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.

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! ❤ 

#FACEVALUE

I think it’s really easy to trawl through social media and get jealous of how many of you friends seem to have great, amazing, fun lives. But you shouldn’t.

After all, that’s the point of social media, isn’t it? It’s a platform for self-promotion that gives you tools to make your life look amazing. You can crop things out of pictures, filter away blemishes, soften your edges and highlight what you want to show the world. I’m sure there’s even a damn lens flare option in there somewhere.

My point is, the myriad of images you see on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram are usually meticulously polished products designed to show the optimal amount of ‘FUN’.

Take, for example, seeing a selfie of two friends on the beach. ‘Gosh,’ I think to myself ‘They look like they’re having so much fun! I wish my life was as cool as theirs.’

What helps me is to think of what happens during and after the picture is taken. I know they most likely took more than one shot – the person on the left was probably blinking or making an ugly face that they were self-conscious about. Maybe it was blurry the next two takes. Maybe the person on the right wasn’t fully in the selfie. There are so many things that probably went wrong before they got this ‘perfect’ shot. Not to mention how silly taking a selfie in public looks.

And then after it’s taken, I’m sure each of my friends sat on their phones in silence – editing, filtering, cropping and lens-flaring the recently-snapped picture. So while they’re ‘having a great time at the beach #life #beachlife #bestie #happy’, they’re really just pausing whatever fun they were having together in order to update their social network on what they’re doing. It’s a bit misleading.

To be fair, sometimes I am guilty of this too. I think as a generation that’s grown up with this, we all are to some extent. But even though I do it too, I still find myself looking at other people’s social media posts and yearning for my life to be as cool as theirs. But I shouldn’t be basing how their life is on a single filtered, cropped, softened, lens-flared picture. And neither should you.

Fat Zumba Instructor

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Tonight I had the fat Zumba Instructor.

Normally, I go to Zumba on Mondays and Saturdays with the same instructor: a short, fit little thing who kicks all of our asses with intense hip-hop aerobic choreography. After every class, I’m left with sore calves, an elevated heart rate and a shirt that’s literally drenched in sweat.

“Good class!” I’ll pant to a few other women in my class, curls hanging in my eyes like wet, salty corkscrews.

“Good class!” they’ll respond back cheerfully.

Tonight, however, my regular Zumba instructor was not there.

“Hi, are y’all here for Zumba?” a short, heavyset woman said as she made her way into the dance studio. “I’m Beth. I’m gonna be substituting for Carolina tonight. She’s not here.”

Instantly, I felt the mood around me change. I don’t know how to describe it, but you know when you can just feel the energy in a room change? That’s exactly what happened. Almost like a Spidey Sense, I could tell that the other women were not at all happy with this turn of events.

 

Beth made her way over to the sound system to plug in her music. I’m sure she could tell that she was not who everyone wanted to see. I saw a few women bolt from the room like junior high kids on the last day of school.

“Have you ever done Beth’s class?” I asked a girl with whom I was talking before class started.

“Yeahhhh I haaaave,” she said, elongating all her vowels. She then leaned in and whispered the rest to me. “I kind of like Carolina better.”

“Ah, yeah,” I said quietly with a nod. “Me too. But, whatever!” I added.

I would make the most of this, I thought.

Beth taught one class a week at my gym. I have never attended it but I assume she has a following of people who like her. My only experience with her came from a two-hour Zumbathon that I attended in October. During the Zumbathon, six instructors would each switch out and do a song or two while a huge group of people danced along. This went on for two hours and by the end of it, I was destroyed.

During Beth’s turn, though, I felt a sort of reprieve from the more difficult routines of the other instructors. Compared to their jumps and squats and turns and kicks, her moves were cake. I was able to regain my breath a bit, and for that I was thankful.

One of the things that I find fascinating about Zumba is that there are so many different styles of it. Each instructor has their own niche and you can usually find one or two that suit you. Beth’s niche, though, does not really jive with the kind of dancing I like to do. Whereas I am more of a hip hop/high-energy dancer, she does a lot of salsa and merengue and bachata.

