About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.

The Alienation and Then Disappearance of Domestic Servants (If Walls Could Talk Series)

This is part of the If Walls Could Talk series

In the book If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsley says:

Perhaps the biggest difference of all between [before the twentieth century] and now is the absence of this particular variety of intimacy in the home. People in the past took it completely for gratned that they’d have non-family members living cheek by jowl beneath their roof.

In Tudor and Stuart time, between a quarter and a half of the entire population were employed in domestic service at some point in their lives, and the bond between master and servant was one of the most important social relationships. Being a servant wasn’t something of which to be ashamed: you gained protection and honour by association with your own particular lord… People were proud to serve the man who in return met their physical needs.

Clearly this attitude was long gone by the beginning of the twentieth century, but in 1900 domestic service remained the single largest source of female employment … In the most significant upheaval in a thousand years of domestic history, by 1951 a mere 1 per cent of households had a full-time residential domestic servant.

It is clear that Lucy Worsley really does consider the disappearance of domestic servants to be ‘the most significant upheaval in a thousand years of domestic history’. In almost every part of the book, she discusses how essential servants were to the life of middle-to-upper class households – which, in turn, were also lower class households, because they were just as much a home to the lower-class servants as they were to the upper-class masters. Continue reading

Notions of Hygiene Come from Culture (If Walls Could Talk Series)

This is part of the If Walls Could Talk series

People generally get their notions of hygiene from their culture, and tend to overestimate how much their ideas about hygiene agree with science.

This is something I first came to understand when I lived in Taiwan. It turns out that what a Taiwanese person thinks is hygienic may not seem hygienic to an American, and vice versa.

One example of a habit which is normal in Taiwan but which many people from other societies (including the United States) find gross is putting used toilet paper in the trash rather than flushing them down the toilet. As I said in this post:

I have read various tracts by non-Taiwanese about how the Taiwanese habit of putting toilet paper in the bin is so ‘unsanitary’ and is ‘bad manners’ but instead of presenting scientific evidence of how Taiwanese practices help spread disease or cause more environmental damage than putting toilet paper in toilet bowls, their argument seems to be that it goes against their own non-Taiwanese cultural norms, and thus the Taiwanese are wrong.

I still have not encountered any scientific evidence that putting toilet paper in a bin instead of the toilet itself causes more disease transmission. Perhaps it does – but the point is, I haven’t seen the people claiming that this habit is ‘unsanitary’ refer to any scientific evidence, which means that their opinion is based on culture, not science.

An example of a habit which is unremarkable in the United States but is considered unsanitary in Taiwan is: eating raw vegetables. Since I didn’t have a kitchen in Taiwan (just a sink and a rice cooker that didn’t work very well), I ate out for most of my meals. Once in a while, I was invited to a Taiwanese home for a meal. I noticed that Taiwanese eateries and homes rarely offered anything with raw vegetables. I’ve also had multiple conversations with Taiwanese people like this:

Taiwanese person: I went to Canada.
Me: Did anything about Canadian culture surprise you?
Taiwanese person: (amazed) Canadians eat vegetables without cooking them.

Continue reading

Closets: the Shift to Seeking Solitude (If Walls Could Talk Series)

This is part of the If Walls Could Talk series

In chapter 5 of If Walls Could Talk, “Praying, Reading and Keeping Secrets”, Lucy Worsley says:

The closet was used for solitary activities – for praying, reading, meditating – or for storing precious art, musical instruments and books.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, as literacy spread, we come across a novelty: people willingly spending time by themselves. This new trend for solitude, linked to the rise of reading, called for new, small and private rooms.

…Closets, these new rooms for solitude, also developed out of a tradition of prayer… Indeed, the forerunner to the closet was the private oratory, like the one just off Edward III’s bedchamber at the Tower of London.

Apparently, literacy was what prompted so many people to seek solitude. (And I guess Christianity had something to do with it too). The spread of literacy also motivated improvements in indoor lighting – if people are not going to read (because they can’t) they don’t need particularly good lighting in the evening.

