My Spots in LA

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged; I’ve been trying to keep my head above water teaching. I’ll blog more when my time is my own.

I’ve done a My Spots in Manhattan and a My Spots in Shanghai. For some reason I didn’t get around to a My Spots in Seattle, or Taipei, or Manila.  Maybe someday. Maybe I’ll even do one for the Coachella Valley. Who knows. Here goes:

NELA Athletics. My friend E told me once, with a far-away, misty look in his eye, “You never forget your first box….” I wrote about Crossfit once here, and again here. The day after elections I dropped by the old Merge (they re-branded as Northeast Los Angeles Athletics; NELA) to buy a T-shirt, for old times’s sake. People were doing squat snatches, and Coach MJ was there, and I thought, aw, I miss this place. Coach MJ is the one who used to give me extra reps, so I would cuss him out. They didn’t have a T-shirt in my size, so Coach Paul sent me one in the mail for free!  I was a paying member there for two and a half months, and they’re still being nice to me. I loved that there was Sunday morning yoga, that I could catch a class on the hour AND on the half hour. I loved that they were effortless at being a diverse community; diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity, age, fitness level. I’m not sure I ever told them how comforting it was to work out with some brown people; it is Totally. Comforting. to not have to feel like a pioneer; blazing a trail for Filipino Americans every waking second.

India Sweets and Spices. All vegetarian Indian cafeteria. On a day when I was hungry, I’d get Combo #7: two curries, a scoop of rice, salad, yogurt, a pickle and a soda and it would set me back $7.00. On a regular day I’d get a Combo #3: two curries and a scoop of rice (I had to specify one scoop, because they default give you two), and they would charge me less than $5.o0. I would eat there every day, and I lost a lot of weight. They were super nice to me, too; they got to know my tastes… except the weekday afternoon lady, the daughter of the owners, never guessed correctly what I wanted. The curries were different every day. Usually there were homeless people eating there, or hanging out; they are welcome there and I think the family offers meals to hungry people. They are Hindus, there’s an altar in the dining room and they celebrate Hindu festivals. When some Indian Muslim customers came in for the first time, EVERYONE WAS SO HAPPY; the Hindus, the Muslims, the homeless lady, the chubby Filipino.  It’s not the most elegant place to see in LA but when my sister came to visit, she understood quickly why I ate there every day; the food was good and it felt good to be there.

Little Tokyo Marketplace.  They have free parking, and it’s easy. The banchan deli is good, the fruits and veggies are good, the fish is good. I get to drive through Chinatown and past Homeboy Industries to get there. There’s a Daiso next door.  I stop here on my monthly supply pilgrimages nowadays; I miss going here every week.

Jason Meyers Music. Jason gives private guitar lessons and runs the Atwater Village Ukulele Club. He’s an honest-to-God musician, so it’s one ukulele club that’s a lot of playing instead of a lot of yapping and mediocre singing.

Pescadores de Ensenada. These guys are the first fish tacos I discovered in LA, and also the best; I’m saying this after exhaustive research.  They only appear at the Sunday morning Atwater Village Farmer’s Market. They are just the best, a delicious light tempura fry. They also make grilled fish, which is rather fish-forward; also a tempura fried shrimp. They’ll also give you a tostada and spread frijolito on it if you ask. Yes, I ate my share of Ricky’s and Best Fish Taco; Pescadores is better.

Coni’Seafood. This is a Jonathan Gold spot down in Inglewood. Spectacular. Maybe I’ve had better mariscos at Playas de Tijuana.  Maybe.

Mariscos Mi Lindo Sinaloa. This place wasn’t spectacular but it was across the street from my apartment, and I keep going back, even though I don’t live there anymore.

Itocco Hair Salon. Kelly makes me look like a movie star, best haircuts I’ve ever had. I found the place just by driving into Koreatown on Western, finding a place with free parking, and then wandering inside to ask for a haircut.  Every time Kelly cuts my hair, I look into the mirror astonished by what she has accomplished, and then think it was all because of parking; a true Los Ángeles miracle.  I drive to LA every month now to get my hair cut from her, still. Some people ask me why I don’t get my hair cut in the Coachella Valley, and the answer is a definitive NO.  There is a reason Asian Americans all had the same bad haircut in the 80s, and it’s because we hadn’t found Asian people who could cut our black Asian hair to suit our fat American faces.

