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Category: Looks

I’LL NEVER SPORT A BEARD

Milan, 1 March 2017

My wife and I went to see a small exhibition a few days ago, on cartoons drawn during the First World War. They were from Italian, Austrian, German, and French magazines and newspapers and of course all showed the other side as stupid, nasty, brutish or all three (there were also cartoons against profiteers, censorship, international capital, and other sundry topics of interest to countries at war). All in all, they were interesting and sometimes really amusing – the short, rather stupid looking Italian king, Victor Emanuel III, was the butt of many a hilarious cartoon.
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This being an Italian exhibition, many of the cartoons focused on the Italo-Austrian front, but some of the German/Austrian cartoons also lampooned the enemy on their eastern front, the Russians. As might be expected, Tsar Nicholas II came in for his share of ribbing. The jokes about him were good, but what struck me looking at the cartoons of him was the thing that always strikes me when I see pictures of him, namely his beard.
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Such a great beard! The man may have been a dolt but he was well-whiskered, no doubt about it. Beards such as these were definitely in vogue at the time, as this portrait of his British cousin George V shows.
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If the hirsute young fellows I see about me on the streets are any guide, beards this luxuriant are back in fashion, as attested by this photo which I recently took of an ad in the Milan subway.
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Sad to relate, I cannot be part of this renewed fashion trend. My genes work against me. Were I to attempt to grow a beard, I would simply look like a mangy dog. My problem is that I have a significant number of places on my cheeks where nothing grows. I can’t even adopt that other novelty of male facial hair, an attractive stubble, like Ryan Gosling’s for instance.
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After several days of not shaving, I simply look like a homeless person.

I know I could manage to grow a mustache, having had one luxuriate for a year or so on my upper lip some thirty years ago. I thought I looked a little like Clark Gable.
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(My wife clearly disagreed and finally told me it was time for it to go.) I think I could also manage a goatee. So I sometimes daydream that maybe I could manage to look like my French great-granfather, a photo of whom lorded it over my grandmother’s living room. In it, he looked just like Napoleon III, who was Emperor at the time the photo was taken.
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Alas, a few years later, France’s armies were thrashed by the Prussian-led German armies and Napoleon went off into exile and death. For his part, my great-grandfather changed his look, as documented in another photo which lorded it over my grandmother’s living room. He adopted the short back-and-sides and soberer mustache of the enemy, looking very much like Kaiser Wilhelm II.
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I’m sure many Frenchmen changed their look at this time. Out with the foppish Napoleon look! The French needed to stiffen themselves with some Prussian iron to beat the hated enemy the next time round!

But coming back to my possible goatee, I think realistically the best I could manage would be something like this.
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Which is really pretty sad. Maybe I should just resign myself to being clean shaven for the rest of my life.

My wife would certainly agree.

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Cartoon Victor Emanuel III: http://milano.corriere.it/notizie/cronaca/17_febbraio_19/caricature-vignette-d64e1cca-f601-11e6-a891-35892eecc6d0.shtml
Tsar Nicholas II: http://pixelrz.com/lists/keywords/tsar-nicholas-ii-quotes/
George V: http://hotmonarchy.com/gallery/monarchs/qf_v1/
Ryan Gosling: http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/67828132/Whats-happened-to-Ryan-Goslings-beautiful-head-of-hair
Clark Gable: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Gable
Napoleon III: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napoleon_III_cph.3c31393.jpg
Kaiser Wilhelm II: http://erhj.blogspot.it/2014_07_01_archive.html?m=1
Pathetic goatee: http://jefffsbeardboard.yuku.com/reply/159820/Re-21-yo-Am-I-just-screwed-Might-CP-Serum-help

 

BETEL CHEWING

Bangkok, 27 March 2016

I said in my last post that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In that case, I was talking about citrons. But this homey dictum is that much truer about the subject of this post, betel chewing. To explain what I mean, consider this picture of a betel chewer.

Betel chewer

Now, if I were to meet such a fellow, I would be nervously looking for an escape route, half expecting the man to make a lunge with his pointed canines at my jugular. But in the village where he comes from, where no doubt half the population have red goo drooling from their lips, this man would be seen as a nice, friendly village elder. Perhaps a little less on the extreme side of things, if I were to meet this smiling Indian gentleman

indian betel chewer

my earlier post on teeth would come to mind and I would make a mental note that he badly needed to see a dentist rather than thinking what a lovely smile he had and what a nice man he must be. As I said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I first came across the habit of betel chewing in Delhi. I was there for a meeting of some sort, and after it was over and I was being walked back to my hotel my colleague stopped at a betel stand such as this one

SONY DSC

and ordered himself a betel quid to chew. He asked me if I wished to try one, but I politely declined. I watched with curiosity to see what might happen to him, but nothing untoward did. I did realize, though, that this habit explained his somewhat orange teeth.

I was reminded of this scene from long ago when I was in Myanmar recently and saw the tell-tale signs of betel chewing all around me in Yangon – the orange teeth, the betel stands, and most revolting of all these bright red splotches on the pavements.

spit from betel chewing

Betel chewing generates a lot of saliva, which the chewers either swallow or spit out (which if not done vigorously enough no doubt leads to dribbles on the chin as in the case of the old gentleman with whom we started this post). The fact that these are spit is revolting enough, but their bright red colour further gives the impression that half the population have advanced cases of TB and are coughing their lungs out (my childhood memories have retained stories of older generations with consumption coughing hard into their handkerchiefs and seeing with horror that the handkerchiefs were stained by bright red blood from their lungs; the end was nigh for them).

For those – I hope – many readers who have no idea what is in a betel quid, allow me to elucidate. At its most basic, the betel consists of slices of the “nut” (actually fruit) of the Areca palm

Ripe and Raw Betel Nut Or Areca Nut Palm On Tree

wrapped in leaves of the betel vine

betel leaves

which have been liberally smeared beforehand with slaked lime. Depending on your fancy and which part of the world you come from, your local betel stand holder can add tobacco, spices, and various other ingredients – note the various little pots which our betel stand holder in the picture above has spread out before him.

Since I had first come across the betel chewing habit in India, and since every betel stand holder in Yangon seemed to be of Indian extraction, I sort of assumed that this was an Indian tradition which had been exported elsewhere. Not a bit of it! It’s actually the other way around. Although it’s not yet clear where the Areca palm and the betel vine originated from exactly, there is general agreement that it was in South-East Asia somewhere. But they didn’t originate in the same place. Evidence points to the betel vine and Areca nut being initially consumed separately, their use spreading out from their point of origin until they overlapped, at which point some bright spark had the idea of putting the two together. Early trade between South-East Asia and India brought betel chewing and then the plants to the subcontinent – and migration brought them out to New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, where the dreaded signs of betel chewing are to be found.

PNG betel chewer

But why, some readers may be asking themselves, does anyone bother to chew betel quids in the first place? Because both plants contain mild stimulants: arecoline in the case of the Areca nut, eugenol in the case of the betel leaf. So chewing the quid gives the chewer a mild high. It joins a number of other plants which are chewed for their stimulating (in some cases very stimulating) effects: coca leaves in the Andes,

coca leaf chewing

khat leaves in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula (I remember a colleague once telling me that Djibouti came to a halt on Fridays as everyone waited for the weekly supply of khat to be flown in from Ethiopia)

khat chewing

kola nuts in West Africa.

cola chewing

And then there are the plants that are smoked, those that are swallowed, those that are made into infusions and drunk … Early humans were exceedingly resourceful in figuring out how to get a high from the plants which surrounded them. I wonder, though, how they ever figured out which of the thousands of plants around them gave them highs.

