Monday, 28 February 2011

Hiding in my father's wardrobe

I'm pretty good at leaving people behind with my years of practice changing schools, moving countries and travelling for work. But I'm not so good when it comes to being  the one who gets left behind. Even temporarily. I'll admit it: at the mere thought of being left on my own for even just a few days, the confident woman, the independent introvert reverts to wailing infant. Boo hoo! I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

He is going away. To a conference. In another country. On another continent. On the far side of that continent. For a short week. And to make things worse, it means that he is going to miss my birthday. (Before you judge him, he did ask, it being my birthday and all, if I wanted to come along on this trip. And I said no, I'll be fine, let's not be profligate. And then just in case temptation proved - well, too tempting I guess - I scheduled to take an exam whilst he was away.)

The blubbering started last week in anticipation of his absence. It's coloured my waking thoughts with a dull wash of grey and made me slightly clingy (-er than usual). Like a bad case of emotional static. I entertain this fantasy that I could buy a plane ticket and join him (in my fantasy, there's no financial regulation exam). He is going away to one of my favourite cities in the world, a place I called home. Why can't I go? I want to see my old friends and eat proper Mexican food and go to Fisherman's Wharf to see the seals, and you know, just hang out and get my California girl accent back!


The truth is, being on my own in not so bad, mostly. I'm fine in the day time. What I dread is locking up the flat at night and going to bed on my own. The darkness and the silence spook me so I stay up late, way past my bedtime, and usually end up sleeping on the couch, with the BBC 24 hour news station turned on low.

And there are certain advantages to being left on my own: the thrill of eating dishes that I love but he doesn't (welks anyone? roquefort?), the satisfaction of watching what I want on telly (hard hitting documentaries with lots of blood or human misery, dark thrillers, Gok Wan, the antics of Jordan the ex-glamour model and entrepreneur, and the top 40 of music videos!) without having to compromise.

But these are overshadowed by a disproportionate sense of abandonment. I'm not using that word lightly. I feel abandonned. Like a child or a pet or an old toy, discarded by the side of the road. Pretty strong stuff.
Now, courtesy of some rebirthing exercises at drama school, I know that I was placed in an isolation ward immediately after I was born (a little premature) and that my mother would come down to bottle feed me wearing a special robe, mask and gloves for the first few days of my life and that's left some anxiety in the - don't-leave-me! department.  There's also the fact that whent I was a little girl, my father would often leave on one of his frequent business trips - on Sundays right after lunchtime. I found it very unsettling and it made me incredibly sad. So after he'd gone, I would hide in his wardrobe and press my nose against his suits and pretend he was still there.

To me, that wardrobe was the most comforting thing in the whole wide world. I wish I could bottle it so that I wouldn't have to bottle up my occasional feelings of sadness and fear. Prozac in pin stripes.

But I also have to remind myself that as painful and real as these temporary separations may feel to me they are only that: temporary. I spare a thought for all those friends who have lost someone, permanently, at least in this existence, whose grief and pain I cannot begin to fathom, and who are all in my thoughts. My father's wardrobe has plenty of room left in it.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Dita Von Teese principle

"On n'attrape pas les mouches avec du vinaigre..." as the French saying goes, "You won't catch flies with vinegar..." so why is it that some shopping assistants (and the managers who hire them) think they can?

Look, I'm the first to admit that I don't shop much outside groceries and essentials and the occasional and uncharacteristic splurge on clothing and accessories.  However, I do have an extensive background in branding and advertising so shopping, or rather the art of selling,  remains a bit of a hidden and guilty pleasure, to be savoured, like a cup of hot chocolat at Cafe Gerbeaud. (That's in Budapest. I know, it's harder to get to than your local Starbucks but the cup is small, the brew strong as coffee, and you could stand your spoon in it. In a word, it's DIVINE. And don't get me started on the pastries.)

Where was I? Oh yes. So, if I walk into a chocolate shop... I expect the shop assistant to be warm, generous and of a sunny disposition, and to look like she (preferably she - chosing chocolates is a bit like trying on lingerie: I don't want to have to pretend I'm a size smaller than I am) actually eats chocolate and enjoys it and that she has indeed sampled every chocolate on display. I want her to make me think that chocolate is sexy, that eating chocolate is sexy, and that I will feel like Dita Von Teese if I eat some. I want to bathe in the myth of chocolate and make it froth.

