Friday, April 17, 2009

Cyanide apples and a little girl...

Sounds like the ingredients of a fairy tale. But no, just an ordinary day in my life tutoring Tiffany and Paulo, ages 9 & 11. I'd ride with them to and from school (going home in between) and they'd always have a snack on the way home, usually fruit. Tiffany would eat the whole apple.
I mean the WHOLE apple, all but the stem.

I once saw a homeless guy do that, but Tiffany was far from homeless. She was a bright, friendly, positive girl from a home that gave her everything. Yet still she didn't waste even an apple seed, and had a heart that could hold all the world's poor children, and it did, as she wanted desperately to give a backpack of school supplies to a poor rural town's fellow 3rd graders but her mother said she could only give away her old things and she would not buy any new things to give. She cried after her mother and brother left the room.

I could write more about Tiffany and Paulo, and I just might, but I want to get back to the cyanide. It's in apricot pits, cherry pits, apple seeds, and some other nuts.

I was eating some apricots at my apartment in China with a friend over. He kept the pits aside and asked for something I didn't understand as he looked around. His eyes brightened when he found a hammer. He squatted down and proceeded to bang the pits with the hammer on my tile floor, missing most of the time, pits escaping the hammer head, shooting under furniture and into other rooms. He finally got one open and ate the nut inside, which looked like a fat almond.

The second one he broke open he gave to me, anxious to see my delight as he introduced me to the new exotic taste of... suntan lotion. My face cringed up and I wondered why on earth anyone would eat these things by choice. I assumed they must be healthy. Well, they are and they aren't....

They taste like bitter almond and contain a tiny bit of cyanide. This makes many people say we should not consume them, and the internet abounds with stories of people going to the hospital after swallowing cherry pits. Thing is, the cyanide doesn't really come out if you swallow the pits whole.
And two reasons for eating the seeds of apples at least (most people are still too afraid to eat apricot pits even though some cultures do it regularly):

1.) It's been said that the skin of the fruit contains the antidote for cyanide. So the idea is that if you eat the whole fruit, those few seeds will not hurt you, but if you eat a cupful of apple seeds crushed or chewed with no apple skin, you can die. Who the hell'd want to eat a cupful of crushed apple seeds anyway? They taste like miniature apricot pits, which taste like poison. Not something you want to add to your banana bread unless you're looking to off some- ... anyway...

2.) It's been discovered (don't ask me for my sources, I don't remember) that apparently cancer tumors are the only thing found in the human body that can bond with cyanide, counteracting it. So when they find each other in you, I guess they sort of... become friends and both get born again as mellow non-harmful-whatevers. No more cancer cell, no more cyanide molecule. They've fiddled with this as a potential cure for cancer but it's also been labeled as "quackery". Imagine if it's true that an apple a day can keep us out of Sloan and save billions of dollars in medication and doctor bills. No, really, IMAGINE it. Some cultures don't have cancer you know. They don't ever need to go to a doctor for it.

WHY am I bringing this up?
I looked it up after eating a WHOLE apple yesterday and wondering how much better it might be for me than leaving the core. I do tend toward the idea of eating as naturally as possible, so I think I'm going to eat the whole apple from now on, even though the middle tastes like slightly bitter almonds. Hey, if there's a chance it might go in there and smart-bomb a few cancer cells before they have a chance to reproduce, it's darn worth it to me. Too bad we can't know if it's working. But it's clear that 5 apple seeds can't hurt.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Red Hair Dye Job Disaster

I decided to visit the local hairdresser on my street, the one with the cute little baby... I had actually seen people getting their hair done there, and it wasn't an all-night "hairdresser" like the ones by the bus stop that men come out of at 11pm, so I figured it'd be safe...

(note: In the U.S. I had only been to a hairdresser once - when I was the maid of honor in my sister's wedding; she made us all go together. Now WHAT on earth possessed me to go to a hairdresser in CHINA?? Please don't ask... a friend talked me into covering some grey, which I don't normally care about, but I succumbed to the peer pressure and adventure of doing something new...)

I asked for my natural color, to cover a little bit of grey. I said everything right; it was VERY CLEAR what I wanted and they definitely understood. They said they can't just dye part, they have to do my whole head. They showed me a book of fake hair samples and I pointed to the color I wanted. But as they bleached out my color I wondered why they weren't putting any brown in... they thought I'd like it if they made me BLEACH BLONDE! They styled it all nice and I said "why didn't you put brown?" and he said, "but it's so pretty isn't it??" and I got mad saying I asked for brown, the brown in the book, and would you believe he said they were all out of that one?!? I said so why didn't you tell me, you just put no color?!? (knowing he just wanted to experiment on me) ...I was so mad.

