I believe there is a grave misconception among many Americans that a diet consisting of authentically Chinese food (as in the kind you can’t get at the take-out spots on the corner of Anytown, U.S.A.) will somehow lead to a healthier, leaner body. I know that was my assumption. I mean, obesity is not exactly a huge (get it?) issue over here and it pales in comparison to America’s whopping 34 percent of adults. But in reality, the prevalence of petiteness among the Chinese probably has far less to do with the food and much more to do with genetics and the fact that, like in any developing country, food is still at a premium. But the problem is that most of that food is a plethora of starches (bread, rice, noodles, rice noodles, potatoes, fried rice, sticky rice balls, fried bread pudding with a side of sticky fried rice) all doused in some combination of oil, sugar and sauces, thus, explaining why China was recently awarded the coveted title of nation with the most cases of diabetes in the world by the New England Journal of Medicine. (See full article in the sidebar)
So with that being said, it is no wonder that shortly after indulging in all the merriment, fellowship and excessive food of Chinese New Year…I found myself reaping the 10-pound harvest of my shameless gluttony. And while it might seem that the easy solution would be to simply go back to eating less (like I did in the states), the fact that every meal is served with a heaping helping of MSG (yes, they use it on everything here in the motherland, too) makes that near impossible. And unlike like the Chinese takeout in the states, the MSG here doesn’t even leave you with that little 30-minute buzz of satisfaction. By the time I'm down to scraping up the last few grains of rice on my plate, I’m already starving again!
So, to combat my incessant need to eat and my subsequent weight gain, I joined a local gym with a few other co-workers. And let me just say, what discipline I lack in the food department, I make up for in exercise. I LOVE the gym and I'm there at least 3 or 4 times a week. There is a comforting familiarity about being in a gym. No matter where in the world you are there are always certain sights and sounds you know you will encounter: The low hum of the treadmills in heavy rotation and the rhythmic drumming of the feet that pound them; the primal (and unnecessary) grunts of men lifting weights; the clank of dumbbells; the faint sound of pop music playing in the background (and yes, most of it is American pop music). But despite the familiarity, there are some notable differences about my experience at I.V.F.C. (which stands for Indomitable Vitality Fitness Club, in case you were wondering):
1. People on the fitness staff are constantly coming up to me to see if they can help me or talk to me in anyway...My guess is that making friends with an African-American gives them some type of street cred or something. Usually, they’ll make some attempt at broken English and I’ll make some attempt at unintelligible Chinese and between the both of us, we understand absolutely nothing and resort to smiles, nods, and hand gestures instead. (But in all seriously, the staff is incredibly helpful and friendly.)
2. I get a lot of stares when I’m in the gym (surprise, surprise)…but it's even more conspicuous than when I’m out on the street. Mostly men occupy the gym during the day, so they do most of the staring. I know Chinese men love the blonde-haired American girl-types (there are random pictures of Britney Spears all over the place) but I didn’t think most of them were really into black women (or so I’ve been told), so I’m not sure if their stares are out of intrigue or intimidation (I’m pretty muscular for a woman and I usually outrun most the other folks on the treadmills there.) Whatever the case, I will admit I get a cheap little thrill from turning heads.
3. Like many other areas of China, privacy is a rare luxury. In the locker room, I probably get more funny looks for actually wearing a towel from the lockers to the shower than if I just walked around buck-naked like all the other women. But then again, I get a lot of stares once I disrobe, too. Perhaps, it’s because my hair is thicker than theirs…perhaps, it’s because my skin is darker…perhaps, it’s because some of my other…attributes…are just a tad larger...But why any woman would be so entertained by watching another woman scrub her nether regions is truly beyond me. However, the one woman who doesn’t do much staring is the cleaning lady, who is often far too busy scrubbing the wall beside me, mopping the floor around me, or wiping the showerhead WHILE I’m showering under it (although, she did look at me once and gave me a big smile.)
I could go on…but I’ll save it for another post. As for my fitness progress…well, I’m down about four pounds, so that’s a start. Still more to go, but the other teachers have already begun planning this big potluck for Easter, so we’ll see how long this whole weight loss thing actually lasts. Otherwise, I guess Tang Rui will soon be on her way to becoming Pang (Fat) Rui :o)