You can’t swim with me.

What is it with guys that want to go swimming when girls do? I don’t mean in general, I mean I’m sure most men go swimming because they want to keep fit and enjoy being in the pool, but within the last week, whenever I’ve told a male friend that I’m going swimming, they have almost exploded with a huge desire to suddenly come swimming with me. If it was running, or yoga, or boxing that I told them I was going to, they would not say anything about it, but as soon as it’s swimming, they get animated. But no, you can’t swim with me.

Maybe I am being selfish or rude or just awkward, but there are several reasons behind my refusal in letting them join me swimming.

1. You don’t swim like I do

After years of swimming competitively, I get in a pool and swim at least 750m for a warm up. How many lengths is that? That’s another reason why you can’t swim with me…swimmers like myself not only swim longer and more structured sets than your average public swimmer, but we count differently too. My standard warm up looks like this

3 x (150 S/K/P per 50 +10s)

which to you would be 2 lengths normal swim, 2 lengths using the kickboard (legs only), 2 lengths using a pull buoy (arms only), then rest for ten seconds after doing those 6 lengths. Repeat three times.

I also use the clock a lot, so will be thinking in terms of ‘red top, black bottom’ (which are the same thing) instead of looking at the actual time, seconds count a lot in my swimming session. There is a huge difference between a 10 second rest and a 15 second rest.

My swimming style

2. It’s not sociable

Swimming with me is not sociable. I get in, I swim and I rarely stop for chats. If you came swimming with me, what would you be doing besides trying to race me or watch me?

3. You can’t teach me

I’m a very good swimmer, I know the weaknesses of my strokes and I have plenty of sets and workouts for myself. Unless you’re a swimming coach with years of experience, there’s really nothing you can teach me that I don’t already know.

4. I won’t teach you

If I pay for a public swimming session (average price seems to be about £3.90 these days) I want to make the most out of my time and session. Teaching a beginner how to swim is hard and it takes months, even years for a beginner to learn how to swim, it’s not possible to learn in an hour.

So, sorry guys, but actually I’m not sorry. You can’t swim with me unless you are a dedicated lane swimmer who agrees with me about these nuances , until then – you can’t swim with me!

Boy bye

Online Harassment

In my current job, I have a big online presence, Facebook is where almost all of our sales are generated as we connect with the international students and create events for them. As I’m the admin of the groups and always posting about the events, the spotlight is on me and I get 100s of messages a day. Mostly they are from people asking about events, wanting more tickets, or asking for advice about the city they’re studying in.

But I have had several messages from men which have asked me for other things. Some have asked me to send them photos (not the type you’d find on a postcard) and others have been even more direct and asked me if I am working for the local escort service (which unfortunately has a similar name to our company’s) and continue to ask me about such services, even when I tell them that is not what I do.

Sometimes it’s funny, seeing these guys message ‘me’ (for work purposes I have separate facebook accounts) asking such ridiculous requests, but it’s actually not funny that I and other women are subject to messages like this… I don’t even know these guys, I’ve never met them before. Last night when I received another such message, I felt quite intimidated as he told me to ‘never play games with [him]’.

Before I have just blocked messages from these men (yes it’s always men), but from now on I will not accept this online behaviour, because it IS harassment and I feel that if they are messaging me, they are probably messaging other women too. As I work with international students, I fear some of them are far away from home, out of their comfort zone and therefore vulnerable. I feel it’s my responsibility to report these messages to both Facebook and the police so that it’s on record should anything else happen. It needs to be dealt with immediately so it does not escalate.

It starts with a few messages, but who knows what they are capable of and what they will do? Some of these male students come from cultures where they can’t freely talk to women they meet, so when they come to the UK and are out of that cultural environment and away from the watchful eyes of their peers and families, they are unleashed. Suddenly women are walking around in short skirts and crop tops, they’re friendly and talkative, there are dating apps where men can connect with these women and ask them questions like they have been asking me.

Some women just accept the threatening, intimidating and offensive messages as something that happens, it’s just part of being a woman, we have to put up with stuff like this. We just block them and try to forget the things they’ve said to us, but I urge you reading this… if you’re a woman, report these incidents to the police, report their online messages and tell your friends and classmates who these people are..believe it or not, not all men are pigs and some are truly disgusted when you tell them what other men have messaged you asking such things.

