Avoiding the Elephant (or Donkey) in the Room

Just hours after we as Americans chose our leader for the next four years, am I going to post something political and electoral? No way! I have tried hard to continue to like everyone on my Facebook feed, both those I agree with and those I disagree with when it comes to political topics, so I will try and help  my two and a half readers feel the same way about this blog.  (I have to say, sometimes it was just as hard to like the folks posting on with my same thinking as it was those who see the world through a different lens. A little respect on both sides of the aisle would be nice. And I am ready to go back to a newsfeed filled with pictures of babies and dinner plates rather than any more red/blue,  Republican/Democrat, Yes/No on Props 1 through 3823 or legalize this/criminalize that updates.)

The only election-related comment that I am going to make is that it happened. It happened big in Chengdu with an awesome election-watch party that I was privileged enough to work at. And it is over. So let’s all move forward–that is the goal after all. (At the US Consulate party here in Chengdu, I was tasked with being in charge of our photo station. We had life-sized cardboard cutouts of each candidate, so our guests could get their pictures taken with “the next President of the United States.” That went well, but I’m pretty sure the number of guests who asked to have their picture taken with “the next President of the United States *plus* the blonde girl” checked it at close to 50%.)

So what does one write about when she is desperately trying to ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room?

Nail fungus!

That’s right. The hot, fasicinating topic of nail fungus. (If you aren’t into such topics, you may want to just skip on ahead to the next blog entry in your Google Reader feed. If you are my older sister, thrilled with all things biologically yucky, read on.)

You see, back in probably April, I noticed that the nail on my left ring finger was peeling away from the nail bed below it. I thought I must have damaged it and that it would grow out and be healthy as time went on.

It didn’t.

When I went home for my mom’s surprise 60th birthday party in early May, I spent a lovely ladies’-afternoon out with one of the most fantastic girls I know, Shannon. Our original plan was to go to a salon for pedicures, but since Shannon decided to turn a corner in her house too soon, stubbing (and breaking!) her pinky toe, our spa day switched to manicures. (Manicures done by none other than an amazing former student of ours, one Ms. Dixie Kent, who is a doll and a half.) At the salon, the techs looked at my nail and suggested I see a dermatologist, which a normal person would have done, but as someone usually only goes to the doctor if death seems a possibility and because I was home for just a few days before shipping out to China, I didn’t make the appointment.

Fast forward five months.

My left-hand ring finger nail has not grown out and reattached as I had hoped. Basically, there is a cavern under my nail. The finger is a little puffy and the part near the cuticle a little red, with some low-level throbbing pain on occasion, but there is no discharge, no smell- nothing really going on.

Then, several Sundays ago, as I sat cross-legged on the floor on my living room, using the coffee table as a manicurist desk, painting my nails like to do each weekend, contemplating if I was going to go with stripes in fall colors to match the season or polka-dots in shades of pink to match my personality,  I noticed that whatever was going on with my left-hand nail had jumped ship and was taking over my right-hand ring fingernail. (Coincidence they are both ring fingers? I have no idea!)

Figuring that the one hand had been suffering from whatever strangeness was going on for more than half a year and now it was spreading, I thought it might be time to get it looked at. I made an appointment with our consulate medical unit to have it looked at. (These are the same lovely ladies who  recently gave me my Japanese encephalitis booster and today added flu vaccination to the needle pricks in my arm, but always with a Garfield bandage to make it worthwhile.)

After examining both nails, the nurse decided a skin scraping was the way to go. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. She took a needle and stuck it under my fingernail, scraping some of the skin to look for fungus. I wouldn’t say it was painful per se, but it definitely isn’t something I’d sign up for again. With my gross little skin cells smeared on a glass slide, her educated eye to the microscope detected no fungus.

But, if it isn’t a fungus, what is it? That is the question of the week. With promises to get back to me after a bit of dermatological detective work, I headed home to contemplate the hollowness behind my nails and the possible options for this weekend’s paint job. (Gold with darker tips as Thanksgiving ekes ever nearer or variegated pinks because I always default to pink?)

As the mystery of the odd nail disease continues, as I begin to ponder my nail art options for the upcoming weekend and you wonder why you just read an entire post about my finger deformity, remember, it could have been about the elections. And most days, nail fungus is a better dinner table topic than politics.



With A Side of Smog

Eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce, bacon, pancakes, dragon fruit, tiny oranges, chocolate chip shortbread cake (my contribution to the meal), all with a side of dense, industrial-grade smog.

That’s what we call a true Chengdu brunch.

When I roll out of bed on a Sunday morning, look out my massive floor to ceiling windows in the master bedroom and realize I can barely make out the PLA Hospital that is just a block up the road, I know it is going to be a rough day on the ol’ lungs.  Some days the gray can be blamed on 90% humidity- a fine mist that cools my skin and smears my make-up on my daily scoot to work.

Not today.