Luckily, the practice of betel chewing seems to be dying out. For instance, Thailand was once a hot-spot of betel chewing, but I have never seen anyone in Bangkok, or anywhere else for that matter, chewing it. Nor have I ever seen anyone chewing betel quids in Cambodia or Laos. I say “luckily”, even though this perhaps betrays a cultural imperialism. I mean, one could argue that if people want to chew betel why shouldn’t they, as long as they don’t kill me or their family or themselves in the process, and don’t become a burden on the public purse because of it. Normally, I would indeed be tolerant of cultural diversity, but for this particular practice I draw the line: people with red mouths and teeth à la Dracula generating bright red spit marks all over pavements are beyond the civilized pale. This should be the new normal, everywhere.

indian lady smiling

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Betel chewer: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Betel.jpg (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betel)

Indian betel chewer: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/131025001452-betel-nut-12-horizontal-large-gallery.jpg (in http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/04/world/asia/myanmar-betel-nut-cancer/)

Betel quid seller: http://www.loupiote.com/photos_l/3699347097-man-selling-betel-quids-delhi-india.jpg (in http://www.loupiote.com/photos/3699347097.shtml)

Spit from betel chewing: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c8/Spit_from_chewing_Areca_nut_02.JPG/800px-Spit_from_chewing_Areca_nut_02.JPG (in http://tijgercoverlover.blogspot.com/2015_10_01_archive.html)

Areca nuts: http://previews.123rf.com/images/gamjai/gamjai1404/gamjai140400129/27628649-Ripe-and-Raw-Betel-Nut-Or-Areca-Nut-Palm-On-Tree-Stock-Photo.jpg (in http://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/areca_nut_palm.html)

Betel leaves: http://freepressjournal.in/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/lead-19.jpg (in http://www.freepressjournal.in/the-ubiquitous-betel-leaf/483947)

PNG betel chewer: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/6b/81/24/6b81245676a7dfacc68d282d1a908b37.jpg (in https://www.pinterest.com/WorldofBacara/betel-nut-chewing-paraphernalia/)

Coca leaf chewing: https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/QFzuYzGkifM3AVIMjeToTuZ6ggFZLzzxh9eltPXpqaGv-Ei41rXq_VzjVByqHC0DuWmLqNQsad-W4bP9p775OicO_XVLhDjLfp19m-1hbGrZnvchpVdklqA_qfma-r3oRTzLVcfIgQ (in http://cocainekillstherainforestoo.blogspot.com/2015_03_01_archive.html)

khat chewing: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/Qat_man.jpg (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khat)

kola chewing: http://igboclass.umunagbor.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Kola-.jpg (in http://igboclass.umunagbor.org/the-kola-nut-as-an-igbo-cultural-and-social-symbol/)

Indian lady smiling: http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/indian-lady-smiling-14122626.jpg (in http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-indian-lady-smiling-image2316986)

MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL

Bangkok, 28 February 2016

Every morning, I stare at myself in the mirror as I shave, a ritual which has enslaved me these past forty odd years. And I stare at myself in the mirror as I brush my hair, or brush my teeth, or – more lately – inspect that suspicious mark on my face (is it melanoma?). And I watch as the face which stares back at me grows rounder and more creased, as the hairline recedes and the temples grow greyer, as the lips thin with the loss of back teeth, as the skin begins to sag under my chin.

I grow old, the mirror remorselessly reminds me every day.

I can’t escape my reflection. It follows me everywhere I go, staring back at me from all the mirrors which we have scattered with wild abandon over our urban landscapes: the bars, the restaurants, the public toilets, the elevators, the shops, the lobbies, … My reflection even beckons to me from the smooth, shiny sheathing and coated windows of our fancy modern buildings.

It was not always so. There was a time, not so long ago in the great arc of human history, when we hardly ever saw our own faces. We saw the faces of others: our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, our tribe, our village, and the few strangers who came from the other side of the mountain and passed through. From time to time, when drinking in a still pool, we would have seen a tremulous reflection staring back at us. But it’s not easy to see one’s reflection in water. Water bodies have this infuriating habit of giving a beautiful reflection of things far away but of being blankly clear at one’s feet.

Numa and Rainbow Peaks Reflecting in Bowman Lake, Montana

This young girl has managed to capture her watery reflection quite well

reflection in water

but I think this picture is more typical of what most of us see when we peer into water.

reflection in a puddle

That’s why I’ve never really understood the legend of Narcissus, the beautiful boy who caught sight of his reflection in a pool, fell in love with it, and died at the pool’s edge unable to drag himself away.

Narcissus-Caravaggio

What reflection could he possibly have been so enamoured with? In my experiments in the kitchen with various pots and pans of different colours, the best reflection I got was from a black frying pan

image

and even that reflection was, as readers can see, murky in the extreme. How could anyone, however beautiful he or she may have been, have fallen in love with this evanescent reflection? Perhaps the original teller of the tale had seen a reflection of a person in a dark pool or vase from a distance, like this photographer has

reflections in a bowl of water

and invented the story around that.

Be that as it may, eventually our ancestors found other ways to see themselves. Obsidian, that beautiful, black, glassy material, product of volcanic activity

imagewas used in the first attempts at non-aqueous mirrors, in Turkey. The country was famous in the pre-metallurgical era for its obsidian, which could be used to make razor-sharp arrow heads – such arrow heads have been found hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away from the mother lode in Anatolia. But large obsidian pieces could also be split open and the faces given a high polish to act as a mirror.

obsidian mirror

Obsidian may be beautiful, but it gives a dark reflection, almost as dark as the water in my frying pan. I am reminded of St. Paul’s famous phrase in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly”.

The metallurgical age brought us one step closer to seeing ourselves, in polished copper or bronze mirrors, like this Egyptian copper mirror.

copper mirror egyptian

Copper mirrors would have given reddish reflections like those we see in highly polished copper pans, such as this

reflections in a copper potor this.

reflections in a copper pan

(If nothing else, both photos show the need for a uniformly flat surface for a good result …)

The Chinese especially made mirrors out of polished bronze. These would have given yellowish reflections, like this one

bronze mirror-2

or this one, from a Japanese bronze mirror.

bronze mirror

Mirrors such as these were very expensive – indeed, the Chinese turned the backs of their mirrors into admirable works of art, such as this 9th Century one from the Tang Dynasty with its admirably carved dragon.

image

So only the rich, the ancient world’s one-percenters, could afford to peer – curiously, vainly, or dolefully – at their reflection. The man and woman on the street still could only see their reflection in water.

It seems that it was the Egyptians who first thought of coating glass with metal to make glass mirrors, but their reflectivity was poor. As for the Romans, Pliny the Elder mentioned mirrors where gold leaf was applied to glass. I don’t know if any such mirror has survived the ravages of time, I certainly didn’t find a trace of one on the Internet. But very fancy gold-plated mirrors such as the one in this photo are now made, for high-tech applications.

image

I suppose a bleary-eyed Roman plutocrat staring at himself in his gold-plated glass mirror after a night of orgies would have caught such a yellowing reflection as this of his face.

It is the Venetians we have to thank – or curse – for bringing us the modern silvered mirror, which finally allowed humanity to see its own reflection in glorious, embarrassing, or painful technicolour. The glass-makers of Murano figured out a way of making flat – and clear – glass as well as depositing a thin coating of silver on the back of it (my professional self cannot but help notice that they used a silver-mercury amalgam to do this; the mercury inevitably sickened and killed off a good number of Murano mirror-makers – an interesting twist to the French saying “il faut souffrir pour être belle”, “one must suffer to be beautiful”, which here becomes “you suffer, and I admire my beauty”). Once again, it was initially the one-percenters of the European courts who enjoyed – or suffered from – a much clearer reflection of themselves. Venetian glass mirrors such as this one were worth a king’s ransom.

old venetian mirror in good shape

The French one-percenters couldn’t stand the idea that they were sending so much of their wealth southwards to the misbegotten Venetians for glass mirrors. They tried mightily to worm the secrets of mirror-making out of Murano. But La Serenissima, fully appreciating the gold mine they were sitting on, passed draconian laws forbidding these secrets from leaving the lagoon. Eventually, though, the French suborned a group of Venetian mirror-makers, persuading them to bolt from the lagoon and set up shop in the St. Gobain works. Among many other things, this gave us the Hall of Mirrors at the palace at Versailles.

image

This hall has impassively reflected the fun and games of the French monarchy, but also two crucial moments in recent European history: the declaration of the German Empire in 1871 after the Prussians trounced the French in the Franco-Prussian War

image

and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 between the Allies and the new-born German democracy

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that humiliating “diktat of Versailles” which Hitler used to such good effect in his rise to power.

Alas! The silvering process which the Venetians invented, and the French copied, did not last forever. With time, it would crack, it would peel, it would dull, so that reflections would become evanescent once more. How many old houses contain mirrors like this one!

image

Even our apartment in Milan holds a mirror where Time has inserted its bony fingers into the silvering and has started to strip pieces off.

image

Like my face, mirrors age. But as men have found ways of making faces last longer, so have they found ways to make silvered mirrors that last longer and reflect better. And through the genius of industrialization they have found ways to make these much better mirrors much cheaper, so that 99-percenters like me can also stare, once vainly and now despairingly, at the reflection of our crumbling selves.

I need to escape from my reflection. My wife and I could have ourselves shipwrecked on some remote islet in the Pacific Ocean. Yet even there, I fear that I would find a shard of mirror on the beach, washed up together with all the plastic bottles and other flotsam and jetsam of our consumeristic life that now fill up our oceans.

