where fat is ‘beauty’

July 31, 2010 § 8 Comments

Ever wished you lived in a place where fat was celebrated, and stretch marks considered the height of beauty?

I pondered that today as I stared at the weighing scale, the needle hovering over a number that I really, really hate.

For the girls living in Mauritania, that form of beauty is a reality. Except, they probably wish they weren’t pushed into living a different ideal. Like how we sign up for workouts that force us to exercise till we want to puke, these girls are sent to a form of fat boot-camp where they are made to eat continuously for days on end.

The goal? To gain massive amounts of weight in hope that they become marriage-worthy.

In Mauritania, a wife’s fat is a symbol of a husband’s wealth in the drought-prone country. A teenage girl is therefore sent to these fat boot-camps where they eat huge quantities of goat’s milk, oily couscous, pounded millet mixed with water, eggs, peanuts and anything else that can pile on the pounds in the shortest amount of time. Feel full? You still got to eat, and eat they do till they want to throw up but if that happens, they are then forced to eat what they threw up.

Almost 80% of the girls in that country are force-fed this way between the ages of 7 and 14. Their daily caloric quota ranges between 14,000 and 16,000. In between their gastronomical meals, they lie down on straw mats to digest their meals without expending energy.

Not all the girls consider being fat as beautiful though. But here, culture and tradition have the upper hand in the decision-making.

I continued to stare at my weighing machine and managed a thin-lipped smile. At least, I have a choice. The media and environment I live in are starting to wage war against being thin but it’s still up to me to decide what beauty is, and to live my life according to what I deem acceptable. I am extremely grateful to be able to have that choice.

I’ll run later today but it won’t be a battle to lose weight.

Instead, I’ll be celebrating the freedom I have to don my running shoes and wobble down the tracks.

(See the original article here)

if only

July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

‘If only…’

Those two words are the harbingers of regret and discontentment, and almost always form the start of excuses for my mistakes.

I need to start erasing the ‘if only’s’ from my mental conversations. Perhaps then, I can be a better person, happier with all that I have, imperfect as they are.

what did I learn?

July 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

‘What did you learn over the weekend?’ I asked JapGirl.

‘I learnt not to assume that others see themselves the same way I see them. I also got me a lovely new book!’ she said, holding out a plain hardcover ring-bound set of brown papers. I oohed and aahed appropriately before bending downwards to sniff them.We both like papers. They make us high.

‘I like…’ I smiled.

‘What did you learn?’ she asked in return.

‘I realized that it’s great fun overtaking people when I run,’ I gleefully replied. ‘I also found out that it’s hard to drink water while running, how I need to start reading books again and that I truly love eating oatmeal.’

We do this every week with each other and it’s lovely to think back on a weekend gone by and recapture our ‘wow’ moments of revelation. Personally, I ask myself that same question too, every night I sit down to write.

What did I learn today?

*

I entered the derelict mall and wrinkled my nose in slight disgust. It reeked of old boiled soup, unwashed clothes and corners that hadn’t seen the light of day in years. Glancing at the scrawled unit number in my hand, I took the escalators and rode up to the second floor. I was on a hunt for new shoes.

My knees had been hurting the past two weeks after every run and I took it as a sign that I needed a new pair.

’02-35, this should be it,’ I murmured to myself as I stepped into a tiny cramped shop filled to the ceiling with shoes and running gear, and marveled at how one could ever keep track of anything in that space. There was barely any space to walk. Still, this place came highly recommended by The Sister’s podiatrist so there had to be some value in the chaos.

‘May I help you?’ A plumpish man dressed in shirt and pants asked me.

‘Yes, I’m looking to get fitted with a new pair of running shoes,’ I replied, ‘My current pair is a little worn out.’

‘Did you bring your old pair?’ He asked.

‘No… but they are Nike Zooms,’ I said.

‘Nikes, pfft. Those are only for looks. You know, they used to make really good running shoes but these days, they changed their marketing strategy and spend more time on superficial design. Come here and take off your shoes,’ he told me, ‘Now turn around and walk to the wall over there. Let me look at your gait.’

Obediently, I did as told and walked up and down the shop several times.

‘You have an arch but it tends to flatten when you place it on the ground. Basically, you over-pronate. You’ve also got very wide feet and your left foot’s big toe has already started to angle inwards,’ he said. Then grabbing a ladder, he climbed into a hole in the ceiling and disappeared for a while. When he returned, he handed me a pair of Asics.

‘Here, these should do well for you.’

I tried them on and honestly couldn’t tell the difference except that they felt more solid.

