Heading to the bars

It’s developed into a relatively new habit, at least a few times a week.  Even when traveling, I’ve started investigating where the bars are so that I might stay nearby.

It all started in Bangkok a couple of years ago when, in the course of going out, I took a side street and discovered a bar area worth hanging out in.

Bars can set you free, no club to join, and like most bars, a congregation area for meeting others with the same goals.

For those sharing the same hankering, the following are a few images of bar areas I’ve run across in recent travels.  If you care to share your favorite bars, your input would be most welcome.


The bars that started the obsession — Lumpini Park, Bangkok

East River near the East Village, NYC

When I must stay in Shanghai, I try to stay around Jing’an Park, which has a semi-hidden bar area (partial view)

On the ocean in Danang, Vietnam

Manhattan Beach, California, a bar area hard to beat

Partial View of a bar area on the Colorado River, Austin, TX

Zhangjiagang go-to bar area as long as the locals are not using them for drying clothes

This morning’s alternate bar area in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu, China

Duh,..I can’t remember

And I’m not sure if it’s buried, misfiled, or purged.  After all, there’s only so much memory space, right?

Kind of.  As much as memory storage is relative to overall health, which is affected by all the stuff we are familiar with, like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress.

Memory serves us well, as long as we don’t live in the storage bins.  But what is memory? (Don’t worry, you won’t learn that here.)  As we know it, it is simply a dynamic process of neurons encoded by conscious and unconscious thought, with a measure of observation and dash of awareness.

Supposedly, we can train and expand our recollection ability through learning.  There are volumes written about theories and methods for the most efficient ways to build the encoding, storing, and recalling process.  The thing is though, memories are not frozen in time, but rather experiences and associations which change over time.  I can’t recall who (duh), but someone in the know described remembering as creative reimagination. 

Talking to one of my sisters yesterday, we joked that when remembering events, we don’t know whether we remember what actually happened, or remember what we remembered.  In either case, remembering is, at best, a reconstruction colored by our own (unique) awareness.

Memories, or what we remember, isn’t stored in some kind of brain ether.  Memories are stored in specialized, information-transmitting cells.  But those cells, like all our cells, are constantly changing.  In a real sense, we are completely different people than we were 10 years ago.  Cells that make up our body are not the same cells of 10 years ago.  Which means life is fluid (duh).  And so is our memory (double duh).

The storage and retrieval function ends up corrupted from time to time.

For those so inclined. the good news is, they say, that a healthy mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain, increasing neurotransmitter levels (slowing down normal decay), and giving us our best chance to recollect what we care to remember.

Now if only I could remember what that was, duh.

We want it cheap

It’s natural for us to protect our hard earned cash by routinely searching for cheaper options — of anything.  Two product categories in which the competition has been overwhelming us with affordable (cheap) options enticing us to fork over our dough are food and clothes.

I was asked recently why apparel purchased in outlet shops tends to fall apart after a year or so.

We can make clothes so cheap we can almost give them away.

Clothing sold in outlet stores has become big business.  Once a place to unload liability inventory, most higher-end retailers have turned outlets into profitable retail chains, using lower cost (quality) products and stitching them in low-cost countries.  For all of us involved, the makers and consumers, it’s truly a race to the bottom, to the cheapest.

As in clothes, consumers have been demanding cheap food.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), industry is happy to oblige, thanks to capitalism and supply-side economics.

We’ve aggressively improved processes to make corn, meat, and tee shirts dirt cheap.  That means we look at each component in the production life-cycle and continually evaluate where/how more profit can be squeezed from less.  In almost all cases, we bastardize the original product.  You can safely bet that meat sold in a fast-food chain, whether beef, pork, chicken, or fish, is from animals who have suffered a miserable, production-controlled life.  Clothing made for outlet stores were designed to be sold, not to last a lifetime.  It’s a penny-pinching business. Good care and cheap don’t compliment each other in the race to the bottom.

An old girlfriend of mine, in the fashion business, had a surprisingly stark closet, yet she always looked up-to-date and sophisticatedly fashionable.  Her philosophy was to purchase well-made, high-end, classic pieces in a tight color range, mostly black and white.  She was able to combine all her pieces to make her wardrobe look much more expansive that it was.  She spent less on clothes at the end of the year than the average discount shopper.

Cheap clothes and cheap food are not bad, as long as our expectations are in line with the purchase price.  Our yen to buy lots of cheap clothes has provided jobs and contributed to raising the living standard for millions of Asians.  Our desire for cheap food, on the other hand, may satisfy our immediate taste buds and budget, but we’ll pay for that later, and chalk up the expense to another category called health care.