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Reflections in a lake: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get2/I0000WnV35_OekPk/fit=1000×750/Numa-and-Rainbow-Peaks-Reflecting-in-Bowman-Lake.jpg (in http://bretedge.photoshelter.com/image/I0000WnV35_OekPk)

Reflection in water: http://www.aheadworld.org/wp-content/gallery/reflection-in-the-water/bellareflectionwater-1.jpg (in http://www.aheadworld.org/2014/07/15/reflection-in-the-water/)

Reflection in a puddle: http://www.nambya.com/wp-content/uploads/image6.jpg (in http://www.nambya.com/gallery/photography/image-7/)

Narcissus by Caravaggio: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_%28mythology%29#/media/File:Narcissus-Caravaggio_%281594-96%29_edited.jpg (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_%28mythology%29)

Reflection in a black pan: my photo

Reflection in a bowl of water: http://inapcache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs/bigpicture/reflections/bp12.jpg (in http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/02/photo_reflections.html)

Chunk of obsidian: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/504686617127026690

Obsidian mirror: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/a0/77/4e/a0774e9d5c812c328852a4850ea59899.jpg

Egyptian copper mirror: https://assets.paddle8.com/510/266/21339/21339-1380672291-Coburn-Item%2033-xl.jpg (in https://paddle8.com/work/egyptian/21339-hand-mirror)

Reflection in a copper pot: http://www.jeffclaassen.com/photos/2013/11/copper_pot_05.jpg ( in http://jeffclaassen.com/blog/2013/11/copper-pot-selfies-in-the-kitchen-after-dinner/)

Reflection in a copper pot-2: http://www.jeffclaassen.com/photos/2013/11/copper_pot_02.jpg (in http://jeffclaassen.com/blog/2013/11/copper-pot-selfies-in-the-kitchen-after-dinner/)

Reflection in a copper pan: https://40.media.tumblr.com/e295593980f36d1411e869333c84b63f/tumblr_mgbmbnhFJl1rjg7f0o1_500.jpg (in https://www.tumblr.com/search/loppapeysa)

Reflection in a Chinese bronze mirror: https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2601/3810835438_947331566d_b.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisckemp/3810835438)

Reflection in a Japanese bronze mirror: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_WxoUP_Y9N1A/RysHFDtbP1I/AAAAAAAAADo/smZF2ussZLo/s320/te-kagami2.JPG (in https://kgtou.wordpress.com/2007/11/02/te-kagami-hand-mirror/)

Chinese mirror – back: https://www.flickr.com/photos/asianart/405662049

Mirror coated with gold: http://www.epner.com/processes-and-products/laser-gold/

Old Venetian mirror in good shape: http://www.antiquario-dellapiana.it/esposizione-antiquariato-alba/dipinti-antichi/

Galerie des Glaces: http://www.historylines.net/history/17th_cent/versailles.html

Proclamation of the German Empire: https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galerie_des_Glaces

Signing of the Versailles Treaty with Germany: https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galerie_des_Glaces

Old Venetian mirror in bad shape: http://www.juliamarkert.com/galleria-riproduzioni-cornici-antiche-firenze/cornici-antiche-firenze/specchio-veneziano/

Reflection in Milan mirror: my photo

 

A STUDY OF FEET

Bangkok, 19 October 2015

One of the interesting side-effects of living in Bangkok is that I can carry out a comprehensive study of feet. The climate here is such that the wearing of open footwear is exceedingly widespread, so I can examine – surreptitiously, of course – a very large number of feet as I walk around, sit in public places, or – as was the case when I started this post – sit in buses stuck in Bangkok’s perennially dreadful traffic. Since so many foreigners come to Bangkok, the study is very cross-cultural: I study not only the feet of the Thai, but also – judging from the shards of phrases I overhear as the foreigners walk by – Australians, Europeans of all stripes, North Americans, some Latin Americans, quite a number of Middle Easterners, a sprinkling of Africans, and of course Asians from every corner of Asia. I am now ready to report back on the findings of my study.

Let us first set the benchmark against which I can compare the feet I see. This would be a foot in its natural state, that is to say a foot that is perennially shoeless. This photo, which I’ve used before, gives an excellent example. What we have here is a band of Amazonian Indians who are coming into contact with the modern world for the first time. Their astonished and somewhat fearful faces upturned towards the helicopter (I guess) are fascinating, but I would invite the reader to focus on their feet, feet which have never been shod.

amazonian Indian feet

As the readers will quickly agree, these feet are in the state that most human feet have been in for 99.99% of the time we have inhabited this planet.

I throw in here an older photo, taken – no doubt by some amateur anthropologist – to deliberately show a natural foot. And of course it has to be an old photo, because wearing shoes is probably now the norm rather than the exception. Finding a foot nowadays which has never been shod must indeed be hard.

natural and baby feet

Note the way the toes in the natural foot, especially the big toe, are splayed out. A minute’s thought will show that of course this is the way it should be. By spreading out like that, toes are giving the foot a wider footprint and therefore making it easier for the person on top of those feet to balance.

In this photo of a baby’s feet, the reader will notice that they naturally take this splayed form

baby feet

Only later, through imprisonment in shoes, do the toes come closer together

feet with toes close

sometimes too close together.

toes too close

I am reminded of TS Eliot’s poem Animula, which tracks the evolution of a person’s soul from birth to adulthood, but which actually describes very well the fate of our feet: “‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’ …Issues from the hand of time, the simple soul … misshapen, lame, unable to fare forward …”.

But back to the matter in hand. Having set the benchmark, I can now report the results of my pseudo-sociological field experiment in the streets and other public spaces of Bangkok.

Generally speaking, the feet of Thai people look in considerably better shape than those of foreigners from “civilized” countries. A good number have quite splayed toes, fruit no doubt of hardly ever wearing shoes at home. In fact, it’s quite common to see their little toes falling off their flip-flops or sandals. Clearly, the basic “chassis design”, if I can put it that way, adopted by shoe manufacturers simply ignores the natural form of the foot with splayed toes. Shoe manufacturers take as their starting point an already somewhat malformed foot. Well they would, wouldn’t they? After all, it is their products which have malformed out feet in the first place. Other Thais have moderately straightened toes, fruit of some level of constriction by shoes.

thai girl's feet

I detect a social element here. It is clear from their dress and occupation that the Thai owners of feet whose toes are splayed come from the poorer strata of society, while those with feet with straight toes come from the richer ones. And I also detect a gender element. Young Thai women show more evidence of constricted toes than do the men. I will come back to this in a minute.

As for the feet of the foreigners, those of people from more developed, richer, more “civilized” countries show toes much more tightly squeezed together

white feet in flip flops

along with more extreme signs of foot distress: bunions

bunions

hammer toes

hammer toes

calluses and corns.

Like in the case of the Thai, women’s feet seem more malformed than men’s. Which gets us of course to the cause of all these foot problems: canons of accepted (feminine) beauty.

Let’s face it, for hundreds if not thousands of years, there has been this insidious idea that those members of society who are more civilized, more refined – and richer – have delicate (for women) or well proportioned (for men) limbs and features. Hands, of course, have always been a particular object of this odious social creed, because having big hands, and especially having big fingers, meant that you were poor and so did a lot of manual labour.

working hands

If you were rich, on the other hand, you could pay people to do your manual labour for you, leaving your hands and fingers slim.

slim hands

With feet, it must have been a little different. Like grand clothes, the fact that you wore shoes showed that you had money to burn, not like that bum on the street who had to run around in his bare feet all day. And of course, slim, petite, shoes (that is to say, narrow, horribly constricting, shoes) showed (or pretended to show, since your feet were actually squashed into the shoe) that you had slim, petite, feet, not broad feet like that bum on the street etc.

Woman's_silk_brocade_shoes_1770s

This last pair of shoes, with their modest heels, allows me to segue smoothly into that terrible habit of wearing high-heeled shoes. As we all know, it’s mostly women who wear them, but men do too, depending on the state of fashion. I am ready to reveal at this time that when I was young and foolish I went through a phase of wearing platform boots, one black pair and one brown, which looked like this.

platform shoes

Apart from feeling pretty cool as I walked around Uni, I found a most satisfying side-effect to be that I was taller. No doubt that’s one reason why women do this to their feet

high heels

which when you strip away the shoe looks like this.

foot in high heel position

Modest heels I could understand. I mean, I fell for them. But why subject yourself to the pain of excessively high heels, not only a pain that comes today but also a pain that dogs you for years to come? Because men still rule the world, and they like to see the accentuated swish in a woman’s gait caused by walking in high heels, or maybe they like the fact that her legs look longer, or that her feet look smaller, or her toes shorter, when wearing heels. Or maybe it makes women take smaller steps, to avoid falling over (my wife still remembers her father exhorting her to take small steps, because that was more ladylike and refined). Or maybe because it makes men feel strong to see women tottering around on heels, not able to walk very far before complaining of sore feet and needing help.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But consider this. For nearly one thousand years, from early in the Song dynasty, about 1000 AD, to the early 20th Century, many Chinese women were subjected to the unbearably painful process of foot binding. To appreciate the full horror of this practice, let me give the readers a quick summary of what girls were subjected to. The process was started when girls were between the ages of 4 and 9, that is, before the arches of their feet had had a chance to develop fully. First, after softening the feet and cutting back the toenails, the toes of each foot were curled under and then pressed with great force into the sole of the foot until – the – toes – broke. But it didn’t finish there. While the broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot, the arch of the foot was also broken so that the foot could be drawn down straight with the leg. So you basically smashed the little girl’s feet. Then you started the binding. The idea was to pull the ball of the foot ever closer to the heel, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath the sole.