I find this major shift – from people not seeking solitude to seeking solitude – very interesting. If one never wants to focus on read or study, and in the absence of electronic devices, prayer and meditation may be the only activities one would especially want solitude in a quiet enclosed space for, and some people do not particularly want to pray alone or meditate.

But with reading – and composing one’s own thoughts to write down on paper – being alone in a quiet enclosed space becomes much more desirable.

According to Worsley, the ‘closet’ was only popular in England for a few centuries before falling out of use.

Secondly, the Pilgrim Fathers took closets over to America, and to this day personal possessions in the US are stored in ‘closets’. The shoe-filled walk-in closet in her tiny New York apartment represents Carrie’s hopes and dreams in Sex and the City.

Back in the British bedroom, though, the closet died out.

Wait, what? People in the U.K. don’t have closets??!! I had no idea. Do they all store their clothes in wardrobes? (In San Francisco, many people *cough* prefer having an extra bedroom over having a dining room, so rooms which were originally built to be dining rooms have a tendency to morph into bedrooms, and lacking closets, they often have wardrobes. Thus, in my experience, wardrobe = mod for converting non-bedroom into bedroom).

Until the rise of electronic devices, reading, writing, and study (and maybe prayer) were the main activities for people who wanted to mentally shut out their physical environment so they could immerse themselves in a particular mental environment. But now, in addition to reading/writing/study/prayer, we have: radios, recorded music players, television, electronic games, and more examples which I am probably overlooking. Not to mention that there is now more written content to read that ever before: in addition to books, newspapers, magazines, and letters, there is so much material on the internet, including blogs like this one. Though listening to the radio/recorded music, watching television, and electronic gaming can be communal activities, they are also often done in solitude. I suspect people today, especially but not exclusively in first world societies, are choosing to spend more time in solitary activities than every before (for example, I am writing this blog post in solitude).

What does it mean if people have shifted towards putting more time into solitary activity than before? I’m not sure. It’s something to think about (probably in solitude, since I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever have a conversation about this or not).

Making Beds (If Walls Could Talk Series)

This is part of the If Walls Could Talk series

In the various books I’ve read/skimmed about household organization, I read over and over again exhortations to make one’s bed every morning. Many of these exhortations were phrased something like this: “I never used to make my bed, but then I changed my ways. It makes a big difference. Try it out yourself”. For more detailed examples of exhortations to make one’s bed every morning, click here and here.

These exhortations to make one’s bed every morning assume that making a bed only takes a minute or two. Most of the justifications for making the bed boil down to a) it looks nicer and b) it puts you in a better mindset.

Compare that to people on a long-distance hike who have to carry their ‘sleep-system’ with them.

Long-distance hikers tend to be very good about making their bed sleep system every morning. However, it has little to do with aesthetics or mindset. It’s a much more practical reason: the sleep system needs to be packed to fit into a backpack before leaving.
Continue reading

All-Purpose Rooms to Separate Rooms to All-Purpose Again (If Walls Could Talk Series)

I read If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley, which provided me with much food for thought, and is inspiring multiple blog posts. Such as this one.

In the beginning of the book, it explains how, in medieval England (and medieval Europe in general?) most rooms were used for all purposes, and even the few rooms with specialized purposes were used more broadly than they are today. Few medieval people had their own dedicated bedroom; most of them slept in the same room where they did things while awake. People who worked in a kitchen would probably pull out straw mattresses and sleep there at night too. Practically nobody slept in a private bedroom; even the nobility, who had partial privacy within their four-poster bed (if they could afford one) would have some of their servants sleeping in the same room as themselves. And even the ‘bedrooms’ of the nobility were used for many purposes in the daytime, and were not treated as strictly places to sleep.

Building and maintaining buildings are expensive. Keeping buildings warm when it is cold outside is challenging. And in societies which are prone to frequent outbreaks of violence, defending buildings is also a challenge. In medieval Europe, which lacked many of the resources we take for granted now in first world countries today, it made sense to get the most use out of those buildings which were built, maintained, kept warm, and defended. To let a room be left idle in daytime or night-time was wasteful.

