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how do you like your ribs?
singapore sunset
I think i am losing weight. I never weigh myself and very rarely look in the mirror, so it's an unusual thing for me to notice. When i moved to Germany from Canada i think i might have lost a little bit of weight because the serving sizes are smaller, but probably not very much. I did notice a small change when i started walking to work every day. I also decided to eat (mostly) vegan at the same time, but to be honest i don't think that made a huge difference. Moving to China has most assuredly made a difference.

I would love to pin this newfound lean bod on a single thing so that i can keep doing that thing for the rest of my life, but in truth it's probably a combination of things.

In Germany i drank every day. I went up and down, from several bottles of wine to maybe just two tall bottles of beer. Plus occasional binging on the weekends. These days i am still drinking almost every day, but since i left the part of town with a lot of expat bars, the most i'll drink is two tall cans of beer before bed. On the days i do drink, alcohol is almost certainly my biggest meal calorie-wise, so it feels good to have cut back. What i dread is starting work again. It is much easier for me to stay sober when i don't spend 10 hours a day toiling in resentment.

By the time i left Germany, i was walking to work five days a week. It was about a 45 minute walk each way. I climbed the stairs to my office and to my apartment. I had a reasonably active life for an office worker. Here in China, in my new location, i can walk to school five days a week if i want. It's also about a 45 minute walk each way, though i cheat and take the subway a lot more often than i did in Germany. I can't climb the stairs to my room because there are no stairs to my floor aside from the fire escape. But i do climb mountains up to three times a week. Mountain paths here are almost exclusively stairs so climbing a 300m "mountain" is like climbing a 100-storey building. I pause and break a lot, but seeing little old ladies resolutely march past keeps me motivated. Even just doing this once a week has got to make a difference.

But i think the biggest contributor to my Chinese weight loss might be portion size. Everyone knows the US has the most hideously oversized meals of the world, but Australia and Canada are almost as bad. Germany is an improvement, but i think i would even struggle to get through three squares over there after a few months in China. Of course there are restaurants here that will serve you copious amounts of food, and there are plenty of fat Chinese, but it's pretty tough to overeat if you primarily dine at roadside stalls and quick'n'dirty noodle joints.

The food is good too. Most of it is vegan, or at least vegetarian. If you do get meat it's not very much - bones and scraps. The real meal is the noodles - rice noodles, mung bean noodles, sweet potato noodles or wheat noodles. Bonus nutrients come in the broth, plus a token smattering of legumes and greens. Add a piece of in-season fruit for dessert and you're done. The staple crops also get served in the form of 包子 (steamed buns) and 饼 (pancakes/flatbreads). Once a week or so i eat something with meat or eggs. Sometimes i hit up the DIY noodle joints where you can pick your own ingredients and pack a bowl full of mushrooms, tofu, sprouts and greens. That Buddhist buffet is quite a feast too, though because it's twice the price of a regular meal it remains a special occasion thing for me. Some people complain that Chinese food is oily, but it never feels heavy or excessive to me. I get the impression i am eating healthier here than perhaps i ever have in my life. It's just so cheap and easy.

So, am i getting legit skinny? Well, not clothes-wise. My pants size is the same as it has been for years, although since i left Germany i have been able to tighten my belt one or two notches. The real moment of discovery happened after admiring the glistening Cantonese men on the mountain paths. (I have to admit, they are some pretty damn fine old men.) I noticed their upper ribs showing and pondered how they could get so fit without becoming beefcakes. Imagine my surprise one day when the bathroom light hit my naked body just so, and i noticed i had also developed an above-boob rib shadow. I hardly ever pay attention to the mirror, but that encouraged me to look a little closer. And goddamn if i haven't also regained the concave upper arms i lost ~15 years ago. Not that having feeble biceps is something to be proud of, but feeble and concave beats feeble and flabby any day. And my cheekbones! Holy hell, they're back.

Of course, a more likely explanation for all of this is that i am getting old. My body is withering away and soon there will be nothing but skin hanging off my skeleton. Inevitably i will trip in the shower and throw my hip out before hobbling pathetically into my grave.

Yeah, reality. I'm approaching 40.

But for a moment i'll pretend this isn't just decrepitude. For the first time since i was in my early 20s i have looked in the mirror and - barring the little beer belly that won't quit - i feel young and fit again. That's kind of awesome.

I need to record this for posterity, since most likely if/when i find work it's all going to fall apart. This week's screening calls and interviews have left me completely exhausted. All weekend i have been ignoring my phone and trying to recover my introvert spoons. I will write more about that later.

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The scary thing about large portion sizes in America (and Australia and Canada) is how we brainwash ourselves to expect it. Even though most people know that scientifically speaking many of these dishes are more than the body needs, you still "feel" hungry when you are given a smaller portion.

This really struck me when i returned to Canada after living in Germany for a while. I went back to my favorite pub to eat my favorite burger - a bison meat deal with blue cheese and bacon in a sweet/soft onion bun. But when the dish arrived i realized i could barely even make it through the burger, much less the mountain of fries. When i lived in Canada i regularly ate that burger along with several beers and it felt like a great meal. It was only after going "cold turkey" in a place where all the portions were smaller that i realized it was much more than i needed. And it's not just restaurant food - even things like bags of chips and jars of peanut butter and boxes of cereal contribute to the problem, imo. It's insidious how trained we are to expect abundance.

The age thing was a bit of hyperbole because it was more fun to write that way ;-) I do hope to be active and still enjoying my life in my 60s and beyond!

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