6/26/2015 – A Fine Day

Do you hear that? The roar of celebration sweeping across the United States of America? The cries of joy – charged with emotion and tears? This is Marriage Equality. Finally, it has arrived.

Do you feel that? The swell of positive emotions from others reacting to this historic occassion? Vibrating and resonant deep within your chest as you reflect on what it means now that the law recognizes you as equal in terms of marrying someone you love.

Do you see that? The immense amount of work that is still left to do for the other members of the LGBT community who are in need of equality – specifically trans* people of color. Marriage Equality is a grand victory but it does not mean that the fight for equality is over. Things will not suddenly be peachy. Intolerance and hatred are, unfortunately, not so easily defeated.

Do you smell that? The celebratory dinners, barbecues and parties that are being held in honor of this momentous decision. Along with the gay wedding cakes and gay wedding pizzas too.

Do you taste that? The salty, bitter tears of frustration from those who have spent millions of dollars and countless hours attempting to curtail a segment of the population merely for being different. Merely because they did not agree with how another person lives their life. It’s okay, Opponents of Equality, this ruling has literally NO effect on your lives.

Today has been a fine day. Tonight will be filled with celebrations, laughter, smiles and tears. But tomorrow and beyond will need continued focus and dedication from those in the LGBTQ community (and allies) in order to fight for equality for ALL.

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.

Why I’m excited for the upcoming film ‘Home’

Next week, DreamWorks Studio will release its new animated film Home. Based on the children’s book “The True Meaning of Smekday,” by Adam Rex, the movie Home doesn’t look like a great film, to be honest. So then…why, you may ask, am I excited for a movie that looks like a cross between E.T. and Lilo & Stitch?

The answer is quite simple: Curly-haired representation.

This is the main character, Tip. She’s voiced by Rihanna. But do you see? Her hair. Her hair! It’s gorgeous, it’s bouncy, it’s CURLY! Now, it may seem like I’m overreacting…but trust me, I’m not. Curly-haired people often get shafted in popular media representation. The last main character with curly hair that I can remember was Merida from Brave (a great movie, btw). Aside from that, I’m hard-pressed to think of other memorable characters with curly hair.

The fact that DreamWorks has chosen a Person of Color as its main character is commendable, but to add in gorgeous natural hair to the mix? I live. This kind of representation is so, so important and I’m very happy to be seeing it.

Whereas I can’t speak to any experiences of being Black, I do have incredibly curly hair and I have been *this* close to buzzing it all off more than once in my life.

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Sometimes having curly hair can be pretty lonely. When I was growing up, I always wanted to gel it up into epic spikes like my friends did. Whenever I tried to do so however, it would curl annoyingly and fall to my head like sad, udon noodles. I grew to resent my hair and the weird things it did when it got too long so I kept it short for much of my early life – trying to skirt by without drawing attention to it.

There are other times, though, when curly hair draws unwanted attention from people. As a child, I vividly remember older women who would always fawn over my hair, reaching out their gnarly, perfumed fingers to grab handfuls of it while exclaiming to my mother how beautiful it was. Now, as an adult, my hair continues to be grabbed in bars and clubs by hands that are attached to drunk, tactless people.

Even something as simple as creating a Mii on the Nintendo Wii leaves curly-haired people feeling a bit shafted. Six pages of hairstyles and not one that really reflects my hairstyle. For my Mii, I decided to just select the bulbous afro and call it a day.

Nintendo aside though, there is definitely a movement in the U.S. to accept natural hair – which I love. A great example of this is the Dove ‘Love Your Curls’ campaign. The video might be a bit hokey, but I will admit I teared up a bit when I first watched it.

As someone whose hair explodes from his head in a curly mess every day, seeing a character who has similar qualities feels good. It feels satisfying. It feels…long overdue. If I, an adult male, feel this way, then imagine how cool it must be for a little girl or boy who has curly hair to see Tip on the big screen in all her wild, frizzy glory.