Reggaeton music began to play from the speakers in the studio and I found myself moving my hips to the beat as I waited for class to start. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, I thought as I watched other women filter in to the room via the reflection of the mirror in front of me.

Soon, the reggaeton quickly faded away and was replaced by an upbeat salsa song. “Okay, let’s get warmed up!” Beth yelled and started waving her arms from side to side.

Soon we were off, arms flailing back and forth rhythmically and torsos turning in beat to match them.

“Right!” Beth shouted as we shimmied right – arms still waving.

“Left!” she shouted. Again, we shimmied the opposite way – arms still waving.

“Stop!” she shouted. We stood in place and salsa-d for what felt like an eternity. My arms looked like the large styrofoam noodles children use to whack each other with in swimming pools.

I kinda felt like this guy, to be honest.

I kinda felt like this guy, to be honest.

Soon we were on to cumbia-ing. With balled-up fists at my sides, I stepped to my right side. Then left. Then right. Then left. Then right again. Then left again. Jesus, I thought, how long is this song?

Usually during Zumba class, I am focused entirely on getting my moves right and just jamming to the music. I don’t have time to think about much else. Beth’s routines, however, were not captivating. I found my mind wandering to all sorts of things that I had no business thinking about during Zumba.

I should do laundry, I thought as I spun to the left and then to the right and then the left again.

 I stuck my right foot in and out a few dozen times as if I were doing a Mexican hokey pokey. Then, with disappointing predictability, we were off across the floor in the other direction.

When animals fart, does it make the same sound as humans? Do they even fart? What about bugs?

It was here when I caught the eye of another regular who I talk to in class sometimes. She works at the gym and usually comes to Carolina’s class for a bit before her shifts. She is the type of Zumba-goer who will tell others – “save my spot!”.

Her short frame was cumbia-ing behind me and she appeared bored out of her skull.

Finally, the song stopped and everyone in class ran to get a drink of water before another hour-long song began.

“I miss Carolina,” the short gym employee behind me said, her voice dripping in judgement.

“Yeah, well…” I said taking a swig from my water bottle. “This is new, right? It’s a change!”

My attempts at being positive had no effect on her and she rolled her eyes. “I’ll probably leave soon anyway.”

The next couple of songs were much of the same: cumbia, salsa and merengue. At one point, a salsa song was jarringly spliced with a slow reggaeton song that came out of nowhere. One minute, we were spinning right and left with a flick of our wrists and the next, we were squatted down low throwing our hands out to the sides and then over our heads.

Eventually a lull in songs came again and I retreated to my water bottle again. The girl I had just spoken to looked at me and, once again, rolled her eyes dramatically. She made no effort to hide her displeasure and shook her head as if to emphasize just how much she ‘couldn’t even’. It was as if she wanted me to partake in her judgment. I was having none of it.

Soon, the next song started and within the first minute, the pint-sized bundle of snark had gone, taking her negativity with her.

As we continued to noodle-arm and turn back and forth, I felt my mind wander again.

Why doesn’t the word ‘umlaut’ HAVE an umlaut? 

 How did the Tasmanian Devil do it? I’m spinning at like, a fraction of the speed and I’m already dizzy. 

As we were now facing the doors, I saw people walking by outside. Two women who usually took Carolina’s class walked by and kind of stopped when they saw me. I gave them a smile and they raised their eyes and smiled back as if to say ‘Glad we’re not doing what you’re doing’.

Paying them no heed, I continued to cumbia back and forth. Why were people so negative?

At one point, Beth had us galloping in place. She let out a series of shrill whoops to try to hype the class up. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect and I think she might have scared a few of us. She walked back and forth in the front, waving her stubby arms and goading us to whoop as well. A few women let out forced whoops that seemed to pacify her.

Okay, I though to myself, I get why some of these women were less-than enthused about Beth substituting.