As the readers can imagine, a girl’s broken feet required a great deal of care and attention if she was not to die from this process; it is estimated that 10% of girls died from gangrene and other infections due to foot binding. So their feet were regularly unbound, they were washed, the toes unfolded and checked for injury, and the nails carefully trimmed. The broken feet were also kneaded to soften them and the soles of the girl’s feet beaten to make the joints and broken bones more flexible. Then the poor girl’s broken toes were folded back under and the feet rebound. Every time the feet were rebound, the bindings were pulled even tighter. The ideal was to end up with a “foot” no more than 10 cm long.

The Chinese are nothing if not eminently practical. Recognizing that mothers might well be too sympathetic to their daughters’ pain, it was generally an older female member of the family or a professional foot binder who carried all this out. Oh, and the process was usually started during the winter time since girls’ feet were more likely to be numb from the cold, and therefore the pain would not be as extreme. How nice of them.

This was the result:

crushed bound foot

Chinese lady with bound feet

Of course, no-one except the persons caring for the feet ever saw this. What they saw was this, these oh-so dainty little shoes.

Lotus-ShoesAnd why were Chinese women subjected to this horrible procedure for a thousand years? For beauty, of course. Men ruled China (they still do), and crazy as it might sound to the modern reader, men considered bound feet to enhance a woman’s beauty by making her movements more dainty and “ladylike”. As readers can imagine, it was difficult to walk on broken feet. Women with bound feet tended to walk predominantly on their heels. As a result, they walked with a cautious, unsteady gait, taking tiny, swaying steps. And, of course, that most important thing where women were concerned, well bound feet helped her parents contract a good marriage for her. It could also be that it was found to be an effective way of forcing women to be housebound and completely reliant on men. In this view, traditional societies forbid women from leaving the house; the Chinese simply broke their feet.

So what is the moral of all this? Look after your feet! Stop obsessing about narrow, dainty feet. Celebrate splayed toes. Go to the office in flip-flops and take off your shoes the moment you sit at your desk (which is what most Thais do). Put on sandals until the dead of winter; our feet can tolerate quite a lot of cold. Throw away all your high-heeled shoes. And if a man ever asks you to wear high heels, cut him mercilessly out of your life; he is clearly a swine.

_____________________

Amazonian Indian feet: http://birthdayshoes.com/media/blogs/bdayshoes/2013_Photos/.evocache/human_feet_look_like_if_you_never_wear_shoes.jpg/fit-640×540.jpg?mtime=1386261566 (in http://birthdayshoes.com/what-a-natural-human-foot-looks-like-if-you-never-wear-shoes)

Natural human feet: http://origin.ih.constantcontact.com/fs096/1102283092773/img/101.jpg?a=1102864935304 (in http://www.sukiebaxter.com/could-your-feet-be-the-source-of-that-pain-in-your-neck)

Baby feet: http://naturalrunningcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Screen-shot-2012-02-26-at-5.30.11-PM.png (in http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2012/02/27/enhancing-natural-pronation-control-feet-designed-that/

Feet with toes close: http://www.guide2health.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/bare-feet.jpg (in http://www.guide2health.net/2012/08/life-long-immunity-to-disease/bare-feet/)

Feet with toes too close: http://i.imgur.com/aURQcnm.jpg (in http://www.inquisitr.com/931111/lebron-james-feet-picture-of-stars-messed-up-toes-goes-viral/)

Thai girl’s feet: http://www.zeefashionstore.com/ProductImage/18391/1.jpg (in http://www.zeefashionstore.com/womenshoes.php?brand=79&section=6)

White feet in flip-flops: http://blog.diagnosticfootspecialists.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/flip-flops.jpg (in http://blog.diagnosticfootspecialists.com/)

Bunions: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Hallux_Valgus-Aspect_pr%C3%A9_op_d%C3%A9charge.JPG (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunion)

Hammer toes: http://images.medicinenet.com/images/slideshow/diabetes_foot_problems_s13_hammertoes.jpg (in http://www.medicinenet.com/image-collection/hammertoes_picture/picture.htm)

Working hands: https://scpeanutgallery.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/working-hands.jpg (in http://scpeanutgallery.com/2015/02/04/morning-prayer-4-feb-heb-124-7-11-15-mk-61-6-get-a-grip/)

Slim hands: http://hoocher.com/Agnolo_Bronzino/Portrait_of_Lucrezia_Panciatichi_ca_1540.jpg (in http://hoocher.com/Agnolo_Bronzino/Agnolo_Bronzino.htm)

Woman’s shoes 1770: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Woman’s_silk_brocade_shoes_1770s.jpg (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1775%E2%80%9395_in_Western_fashion)

Platform boots: http://img3.etsystatic.com/000/0/5381238/il_fullxfull.291560419.jpg (in http://galleryhip.com/platform-shoes-for-men.html)

High heels: http://www.glamour.com/images/fashion/2013/08/heels-w724.jpg (in http://www.glamour.com/fashion/blogs/dressed/2013/08/check-out-this-3d-scan-of-what)

Women in high heel position: http://www.tellwut.com/uploads/media/image/12607e1398914701o270.jpg (in http://katherincruikshank.blogas.lt/tag/hammer-toes)

Crushed bound foot: http://www.buzzfeed.com/hayleycampbell/lotus-feet#.vj027qN6E (in http://www.buzzfeed.com/hayleycampbell/lotus-feet#.eegdQJg3y0)

Chinese lady with bound feet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding#/media/File:A_HIGH_CASTE_LADYS_DAINTY_LILY_FEET.jpg (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding#Variation_in_practice)

Lotus shoes: http://www.top5ives.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Lotus-Shoes.jpg (in http://www.top5ives.com/top-5-most-weird-shoes-in-history/)

SNIFFING AT MY INHALER

Bangkok, 20 June 2015

The Thais are a handsome race, no doubt about it. They seem to be genetically predisposed to having a gracile body structure, which leads to a race of naturally slim and slender people. Of course, there are Thais who have had a hard life, especially in rural areas, and whose bodies and faces have been marked by it. And given the popularity of fast food and of snacking on processed foods, obesity is on the rise as it is everywhere in the world. But overall, the Thais are pleasing to the eye.
cool thai couple
So it is really very unfortunate that many Thais have this strange habit of going around with an inhaler up their nose, which obviously detracts from their natural comeliness.
women with inhalers
Normally you just see them holding the inhaler to the nose and sniffing away as if they were snorting cocaine or some other such substance, but in extreme cases they will jam the inhaler in their nostrils and walk about with it dangling from their noses.
man with inhaler in nose
man with inhaler in nose-2
(I have even heard of cases of Thais with two inhalers jammed up their noses! But perhaps this is an urban legend)

Quite why they do it is not clear to me. No doubt it has something to do with warding off noxious smells, which indeed can sometimes be a problem in Thailand where open drains are still the rule rather than the exception. But the street smells can be strong even in the absence of open drains: cooking smells, for instance, can be penetrating, which may explain this lady’s use of an inhaler
woman vendor with sniffing stick
Or it could be a way of keeping alert when required, as this photo of an examination room suggests
https://theheartthrills.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/12926-photo2b1-721216.jpg?w=518&h=389
(the boy with the inhaler is towards the back left and is busily writing while the poor fellow in the front looks like he could do with an inhaler)

But various sites darkly suggest that one can become hooked and simply sniff for the artificial pleasure of it all. Bent on making a scientific examination of the issue, I purchased an inhaler at my local 7-11 – the cheapest, I’m not that dedicated –
image
and carried out a series of sniff tests …

… Ah yes! That eucalyptus smell that I remember soooo well from the Vicks inhalers that our mothers used to hand us young children when we had a cold
vicks inhaler
and which, together with Vicks vapo rub for our chests and Vicks cough drops for our scratchy throats were used by several generations of anxious mothers for their coughing and sniffling brood.
https://img1.etsystatic.com/047/2/9430690/il_570xN.668385061_prsm.jpg
Yes, yes, one or two sniffs and you could feel the stuffiness in your nose magically disappearing, and the late November fogs lifting – only for stuffiness and fog to reappear after a while – to be chased away again with another sniff or two – and so the cycle went on endlessly, until Spring arrived …

… But behind the astringent, aseptic quality of the eucalyptus there lies a softer smell of mint and peppermint … of the Polo mints of my youth!
https://i0.wp.com/oi55.tinypic.com/2cffhar.jpg
“the mint with the hole”, as the ad tag line had it
https://i1.wp.com/images.esellerpro.com/2486/I/514/4/polo-mints-postcard.jpg
a taste which has me instinctively grasping out at one of the mint sweets that hotels in this part of the world so thoughtfully place on the check-in counter for incoming guests.

