Lemon and Hot Water – Some Conclusions

Over a month ago, I was experimenting with drinking lemon juice and hot water first thing in the morning. I kept this up somewhat religiously for about three weeks, but stopped because I had a niggling flu for a little while. At that point, I experienced a painful tongue and wasn’t sure whether it was due to all that acid in the lemon! To be on the safe side, I took a short break. Since then, I have recovered and this has become more of a sporadic habit.

However, I will report that there have definitely been positive effects of this practice. I found that I snacked less capriciously in the morning and overall, it set a good tone for the day. As a result, the unforgiving second-skin skinnies are have been promoted the front of the closet again. (Best look for knee high winter boots, so it’s about time!)

Why I reckon it’s an effective habit:

  • It’s all about the ritualistic process. As Mireille Guiliano (author of French Women Don’t Get Fat) would say, “Il faut des rites”. We need our rituals to anchor the routine down for the day. Starting the morning off with a painless, effortless, delicious drink gets the motivation train running, and somehow we’re able to resist the bag of kruidnoten. (French women totally do get fat, by the way, but this does not detract from the advice).
  • Contrary to what I’d always thought about acidic food and drinks, it has an appetite-dampening effect.
  • Takes quite a bit of time to consume, so you end up saving the mocha latte for later in the day.
  • Breath ends up fresh as a daisy.

Love lemons!

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How to Become a Speed Reader

Actually, I don’t really know how speed reading is officially defined. I know the concept exists and I know it is a goal that people aspire to. (Kinda like being in love.) I’ve been told I read pretty fast and may be considered a “speed reader” because, depending on content, I can get the gist of a page in less than 10 seconds. Admittedly, the issue at hand cannot be overly technical and decent font-size is required. When I was 10, I won a school prize for the most books read over a month (gift voucher for more books) – and I had only listed half the books I read, not knowing it was a secret competition. (Geek Alert)

When it comes to retention, I remember names, emotions, and event sequences very well. What filters out during a session of speed reading is ruminating soliloquy, extensive scene painting (the meandering vegetation sprang lush in the wake of dawn’s sparkling dew – the grass was green and wet, I get it …), and descriptions of mechanical functions not prima facie relevant to the plot (I filter out Latin terms too). As a result, I sometimes have to flip back to a certain page when I realize that the angle of the villain’s facial mole was indeed crucial to solving the mystery. E-book devices have thus impeded my progress in this regard as the e-pages don’t flip as fast. But on the other hand, I don’t waste any time searching for the place I left off. On average, I tend to take 2-3 hours to finish a JackReacher type of novel, and much less for Nora Roberts (contingent of course on actual size of book).

Nobel Prize Winners don't pander to speed readers.

Nobel Prize Winners don’t pander to speed readers.

You’d think speed reading would be useful when you have two weeks to inhale Constitutional Law in Canada: Cases and Materials before an exam. Unfortunately, as legal tomes require intense focus, reading fast doesn’t quite cut it. (For court judgments, read them on a computer so you can word search). 

Here are some thoughts for free:

  1.  Skimming: As you probably know, speed reading is just skimming. When I skim, certain words leap out and my mind forms an image of what is happening. This then leads into a bit of anticipation which helps skim the next page efficiently. However, when there is a twist, the skimming slows down.
  2. Skipping: Reading is for pleasure. So when there are “boring bits”, feel free to jump paragraphs until your eyes rest on the next captivating line.
  3. Practice a lot. (Start in the womb if you can)
  4. Watch all your movies with subtitles. This really enhances your aptitude.
  5. If you try to do it with Dostoevsky, you’re missing the point.
  6. If you’re going to get hung up on persnickety details like whether World War I broke out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, this is not for you.
  7. Do not implement this with your boss’ emails (no matter how much it may be warranted).

But in all honesty, being a speed reader is not much use when you are myopic-astigmatic and don’t go out with your glasses. Even the McDonald’s menu is a challenge, as you stand there squinting, taking 5 minutes to figure out the different flavours of sundae.

How Not to Pick Up a Woman on the Street

Hipster-Dude in oversized military green jacket, short pony-tail and 2 days worth of stubble approaches harried woman legging it to Zara before closing time.

“Excuse me, do you speak English?” he asks.

Quick once-over. Looks like he’s going to ask her to sign a petition or subscribe to a mobile phone plan. However, there is no propaganda material in his hands. Homeless? Lost?

Uh.. yes-no-yes”. She hurries away. Whatever he wants, it can’t be good and those high-waisted skinny jeans aren’t going to wait forever.

“Wait, do you speak English?” Tone is becoming insistent.

