More than just hair

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” – Coco Chanel

In summer 2008, after a long day at work, I walked into a hair salon that I’ve never been to and told the hair stylist that I want a change. An hour later, I met up with my family for dinner with my new crop – you should see their faces lol I miss my short hair from time to time, especially when I needed to wash and dry my voluminous hair. That’s the only time I wish I were a guy (ah, and also when I really needed to pee and there’s a massive queue for the ladies and none for the gents).

Long hair is irrefutably feminine. I like it long also cuz there’re so many fun things that I can do with it: ponytail, pig tails, fishtail, plaits, chignon, messy bun – the list goes on and on. For the body’s most versatile raw material, our hair can be cut, plucked, shaved, curled, straightened, braided, greased, bleached, dyed and decorated with pretty accessories. When we were little, my sister and I had a box (or was it two?!) full of hair ties that we’d pick one from every morning. I’d be munching on my piece of toast while auntie combed and tugged at my hair before we rushed off for school.

A change in the way one wears one’s hair can affect the look of the face and alter a mood. It applies to both men and women but I’m not going into men’s hair today. I think a crop makes me look younger and I feel refreshed and energetic. Whereas long flowing hair makes me look more mature, womanly and elegant. Wavy hair is sexy but mine are so dead straight. Often in literature, a deep sense of loss from a romantic male perspective is illustrated when a woman cuts off her hair. In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (1906), a hank of hair is a woman’s greatest treasure. If one doesn’t feel that short hair is a tragic feminine loss, the story loses much of the poignant drama. In Little Women (1968), Jo March sells her long thick hair so her mother can travel to her sick father’s bedside. She is not immune to the sense of feminine loss as she sobs in bed at night.

I’ve cropped, permed, dyed mine out of boredom. A woman will often decide to “do something different” with her hair (or do something stupid, like getting a tattoo) after a difficult crisis, for a new way of wearing the hair gives the impression of a new lease of life – does it really? Who are we fooling? Is hair just hair, or is it more than just hair?

 

 

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Growing old, growing up

“And when I grow up
I will eat sweets every day
on the way to work and I
will go to bed late every night!

And I will wake up
when the sun comes up and I
will watch cartoons till my eyes go square
and I won’t care cause I’ll be all grown up!”

Matilda the Musical reminded me of how much we look forward to growing up and doing all the things that adults wouldn’t let us do when we were young. Little did we know that growing up is a trap and the only thing you wish when you’ve grown up is that you never had.

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At one of the boys’ birthday party

My friend from San Francisco once told me that guys in the Bay Area are known to have “Peter Pan syndrome”, a pop-psychology concept of an adult who is socially immature. While it can affect both sexes, it appears more often among men. Some characteristics of the disorder are the inability of individuals to take on responsibilities and to commit themselves. Humbelina Robles Ortega, an expert in emotional disorders, points out that, “Sometimes they can have serious adaptation problems at work or in personal relationships.”

Psychologist Dan Kelly also used the term “Wendy Syndrome” to describe women who act like mothers with their partners or people close to them. Like Wendy, they make every one of their partner’s decisions and take on various responsibilities, thus justifying their significant others’ unreliability. Researchers state that you don’t have to look far for Wendy, “We can find [her] even within the immediate family – the over protecting mother,” – and sister I would add (guilty!)

Here in the UK, studies show that Britons do not believe they are fully grown up until they reach the age of 29. Living at home longer, playing computer games and watching children’s films are some of the most common reasons for people not feeling like an adult. Sociologist Dr. Frank Furedi stated that, “More adults than ever before are leaving it later in life to move out from the parental home, get married or have children. This is having a knock-on effect to how ‘grown-up’ people actually perceive themselves to be.”

So when do we actually grow up? Research shows that what people really believe constitutes being an “adult” are actually significant life events that give them adult responsibilities, such as buying a house, getting married, becoming a parent, and, interestingly, looking forward to a night in (I’ve definitely grown up then if by the last indication lol).

Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional. It is less about age and more about reaching milestones in life. As we celebrate my friend’s 26th birthday, she looked back on those carefree days of her childhood wistfully, but at the same time is excited about what lies ahead in life.

Originally written for The Cambridge Student newspaper

Children are (not) Maggots

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.” – Matilda, Roald Dahl

That, is the power of books. And that, is why I’m studying Children’s Literature. (Well, and because I love picturebooks more than children do!) Before I had the chance to take hold of a copy of Matilda, I came across the movie adaptation on TV one summer. I was seven. We have a copy of the book at home but I wasn’t entirely sure if I’ve actually read it. The story has always been so familiar to me. I reread it a couple months ago as an adult for coursework and was surprised at how different it is compared to what I remembered. I wrote an essay on becoming Miss Honey myself.

Last Saturday, I watched Matilda the musical with the Children’s Literature gang. I’m not sure if it’s normal but I cried, more than once.