Mediterranean Delight. This might have been the one the few lunch spots near the office that I actually liked (besides Lola’s and El Morfi Grill). Good hummus, good falafel, good mahi mahi, salad without a sugary dressing.

El Ruby Café. This spot is a hole in the wall but the chile rojo is dark and smokey, slowly burning a hole in the back of your throat the way chile rojo should. I’ve tasted nothing like that in Seattle.

Pacific Fish Center. I go here to eat a crab with my friends. Tell the ajuma, “Large crab” and she calls back to the kitchen “¡Una jaiba, grande!” and the dude calls back with the price of the crab. Then you go sit, and when the hot crab comes to your table, you can tie on a bib and go at it with both hands. Koreans like that place because it was featured on a TV show in South Korea. Filipinos like that place because you can bring your own suka and make your own sawsawan. By the way, the steamed crab comes to you in sections, and they hand you a mallet if you’re one of those people that doesn’t know how to crack a crab with your teeth. Last time I was there, someone sitting behind me was hammering at the crab way too hard, I flinched at the sound because I could hear that juicy crab meat getting crushed and ruined. I asked my friends, “Is it… some white people behind me?”  That’s probably unfair of me but that crab will crack open with a tap-tap-tap; the lady behind me was doing Hulk smash!  Maybe she was working through some issues.

Quality Seafood. My sister and I are some oyster snobs so we only look at the oyster counter to sneer and make up condescending hashtags. Go to Seattle for oysters. In LA, get a medium sized sea urchin and split it between the two of you. They’ll steam you some clams, they’ll fry things in butter, it’s all there. But the story of LA seafood is the sea urchin.

La Tostadería. This counter in Grand Central Market is really a cevichería. There were a few places at the GCM that I wanted to try, even after I stopped eating land animals, but if there was an open stool, this is the only place I’d go.

There were other places I discovered, fancy bars that positive K took me too before ukulele club; fun dim sum places, and Taiwanese pubs in the San Gabriel Valley. There was a bowl of chili at that place in Burbank, the izakaya way way out in Little Osaka. Pupusas at the Watt’s farmer’s market. Boulevard Music where I bought my ukulele.

LA has good food, but the places are secret, and I left before I could develop a really precise food radar, like I had in Seattle. One thing I can tell you: burritos are good here, and I don’t even like burritos, and you can get a good one almost anywhere in LA. When in doubt, the King Taco carnitas burrito, ask for the chile rojo.

 

Laser Eye Surgery, Round 2

I’m sure the entire universe remembers that I had LASIK in 2008 when I lived in Shanghai, China. It was probably a little scarier than I expected it to be, because of culture shock, but my vision improved tremendously and I no longer needed glasses. Life was good. They warned me that I shouldn’t box or go surfing, that cigarettes would dry my eyes, and that my vision would change again after age 40… “the change.”

Then around my 41st birthday “the change” happened and I was back to needing glasses for daily life. Of course the prescription was drastically milder than the coke-bottles I had needed pre-LASIK, and because of my habit of going to Asia I could get all kinds of fashion glasses just for fun.  In Shanghai I got three pairs of prescription glasses for $80 USD made while-you-wait in under 30 minutes. In Taipei in 2012 I got brand name frames with titanium and all the fancy coatings for about $200 USD; they were ready to pick up in 24 hours. The same glasses might have cost me $1200 in the US and would have taken a week or two. I liked those Taipei opticians so much I went back to them in 2014.  By the way, glasses are expensive in the US because of a monopoly, according to 60 Minutes.

Anyway, I’m 44 now, living in Southern California, which means I do yoga and Crossfit and have become a pescatarian. I asked my eye doctor about more lasers and he said SURE and set me right up.  I scheduled the zapping for Christmas break so I could recover away from teenagers.  It would have to be LASEK this time, which means longer recovery.

Here’s how it went down, as I understood it. They taped my eye open, dropped some numb drops in and then put some tiny egg rings over on my cornea. The egg-ringsdoc dropped some acid into the egg rings while an assistant counted to ten. After the ten count, the doc lifted fished out my corneas with a pokey thing; the corneas came out like plastic wrap. They washed the acid out and then there was some bright laser-ing. The doc put in some drops and then put on a clear “bandage contact lens” and then patted me on the behind and said, “get outta here, kid.” The procedure didn’t last 15 minutes.  They gave me a face shield. I went home and slept.

