a strange city by myself, I decided to book a tour to travel the Great Ocean Road the next morning. I had heard of this road from many of the people that had traveled Australia, and even seen some of their pictures, and it looked beautiful.  The road, which was commissioned to provide jobs for thousands of Aussie soldiers returning from WWI without work, winds part of the southern coastline of Australia, providing stunning views of the rocky cliffs with great ocean swells crashing up against them.  I was originally planning to rent a car and drive this road myself but decided against it as it was more expensive, complicated, dangerous, and lonely than doing it through a tour.  The tour got off to rough start.  I was told to meet the tour bus at a cathedral near my hostel by 7am, which created a great shock when I rolled over to check the time the next morning and saw that it was already past 8am.  I quickly ran down stairs to the front desk of my hostel, whom I had booked the tour through, in hopes of just getting lucky and something being able to be worked out.  I was not so hopeful though because the following day, my last day, I had already purchased tickets for a rugby game I was super excited about and so there was no way for me to reschedule.  However, as always, my travel angel was with me and it just so happened that that company runs two tours a day and the other one left at 11am and they had extra room for me, I just had to sit shotgun in the front with the driver.  No problem!  The other bad news was that the day we went was the one rainy overcast day during my stay in Melbourne, which prevented the beautiful sunshine and sunset pictures of the coast.  Even without, the drive was absolutely beautiful.  After driving for about 6 hours we reached the end of the road at the famous 12 apostles landmark.  What this is is 7 rock pillars jutting out of the sea just off the coast.  Why is it called the 12 apostles when it only has 7?  Good question.  Basically, the original name for the formations had been the Sow and Piglets, but was changed to the apostles to be more attractive for tourists, and it would be strange to call it the 7 apostles.  Regardless, the whole trip was super cool and the sights were beautiful.  OH, and we saw some wild koalas on one of our pits stops!

For my last day in Australia, I did some more walking around, souvenir shopping, and eating, particularly the meat pies.  However, all I was really doing was killing time until it was time to go to the rugby game I was so excited to get to watch.  The game was part of a tournament called Super Rugby, where 15 clubs from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand (5 from each) compete against each other.  For soccer fans, this is like watching the champions league.  Anyways, the game I was going to watch were the Canberra Brumbies, who finished the last season in 2nd place, against the home town Melbourne Rebels, who aren't that good.  Despite the ref trying to give the superior Brumbies all the help he could in the first half, the Rebels came back and won the game in heroic fashion in the second half.  It was a fantastic game and a fantastic way to end my stay in Australia.