Memories, memories … I suppose I could end up walking down Bangkok’s streets, dreamily sniffing on my inhaler, letting visions of my – really quite pleasant – life unfold before me. Is that what Thailand is, a nation of dreamers? Or are these inhalers just a modern version of the pomander, that ball made of perfumes held in a perforated case, which the rich of the European Middle Ages hung around their necks to ward off the frequent bad smells around them or in the pious hope that it would protect them against the plague?
pomander
I will let my gentle readers decide.

________________

Cool Thai couple: http://garbagelapsap.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/GARBAGELAPSAP_STREETSTYLE_BANGKOK_FASHION.jpg (in http://www.elarmarioaj.com/2013_04_01_archive.html)

Women with inhalers: https://jayinthailand.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/960f.jpeg (in https://jayinthailand.wordpress.com/)

Man with inhaler in nose: http://www.mymuaythai.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/inhaler.jpg?7503ae (in http://www.mymuaythai.com/archives/poy-sian-mark-ii/)

Man with inhaler in nose-2: http://pinoyajarn.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/2-Vicks-Inhaler.png (in http://pinoyajarn.com/blog/category/living-in-thailand/)

Woman vendor with sniffing stick: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4048/4179283228_1a7755aca7_b.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianbangkok/4179283228/)

Kid with inhaler in nose: https://theheartthrills.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/12926-photo2b1-721216.jpg (in http://nakhontuba.blogspot.com/2011_09_01_archive.html)

Inhaler: http://static07.st-sm.com/07SM/1813-thickbox_default/inhaler-nasal-siang-pure-2cc.jpg (in http://www.st-sm.com/07SM/en/pocket-inhaler/420-inhaler-nasal-siang-pure-2cc-8850109011412.html)

Vicks inhaler: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/26/4c/26/264c2634676f95bb2998ba2b0f4b208e.jpg (in https://www.pinterest.com/lhollifield123/the-doctor-said/)

Vicks ad: https://img1.etsystatic.com/047/2/9430690/il_570xN.668385061_prsm.jpg (in https://www.etsy.com/listing/207428148/1945-vicks-vaporub-ad-vicks-inhaler)

Polo sweets: http://oi55.tinypic.com/2cffhar.jpg (in http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=2cffhar&s=7#.VYTky1Ipq-t)

Polo mint ad: http://images.esellerpro.com/2486/I/514/4/polo-mints-postcard.jpg (in http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-POLO-MINTS-POSTCARD-RETRO-VINTAGE-OPIE-OFFICIAL-IMAGE-MINT-WITH-THE-HOLE-/281202056658)

Pomander: http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/thumbnail/342661/1/Portrait-Of-Jan-Gerritz.-Van-Egmond-Van-De-Dijenborgh,-Bust-Length-Wearing-A-Black-Fur-Trimmed-Coat,-Holding-A-Pomander,-Seen-Within-An-Arched-Decorated-Embrasure,-A-Landscape-Beyond.jpg (in http://eighteenthcenturylit.pbworks.com/w/page/70599154/Smelling%20Salts)

PAINTED CHEEKS

Bangkok, 5 April 2015

Picking up on the theme of my last post, the application of cosmetics to certain parts of the face (eyebrows in that case), I feel that I should also comment on one fashion statement which I have come across in this part of the world and which, contrary to the fashion of strong eyebrows that seems to be sweeping the world, I hardly see being adopted any time soon away from its place of birth. The part of the world in question is Myanmar, and the fashion statement in question is the daubing by women (but not only) of their cheeks with a beige-coloured paste.
Yangon, Burma, Myanmar. Streets.It really is something that foreigners cannot fail to notice the moment they arrive in Myanmar, and indeed the internet is full of comments along the lines of “what on earth is that stuff on the women’s faces?”  The last time my wife and I were in the country, I finally got around to asking what this stuff was exactly. Thanatka, I was told (or thanat-ka, or thanaka, or thanakha; transliteration of Burmese words into English is quite approximate, rather like Shakespeare spelling his own name in three or four different ways – but I digress). Our hotel had a little exhibition on thanatka in the lobby, which frankly didn’t explain anything at all. Time to scour the internet, and as is normally the case Wikipedia threw up some useful material.

First, the why: why are women (and children to some degree) putting thanatka on? The answer seems to be primarily for beauty, rather like Amerindians paint their faces as decoration.
amerindian with painted faceIndeed, while the photo which starts this post has the lady in question just giving herself a brushstroke’s worth of thanatka on each cheek, others seem far more creative. Painted leaves seem popular (although I wonder if this is simply catering to the tourist trade?)
painted leaveswhile simple whorls
whorlsor circles also appear frequently in the cannon.
circlesIt seems that thanatka is not only about beauty. It is also said to provide protection from sunburn. But then I would have thought that application to the whole face would be more appropriate, the way I slathered sunscreen on every piece of my exposed skin during our recent trip to Myanmar. Claims are also made that it removes acne, and there are “before and after” photos to that effect on the net – although, rather strangely, of white people only. It is also claimed to have anti-fungal properties, although luckily there are no “before and after” pictures of that.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, they say, and I have to assume that Myanmar men find this wash of beige on their women’s cheeks attractive. After all, Myanmar women have been pasting themselves in this way for at least 700 years. Personally, though, I find it difficult to see anything beautiful in the habit. Every time I see one of these ladies, my instinctive reaction is to think “Ooh, they need to wash their faces”.  Of course, it’s not as if European women don’t paint (or powder) their faces. Rouging one’s cheeks is a fashion that goes back centuries, as attested by all those portrait paintings hanging in various museums of Europe of aristocratic ladies or royal mistresses (or both) with nicely rouged cheeks. For instance, this slightly racy painting of Nell Gwynn, mistress to Charles II of England, shows her with lovely red cheeks (and strong eyebrows, I am pleased to see, given my last post!)
nell gwynn(as I mentioned in an earlier post, there was a time when European aristocratic men also liberally rouged their cheeks)

The fashion statement has continued. For instance, I still remember from my youth those little powder cases which every woman had in their handbag, and which they would whip out from time to time to rouge their cheeks or generally give their face a powdering over.
powder caseAnd as far as I can make out, the fashion still goes strong. Women with cosmetically highlighted cheeks are a dime a dozen on any street in the world (except Myanmar …), although the powder case has given way to other delivery mechanisms.

But there is a difference, no? These women were and are highlighting the natural colouring of their cheeks. Myanmar women, on the other hand, are just daubing themselves. I wonder if the original idea was not simply to make the skin look paler, that universal obsession of women in all Asian countries.

Now for the what: what exactly is thanatka? It is an exceedingly natural cosmetic, made from grinding the bark, wood, or roots of a tree together with a small amount of water.
thanatka preparation 003As modernism marches through the country, a Myanmar lady can go to her supermarket and buy a jar of ready-made product. But she can also still go out and buy the wood (with this particular seller advertising her wares)
wood for saleas well as the stone grinder, and make it at home. No doubt the artisanal aspects of the trade will die out soon.

I finish by saluting the humble trees at the start of the chain: the thanatka tree (a species of Murraya)
thanakta treewith these particular individuals standing in front of some venerable temple, as well as the theethee tree (Limonia acidissima)
theethee treeI just hope that in the rush to slather their faces with paste, the Myanmarians are not chopping these trees down with wild abandon, thus denuding the landscape in the process. Beauty, however defined, is not worth that.