At this point, I don’t particularly care whether Home is a good movie or not. I’m just excited because it not only represents curly-haired people, but also features a strong main character who isn’t White. I believe it’s a step in the right direction that I wish more companies would take. There are, of course, other characters and celebrity voices that are featured in this movie…but I honestly don’t care about them. I’m here for Tip and her gorgeous head of curly hair that will no doubt resonate with a segment of the audience that greatly deserves it.

(Mis)Adventures in dating – Kona Grill.

At the behest of a few friends, I’ve recently decided to start chronicling my experiences involving dating and dudes.

Let me start by saying that, when it comes to dating and love and all that, I’m pretty weird about it all. I’m a hardcore a bit of a commitmaphobe and if someone tries to push something resembling commitment on me or talks about ‘us’ in the future before I feel ready or comfortable with it, I will disappear. This is perhaps why I don’t go on many dates. And if I do, there’s rarely ever a second one.

 

One of the first train-wreck dates I went on was with a boy named Oliver (not his real name). Oliver and I had met through Myspace, back in the day when everyone had Top Eights,  and posted vague bulletins about their feelings.

I had agreed to meet him at a restaurant named Kona Grill. I had never been there, but I liked sushi and all that well enough so I figured I’d give it a try. I arrived at the restaurant a bit early and found Oliver standing out front. He seemed pretty nervous and stood up awkwardly to give me a hug. I was nervous too, but I think I was just better at hiding it.

Oliver looked very different from his expertly angled, black and white Myspace photos. He jawline was not nearly as sharp, he was a bit shorter and rounder than I had imagined and it looked like he had squeezed himself into the tightest pair of jeans he could manage. The scarf around his neck also seemed incredibly out of place in the August heat of South Texas.

He gave a nervous laugh as we were seated. Our date began with stale conversation about pretty boring topics. He asked about my family and possibly if I had any pets. I responded and couldn’t think of anything to ask him. I remember him smiling constantly – as if the corners of his mouth were being held up by an invisible tape of sorts. It was a bit unnerving.

Our conversation, at one point, moved into the ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ territory. He began talking about something he liked – I forget what it was, let’s say…menudo.

“Oh man, I don’t like all the tripa that comes in menudo.” I said with a grimace.

“Yeah, I mean it’s kinda gross…” he said. “But it’s way better than barbacoa. I can’t stand barbacoa.”

“Oh, I love barbacoa!” I said. “It’s so good.”

“Yeah, it is actually pretty tasty…” he replied with a nod and a smile.

What was going on? His opinions were changing in real-time with our conversation. It was almost as if he were trying to impress me and make himself seem more likable? I was very confused by it all.

The date went on like this for another uncomfortable hour or so. If we agreed on something, it was nice but whenever there was anything that we had differing opinions about, Oliver would casually switch his to whatever he thought I wanted to hear.

Eventually, we finished our meal. I was mentally exhausted with constantly agreeing with him – whether or not I wanted to. The waitress came by and asked how we wanted to handle the check.

“Separate! Please.” I said, possibly a bit too eagerly.

We exited the restaurant and made our way to a good separating point. Luckily, I was parked in the opposite direction as he was. We stopped and stood for a few beats, doing that awkward thing that happens at the end of a date when neither person knows what to do.

 

 

A short distance away, fireworks from Six Flags exploded in the sky above us. Yellows and reds and greens burst through the darkness. I’m sure it would have been very romantic had I been with anyone else.

“I had a really good time…” he said, turning and giving me a look that I felt belonged in a Nicholas Sparks movie.

“Yeah, it was…cool.” I said, fumbling over my words. I wanted to be nice but I also didn’t want to give him any hope of another date. What was I to do, what was I to do?

“I’d love to see you again,” he said, his hand reached out and took mine. I threw a nervous glance around.

“Ummm well…” I began. “I….”

It was happening. I couldn’t hold it in. It was like verbal diarrhea. I had already taken the first step, said the first words, and the rest was now just tumbling out.

