Friday, April 20, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Short Hair

I've had long hair my entire life. Maybe not as a baby, but I don't remember that. One of my mother's rules was that girls do not have short hair. I could cut it as short as I wanted, as long as it reached below my collar bone. At the same time, butt length was considered unacceptable. Crystal Gayle was just as extreme in my house as Twiggy.

Eventually, I got old enough to make my own decisions, as most of us do. When I was finally free, I could do whatever I wanted with my hair. I could chop it off, dye it purple, get a heavy metal perm or go full Amidala. My hair was entirely up to me.

So I kept it the way it was. I tried different styles over the years, but nothing radical. There was an unfortunate period with bangs, which is something most of us put ourselves through for whatever masochistic reason, but the length was always shoulder to waist, or somewhere in between. I never went blonde or red. Or purple.

Seven months ago, they shaved it all off. In an instant, I went from the familiar to something completely unlike anything I had ever known. I was balder than Britney. I really didn't think about it for the first couple of weeks. I had better things to worry about. Having your head shaved without your permission might be a first world problem, but it is a drastic change. Eventually, I noticed how alien I looked to myself. Your hairstyle really can alter your appearance. Look at Zooey Deschanel without bangs or Superman without the little curl. When you've seen yourself with hair below your shoulders your entire life, all that skin is a shock.

Practically a different man

The good news is that hair grows back. Male pattern baldness isn't an issue here. The bad news is that it takes a long time. Day to day, you don't notice any change whatsoever. After 3 months, my scalp was completely covered, but too short to do anything. I looked like I just got out of basic training. And my hair color was lighter than usual, almost ash blonde. If I wanted to dye it its natural color, I'd have to go with golden walnut or chestnut blonde. I've always thought I had brown hair. L'Oreal disagrees. The scar was still obvious, but I had already made my peace with that. If you're going to have a large scar, the scalp is not the worst place to put it. Sooner or later, enough hair covers everything.

At five months, I could comb it around in one direction or another and part it slightly, but it was still far too short. I'm not a big fan of gender stereotypes. Women and men can have whatever hair length they want. It takes a lot more than hair to make someone feminine or masculine. But I looked like a boy. And you know what Bart Simpson said about blond boys.

At seven months, I finally look like a girl again, but with Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina returning from Paris hair. It looked a lot better on her. She could make anything look fashionable. I can't. On the bright side, it's finally getting darker. It's practically the color I recognize.

In China, no one really cares about your hair length. Girls in junior high routinely cut their hair short. I don't know why. Everyone I have ever asked gave me a different answer, citing tradition, safety issues, conformity and good old fashioned control over women. Some adults keep their hair short because they think it makes them look young. It doesn't. Put a 50-year-old in a school uniform and she won't look 15. But when you're conditioned that short hair equals school age, it's easy to see the logic.

In the United States, a lot of people would assume I'm a lesbian. Hair length has just as little to do with sexuality as it does with age, but we Americans love our baseless stereotypes. If an American woman has a buzzed head, she's either a lesbian or recovering from chemotherapy. There can't possibly be any other reason. In China, no one ever assumes anyone is gay. It's just the opposite. I've met quite a few people who have insisted that there are no gay people in China.

I don't know if the statistic that 10% of the population is gay is accurate or considered offensive these days, but 10% of China is 150,000,000. That would mean there are more gay people in China than the entire population of Russia. That has absolutely nothing to do with my hair, but if it's even close to true, it would be insane to assume no one around here is gay.

The best part about having very short hair is that I can wash it in a minute and it dries on its own before I know it. It's pretty amazing the first few times. Anyone with waist length hair knows that it takes a long time to wash and will not air dry anytime that day. I have not put a towel on my scalp since September. It's all very liberating, in its own meaningless way.

Similarly, I can get out of bed and my hair is ready to go. It's long enough that I can comb again, but short enough that I don't really need to. For months, there was nothing to comb. When it's that short, it looks the same no matter what you do. When it's long, you look like a crazy person if you leave it as is.