________________________

Woman with painted cheeks: http://www.ellensenisi.com/wp-content/uploads/AN-SEA_2655.jpg (in http://www.ellensenisi.com/2014/blog/burma-post-2/)
Woman Amerindian: http://s13.postimg.org/xu96358hju/24_Matses_Woman_Painted.jpg (in http://www.forumbiodiversity.com/showthread.php/36659-White-Dominican-VS-White-Puerto-Rican/page64)
Thanatka painted leaves: https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2289/1557809911_2eafe27e17.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/peace-on-earth_org/1557809911/)
Thanatka whorls: http://www.birmanieresponsable.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/thanaka-beauté-birmanie.jpg (in http://www.birmanieresponsable.com/thanaka-beaute-birmane/)
Thanatka circles: http://davidlazarphoto.com/amp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/19-David-Lazar-Thanaka-Circles.jpg (in http://davidlazarphoto.com/galleries/visions-of-myanmar/19-david-lazar-thanaka-circles/)
Nell Gwynn: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-bw3i2CA0H8s/TqCFCy51a5I/AAAAAAAABCI/HkYzk9PmrtQ/s1600/NPG_536_883_EleanorNellGwy.jpg (in http://historicalideals.tumblr.com)
Woman with powder case: http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/companies.images/1951-yardley.jpg (in http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/companies/yardley.php)
Thanatka preparation: http://www.southeastasiabackpacker.com/wpsite/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Thanaka-bark.jpg?4928e4 (in http://www.southeastasiabackpacker.com/20-tips-for-travellers-to-myanmar-burma)

Thanatka wood: http://www.ecoburma.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Th1.jpg (in http://www.ecoburma.com/2013/08/photo-essay-thanaka-the-make-up-of-burma/)
Murraya tree: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/myanmar23bagan-140117021821-phpapp02/95/myanmar23-bagan-47-638.jpg?cb=1389946826 (in http://www.slideshare.net/mobile/michaelasanda/myanmar23-bagan)
Theethee tree: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limonia_acidissima#/media/File:Wood-apple_tree.JPG (in http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limonia_acidissima)

THICK EYEBROWS

Bangkok, 29 March 2015

In an earlier post which I wrote about a short trip my wife and I made to Dubai, I mentioned that we had visited the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. What I didn’t mention – because not pertinent to the subject of that post – was that our guide had exceedingly strong, straight eyebrows. I tried not to stare at her too insistently because that is rude, and I would imagine that staring at women in Muslim countries can also be a dangerous habit. But I did find it quite striking. My surreptitious peeking allowed me to conclude that this was not a gift of nature but a gift of the cosmetics industry. Something like mascara had been applied to our guide’s eyebrows. They looked something like this, although our guide wasn’t quite as glamorous as this lady.
middle eastern lady
In any event, as our guide talked about this, that, and the other, I wondered to myself if this was some sort of new fashion statement in the Middle East. After the tour was over, I was pleased to hear that my wife had also noticed it; I wasn’t imagining things, then.

Our trip completed, we went back to Beijing and I forgot about the eyebrows thing. But I was suddenly confronted again with this fashion statement the moment we arrived in Bangkok. It seemed that every young woman in the city had these exaggeratedly strong eyebrows. I’ve not found a photo on the internet and I haven’t dared to openly take a photo myself of one of these young women, but I guess that advertising on the street is a good indicator of trends. Here’s a photo that I took of billboards in one of the smarter shopping areas of a Bangkok.
bangkok billboard-1
What my internet searches did show up is that the Thai consider such eyebrows to be Korean eyebrows, and this photo of a Korean lady actually nicely captures what I am confronted with every day on the streets of Bangkok.
korean lady
Whose eyebrows the Koreans believe these are is unknown to me – certainly not Japanese; the web-site from which I borrowed the photo above makes a distinction between Korean and Japanese eyebrows, the latter being more arched if I understood correctly. My daughter, who knows more about these things than I do, puts a famous model as the ultimate source.That sounds reasonable. In the old days, Queens and their aristocratic hangers-on were arbiters of fashion; in this more democratic age of ours, models are.

bangkok billboard-3

(the comment below suggests that the model Cara Delevingne is the Ultimate Source – no doubt those below the age of 30 know who this Ms. Delevingne is, and no doubt she is as rich as Queens once used to be)

Talking of Queens, my trawls through the internet also snagged a couple of sites which discussed the history of female eyebrow fashion, one starting from as far back as Nefertiti, who was Queen of Egypt three thousand years ago, and who – if this bust of her in a Berlin museum is to be believed – seems to have favoured more pronounced eyebrows.
queen nefertiti
My own recollection of female eyebrow fashion starts with a time when quite a number of women favoured instead pencil-thin eyebrows, the time in question being, I suppose, the fifties and sixties (although as this photo shows, these eyebrows were already popular several decades earlier).
greta garbo
My wife, I have to say, was among this group when I first met her. Luckily, I managed to dissuade her from continuing the habit, and she has spent the rest of our marriage sporting a fine set of no-nonsense eyebrows.

My wife’s abandonment of pencil-thinness coincided with a general return to thicker eyebrows, but sculpting of the eyebrow was still common. I still remember how much chatter was generated in the late seventies-early eighties by the young Brooke Shields’s thick, apparently unsculpted, eyebrows.
brooke shields
They caused quite some emulation for a while (any reader who is younger than 30 and therefore who probably has never heard of Brooke Shields can go the Wikipedia site on her to read more). I feel that what I am seeing now on the streets of Bangkok is really that style, helped along with a pencil or, if I am to believe the internet, some sort of felt pen. Well, styles go in and out of fashion like Swiss trains go in and out of Alpine tunnels. But I hope never to live to see pencil-thinness again.

_________________

Middle-eastern lady with drawn in eyebrows: http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL21lZGlhLWNhY2hlLWFrMC5waW5pbWcuY29tLzczNngvMGIvMzYvMDUvMGIzNjA1YjQwMDgyZDc1OGZkY2M3ZDgzN2M2YjRmN2YuanBn (in http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cucGludGVyZXN0LmNvbS9waW4vNDMwOTM4MjU4MDY2OTU3MzI4Lyk%3D

Billboards in Bangkok: my photos

Korean eyebrows: https://beaucrazyrabbit.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/image3.jpg (in http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL2JlYXVjcmF6eXJhYmJpdC5jb20vMjAxNC8wNy8yMC9qYXBhbmVzZS12cy1rb3JlYW4tZXllYnJvdy10cmVuZC8p
Queen Nefertiti: http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5hbmNpZW50LW9yaWdpbnMubmV0L3NpdGVzL2RlZmF1bHQvZmlsZXMvc3R5bGVzL2xhcmdlL3B1YmxpYy9maWVsZC9pbWFnZS9uZWZlcnRpdGktcXVlZW4tb2YtbmlsZS5qcGc%2FaXRvaz1pekN0a1A3ZA%3D%3D (in http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5hbmNpZW50LW9yaWdpbnMubmV0L2hpc3RvcnktZmFtb3VzLXBlb3BsZS9xdWVzdC1maW5kLW5lZmVydGl0aS1xdWVlbi1uaWxlLTAwMjEzOCk%3D
Pencil thin eyebrows: http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5nYXJib2ZvcmV2ZXIuY29tL0JpbGRlci9GaWxtLVBpYy9NYXRhX0hhcmkvTWF0YV9IYXJpLTA3Ny5qcGc%3D (in http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5nYXJib2ZvcmV2ZXIuY29tL0JpbGRlci9GaWxtLVBpYy9NYXRhX0hhcmkvKQ%3D%3D
Brooke Shields: http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL3N0YXRpYzEuc3F1YXJlc3BhY2UuY29tL3N0YXRpYy81MzdlN2Y4MmU0YjAzOGU4YmU4N2I5MDQvNTNiODA2NjRlNGIwNmUwZmViMmUyZjY5LzUzYjgwNjhmZTRiMDZlMGZlYjJlMmY4Ni8xNDA0NTY5MjM2NzM3L2Jyb29rZS1leWJyb3dzMS5qcGc%3D (in http://xmail1.unido.org/canit/urlproxy.php?_q=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5hcnRpc2JydXNoLmNvbS9ibG9nLyk%3D


EAR LOBES

Beijing, 24 May 2014

As readers of my previous post will know, every time I go back to Europe now after four years of living in China, I am intensely aware of physical differences between Europeans and Chinese. In the previous post it was differences in nose size that I dwelt on. In this post, I will dwell on ears. Or more specifically what people in Europe are doing to their ear lobes.