It’s just an observation

When I was younger, one of the jokes my then 80-year old grandmother delightedly told me was:  A woman was just waking up from an operation in the hospital recovery room, still drowsy from the anesthesia.  She lifted her head slightly and looked around the room.  There were two men dressed in white standing against the wall talking to each other.  After a few minutes, one of them walked over to her bed, lifted the covers, looked her up and down, then returned and continued talking to the other man.  A minute or so later, the second guy approached her bed and did the same thing.  As he lifted the covers, she said, “hey, what am I here for, an operation or observation?”  The guy said, “I don’t know lady, we’re just the painters.”

Call me simple-minded, but the joke still gives me a mild kick.  (As an aside, in high school, two of the many jobs I had were 1) as a porter in a hospital, where I swabbed the deck of the main parts of the hospital, including the recovery room, and 2) as a painter.  I never had such an observation.)

There are different reasons for being observant.  When my brother and I rode bicycles across part of the country, he would observe things that passed me by.  Our attentions drifted on different aspects of the trip.  Various observations, different perspectives, and neither right or wrong.  They just are.  No conclusions were drawn.

How Sweet? Way too sweet.

Not to overdo posts about the country where I’m living, but I’ve observed something that does not require lifting any blankets.  Observation: a significant portion of young Chinese children, especially girls, need to wear eye glasses.

Requiring glasses to see well early in life sure seems like a genetic defect.  It’s not natural.  Some have drawn the conclusion that the unusually high percent of myopia is due to the social environment of studying too much and being indoors.  That theory doesn’t float my logic boat.

already needing glasses?

The author of Deep Nutrition, mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, makes a convincing case that the two most widely used toxic food ingredients — sugar and vegetable oil, are having damaging effects on not only us but also our offsprings.

Most of us have heard that processed sugars are not good, but we still eat sweet stuff in humungous amounts.  The Chinese have kicked Western habits into high gear and have started to sweeten everything, to a sickening degree.  And, they use massive amounts of vegetable oil as a staple kitchen item.  These oils have been used now for decades.  Vegetable and seed oils are sold in every mini-market in 3-liter containers.  They cook everything in this oil, including sugar.

I try to steer clear of these oils but it’s damn difficult. It’s used to cook everything.

The production of vegetable and seed oils requires about 20 different processes including the use of high heat and deodorization, which alters the molecular makeup.  Consistent consumption of these toxic oils, the author argues, negatively affects our chromosomal makeup.  (Oils from olive, coconut, and peanut are extracted without heat.)

I’m not making a connection here.  It’s just an observation, with a dash of logic.  But then again, I’m just the painter lady.

This “original” buttermilk “let the taste return to nature” is hardly natural.  The store clerk told me it had no sugar but it was so sweet I had to throw away.


I’m talking to you foreigner.

What is it about the spontaneous urge to blurt out a greeting to a stranger in their language?  It happens to me without fail at least once a day as I’m passing someone, either on foot or bicycle.  

Yesterday I was the recipient of the impromptu “hello” three times. First while walking to the park, one in a group of school age boys across the street yelled “hello.”  Then inside the park, an old man, a park worker, gave me a “hello” as I passed by.  Then again on a backroad, as I was biking to the factory where I work, a young man belted out “hello.”  Yes, the urge seems to strike all ages, except that it’s exclusively the male gender who displays the extroverted verbal gesture.   Depending on the distance, I either wave, smile, nod, or return them with a hi or howdy, or sometimes a combo.

The yen here to shout out hello is usually done by someone who’s english vocabulary does not extend beyond that word.  Perhaps the compulsive expression just feels good —  connecting with a foreigner in their tongue.  The locals here do not use that greeting among themselves.

I can’t help but wonder if I lived in a small town and an oddball Chinese person walked by if I’d impulsively yell out ni hao even if I knew no more of their language.  Or if I passed a Mexican would I blurt out hola,  or marhabaan to an Arabic looking dude.  Anyway, the Chinese have got to presume I’m english speaking.  I could be French. They are not saluting me with a “salut.”  Then again, we all look alike and english is the universal language.

Truthfully, I’m glad for the daily salutation from an always unknown and varied source.  It’s certainly better than many alternatives, like a version of catcalling.  I take the extemporaneous acknowledgment as a form of welcoming a foreigner into alien turf.  I’m chalking it as a net positive for humanity.

Conclusion:  If you’ve read this far, consider giving the next foreigner you see in your town a big hello in their language.  Hello!  There’s really no downside.

The Mask

Spend any time in Asia and you become accustomed to the mask as part of the (dress) culture. In my younger years, we only saw them worn only in hospitals, by doctors and nurses, to protect those they were working on from germs they might be carrying.

It may have been something like this. With a visor on the hat, I was well protected from a day in the sun.