Today’s air is thick and gray, not the white of pending rain. Today’s air has the taste of coal and chemicals. Thad suggested that maybe Sichuan is celebrating a new sister holiday to the Spring Lantern Festival, this one being the Autumn Tire Burning Festival.

Of course, I couldn’t just sit on the edge of the bed and marvel at the lack of visibility. I had to know just how bad it really was. So, throwing on my fluffy pink robe and pink, monster-feet slippers, I shuffled out to the living room to fire up the internet and put a number on just how murderous the day would be on my pulmonary friends.

The United States Consulate in Chengdu has a great website filled with information about current events, upcoming activities and the array of American Citizen Services offered by the mission. None of that matters to me. I have the air monitor bookmarked on laptop and on days as hazy as today, go directly there to get the bad news as it is posted.

So, just how bad was the air in Chengdu today?

“Hazardous.”  All day long. (Okay, to be fair, we got a brief respite for about four hours in the late afternoon where the air popped up to the glorious level of “very unhealthy.”) According to the EPA, when the air quality is labeled as “hazardous” by their standards, “everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.”  (If you’re interested, I would suggest a quick trip over to http://chengdu.usembassy-china.org.cn/air-quality-monitor4.html , where the calculations are explained.)

There are a lot of great things about Chengdu.  We’ve got pandas. We’ve got Sichuan Opera. We’ve got lovely parks and spicy food.  The air is not one of those great things. Today, my eyelids feel like they are made of sandpaper. My throat has a scratch to it that wasn’t there yesterday. And the five air filters in my apartment are working overtime.

Sometimes, my lungs sure do miss Idaho.

A Serendipitous Treadmill?

I think I may have bought a treadmill today.

Talk about jumping in with both (unexercised) feet! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I really need to make “going to the James,” as Thad calls it, a regular part of my routine again. When we first moved to Chengdu, I went to the “gym” at our apartment complex a couple of times, but it wasn’t a great experience. While the advertisements for our complex include a spectacular list of amenities, including an outdoor pool with sandy beach, a putting green and a well-equipped gym, none of those items exist in reality. The outdoor pool with sandy beach is really about two inches of slimy-algae water surrounded by a gigantic litter box, the putting green is just another section of lawn (which, is actually an impressive feat in and of itself in China and I think advertising it as such would  be a draw for many folks) and the gym, well, it is there. The workout area is right next to the indoor pool, which is very well-maintained and always full, but only for doing laps and swimming caps are an indisputable requirement. The workout room itself though leaves much to be desired. (And this is from someone who is decidedly not a gym rat. I don’t need fancy gadgets and the latest weight-lifting technology. As  a matter of fact, those things just make me more likely to hurt myself.)

So what does the apartment complex’s gym have? There are two treadmills, both of which work, but both of which are usually occupied by octogenarian Chinese women walking backwards for an hour at a time. (There is not an ounce of hyperbole in that sentence. Seriously.) There are two stationary bikes, one of which works and the other of which has a broken strap on one of the pedals, so the rider’s foot flies off at random intervals, creating a rather entertaining experience for those standing around watching, waiting for the slowly aging to walk the equivalent of the equator, backwards. There is a single elliptical machine, but I’m somehow missing the necessary rhythm needed for those seemingly simple devices, so that doesn’t even show up on my gym-dar.  (I don’t think I can accurately express just how spastic I am when it comes to physical activity.) Finally, there are a few random weights.

Really, all I need in a gym is a treadmill, the hardest thing to come by at the one just downstairs.

After hemming and hawing and making repeated promises to myself to try the small gym at the consulate, and then coming up with endless excuses why “today” is not the day to start, I bit the bullet and hauled my duffle bag in to work today. I usually get off an hour earlier than Thad, so I figured I could use that time to work out and then we could scoot home together. (By usually, I mean, on paper I get off an hour earlier. The reality is much more random. Some weeks I am out of there right on time all week long, and then others I end up having a late-afternoon meeting scheduled or people in my office or a report that needs to be submitted to Washington.)

Today was the day.

I packed my adorable pink and navy Nike bag with my kicks, workout gear (apparently called “kit” by those speaking the Queen’s English, which I learned while reading a British fitness magazine at the hair salon in Bangkok), and my MP3 player, filled with all the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) pop music of the 80s, 90’s and today!

Not two hours in to my day, I got an email from an officer who is leaving post soon. She wanted me to run an ad in the Panda Post, my CLO newsletter, selling her gently used treadmill.


A quick note to Thad and post-visa line conversation and I had decided to put an offer in on the treadmill before it even hit the pages of the Post.

Once I figure out how to get the rather heavy contraption across Chengdu, I will be the proud owner of a gently-loved treadmill. This means I can run (run/walk is a much more accurate description of what I do) and sing along to my playlist of Backstreet Boys, Paula Abdul and Lady Gaga in the privacy of my own home, with my air purifier on high, trying to ward off the potential for black lung that comes with the territory here.

I may even try out the culturally correct “walk backwards for an endless amount of time” technique employed by the locals…but probably only if Thad is waiting to use the treadmill after me.

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