***SPOILER ALERT***

No, I didn’t cry when I read the book or watched the movie, but the musical made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. I loved the show before it even began – the staging was incredible! Book-like blocks of letter overflowed the stage, and if you look closely, you can spot words – it’s a great game for kids. Bookshelves were used as partitions, which in several scenes transformed the stage into a library. This is the best show for book lovers! The scene in which Mr. Wormwood tore up a library book appalled me; I gasped too loudly and was paralysed for a couple seconds…

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The pupils’ desks were hidden in the gridded ground. The first scene in the Year 1 classroom reminded me so much of teaching and my kids; little princes and princesses in their new uniform with their eager hands in the air (but instead of 9 pupils, I had 41 in my class lol). I cried when Matilda hugged Miss Honey for being nice to her. In Hong Kong, it’s ok for me to hug the kids and take pictures of/with them. Though it could be dangerous when group hug turns into an unintentional American-football-kind-of tackle, I do miss their smiles, I-love-you notes and drawings. I’ve kept most of them.

The songs were catchy and the lyrics were brilliant: addressing parents’ adoration of their precious little ones, empowering children, foreshadowing the reality/cruelty of school, and my favourite – looking forward to growing up. That made me cry. Swings were and still are my favourite. I remembered when I was little, I’d try to go as high up as I could (yup, I’m a thrill seeker since the age of 5), trying to touch the tip of the pine tree branches with my toes. When you’re little, you can’t wait to grow up and do things that adults wouldn’t let you do, such as “eat sweets every day” and “go to bed late every night”. Little did they know that growing up is a trap and the only thing you wish when you’ve grown up is that you never did. I cried again when Miss Honey sang her heart out in her cottage as the escapologist/her father joined her; it was so heartbreaking. I think music heightens emotion in a way that words alone cannot.

The musical was very faithful to the original text but with a few subplots; it’s all the better for it. Did I mention Miss Trunchbull was played by a man? Now that I’ve read the book, watched the movie, seen the musical and written an essay on it, I feel like my experience with Matilda is now complete.

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do it so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.” Matilda is my hero!

Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

“Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.”
 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

Twenty years after the first Harry Potter novel was published, I am now studying children’s literature in the most magical place that holds the legendary Harry Potter Formal. Though the food in Homerton isn’t the best (oh, but they make the best dessert!), the magic is in the details.

img_3113Along the corridor just outside the Great Hall, there were displays that only Harry Potter fans would appreciate: undesirable posters, old socks, potion bottles, muggle news and winged keys. Before you enter the Great Hall, there’s a coat stand for us to hang our invisible cloaks. If you were oblivious to all that and entered the ladies’, you’ll find Moaning Myrtle staring right at you while you’re trying to release yourself lol

The dining tables were decorated according to the four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Though there’re no floating candles (the last thing we wanted was to burn down our beautiful Great Hall even though they’re building a new dining hall), Homerton’s Great Hall is pretty enchanting in candlelight.

Our awesome Graduate Tutor, Melanie, dressed up as Dumbledore was accompanied by the Dark Lord, who fashionably draped Nagini around his neck. The evening kicked off with the splendid performance by the Charter Choir, singing “Double Trouble” from the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. Followed by a brilliant short play, in which the Sorting Hat made an appearance. The script was epic – full of jokes on our rival colleges and university.

It’s been a long day and we were all nibbling wands, I mean break sticks, and popping Bertie Botts before food was served. Starter was pumpkin and ginger soup served in bread cauldron. Main was okay; I had garlic and rosemary roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots. I couldn’t finish the chicken, but no matter how much I eat, there’s always room for dessert – a meal is not complete without dessert! It was chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and butterbeer sauce. Crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, together with the chilled ice cream, mmm it was sooo good.

You’d think that’s the end, but no. Trainers brought in Minnie, a lovely gorgeous white owl, and entertained us wizards and witches by making it fly across/around the hall countless times. It was gliding so low that I was worried its feather would touch the candle flame. I’m not a fan of birds usually (I hate pigeons), but he’s the cutest thing ever!

After dinner, people flooded the corridors queuing up to take pictures with owls in the owlery. While waiting, a Canadian witch picked up a fight with me and we had a duel outside the Drawing Room. No muggles were harmed. In the owlery, there was a big owl and an owlet. I was having a staring contest with the big one, but its eyes were so dark and mysterious I felt like its staring into my soul that I had to look away. Baby Owlbert was adorable! hehe

Growing up reading Harry Potter and having watched all the movies and the play, it has been and will always be a huge part of me. I will read all the books to my children against their will lol If you haven’t seen the latest illustrated version of the first two books, you have to. They are so cleverly and superbly done by Jim Kay. Best present for Harry Potter fans!

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” – J. K. Rowling