Are you still with me? The last thing I want is to experience anything that might yank me back down to earth to remind me that under the pretty ribbons and the ruched pastel boxes, lies a confection of lard and sugar which is fattening and may give me spots. (For the record, if I just want an anonymous quicky of a chocolate hit, then I go to my corner shop and and buy a tablet of Lindt 70% cocoa, (100g)  with chilli and scoff it when I get home, square by square.) So no surly, uninterested, rude or unknowledgeable individuals need apply! If I don't like the vibe, I'm outta there and back home in less time than it takes to say "you have yourself a nice day". (Which by the way, is only used in a passive-aggressive or post-ironic way here in the UK... unless you are dealing with non British staff who have latched on to Americanisms, in which case it can safely be taken at face value.)

Same goes with sales assistants at the beauty counter, expensive luggage stores or one of those oooh la la shops that sell expensive naughtiness. (Not the cheap and nasty ones, 'cos that would just be smutty.) The one exception is when I buy a new bra. There, I want a cross between my 2nd grade teacher and a matron on a hospital ward. Someone tough on the outside but with a heart of gold, a bit intimidating, in their 50's or 60's, with the presence of a steamliner coming into port, and who knows her bra cups from her chest measurements. So apart from Bra Godmother, they have to wear and display their wears with style and confidence and make me feel like I belong.

Is this what this is all about? Fitting in? Being part of a tribe? It's only chocolate, or lipstick afterall... or is it? And what about Dita? What does she have to do with it? Dita is the epitome of glam. Dita is a live Vargas girl. Dita looks good enough to eat. In my little girl mind, does this somehow equates with universal acceptance and everlasting happiness? Or is that the chocolate talking?

All I know is that if I'm going to overcome my natural aversion to the long term commitment of the act of purchase I have to be lulled into a sense of well being, transported into a world of fantasy and made to feel like a cross between a goddess and a princess. Let me catch a glimpse of Dita land and I will be putty in your hands.

When it comes to shopping, I'm still a five year old. If you're gonna sell me some magic, make it sparkle!

I'm a people whisperer

This morning, I had a nice chat with a lady in her bathing suit. It's a bit of a contradiction for a self-confessed introvert but lately I have found myself randomly engaging total strangers into conversation.

Take the lady in her bathing suit for example. It's not quite as strange as it sounds, we were in the changing rooms at my gym, and she was putting on some contact lenses before going for a swim. We talked for quite a while, mostly about eye wear, it turns out that she too has rather arrid eyeballs (if only I would sweat less and have wetter eyeballs - but we each have our cross to bear) and that she only wears contacts (hard ones, gas permeable) once a week to swim and for ballet class. She was very kind, at a guess a few years older than me, and we were the only ones there. She had one of those soft voices and gentle vibe. I liked her. Very much. Then she went for a swim and I went running and that was the end of that.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

You know what they say about women with short hair?

"Our woman is aged 35 - 40, she is attractive but interesting looking with a nice smile." This is the latest casting breakdown I received from my agent this morning. It's for a TV commercial for an insurance company. This is all fantastic feel-good news: my agent thinks they (I know it should say he or she but there's two of them) can sell me as attractive, and it's for TV insurance advertising which means good money if I can get it!

I called my agent back to confirm I'd be attending the audition. I appreciate that they give me the illusion that I have a choice, that there are so many acting jobs out there that I might actually be minded to say, you know what, I'm not sure about this one, I think I'll pass on it...

"Oh hello, do you still have your really short hair?" "(Pause) Yes." What I really wanted to say was "Well no actually, I thought just for a lark I'd grow it down to my buttocks in dreads and not tell anybody!" But the thing is, my agent, they're kind of busy, so I kept it to myself and thought I'll put it in my blog instead - where at least irony stands a chance of being appreciated.

"Oh good! I just thought I should check because you see the casting director asked specifically about your short hair... she says with short hair it'll be easier to put a bald cap on it."  Maybe, 5 years ago, when I embarked on this acting journey, I would have blanched or inhaled deeply, or even cried. But 5 years on? "Well, I don't care what they want me to do as long as they pay me good money." "Oh good girl." (It sounds patronising but I was talking to Belinda who is like the world's Mother and totally unflappable and coming from her it's not patronising. So please don't feel offended on my behalf.)

