Thursday, August 28, 2014

Comfort Travel Hacks

I miss the days before airport security wasn't so....strict. It was easy to sneak onto first class. All it took was waiting to be the one of the last ones to board, and then confidently sitting down in an empty cushy seat. Bring your beverage of choice from outside the security gate onto the airplane with no problem. Keep your shoes on and not get patted down like a criminal. Now there's added security and special precautions to make sure everything and everyone is in order. Trust has been lost. To make matters even more inconvenient, airlines are becoming more and more stingy (ie, fewer comfort accommodations such as pillows and blankets). As a result, for those suffering chronic pain must suffer even more (or bring a bunch of pillows and such) unless they wish to pay a premium price.

I don't like those options. With a troublesome back, I try to keep my on-person load as light as I can to prevent any pain and discomfort. Yes, I know I can lift some heavy weight, but that's just build up my muscles so they can support my body weight and allow me to do fun activities, like martial arts. It's also a very short-duration activity.  Just to give you an idea of what someone with back pain has to deal with, carrying a load of groceries (doesn't matter if they're front, back, or side loaded) for longer than 7 minutes will make me need a stretch or a foam roller (which is why I always bring my emergency lacrosse ball!). Think about a full day of traveling with a laptop, and whatever carry on luggage I have in that back pack. The weight adds up pretty quickly, and I want to keep it as light as possible. 

During lengthy travel sessions, I make sure to take extra care of my comfort (for those of you who know me personally, yes I CAN get more comfortable in a public setting!). If I don't, my back will give me extra trouble for the duration of the trip and oftentimes require extra TLC upon arrival of my destination. I'm a big fan of inexpensive amd functionality. If you have ever visited my gym, you will see that we are there to get results, not to visually impress people with shiny, overly expensive, equipment. Of course, there are some situations where some bills need to be spent, especially when safety is on the line, but when you can get just as good (or better) functionality out of a $7 pvc pipe and and some foam as you can with a $60 status symbol of a foam roller, I'll choose the pvc pipe every time. I'd rather spend that extra 50-some bucks on a few good meals or towards an adventure of some sort. But that's me. Anyway, onto the hacks!

I like to travel with a disposable water bottle. I used to do this just so I could have a large water supply while on the plane (keeping well hydrated helps prevent jet lag, helps keep your immune system running well so you don't catch whatever germs are flying around in the cabin, it helps keep your blood flowing better, and it forces you to get up frequenty to potty, further helping your circulation and helps prevent strokes and other blood clots). It's also super light (so great for my back), and pretty resistant to squishing and getting dropped. During my travels, I have discovered a few other purposes for the water bottle.

1) It makes a great lumbar support pillow. Just squeeze some air (or drink some water,  but make sure the cap is screwed on tightly), and place it behind your lower back in a horizontal direction. Adjust the level of support according to your comfort needs. You could also use it as neck pillow (if you put cold water in it, it's pretty refreshing and cools you down), but it may be noisy to some people. Liquid in the bottle helps dampen the crunchy sounds.

2) You can put some cold water in it and roll your feet on it as refreshing way to cool your feet and up some blood circulation.

3) You can make drinks with it. This sounds like a "no shit, Sherlock" thing, but I don't like spending $10usd on a tiny non-alcoholic beverage that is probably filled with chemicals, dyes, and sugar. I made my own organic lemonade with a water bottle and a homemade lemonade kit! All you need to prepare is a lemon (or any other smashable fruits of your choice) in a ziplock bag. If you wish to bring your own sweetner,  you can do that, too, just remember to follow TSA's 3oz guidlines. The knife, paper towel, and some sweeteners (just go to a coffee shop in the airport) are available at any airport or in the plane.

Make sure the lemon (or whatever fruit you have) is washed thoroughly. If you're washing it at the airport, make sure the final rinse is with clean, drinkable water, as some countries don't have drinkable tap water.

If it's a citrus fruit, you can halve it cross-wise with a plastic knife (or convince a kitchen staffer to cut it for you). To help get more juices out, stab each section parallel to the rind to break the cells up. This part may be a tid bit messy, so I recommend doing it on the paper towel. Don't worry about the seeds.
Place all of the fruit back in the ziplock back and zip it up, making sure  there's no leak, and leaving the bag only half inflated.

