Saturday, May 9, 2009

The upside down world

When I was a little kid one of my favorite activities was so play in my sandbox. Most of the playtime was spent digging holes. My parents used to joke with me and say: “Don’t dig too deep, then you’ll end up at the other side of earth, in China!” (I think a lot of people recognize that little ‘saying’) Of course that only triggered me to dig deeper as I was extremely curious about what China would be like. My best friend Emma told me that since China was on the other side of earth (this was before we looked at an earth globe, maps and stuff… I am talking about a time when I was 5 years old) everything over there was upside down. And then we dug together, keen to enter a more exciting environment than the backside of my house.

“Unfortunately” it would take another 19 years or so before I ended up in China. Although now when I am here I can tell you one thing, sometimes I feel like this place really IS upside-down!

The other day I was having lunch with a Chinese friend. Since summer has hit Suzhou I was wearing a singlet and a skirt. We were eating a spicy pot mix of chicken and veggies and ordered a large jug of suan mei tang (a sweet plum juice) to balance the chili. The jug came (quite huge) and I reached for it to pour some juice into my friend’s glass. While I was holding the (heavy) jug, I caught my friend staring at my arms:

-Jonna… your arm…it's so…. Big!

-Big? Oh you mean this? I said, jokingly, and flexed my arm, showing a modest biceps muscle. I’ve been doing weights since the beginning of this year and finally the results are starting to show!

-Oh my god!
She said. You have like… muscles. Visible muscles.


-Oh poor you! How did that happen? What are you going to do to get rid of them?

-Eh…. Nothing. I’ve worked out for 4 months to even get them!

-But… it’s muscles. Your arms look bigger. Not like mine.
She pointed at her stick thin arm, even flexed it to show that there was no sign, what-so-ever from a biceps muscle.

-Well, ehum… you know… I didn’t really know what to say. I mean, in my world, toned arms are quite nice looking. But in her world, obviously, toned arms is a big no-no.

-So you think my arms look too big?! I finally asked, already knowing the answer.

-Yes. Too big. But just stop training and it will be better.

(That’s something you don’t often hear).

I don’t know. Arms are too big? Hips are too big? Nose it too large? Ahhhh, how do you actually manage to live here and feel good about yourself?!

Well there's no way actually. Better to just laugh about it. And remind myself that in China, some things really are ‘upside down!’

And am I going to stop toning my arms? (Before you all start telling me that ‘muscle women aren’t hot’ let me reveal something: my new arm muscles are quite tiny…. My boyfriend laughed out loud when I told him about this). No way. In my (according to my friend: 'quite upside down') world, toned arms rock!

We are not talking body builder arms as you see... like this and with a tiny little muscle (this pic is from last summer). 


Hang said...

You look good in the pics. Some Chinese girls just take it to far. Toned body looks good for both men and women. We are not talking about those bodybuilders anyway.

Alex W said...

Shigehisa Kuriyama wrote a book called The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. In his book, he gives readers a scholarly analysis of body concepts in the East and West and how perception shapes reality. Really interesting stuff and enlightening specifically with regard to this post. I wrote a small summary of sorts if anyone is interested: Here it is.

Carl said...

Toned arms do rock! I love seeing well-sculpted muscles on ladies - to me they are very sexy... and strong! I'm currently only running twice a week (5km), but will be moving that up soon to three times per week, with the third time being around 10km (going to ache for a while after that one, I'm sure). The weight bench will be calling next. I'm happy you are doing the great workouts, Jonna. I'm guessing it gives you a lot of the energy you have!

Brad Farless said...

Recent photo please. Then we can all judge you. Ha ha ha!

Just kidding. I think I know what you mean. Apparently, Chinese females seem to think that just being thin, or in some cases, sickly thin, is enough to be attractive. The concept of having toned muscles making them hot doesn't occur to them.

Maybe it's worse in China? It's prevalent in Singapore, but with the government's push towards health and exercise, most people here exercise to some extent.

m--e said...

I think toned arms are great! If you don't have any tone all you have is flab!! (I am in the flabby arms category.)

Concerning the tiny Chinese girls - most of my friends would say "that girl needs to eat a hamburger! Though most of them seem to be able to eat twice as much as Western guys and not gain an ounce.

Anonymous said...

be proud of your arms, you worked hard to get them toned like this, you deserve it!
this little video should cheer you up:

Anonymous said...

Your arm's fine.
By the way, Suzhou is probably the most livable Chinese city, along with Dalian. Nice pick.

david1082 said...

A stick-insect body shape is pretty disturbing and unhealthy-looking, like people are survivors of a concentration camp. I could call it the "sick-insect" look.

Hans Li Engnell said...

I guess it's all a matter of taste (and culture). I think there is nothing wrong with slim arms if you're a woman. People care sooo much about how they look it is sometimes scary. Lagom is best, ey?

Emmy said...