‘These will do you well for long-distance running,’ he explained. ‘Do your knees hurt when you run in your old pair?’

‘How did you know?’ I asked. At that moment, I felt as though he was god. Sure, it’s basic science and if I bothered to do a little more research, I’m sure I’d have found out the same things on my own but it felt good to get some advice.

‘Good thing you came. Otherwise, the next thing you’d face is very tired calves and back ache,’ he continued. Sheesh, I did suffer from tired calves after running. Sometimes, they felt so sore and tight I wondered if I was doing something wrong.

‘Come back after 8 months and bring your old pair with you. I’ll check how they wear out and see if you need something different,’ he said as I paid for the new shoes.

‘Does a person’s gait change, the more they run?’ I asked.

‘Yes, it can change. But I’ll be able to assess more accurately once I see how your shoes wear out. You say you land mid-foot and not on your heels?’ he asked. I nodded. ‘That’s actually a good thing. Makes for a speedy runner. Well, all the best and see you next year!’

Tonight, as I ran, my pace improved and I did an average of 1km in 6.9 minutes, an improvement from Sunday’s 7.5 minutes. And guess what? My knees didn’t hurt.

I like my new shoes.

*

‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.’

– Albert Einstein

What did I learn today?

I learnt that I tend to over-pronate when I run and that while the shoes didn’t necessarily improve my timing directly, it helped me believe I could go further, stronger… And sometimes, that’s all we need to do greater things – we need something to believe in.

My new shoes aren’t magic but they gave me confidence that I had a solution to my old problems and my new goal of finishing the next 10k run in under an hour is therefore, somehow… possible.

Belief. It’s strength for the mind.

And the mind? It propels the body and person to do things once thought unachievable. It’s that simple.

What do I believe then?

I believe… I can fly.

*

What have you learnt today?

Neubauten’s lullaby

July 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

The demolishing of what was once a carefully designed toilet is finally underway. Several weeks ago, the neighbours one floor below us complained of water leaking and staining their ceiling. After some checks, it was found to be due to the building’s old age so with some subsidy, we now have to redo the waterproofing for the toilets. We have two – one in the kitchen and one in the master bedroom.

Today, they began works in the kitchen’s toilet. First up, hacking away at the tiles, removing the toilet bowls and all other attachments. What I didn’t anticipate though, was the massive noise we’d have to endure. The drilling went on for hours and even after it stopped, I still felt the tremors and heard the ringing in my ears.

It really felt as though Einstürzende Neubauten were playing live in my house. There was no escape. And like all music (experimental, in this case) the sounds continued to ring long after the songs had ended.

Totally random information that’s unrelated and yet, somehow connected to this entry, is that Einstürzende Neubauten actually means collapsing new buildings, and the band’s trademark is using custom-built instruments made out of scrap metal, building tools and samples of noises in their performances. Destruction was part of their music order.

After the contractors left my house, I surveyed the mess and shuddered at the thought of them ‘doing’ my bedroom toilet next. I am not looking forward to sleeping in my bed when that happens.

Yes people, it’s my princess-and-the-pea moment. Except that the pea here is a destroyed toilet.

*

Destruction. Does it really need to take place before improvements can be made?

Let’s take a house’s foundation, for example. To build a simple one-storey structure, the foundation created would be perfect for that purpose, and nothing more. But once expansion is required (multiple storeys) and perhaps, further extensions outwards, the builders would have to destroy what was once familiar – home – and start rebuilding from scratch. Imagine the hacking, demolishing and noise that takes place.

What happens then when your dreams grow bigger and your potential increases? When you pray and ask the Dream Maker to extend your borders… what actually are you asking for? Are you ready for the demolishing of what was once familiar – not because it was necessarily bad but because it’s not sufficient for the amazing things that lie in store?

Growth gets painful, noisy, confusing and at times, plain dirty. At the end of the day, you clean up the mess and sigh with relief, thinking that maybe, it’s all over, until a new day arrives and the hacking begins. Then there’s the drilling deeper (introspection, anyone?), the painstaking brick-laying (which seems to take forever) and the moment when you survey the process and ask, what in the world is happening? Weren’t the old days better? Can’t we just be happy with the way things were?

The only thing that grounds you then is the hope of something beautifully glorious ahead which you can’t quite see yet. So you hurry to the blueprints to recapture that vision, to flesh out the rooms of the future.

