FitBit a Hit With Dimwit

For my birthday on Monday, I got a Fitbit.

It was something that I had asked for after seeing how much fun my friends were having with theirs. “Damn it!” my friend Colin said shaking his rubber-bound left wrist. “Joey has like 6,000 steps on me! He’s probably at the gym right now on a treadmill!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, confused and slightly concerned about how well Colin knew Joey’s walking habits.

Colin proceeded to explain his Fitbit war with Joey. Apparently, you can challenge your friends to see who can get the most steps in a day, week or weekend. The app updates in realtime and is in constant communication with the Fitbit around your wrist, so it’s always an ongoing race to be on the top of the step leaderboard.

I thought this sounded fun and, with my birthday around the corner, I figured it would be the perfect present for me.

In the past two years or so, I’ve become much more invested in fitness. I finally overcame my fear of looking like a moron in the weight room at my gym and have been maintaining a (mostly) consistent routine for a while now. I am a certified Zumba instructor and even have my own class every Mondays for the employees of a large grocery chain’s corporate office here in San Antonio.

It seemed to me that a Fitbit would be an interesting way to keep track of my activity and give me some kind of an idea of how active I am (or not) and how to take it to the next level, if need be. I had already read David Sedaris’ hilarious piece on his Fitbit and it seemed like something I would like.

One thing I didn’t realize about this thing, now that it’s comfortably strapped around my wrist, is how addictive it would be. I find myself constantly tapping the band and refreshing the app to see how far away I am from my step goal for the day. Having friends that I’m pitted against makes it even worse for me as I’m rather competitive by nature.

This point was proved to me when I saw just how many steps I was afforded for a Zumba class: almost 5,000! I strutted happily back to my car after my class had done, enjoying my comfortable lead.

Participating in these Fitbit challenges, I’ve realized, requires a lot of upkeep and dedication to being active. In doing so, I’ve seen how lazy I am. Yesterday, I wasn’t really up to doing much and decided to read for the majority of my day. Out of habit (it had been two days). I checked my steps and saw that Colin, of all people, had surpassed me! The bastard.

Fueled by the desire to show him up, I made my way to my garage and practiced my Zumba routines for about half an hour. When I was finished, I breathlessly tapped on the black band, leaving a salty smear of a fingerprint and finding that I had pulled past him by almost 2,000 steps! Victory was mine – for now!

In the three days that I’ve had this thing, I’m finding that my desire to accumulate as many steps as possible has me doing things that are rather illogical.

While getting ready to leave the house, I realized I had forgotten my keys upstairs. I ran back up the stairs with a smile on my face – more steps! Ha! I walked around my car once, pretending to check the tires for any deflation but really just racking up ten or so more steps for my daily goal. At a restaurant, a waitress led me aimlessly through a section before she realized that there were no open seats. “No worries!” I said cheerfully as we scooted awkwardly through chairs of people, making our way back to the front. “I need the exercise!”

“Isn’t this thing cool?” I said as my mom held my phone, watching the steps increase one-by-one as I lapped the living room. “I want you to feel when I hit my goal, I’m super close!”

When my goal was finally reached, I relished in the happy vibrations around my wrist. I pressed it to my mother’s arm and smiled stupidly. “Isn’t that awesome?!”

I felt like a pregant woman who had just felt her baby kick for the first time.

Even while writing this, I’ve tapped my Fitbit at least twice to see where I’m at in my daily quest for 10,000 steps. I haven’t moved a damn inch and yet I still feverishly check. To my dismay, Colin has usurped the lead and is now ahead by a few thousand steps.

I think it’s time to run up and down the stairs a few times.

Dr. Fish

 In Kami-Amakusa, Kumamoto, there is a place named Spa Thalasso. It sits among the gorgeous and rural landscape atop a large hill. A gigantic observation deck shaped like a sail stands next to the building. From the top, you can see across the sparkling Shimabara Bay and the view is breathtaking.

We pulled up to Spa Thalasso and the three of us (myself and my friends Chris and Melissa) got out to walk around and take in the view. After, we entered the spa to fulfill the task we had come for.

“There it is,” my friend Melissa pointed to a long tank at the end of the spacious lobby. We hurriedly removed our flip-flops and threw them into the cubbies that were provided at the entrance; I didn’t bother taking the slippers that were provided.

The three of us eagerly walked over to the low tank, my feet slapping happily against the shiny linoleum. Looking down into the water, I saw what had to be dozens of tiny silver fish darting through the water. “I didn’t expect there to be so many!” I exclaimed to Melissa. She nodded sagely and giggled. “Just wait.”