She stops. Better get this over with. Just the usual expat patter should do (can’t sign up because moving away tomorrow … no bank account …  etc.) “Yes”.

“Umm.. I saw you and umm.. I thought you looked quite nice so.. ummm..”

No way. Hipster-Dude is actually trying it on?!

Hipster-Dude notices the confusion. “Uh, don’t beat me OK?” This is so un-slick, it’s actually hilarious.

She chokes back a laugh. “Oh I see…Ha Ha! Thanks, but I’m married.” Thanks?

Hipster-Dude almost faints. Didn’t realize he was propositioning an old woman, apparently. Collects himself admirably and with bravado and says, “Really? Show me your ring”.

Rings are brandished.

“Oh… umm.. well.. Is it a happy marriage?”

What, now he’s a therapist?

“Yes, very happy, thank you.”

She scurries away, not sure whether to be embarrassed, embarrassed for him, or amused at his unusual pluck. NL is not like, say, Italy (where even the cops wiggle their eyebrows at you) – it is quite the opposite, if you catch my drift.

My Perfect Cup of Coffee is Moody, Just Like Me

coffee

Can I get a second stroopwafel?

I adore coffee in so many ways. Black, black with cream, black with cream and sugar, or doused with sweetened condensed milk – they’re all good. Filtered coffee, espressos and instant (yes, instant) all have equal status. If I’m asked how I take my coffee, the response would really depend on the context and company. For example, if it’s a polite cup at a performance review with the boss, it would definitely be black. First off, it’s only out of courtesy that she is offering a cup of joe (imagine how much time she’d have to spend concocting cups otherwise), and second, I don’t really want to have to get into numbering my creams and sugars and faffing around with packets of sugar and stir sticks. At stranger-encounters, such as job interviews, its safest to stick to black as describing your preferences leads others to conclude too much about you. (Five sugars? Sick-leave liability alert ...) I have been told that my preference for black coffee leaves the impression of being very tough (even “manly”), or a real coffee aficionado. Neither of which is particularly true, I think …

What I stay clear of: black coffee with sugar, and cappuccinos. On the latter, there’s just way too much milk going on. I should start a business fortune-telling in milk foam. In NL, popular coffees are “koffie verkeerd”( a very milky, filtered coffee) and “latte macchiato” (but you are best off asking the coffee-rista what their version comprises as a macchiato in NL is like “prego”, it can mean anything.

It’s impossible to complain about the quality of coffee in NL. I swear by Douwe Egberts Instant Coffee, regular and hazel-tinged (it’s not artificial nor overpowering like some other versions I’ve tasted). Cafes, hair salons, boutiques, even Vodafone, all serve up awesome little cups of espresso. Ah, but therein lies the slight problem. The cups are so very little. How am I supposed to expect one tiny coffee to last an average social meet-up of 1.5 hours? There is however, a saving grace – it is customary in NL for cafes to serve you a tiny piece of cake, cookie, or chocolate with your coffee. A café needs to take pride in their sidebar offerings, just like the French and their bread baskets. Douwe Egberts on Noordeinde (recently departed) used to allow customers to pillage their unguarded stacks of mini chocolate bars.

As for coffee machines, I’m still on the hunt for the perfect one. I have sworn off Nespresso. Despite being a dolled-up, yet economical alternative to the juggernauts on the market, the taste of the capsules are quite inferior and the coffee comes out tepid. Worse, they have totally ridiculed George Clooney and womankind alike in their silly, screechy ads.

Social Habits That Lead to Charming Spectacles

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any Chinese person to know that lots of us, more than any other ethnicity in the world, wear eyeglasses. I started wearing glasses at around 13, and that was pretty late compared to my classmates and siblings. I remember many of my friends starting at around 8 years. I have a friend in The Hague whose son is 5 and is already sporting the Harry Potter look. Back then, I too longed for that ultimate accessory, but now, I’d only be too glad to be rid of them. Glasses

The influence of genetics on myopia cannot be denied. However, it seems the prevalence of specs-wearers among the Asian species is also in part due to our social habits. Or rather, our anti-social ones. The lack of exposure to sunlight as result of our focus on studying has rapidly caused our eyesight to deteriorate. (Some irony in the fact that countries like Singapore or Taiwan, with more than their fair share of sunlight would end up depriving themselves.)

