When my son was little, my mom started collecting his outgrown clothes to give to strangers on the internet. She would meet these people through Buy Nothing, a project that had been created by two women from Bainbridge Island, Washington, not far from her home in Seattle. The mission of Buy Nothing, which had a local cult following, was to revive old-fashioned sharing among neighbors. People were organized by town or neighborhood into Facebook groups, where they could post what they needed, or no longer needed, and their neighbors would respond accordingly.
What made this different from Goodwill, Craigslist, or other freebie groups was that the people in your group always lived close by, and—because Buy Nothing was hosted on Facebook—everyone’s names and photos were visible, and messaging other members was as easy as texting. Pickups tended to happen at the front door, prompting face-to-face conversation. After a while, strangers became friendly acquaintances, their stoops integrated into your mental map of your town. Through my mom, random people came to own the forgotten detritus of my motherhood: unused diapers, a nursing cover (“that you threw in bathroom trash,” my mom accused in an email). My mom had been living frugally and sustainably long before it was fashionable—diluting her dish soap, cutting her sponges into quarters—and on Buy Nothing, she’d found her people.
Why do so many people have an immediate, intuitive grasp of this highly abstract concept—“subjective age,” it’s called—when randomly presented with it? It’s bizarre, if you think about it. Certainly most of us don’t believe ourselves to be shorter or taller than we actually are. We don’t think of ourselves as having smaller ears or longer noses or curlier hair. Most of us also know where our bodies are in space, what physiologists call “proprioception.”
Yet we seem to have an awfully rough go of locating ourselves in time. A friend, nearing 60, recently told me that whenever he looks in the mirror, he’s not so much unhappy with his appearance as startled by it—“as if there’s been some sort of error” were his exact words. (High-school reunions can have this same confusing effect. You look around at your lined and thickened classmates, wondering how they could have so violently capitulated to age; then you see photographs of yourself from that same event and realize: Oh.) The gulf between how old we are and how old we believe ourselves to be can often be measured in light-years—or at least a goodly number of old-fashioned Earth ones.
Adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age.
As one might suspect, there are studies that examine this phenomenon. (There’s a study for everything.) As one might also suspect, most of them are pretty unimaginative. Many have their origins in the field of gerontology, designed primarily with an eye toward health outcomes, which means they ask participants how old they feel, which those participants generally take to mean how old do you feel physically, which then leads to the rather unsurprising conclusion that if you feel older, you probably are, in the sense that you’re aging faster.
But “How old do you feel?” is an altogether different question from “How old are you in your head?” The most inspired paper I read about subjective age, from 2006, asked this of its 1,470 participants—in a Danish population (Denmark being the kind of place where studies like these would happen)—and what the two authors discovered is that adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age. “We ran this thing, and the data were gorgeous,” says David C. Rubin (75 in real life, 60 in his head), one of the paper’s authors and a psychology and neuroscience professor at Duke University. “It was just all these beautiful, smooth curves.”
Perhaps we should start with the dumplings themselves, which are, of course, delicious. Worth the trip. Worth planning the trip around. Particularly the soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, which are — you could argue, and I would — the platonic ideal of the form: silky, broth-filled little clouds that explode inside your mouth upon impact. An all-timer of a dumping.
And that, more or less, is the most you will hear about the food made at the wildly popular Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung: It’s great, it’s a draw, it’s the reason for everything that follows.
The remainder of our story begins and ends and pretty much exclusively takes place in Glendale, California — a city of close to 200,000 that sits just 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
Glendale, like other cities within the Greater LA region, is often unfairly provincialized. For example, my 101-year-old grandmother, a native Angeleno, still calls Glendale “Dingledale” and still complains about briefly living there about eight decades ago. These cities are — again, unfairly — given a kind of shorthand: Santa Monica’s got beaches; West Hollywood’s got good nightlife and (relatedly) the gays; Studio City’s got… a studio? So does Burbank. But Glendale: Glendale’s got more Armenians than almost anywhere but Armenia and also, malls.
Read the rest of this article at: Eater