Then there is summer. It does not technically begin until June, but Hong Kong goes straight from winter to summer. I've always thought it was lucky that I was bald in winter because wearing hats in summer would have been torture. But now that it's hot again, I'm thinking it would have been better to have shorter hair in summer. Putting your hair up in oppressive humidity is nothing compared to having genuinely short hair. Whether you have a ball of hair on top of your head or down your back, it gets hot around here. Walking around with extremely short hair is like having your own personal fan everywhere you go. By the time my hair can cover the back of my neck again, the temperature will be as high as it gets.

It took a while, but I've come to accept my short hair. I really didn't have any choice. But when it finally grows back to its normal length, I doubt I'll ever cut it short again.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sighing Like a Furnace

Photo by HSH Management Services Ltd

My second date with Russell was a more traditional dinner at a restaurant. Maybe that sounds like a letdown after the first date, but he had a rehearsal the next day and was pretty focused on his work. I never wanted anything grand and elaborate anyway. If you try to make each date bigger than the last, you will only fail. Starting at Disneyland would not make it easier.

The good thing about not being able to taste anything is that I am now the easiest person in the world to take out for a meal. In the past, I was pretty open to most nationalities of cuisine, but I was always in the mood for one over the others. Now, my roommate loves going out to eat with me because we can always go for whatever she is in the mood.

Russell took me to Felix, a vaguely European restaurant at the top of the Peninsula Hotel. It was Sunday night, not the most crowded time to go to overpriced restaurants, but we still had to wait for a table. That gave him time to talk about his craft and gave me time to look around at what should have been an elegant atmosphere.

The dining room was large and open with sufficiently dark lighting to make it a romantic spot. The most obvious feature were the huge windows with postcard views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. For some insane reason, there were blinds on the windows. I understand the Chinese attitude toward sunlight, but putting blinds on these windows is like wearing earplugs to the opera.

While waiting for our food, I realized that 90% of our conversations were about acting. While working at Disneyland together, we mostly talked about acting and where we would rather be performing. After he left, we mostly talked about acting, the theater and movies. Even during our date at Disneyland, surrounded my enchantment, magic and Mickey, we mostly talked about acting.

Russell was doing rehearsals for a play I had never heard of by a playwright I did not recognize. He said that the play was not up to his usual standards, but he took the part so he could work on an Italian accent. That sounded like a strange reason to accept a part to me, but Russell said that the accent was his idea. Nowhere in the play is his character described as Italian, but he felt it was necessary to play him as one. He also wanted some of the other actors to do accents, but they refused. When Russell told me that they refused because they could not do a convincing accent, I doubted how true that was. It might be just as likely that no one else thought it was a good idea.

When I asked for a preview of Russell's Italian accent, he started performing what I assumed was dialogue from the play. The dialogue was not exactly Shakespeare, but that was not Russell's fault. More painful than the dialogue was his accent. There is not an inch of Italian in my ancestry, but I have been to Italy. I like to tell myself I can spot the difference between someone who genuinely speaks English with an Italian flavor and someone embracing every cartoon stereotype. “Look-a, is-a a spicy-a meat-a ball-a” is not Italian.

Russell had nothing good to say about his fellow performers. No one was as prepared as he was, none of them did their homework, they did not understand the play, the director was doing it all wrong. I have never seen any of them, so I can't agree or disagree, but I am not interested in what is essentially office gossip. He came across as someone who considered himself too good for that production.

I have seen Russell perform. He is not John Gielgud. But no one is. The goal is to work more and more and get better all the time. Russell is young enough to improve. I just found it disappointing that he was so dismissive of his colleagues when he is only starting out himself.

In an effort to change the subject, I asked him about music. I almost asked him about books, but that could easily segue into acting, and movies were obviously dangerous ground. Music seemed safe. Everyone likes something.

“I'm only listening to soundtracks right now,” he told me. “The Godfather II soundtrack really invokes the nuances of each performance. You can hear De Niro's anguish in the Immigrant Theme.”