When class was over, it seemed like Beth was just as relieved as everyone else.

“Thanks for comin’ y’all,” she called sweetly as everyone gathered their things. “Thanks for staying.”

That line ‘Thanks for staying’, really hit me. She knew that she was not who these women wanted to see. She knew that her style was completely different than what Carolina’s was. She knew that she had started out with almost thirty people in class and ended with less than twenty. As an instructor, that has to be pretty demoralizing.

What was worse, though, is that I’m sure she felt the judgment from other people in class. She knew the rest of the women in the class were going to talk about her afterwards. They would gossip about her and demean her and lament how they missed Carolina.

Yet she still showed up and did class.

I mean, sure, she may not have the most interesting routines. And maybe the music she plays might sound like something your tia would dance to in her living room. And some people might not think the rolls of fat bulging out of her tight clothing is the most motivational thing to see at the head of a cardio class.

But conventions be damned, she does it anyway. And I think that’s incredibly admirable. Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do, I was glad I stayed because it was a different experience. Most importantly, I left class with a new respect for Beth.

So go ahead and leave, catty women. Deny yourself a workout and take your negativity with you. You were not missed.

I love you…but I can’t travel with you.

Credit to Bill Watterson

Credit to Bill Watterson

Traveling is great. The experience of throwing yourself into a new location and culture that can, at times, be supremely different from your own, is thrilling. It’s a unique rush for me.

My most recent trip to New Orleans really brought something to mind, though: A travel experience can hinge greatly on who you travel with – even more so than where you go.

Take my friend Yasmin, for example. We have been friends for years – years. In that time, we’ve  grown extremely close and she is almost like an older sister to me. She provides me with excellent advice, calls me out when I’m being a dumb ass and is firmly grounded in her life. She’s a great person and I’m so fortunate to have her as a friend.

But I’ve learned that we can’t travel together.

Before our trip this past weekend, we were both super excited – sending each other messages and emails that expressed how many days away our trip was. And emphasizing how badly Yasmin ‘needed’ this trip.

So with all of this hype building for it, by the time we left, I was rarin’ and ready to go. Austin to New Orleans is an eight hour drive – quite a long trek.

As we drove past Texas farmland, through the metropolis of Houston and over Louisiana marshes and swamps, I kept conversation going. I would comment on things, ask questions pertaining to Louisiana Life, relive interesting stories and read out funny signs that I saw along the way (Really, a huge billboard denouncing Evolution? That’s hilarious!).

I think on long road trips, a lull in conversation is definitely natural. For me, though, silence can be very uncomfortable. To be next to someone in a car for that long and not speak is a very strange thing. Poor Yasmin, it seems, was of the opposite opinion. After about Hour 6, she told me that she needed some quiet. After that, I realized, that I had not really stopped talking since we left.

For someone who is not used to it, I can see how I’m a bit overwhelming – a kind of ‘noise overload’. But I was not aware that I was apparently that intense. Oops.

I’m sure this is what my friend was imagining.

This ‘noise overload’ seemed to last the entire trip for Yasmin, however, and it made for pretty awkward outings. I felt like if I were to comment on something or talk to Yasmin, I would disrupt the sudden mental barriers that she had thrown up. ‘Is it okay that I’m asking you something?’ I felt like asking. ‘Are you okay to speak? Are you okay with me speaking?’

Like I said, it made for some awkward outings. To me, when someone is super quiet in my presence, it feels like they are ignoring me. I then, in turn, become extremely self conscious and upset because I feel like I’m annoying them. It’s this whole weird, Extrovert thing.

I still had a good time wandering around New Orleans, but I feel like Yasmin had a less-than-stellar time. Her sudden withdrawal from interacting with me was extremely jarring and I felt like I needed to walk on eggshells and limit what I said in her presence. For me, that’s pretty maddening.

Some part of me wants to think: ‘Have you exceeded some kind of talk/listening quota or something?’, and ‘If you’re this sensitive to noise, then why the hell would you go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Especially with someone like me?!’.