People in medieval Europe had much less privacy in where they slept that most affluent people in the first world today, but more people = more warmth, and keeping warm is a higher priority than privacy (not to mention more protection from potential enemies).

Before chimneys started to appear in the 13th century, the only way to heat a room – besides body heat – was an open fire. Since each fire could only heat one room, and each fire required maintenance, that was a reason to minimize the number of rooms (and maximize the use of those rooms). Chimneys made it possible to heat multiple rooms with a single fire, yet were still inefficient. As heating technology improved over the centuries, it became more feasible to heat more rooms with a given amount of fuel.

(Worsley focuses on British history, but in warmer climates, such as southern China, heating is much less important. There tulou homes in Fujian province that were built in the 14th century and have over 200 rooms.)

Gradually, there was more separation of functions of rooms, though the change was gradual. The idea of a bedroom being an exclusive place only became widespread in the 18th century, though ‘bedrooms’ were still used frequently for social gatherings. Heck, according to Worsley, corridors only started to appear in British homes towards the end of the 17th century – before corridors, people had to move through bedrooms rooms which happened to have beds to get from one place in a house to another. And it was only in Victorian times that bedrooms became firmly established as private places. To quote Lucy Worsley “The activities of the bedroom were now [in the Victorian Era] limited to sex and sleeping alone, and the other social purposes of the room fell away.” Continue reading

Aloneness & (In)Security

This is a submission to the October 2019 Carnival of Aros: “Aromanticism and Aloneness”

In this post, I am going to use a very specific definition of ‘aloneness’. The definition of ‘aloneness’ specifically for this post is: you think it’s unlikely that there is another living human being within a twenty minute walk of your current location.

Obviously, this is different from how the word ‘aloneness’ is generally used, which is why I needed to spell out right at the beginning what I mean by ‘aloneness’ in this post. In my experience, ‘you do not think there is another living human being within a twenty minute walk, within five miles, etc.’ brings a very different feeling of aloneness than anything which I experience within physical proximity to other people.

I’ve spent a night sleeping a ten minute walk away from the nearest human being (that I knew about), and I didn’t feel alone (at least not in the specific sense I’m discussing in this post), which is why I decided to set the limit at ‘twenty minute walk away’.

I’ve discussed the experience of being alone before in the post “Something about Bedsharing”. When I wrote that post, I still felt fairly insecure about sleeping alone. Not as insecure as that first night at Walami Cabin, but still somewhat insecure.

Since I wrote that post, I’ve had a lot more experience with sleeping alone, and I feel a lot more relaxed about it. I think it is because I’ve spent so many nights alone where nothing bad happened, so my subconscious figured out that sleeping alone does not mean I will be harmed in the night. Continue reading

Sauntering to and down from Muir Pass

In the Evolution Basin

John Muir preferred the word ‘saunter’ over the word ‘hike’. Among long distance hikers, there is also a saying ‘it’s about the smiles, not the miles’. It is about a difference in focus – focusing on distance covered and speed vs. focus on the immediate environment.

I think this is Helen Lake, at the top of LeConte Canyon

When I hike, most of the time I combine both focuses. I keep track to some extent of how much distance I’ve covered and how much time I’ve spent, and how far I have left to go to the destination and how long it may take, but I also try to let in the environment around me (after all, that is the point of why I am out there, right?) I rarely go for speed, and almost never try to be faster than anyone else (I’m not good at racing).

Sometimes I tip more towards one side of the spectrum than the other.

Evolution Lake in the evening

Last month (September), I hiked the section of the Pacific Crest Trail / John Muir Trail running from Red’s Meadow to the junction of the Bubbs Creek Trail (about 120 miles / 190 km), and then hiked the Bubbs Creek Trail (about 13 miles / 20 km) to reach a road, for a total of about 133 miles / 210 km. I did not resupply. I also used a bear can (required) which limited how much food I could carry. Covering 133 miles / 210 km of John Muir Trail on a single bear can of food is tough, and requires maintaining a certain pace (lest one runs out of food). Continue reading