Here's the thing that you have to come to terms with as a jobbing actor (as opposed to a high profile actor who is specifically requested for roles, as a way of "selling" the project to producers), actually it's a list of things, and if you can't get your head around it, then you should go and do a normal respectable job that isn't over subscribed. Like accounting.

1. Everyone in the business hates actors (especially if they are ex-actors themselves.)
2. Art can on occasion get you noticed and open some doors, but not always.
3. Art as a rule will cost YOU money and not earn you ANY.
4. There is nothing wrong with earning a little bit of money to pay bills and you know, do stuff, like eat.
5. There would be no day time TV for duvet days if everyone refused to do commercials.
6. Attending auditions is good practice (for the big one)
7. Any sort of acting is good practice (for the role of a lifetime)
8. Going to auditions keeps your agent happy (even if you don't get the job)
9. Many of today's big stars started off doing commercials
10. Many of today's top directors started off shooting commercials.

So I am going to attend that audition looking attractive but interesting (as opposed to?) and deliver whatever they want from me with gusto and enthusiasm. Because this is the path I have chosen. And even if I have to remind myself sometimes, the fact is that I really do love it, even after 5 years, even if I'm not a household name YET. (Notice the pig headed blind optimism? If you don't got it don't even try it...)

Stay tuned...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The joy of O

O not as in the Story of O, but as in zero, nought, nothing, the absence of... We spend so much time in the pursuit of things both material and spiritual that we rarely stop to think about celebrating that which we do not have.

Let's make it up close and personal. My typical private and selfish wish list includes: health and happiness for me and my loved ones (and everyone who reads this blog), a good acting break so I can be famous, a cure for cancer, a daily reprieve from my demons, and please can I win the lottery just this once and please can we make it a record breaking jackpot.

What does this say about me? (Aside from the obvious... hey, no sniggering at the back!) I want STUFF. Some of it is worthy and altruistic, some of it is incredibly selfish and shallow, some of it is material, some of it is spiritual, some of it I would probably regret ever asking for. What they all have in common is the Oliver Syndrome: (don't bother looking it up on Wikipedia, I just made it up.) "Please sir, can I have some more sir?" 

In all fairness, I think it's possibly hardwired in us. Let's face it, evolutionary wise it wasn't so long ago that we came down from the trees and started walking upright across the Rift Valley (I've been watching National Geographic). Back then we really did need stuff, like fire and sticks and rocks to fight off sabre tooth tigers and catch mastodonts to feed our families and keep warm in our caves. Now of course, some of us are lucky enough to have moved on from subsistance to extraneous consumption. I ask you, who in their right mind is gonna ask for a bowl of lumpy porridge when then can have caviar? (Or an i-phone if you prefer.)

But is our pursuit of happiness a dead end disguised as the yellow brick road paved with gold? The problem with asking for "stuff" is that even when you get it, after a while it's gone. So rather than asking for more should we instead be asking for less, or even better, not asking for anything and actually just being happy and grateful not to have something... like pain, or the town flooded, or the house burnt down, or a broken leg, or noisy neighbours?

Should I replace my wish list with a gratitude list so I can be thankful for what I have and grateful for what I don't have?

As the secret of happiness, it sounds promising but hard work. Like wearing a spiritual hairshirt. And any way, how I do I know what I'm supposed to be grateful for not having? Chicken pox? An ingrown toe nail? Dry rot (not me, the house)?

Let's just for a minute imagine that I could think of all those things. Now let's imagine that I could write them all out as a list... it would go on for miles!

Hey, maybe that's the point.

Maybe I don't need to write it all out, just a few examples to get into the spirit of things and then just visualise a ream of paper long enough to wrap around the earth and then to the moon and back. Then I could sit back and think: I am grateful for all of this, and more!

And if that doesn't put a spring in my step, I can always go and buy another lotto ticket.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Licking the C-word

The Berlusconi-ly minded amongst you are in for a b-i-g disappointment. This is not about what you're thinking, you salacious beasts, this one's about beating cancer. A friend I've known since University has breast cancer. I just found out.

For once, thoughts are all jumbled in my head, as if the gravity of the news had derailed my train of thought, shunted the carriages this way and that, strewn the passengers luggage all over the landscape. So, in no particular order:

1. She writes the best Facebook updates
2. I wish we didn't live so far away from each other
3. What can I do that will make a difference?
4. I wish I'd re-connected with her sooner
5. Her son is very young
6. Bet all her students will finish the year with straight A's because no one - I mean NO ONE'll dare get a C
7. I wish I could hold her hand and give it a good squeeze and make it all go away
8. I never realised that she wrote a blog.
9. I'm never ever going to complain about... anything.