I realize, though, that it isn’t a fair criticism of anything. The thing to realize is that while we are great friends and have been for years…we can’t travel together.

This most recent trip really got me thinking about just how important WHO you travel with is. It can be just as important (if not more so) as WHERE you travel.

People are different when they travel. It can take a toll on some people and they can act in ways that you would never have expected them to. Traveling with someone comes with an entirely different set of dynamics and challenges than simply just hanging out with them. Everyone does it differently.

One of my friend’s lost her shit in Incheon Airport when our group was separated during check-in. It turned out that the airport staff was separating us in order for the line to go faster, but when it’s the end of an 8-day trip and you’re exhausted and confused, things like these can seem like world-ending problems.

These things can happen to even the most composed and grounded of us. When you find yourself in a frustrating situation during travel, it’s not unheard of to react in a way that might be more intense than you normally would; even for things that seem insignificant. I had a friend who went on a five minute tirade when a waiter at a restaurant poured him the wrong kind of wine (complete with bits of cork in it). Similarly, my friends and I got lost in a seedy area of Bangkok and wandered for what felt like hours to find an elusive club. After a while, it all just got to be too much and I ended up acting like a dick to those who don’t necessarily deserve it.

I’ve been there. Traveling is an experience that can bring out different sides of people. That’s why it’s important to choose your travel buddy (or buddies) wisely. Here are three things to keep in mind that I’ve learned in my time traveling:

1) Discuss Expectations

Before you go anywhere, talk to the buddy(or buddies) that you’re planning to travel with. Some people are cool with staying in hostels; others find the idea revolting. If you’re jonesing to ride an elephant in Thailand, make sure that everyone in your party is comfortable with it – and be prepared to go it alone if they aren’t. If you want to have a day to just relax, let it be known. This doesn’t mean you have to plan and micromanage every day of your trip (unless that’s your thing), but you should definitely discuss with your travel partners what you hope to do and get out of the trip.

2) Don’t take things personally

A lot of times, when shit hits the fan, it’s due to several factors. Once, in Taiwan, my friend and I got into an argument at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. It was hot, disgustingly humid and I was exhausted from having walked around the city all day. I certainly did not MEAN to take out my frustration on him…but I did. After a few minutes of icy silence, we relaxed and things returned to normal.

It’s important to realize that a lot of the time, there are other things going on that can cause people to act differently than you expect. Try to keep a cool head and know that the frustration might not be completely directed at you. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s an important thing to remember.

3) Don’t be afraid to ‘Take a Break’

For someone who had never really traveled by himself, being alone in a foreign country was pretty daunting; especially when I understood a fraction of a fraction of what was going on around me. However, when things got a bit too tense between me and my travel buddies, I found that it was beneficial to split up for a short while. Sometimes I would pair off with someone who I was still getting along with and sometimes I would just fly solo. This is a great way to diffuse any kind of tension and give everyone a break from each other. Being together with someone for extended periods of time can be exhausting (e.g., my poor friend Yasmin).

It should go without saying that this should be done smartly, though. Even if you’re annoyed at your travel companions, letting them know where you’re going and the estimated time that you’ll be back is important.

While traveling is great, remember that not everyone travels the same way. . Some people prefer to experience it ‘on the real’ and sleep in hostels, wander backstreets and eat anything they can find. Other people prefer to spend the money to stay in a nice place and opt for tours and recommended restaurants.

There are several different ways to experience a location and I don’t think any of them are really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (except for maybe sex tourism…ugh). It’s important to not just be mindful about the culture you’re visiting, but also the dynamics of whoever you’re going there with. It can definitely bring out different sides of people, but isn’t that the magic of travel?!

What are your experiences with this? Have you ever had a travel buddy that you’ve just gotten sick of? Have you ever been that annoying travel buddy (like I was)? What do you think makes a great travel partner? Do you think unfavorable situations can be avoided? If so, how?

I would love to hear thoughts and opinions!