Of all the treatments that Spa Thelasso had to offer, Dr. Fish has to be by far the strangest. The first time I heard about it, I knew that it was something that I needed to experience.

The procedure is simple: you pay about ten dollars, place your feet into the tanks and the fish inside swim over you to clean (read: eat) off dead skin cells and whatever else they might be able to glean from your podiatric crevices. It’s very unconventional, possibly a bit unsanitary and, to me, very intriguing.

With a quick tutorial that I didn’t understand (how hard could it be?!),  the staff member sat me in the chair. I was ready to experience this odd pedicure – my first one ever. A bit hesitantly, I lowered my feet into the water. The fish scattered away immediately but then, seeming to realize that my feet were food, swarmed them. As soon as they latched on to my feet, toes and ankles though, I  immediately burst out in a fit of laughter.

Looking back on it, I can’t believe I overlooked just how incredibly ticklish I am. Ticklish to the point that it’s more ‘anxiety-inducing’ to me than ‘fun’.  So much so that I have no qualms about punching whatever unlucky fool thinks they’re being cute by trying to tickle me.

So what would possess me to do something like this? In the back of my mind, I’m sure my brain was trying to send signals about how bad of an idea Dr. Fish was. I, unfortunately, never got the memo.

I continued to erupt in laughter and before long, people in the lobby of the spa began to stare. Next to me, Chris was grinning and chuckling slightly “this is WEIRD!” he exclaimed. And it was. It was very weird.

Unfortunately, I could not stop laughing and squirming. A few times, I kicked my feet frantically, driving the fish from their dead skin buffet. At one point, I even had to take my feet out of the water because it was tickling so bad.

The feeling of them swimming all over your feet and grazing on them doesn’t hurt, but it definitely feels…strange. For me, it was almost torturous to feel the tiny fish nibbling between my toes and on my ankles.

The whole thing only lasted about five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I have to say that afterwards, I didn’t notice any noticeable difference in my feet. Maybe they were softer? I couldn’t really say.

All in all, Dr. Fish was a very…interesting experience. I’m glad I did it and I recommend it to anyone who’s not afraid to try something new and strange! However, be warned: if you’re ticklish, it’s going to be tough.

Adventures in Dialysis: Talkative Texans

First a bit of backstory:

In January, my grandmother suffered a massive heart attack.

I’m sure most expats can probably agree that a situation like this is something that we all dread above everything else. An emergency of some kind that happens back home while we’re stuck thousands of miles away powerless, wanting to know everything that’s happening and frantic to help in any way we can.

After a voicemail and a text from my mother that I should come home (at the doctor’s suggestion), I immediately purchased a plane ticket home and left the next day. My supervisor and Board of Education were all extremely understanding and did not give me any hassle. Thankfully, during my five-days in the states, my grandma’s condition improved dramatically.

IMG_7644  As I boarded the plane back to Japan, a niggling fear that something would happen again settled in my heart. The stress and uncertainty of being 7000 miles away from my family in a time of crisis like that was pretty rough and it definitely shook me up. It really put into perspective just how far away I lived.

On the long flight back, I had a lot of time to think about the future and my next steps. On the JET Program, ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers who don’t know) have the option to extend their contract for up to five years. We’re given the recontracting paperwork in October and we have to deliver our formal decision in February. While I was already leaning in the direction of not recontracting, this incident pushed me to make my decision to return home for good in August.  I decided that while I loved Japan, my area, my friends and students, shit back home was a bit too crazy for my liking and it was for the best to be back with my family.

As my final months in Japan passed, I kept in close contact with my mom and demanded constant updates on my grandparents. The news I heard was rather unsettling: my grandma had fallen down the stairs of her house multiple times and had to have her toe amputated due to an infection caused by her diabetes. My grandpa was having a lot of trouble walking and was beginning to forget things.

The closer it got to my departure from Japan, the worse my grandparents’ health seemed to be getting. My grandma’s attitude was worsening and my grandpa’s kidney function was extremely low — low enough for him to be put on dialysis.

All of this was stressful and disheartening to hear however it reaffirmed that I had made the right decision by returning home.

When I got back last week, I saw that my grandparents were indeed in pretty rough shape – worse than they had been just eight months previous. However, they were overjoyed to see me (and I, them) and I think that my being back has picked up their spirits considerably.

The day after I returned, I began taking my grandpa to dialysis. I don’t profess to know too much about dialysis, but it’s basically a way to cleanse the blood from my grandpa’s body since his kidneys aren’t functioning well enough to do it effectively on their own. He’s hooked up to a machine that takes his blood, filters it and then returns it to his body.