I like that last one. Imagine that, no more complaining about "feeling" fat, about zits, about in-grown hairs, about not getting more auditions, about being categorised as a foreigner in my (chosen) country of residence, about this and about that. No more gratuitous moaning, no more self aggrandising neuroticism, no more "no" and "I can't" and "it's not fair" and "why can't..." and "what ifs"... What a relief!

From now on, I am going to be a model of positivity and optimism. A real Polyanna. It's going to be an uphill battle but I'm determined. I WILL BE HAPPY.

Already I feel freer from fear and disappointment. As if the sobering message that she received had had the same electrifying impact on my attitude: "damn it, I'm going to beat this thing if it's the last thing I do." Except I don't have to go through clinical trials and chemo and hair loss and the surgery and all that malarkey. I just get the good stuff: the "enjoy life to full you fool whilst you still got it because who knows how long you got it for" - no one knows their own use by date.

Ever generous, what a gift she's bestowed on me. The gift of realisation that life is precious, to be savoured and bitten into fully and enjoyed! Less Black Swan and more True Grit please!

I hope I will be able to return the favour. How? I don't know yet, but inspiration will strike, and hopefully more frequently than lightning (although apparently this not-striking-twice-in-the-same-spot-business is pure fiction, it can and will strike in the same spot as many times as it feels like, and it does, quite frequently I'm told, to the surprise and shock of those who happen to be standing under it.)

Another consequence, is the discovery that not only life but time too is precious. There isn't that much time for any of us. I always assumed I'd live to 100 (in the same way that as a child I assumed I would never reach 30 because the time-life continuum would stretch and stretch into eternity before I ever got there. Because I couldn't imagine ever living in the 21st century, wearing a silver space suit, and eating space food and... I don't know... living on the moon.) 100 that's a big number but it's still finite. If there's stuff I want to do I'd better get cracking. And not just the big stuff like acting, but small things like filing applications and using the online tutoring programme for my upcoming financial regulation exam (- Note: I tried to access it yesterday but their IT system was down...).

So no more procrastinating on big or small things. Get things done or don't do them at all and throw them out. Clear that in-tray. Clear that inbox. Clear your mind, your soul, your every nook and cranny!

All this is exhilarating but exhausting too. And with exhaustion comes the release of effort and a return to the bad old ways. Must fight it, fight the gravital pull of the familiar, of the status quo. I owe her this much. Her gift is too precious, the price of it too great for me to return to form. I will push on, seeking happiness, optimism, clarity of thought and action for the rest of my life. That's a promise.

So what's it going to be? What am I going to do with this new found appetite for life? What gift can I offer up in return? I feel so small and inadequate. And humbled by the enormity of the disease, or rather the enormity of my perceptions of the disease and my total ignorance and lack of experience. It's a right B*****d. Still, I will think of something. Something unexpected and just right.

And it won't be a Hallmark card.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

You are a danger to yourself and possibly to others...

Are you a clumsy person? The Americans have a delightfully expressive onomatopoeic term for it “clutz”. Do you find you collect bruises like others collect coupons? Do inanimate objects in your home suddenly take on a life and will of their own and attack you? And wasn’t there a story in the last 2 weeks about some poor woman who, following a brain operation, discovered that the left side of her body was no longer under her control and had taken to undressing her or slapping her at the most inopportune moments? I can’t offer up anything quite as dramatic as that although I was once attacked by a soap. (If you must know, I’d walked into the communal shower room in my dormitory at University, with my basket containing soap, shampoo, conditioner etc…, I slipped on a wet patch and fell on the hard floor right on my tail bone (ouch) and then to add insult to injury, my soap flew out, up into the air, and fell back down to earth and hit me smack in the eye (I was looking up to see where the soap was going). Double ouch. Don’t laugh. Soap in the eye ranks high in terms of pain. It’s up there with absentmindedly rubbing your eye whilst chopping chillies.