Now the fun part: SMASH the fruit with your palm using your bodyweight to lean into it. Get as much juice out of the fruit as you can.

Unzip a small corner of the bag and pour it into the empty water bottle. The small hole is just enough for the juice to come out in a nice little stream so you don't need a funnel; just a steady hand. The zip acts as a strainer, so all of the seeds remain in the bag!

Add your sweetener and any other things you want in your tasty beverage.

Find a water fountain or machine and fill the rest of the bottle with cold water. Voila! Tastey beverage that passed airport security! If you have a longer total travel time with a layover, you can bring extra fruit to make another drink if you want one. Just wash the bag and reuse it. If you don't, you can either eat the fruit or throw it away if you're traveling internationally.

Enjoy these simple travel hacks! Leave a comment if you have any others that you can do with a water bottle :)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When I'm Dead....

Ghost Month started yesterday in Taiwan. Yes, that's a real thing, for those of you who don't know. From my understanding, it's an entire month dedicated to honoring ancestors, and not pissing them off when they come visit because you give them awesome offerings of fake money, foods, snacks, and drinks. In some cases, you even give houses. By the way, this is all in the form of burning things. There are also some other customary things to not do, like don't go swimming, whistle, buy cars, move house, going out after dark, and giving ghosts your address. 

 The more you know...

I'm not a religious person. I have my own beliefs of how my life should be lived, but I don't follow any pre-formed religion. I'm also not a fan of wasting, pollution, nor depleting the ozone. Also, I normally don't give out my address to strangers, but that's just a coincidence, I guess. But either way, you can probably guess that I'm not a big fan of the on-goings of Ghost Month in Taiwan. That, and I have asthma. 

The thing is, I do like to participate in ceremonious events once in a while, though, just for the fun of it. For example, I don't celebrate Easter, but I like to do Lent when I can remember when it starts. I don't celebrate the Mid-Summer Festival, but I do like to compete in the Dragonboat race when I can. 

So for Ghost Month, I got to thinking....if I was a ghost, how would I want my ancestors to make me happy? Giving me food I can't eat, money I can't spend, and fucking up the air quality would definitely make me the opposite of appeased. I do, however, like random acts of kindness and the overall being nice to people. I think the world is getting more and more populated with stressed out people, and asshole-ish behavior is becoming more and more common. So, for the duration of this year's Ghost Month (and I'm actually hoping that it becomes a habit, because it makes me happy as well), I'm going to purposely be kind to at least one random being every day. I started yesterday with saving the life of a dragonfly whose leg was caught in the escalator. Hey, it's a start!

Escalators = death traps. Use the stairs!

Today, as I was on my way of scavenging for my first meal of the day at 3pm (you can imagine the hanger starting to set in by then), I encountered two overly-eager women standing in my line of vision for some New Zealand Natural ice cream. 

(I just get easily irritated and antisocial when I get hangry, actually)

Once they realized that someone else wanted to see the flavors, they immediately moved to the side and started suggesting how absolutely delicious it was, while they were waiting for their ice cream to be scooped. They then offered me a spoonful of their own ice cream to taste. I politely declined, as the vendor would happily give me a taste anyway, so I saw no need for them to spend a treasured spoonful on a stranger. As I walked away, stating that I need real food before the ice cream, they asked if they could sit for lunch with me. Normally, that sounds like a very weird thing to do, but this wasn't the first time I've had something like this happen in this country. They seemed like nice people, harmless, so I agreed, as long as they realized that I had a schedule to follow (not really, but it gives me an out just in case things go south). 

The entire gathering only lasted a few minutes, but they informed me that they were participating in this event/program/thing where they had to get out of their comfort zones. They were instructed to make conversations with random people they walked up to. They had to get used to rejection, and push their fears aside. After I heard this, I immediately smiled, as I've done similar things (and I still do, just for the experience). I know that the first step was very difficult, and I wanted to encourage them into continuing their quest. So instead of rushing things or been very antisocial like I most likely would have if they weren't doing this exercise, I talked to them, and told them about how I got over my fears, and now laugh at the face of rejection. It just takes more exposure. Basically, practice. Like anything else you want to get good at in this life, you have to work at it. The first step is always difficult. Failure makes things worse. But once you get past those failures and see those as another step towards success, then you start to welcome those failures. It's a number's game. The more failures you get, the more successes you will, too. 