I asked him about his family. When you're an expat, family comes up a lot. Most of us live nowhere near the people we grew up with. Russell's family was all in Australia.

“They're completely supportive,” he told me. “They know I need to work on my craft and this is where I need to be right now. I was always going to leave Australia. I'll mostly live in London or Los Angeles as I dig deeper into what I can give back to the world.”

I thought he was joking at first, but he was deadly serious. His acting was his gift to humanity.

When the food arrived, there was not much to talk about. I could comment on how it looked, but I had no idea how it tasted. For Russell, eating at an overpriced restaurant would help him play a wealthy character some day. I was surprised that he did not pick an Italian restaurant to immerse himself in the culture.

The food was expensive, and I told Russell I would pay for myself, but he said that was out of the question. He had a plan for the night and he laid it all out on the table. Dinner at a romantic/expensive restaurant followed by a night at his place where he already set out an array of scented candles and covered his bed in rose petals. He said that I could spend the night, but warned me that he had to leave early in the morning.

I asked him if he thought that maybe he was being just a tad on the remarkably presumptuous side.

“It's our third date,” he replied. “You know what that means.”

It was actually our second date.

“Disneyland counts as two,” he decided.

Either way, I did not know what that meant. Is there some international rule no one ever told me about that everyone is required to have sex on the third date, or second if the first is at Disneyland?

“Everyone knows it,” he told me. “If you're mousy or something, I'll settle for a blowjob.”

It was April 1st, but he was not playing a prank on me.

The thing is, Russell was a decent person. When you work at Disneyland, you can participate in their Voluntears program. Disney cast members go out into the community with people who know what they're doing and take children on nature walks, visit hospitals, take poor children to the theater, go swimming with disabled children, that sort of thing. I saw Russell at some of those events. They were never a job requirement. It was all voluntary. Creepy, self-involved, prima donnas don't do that. Unless their PR managers and cameras are nearby. Russell doesn't have a PR team. Yet. And reporters don't care what he's doing.

I knew that somewhere, maybe deep down, Russell had a good heart. But he was also a desperately horny dog. He needed to get some as quickly as possible.

I ruined his plans. Not only did I pay for my meal, but he had those rose petals all to himself. I don't think I was mean, but I let him know that there would be no third/fourth date. I pointed out that prostitution is legal in Hong Kong and bars are everywhere. If he really needed sex right away, there were plenty of options. He claimed that he wanted a relationship, but that was not the impression I got. He never asked me anything about me that did not involve acting. He knew that I was in a serious car accident and had brain surgery, but he only saw it as something I could use if I ever play an injured character someday. Everything turned back to acting, somehow. Even his scented candle plan showed that he was not thinking about me per se. Any warm body would do.

I understand dedication. When you want to do something artistic for a living, you really have to work at it. Artists don't have patrons anymore. You have to climb that mountain by yourself. But if you want other people in your life, you have to have a life. Hopefully, Russell will meet a wanton actress who likes reciting dialogue during sex.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. Take the cannoli!”

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Dating Kingdom

Coming 2020

Marvel Land

Back when I worked at Disneyland, one of the performers had a crush on me. I thought nothing of it at first since almost all of the men in the entertainment division are gay. It turns out, he's not. But I had a boyfriend at the time, so it never made any difference. We kept in touch when he left for another job. We talked on the phone from time to time and got together in groups, but we never spent any time alone, just the two of us.

During a recent phone call, we talked about acting and the theater. I'm going to call him Russell, after Russell Crowe, because he takes his thespian career very seriously and they're both Australian. Russell casually asked me how my boyfriend was doing. I mentioned that he just got a promotion at work and that we were no longer together. Russell's face lit up, at least as far as I could assume over the phone. He immediately asked me out on a date. I always knew that he used to have a crush on me, but I assumed that he moved on.

I said yes. If I was diving back into the dating pool, I reasoned, I might as well say yes to someone I've known for a few years. Dating can easily destroy a friendship, but we were never great friends anyway. We had things to talk about, mostly acting, and I knew a lot more about him than most dates.