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Before and After

The next day they saw me again, did and eye test, and tussled my hair and told me to come back in a week.  Yesterday I went in for that week-after check in. The doc pulled out the bandage contacts and did an eye test, and then put another bandage contact just in my left eye and said it needed to heal a little longer.  My vision is much improved, and I can drive in the day time with sun glasses, but is continuing to improve every day.

How was it compared to my LASIK in China?  It was a lot more comfortable for me.  The acid drops were about a thousand times less stressful than when they “cut a flap” in my corneas in China (the process includes a cigar trimmer).  Recovery of vision is much slower with LASEK but so far so good. One good thing is that with the LASEK I don’t have that corneal flap to worry about long term… so boxing and surfing, here I come!

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Wrapping up 2016

Here are some posts I haven’t written yet.

  • George Michael has passed away
  • My mama is making crusty bread rolls in the toaster oven in 15 to 20 minutes.  We are eating them greedily.
  • Fitness check-in: dropping meds, dropping carbs, making clothes fit
  • More laser eye surgery
  • I became a bow tie person.
  • Maybe Japanese is next.  I’ve been learning kana on the side.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of regular posting, which is tough, but I’m working on it.

Right now I’m in Vegas with the family.  Last week was finals week at work; we had our faculty Christmas dinner on a Thursday night and I was on the road to Vegas on Friday morning.  I took my parents to Rogue One, swanky bingo, and lunch at KJ Kitchen (a pretty good Cantonese seafood place).

JP’s Nine Tips for Asians Visiting the USA

chinese-tourists-taking-picturesWelcome Asian cousins!  We hope you enjoy your visit to the United States. I’ve put together some tips for you to help make your visit to the Beautiful Kingodom go smoothly.

  1. You can eat whatever you want. If you would like to spend your entire stay in this country eating hamburgers, pizza, and sandwiches, it is absolutely possible. However, if you’re getting a stomach ache, you can also eat rice and vegetables, that’s easy. Here’s the trick; ask us, your Asian American cousins, where to eat. Chances are we can steer you clear of blistery egg rolls and fried chicken with sugary glaze on it; we live here, we’ve dealt with this problem before.  Also, don’t assume that all the Asian food is going to be bad and that all the European food is going to be good; that is a stupid assumption, for stupid people.  Stupid.  One more thing, American sweets will be a thousand times sweeter than is necessary.  Maybe you’ll like it, maybe not.  If not, you can always go to a Cantonese, Japanese, or French bakery for cakes and pastries; they will have a more manageable level of sweetness that you are accustomed to.
  2. Flush the used toilet paper down the toilet.
  3. Clear your own plate and dishes when you can. It is considered tacky (uncivilized and ill-mannered) to walk away from a table with your garbage on it. If you are invited to eat at someone’s home, offer to help clear the table.  If you are eating at a restaurant where you are served at the table (your order is taken, your food is delivered, and your bill is brought to you), there is no need to clear the dishes.
  4. Tip your restaurant servers.  Add 15% to your restaurant check if you were served at the table at all.  Add 20% if your meal included alcohol.  You may tip more if you feel your server served you in a way that was more than what was expected.  If you feel you got bad service, tip 10%.  It is horrible to not tip a restaurant server in North America.  Horrible.  HORRIBLE.
  5. Wear your damn seat belt.  I will punch you in your stupid neck if you ride in my car without your seatbelt. Then I will put you out of the car and drive away. I don’t need you.
  6. You will see some crazy stuff. Listen, in this country your friends will pour soy sauce over their rice and explain to you that rice has no flavor.  They will find a way to put cheese on noodles, cheese on vegetables, cheese on soup; then they will ask you if you’d like extra cheese.  They will stay in the shower for a long time, and when they come out, the entire bathroom will be filled with steam and it will spill out into the hallway.  There will be mysterious invisible zones where smoking is against the law, and there will be times when you are not allowed to buy alcohol.  You will see homeless people and mentally ill people.  You will see the American flag everywhere, as if every day is National Holiday.  You’ll see people at Chinese restaurants who don’t know how to order family style; in a group of five people, four of them will order chicken and one will order fried rice and all of them will be surprised when their family sized portions arrive; they won’t share.  Just laugh, and let it go.  After a while we get used to it, and frankly, when we travel to Asia we notice a bunch of messed up stuff that you probably never thought of.
  7. You will see amazing things.  You will see bank lobbies with no chairs, no take-a-number system, because people finish their banking business within MINUTES of entering.  At a restaurant, a server might refill your water glass discreetly and quickly, without you having to ask and with no one interrupting your conversation, like a ninja. You will see people at parties who are not drinking booze because they are “designated drivers;” oh yes, things you hadn’t even imagined.
  8. Take pictures.  Avoid taking pictures of other people’s children.  But apart from that, who cares. Food, buildings, selfies, cops, take whatever pictures you want.  Just do it fast, and don’t make other people wait for you. If you are taking a picture and blocking the path, people might get frustrated with you. Or they might walk in front of you and ruin your picture.  Actually, me; I will walk in front of you and ruin your picture. Do it fast.
  9. Nobody is impressed by your fancy designer brands, your constant extravagant shopping, your display of wealth. In fact, we find it vulgar. Those things impress your aunties and uncles and peers back home, but here it makes you look like garbage, and I would feel disgusted to be seen with you. We know you have to impress everyone back home, so we will help you schedule a shopping trip, but please be discreet, and don’t assume that we share your need to talk about shopping all the time.  Puke.

