Thursday, July 10, 2008

Strange Homecoming

We finally went somewhere today! Granted it was only Chinatown and I've been there so many times before. The last few times I've went back I've always felt a little weird, almost a little out-of-place. Today was no different. The one thing I do appreciate about Chinatown is that I'm not consistently on the short side of average. Almost everyone there is either my height or shorter, haha.

And as I walk into all these stores by all these restaurants, I'm filled with the familiar smells of all my early childhood. The herbal medicines, the Asian vegetables, the fresh seafood, the fried and steamed foods, the meats, etc. I walked into this one store with my grandparents and I saw shelves and shelves of herbal stuff. Most of them I don't even recognize as edible, much less something I'd want to eat. I mean, who eats dried deer hooves?! What medicinal properties can that possibly have? While I do believe that in some Chinese herbal remedies there are thing of true medicinal value, lots of it are probably placebos at best, and a few will probably do some harm. In another store I saw snapping turtles, red-eared slider turtles, and a soft-shell flat turtle thing (don't remember what kind of turtle it actually was). And I'm like, "People eat these?!" It's always surprising what many Chinese people would eat. I have my limits. For example, I refuse to ever eat jellyfish. Had it once. It was terrible.

The real purpose of our visit to Chinatown was to have dim sum (点心 = dian2 xin1, in Mandarin) with my aunt's side of the family in Chicago. My aunt had to work and so was unable to join us. I've even been to this particular dim sum place several times before. Usually I love dim sum, but today I wasn't feeling particularly voracious (see tangent below for details). I ate almost one of everything though, and a few of a couple things. I didn't eat much. A lot of it was surprisingly greasy and salty, and that's a huge food turn-off to me now. I don't even use salt in my cooking, only some soy sauce which is salty enough on its own. Salty foods cause me to drink lots of fluid (I could tell you why, biologically, but that'd take a while). And so I drank lots of tea, haha. I'm not a tea connoisseur. I can taste the subtle difference between the different kinds of tea, but I'm unable to match the taste to a particular kind of tea - for example, jasmine green tea.

And again, I sit there in near-silence (mostly because I've nothing to add) as I listen to the family gossip. Invariably it turns to me and how I'll eventually be attending MCW in Milwaukee, which is just over an hour away. And my uncle proclaims hopefully how I'll come to visit him on long weekends to teach my cousin how to be a better student and all. I am NOT a magical cure-all to academic woes! I am also not his key into college. And someone would invariably proclaim how there's money to be made as a doctor. In my mind I kind of want to shout at them all the reasons that's not true, especially now. And invariably someone would notice how many long long years it'd take to become a doctor when undergrad, med school, and residency are all accounted for. Yes, I'll be at least 29 if not in my mid-30s by the time I'm done with residency. THEN I can really start paying back my $150,000+ of debt.

Interestingly, the conversation also turns to everyone's health. The oldest generation would proclaim how they're monitoring this or monitoring that, how they're watching their diet, how they exercise, how fit they are, how they're trying to regulate themselves from getting this chronic disease or that. Through all of this, I listen. I refrain from saying anything, though I know just as much - if not more - about what they're talking about. I was pre-med after all. This will be my realm. If they don't ask me, then I won't intervene. I've learned very recently that I can sometimes tend to meddle in others' health, and this is something I should control.

Mini-tangent: in one of my groups of friends I'm the "resident biologist" (not sure if I've blogged about this before). But I like being the only biology major in that group of friends, because when something biological comes up, they always defer to me. And even if I don't know the answer (and I admit it when I don't) I can at least give a decent hypothesis. I like being deferred to as the source of knowledge sometimes, haha. In my other group of friends we're almost all medical-leaning people. So things are more of a discussion rather than anyone deferring to anyone's "expertise."

Anyway, in the end, I think I see in some of their eyes how I've differed from all of them. I've "broken free" of Chinatown and the language barriers that still cause Chinese people to become clustered in and around it. I've the ability to ascend in the US labor hierarchy, or something, I don't know. It's almost painfully obvious now how well-off my parents are in comparison. I mean, none of my relatives known to me are dirt-poor or anything. But I hear of my uncle using food stamps, and my aunt's parents qualifying for food stamps and such. And I think, "Wow, and my parents were able to pay for all of my undergraduate education when I obtained almost no money from scholarships and such." It's remarkable. It's also remarkable that somehow I did grow up in that, in close quarters with extended family - a crowded apartment, that some somewhere along the line of my life I became somewhat separated from those roots.

