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?

 

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.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Futon

Right there, on the wall of my bedroom, was a cockroach.

I stared, frozen in disgust as it sat calmly on my wall – slightly camoflauged by the wooden perimeter that ran around the small room. Its spindly antennae moved back and forth inquisitively and I knew that it sensed my terror.

 

 

 

ゴキブリが大嫌い!!!

 

“Oh god oh god oh god oh god,” I repeated manically as if I had just found a dead body.

I took several deep breaths and tried to calm myself down. My revulsion at this intruder had rendered me nearly useless. I was revolted and hysterical but for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off the six-legged offender.

Composing myself slightly, I slowly made my way to the door of my bedroom. My bare feet pressed into the slippery surface of my tatami as I made my way out of my room. I hurriedly clomped down the stairs, causing a symphony of creaks and groans to fill the downstairs of my apartment.

I yanked the thin string of my ceiling light and it blinked slowly to life. A terrifying image came to my mind of a dozen cockroaches scattering across my floor, trying to escape the light. My friend Hermán’s words echoed in my head – “You know, I hear that if you see one cockroach in your house, it means there are about fifty more living there as well.”  How innocently he had relayed his little factoid – as if it were a piece of trivia we would hear and then file away for years.

Now, however, that was all I could think about. As I quickly made my way to the kitchen, I pictured an enormous family of cockroaches living in my walls. Zigzagging erratically across my floor when I wasn’t home. Having little cockroach pool parties in my mountain of unwashed dishes. Enjoying the cold air as they explored the inside of my wall-mounted air conditioning unit.

I held back a gag as I yanked open the cabinet under the sink. I kept a various array of cleaning supplies in here, along with my poison spray. I stared into the dark space with more than a bit of trepidation. If any place in my apartment was perfect for a huge family of cockroaches, I thought, it was most definitely this dark, cool space underneath my sink.

I snatched the can of poison spray and shut the door as quickly as I could. The design on the can was formidable looking and showed a red upside-down cockroach with a large X through it. The nozzle was apparently designed for heavy spraying which meant I would not have to be close to the offending insect.

When I got back to my room, I saw with a mixture of relief and dread that the bastard was still chilling on my wall, antennae swiveling back and forth on its gross, crispy head. I crept to the other end of the room and tugged my futon out of the way. I didn’t want to sleep in poison spray residue, after all.

Gripping the can in my shaking hand, I took a few more deep breaths. Your fear of bugs should not be this crippling, I chastised myself. It’s like four hundred times smaller than you are. And plus, you have poison. POISON.

As I psyched myself up, I began to feel an odd sort of remorse for killing the little guy. He’s only being himself, my emotional side chimed in. He’s probably cold. Maybe hungry or thirsty. And he just wandered in because he was trying to survive. Is that so wrong?

I stared at the cockroach again for a brief moment. Its black teardrop of a body was fairly large by cockroach standards. Its legs were jagged and almost hairy-looking. All the while, its incredibly long antennae wouldn’t stop moving.

I took a deep breath. It had to die. I wasn’t about to scoop it up nicely in a cup or with a piece of paper and kindly escort it out of my apartment. And I surely wasn’t going to let it roam free in the crevices of my place with the rest of its disgusting family. No, I decided firmly, this son of a bitch was going to have to be dealt with.

Readying myself, I tightened my grip on the can. My finger grazed the trigger and I steadied my aim. The cockroach’s antennae waved back and forth, paused for a bit and then continued to move alternately. I’m sure it sensed something was about to happen.

photo 1

Actual handrawn depiction of the events that transpired that evening

“Sorry, little dude,” I said, trying to sound simultaneously brave and apologetic. “You came into my house. I don’t wanna do this but you gave me no choice…”

I squeezed the trigger and a forceful spray shot out of the can. In the exact same instant, the cockroach leapt off the wall and flew toward my face. FLEW TOWARD MY FACE. Its wings made a sickening thump thump thump sound as they beat frantically against the air.

I let out a horrific shriek as I dove out of the way – something that must have sounded akin to a baby goat being attacked by a pterodactyl.

photo 4

Yes, my mouth really is that enormous

The newly-revealed flying cockroach made a sharp turn and crashed into the far wall of my bedroom. It fell on the wood perimeter of the room, safely off the tatami. Its spiky legs twitched, its body spasmed and, its (now obvious) wings flapped uselessly.

“YOU SON OF A BITCH!” I was now yelling. My finger was tight on the trigger, emptying far more of it onto the poor thing than was likely necessary.

It didn’t matter that it was now past midnight on a Tuesday. Or that the walls of my apartment allowed for every footstep, sneeze and snore of my elderly neighbors to be heard. Nor did it matter that said elderly neighbors and I had a fairly good relationship.

The only thing that mattered now was exacting revenge on this evolutionary freak of an insect that had taken me by surprise not once, but twice in the span of an hour.

After a few more seconds of adrenaline-fueled spraying and hysterical curse words, I released the trigger. The cockroach now lay glistening in a small lake of poison. Noxious fumes filled the area and I moved to crack open my window before I passed out.

Dramatically, I collapsed onto my tatami and covered my mouth and nose with my blanket. Nobody had told me cockroaches in Japan flew. I thought flying cockroaches were only a weird Floridian thing. What in the ever-loving christ was going on?