There are my nine tips, I hope you find them helpful. Happy travels!

Special note to visiting Filipinos: make an itinerary and communicate that with us, your cousins who love you. I know you think you’re awesome by playing it by ear every single freaking day; however, that actually stresses out your American cousins. And when I say “communicate” I mean communicate with actual words that actually leave your damn head and reach us in the form of text or sound. No, seriously; bad planning and poor communication not awesome, it’s inconsiderate, we hate it, and we may end up resenting you.  Mabuhay!

 

“Proper Spanish?” That’s just my day job.

Somebody asked me the other day how to say “lunch” in Spanish.  Someone shouted “lonche” and someone else shouted “almuerzo.”  They looked at me, and I said, “la comida.”  Immediately one of the shouters snapped at me, “why do you always tell us different words?!”  It wasn’t a question, it was an accusation.

My best answer; my only answer:  “I’m not from here.”

Spanish in California is different from what I’m used to.  To my ear it sounds like northern Mexico, plus a distinct /b/ vs. /v/ distinction that just doesn’t exist in other varieties of Spanish, apart from maybe some Gloria Estefan songs.

And of course, my Spanish is different from theirs, and I know I sound weird to them.  I’m keeping a list of words that have stumped my Spanish speaking friends, colleagues, and students.  Some of the words are fancy and academic-sounding, like el simulacro and la tertulia.  Some are words that I know to be common in Mexico, like piropo, nefasto, but when I say them here, people blink at me.  In a conversation with my new colleagues I tried to refer to an all-boys school as todos varones, a term I learned from a colleague in 1998, and now I’m starting to think it was never the right term in the first place.  What do I know?

It’s not a nice feeling to use these words and have local people blink and squint at me. I’m trying to get them to like me, and here I am with these strange words they never heard of, I feel like a jerk.  Luckily my new friends are quickly getting used to me; instead of awkward vocabulary moments, they’re starting to just chuckle at me and ask me to explain my crazy word. This must be what it feels like for a speaker of  Australian English to be harassed by… me. By the way, if there is a contest for the nerdiest, most dorky way to explain the word tertulia, I won it this afternoon.

On the other hand, it’s a delight for me to learn local words.  The other day my friend used the word nortearse (which is definitely more charming when pronounced “nortiarse”).  I understood what it meant immediately (to get disoriented, discombobulated) but it was just agiphy surprise to hear it, because it sounds like the root word is “norte,” which cracked me up because it sounds like a comment on what happens when you go north… to the US.

My friend also took it upon herself to teach me the word chivearse, which, again, is more charming when pronounced “chiviarse” (to get embarrassed and go coy, to get flustered by a compliment).  The root word is “chivo,” a kid goat; which is adorable.

So my friend says she’s going to teach me the phrase “qué bolado” tomorrow.  I looked it up but I can’t wait to hear how she explains it.  I told her I would take notes.  She promised to teach me all of her slang, if I would teach her proper Spanish.

I’m told her I’m happy to teach her everything I know. You know, I’m thankful that I can speak Spanish and that people perceive it to be “proper.”  I, personally, don’t hear my own Spanish as proper; I hear a bunch of pronunciation and grammar mistakes, fumbling for words, and awkward expressions.  I think I’d much rather have native-speaker intuition and be able to tell a joke, to write a poem, to talk on the phone without anxiety, to  choose concise words and make powerful and moving statements, to understand stand-up comedy, or those adivinanzas, like this one:

Agua pasa por mi casa;
cate de mi corazón,
el que no me lo adivine
será un burro cabezón.