I cannot deny that Asian parents (and all the clucking relatives) place an inordinate amount of emphasis on bookishness. As a kid, I was rewarded, usually in the form of cold hard cash, for excellent exam results. Though some of my fondest memories from youth were at the swimming pool, tennis and badminton courts, people rarely asked what sport I enjoyed. In fact, I was part of the few who did have frequent sport and recreational time. Most of my classmates shuttled around extra tuition classes on a daily basis and many of them were indeed rewarded by a few extra points at exam time. Those extra classes cost their parents dearly, but it was for the greater good I suppose.

In the end, your habits start early and they shape the path to your destiny. Reading and writing has continued to be a lifelong obsession and coerced me into the legal trade. While I myself have neither the aptitude nor inclination for say, rock climbing, I wonder what the future holds for Petit-Homme.

Why was that man crying?

Perhaps it is human nature to want to know the cause of visible distress in other people. It’s certainly not common behaviour for adults to weep openly in public, without any obvious reason. When we see this at airports or hospitals, we’re able to sympathize for we easily come to a conclusion about why those people were upset. But then we move on because there’s nothing more to wonder. The social acceptance in the immediate environment renders us more comfortable to express our feelings. In other public places though, we often try to conceal our emotions. Only when the most tragic of occasions befall us, do we allow ourselves to sob among strangers.

Early this morning, as I waited for my train at a station café, two men came in. While they were both quiet, one of them was visibly dejected. He was dark-skinned, possibly of Indian (or Surinamese?) descent, and wore a short winter jacket with jeans. Although he was fluent in Dutch, he was clearly not a native of this country. This man sat down at the table next to me, while the other hovered around to order coffee. As he waited, tears rained from the unhappy man’s eyes. He didn’t seem in any frame of mind to restrain them, and he was quite prepared with a fresh pack of tissues. Next to him were his three spartan travelling bags, not very big, one containing a large bottle of orange juice. Shortly, he looked around for a toilet but was unsuccessful as the nearest one was located far away on Platform 3.

The other man returned and they shared minutes of solitude, peppered with the occasional benign comment. They attempted some jocularity but the tears soon returned. The unhappy man would be travelling shortly but it seemed to be his first time catching the train as the other man had to explain to him the fact that his ticket would be checked on the train and where the platforms were located. They did not seem to be close friends, but the second man was kindly in manner.

Where was he going?

Was someone ill?

Did someone die?

Was he leaving the country? The continent?

Verdict on the Alexander Wang Collection for H&M

The hallmark of a truly great, modern designer is the ability to transpose high-maintenance couture on to the high street. In other words, if he (or she, of course) can make the average Jane and her stubborn spoils of war feel like she’s a part of edgy luxury, especially sans boob tape, spanx or butt lifters, well then he is almost there.Wang dress

Alexander Wang launched his much-anticipated collection for H&M to the masses today. (Really, The Hague was nothing like the scene in the Oxford Street flagship store where shoppers started queuing the night before and trampled all over each other this morning!) Here, shoppers were excited, but apart from one sharp elbow of an over-zealous, over-tanned she-leopard, I made it to the dressing room with 5 pieces and my dignity intact. The logo-manic AW leggings made famous by Rihanna were nowhere in sight, but no great loss I reckon, for the other pieces in the same fabric were underwhelming.

Of note:
1) Patterned black jeans (see below) were rather flattering. However, the lack of spandex made it an uncomfortable fit and it’s the sort of jeans that will probably stretch a lot after a couple of wears. But it did look good in the mirror.
2) Mesh and panel short sleeve dress  – looked great on the hanger. Didn’t contour as well as I’d hope but it would probably rock on someone else.
3) Boxing shorts – Very very cute. Extremely well fabricated. Best for the slim-hipped.
4) The winner (see below, right) – mesh and see-through panel tunic top. Oh this was just divine. Flattering at any angle, slashes of sexiness weaved into a surprisingly climate-friendly piece. You’ll see tantalizing glimpses of skin underneath, so I’d add a nude or black camisole for more sedate occasions.

wang top

You get to come home with me …

Wang Jean

I watched other intrepid ladies try on the rest of the pieces in this rock-chick-meets-scuba-aficionado makeshift boutique. I saw a 70 year old murmur appreciatively if uncertainly at her styrofoam-looking hooded cocoon coat. A sports junkie was trying on bra after bra and didn’t seem fazed by the multiple straps and holes. The leather track pants hung forlornly on the racks, probably because people still have to function in this rainy city of cyclists. No point getting your AWs ground up in your bicycle chain.

The ultimate factor in determining whether a designer is a blast or the past, is his ability to make you lust and yearn for the strangest things. Such as the well-vented scuba body-con dress (see above) complete with head-perching ski goggles. We’ll just suck in our bellies for the next five hours.