Riding motorcycle trips throughout the Southwest USA, I frequently wore a bandana which hung from my upper nose and covered my face.  It was a mask for sun protection and doubled as a wet cloth when I need it.  In the Middle East, some tribes of Arab women wear masks for religious reasons.

With filters, they are becoming more innovatively stylish.

Now though, it’s become a trend to wear them as prevention from sucking in undesirable particles.  Airborne epidemics, pollen, and pollution have spread their popularity.

In China, where I am today, there is a pollution alert.  It’s a breezy, hazy, sunny day.  Perhaps because cigarette smoking is so common, (in all eating establishments including the kitchens and elevators, precious few places are smoke-free), a surprisingly small percent of people wear masks.  But in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, much larger portions of the population sport the surgical mask look.  Thing is, for pollution, unless the mask is airtight with a quality filter, the thin fabric typically worn doesn’t filter the dangerous, smaller particles.

The masseuse I frequent to help loosen up my neck has started wearing one inside, even when there are no patients.

A typical Tokyo street scene.

In Japan, an even higher percent wear masks, not for pollution, but rather to prevent sickness, either from a virus or allergic pollen.  Many in that culture are more comfortable wearing masks in public as a habit, no worries about facial appearance (no makeup needed), less  chance interaction with a stranger, and in the process, might even prevent something contageous.  A good portion of the younger generation are content with ear plugs and eyes glued to a smart phone and face conveniently covered by a mask.

You’ve gotta love running — but there is no way you can breath heavy with ease.

Sure there are times when it’s prudent to make sure we don’t accidentally breath or swallow something nasty.  It’s surely nice to see food prep folks wearing them so as to prevent the otherwise inevitable and unintentional shared spittle that would end up as part of what we consume.

They are gradually becoming a fashion statement.

On the other hand, it seems that prolific use of this mouth and nose shield is a little neurotic that it has become a common wardrobe accessory.

As a (human) race, the face is the principle method of non-verbal communication.  It’s kind of ashame that we are slowly covering up that connection.

Resistance Plus,…or is it Minus?

Two weeks ago I wrote a few meager, grainy thoughts about resistance exercises.  What I neglected to mention is the importance of tissue preparation, muscle activation, and dynamic preparation — an elaborate and more technical manner of describing proper warm up before hand, steps I must have botched last week before one of my workouts.

The low, dull, seemingly innocuous pulsing started somewhere in the lower back left side.  By the next day it had turned to discomfort and moved down to my hip, then transformed to a more serious pain in the gluteus area, to the top of my thigh, and eventually my entire left leg from hip joint to ankle.

This is not how you want to feel after resistance

Two days after it started, a 2.5 hour flight was enough to bring me close to tears as the pain objected vehemently to its forced sitting position.  Since then it has only marinally improved.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, the ache subsides somewhat during the day to permit moderate mobility, except at a tad slower pace.  But at night the pain leaps out of its daytime hiding place with a vengance and has an intensely good time not letting me sleep well.

To add insult to the injured left side, a couple of days into my trip, which required quite a bit walking for the scouting mission I had planned, it started drizzling as I was cruising on a crowded sidewalk.

fortunately I went forward and not on the already injured rump

As I’ve learned the hard way on two wheels, the first coating of moisture on metal ground plates makes for an icy-like surface.  Because I didn’t have an umbrella, I picked up the pace and before I could react my right foot slipped out in front of me on a metal sidewalk plate, causing my left knee to slam to the ground where I landed in a half kneeling position.  The good news was that the new throbbing sensation from the sudden jolting impact was great enough to render the other pain a non-issue, at least temporarily.  The slip managed to win a layer of knee skin and left me with a fashionable rip in my otherwise un-torn jeans.  The passing pedistrians gave no nevermind to the half-kneeling wierdo as it took a few seconds to gather the required ummpf to rise and continue on.

Not a shiatsu pressure point nor an otherwise therapeutic massage has improved the constant stinging of the original offense.  I’m kind of down for the count, or at least off resistance temporarily, wallowing in a holding pattern somewhere between wanting to punch something or cry.  I suppose staying in the middle of those extremes is worthy of contentment.

There are so many muscles, it pays to pay attention to a few. They are all connected

Nephew Trip S warned me about the warmup importance.  I thought I did, but evidently not well enough.  So for anyone hankering to know what a good activation warmup looks like, Dr. Peter Attia, a knowledgeable nutrition professional and once marathon swimmer, along with Jesse Schwartzman, demonstrate a routine here in a 4-part video.  Many are the same activation movements Trip S teaches.

Preparation and activation are the key words.  If you resist, do yourself a favor and make it resistance plus, not minus.