I understand all the words, but I don’t understand why those words are together, and I don’t get why when my coworker heard this one, she was delighted and said “that was a good one.”  The answer, by the way, is “aguacate…” high fives all around.

I would take slangy, colorful native-speaker intuition over “proper Spanish” any day of the week.  Besides, “proper Spanish” is just my day job; I want to leave it behind after the five o’clock whistle.

 

Locusts and Wild Honey

I have moved. To the desert.

Here’s the deal:  on July 1st, 2016, I quit my job at Age of Learning.  Since then, I’ve thrown a rooftop Fourth of July party, attended a teacher training workshop/surf vacation in San Diego, visited my parents in Las Vegas, found myself a place to live in Palm Desert, rented a truck and moved to the new apartment in Palm Desert…. Most of these things I did during the Great Sibling Sleepover; my sister tagged along with me for most of July and a couple of days in August. Having my sister with me was the best part! We spent a lot of time on the beach; siting on a sarong, watching the surfers.

Now I’m all moved in to my new apartment in Palm Desert. I’ve found a new Crossfit place to join, and I’ve found the Filipino grocery… which seems to be the grocery for the whole Asian communty.  I haven’t yet found a ukulele community, or a place to get my hair cut.

The nice lady at the Filipino market recommended a guy named Jesse, a Mexican, who cuts all their hair, “we all go to him.” She wrote down his number from memory on a slip of paper.  I might call him later, or I might just drive two hours back to LA so I can get my Koreatown haircut from the lady the calls me handsome and makes me look like I’m going to a gala.

I haven’t found a vegetarian Indian cafeteria in the desert like the one that was down the street from me in LA.  That was a big part of my nutrition program, that made eating a calorie deficit cheap, easy, and delicious.  Now I’m not sure what to do. I would eat locusts and honey out here in the desert… but actually both of those foods fall outside of my nutrition program.

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What I have found in the desert is a seafood restaurant which I refer to as Fisherman-thang since I can’t seem to remember the name of the place.  The first time my sister and I went there, we noticed that the staff was Mexican so we talked to them in Spanish. My sister ordered a campechana, and I ordered a big salad with grilled fish, grilled shrimp, and a handfull of crab on it.  It turns out my salad was super good and my sister’s campechana was super sugary and ketchupy.  I felt bad for her.

The next day our friend D drove out to visit, and we took her to Fisherman-thang for lunch, and this time D got the salmon salad, I got some mahi mahi tacos, and my sister got a bunch of fried things.  Their fried things are REALLY GOOD, they have it down.  The menu says that they beer-batter the fish but it’s tempura, I know.  Maybe they put beer in the tempura batter but it’s not that puffy ass beer batter that people think they like until they put it in their mouth and it tastes like puffy garbage.  Beer batter is the worst.  THE WORST.

We did some more casual hanging out in Palm Desert and then it was time to take my sister to the airport for her flight back to Seattle.  We dropped her off, there were hugs, and I was sad to see her go.  After that D and I went to the outlet mall, which is kind of spectacular.  I’m surprised to hear myself praising the outlet mall, but yah.

After the outlet mall it was time for dinner, and there was only one place that D and I wanted to go, and that was BACK TO FISHERMAN-THANG.  So to review, we ate there for dinner on one day, lunch the next day, and then dinner that same day.  YES it’s really good but don’t order anything Mexican from those guys, they’re cooking for gringos.

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I’ve had two days of new teacher orientation at my new place of work.  At the end of it our new teacher mentor told us to go out and do great work, “or however the kids are saying it these days.”  I immediately said, “slay,” and then regretted it, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.  There was no time to explain the context and proper use of that word.  Then again maybe it will come out wrong and they’ll talk about it.

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People might not say “hella” here.  I mentioned to a younger woman working at Goodwill that smoking was “hella expensive” and she asked “did you say that smoking was hell of expensive?”  Maybe it’s a different population than I would expect.

A Crossfit Addendum

This is an addendum to the Crossfit post I wrote over here, since apparently there were a few people who thought I talked too little about Crossfit.  I’ll do it in FAQ format in an effort to keep my answers focused.

How is Crossfit different than a traditional gym? I’ve said that Crossfit feels like the opposite of going to a gym to me, and I think they key word is “isolation.”