They told me to pick a different brown and they'd put it in... ...they suggested a brown, and knowing my colors I could see it had a very tiny hint of reddish in it. I said no, it has a little red (knowing that the red would be pulled out on the bleach-blonde) but they insisted it wouldn't be noticeable, and I decided to believe them. As they were rinsing my hair (and I couldn't yet see it) they quietly muttered things I didn't understand, and I said in chinese, "too much red, right?" and they didn't want to say, but, well, you can see for yourself...

I had to call my boss from the chair, cape on shoulders, making them pause their blow-drying, in tears, explaining why I had to miss a class. I held the phone up to the hairdresser and angrily cried in Chinese, "YOU tell my boss why I'm late!" Of course she didn't, and I didn't expect her to. My boss said, "Well, just get here as soon as you can no matter what color your hair is."

I was there FOUR HOURS total!!! I really did cry for real, and they started to feel bad and said they'd fix it. I said in my bad chinese, "two times you did it wrong, you want to do it a third time?? You think I'm stupid?!?" and they just said sorry, sorry, come back tomorrow, and I said "Really? Tomorrow you'll know how to make brown??" and I left, running home, trying not to miss my next class. I was so embarrassed to go into work, but then some of the other teachers said I looked sexy that way. Even if it was a lie it made me laugh and feel better.

I let my hair rest 2-3 days then a Chinese friend took me to buy a box of brown from the supermarket and we did it at my house and it made it a tiny bit darker but not much.
After that, every 3-4 weeks I did another box of brown trying to make it darker and darker, but it would always fade back to red after a few weeks. This all happened TWO YEARS AGO this month (April 2007) and my hair still has light, dry ends.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Much nicer "old lady on a bus" story...

It was the 104 bus, I believe.
I was near the back but not quite.
An elderly woman with a huge bouquet mostly made up of pink flowers got on and sat behind me. I could smell them from my seat. I decided this was a good opportunity to practice my Chinese. I turned around and said, "your flowers are very pretty, they smell nice". She smiled and said something; I don't remember what and perhaps I didn't understand. I continued, "Is it your birthday?" She laughed and said "No, no....." and said something about her son and a big event. My impression was that it was some kind of award ceremony or retirement party - something related to his work. The flowers were likely part of the decor, and being his mother she was allowed to take one home. I could be wrong. I could be WAY wrong, as I didn't understand 90% of what she said, but somehow I got that very strong impression.

I've sometimes wondered how much of a conversation I invent when I'm listening and don't really understand. I know it's very easy to do. Our brains want to fill in blanks, and they are constantly doing this every day and we don't realize it. We sometimes call it a filter that each of us has, that alters the way we understand things from person to person. But when we only have a tiny bit of information missing it's not a big deal and only leads to occasional misunderstandings. When we are missing 90%, well, let me tell you from experience, we could be on an entirely different subject than whatever it is the other person is trying to convey. I saw this most clearly and measurably after I actually understood a particular Chinese TV show. At first I understood about 2-10%, and I imagined the rest. Now I understand about 75% and it's not what I thought. The guy who I thought was cheating on his wife and I didn't like him throughout the whole series was actually set up and innocent the whole time. Not only that but he's one of the two "good guys" in the whole thing.

Hmm... anyone out there in what you think is a bad relationship might want to take up a new language.

Old lady waking me up...

People in China doze off everywhere. I thought it was odd at first but I soon found myself closing my eyes and getting some serious relaxation done on subways, buses, etc.
Not on the bicycle.

So one late night after work on the 110 bus I had one of those awkward seats that faces backward, facing another person. I was facing an elderly Chinese woman. I had a LONG ride ahead so I leaned on the window and closed my eyes. I was slightly dozing but not completely; still aware of anything that would be out of the ordinary, still aware of each time the bus stopped. After a lot of bus stops went by I guess she was wondering if I was completely asleep and had possibly missed my stop, or soon would. I don't know if she was messing with me to see if I'd understand Chinese or if she was simply treating me like she'd treat a Chinese person, but she suddenly "accidentally" bumped my foot with hers and said in a normal voice, "you asleep?". I opened my eyes and smiled, but she didn't see the smile - she turned away almost as if she didn't do anything so I didn't bother saying "thank you". It was almost like, "I'll do a small duty and the exact moment my job is done I will completely disengage from it as if I never even did a thing."

What's that all about?
Was she messing with me to see if I'd understand her, or was she being concerned I'd miss my stop?
Either way, she left an impression.