Anyway, the fact is: I get clumsy. And sometimes I hurt myself. Last Autumn (or Fall for our American readers) I picked a late night when he was away on business to walk smack into the closed bedroom door That door is never ever closed. I can’t remember why I’d closed it. But I had. And I’d forgotten all about it. Until my eyebrow connected with the hardwood solid door. It took me a split second to process the information: “Did something just hit me? What was that? Oh it’s the door. Oh how stupid! Ow… How much damage have I done?”. But in the end, after a rather sleepless night involving loads of Arnica cream and squinting into a mirror, I woke up with a rather fetching and contained black eye and a very swollen eyelid courtesy of the excessive amount of cream I'd applied to it.

Since then, things had been pretty quiet on the random act of self-inflicted violence and injury front. I’ve got a mysterious razor like cut on my index finger that is taking a while to heal but up until last night, I was doing pretty well.

Well, that is, until I was ambushed by the lotus. That’s right. You heard me. Ambushed. By The LOTUS. As in “the lotus position” from yoga. I was nearing the end of my yoga practice at home (missed the class because my key got stuck in the lock as I was leaving the house but that’s an entirely different story) when I rather recklessly (hind sight is a marvellous if rather futile ability) decided to enter into a tighter form of the lotus position – with the knees closer in rather than sticking out to the side. It’s advanced but I can fold myself into a pretzel so I thought “why not?” Well I’ll tell you why not. Because as I lifted my left leg into position, something inside my knee (my knee cap as it turns out) went “clac”. Just like that. Not snap, not crackle, not pop, but a clear unmistakable “clac” that reverberated throughout the flat, and scared the hell out of me. There I was, I had broken myself, finally it had happened. After years of closet sniggering at all those poor souls who cannot wrap their ankle behind their ear, I had fallen victim to the "my body won't bend in this way" syndrome.
I thought “s**t”. And I said it out loud too, sort of under my breath, in rapid succession. “S***t. S***t. S***t,” Then I jumped up – forget about the 5 minute relaxation required at the end of an Ashtanga Yoga practice – to rebalance the blood pressure – gobbled two 12 hour long lasting ibuprofen (can’t recommend it enough) and vaulted into the bath. He came home at that point and in that inimmitable Australian resourceful and unflappable manner offered me an ice pack. So I lay in the bath, icing my knee, reading Emily L by Marguerite Duras (she’s good) for the better part of an hour. Then I got into my pyjamas, he even lent me his bathrobe and his Tibetan bobble hat for added comfort and we arranged me on the couch with an accoutrement of blankets and arnica creams and so forth. I thought, well that’s done it, I’ve b******d up my knee for ever, no more yoga, no more zumba, no more running, I will probably never walk again.

Then I went to bed. Having dutifully finished Emily L.

In the night, I woke up with an awful feeling of dread hanging over me. What would my knee look like? I got up gingerly, hobbled to the bathroom and turned the light on. Couldn’t see any bruising. Put my glasses on, still no bruising.Or swelling. (If anything, the ice pack had made it thinner than the other one... I have the chubby knees of an infant.) So I hobbled back to bed and to sleep.

This morning, I made an appointment with the physio. (Ironically, Marcus, my favourite physio/osteopath in the world has moved to New Zealand – my new favourite physio is Liz who is from New Zealand but has the presence of mind to work in London a stone's throw away from my flat. They’re called Six Physio, they’re on London Wall, and they are wonderful people. Especially Liz.

I limped over to her offices, and after a bit of prodding and some questions she announced that I was fine. No major damage. All the right instincts too what with the ice pack and the ibuprofen… except the bit about not moving my knee at all overnight which she said would only lead to it seizing up. Even better, she announced that the slight discomfort would ease over the next few days and that I could go back to exercising whenever I felt like it. She was so lovely. She even has the perfect recipe for lamingtons. And offices in Harley Street. In my next life, I want to come back as Liz. But all in good time. For now, I will try to keep the random acts of self-inflicted violence to a minimum.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

You’re crowding me!

- It’s rabbit season!
- Duck season.
- Rabbit…

Actually it’s the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese calendar and this week celebrated the start of the new year. As expected, London’s Chinatown was teaming with people, us included. Unlike most of the crowd that gathered off Gerrard Street to gawk at the dancing dragon snaffling hanging lettuces to the beat of bass drums, we’re in Chinatown every other weekend. (Just to set the record right, for those of you unfamiliar with the custom – sometimes I wonder “who reads this blog?” - the dragon (which is a heavily embroidered and stylised puppet operated by a team of between 2 and 4 men) doesn’t steal the lettuce, it is willingly offered up by businesses in the hope that the dragon will bless their business with good fortune and lots of money during the coming year.)