Judging from the reactions of happy devotees worldwide, Alexander Wang is dynamite.

http://www.hm.com/us/wangxhm#women

Should I Feed My Kid Insects?

Insects

Image: Levensmiddelenkrant  – Insects at Jumbo: Coming soon to a store near you

Before you rush off to report me to the nearest child welfare bureau, I should alert (or remind) you to the fact that insect-eating has now become, well not quite de rigueur, but rather curiosity-arousing in the Netherlands. As I sit here munching on my deep-fried cassava chips, I wonder if my nutritional needs could be better served by downing a few strands of waxworms. By the way, when I say “insects”, the taxonomy includes worms, larvae and the like (because that’s how it seems to be marketed).

I would love to love insects. They look disgusting but isn’t disgust really just a learned attitude? I didn’t quake at the taste of balut (duck embryo, popular in the Philippines) and century egg is one of my favourite accompaniments to a bowl of hot congee (this felled several nervy Fear Factor participants). The French stab their snails with silver escargot forks (a “locust tong” may help sales?) while some coffee snobs can’t drink their java if it’s not pressed from the poop of a civet cat (kopi luwak).  So when you think about it, there’s really nothing wrong with eating caterpillars or locusts, and they are quite dead and cooked by the time they reach your rosy red lips. I think part of our queasiness stems from imagining the poor things still squirming or fluttering their wings on the plate.

For the longest time, I’ve had a personal quest to try as many unusual food items as possible. NL is definitely not the best place to pursue this goal – until now. Jumbo supermarkets have just started promoting their insects (buffalo worm burgers, crispy mealworms) and aim to supply all their outfits with protein-packed crawlies by early 2015.

This really tests my mettle. I’m trying to hypnotize myself into embracing entomophagy – thinking of my multi-legged friends as aromatic pine nuts sort of helps but I’m not quite there yet. Like the fear of water, it is much harder to unlearn a psychological impediment that has lodged in your soul for decades. Hence, would it not be best for Petit-Homme to start diversifying his snacks early (insects even helpfully conform to single bite portions that travel well)? And, if ever famine were to hit us, or if he were to move to Congo or China, he’d thrive happily.

I’m still feeling dubious …

Charging Your Electric Car

porsche

“When not tethered for 2.3 hours, I can go from 0-100 in 5.5 secs.”

electric car

I didn’t realize how many electric cars there were in The Hague until recently. Almost every morning and evening on my way out and back home, I see cars drawing energy from life support machines. These electric car charging stations are now ubiquitous. The Municipality has announced its 500th charging point in The Hague. This has sensitized my ear to the electric whirr of cars on the streets. (In general, The Hague drivers tend to trot along at a leisurely pace so there’s plenty of opportunity to capture the nuances of individual car engines.)

This is all part of an effort of the City to become a carbon neutral city by 2040. A commendable goal and one that seems to be gaining significant traction. I’m still pondering over the lifestyle fit of an electric or hybrid vehicle. My first concern, the difficulty of travelling long distances, may be alleviated by some leasing programs that allow you to rent a “normal” car for free or a nominal amount when required. Second, the anxiety of having to roam around looking for a “free charging spot” and the hours required to charge up a car, may occupy a fair bit of headspace. Happily, cities are coming up with solutions like charging point availability apps and programs to build more stations near (or in) your home.

Verdict on the Pumpkin Spice Latte

The name conjures up cozy images of fall. Fluttering golden leaves, fat orange gourds roasted into heavenly submission, a log cabin, and velvet moccasins. A freshly baked pumpkin pie, only morphed into your daily brew with lots of milky goodness and extra cinnamon. For fall-themed drink enthusiasts, the “PSL” should be a no-brainer. However, I’m not sure what the spiceologists at Starbucks are up to but this combination is rather appalling. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d refuse it if it were my only option in the Sahara desert, but the first sip is dubious at best, while subsequent sips strongly affirm the initial impression that this beverage could be binned.

Throughout the decades with Starbucks (and other coffee purveyors) I’ve always evaded the the rotating promos – in my opinion, if I don’t fancy it in summer or spring, there’s no real reason to fancy it more in fall. Its not as though farm fresh ingredients are used, or there’s any other real seasonal rationale to it. But this time, to my own chagrin, I caved.

Maybe if I’d agreed to a shovelful of whipped cream on top, the PSL could have filtered through the fatty molecules of redemption and would have tasted less offensive. But I don’t think its right for the Seattle Mermaid to rely on cream as a crutch (French chefs do enough of that already). Not to mention, a grande, 2%, whipped, runs around 380 calories.

So, of PSL, Starbucks can Please Serve Less.