In the end, the women thanked me, hugged me, and took the obligatory selfie with me. Apparently they were extremely happy to end their exercise with their encounter with someone who was willing to give them a "yes." Hey, if they're wanting and willing to get out of their comfort zones and improve themselves, I'll help them however I can. In the end, I help myself, too. It reminds me of where I was, where I am, and how much more I have yet to improve. So thank you to the two women who were brave enough to randomly communicate with me with no other intention than to break out of their comfort zone and make themselves better. 

When I'm dead and a ghost, if my descendants would like to make me happy, don't burn things, waste food, or avoid swimming in the hot summer heat. I'd like for my descendants to make me happy by making other living creatures happy, and using that experience to make themselves better people because of it. 

Thanks in advance ;)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I am Especially Proud of The Women at Live to Play

It's always great to see people get fit, lift weights, and generally get healthier. In the States, it's more of a trend thing, so it's cool to have muscle definition. Some would even say it's a status symbol or a trait of sexiness. I think it's just great to see people (in general) actually taking action to get healthier and stay healthy. 

When I moved to Taiwan, I realized that there was a big cultural difference in this area. People are mostly discouraged of playing, moving, exercising, or doing anything that would increase muscle mass or just plain sweating. From the time they are toddlers (I'm talking around 2-3 y/o), they are put into extra schooling, locked into the seated position for the majority of the day, and "let out" to play in their schools for a few minutes each day. Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, right? (To be fair, kids in the States start around 5-6  y/o, which is still too young to be forced to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time.)

They're discouraged from getting dirty. Don't even think about touching a tree, let alone climbing one. Water should only be for drinking and bathing, not for swimming or water fights (unless you go to a public pool, where they chlorinate the hell out of the water). Sports are for middle and high school children, and only as an extra curricular after your school homework and after school school homeworks are all done. Many children get home from after school schools anywhere between 6-10pm. So that means they're sitting for prolonged periods of up to 14 hours per day, 5 days a week. To me, that's a terrible childhood. But that's just my opinion. 

When they graduate from grade school, they go into university (where it's basically the same as high school, but more freedom) or into the work force, where they work a lot, and don't prioritize physical exercise. 

Now, the fashionable thing to look like is to take up as little space as possible with your body. Skinny. We're talking super skinny, here. I can't buy clothes here because I have muscles (everything's made for people with no muscles). Many clothes are "free size," which means if you're not a 22" waist, you need to find special clothes or department store clothes. If you have actual shapely glutes, you can't find jeans that fit to save your life. Yoga pants it is, for everything. Or ill-fitting XL skirts. Even if you wear a S in the states. Seriously. This is what the standard of beauty is now in Taiwan.

So the typical thing to do here, as women in Taiwan, is to try to fit in and be as pretty as you can by the country's standard of beauty, right? It's very easily to be intimidated by all the skinny girls walking around with their big-eye contact lenses, fake eye lashes, and size 000 waists. Skinny = pretty. They definitely don't advocate lifting of anything anywhere near heavyish, as their equally skinny boyfriends will carry their purses for them, or they'll have their miniature dogs in pet strollers. I honestly don't even comprehend how they have the strength to blowdry their hair. 

Going against what is defined as "beauty" in any country is a very difficult thing. To do what you know is healthy for you, rather than what other people say about you is always something that takes a lot of bravery. So for all the women who come to Live to Play, knowing they're going to be lifting heavy weights on a regular basis, knowing that they're going to get muscle definition, and knowing that they're going to go against 99% of their current country's beauty standards, they are some pretty supurb women. I am so proud of each and every one of them for doing something great for themselves, despite what their families and friends might say. 

A couple weeks ago officially marked the day that 5 girls from Live to Play can do pullups. Anyone who knows anything about strength training knows that pullups are particularly difficult for women because of the ratio of upper vs lower body muscle and body composition. So having 5 women successfully do pullups within the less than 2 years we've been open, and in a country where strength = scary, I'm extremely proud of all of these women, and this includes the ones who haven't done their first pullups, but are well on their way to do so (which is ALL of the rest of them)! Lifting heavy weights, not being afraid of public criticism, and going against cultural norms to do something they enjoy and know is good for them....I am so damn proud of all of them!!!