“…I really think we’d be better of as just friends, man. I don’t think I feel the same way about you. Maybe we just don’t click on that level.”

I gently but firmly tugged my hand out of his clammy grasp. His face was a mix of surprise and hurt – exactly what I had been trying to avoid.

“It’s not that you’re not cool or nice or anything – you are,” I couldn’t stop. I was trying so hard to let him down easily but it was spiraling out of control.

“Oh…” he said simply. “…I guess I thought you were into it.”

“I mean, you’re really nice,” I said, unconsciously wiping my hand on my jeans. “I enjoyed meeting you. And like, we can be friends and stuff.”

An awkward silence settled over us. The only sound was the deep BOOM! of the fireworks as they continued their show in the sky.

“And you know what,” I added. “ I really liked Kona Grill!”

This was my desperate attempt to find something positive in this – any glimmer of sunshine that could possibly help break through this gray cloud of angst that was so quickly billowing from the boy in front of me.

He looked at me, his eyes dark and brooding and heaved a dramatic sigh.

“I wish I was Kona Grill.”

I stared back at him for a bit, dumbfounded. I was unsure what to say or do. Part of me wanted to give him a pity hug because he was obviously not handling this well. But another part of me was suppressing the urge to laugh. I mean, how could I not? What a ridiculous thing to say.

 

Oh, how I WISH I was a restaurant.

 

 

“Well…” was all I could manage to say without cracking a smile. “…er….sorry.”

Against my better judgement, I pulled him into a brief pity hug. My hand patted his back a couple of times before I bid him goodbye and headed back to my car.

On the drive home, I reflected about what had just happened. Had I been an asshole? Had he been too dramatic about the whole thing? Had it been a little of both?

If it had been me in his position, I would have rather my date be upfront about his lack of interest. Better that, I thought, than to continue feeding my one-sided infatuation with hope.

No, I decided, I did the right thing by nipping it in the bud. There were probably a million better ways that I could have done it, but I was young and clueless. I think that had I done it any other way, I still would have gotten the same melodramatic reaction.

It’s been eight years and I haven’t seen Oliver since. I have, however, been to Kona Grill several times and I still quite enjoy it. So I suppose it wasn’t a complete bust.

 

What do you think? Have you been in this position before? How did you handle it? Is honesty the best policy or is it good to give someone another chance even if you’re not feeling it? Is there a way to break this kind of news to someone and NOT hurt their feelings?

 

IAmIanAmI?

When I was younger, I hated my name.

 As a kid, I never understood why people always got it wrong. It was only three letters, after all: I-A-N. Time after time though, person after person would drop it off their tongue incorrectly.

 “Eye-an?” the nurse would call into the waiting room.

 “Eye-uhn?” my teachers would invariably say on the first day of elementary (and middle) school.

 “Lan?”

“Eye-uhm?”

 “Ion?”

 The list of incorrect pronunciations was longer than anything I could ever imagine.

 “…Ian.” I would correct them every time.

Not only was my name impossible to say correctly, nobody seemed to be able to spell it either.

Valentines Day at school was the worst – I would receive a myriad of variations of my name scribbled across two-fold pink and red cards.

Usually the standard:

To: Ean

To: Ien 

Then the more complex:

To: Iyenn 

To: Ieain

And finally the just plain confusing:

To: E.N.

In classes that were dominated by Michaels, Stephanies, Jessicas and Christophers, my name seemed to float atop a sea of common names like a tugboat from a strange, unpronounceable country.

 

 

As I got older, I continued to run into minor struggles with my name.

“Can I get your name, please?” a chipper barista at Starbucks once asked me in college.

“Ian.” I said with a smile.

“Ee…yen?” The confusion flashed across her eyes like a distress signal. “Is that…?” her marker remained poised next to the cup in hesitation.

“I-A-N,” I spelled for her. I saw recognition click in her eyes and her marker zipped across the clear cup in loopy, messy letters.

“I’ve never heard that before.” she said in wonder.