That is pretty funny. It is so funny what people find beautiful, in some cultures bigger is more beautiful. Thanks for all the fun reads and you are beautiful!

she said...


Hope you do not take the funny comments from your friend too seriously. Your arm is in pretty good shape and nothing about size.

Yea, there are so many upside down things between different culture. Chinese girls prefer which represents unhealthy life in west. And also, women would like to have some extra skinny arm or leg. They think it is attractive. I am sorry about this. I do like toned arm as well but I also prefer some kind of white skin as well, although I know that the brown color is better in any aspect.

Again, your skin is perfect and hope you keep it.

The way your friend talks with you is quite usual in china between girls. Next time you may consider to change the subject. :)

flyingfish said...

Funny how your friend didn't hesitate to comment on your "unsightly" muscles, but you couldn't bring yourself to explain to her that where you come from toned arms look good and flabby arms like hers (even if they are slender as willow wands) look, well, flabby.

Besides, in these pictures, your arms look like a ballerina's! How could anyone want more?

I love the bit in Peter Hessler's book "River Town" in which one of his female students writes an essay claiming that Chinese women are all "elegant, refined" and Western women are basically sluts and Mr. Hessler responds by pointing out that he has three sisters back in the States. He says something like, "Catherine was a lovely girl . . . I couldn't be harsh." And he isn't harsh. But his simple, understated response gets his point across and teaches his young student a much-needed lesson, all without a lot of debate and raised hackles. When I first read that bit, I was full of admiration, but also really jealous. Why can't we all have the equivalent of a quiet, understated, "I have three sisters back home" in our back pockets, ready to pull out in every upside-down, "did I actually hear that?" situation?

Shen said...

Hej! Jonna, I'm a Chinese boy now in Sweden. Truely speaking, I have changed my mind after I came to Sweden. Toned body is very healthy, and healthy girl is hot, beautiful and sexy.

Anonymous said...

Hej! Jonna. I'm a Chinese boy now in Sweden. I have changed my mind after I came to here. Toned bodies are healthy, and healthy girl is beautiful, hot and sexy.

yuning said...

nnn, keep it simple and stupid, just enjoy every breath of yourlife. have a good time in china. china is amaizing country, if you have the appriciation and are willing to explore yourself and understand the people around you.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha!!! Very funny! The funniest cultural difference that I have personally encountered is the reaction of an elderly Chinese woman when I politely told her not to walk around in her PJ. Her son didn't have the guts to tell her. She was spending some time in the U.S. visiting her son. Her reaction was, "I am fully covered. Look at those American ladies jogging in your neigborhood. They are in shorts and bras." Well, I must say that her point was well taken. Sometimes cultural differences make it impossible to communicate. American women do jo around in really short shorts and sports bras. To a Chinese person, that's not modest. After all, a PJ covers a lot more skin.

Jackie said...

first of all, you're stick thin and your arms are only a little bit muscular. in my world, no one would ever call your arms "too big".

Reluctant and Recluse said...

I'm with flyingfish on this one - first of all, no one in thier right mind would call you anything but [sexy] - the fact that your boyfriend is not wandering should prove that! :p

The next time someone calls you [big] you should just say that western men would find them not very attractive - and since most of your chinese friends probably are looking for western men to 'rescue' them, that should be a reality check - otherwise, i think after two years in China you need to turn a deaf ear to all that stuff about your size (or maybe get back to western civilization more often! :)

Though when i am in China i do look in astonishment at some of these skinny chinese women packing it in at the buffet breakfasts in hotels... i'm not exactly a skinny guy anymore, but an egg and some bacon and i'm done, not them - i guess being on business trips can bring thier appetites out.

mantse said...

i really think your photo showed you have a good shape.... pls do not make you like a girl from starvation~~~

Anonymous said...

My 13 year old daughter, who happens to be of Chinese heritage, was similarly concerned about her arms. I could not convince her of their beauty -- until I showed her a picture of Michelle Obama's arms and told her that women are trying hard to get arms like Michelle's. (not a political statement, mind you.)
You arms are those of a strong and beautiful woman.

Anonymous said...

No offense but your arms on the picture look like any chinese girl's?

The Candid Yank said...

I like a nice feminine form as much as the next person, but toned arms are never a no-no. The only thing I find a bit over-the-top are bulging necks, washboard abs and tree-trunk thighs, but then again I'm not a fan of those things on men either. OK I guess the abs are OK on men ;)

MichF said...

It all depends on the perspective, I have had a couple chinese friends that on occasions said that they would never want a western boyfriend, one of them stated reason to be simply because she believed they looked so odd and over muscular, hehe.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Hanf -cheers. Yep. Def not a body builder. Faaaar from actually!

Alex- interesting stuff. I'll look into your post when I have time later this week!

Carl -yeah, go Carl!!! Keep running, and slowly you'll fall in love with it! I am also about to start running again after one week gym absence due to the flu!