That’s why I read the blueprint of life. It’s what I need to get through my days when I feel overwhelmed by the mess that greets me. It reminds me of promises made, dreams painted and one day… a new and glorious place to live in. My life sometimes feels as though it’s constantly under construction, a works-in-progress.

Destruction. I think I can deal with it.

Especially when I know the contractor in charge is the Dream Maker.

He is the best builder I ever know. After all, He made Himself the chief cornerstone of my new home.

*

Einstürzende Neubauten, play on. Your music is now no longer the sound of massive destruction but one of hope. Great things are ahead of me.

And yes, my toilets too.

virgin run

July 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

‘No… not yet…’ I looked at my alarm with bleary eyes. It read 4.45am. Out of sheer habit, I snoozed it and rolled over. ‘Just five more minutes…’ I said to my conscience.

Fifteen minutes later, I scared the Husband when I sat up with a shout.

‘Darn it! The run is today!’

My warm-ups began then, as I ran to the bathroom to wash up, out to the kitchen to make a healthy oatmeal-banana meal, back to the bedroom to change into my running outfit and pack my bags. By then, it was already 5.45am, and Pale Beauty was waiting downstairs in the car.

I was almost out of the door when I remembered my race kit so I charged back into the bedroom, grabbed the still-unopened bag and dashed out of the house. Panting, I entered the car and sighed. It didn’t bode very well for my virgin run.

I tried to read the instructions for tying the electronic sensor onto my shoes when I realized that every girl in the car was dressed in green – the official running attire for the day.

‘Wait, are we supposed to wear the tee-shirt they gave?’ I asked them.

‘No, I don’t think so… but since they gave it to us, why not?’ Pale Beauty answered.

Right. Back to tying the sensor and pinning my number tag onto my purple top. I surreptitiously eyed the other girls in the car and they all looked fit, tanned and experienced. I looked back at my legs and could have sworn they glowed under the lights of passing streetlamps.

‘Umm… am I the only one here who hasn’t run before?’ I asked.

‘Well, the last girl we’re picking up hasn’t run before so I don’t think you’re alone,’ Pale Beauty answered as she nearly swerved into another car. ‘Oops, sorry. I can’t multi-task when I’m driving…’

‘I did a biathlon this year and a half-marathon last year,’ Ms X replied. ‘But I don’t think I’ll do too well today because I got a cold.’

‘What about you?’ I asked Liz, who was sitting beside me.

‘I’ve run before, nothing competitive, just to finish the race. Did you train for this?’ she asked me.

Snapshots of my mid-night practices and trails flashed across my mind, as did images of me gasping for breath.

‘I ran a little… but have never actually completed running 10k,’ I answered.

‘Oh you’ll be okay. It’s not that hard. Just walk if you can’t do it,’ she smiled.

We finally reached the start point 15 minutes before flag-off and there was a scurry to find an empty washroom. While the girls lined up, I stood at the side, watching the thousands of girls in green, feeling intimidated. I didn’t even dare stretch in case I looked like an inexperienced fumbling idiot. Every girl just looked so… good. I quietly hid myself behind some women and snuck in a few ankle rolls and calf stretches.

Over at the starting line, the deejays were warming the crowd up with exercises, while some performing cheerleaders did their stunts. As each minute passed and the girls weren’t back from the washrooms, I felt more and more vulnerable. I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally saw them walk over to where I was hiding.

‘They’re starting!’ Pale Beauty exclaimed. ‘Ooh, let’s take some pictures!’

‘Umm… let’s not?’ I gave a wry smile. ‘How about after the race? Then it’ll be more meaningful,’ I suggested, thinking of offering to be the photographer then.

‘Ok, that’s a good idea,’ she said as we started jogging to the start line.

‘Do you want to keep pace with each other?’ I asked her. I was actually a little worried that I might not find her at the end of the race. The place was akin to salmon laying eggs on a river bed. There were too many people who all looked alike, clamouring for a space in our tiny running stream. I didn’t have a phone and my bag was in her car.

‘You don’t run fast do you?’ she looked worried, ‘I didn’t train for this at all.’

‘Trust me, I don’t,’ I smiled.

We set off and I’ll be honest, it was easy. It didn’t feel any different from my usual practices. I had to ease into my stride and by the 2k mark, it was pure rhythm. It was also extremely fun, weaving in and out of people, overtaking them one by one (ah, such infantile pride!) and the usual warnings to not go too fast at the start? No problem. Like I said, I don’t run fast.