I began to think that maybe I had a speech impediment. Maybe I was just really bad at saying my own name?

One time I called into a local radio station to request a song (Blink 182, if you must know). The DJ asked me for my name.

“Huh? What is it?”

“Ian.” I repeated.

“Whaaat?” he exclaimed, sound effect gasps and surprised ‘oooohs’ echoed down the phone line, amplifying his surprise.

“Wow, your parents must have been sharing some super drugs or something!” he added as canned audience laughter filled my ear.

I’ve never come across someone who blamed my name on my parents indulging in psychedelic drugs. How would he even come up with something like that, anyway? It’s not like my name is Agnoid SpaceFleck. I’m not named after a constellation or a natural wonder. It isn’t really that far-out of a name, I decided. He was just an asshole.

Looking back though, I suppose ‘Ian’ was just not a very common name where I was.

When I lived in Europe, however, I was one of five Ians in my school. Five! I was far too young to appreciate it then, but my mother recalled being pleasantly surprised that everyone not only knew the name ‘Ian’, but also knew how to pronounce it.

It seemed like it was mostly Americans who weren’t able to wrap their minds around my short, vowel-heavy name. They just weren’t familiar with it, perhaps. After all, it is a decidedly more European/British name than anything.

I’ve recounted my troubles growing up with my name to British friends. They were always surprised to hear that my name was a such a source of headache for me.

“People get your name wrong?” they asked incredulously. “How in the hell do they mispronounce it?”

I would tell them and their responses were always the same: “That’s schuupid.” they would scoff. “Crazy Americans.”

While it’s true that many Americans don’t really know how to pronounce it, this kind of confusion seemed to happen in other countries as well. During my travels, I noticed that ‘Ian’ seemed to morph into different versions of itself.

When I lived in Spain, my host mom was incredibly confused by me.

“¿Còmo te llamas?” she asked me on the night of my arrival to her house.

“Ian.” I responded.

“Eh?” she stared at me, mouth agape and hair afrizz.

“I-Ian?” I repeated, less confident of myself. It seemed that in Spanish, I was unsure of everything – even my own name.

“¿Een?” she said.

“Er…no. Ian.”

“¿Iván?”

“Ian.”

“¿Yan?”

“Ian.”

“Yan.” she ended with a tone of finality. The discussion was over.

For the rest of my time in Spain, I was known to my host mother as ‘Yan’ – a name that implied I hailed from Bulgaria and not the United States.

In Japan, my name took on a slightly more irritating incarnation. Whereas in English, ‘Ian’ sounds more like ‘ee-ehn’ or ‘eeyen’ it sounds very different when transliterated into katakana. 

Vowels in Japan have only one sound. This meant that since my name had an ‘a’ in it, it was to be said like the Japanese ‘a’.

So ‘Ian’ effectively became ‘Ee-AHn’ in Japanese.

At first, my students had difficulty saying my name. ‘Ee-AHn Sensei?’ they would say back to me with confused looks on their face.

“Ian.” I would repeat to them, trying desperately to get them to say it right. “Ian!”

It never worked.

There’s a joke among Japanese elementary school children where they say ‘Iyaaaaaaa’ whenever they’re grossed out by something. I learned this pretty quickly as my students would yell ‘Iyaaaaaaan Sensei!’ and wiggle their bodies in exaggerated, comical disgust.

It annoyed me but I learned to ignore it – I had to. There were certain days when I felt less-than-stellar about my life in Japan due to culture shock et al. To get angry with a handful of elementary kids who mispronounced my name, I had to learn, was just not worth my time.

Plus, it’s not like I wasn’t used to people mucking up the pronunciation of it or anything.

Sir Ian McKellan – Certified BAMF

 As I get older, it seems that my name has become more and more common. I’ve met several other Ians and I feel that we instantly bond over our name.