Russell suggested we go to Disneyland. I was thinking dinner and a show, but under the circumstances, Disneyland made sense. We both used to work there and he had never been back since he quit. I would never go there on a blind date or with someone I just met. Once you're there, you are basically stuck with that person all day. I already knew Russell, so that was not a problem. It made even more sense when he suggested that since he suggested it, he should pay for it. When we worked there, we could always get in for free. Now, Disneyland is ridiculously expensive.

At most Disneyland parks, the rides are jam packed and people go to the live shows while waiting for something else. In China, the theaters are full and some of the ride lines move quickly. Russell considers himself a serious actor, and has left his frivolous days as a Disney performer behind him, but he wanted to see at least one stage show while we were there.

We saw Mickey and the Wondrous Book at the Storybook Theater. Russell did not recognize anyone in the cast. The turnover rate is pretty high at Disneyland. I struggled to think of anyone who might still be working from his time. I was the last person he kept in contact with, and I left a year ago.

After the show, we went on a few rides, but Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest Disney park in the world. You can easily do it all in a short day. That might be one of the reasons the shows are so popular. Still, Disneyland is a great place for a date. Everything and everyone around you is happy and it's a nice, wholesome place to spend the day.

Unless your date makes it creepy.

Standing in line for it's a small world, Russell revealed more than I wanted to know.

“You know what I've always wanted to do on this ride?” he asked me. “Get a blowjob.”

Small World is not a dark ride. It's a “dark ride”, but it is not dark. You can clearly see the other people in your boat and the boats ahead of you. There are no rides at Hong Kong Disneyland where you can do anything like that. I would never want to anyway. Not on a first date or a thousandth date. When I go to Disneyland, I want to see children having the time of their lives, not horny dudes getting their poles waxed.

I tried not to overreact. After all, he did not ask me to do anything untoward on the ride. He merely pointed out one of his fantasies. Maybe someday he will meet a girl inconsiderate enough to do something like that around children. Or maybe he will grow up.

Most of the rides at Disneyland are perfect for children or adults with broken heads. Disneyland has always been more about the fantasy environment than roller coasters. As long as Russell kept it in his pants, we could easily enjoy the park. Then he wanted to go on Space Mountain.

My doctor told me not to get on any roller coasters for a few months, but that was a few months ago. Eventually, he told me that I would know when I was ready. I suppose after the medical restrictions passed, it was purely psychological. Hong Kong Disneyland only has two roller coasters, so it was always going to be a safe place, but now I had to make a decision.

Russell knew about my car accident, and even though I never got into any real detail with him, he knew why I was wearing a hat. Unlike a previous date, he never complained about it. But he wanted to go on Space Mountain, and he wanted me to go with him.

I used to like going fast. I've been to Valleyfair in Shakopee a million times. I would ride the roller coasters as much as possible, lines permitting, especially Renegade, Wild Thing and High Roller. I don't know if I could do Mad Mouse anymore. Corkscrew would be out. I don't think anyone has ever ridden that without banging their head.

I went ahead and said yes to Space Mountain. I figured the pitch dark of the ride would be on my side, even though I have a problem with darkness. My greater concern was all the rolling and coasting. At the beginning of the ride, when it's slowly moving through the space port, or whatever that's supposed to be, I had second thoughts. What would I do if this happened? How would I handle that? It was too late to do anything about it. I was trapped.

The ride was determined to go ahead whether I liked it or not. As it turned out, I liked it. Nothing popped inside my head, but I had to close my eyes most of the time. Not because it was a fast ride, but because it was dark. Opening my eyes in the dark bothers me more than high speed dips and turns. There are no real dips on Space Mountain and the turns were never too fast.

Russell was encouraged by my lack of medical emergencies and wanted to hit the other roller coaster. Fortunately, we had all of Adventureland between the two.

