Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Year of the Tiger...

Chinese New Year began just over a week ago. In the twelve-sign Chinese zodiac calendar, this is the year of the Tiger. It rained pretty much the entire week off and was truly cold sometimes, especially, I heard, in northern Taiwan. I didn't do a lot. In fact, I pretty much just crashed at a couple friends' houses and ate, watched movies, read, played video games (Wii!) and slept a lot. You might say I really took my vacation seriously, which is rare for me. After a week of rather perpetual eating, my stomach has revolted and now things below are irregular and unpleasant. Based on this experience--not, I admit, the first of its kind--I struck upon dietary a rule of thumb: if you can't put it in your eye without serious irritation, don't put it in your stomach (especially when you've already got a digestive condition or even just have stomach upset).

Think about it: low-salt, unpeppered scrambled eggs could touch your eyeball and not hurt too much, whereas the only time you'd want, say, Sichuan mala broth under your eyelids is to distract you from something much more distressing, say, a hot fire poker being stuck on your tongue, or toothpicks being tapped in under your fingernails. Fresh produce also wouldn't really irritate your eyes and therefore must not be too bad for your digestive tract. Coke in your eye? Don't think about it. So why let it into your stomach? I grant that this rule of thumb is not perfect. After all, I love vinegar of all sorts but wouldn't want it in my eye. Moreover, I recognize that the larger part of eating is dedicated not to health but to pleasure. Even so, keep "The Eyeball Rule" in mind next time you look at eating out or the next time you "feel the burn" of acid reflux after an especially succulent feast.

On a different front, my near-immersion among Taiwanese the latter half of the break, plus my reading of Mark Elvin's The Retreat of the Elephants, simultaneously demoralized me as a language learner and lit a fire under me not to give up. Elvin is a master of Chinese and Japanese, both the language and the history thereof, and his competence in so many fields in so many languages truly humbles me. It's amazing how many things I still have trouble saying and writing in Chinese even after six years or so of constant usage. But--but! I got back on my flash card learning system and (re)decided to work pretty much systematically through a few by-the-numbers grammar and pattern books I've had for a few years, as well as an absolutely riveting synonym trainer I picked up yesterday (!) [LINK, though I got the {revised?} 2009 paperback edition]. Meanwhile I'm keeping at Spanish with a Pimsleur audio course (5 lessons left!) and then trudging through Platiquemos [LINK!]. Me deseo mucho éxito jajaja!

Finally, I am also thrilled to announce that one of my quirky dreams has finally come true: I can play with an electrotherapy kit [Wiki LINK], specifically a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) kit [Wiki LINK]! If you've ever seen the film The Right Stuff, you might recall a scene during the pilots' training in which Ed Harris has his hand electrocuted increasingly rapidly, presumably in order to test his pain and muscle stamina. (Truth be told, this scene might be from another film, but I'm pretty sure it's The Right Stuff.) Anyway, that scene has always stayed with me. I was fascinated by the idea of making my muscles spasm uncontrollably--and with the idea of just how uncontrollable it would really be. Years before I had been in an extracurricular learning group called Friends of MOSH (the Museum of Science & History in Jacksonville). Each week or so during the summer our group would visit MOSH to learn about a new topic for the day. Sometimes it was Seminole history in Florida, other times it was straight lab physics. The only thing I distinctly remember from the whole experience is when the guide for the day was showing us a Jacob's ladder (the classic "mad scientist's" climbing arc) [LINK]--or rather the warning he gave us by way of anecdote. He told us how, when he was a boy, he had gone to his friend's house and seen a Jacob's ladder in the attic. They turned it on and were amazed by the ascending dzzzgh! dzzgh! of the arc. Some time later, his friend had gone back into the attic to play with the Jacob's ladder more, but this time he touched with a curious index finger, causing his hand to curl around the rods in a fatal grip. Our guide told us that if we ever wanted to test if a door, machine, object, etc. had live current in it, we should always use the back of our hands. Electricity (of sufficiently high voltage) causes an instant contraction in muscular tissue, so if you touch it with the palm of your hands (or any other ventral/flexing muscle group), the muscles will contract around (or onto) the charged object, preventing you from releasing it and probably killing you in the process. If an object shocks the back of your hand (or a dorsal/extension muscle group), the shock will cause you to release and push away from it. I thought that was the coolest bit of trivia in the world! To this day, I lead with the back of my hand in uncertain terrain which might have electrical threats. So, a few years after hearing that shocking anecdote and being electrified by its wisdom, I was rather mesmerized by seeing an astronaut-in-training's arm spasm beyond his control. How would I do in a similar test, I wondered.

Many years later I developed a similar fascination with tasers. I have seen enough footage of people (and bulls) being tased to know, on the one hand, that a taser charge can immobilize and weaken large men and, on the other hand, can be resisted and brushed off by people, say, under the influence of drugs or under the influence of Navy SEAL training [Chris Caracci LINK]. So naturally I was curious how it would feel to be tased (... bro). When I was in Oregon over a year ago, I made the acquaintance of a cop-friend of my friend there. After some initial chit chat, I simply asked, "Do you have a taser and will you tase me?" Alas, he had left it at the office so I went untased to live another day. Now, however, of course, I can 'zap' myself to my heart's delight. The machine is designed to treat allergies, muscle soreness, and many other "real" ailments. I am most taken with it, though, because it allows me to simulate something I heard Arnold Schwarzenegger did (or does) once he had to cut back significantly on his heavy lifting: contracting muscles as a form of strength training. And so there I sit, watching TV or reading, whilst my arms and muscles are flipping and shrugging and arching and rippling under waves of electrical stimulation. Being lazy was never such hard work. Stay tuned!

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