Certain celebrities like Sir Ian McKellan, Ian Thorpe and Ian Somerhalder have helped to boost public knowledge of how to say our name. Although if I ever meet Ian (“Eye-ahn” as he so says it) Ziering, I’ll have to restrain myself from punching him in the face. I feel like he is a huge reason why so many people mispronounce my name.

 Now, whenever someone does pronounce my name right, I feel the need to mention it.

“Oh wow, you said my name right!” I’ll comment excitedly to the cashier or nurse or whoever. “Thank you.”

Most of the time, they seem a bit confused. Of course I said it right, I’m sure they think, How many other ways are there to say ‘Ian’? 

Trust me. Quite a few.

 

**While I don’t think ‘Ian’ is super uncommon, do you have a unique name that people always mispronounce? Have you experienced the same frustrations? I’d love to hear about it!**

(Starbucks images taken from this hilarious Imgur post )

That Time I Traveled To Australia (Part I)

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For Winter Break in 2012, I went to Australia.

I was tired of Japanese winters. The constant, unavoidable cold was quickly taking its toll on my psyche. I woke up every morning and watched my breath appear in puffs of white – inside my apartment. I would ride my bike in the cold to go to work where they didn’t have central heating. In the afternoon, I would return home to an apartment that was sometimes colder than the temperature outside. I was sick of it.

So, like a migratory bird, I decided to fly south and escape the winter for a bit. What better place to go than Oz? It was on the opposite side of the world, sunny and warm and, best of all, everyone spoke English there. Whether or not a country spoke English wasn’t usually a factor in where I decided to go, but at that point I was pretty nestled in Stage Two culture shock. The less my brain had to work to understand something, I thought, the better.

I knew that Australia was expensive. I didn’t realize quite how expensive it was until I was looking at hotels and hostels online. Even if I would have been able to afford them, most places were booked full throughout the winter holiday.

Luckily a Kiwi friend suggested a hostel – BASE Backpackers. The way she said the name implied a sort of ‘well, if you really have no other options…’ but I went ahead and booked there anyway. The reviews online all seemed mostly positive and I’m not a diva when it comes to traveling and accommodation. I figured I would be fine.

A few weeks and fifteen or so flying hours later, I was standing outside the hostel with my suitcase. My legs glowed iridescently in shorts that I had packed away when the weather in Japan had taken a turn for the chilly. The heat was glorious and my body was still trying to adjust to the fact that it was, in fact, December.

My room wasn’t terrible – a hallway entrance boasted a communal toilet, sink and shower. The room itself was a long stretch that consisted of four large bunks on the right side of the room and…nothing else. Basic and effective.

In my room, I chatted with a friendly German girl with one arm who was in the process of packing – such is hostel life. I chose the lower bunk next to hers and threw my small suitcase on to it.  I sat for a bit, reflecting on how I was both in a different country and on the other side of the equator. The Bottom Half of the Earth: it was kind of a big deal to me.

Before long, a boy and girl entered the room chattering excitedly. They were both very loud and very British.

“Are you AC-CHOOLY joe-king me?” the girl exclaimed in awe. Her blonde hair gave off a dull shine as if it hadn’t been washed in a month. A tiny stud glittered in the left nostril of her large nose. She was tanned and must have been wearing at least half a pound of dark eyeshadow.

“I told you it was nice!” the boy responded as if he were proud of himself. He was slightly heavyset with beady dark eyes peering out from his round face. A backwards baseball cap covered his mop of shaggy brown hair.

“Like…you have so much more’n we doooo,” the girl whined. “Are you ac-chooly joe-king me right now…” she repeated in astonishment as she flopped on the lower bunk closest to her.

“Well you can come an’ sleep ‘ere whenever you want…” the boy responded creepily.

The girl giggled and said she would consider it.

I rolled my eyes. Were these Chavs? I was not well-versed enough in the subcultures of Britain to say for sure. Maybe not, but they were definitely obnoxious. For all accounts and purposes, I named them Brit 1 and Brit 2 in my head.

I exchanged pleasant greetings with the Brits before gathering my things to head out for the evening. I was meeting someone.