And if you’re a man, set a good example, don’t dismiss it as ‘banter’ when you hear about guys sending these messages to women and girls. It is happening every day and it needs to change.

The Power of Pockets

A lot of people don’t recognise the value and importance of pockets in clothes. In fact, around half of the population just expect their jackets, whether casual or formal, to have deep inside pockets perfect for slipping your phone, keys and wallet inside. Yes guys, I’m talking about you.

Women’s jackets, jeans, dresses and skirts rarely have good functional pockets. We often even have to endure sewn on flaps of fabric so from a distance it looks like we’ve got pockets…but actually we don’t.

Fake pockets

So why do women need pockets when they’re always carrying handbags? Did it ever occur to anyone that the reason we always carry handbags is because the pockets in our clothes aren’t good enough?

For me, it’s not that I have loads of things to carry around with me. My phone, a small purse, my keys and a pack of tissues are the absolute essentials I take out with me but my pockets are never big enough, deep enough or there’s simply not enough of them to allow me to go out without a bag.

Then because you’re already carrying a bag, you find yourself adding other things that you don’t necessarily need (but might do): a power pack, kindle or book, makeup, a scarf, pen and paper, hair clips, snacks, bottle of water, 3 different types of lipstick etc. This just becomes a habit from when we’re younger and before we know it, our handbags weigh 2kg, the same weight as a small dog.

In China, many men carry their girlfriend’s handbags for them, and at first I thought this was strange and OTT, even 娘, but now I think why shouldn’t men carry women’s handbags from time to time? Handbags are useful and beautiful and all the rest, but constantly carrying one is bad for posture, can affect your balance and you then have to carry other people’s things inside (can I put this bottle of water in your bag please?) making them even heavier.

So is there a solution? I personally don’t see the trend changing any time soon, the fashion industry is doing just fine, with or without giving women good pockets. If you’re a woman and really desire a big, deep pocketed coat, you could always buy a small men’s jacket (which would probably work out cheaper and last longer too), but besides that, I see no other way to fulfil my pocket wishes.


Racing for toiletries

Last month, there was a ‘long distance’ running race at our university. A friend of mine helped me to sign up and I asked her how long the race would be, what the route would be etc. Because my regular training route is a 10km lap around campus. But she didn’t know and couldn’t find out any concrete information about the details of the race.

Me before the race

Race day came and it was only then that I found out that the men’s race would be a 4km lap around some of the university buildings, yet the women’s race was only 2km. I wasn’t very happy and asked why the girls should run half the distance of the men, they told me that it’s fairer like that because most girls don’t like running…well this girl does! I asked if I could join the longer race with the boys and was told ‘no’.

I was also told there would be prizes, which were separated into ten 1st class prizes, ten 2nd class prizes and ten 3rd class prizes for the top 30 finishers, and all participants would get something, even if they weren’t in the top 30. My goal was top 10. What would my prize be, cash? food? running kit? vouchers?

I did a bit of a warm up and got ready, there were about 120 girls racing. After the whistle went, I dodged in and out of people wearing all sorts of strange clothes – Toms shoes, some wearing rucksacks, most in jeans and hoodies – and quickly got to the front of the race where I planned to stay. There was one other girl in front of me (the one who won the 1500m in the athletics meet) who ended up winning the race.

I came second! I crossed the line and took my voucher for a 1st class prize to the desk, where I got given a big bag of stuff. I sat on a bench, eager to open my bag of goodies and see what I had won:

  • a 2l bottle of laundry detergent
  • 8 big multipacks of tissues
  • a bottle of shampoo
  • an animal keyring (a dalmation in my case)

It was by far the strangest prize I’ve ever won at a race but actually quite useful as I had recently ran out of washing powder and tissues always come in handy. Actually, when I won 3rd for the 1500m, I also got a tube of Korean toothpaste alongside my medal, so this school promotes staying clean and exercising.

What strange prizes have you won at races? What do you think about the men’s and women’s races being different lengths?

Communal Showering

After exercising, I like to take a shower. We all do right?

Usually, I swim for exercise, so just shower in my swimming costume at the pool, but this year I’ve started to go to the gym more, to run on the treadmill and use the exercise bikes. Although my house is quite close to the gym, its still an extra 15 minutes to walk there and back to take a shower so I prefer to take one there. There’s just one issue though.