This whole process takes about three to four hours and is done three times a week. As I currently have no job and an abundance of free time, I take my grandpa to and from the dialysis clinic.

In the waiting room, patients and their friends or family often sit and wait – sometimes for the entire day. There are a group of Hispanic ladies who seem to stay at the clinic for the entire duration of their person’s dialysis. Coolers of drinks and food resting by their legs, they chatter away at each other in Spanglish and watch the horrendous daytime TV that the waiting room is subjected to.

“You know my son likes when I make enchiladas in the microwave. Pero sabes que he calls them ‘lazy enchiladas’! Como que son lazy?! Si las ponga en el oven, sometimes they get all duro!”

“Ay, I do that too! Y mi hijo le gustan these tacos that I make when I shake the tortillas còmo este y they get all puffy. Èl los llama ‘tacos wangos’! He says ‘mama, make me the tacos wangos! Ha ha ha”

Everyone in the waiting room seems to be going through the same long, drawn-out ordeal that dialysis is. When someone comes into the waiting room, usually the Club de First Esposas will greet them with a cheerful ‘Good morning!’ and a round of smiles. I find this to be incredibly sweet and it’s something about the USA that I’ve missed.

Another thing that I had forgotten Americans – especially Texans – do…is talk. Jesus Christ do they talk.

Recently I was picking up my grandpa and waiting for him when a woman who I had seen once before leaned over and struck up a conversation with me. She was a small woman who looked to be in her sixties with horn-rimmed glass and a short hairdo that said ‘I’m a hip woman, aren’t I?’.

“So when are you back to school?” she said with a knowing smile.

I explained to her that I was no longer attending school and that I had just recently returned from teaching English in Japan.

“Oh, that is so nice!” she gushed. “You know, I work at a hotel chain and we just recently got some Japanese people in who are doing work experience down in housekeeping – well they’re in housekeeping now. Before they were in the kitchens learning how to do all that but they’re just so CUTE!” Her face pursed as she were talking about a litter of newborn kittens.

“And you know, I feel so bad for them because they’re just so LITTLE!” she went on. “You know how these Japanese – well you know, orientals – are just so TINY and I just feel so bad for them you know because those women who work there are so mean!”

I blinked, gave a slight nod and said something to the effect of “Oh.” and not ‘Did you just say the word ‘Oriental?’’ like I wanted to say.

“I just see them sometimes and they look so SCARED and I just want to go up and give them a hug and say ‘Ohh honey it’s okay!’ but I do think now that they’ve become a bit more acclimated to the job and they’re doing much better! But I still, those women down there can be downright MEAN, I feel so bad!”

Mind you this is the first time I had ever talked to this woman. I had forgotten how at ease Texans (Texan women in particular) are at talking with complete strangers.

“I just take Bob here to dialysis.” she said with a point at the closed door that led to the facility inside. “He’s my sister-in-law’s brother. And you know they were doing it for some time but it just got to be too much and I said ‘sure I don’t mind taking him’. And I’m glad I did because with Chris and Janet’s schedules boy it would be impossible, I tell you.’

I had no idea who Chris or Janet were.

“And you remind me of their son, you know.” the woman went on. “Billy used to wear his hair just like that, is yours natural?”

I told her that it was, in fact naturally curly.

“Gosh that’s nice,” she sighed. “You know Billy doesn’t wear his like yours much anymore. His job won’t let him, you see.” She shifted in her chair and leaned forward a bit. “He’s in the FBI.”

“Oh,” I said feigning all the interest I could at the abstract person who this woman was biographying.

“Yes and it’s so hard on Chris and Janet sometimes because they’ll say ‘oh, how’s work?’ and he’ll say ‘I can’t tell you’ you know? And boy it just drives them crazy. He’ll sometimes tell Scott something but even if he does, you know it’s nothing much! The other day, Debra said to me ‘it’s so frustrating isn’t it? I wish I knew SOMETHING.’ I said ‘I knoww’-.”

It was then that the door opened and my grandpa came through with the nurse. I leapt up (probably faster than I should have) and bid the woman farewell. I realized that I now knew the name of her brother-in-law, someone’s son and three other names of her family members but she had never told me hers.

Being around extremely friendly people like this is a definite shock to my system. I remember now how Texas is a place where people will talk to you for whatever reason. Is it hot outside? Did the Spurs/Cowboys/Mavericks/Rockets win/lose? Is Obama ruining the country?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who the people in their life are. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about the price of onions at HEB compared to last year. Texans will find a reason to strike up a conversation and, when they do, you had better be prepared to listen.

By the way, I still have no idea who Scott and Debra are.