The Jungle River Cruise has English and Chinese options. I recommended the Chinese since the English cast members are not necessarily as comfortable delivering the jokes in a foreign language. Timing is very important in comedy. You have to really know the language. Those who are still learning English tend to rush through their script. “Knock knock who's there ghost ghost who ghost spooky boo ha ha.” The Chinese jokes are a different style, but they are delivered properly.

Russell wanted English because he knows very little Chinese, but the English line was twice as long as the Chinese, for some reason. It is almost always the opposite. We went with Chinese, not that it made any difference. If you have been on the ride, you know pretty much what they are going to say – Schweitzer Falls, ginger snaps, two of his heads for one of yours, lions can jump 20 feet, apes find bananas appealing, etc.

Next to Adventureland is Grizzly Gulch, Hong Kong's version of Frontierland. The only ride in Grizzly Gulch, and the other roller coaster in the park, is Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, Hong Kong's version of Big Thunder Mountain. It's slower than Space Mountain, but about halfway through the ride, it stops and moves backward. If you've never been on it, it's pretty sneaky how they do it. After riding backward for a while, it stops again and pauses for a few seconds. If it's your first time, they want you to think it has broken down. If you have been on it before, you know exactly what is going to happen. When it starts up again, it shoots away much faster than before. They are called runaway cars for a reason.

I wanted to go on it. It is arguably one of the best non-New Orleans Square rides at any Disney park, and sometimes my favorite in Hong Kong. Most parks have no New Orleans Square, but for some reason, Hong Kong does not even have a Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean. I can understand the Haunted Mansion for cultural reasons, but those Mighty Pirates movies were very popular in China.

Since nothing bad happened on Space Mountain, I took the plunge and went on Grizzly Mountain. I already knew about the surprise twist, so there were no surprises. Other than the fact that going fast backward did not bother me at all.

After spending a wholesome day at the happiest place in South China, Russell wanted to go back to my place and do decidedly unwholesome things. “The perfect way to end a perfect day,” he said.

I said no. We left the park together, but ended our date at the Kowloon MTR station.

I will probably go out with him again if he asks. There were a couple of creepy moments, but I don't know what issues he is dealing with in his head. I can't assume he is a raging pervert. Maybe he just hasn't gotten laid in a while. I used to think he was gay. Obviously, I don't know anything about his history. Overall, it was a good day.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bras Bas

After six months off, I finally went back to work. My brain was ready a long time ago, but my body is still not ready to dance again. I'm working on it, but in the meantime, I needed a job. Since those who can't do, teach, I'm now teaching ballet to children.

There's been a surge in dance schools over the last few years. I don't know why. Someone told me it was because of that Black Swan movie, but that was not much of a hit here, and I doubt it would have inspired very many children anyway. There was also that Ballerina cartoon last year, but I don't even know if that played in China. If it's not Disney or DreamWorks, don't expect to see it on screen.

I was offered a teaching job a few years ago, but I was busy at the time. And that was for adults. I don't really like the idea of teaching an adult class. They're not as serious, they miss more classes and it's more of a hobby than something they have a deep, internal drive to do.

Children are just better students, in general. They're used to being students all day, so whatever classes they take after school are just more of the same. Adults have to shift their focus and that's hard to do when you're set in your old routine.

For the most part, children show up for every class. They usually don't have any choice. Their parents make them go, whether the children want to take the class or not. Adults can skip a class whenever they want, often for no reason at all. They simply don't feel like going. Children almost never have that luxury.

I also prefer students who take it seriously. I'm sure every teacher does, and I'm just as sure that I'll lighten up after a while, but I'd much rather have a student who wants to be the next great dancer than someone who's just killing time before their favorite TV show starts. If you want to be the best dancer the world has ever known, you have to start very young. Most students will never become great, and I'm not good enough to teach the best, but it's a million times easier to teach someone who has a burning desire to learn than someone who doesn't care.

When it comes to ballet, most students will drop out. That's the way it is and that's the way it should be. It's not for everyone. It's hard work in the beginning and even harder when you start to understand what you're doing. Even if you love it, you might not be right for the part. I wanted to be a ballerina when I was younger. I took as many classes as I could and I busted my butt, and more than a few toes. I had that burning desire. I simply wasn't good enough to be the principal or even the coryphée. At most, on my best day, I could join the corps.

