Monday, June 25, 2007

Look After Your Teeth - Washington'll Tell You

You’ve probably heard the legend that says that the first president of the United States had wooden teeth, but I hadn’t until this week and I’ve become entirely fascinated by it. He didn’t actually have wooden teeth though; the facts are that George Washington had pretty bad dental health as a young man, starting when he was 22. It is thought that this started because he had poor health and was given mercurous chloride to cure him of various illnesses such as dengue fever, dysentery, malaria, flu and so on. Consequently he lost all of his teeth, whereupon Dr. John Greenwood crafted him two sets of dentures to replace them. Dr. Greenwood was a fantastic doctor in his time and Washington’s teeth were carved from hippopotamus ivory and gold. Don’t ask me why anybody would need teeth made of ivory and gold; I guess when you’re the president and you can, you just do.

Regardless of what they were made of, though, I think these teeth were probably the most uncomfortable things to have in your mouth, ever, because of the extraordinary way they were made. The two sets of dentures were connected with springs, which held the teeth in place by pushing them against the roof of Washington’s mouth. This all sounds like a genius plan until you think about how on earth he ever managed to keep his mouth shut; surely whenever he stopped pressing his teeth together, his mouth would just ping open. I used to play a bit of rugby at school and we had to wear mouth guards to stop all our teeth being knocked out, and I will always remember how incredibly strange it felt to wear it – I felt like every time I opened my mouth, it was going to fall out. In fact, I seem to recall that exact thing happening to a teammate of mine one game when she yelled out for the ball. How uncomfortable for the president, then, having to constantly clamp his jaws together in order to keep his teeth in place!

As it turns out, the president had a horrible time with his teeth his whole life. Apparently he was always at the dentists requesting new, better fitting dentures, complaining that the ones he was wearing at the time were ill-fitting or uncomfortable in some other way. If you look at some of his portraits, his mouth actually does look quite swollen and puffed out. When you think about it, it must have been a terrible thing to have to endure his whole life. I had braces fitted on my teeth for just over a year, I think, and it was the worst 18 months of my life; the only thing that got me through the scraping, tightening and horrible discomfort of it all was knowing that at the end of it all, I would have a much nicer smile. George Washington didn’t even have that – his teeth just got worse and worse as long as he lived. What a terrible thing.

Anyway when Washington died, one set of his teeth was given to a dental university who in turn passed them on to some exhibition or another, where they were stolen. I can think of only two reasons anybody would want to steal a deceased mans false teeth: a) because they were fixated on the president and wanted something to remember him by, or b) because they contained gold and are therefore probably worth a fair sum. I like to think it was the latter, just because the former is more than a little creepy, but that’s beside the point. Either way, someone stole the presidents’ dentures, and they’ve never been found.

Anyway, I really don’t know what my point was now, I can’t seem to recall. I don’t even know how the legend of his supposed wooden teeth came about; if anybody does, please do let me know, I’d be interested to hear it. I’d also be glad to hear from you if you think you might know the whereabouts of George Washington’s teeth. I hear they’re worth a lot.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Vegetarianism Makes You Say Questionable Things

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony." -Mahatma Gandhi.

I came across this quote the other day when I was looking on the net for someone intelligent to quote in an article about myself, for another site. When I first read it, I thought, "This is awesome! This is the quote I'm going to use! It sounds so smart!" Then I read it again and realized that I couldn't use it, because I completely disagree with Gandhi right here.

Don't get me wrong, my intentions are not to patronize or disrespect the memory of an undoubtedly extremely wise, intelligent leader. After all, I just read on wikipedia that he was a lawyer and worked his butt off for the liberation of women. He was also a bit of a badass: he led a bunch of people on the disobedience of the salt tax (presumably exactly what it sounds like, a tax on salt), and everybody loves a good guy with a bit of a rebellious streak. But think about it. You watch Prison Break or CSI or any such show - and yes, I realize this is just TV, but it does have some element of truth to it - and most of the murderers and rapists are talking openly about murder and rape, as well as presumably thinking about it and obviously acting on it. So, what they are thinking, saying and doing are in harmony. But show me a rapist that's actually truly happy and I'll show you a fat Gandhi.