Helpers were lined up along the roads to direct the human traffic and we both skipped the 3k water break. At the 6k water station though, we grabbed a cup each and tried to drink while jogging. Hopeless. The liquid sloshed everywhere except into my mouth. I finally stopped to gulp down the water and then with a nod, Pale Beauty and I continued to slowly overtake the runners, one-by-one.

I finally hit a mental wall at the 8k mark. I say mental because I’m pretty sure my body could have gone on longer but never did so when I trained. Frustrated, I changed music and remembered why I was running.

‘Enjoy yourself,’ I heard the Dream Maker’s voice. And so I did. I watched other runners, looked at the trees, wondered about each person’s history and even had a quick chat with Pale Beauty. Then I saw several runners I’d overtaken earlier on pass me by. Inspired, I began running again. This time, I focused on nothing else but putting one foot ahead of the other.

Past the 9k mark, I started walking. ‘I give up,’ I thought, ‘I don’t think I’ll be the last.’ What fine aspirations I had.

Of all times for someone to recognize me? It was then. I heard a woman call out my name and when I looked up, she clapped her hands.

‘Come on! You can do it! Run!’ she hollered in what I assume was her encouraging cheer.

Right. I gritted my teeth and began a painful, slow jog to the finish line.

‘There, look,’ Pale Beauty pointed at the photographers waiting. ‘Whatever you do, look good.’

I burst out laughing as we crossed the finish line at 1hr 15 minutes.

If there’s a photo of me out there, I’m sure it captured the essence of this experience.

It was a laugh.

*

The hardest part of the race wasn’t the running though. It was the collection of congratulatory gifts – a bag filled with freebies and a bracelet to say, ‘I did it!’ We stood in line for a really long time, stewing under the hot sun in our juices.

‘We stink,’ I said to one in particular.

‘But so does everyone else,’ Liz replied. ‘They won’t notice.’

It was then that we realized the other first-timer in our group huddled under a tree. She was suffering from nausea and could barely walk. We collected her things on her behalf and then, the day was over.

‘Are you going to run again?’ Liz asked me.

‘Yeah, I’ve got a half-marathon at the end of the year and my sister told me about another 10k run in October. I’m considering signing up for that one,’ I replied.

‘Absolutely no way,’ a tiny voice emanated from the still huddled form of the nauseated girl. ‘I will never run again…’

‘Really? As in never?’ I asked.

‘Well… okay. Maybe for a 5k, I will,’ she replied.

And that’s the beauty about these races. They are highly addictive.

*

‘I did it!’ I texted the Sister.

‘Oh great! How did it go?’ she texted back.

’10k in 1:15,’ I said.

‘That’s not too bad, for a first-timer,’ she replied.

Hmph, I thought. Not too bad? Hell, I finished! It was a miracle!

‘What’s good then?’ I asked her. I couldn’t resist.

‘Try to keep it under 1hr.’

A new sense of calm and determination suddenly came over me. I do have a competitive streak after all! I am going to beat the Sister at the next 10k. She’ll never know what hit her.

Well, at least that’s my goal. Whether it actually happens, I don’t know.

One thing’s for sure though… I’m perfecting my drinking whilst jogging move. So if you see a girl running with a folded paper cup, taking measured sips every few hundred metres or so, wave.

It might just be me.

iRun

July 24, 2010 § 4 Comments

I like to celebrate before I’ve actually done something successfully.

It’s nice to savour the moment of decision, plunging ahead into the unknown where you don’t know what the results will be. Of course, when I’m thrown into a project and scrambling to break through the waters for a quick breath, I don’t get that chance to celebrate. However, when the decision to do something rests in my hands…

I celebrate.

I am going to run my first race tomorrow. I put that word in italics because truthfully, I won’t actually be racing against anyone. I just want to get to the finish line in one piece, and as long as I’m not the last person doing it, I’m happy.

I’ve been holding on to my white iPod nano (one of the most thoughtful gifts from Spike) and actually enjoy taking it with me while I run as I imagine my muscles working that little bit harder… but I thought that maybe, it was time to get another smaller one. It was almost perfect timing when DigiBoy called me from the Apple Shop in Houston.

I missed that call but he helped me one anyway, since he knew I’d been eyeing the latest stainless steel version. And so, today, I got my new baby.

Isn’t she a sparkling beauty?

Even better, I met Pale Beauty at an open mic event and she offered to pick me up early in the morning. We’ll set off at 5.45am (ack!) and hopefully, be at the start line 30 minutes before flag off, with ample time to warm up. I am going to head to bed early today to try for a full 7 hours of sleep.

I’m actually doing it. My first official run in… 17 years.