I was fortunate enough to have two friends in Sydney whom I already knew. Both of them were Japanese.

The one I was meeting that night, Shuhei, was a handsome man who was in his early thirties. He was tall and rail thin with an expressive face that broadcasted a radiantly youthful smile wherever he looked. At the time, he was dating an Australian and had moved to Sydney to be with him. He worked as a travel agent and spoke English fluently. Shuhei had lived in various parts of the world so his accent fluctuated between North American Vanilla to Peppery Australian twang. It was adorable.

I was sitting outside on an uncomfortable window ledge, on the very edge of the Wifi zone, when Shuhei appeared from the street. He called my name and excitedly ran up to me, proceeding to envelope me in a bear hug that was extremely atypical for a Japanese person.

His cheeks, I noticed, were red and his whole face seemed to be flushed and burning. The Asian Glow.

“Were you drinking?” I asked him with a smirk on my face.

“Yesss,” he said, elongating the consonant. “I just came from work party so I’m a bit drunk. My boss gave me a lot of beer to drink.” he flashed the charming grin my way. “Wanna get beer?”

I agreed and, in no time, we were in a local pub having a pint.

Shortly after our second drink, Shuhei decided it was time to go.

We chatted excitedly as he hurriedly led me through the streets of Sydney. It was nearing sunset and the sidewalks were growing more crowded as Sydneyites got off work.

Suddenly, Shuhei whirled around and placed both hands on my shoulders. “You didn’t go see it, did you?”

I stopped and stared at his handsome face in the changing daylight. His eyes were dark and piercing, scanning me for truth.

“No no,” I said. “I don’t even know where it is. I’ve only been here for like three hours, dude!”

This seemed to satisfy him. “Okay yokatta. It’s just down here, then!”

Before coming to Sydney, Shuhei had made me promise that I would not see the Opera House without him. In fact, he insisted that he be the one to show me. It was very important to him.

“Look! Here it is!” he said triumphantly after a short while.

I found myself in a bustling area of tourists and locals alike. There were buskers balancing metallic baseball bats on their chins, tour guides handing out flyers for their boats and hundreds of tourists (myself included) marveling at it all.  Close by, I saw a small group of people dressed in aboriginal wear playing didgeridoos. The incredibly deep tones of the instrument bounced every which way, filling the area. I felt a vibration in my chest as we passed it – almost awaking something primal within me.

Darling Harbour is a fascinating place. In the distance, the massive frame of Pyrmont Bridge looms like a mountain. Traffic of all sorts passes through it while bold tourists test their gumption by securing themselves with ropes and walking across the top of it.

The harbor itself houses massive cruise liners bigger than any boat I have ever seen in person. They sit calmly on the blue water like enormous steel bath toys, awaiting their next voyage.

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Further down the harbor, the main attraction sits at the end like the spectacle it is.

I had seen pictures of it, but to see the Sydney Opera House in person was something of a moving experience. The iconic alabaster waves rose from the top of the opera house in majestic arcs. I couldn’t look away, my eyes wanting to take every curve of the incredible design. As we walked around it, it seemed to morph appearances – giving it a different perspective from every angle.

On our way around the other side of it, I spotted a small outside bar on the edge of the opera house. There were people milling about and conversing with one another. We could hear laughter and music and it seemed like everyone was having a good time. As we drew closer, I saw that they were all dressed in costume – Batman, Wonder Woman, a cowboy, a prisoner, a pirate.

“Are they…having a costume party?” I asked Shuhei.

“Yeah, I think so.” he said. “Australians do that. Dress up and have costume parties around Christmas time.

“I don’t know why.” he added, sensing my follow up question to this cultural revelation.

Shuhei led me through the adjacent Royal Botanical Gardens to one of his favorite places – Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. Cut into the rock wall was a large bench that is said to be where an historic governor’s wife sat and watched the ships come and go.