First of all “isolation” in the sense that at the traditional gym the exercises are meant to separate cardio from strength, biceps from quadriceps; there’s a machine that’s just for pecs.  In language learning terms, it’s like flash cards: one skill, again and again.

Second, there’s “isolation” in the sense that in a traditional gym, I feel alone. That’s awesome when I want to hide my fat rolls and lack of strength, but less awesome when I’m bored and I don’t know what to do, so I quit and go home.  It’s not just doing flash cards, it’s doing flash cards at the library.

To me, isolation is boring, unrealistic, and unsustainable.

Why does Crossfit feel like “the opposite of a traditional gym” to me? The key word is “integration.”  I’m doing very few moves that isolate muscles and more moves that try to integrate everything; upper and lower, strength and heart rate. Burpees, thrusters, farmers carries, muscle ups; things that feel accomplishy. You know, accomplishy, rather than endless and monotonous.

Another sense of “integration” is that I’m there with people.  I’m there with coaches, coaches who I’m comfortable working with, who know me personally, and who can offer me a huge variety of exercises at different strength levels so that I don’t have to keep that information in my head, I can just do it.  I’m there with classmates who encourage me and who don’t seem to give a single crap about my fat rolls or my lack of strength; people with weight, strength, health, and injury histories of their own. It feels, frankly, they way I want my Spanish classes to feel, where community and cooperation are much more important that individual achievement and competition.

What was wrong with my traditional gym experience? For years I thought I wanted free access to a traditional gym where I could go any time I wanted, so I could go when it was empty, and no one would have to witness my fat rolls and lack of strength.  I would go and do the eliptical trainer for a few minutes, watching a rerun of the Golden Girls on TV, and then do the freeweights or circuit machines that I remembered from 8th grade PE.  I had this kind of access in New York because there was a gym in my building.  When I moved back to Seattle, I joined a gym and paid $40 per month.  When I moved to LA, I picked an another apartment building with a gym.

The problem with this traditional gym plan is that I never talked to anyone, always did the same workout, never learned anything new, got bored with what I was doing, and didn’t want to go; it was a horrible chore to make a habit of going.

For crossfit, it’s different:  it’s a different workout every day, I’m learning new moves and new skills, and I don’t mind going. I have a habit of going.  I sass the coaches and sometimes cuss them out, and they keep teaching me new things and being encouraging.  I haven’t done a handstand pushup yet, or toes-to-bar, or climbed the rope, but nobody’s yelling at me or making me feel bad about it; I’ll just start at Level 1 and stay there until I’m strong enough for Level 2… Maybe it will take years to reach Level 3 or Rx, but who cares?  That’s the attitude my crossfit coaches have; I keep improving over time and they keep getting paid. Everybody’s happy.

 

 

 

The Health Journey, Part III:  The Crossfit Post

I’ve been doing Crossfit at Crossfit Merge now for about two and a half months, since mid April.  It’s two short blocks from my apartment, and every time I walk to a class I feel a low-grade dread as I wonder how I’m going to fail or be humiliated.

Yesterday I was introduced to the GHD, the Glute-Hamstring Developer. Imagine feeding yourself feet-first into a giant pasta roller, your face toward the floor.  Go into the pasta roller until it’s halfway up your quads, and from there, SUPPORTED BY YOUR QUADS, hip extensions:  you straighten your back and then raise and lower your chest.  It was terrifying, and I told the coach I was going to tip the apparatus forward, where I would fall on my face and break both my legs at the upper thigh.  Coach said if that happened he’d let me go home early.

In between sets of  hip extensions on the GHD, we were supposed to do “banded good-mornings” where you stand on a rubber band, squat down and hook it around your shoulders, and then use your glutes to stand up straight. I was pretty sure that the band was going to snap and fly sideways and flay my coach alive.  Coach said if that happened he’d let me go home early.

So when I started doing crossfit, people that hadn’t done it themselves exhorted me not to do it; they said it’s a cult that forces you to injure yourself. One friend said it’s just a fad, our generation’s jazzercize.  Two other friends have done crossfit; one who left because he kept injuring himself, and another who left because of injury but misses it terribly.

One of my friends, K, said that she went to the crossfit by my house, and she liked it a lot, that it was a different workout every day, and she wasn’t sure why she didn’t do it anymore. She said the atmosphere was very positive, and that it’s appropriate for all levels, and that it was right by my house.

So that’s when I signed up for Crossfit Merge; almost everybody warned me against end it, but K likes it and it was by my house.  I signed up because it was by my house.