Let me explain.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Chinese person here with ear lobes looking like this

Young_woman_with_stretched_ear_piercing

whereas it is a common enough sight now in Europe for it to impinge itself on my consciousness: “hang on, didn’t I just see one of those?”

young woman with stretched ear lobes-2

When I was young, the most that people pierced of their bodies, at least in Europe, was their ears, and even then it was only women. And even then, many women didn’t – my mother didn’t, my sisters didn’t, my grandmothers didn’t; my future wife didn’t, my future mother-in-law didn’t. I suspect it was a social thing. Nice Young Ladies didn’t pierce their ears, Gypsies and Peasant Girls did. When I was at University, I once voiced the idea of having my ear discreetly pierced and wearing a small ring; it was beginning to come in as an alternative fashion. My then-girlfriend decisively nixed the idea – I would look queer, she said (“queer” being then what “gay” is now). Then, quite suddenly, in the early 1980s as I recall (my wife and I were recently discussing the timeline), we began to see young people with multiple rings in their ears, then sporting rings or studs in their noses, then in their eyebrows, cheeks, tongues, belly-buttons, … we even read about people piercing more intimate parts of their anatomies, the mere thought of which I find too horrible to contemplate.

At the beginning, piercing, whichever part of the anatomy was concerned, was very much an alternative lifestyle, the sort of thing squatters and punks would do.

Pierced punk

But slowly it entered into the mainstream. I mean, didn’t Mathew Broderick, in the 1997 film Addicted to Love, discover, when he kissed his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend,  a primary school teacher and therefore quite mainstream, that she now sported a tongue stud?

matthew broderick and kelly preston

Or look at Zara Phillips, granddaughter to “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (to give the old lady her full title). She has a tongue stud

zara phillips with tongue stud

as well as a belly-button stud. More mainstream than that is difficult to find.

But this stretching of ear lobes seems quite a new phenomenon in the piercing movement (although I read somewhere while preparing this post that it started back in the 1990s; if it did, it was happening in parts of town that I didn’t visit). I was particularly struck by it because it is undoubtedly more spectacular than many other forms of piercing, but also because it reminded me of a book which I had read long, long ago, Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island, by Thor Heyerdahl.

When I was young and still dreamed of becoming a polar explorer or finding the long-lost El Dorado in the Amazon forest or accomplishing some such feat of derring-do (although exploring the moon was never on my bucket list; my feet were always planted firmly on this planet), I loved Heyerdahl’s book The Kon-Tiki Expedition, the story of his 1947 trip across the Pacific on a balsawood raft, to prove that the indigenous peoples of South America could have sailed to Polynesia. So I eagerly read Aku-Aku when I came across it in the library at school. The book is about an archaeological expedition which Heyerdahl led to Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. The book is quite light on serious archaeology, but it is full of exciting “discoveries” of one form or another. What I particularly remember, though, was Heyerdahl’s description of what the first European discoverer of the island, Admiral Roggeveen, found when he arrived. The Admiral was greeted by a chief:

He was ornamented with a crown of feathers on his head, which otherwise was close-shaven, and he had in his ears round white pegs as large as fists. This man showed by his bearing that he was a prominent person in the community, and the Dutchmen thought that he might be a priest. The lobes of his ears were pierced and artificially lengthened so that they hung down to his shoulders, and the Dutch noted that many of the islanders had ears artificially lengthened in this manner. If their long ears got in the way when they were at work, they just took out the pegs and tied the long flap up over the upper edge of the ear.

Heyerdahl’s book contained a picture of a drawing made at around the time of these first European trips to Easter Island. I don’t know if it was this particular one, drawn in 1777, but it’s close enough.

Easter Islander with long ears

And to show no gender bias, I include a photo of a companion drawing, of a woman.

Easter Islander woman with long ears

The idea of looping the extended ear lobes over the top of the ear to get them out of the way flipped me out.

These “long ears” seem to be reflected in Easter Island’s famous stone heads.

Easter Island Statues

So when I began to see these extended ear lobes around me in Europe, I was transported in my mind’s eye back to Easter Island (which I’ve never visited, by the way; some day maybe …).

I may be wrong but I think it will be a long time before a granddaughter of the Queen of the United Kingdom etc. has stretched ear lobes and even longer before we see this on an Obama or a Cameron or a Xi Jinpin. A discreet tongue stud is one thing, a large in-your-face ear lobe plug is another. This will stay in the alternative life style for a while.

Yet it was not always so. I mean, King Tutankhamun, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the forms of Re, Strong bull, Perfect of birth, He whose beneficent laws pacify the two lands, He who wears the crowns, who satisfies the gods (King Tut to you and me) had stretched ear lobes if his mummy casings are to be believed

Tutankhamen-stretched-ear-lobe

And it seems to have been common among the rich and powerful in Mesoamerican cultures. For instance, Olmec stone heads show clear evidence of ear lobe plugs

olmec head

as do Mayan bas-reliefs such as this one from Bonampak

maya bas relief

(I don’t think you had your head sculpted in stone if you were a peasant …)

The Buddha also had stretched ear lobes. His statues always show long ear lobes, such as this one in Japan

buddha-of-kamakura-japan

and this one which I just recently saw in Bangkok

bangkok buddha 003

In his early life as a rich aristocrat the Buddha had worn heavy jewelley in his ears as a status symbol, the weight of which had stretched his ear lobes. When he eventually renounced his wealth and discarded his jewelry, his ear lobes were permanently stretched. By showing the Buddha’s stretched ear lobes without jewellery, images of him memorialize his renunciation of worldly wealth. Nice idea …

So anyway, one day maybe the rich and powerful of the world will sport ear lobe plugs (and loop the ear lobes over the top of their ears when they are working). But for the time being the best we can hope from them is a bright tie.

????????

__________________________________

Young woman with stretched ear lobes: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Young_woman_with_stretched_ear_piercing.jpg/634px-Young_woman_with_stretched_ear_piercing.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stretching_(body_piercing)%5D

Young woman with stretched ear lobes-2: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-FBF5-mgmLZY/T7Z9s5JL_OI/AAAAAAAAAcI/ri7vlCt8CtQ/s1600/Tina-1.jpg [in http://www.urbanfieldnotes.com/2012/05/dream-of-90s-is-alive-in-philadelphia.html%5D

Pierced punk: http://www.lilies-diary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Punk-Iro-Piercing.jpg [in http://www.lilies-diary.com/festival-in-berlin/%5D

Matthew Broderick and Kelly Preston: http://www.hotflick.net/flicks/1997_Addicted_to_Love/997ATL_Kelly_Preston_006.jpg [in

Zara Phillips with tongue stud: http://www.hellomagazine.com/imagenes/royalty/201012224698/zara-phillips/life-in-pictures/engagement/0-14-900/tongue–a.jpg [in http://www.hotflick.net/pictures/997ATL_Kelly_Preston_006.html%5D

http://www.hellomagazine.com/royalty/gallery/201012224698/zara-phillips/life-in-pictures/engagement/10/%5D

Easter Islander with long ears: http://www.chauvet-translation.com/figures/Figure006.jpg [in http://www.chauvet-translation.com/figurelegends.htm%5D

Easter Islander woman with long ears: http://www.chauvet-translation.com/figures/Figure007.jpg [in http://www.chauvet-translation.com/figurelegends.htm%5D

drawn by Hodges in 1777 from Maps and Pictures from Cook’s Third Voyage, volume 1

Easter Island statues: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/597/cache/easter-island-statues_59766_990x742.jpg [in http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/365-photos/easter-island-statues/%5D

Tutunkhamen pierced ears: http://www.jobananas.com/images/Tutankhamen-stretched-ear-lobe.jpg [in http://www.jobananas.com/ear-stretching.html%5D

Olmec statue: http://ruedasdetiempo.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/img_1033.jpg [in http://ruedasdetiempo.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/skwinkles-milch/%5D

Maya ears: http://maya.nmai.si.edu/sites/default/files/null/bonampak_s2.jpg [in http://maya.nmai.si.edu/gallery/bonampak%5D

Buddha Japan: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-5wZTLBPOMWY/T5zMran9GwI/AAAAAAAAP5M/ZTe32OseUs4/s1600/buddha-of-kamakura-japan.jpg [in http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html%5D

Buddha Bangkok: my picture

Obama with red tie: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-LTcV1taYCGc/UXM3OME3p7I/AAAAAAABHRA/w42CCIaMczI/s1600/1.jpg [in http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2013/04/chairman-jared-speaks.html%5D

A SCHNOZZLE, A CONK, A HOOTER!