While we're on Ghandi, the website that featured this quote made me laugh, too. "View a detailed biography of Mahatma Gandhi" was one link made available to me and, feeling rather in a state of mind to learn something interesting, I clicked on it. And got the following: "Biography:Indian political and spiritual leader; assassinated."
...That's the detailed biography they were referring to?! How about: "He was really hungry", or "He wore glasses"? There, I expanded on it already, and I admit, before I started writing this blog I didn’t really know much about him at all.

But my aim today isn't to prove to you what a lying and conniving thing the internet can sometimes be; I love and rely on it as much as the next person (oh my, doesn’t the internet have a lot in common with men? But we’ll leave that for another day). My point is that sometimes, smart people can be wrong. Take George Bernard Shaw, for instance. He was very clever; he wrote more than sixty plays, one of which won an Oscar in 1938, after winning a Nobel Prize in 1925. However, he once said, “If a woman rebels against high-heeled shoes, she should take care to do it in a very smart hat”. Now, how sexist is that?! Isn’t he basically saying that women should always be wearing either heels or a hat? I appreciate that he lived in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, when this may have been a more acceptable thing to say, but really. There’s Gandhi working his starving bottom off for women’s freedom, and then George comes along and tells us that we shouldn’t take on an attitude about wearing a certain shoe.

Maybe I’m being too hard on him, and all he really wanted was to ensure that we always looked our best. The funny thing is, Shaw was a big supporter of women’s rights. In fact, he and Gandhi had rather a few things in common; they were both vegetarian, to start with. Both were well educated, too, although George Bernard Shaw was rather against all his schools and teachers, believing that schools were not so much a place of learning rather than a jail in which to imprison children every day, with the intention of keeping them out of trouble and out of their parents’ hair.

I don’t know; I think the only person that really gets it, to be honest, is American writer Jack Handey, who said, "If I lived back in the Wild West days, instead of carrying a six-gun in my holster, I'd carry a soldering iron. That way, if some smart-aleck cowboy said something like: 'Hey, look! He's carrying a soldering iron!' and started laughing, and everybody else started laughing, I could just say, 'That's right, it's a soldering iron. The soldering iron of justice.' Then everybody would get real quiet and ashamed, because they had made fun of the soldering iron of justice, and I could probably hit them up for a free drink.”

I just find it very comical that the only man apparently with his head screwed on straight wrote a book called My Big Thick Novel, don't you?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

As Time Goes By

I've just been thinking back over the past twelve months, and I've realized it's amazing how much can happen in such a short time span. This time last year, I was a brand-new high school graduate with now a clue as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was just getting ready to start my first full-time job and was actually - imagine this - excited about it, I had plans to go and study theater in Australia, and I was really excited to see how it would all work out.

Well, I haven't been disappointed, that's for certain; this past year has been one little adventure after another. Having said that, almost nothing that's happened since last June was planned in any way, or even suspected. But I suppose that just makes it all the more exciting. Last June I had not an inkling that in a years' time I would be a) working towards a career in journalism and preparing myself for an internship with the Economist, b) renting out my own apartment and living more or less entirely independently, or c) have gone through several relationship fiascos, one major best friend blunder, one slightly less than agreeable flatmate and a few hundred online stalkers (okay, I might be exaggerating a small bit, but you understand).

So yes, I think it's safe to say that this year has been full of surprises, both pleasant and... otherwise. But it just makes you realize how quickly life can pass us by, doesn't it? One day you're a student studying for your IB exams and thinking they're the most intellectually difficult and challenging years of your life; the next, you're working dawn until dusk six days a week to support yourself, you've forgotten the meaning of the term "social life" altogether and you're wondering what on earth you had to complain about all through your secondary education.

Some days I look back and wonder how it's possible that I've lived in Hong Kong for almost ten years already. A decade! Yes, I definetely have the friendships to show for it; but there are still people that I'm just now getting to know, even though they've been there all along. Isn't that terrible? That a person can go nine and a half years and never get to know someone who's been there practically every single day of it? So occasionally I have to ask: How long are we going to sit here and let life just slide quietly by? How many opportunites are we going to let slip through our fingers like sand, and how much more time are we going to spend being thinkers, rather than do-ers?

The way I see it, young as we undoubtedly are, there's so much to see and do in the world that we shouldn't be wasting a second doing anything less than working towards experiencing as much of it as we possibly can. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and see what I can do about discovering a new life-form. Well, you only live once, right?