After the first intro class I was dizzy for over an hour, and all that first week I had to throw myself into chairs like Betty Davis, since I was too sore to lower myself with control.  Sitting down on to the toilet was the worst, and I wished my bathroom had the big handrails like in the wheelchair-access bathroom stalls.  I messaged positive K and asked her if she was this sore after her first week of Crossfit Merge, and she said Crossfit Merge?  No, the place I went to was All About You Fitness, right by your house.

Once I realized I had failed to join the place K was so positive about, I thought about switching over, but by then I was already liking Crossfit Merge.  They are teaching me new exercises, looking out for my safety, and are encouraging and motivating without being drill sergeants.  If someone has an injury or is too inexperienced to do an exercise safely, they are quick to offer a scaled-down version of the exercise, an appropriate alternative.

It’s impressive, actually, how fast they offer you a scaled-down alternative when you ask for one, and that’s one of the key reasons why this is a good program for me.  I need a good coach in the room because there’s just too much technical knowledge involved in exercise for me to carry around in my head; it is a lot to remember.  Just yesterday it dawned on me that a power clean = a deadlift + a hang clean.  Is that right?  I DON’T KNOW.  My brain is full of French relative pronouns and Italian irregular past participles.  I don’t know the weightlifting moves; the coach knows.  Ask coach.

By the way, I noticed on my first day that the coaches all look like they’re wearing that fake superhero armor; the men and the women.  Except it’s not armor, it’s their muscles, with no help from the fabric.  I don’t want to be overly creepy about that, but I do feel like I made it in life when these kids with movie star physiques are paid to be kind to me.

Just a quick note about squatting:  there’s a lot of squatting involved in crossfit, and it turns out that I have a substantial cultural advantage in my ability to squat.  We work on squat position occasionally, and I’m able to go heels flat, full planting-rice right away, it’s a relaxed position for me, you might as well give me laundry to sort while I’m down there.  My coach said once, “That’s a deep squat, JP,” and I was like, “guh, this is how Filipinos wait for the bus.”  I’ll smoke a cigarette in that position.  The only thing is, squatting is a tense position in weight lifting; my Ilocana massage therapist warned me not to go all they way to “picking sweet potatoes” because then I’d be working harder to lift those weights.

I have a lot of silly stories and brilliant thoughts about crossfit now, but I know it can be off-putting to prosthelatize for the injury cult.  Suffice it to say, that I like Crossfit, for all the same reasons that I hate going to a regular gym–I didn’t get into that here but if you want to know, ask me in the comments.

If you want to join a crossfit box, read the Yelp reviews and look for comments that talk about how safety-oriented, and how kind the coaches are.  Coaches that make you feel bad or let you get injured don’t get your money.  Expect to be debilitatingly sore the first week, and if you’re as out of shape as I was, dizzy for an hour after the first workout.  If you want to know more, just ask me in the comments, because oh, I’ll talk about it…

The Health Journey, Part II: Calorie Deficit

Here’s that heartbreaking article that says that eating fewer calories than you expend is really the only way to to lose weight; that exercise is good for health but doesn’t directly make you thinner.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to create a calorie deficit lately:

  • I moved to a place where I’m not emotionally attached to the food.  I know there is good food in LA, but for the most part I haven’t found it yet, and realistically that is important to my weight loss.  Also, there is a lot of junky, cheap, tacky, low-quality food all around, and I don’t have a taste for it.
  • I’m diabetic, and that means that sugar and fruit juice are poison to me, and simple carbohydrates turn into poison in my blood.  I haven’t had a Dr. Pepper or a glass of orange juice in 10 years.  Anyway, I know not everyone is diabetic but I recommend to everyone to lose their taste for sugars and simple carbs.  
  • I’ve stopped eating land animals.  Part of it was the horrible meat industry, and the animals, and the environmental damage.  Also, part of it is that it’s an easy shortcut for eating fewer calories; it’s easy to explain to people and it’s easy to stick to.
  • I’m using a calorie tracker; loosely.  The one I use is My Fitness Pal, for the most part I can dial in a food by name and it already knows how many calories that is.  I don’t really care to track or record all my meals and calories, I just want to know where I am in relation to my calorie ceiling; if I go above, it’s weight gain.
  • I eat on time.  When I studied in Europe, I always came back thinner, despite eating calorie dense foods and dessert every night.  I noticed (everybody noticed) that my appetite was way smaller than in America, and I think my stomach may have actually shrunk.  I think this happened because I ate at regular times.