Where was I? We’re in Chinatown several times a month. Usually on a Sunday (or a Saturday if George – the world’s favourite yoga teacher – is away) and usually in or around 11:30: the opening time for dim sum at The New World. The New World is one of the few (if not the only) restaurant in Chinatown to offer dim sum on the traditional trolleys rather than letting you order off a menu. Trolleys are great: you can pace the ordering and the food stays hot, also, you’re tempted to try delicacies (chicken’s feet – yum! – don’t diss it till you try it) that might not jump off at first glance from a menu.

They know us (the tall red head with the little excitable brunette), as well they should. We’ve been going for over 12 years starting with our first meal when we moved to London.. They know our routine (we won’t take a table upstairs, and we want to sit in what used to be known as the smoking section, we like chilli oil and chilli sauce, he has oolong tea, and we get two glasses of tap water).. They’ve also got used to the fact that even though we are white, we LOVE chicken’s feet and that I also love tripe and sea snails. They also know that we won’t have food that panders to white people such as pot-stickers (the food, not the white people). They also accept our (I imagine) disastrous pronunciation of the dishes’Cantonese names. In summary, The New World is a wonderful place and you should try it sometime. And do me a favour, try the chickens’feet. Don’t go “uugh”, as my father the scientist always says: “You should try everything at least once and then you can decide.” Chicken’s feet are divine. And don’t give me that nonsense about being put off by what they are. What you eat at most fast food chains probably contains equally exotic animal parts albeit incognito. And let me remind the British amongst you that for several years you unwittingly ate beef from cows that had been fed… other dead cows. ‘Nough said. I think I’ve made my point.

Where was I again? Chinese New Year. Chinatown gets very crowded. Unusually, we were there on a Saturday around 1:30 (courtesy of “yoga with George” and a brisk 45 minute walk into town). We had to wait for a table – double the time on account that we refused the two tables available upstairs. It was packed with people waiting with their tickets, with their children, with their friends, with people try to jump the queue (“Oh I didn’t realise these people were waiting!” “What did you think we all were: some sort of Novelty Chinese New Year’s decoration?”). Still, I didn’t mind the crowding half as much as I have in the past (even though if you ask him, I was still in a rather bristling mood… courtesy of a VERY demanding hour and half yoga session with George in which I almost died from exhaustion, and I’m one of the stronger ones.) Still, I kept thinking that this was not a proper crowd, at least not in terms of the crowds we witnessed in China.

I don’t think I told you about the subway on our recent trip? Did I? Here’s a little survival guide if you ever decide to go and check it out for yourself.
First: prepared to be impressed, Shanghai and Beijing have ultra modern subway networks, stations, and trains and everything is spic and span. No graffiti, no litter. No smell of wee.
Second: figure out BEFORE you get on the subway, BEFORE it even pulls up into the station what the name of your stop is and most importantly how many stops that is from where you are.
Now. When the train arrives and the doors open, precipitate yourself headlong into the carriage. Do not wait for the other people to get off first. You think that’s rude? Try it your way. I give you two tries at being courteous. Third time round you’ll be charging aboard like the rest of us. Why? Because if you don’t then you simply won’t get on. Ever. The trains are ALWAYS crowded, rush hour style. Comprende?
Now you’re on the train. Move away from the doors towards the relative safety of the middle of the carriage (there are no separation between carriages, it’s like one long corridor from one end of the train to the other.) Why? Because when the train stops at the next stop (which presumably isn’t your stop), if you are by the doors you will be swept out of the carriage by the crowd getting out and before you know it you will be standing at street level wondering how you got there.
Now it gets more complicated. As your station gets closer (let’s say two stops away), start inching towards the doors… but not too fast! (See previous point).
Now you are one stop away… next stop is yours! Push your way through (I never figured out how to say “excuse me” in Mandarin) and prepare to catapult yourself off the train BEFORE the crowd tries to get on. You will be helped in this by the crowd trying to get off. Then dust yourself down, ride one of the immaculate escalators to street level, exit, and bask in your success.
One last thing, before boarding, remove back pack and coats and hold in front of you – thus reducing your surface area which as any physicist worth his salt knows, reduces the amount of friction, and by extension temperature and increases speed.

Try it. And try some chicken’s feet. Over 1.3 billion people have. You don’t want to be left behind.