Fortunately, there are other forms of dance. One of my first ballet teachers suggested I study lyrical and/or jazz. I can't be sure, but I suspect she knew I was never going to be a ballerina, but thought I had some potential somewhere. I was only a child, but in a lot of ways, she saved my career. I hope I can do the same for some of my students some day. I'd be surprised if any of them become ballerinas in the distant future, but maybe one or two might become professional dancers. Even if they're terrible, I don't want to be the one who dashes their dreams. In life, there are always plenty of people waiting in the wings to do that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Festive Lanterns 5

Everyone likes dolphins.

Dolphins, as everyone knows, play the piano upside down.

Their flippers are terrible for a drum set, but they're great with congas.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Festive Lanterns 4

I heard somewhere that owls are especially lucky. They're also popular lanterns.

Magic owls

Violin owl. Why not?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Festive Lanterns 3

Other animals are always popular in lantern form. I don't know why there were so many birds.

Birds guarding the castle.

Dancing birds.

It's a little known fact that birds use snail drawn carriages when tired.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Festive Lanterns 2

There were a lot of dog lanterns. Most of them were pretty straightforward. A few were kind of weird.

The theme is love, but since it's a bunch of dogs running around, I assume they mean platonic love of animals. Although there is that guy in the corner trying to get it on with a bear. I don't know what that's about.

Don't all dogs love to take bubble baths in a turtle shell?

This just seems to be a mix of various brown animals.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Festive Lanterns

I never went out on March 2nd, the actual day of the Lantern Festival, but I braved the crowds the day before and looked around some of the preview areas.

There were a lot of Snoopy lanterns, partly because copyright and trademark laws mean nothing around here and partly because this is the year of the dog.

Snow White and the Seven Anthropomorphic Woodland Animals

This was labeled as Cinderella's horse, but didn't her Fairy Godmother turn several mice into horses and her actual horse into the stagecoach driver?

Avatar might not seem like it has anything to do with ancient Chinese history, but the computer animation used Chinese locations for some of the landscape images and China has always had dragons.

Another Snoopy. This one was decorated by the designer of a little girl's bedroom in the 1970s, apparently.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lantern Festival 2018

Chinese New Year started on February 16th. There were parades through Tsim Sha Tsui and lion dances at just about every shopping center. I never planned on going to see the fireworks over Victoria Harbour, but they were canceled this year as a show of respect for a bus accident on February 10th in Tai Po. One of the deadliest car accidents in Hong Kong's history, it killed 19 people and injured 65. Most of the time I feel like a foreigner here, but I was a proud Hongkonger when the lines at the Red Cross went around the block and they had to stay open late because so many people wanted to donate blood.

I've mostly avoided the New Year crowds this year. China is a loud place at any given time, but downright intolerable during the New Year. Between the music blasted at full volume, the officials screaming into loudspeakers at full volume, the salesmen screaming for everyone to buy their wares at full volume and the people screaming into their phones at full volume, I have to wonder if the Chinese are so loud in public because they are going deaf or if they are going deaf because they are so loud in public. It would be a nice time to live in Hong Kong with ear plugs.

But I do go outdoors from time to time. At this time of year, New Year decorations are unavoidable. Some of them are amazing. It's all about bright colors. March 2nd is the Lantern Festival. In addition to bright lights, bright lions, bright dragons and bright dogs, there are bright red and gold lanterns everywhere. Some bring wealth for the new year. Some bring good health. They all bring good luck. Every fortune teller, fortune stick and fortune card says nothing but good things will happen to you in the coming year. No one ever seems to have bad luck. At least not until after the year starts. None of the lucky signs ever warned me that last year would suck.

I might go out and brave the crowds on Friday. I like the lanterns. It's the noise I'm dreading. But, if nothing else, I have to find out how rich and healthy I'll be this year.