Ok, here’s specifically what I’m eating.

6:45 am — Breakfast before crossfit.  It’s usually a Glucerna meal replacement shake that the dietitian told me to start doing to get ready for bariatric surgery, and weeks of all-liquid diet.  There’s also coffee:  fresh roast, ground on the spot, french press.  No cream or sugar.

11:00 am — “Haimaiketako.”  An entire stalk of celery, sliced into sticks.  Or a few celery sticks and some hummus.  Or a green salad with some tuna on it.  It’s always vegetables.

1:00 pm — Bento lunch.   I try to make a lunch that I don’t have to refrigerate or microwave, so that I don’t have to talk to coworkers in the break room.  Usually I just grab a bunch of banchan from the Korean supermarket deli and cram it into the bento and call it lunch.  Here are some examples.

Sometimes I don’t get the chance to go shopping or pack a bento in the morning.  On those days I usually go to the Middle Eastern place and get either a Veggie Plate or a Grilled Mahi plate.  It’s too much food for me, I don’t eat all the rice or salad.


4:00 pm — Four o’clock fruit.  It’s usually an apple or a banana.

Anytime — Rescue snack.  It’s usually a handful of roasted almonds.

7:00 pm — Dinner. When I first started I ate a lot of ratatouille and salad.  Then I stared going to the all-vegetarian Indian cafeteria down the street, and just eating curries and dosas.

If I’m hungry before bedtime:  some kind of soup, like miso, or a vegan soup from the Italian lady at the Sunday farmer’s market.

I don’t know how long the breakfast shake thing is going to last.  It’s a convenient thing to do in the morning but I’d honestly rather fry an egg.  We’ll see.

Next time:  the crossfit post.

The Health Journey; Part I

Last year at this time (May 2015)  my doctor in Seattle said that my hemoglobin A1c was 9.4%, and that it was time for me to start insulin therapy; I would have to inject myself with insulin twice a day, through a syringe.  Wait, I said, I’m going to quit my unhealthy job, move to LA, and go back to a carless lifestyle, like when I lived in Manhattan and Shanghai, where my diabetes was under control.  The doctor agreed to hold off on insulin therapy, telling me that moving cities is a bad time to start insulin anyway.

In November I met with my new doctor in LA for the first time; he said nice to meet you, your A1C has dropped to 8.4% which is a nice drop but still dangerous, have you thought about gastric bypass.  And I said, oh, doctor, nice to meet you, I’m JP.

Two months later, I told the doctor I was ready to think about getting my stomach cut out, and he sent me to a bariatric surgeon, who sent me to a dietitian.  Because of my diabetes I qualified as a candidate for gastric bypass, but they don’t just hand it out.  They want to make sure you’re not going to be one of the people that gets the surgery and then gains all the weight back anyway, which is a mess.  This was in January, and they also did an A1C test and didn’t tell me the results.

At my first meeting with the dietitian, she asked me what I had eaten the day before, and when I told her, she said, ” I notice you didn’t have ANY FRUIT!” and then meta-morphed into a werewolf.  The werewolf went into a well-rehearsed monologue about whole grains and protein-centric eating.

For my part, my eyes glowed orange and flames shot around me as I shook the earth with the words, “WHITE PEOPLE HAVE THE MOST DEMORALIZING HEALTH FOOD ON THE PLANET.”  As I said the word “planet, ” I hovered about a meter above the Living Simply sofa.  We didn’t speak for the next twenty minutes, listening to a windstorm outside the shuttered window, sitting quietly.

That was the first meeting.  Weeks later at the second meeting, I told her, “I’ve stopped eating land animals, and I’m starting crossfit in the next cycle.”  For her part, she said she thought a lot about how ethnocentric a lot of her information was, and thanked me for bringing it up.  She hadn’t realized how most of the industry’s recommendations were by and for white Americans, and that for people like me, changing cultures to eat healthy was an added stress.

Last week (May 2016)  I had another appointment with my doctor.  He told me I had lost 15 pounds since my last visit and that my A1C way back in January was 7.4%, just above my target of 7.0% where it’s considered “well-controlled.”  The following day I went for another blood draw.

The results from that blood draw came back this week:  6.7% “well-controlled.”  I am no longer a candidate for insulin therapy. To celebrate, I ate a whole pecan pie.*

In future posts: the land animals, the crossfit.

*I did not actually eat any pecan pie.