Before too long, I had a wad of far too many paper towels in my hand and I was standing over the insect again. Its angular legs kicked slowly against the air and my stomach turned in response.

Eventually, my heart rate slowed and my bedroom no longer reeked of insecticide. I had taken the cockroach in its massive tomb of paper towels and thrown it in the bag of perishable trash I kept in my freezer. I warily gave my apartment a final once-over before climbing the stairs to my bedroom again.

I don’t know what I would have done had I found another cockroach. Probably spend the night at a friend’s.

I verified that the walls, tatami and wooden perimeter of my bedroom were all bug-free before repositioning my futon. Shaking out the blankets diligently, I settled cautiously in to my futon, turned off the lights and tried not to think about where the cockroach had been before I found it.

 

*This is part of a larger story on my encounters with bugs in Japan. I hope to post more here sometime. Feedback is appreciated, as always! 😀 Do you hate bugs like I do? What’s your least favorite insect? Ugh.*

Super Moon in the Bus Graveyard

 

Powerlines

I had been sitting inside all day and was tired of it. I took the phone I had been spinning lazily in my hand and texted my friend Juan.

‘Hey, what are you up to?’

I had suddenly had a a crazy idea.

‘Wanna go watch the Super Moon tonight in a field with me?’

Juan’s response came quickly – he was down. He too had not been up to much this afternoon.

‘What kind of field are we talking about…?’

‘Hahaha. Don’t worry,’ I typed back, sensing that the ellipses were meant to convey a slight hesitance. ‘I’m not going to murder you, I promise.’

Soon we were off in my tiny car – two lawn chairs thrown in the back. The bottles of beer clinked softly in their small red vinyl lunchbox as my car bumped down the road.

We arrived not long after. Parking at a nearby business, we collected the beer and folding chairs and made our way across the busy road.

“So yeah, I don’t know if we’re technically allowed to go in here but…” I trailed off innocently.

“Yeah, it definitely seems like we’re NOT supposed to.” Juan laughed, gesturing to the locked metal gate.

“Technicalities,” I shrugged and handed him my folding chair.

I bent down and swung my body through the space between the wood of the fence.

“Plus, you’re a law student,” I said, bringing my other leg to the ground. “If we get into trouble, I know you’ve got our backs.”

The field I had promised was actually more of a dirt lot. It was a huge open area that sat between a housing development and a stretch of wild brush growth. Every so often, the lot would be filled with hundreds of cars for the area’s local gun show.

Now, however, it was occupied by a huge row of yellow school buses. There must have been at least eighty, lined up side by side. As we walked by them, we saw handwritten paper signs in the windows: NISD, CCISD, AUSTIN ISD, SAISD. In less than two weeks, they would be no doubt be driven out of here and dispersed across South Texas to transport returning students to school.

Although it was still light out, walking along the monolithic row of buses was still a bit eerie.

BusGraveyard

 

A small brown hare jumped out in front of us and dashed off into the brush to our left. Our eyes followed it and we saw that beyond the once-green vegetation, partially hidden, sat a creepy-looking ranch of sorts.

“What if someone is watching this place and shoots us?” Juan said with a nervous laugh.

“Oh man, that would be the most boring job ever!” I replied. “Can you imagine watching a dirt field like this all day? In the heat?”

Mild concerns slightly assuaged, we continued walking along. I stopped every so oten to snap pictures while Juan told me about the recent goings-on of his life.

Eventually, we found a spot right next to two gigantic electricity power towers.

We unpacked our chairs, cracked open our beer and sat there talking about our lives.

Behind us, a row of school buses bound for Corpus Christi sat watching in silence. Twenty or so feet in front of us was a long fence that protected a row of backyards. At one point, I caught a glimpse of a pair of sunglasses peering over one of the fences at us.  Apparently they didn’t think that we were much of a threat.

Our beer eventually ran out and we went to examine the buses behind us. To our surprise, they were open! We cracked open the sliding door and slowly made our way inside. We climbed the steps and instantly the smell of New Car hit us. These buses were brand new! We quickly exited, not wanting to disturb a brand new vehicle.

Powerlines

By this point, it was almost time for the Super Moon. We sat and watched the sky change as the sun made its journey on to the other side of the world. Wispy clouds burned in the sky and the massive power lines above us hummed with energy.

Soon, the Super Moon emerged on the horizon. It was massive and orange and we watched it ascend into the dark sky. It illuminated everything – I was able to see Juan clearly in the pale light it exuded. I took more than a dozen pictures on my phone, hoping foolishly that one of them would result in something other than a fuzzy ball of light. None of them did.

As we were sat watching the moon, mosquitos feasted on our legs and arms. When a large moth flew into my hair, prompting a flurry of shrill curse words, I knew it was time to head out. We packed up our chairs and began our trek back to my car. The moonlight gave the row of school buses an even creepier feel and we might have walked faster past them than we had on our way in. The brown hare bolted across our path again, bouncing effortlessly across the dirt.

We had most definitely trespassed but we did it responsibly. We took our trash with us, leaving nothing but our footprints in the dirt. I’ve always liked the traveler’s adage: “Take nothing  but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, waste nothing but time.”

And that’s just what we did.