Beijing, 21 May 2015

I’ve just come back to Beijing from Europe. I’ve been living long enough in China now that whenever I’m back in Europe I acutely notice differences, especially physical differences. For instance … noses. We white folk have really big schnozzles, you know! This was one of the first things which the Japanese noticed when the Portuguese showed up on their shores in the late 1500’s. The Japanese paintings of the time stress differences in nose sizes

Jesuit in Japan

And now, after just four years in Asia, I feel that everyone in Europe is Cyrano de Bergerac

cyrano de bergerac

or San Carlo Borromeo, the cardinal saint from Milan whose conk sticks out mightily from every painting of him in every church of Milan

San_Carlo_Borromeo

As I see these large noses all around me back home, the lines from Cyrano come to mind, where he mocks his own gigantic hooter in front of an appreciative audience, on stage and off:

Ah ! Non ! C’est un peu court, jeune homme !
On pouvait dire… oh ! Dieu ! … bien des choses en somme…
En variant le ton, —par exemple, tenez :
Agressif : « moi, monsieur, si j’avais un tel nez,
Il faudrait sur le champ que je me l’amputasse ! »
Amical : « mais il doit tremper dans votre tasse :
Pour boire, faites-vous fabriquer un hanap ! »
Descriptif : « c’est un roc ! … c’est un pic… c’est un cap !
Que dis-je, c’est un cap ? … c’est une péninsule ! »
Etc.

 Or, in English:

Ah no! young blade! That was a trifle short!
You might have said at least a hundred things
By varying the tone. . .like this, suppose,. . .
Aggressive: “Sir, if I had such a nose
I’d amputate it!’ Friendly: ‘When you sup
It must annoy you, dipping in your cup;
You need a drinking-bowl of special shape!’
Descriptive: ”Tis a rock!. . .a peak!. . .a cape!
–A cape, forsooth! ‘Tis a peninsular!’
Curious: ‘How serves that oblong capsular?
For scissor-sheath? Or pot to hold your ink?’
Gracious: ‘You love the little birds, I think?
I see you’ve managed with a fond research
To find their tiny claws a roomy perch!’
Truculent: ‘When you smoke your pipe. . .suppose
That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose–
Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,
Cry terror-struck: “The chimney is afire”?’
Considerate: ‘Take care,. . .your head bowed low
By such a weight. . .lest head o’er heels you go!’
Tender: ‘Pray get a small umbrella made,
Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!’
Pedantic: ‘That beast Aristophanes
Names Hippocamelelephantoles
Must have possessed just such a solid lump
Of flesh and bone, beneath his forehead’s bump!’
Cavalier: ‘The last fashion, friend, that hook?
To hang your hat on? ‘Tis a useful crook!’
Emphatic: ‘No wind, O majestic nose,
Can give THEE cold!–save when the mistral blows!’
Dramatic: ‘When it bleeds, what a Red Sea!’
Admiring: ‘Sign for a perfumery!’
Lyric: ‘Is this a conch?. . .a Triton you?’
Simple: ‘When is the monument on view?’
Rustic: ‘That thing a nose? Marry-come-up!
‘Tis a dwarf pumpkin, or a prize turnip!’
Military: ‘Point against cavalry!’
Practical: ‘Put it in a lottery!
Assuredly ‘twould be the biggest prize!’
Or. . .parodying Pyramus’ sighs. . .
‘Behold the nose that mars the harmony
Of its master’s phiz! blushing its treachery!’

_________________________

Jesuit priest in Japan: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Jesuit_with_Japanese_nobleman_circa_1600.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_Christians_of_Japan%5D

Cyrano de Bergerac: http://www.lecture-academy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/logo_13453.jpg [in http://www.lecture-academy.com/livre/poche-cyrano-de-bergerac-texte-integral/%5D

San Carlo Borromeo: http://biografieonline.it/img/bio/s/San_Carlo_Borromeo.jpg [in http://biografieonline.it/biografia.htm?BioID=3135&biografia=San+Carlo+Borromeo%5D

CHINESE EARS

17 November 2013

When I was young, sticking-out ears were considered ugly and the sign of probable dumbness. This is no doubt why, for instance, Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neumann, has ears which stick out

MAD-Alfred_E._Neumann

and why two of the the Pieds Nickelés, the grubby lumpenproletariat heroes of a French cartoon series which was still quite popular when I was young, also had had ears which stuck out.

Pieds Nickeles

Add to this the general connection between boxers (“thick between the ears”) and prominent cauliflower ears, for instance this boxer from 1914

boxer Fred Welsh 1914

or this one from Ancient Greece some time in the first centuries BC

boxer ancient greek

and the reader can appreciate that prominent ears were not associated with the finer things of life.

This bad press for protruding ears was bad news for me. As a youngster, my ears had an unfortunate tendency to jut out, which led my mother from time to time to take my chin in her hand, pass an eye over my ears, and talk meditatively about having them pinned back. As you can appreciate, this early threat of ending up under the surgical knife has made me remember these episodes quite keenly and to be generally sensitive to the positioning of people’s ears on their heads. Prominent ears were bad enough for boys. They were even more problematic for girls. There was in my youth a certain tolerance for clumsy, oafish boys – that was par for the course – but girls were meant to be dainty and refined. So sticking-out ears on a girl was a disaster. Luckily my wife’s ears were perfectly aligned to her head, but she remembers there being general talk in her youth about using plasters to “train” protruding ears back against the head (rather as one trains flowers in the garden to grow in a certain direction by tying them to sticks).

All this being said, I never actually met a girl – or boy, for that matter – who had their ears pinned back (or who admitted to it). Nevertheless, it is a fact that as I grew up (and mercifully my ears repositioned themselves correctly against my head) I remember no-one of my generation with protruding ears. Somehow, sticking-out ears disappeared, or at least diminished.

So readers will understand that it was with some astonishment that I and my wife discovered that protruding – sometimes very protruding – ears are quite common in China, especially, so it seems to me, among women. Here is a typical example of what I mean: a young woman photographed at an automobile show, where women are meant to sell cars by being pretty, with obviously protruding ears.

chinese ears-1

I cannot imagine any automobile house in Europe hiring a woman with such prominent ears to sell its cars.

And here is a picture of an air hostess, a job which in China still connotes prettiness and femininity. I surreptitiously took this photo on a recent flight while the young lady wasn’t looking.

ears on plane 001

I cannot imagine an air hostess 10-15 years ago in Europe (when good looks were still considered a must for air hostesses) ever having ears sticking out like that.

But perhaps I’m showing a cultural arrogance here, thinking it’s our way or no way. Perhaps the Chinese don’t attribute the same negative connotations to protruding ears that we do in Europe. In a completely unscientific survey, I studied photos of some of the more glamorous Chinese women – actresses, singers and suchlike – to test the following theory: if the Chinese do not think protruding ears are a big deal, then at least some of these women will have ears that stick out. I believe that the following photos prove my theory correct:

The actress Zhang Ziyi

actress Zhang Ziyi

The actress Yang Mi

actress Yang Mi

The actress Lin Chiling

actress Lin Chiling

Their ears don’t stick out as much as some women’s ears we’ve seen here, but in my non-professional opinion they stick out more than they would on equivalent European (and American) glamorous women.

PS: After I published this post, a reader kindly sent me a series of links to videos and a photo, which show Asian girls with very prominent ears.  The links are in the comment below. From these, I feel that protruding ears are an issue not just with Chinese girls but with East/South-East Asian girls in general.  Is there a genetic component to all this, I wonder?

______________

Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neumann: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/21/Alfred_E._Neumann.jpg/460px-Alfred_E._Neumann.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman%5D

Pieds Nickelés: http://www.bdoubliees.com/trio/sfig1/pn3.jpg [in http://www.bdoubliees.com/trio/series5/piedsnickeles.htm%5D

Boxer Fred Welsh 1914: http://www.shorpy.com/files/images/17114u.preview.jpg [in http://www.shorpy.com/node/2585%5D

Ancient Greek boxer: http://cultureweekend.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/DSC_0331-540×358.jpg [in http://cultureweekend.com/ciao-bella-italy-nyc/%5D 350 BC-50 BC

Chinese ears: http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/2012-Beijing-Auto-Show-Ears.jpg [in http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/girls-of-the-2012-beijing-auto-show-im-all-ears/%5D

Air hostess: my photo

Actress Zhang Ziyi: http://images6.alphacoders.com/315/315260.jpg [in http://wall.alphacoders.com/big.php?i=315260%5D

Actress Yang Mi: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-o0WNzbJ9JWA/T7W-6rzqm5I/AAAAAAAAHkE/9MmBmWdgZck/s1600/1%2BYang%2BMi%2BRust%2Band%2BBone%2BCannes%2B001.jpg [in http://hong-kong-actresses.blogspot.com/2012/05/yang-mi-and-hao-lei-cannes-red-carpet.html%5D

Actress Lin Chiling: http://chinesemov.com/images/actors2/Lin-Chi-Ling-2.jpg [in http://chinesemov.com/actors/Lin%20Chi-Ling.html%5D