What do they see of me now? Someone more American than Chinese? An ABC (American-born Chinese) for sure. Who knows. I listen to them speak the myriad of Chinese dialects/accents, and I'm still able to comprehend almost every word. And when I speak I become aware of how imperfect my Mandarin is, of how it's "contaminated" by all these regional sounds. Every now and then I find myself saying a word with an incorrect tone and instantly correcting because it felt weird. And sometimes, I'm not sure what the tones are because Mandarin and Cantonese use different tones a lot of times.

And so, coming back to Chinatown is something like a strange homecoming.

I actually wrote this part first but decided to shove it at the end as no one probably cares about my vanity issues. Now, let me indulge in my vanity for a moment. You can stop reading if you want. I won't blame you.

Anyway, perhaps I've been a bit hard on myself. Sometimes when I see myself in the mirror I think, "Well, I'm not that fat." Perhaps it's a matter of perspective, just like when you look down at your penis it looks smaller to you. All in all, I have come a long way from my heaviest weight. My legs aren't nearly as thick and flabby as they used to be, my arms are starting to show some visible muscle, a nice jawline is emerging. The only area that needs true work is my chest and stomach areas. Running will take care of the legs and overall fat, lifting weights will take care of the arms and back, but the chest and stomach areas have been rather stubborn.

If only I had inherited the "thin gene" that all other East Asians seem to have. Perhaps I got my defective copy from my dad. Both my brothers are like my mom and many of my relatives: thin. Now this may sound weird, but if my brothers actually worked out and built some muscle (they have like none), they could be hot. I think it's easier to go from thin to hot than from fat to hot. But the one advantage of being overweight first is that the muscles are already there (however un-toned) from carrying a heavy load for a long time. It just needs to be excavated from underneath the fat. In any case, I firmly believe that genetics only plays a partial role in all this, especially as we age. It sets a baseline and that baseline could be amazing or crappy. If the baseline is rather crappy - like in my case - it just means more work and monitoring.

I've developed a new "diet" in the last few weeks. You see, as long as I eat to not be hungry but at the same time not be full or near full, I seem to settle at a lower baseline weight. Smaller food portions, slower eating, stopping before I get fully satisfied, etc. It has a good psychological effect for me, actually. You see, if I eat a lot of anything I get sick of it really fast. So I would eat a lot of something I liked, then hate it for days, weeks, or even months to years before I'd eat it again. Plus I also feel a little sick (cue food coma and hurting full stomach) afterwards. So eating in strict moderation ensures that I can enjoy all foods. I'll stick to this for a few months and increase my exercising a little, or at least maintain some semblance of exercise, and see what happens.

So I see improvement. Long-term improvement, which comes about subtly and rather unnoticeably at first. I know things don't happen overnight, or even in a month or two. Interestingly, a lot of my pants are pretty loose on me now even with a belt. Many of my sweatshirts and T-shirts seem almost a bit too large on me and even my underwear's fitting better, lol. Now, at some point in the near-ish future I'll probably need a new (and hot) wardrobe. I should get sexier underwear too, haha. Too bad I don't know how to shop to dress or whatnot. Anyone offering any tips and pointers? :P

At least there's one gene I know I'll inherit and that's the gene that usually makes East Asians look younger than they actually are. My parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents all look much better for their age than many Caucasian counterparts. The one thing I'm not sure about its genetic origin is the amount of my facial and body hair. My mom's side of the family is nigh-hairless aside from head hair (kind of weird). My dad's side isn't that hairy either. I'm by no means "hairy," but I'm pretty sure I have more than your average East Asian. For example, I can probably grow a full mustache and beard if I wanted, though it'd take many months. I actually find facial really hot on some guys. I've always wanted to try something with that on my own face, but I've been too lazy. Oh! I think the whole "happy trail" thing is exceedingly hot, haha. I have a small-ish happy trail, lol, though my brothers - or any of my male relatives who I've seen shirtless, however briefly - don't.

Well, that was perhaps the longest tangent ever, haha.


j said...

i think asians as a whole are getting fatter. ever see those little chinese boys that are perfectly spherical and waddle when they walk. i think part of the problem is a culture that really doesn't promote sports over education. also, i think it's because of all the white rice we eat...

Anonymous said...

Happy trails rock my world! Facial hair is a deal-breaker...don't grow any, ew.

Your genes are working against you on this one, don't be too disappointed about little improvement in the tummy area. At least you'll be generally fit and healthy.