The showers are communal.

The showers are communal.

Here are the three stages I’ve been through.

1. Refusal

At first, I refused to shower at the gym. There was no way I was stripping down to take a shower for the whole changing room to see. Instead, I’d go back home and shower there.

2. Clever cover-up

When I got tired of going home to shower after the gym, especially when I still had places to go after the gym, I decided to get clever. Along with the rest of my gym kit, I also packed some bikini bottoms. Wearing my bikini bottoms in the shower gives me some privacy but at the same time lets me shower effectively.

3. Bare it all

Once I forgot my bikini bottoms and had to go to a meeting after the gym. I wasn’t going covered in sweat so just had to be brave and get naked (excluding flip flops of course!).

It actually wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be. We are all women in the changing rooms at the end of the day and people usually just get changed and go, so I’ve never actually had to shower with someone else showering at the same time (could be a future blog post, watch this space). It actually gave me a boost in confidence rather than feeling embarrassed. Body shaming is everywhere, so it felt liberating to have the confidence to be able to be naked in the shower, even if it was only for five minutes before I ran for my towel to get dressed again.

It was as fun as it looks, including the Aqualoop!

I’ll never forget the changing rooms at the indoor water park in one of the biggest malls in China (and the world), in Chengdu. The showers were in cubicles, but none of them had doors and were all facing each other. When the water park closed (of course we stayed until it closed) there were a lot of people using the showers, like hundreds. Naked bodies were everywhere as the Chinese shower naked in public, apparently. I had to look inside about 200 cubicles before finding a free one. Then the girl opposite me came over to my shower and started talking to me, she wanted to use some conditioner and as I turned around to pass it her from the shelf, she entered into my cubicle, so when I turned around, she was slap bang in my face! Nothing like this has happened at the gym as yet, if it does, I’ll be sure to share.

Why are ‘ladies nights’ in bars not sexist?

I’m not sure if they still happen in other parts of the world, but here in Qingdao on a Wednesday night in a small bar/coffee shop, girls can drink free unlimited cocktails before 12am. The bar is always packed on Wednesday nights with students as all students, male or female love free stuff. I am still undecided about whether I think this is sexist or not.

I’ve never really been involved with feminism as like many people in the West I automatically associate the word with hairy armpitted, men hating, bad looking ladies who parade the streets naked campaigning for rights that they sometimes already have. But recently I have discovered that this is not what feminism is all about, not at all. After reading I am Malala* (the story of the young Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban in 2012 for speaking out about girls education in her country), I realised how feminism is definitely a positive thing that we need to spread around the globe. I feel that in the UK although there are still aspects where women are treated differently from men, especially in recent years with the increase of lad culture (full NUS report on lad culture or a summary) in universities and other institutions, there are still more important issues that as a global community we need to tackle. There are countries where females are persecuted, denied rights to education, forced into FGM and even worse female infanticide.

At first I enjoyed the free drinks there. I thought after all of the things that I as a woman have suffered from throughout my life (period pain, boy problems, having long curly hair that strangers think they can freely touch etc) I should be allowed one night a week to let my hair down and be looked after like an “Angel” as the bar promotes. But as the weeks have passed I’ve come to see it in a different light.

After asking some guys why they come here on ‘ladies night’, their answers have always been

because there’s always lots of pretty girls here on a Wednesday

or something along those lines. Are us ladies being used as pawns/eye candy to attract men to the bar? Because that is how it seems to me after I was… not assaulted, that’s a strong word to use, but touched in an inappropriate way by a man I didn’t know. After I told him to go away (different words and an appropriate hand gesture were used) he continued to sit next to the dancefloor glaring at all the girls dancing together.

As the only conditions to getting the free drinks are being a girl and bringing back your empty glass before midnight, I’ve always seemed to fall into the trap of finishing one drink, looking at the clock and the queue at the bar. I estimate this will be my last Mai Tai, as there’s only twenty minutes left and I want to make the most of the offer. When I get that ‘last drink’ I drink it quickly to see if I can fit in another one before they start charging for drinks. This is a bad habit I know but every week I see girls doing the same and in doing so getting more drunk than they planned to…leading to losing inhibitions, falling over, ridiculous dancing and sending text messages that will probably be regretted in the morning. Is this the behaviour that the bar wants to encourage? When I’ve been outside talking too loud to my friends a barman will always come over to tell me to speak quieter but never once have they told me to stop drinking. As the drinks are poured by sight rather than measurement glasses if you ask for a bit more vodka they’ll normally give you more, especially if it’s at the end of a bottle.