Brad - I seriously don't think I have changed so much over the year.. I am one of those people who is always told: 'oh, u look exactly the same'... maybe it's a bit boring but weight wise I see it as a good thing. Def true that some people take the whole skinny look a bit too far. Well, nothing to do but to laugh at it.

m--e -so true. My Chinese female friends eat like horses and are still stick thin. Impressive is an understatement!

anonymous 1: yes I am proud of them! No skinny girl can take that from me, hihi!

Anonymous 2: I loooove Dalian.. as for Suzhou, I think it is OK but if I could choose I would move to Shanghai any day!

David -yeah, fortunately everybody have different tastes/preferences... what one consider to be beautiful, another one don't like, and vice versa. I personally don't mind skinny girls but I think when u start calling people with muscles 'too big/huge' I feel there might be something wrong.

Hans -yeah, 'lagom' rules.

Emmy -Ahh thanks darl! I agree though, I think it is hilarious that beauty concepts differs so across the globe!

She -yeah, not planning to change anything. I'm going to FI over the summer, remember? Then I have 2 months to just walk around and feel normal again! Ahhhh, sweet!! :) Back home I am neither considered to be: wide, tall, fat, muscular or anything.. I would say that back home I am pretty... 'normal!' And sometimes that's just the best thing to be! :)

Flyingfish -I am a big wimp when it comes to defending my body here in China. I always feel like a giant and take every 'strange' comment I get quite personal. Something I need to work on, I know. Maybe next time I'll make an effort to actually explain why I like muscular arms. Or ok, not muscular, just slightly toned!

But ballerina arms?! gaaah, no.... although cheers for that!! :)

Shen -hehe, glad to hear u have come to appreciate the 'European size' I guess it's a taste thing. Some prefer stick thin, some prefer voluptuous, and some prefer... in between.

yuning -will do, cheers!

Anonymous 3: haha, quite a funny story!! And yeah, that woman surely had a point.

Jacke -cheers! In Europe I also believe I am normal. So just here in China that I am huge. phheeew!

Reluctant -Yeah, I guess I should, although I think for most of these girls it wouldn't matter what I told them, they would still try to get thinner... I feel like it is almost a 'must do' to be required as normal over here. Every single girl SHOULD want to lose weight and believe that they are fat. Weird.

mantse -no no, no starvation in my world. I'm too hungry! :)

sink -thanks! Yeah, I try just to laugh of this comment. Going to the gym to do some arm exercise today actually! :)

anonymous 4: no offense taken. but I really don't think so...

des -yeah, abs on a man is totally OK! :) Although I agree with you -too much muscles can also be too much.

MichF -I've also heard that one. And me and my bf always laugh when some trainers tell him that he is 'sooo biiig' (muscle wise) when he's in fact quite skinny... hehe. So the perception of big is def different over here.

thetrystero said...

at least there's one point that both you and your friend agree on -- your friend is upside down to you and you're upside down to her! (digging from china to sweden reverses the symmetry)

in a world right-side-up from everyone's point-of-view, we would all be clones, nodding sagely in agreement at everything (not to mention the fact that the earth would need to be flat as well).

if i had to choose, i'll take the spherical earth any day.

flyingfish said...

Of course I meant "ballerina arms" in the athletic Balanchine sort of way, not the fluttery Degas sort of way. :)

Jonna Wibelius said...

flyingfish -nicest comment someone has ever given my arms... thank you so much! Hihi :) (although i personally think I need to lift some more steal before I can officially say I have ballerina arms.. hihi)

thetrystero -yeah you are right! It's people's differnces that makes the world an interesting place to be! :)

WoAi said...

¿ɹǝƃƃǝuǝzɹɐʍɥɔs plouɹɐ ɹo oʇoɥd ǝɥʇ uı noʎ ʇɐɥʇ sı ɐuuoɾ ɥsoƃ

Jonna Wibelius said...

Woai -hahahahhaha, yeah, although it is very close to Arnold it is really me... :) How do you type upside-down?!?!?! I wanna do too!!

WoAi said...

˙ʞuıl ǝɥʇ noʎ lıɐɯǝ llıʍ ı ʞo `lol ˙˙˙ spɹɐʍʞɔɐq ǝdʎʇ puɐ uʍop ǝpısdn uǝǝɹɔs ǝɥʇ uɹnʇ ʇsnɾ ı ¿uʍop ǝpısdn ǝʇıɹʍ ı op ʍoɥ

˙pɐǝʇsuı ǝıʌoɯ ɹoʇɐuıɯɹǝʇ ʇxǝu ǝɥʇ uı ɹɐʇs uɐɔ noʎ ǝqʎɐɯ os ɐıuɹoɟılɐɔ ɟo ɹouɹǝʌoƃ ƃuıǝq ʎsnq s,ǝɥ llǝʍ `ɐuuoɾ

Shopgirls Shanghai said...

toned arms = better than fat arms

now im working on my arms, but result doesnt show!!! they are still full of loose meat and are flying around.

what should I do???