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As I sat in Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair with Shuhei, we gazed out at the harbor. The sky was turning a periwinkle color in preparation for nightfall. The darkening water of the harbor shimmered as it reflected in the last rays of the setting sun. Above, the patchwork of clouds that covered the sky swirled and burned with pinks and purples and oranges that seemed almost otherworldly. The bridge in the distance, the massive ships floating motionlessly and the Opera House’s distinct architecture all combined for a picturesque sight that I doubt I will ever forget.

“Thanks so much for taking me here, Shuhei.” I said, turning to my friend. The shadows of the evening were beginning to shroud his face but I could still see his bright smile.

“I told you it was beautiful,” he said. “I love it here.”

Shuhei’s tour of Sydney included one final stop – Kings Cross. As we were walking there, he raved about how cool it was. Apparently it was a famous neighborhood but, at the same time, it was a bit dangerous. I nodded as he spoke, it sounded like a party area – maybe a bit like Khaosan Road in Bangkok, I thought.

After walking through a few unremarkable streets, we happened upon the famous Kings Cross. Or at least that’s what Shuhei told me dramatically.

“Here we are!” he said, throwing his arms out in grand fashion.

I looked at what he was motioning toward and saw a large illuminated billboard for Coca Cola.

“Oh…okay.” I said, trying to sound more impressed than I was.

“Isn’t that cool?” he asked, beaming.

I returned my gaze to the sign. It was…large. The lights flashed in sync and it did a very good job of advertising Coca Cola. But aside from that, it just seemed like a normal sign to me.

“I mean…I guess, yeah?” I said unconvincingly. “It’s…big.”

“What, you don’t think it’s cool?” Shuhei said defensively.

I laughed. “Er…it’s kind of…”

I tried to find words that would nicely convey my complete disinterest with what he had so proudly shown me.

“…plain?”

“What?!” he exclaimed.

“I mean, I’ve seen this kind of thing a lot.” I said with a nervous laugh. “It’s cool and all…but it’s just an ad for Coke.”

“You don’t think is awesome?!” he asked incredulously.

“It’s not NOT awesome…” I fumbled. It was no use. I could feel the jet lag begin to wrap itself around my brain.

“I’ve just…it’s nothing new or exciting to me, really. Sorry.”

“Well you need to take a picture in front of!” he insisted, grabbing my camera. “So you can say you’ve been here. People will be jealous.”

The result was a photo of me looking incredibly underwhelmed in front of a giant illuminated ad for Coca Cola. To this point, nobody has ever claimed to be jealous of this picture.

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“I still can’t believe you don’t think this is cool.” Shuhei continued as we walked on.

I laughed and gave a shrug. “I don’t know, maybe if it were an ad for like, Vegemite or something, I’d be more impressed.”

Suddenly, we were interrupted by two males storming out of a bar in front of us. They were a little older than middle-aged and looked pretty worse for the wear.

“You’re a fucking CUNT!” one of them screamed. He had a large, bulbous nose and a face covered in pockmarks.

“OH I’M the cunt, am I?” the other yelled back, matching the volume of the first man. He was overweight and his stringy gray hair hung down over his forehead, clashing with a face that was beet red.

“Who’z tha one who hasn’t even seen ‘iz FATHER in years?!”

“Yeahhhh yeahhhh,” the pockmarked man spat “and you’re a fuckin’ SAINT aren’t ya? Miserable BASTARD!”

“Oh, FACK OFF!”

Shuhei and I said nothing as we gingerly shuffled by the pair. I like to think I’ve perfected the vacant ‘I see conflict so I’m suddenly interested in whatever is happening across the street’ look.

When they were gone, we both exhaled a sigh of relief. Their argument was still audible in the distance, but the profanity was much harder to make out.

“Australians are lovely people,” Shuhei said with a sadness in his voice. “But when they drink, they sometimes become violent.”

I had heard this stereotype before, but I didn’t put too much stock in it. I still don’t. Americans are the same, after all. And Brits. And the Irish. And probably Martians, too.