I don’t want this to come across as me criticising the bar, I really like it and I have been on the weekend and not only when there are free drinks for me and my girlfriends. It’s the concept that I’m criticising. I understand that bars want to create a good atmosphere and having special nights to attract people but why are ladies singled out to be entitled to free alcohol? What’s wrong with a good BOGOF deal or selected shots for 10快 for everybody? There are many other strategies to attract people to bars but why does offering free alcohol to ladies seem to be the most effective in this case? Can you imagine the uproar it would cause if a bar were to offer free beer to men before midnight? So why is it not a problem at all for ladies to have free cocktails?

So you’re probably wondering why I still go if I’m so outraged by it all. Well the atmosphere is generally very good, most of my classmates are there and we have chance to dance and sing together. The music is also good (although a little repetitive now I’ve been many times), even if I had to pay for drinks I would still probably go as long as my friends were all there. The free drinks are a bonus but what attracts me most is being with my friends. I would love nothing more than to be involved in some kind of boycott and go to a different place on a Wednesday but there is no other place that people are willing to go to which is a shame. The one place that did also run a Wednesday night was also a free for ladies thing on a rooftop terrace but they could not compete so changed their free ladies night to a Friday…

* Coincidentally today is Malala Day, learn more about her story.

RidiCULOus* Spaniards

It seems that Spanish people are obsessed with a certain body part – they talk about it over dinner, they touch each others and moan if they don’t have one. The spanish word is culo, meaning bum, bottom, ass, rear end or however else you choose to call it.

It’s not a sexist thing, in fact the women are worse when it comes to taking about and touching other people’s bums. I am not exaggerating when I say that I hear the word culo every single day.

Once in the queue for the cinema my host Mum told me to look at the woman in front of us. At first I didn’t see anything strange about her, besides her zebra print playsuit; then she told me to look at her culo. Imagine a normal bum, but lifted way too high and pumped with something to make it look as hard as a rock and stick out. The zebra stripes helped to disguise it, but my host family’s hawk like eyes were drawn to look at her bum whilst the English au pair was looking at what else was on at the cinema.

The little boy I look after is 8 and he loves to eat. It seems a lot of his food goes to his bum so all summer I have been hearing people say (about him)

  • “¿Has visto que culo tiene?” Have you seen the bum on him?
  • “Pero, mira que culo tiene más bueno” But look, what bum better than his?
  • “Ñam ñam ñam, mmmm que culo, madre mía.” Nyam nyam nyam, mmmm what bum, oh my.

Family members and friends of the family also just casually approach him and start squeezing his cheeks and it’s never an issue. There was also an incident last year when the kid’s auntie started squeezing my culo in the swimming pool as she thought I was him. That was definitely more awkward for me than for her.

The other week I met a girl who is 16/17, we were at the swimming pool and all of a sudden she stood up, turned around and said

Look! Look at my bum, I don’t have one, all I have is cellulite. I want my friend’s body, she’s so skinny and has the best bum. But she said that she wanted my body. I was like whatever, give me yours!

I didn’t know how to react, so I just stayed quiet while her Mum told her not to worry, that she is beautiful how she is. I’ve now passed my teenage years and I remember complaining with friends about the amount of barely visible black heads on our faces or how our stomachs weren’t flat and toned as the people on The O.C. Never did we twist our necks to compare bums. Also, she most definitely doesn’t have a trace of cellulite, she was over reacting.

The children also have a game called CaraCulo (Bum face) which is a boxing ring where you punch the other players’ faces to send their bum flying out of the ring.  If you want to earn more lives, you punch your own bum. Can you imagine the outrage British parents would have if this game were to be released in the UK? Here is a Youtube commercial for the game so you can see it for yourselves.

Part of me is embarrassed when people start talking about culos and ask me to join in the conversation. I also wonder what they think and say about mine when I’ve left the room! At the end of the day I think it is funny when Spanish women talk about culos and I just giggle to myself, like the Minions in Despicable Me 2.


*I don’t think the Spanish are ridiculous, it was just the best word I could think of that had the word ‘culo’ inside of it.