‘You don’t look like someone who runs!’ Trish, a makeup artist laughed when she heard about my plans for tomorrow. ‘A race for the best shopping maybe, but run? Why?’

‘Well… I thought it’d be nice to do something I’d never done before,’ I answered.

‘That’s a good reason,’ she nodded.

‘I walked yesterday!’ piped up the Designer.

‘Oh really? That’s great! Are you into exercise?’ I asked, looking at him as he set up the lights for our photo-shoot.

‘I used to be, until my body couldn’t take it anymore.’ He said. ‘It’s a miracle I’m walking today, that’s what the doctor said to me.’

‘What happened?’ I couldn’t imagine what type of sport he once did to warrant such extreme accidents.

‘I jumped out of a plane but my parachute wasn’t working well that day. I broke my spine and was told that I’d be crippled for life. Guess the doc was wrong,’ he smiled. ‘Before that, I also broke a couple of bones, twisted both ankles at least ten times each, tore more than five ligaments in various parts of my body… I guess I just get too excited when I do sports.’

‘How about swimming? That’s a low impact thing you could do…’ I suggested.

‘Ah… if there’s one thing I detest, it’s to get into the water,’ he wrinkled his nose, ‘so now, I walk.’

‘Let’s celebrate!’ I said.

‘I already did. I bought myself the iPad,’ he chuckled.

*

Baby steps after a fall.

Haruki Murakami was right. Pain is inevitable but suffering? It’s optional.

Pain comes in all forms, physical or emotional but whether we resign ourselves to a state of suffering, or we get up and walk on is another thing.

Doing this run tomorrow is monumental to me.

I signed up alone – and no longer fear being independent. I don’t need to wait for others till I make a decision, something that I used to do. I don’t need to fear failure, a bad trait I have as the perfectionist in me wants to only do things in which I know I’ll succeed. I may flail and flounder in an environment that’s unfamiliar but for once, I’m getting out of my comfort zone and reaching out for goals that I don’t need to conquer. This is a goal I just want to accomplish, for myself.

I got more disciplined in training for the run. In the past, I relied a lot on others to do the research and pull together plans while I lazily went along with them. This time, I actually got off my ass to make things happened. I went to the library, read a few books, bought a couple of magazines, subscribed to newsletters… all to familiarize myself with this thing called running. Oh yes, and I actually ran too.

The best part of it all? I made new friends. Friends who love running too. Friends who offer tips, advice and support. It’s a weird, wonderful feeling. My world has grown that little bit bigger.

And to think it all started with a question that Smiley asked me months ago…

‘I just signed up for the marathon in December. Are you going?’ He texted me.

‘Yeah, I think I will,’ I replied.

I immediately went to the website and for some strange reason, signed up for the half-marathon (I’m not that ambitious! Baby steps, remember?) and was subsequently hit by fear. ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’ I gasped at the laptop screen.

Since then, I signed up for an easier run (tomorrow’s) and have entered this new world that really, dear reader, is exquisite.

Amazing then, what putting one foot in front of the other can yield.

I am a runner, albeit a slow one.

But unashamedly so.

*

Something has changed within me, something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep. It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap.

I’m through accepting limits coz someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change but till I try, I’ll never know…

So if you care to find me, look to the western sky. As someone told me lately, ‘Everyone deserves the chance to fly’. And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free. To those who’d ground me, take a message back from me. Tell them how I am defying gravity, I’m flying high…

– Defying Gravity (from Wicked, the musical)

be still, the mess

July 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

‘Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. But this is the hurt of purging and precious renewal – and these are the mirrors of dangerous grace.’

– Walter Wangerin Jr.

I exist, my breath framed by grace, exhaling purpose. Not better than the homeless on the street, the addict in the corner, the bickering couple, the dissatisfied rebellious… I am alive because of a grace that dares to trust in me when I have nothing.

With that thought, inspiration came and I began cleaning up the mess that’s accumulated around me. It will take some time but it’s the season of purging, detox and cleansing. Not because I need to attain perfection but as an expression of the freedom I have. I am changing my environment. I am the thermostat.

I started with the physical – eating fruits and chugging water this morning, I decided to treat my body well. No more condemning the imperfections, I want to treasure the systems that work within me. How often have I taken them for granted when they faithfully obey my commands?

Progressing beyond, I began cleaning up the piles of bills, letters and envelopes that had reached massive proportions on my side table. Tearing, filing and clipping, the pile is now put away with purpose.

Satisfied, I sat back and had a coffee.

Now I’m ready for a day’s work.

Where Am I?

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