Perhaps what I had just witnessed was a coincidence of sorts. Maybe the two guys were just having a bad night. Maybe, plot twist, they were actually father and son?

Aside from the drama, the neighborhood of Kings Cross was not very stimulating to me. Even with the unremarkable Coca Cola sign, I failed to see why it was a tourist spot. Perhaps I had gone at the wrong time – eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening – but it seemed just like any old neighborhood.

Not long after, the jet lag hit me all at once and I decided to head back to my hostel. Shuhei and I were meeting up the following day to go to the famous Blue Mountains and I decided that I needed rest in order to fully enjoy it.

He bid me adieu and I walked alone back to my hostel. I replayed all the things that I had seen in the past seven hours – it had been a bit of a whirlwhind. The streets of Sydney were alive and, as I wandered slowly through them, I decided that I had definitely made the right choice in coming to this intriguing faraway country.

More to come in Part II. Stay tuned! As always, feedback is much appreciated! Hope everyone is having a great Winter Break and enjoying the holidays! ❤ 

“Roy”

I was in a kickboxing class at my gym a while ago when I noticed something interesting. Between following the punch-kick-squat-jump-kick-kick-punch-uppercut combo that my insane instructor was blasting through, my eyes fell on a woman in front of me.

She was older than me – maybe late thirties – and was in good enough shape that it gave her a younger appearance. Her brown hair was tied into a ponytail and she was powering through the combo making small ‘tsch! tsch! tsch!’ noises every time she punched and kicked the air.

On her shoulder, however, was a tattoo that read ‘男’. I was excited to be able to understand the kanji and after class, I strode up to her and made conversation.

“I like your tattoo!” I said as cheerfully as I could after a 50-minute intense cardio class. “Do you have a son?”

“Huh?” she responded with a voice reminiscent of a Kardashian. “A star?”

“No, a son.”

“Sun? What?”

“A son. Do you have a male child?”

“Oh,” she said, obviously confused. “No, why?”

This was not going how I expected it would. I was in too deep now.

“Ah, well I like your tattoo.” I repeated. “I lived in Japan for three years so I was happy that I recognized it. It means boy, right?”

I knew what it meant.

“Ohhhh thanks,” she said with that fake laugh that people do when they’re nervous or caught off guard. “Umm, the tattoo artist told me that it was my husband’s name.”

“Ohhhh,” I said. This was indeed awkward.

“His name is Roy.” she continued.

“Well…it means….’boy’?” I offered lamely. “So that’s kind of close? I mean…the same sound?”

Where was the ABORT CONVERSATION button?

“Well, whenever I’m mad at him, I just tell people that it means something else,” the woman told me with a devilish smirk. “That’s why you get a tattoo in a different language, right?”

Wrong. Completely wrong. 

“Yeah…haha,” I gave a small, cordial laugh. “I guess it is.”

I disengaged as quickly as I could and left the gym out of a different exit.  My mind was boggled. How, I thought, could someone just have a kanji  tattoo on their body without knowing what it meant?

I had made this point in Japan to my students by showing them pictures of incorrect kanji tattoos and nonsensical Japanese on T-shirts. They thought it was hilarious until I pointed out that the Japanese do the same thing with their clothing etc.

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In which you can see a fifth grade girl’s pencil case with inappropriate lyrics.

“English is cool,” I told them. “But if you’re going to wear it, you need to make sure that what you understand what you’re wearing.”

I think this also relates to people anywhere – do your research about things. Especially if you’re going to get a tattoo!

‘Boy Roy’ woman obviously just chose hers off of a wall and believed whatever the tattoo artist told her. I’m sure there are tattoo artists out there who have a functional knowledge of Japanese and Chinese characters. I would still do my own research before deciding on inking a word or phrase in a different language on my body.

Recently, I saw a woman in my Zumba class with the character ‘勇’ on her shoulder. Instead of saying anything to her, I simply kept my mouth shut and shook my butt with her and the rest of the class. It worked best for everyone that way.