Running

My first marathon went a little like this…

I raced and finished the L.A. Marathon this past Sunday. My first marathon, ever.

Can you believe that? I still can’t. But I did that.

Too many waves of emotion for this emotional woman. I woke up at 3:15 in the morning with minor abdominal pain, which freaked me out like my nightmare from several nights before. This pain’s been coming and going often since graduating from college, and I personally attribute it to my constant stress. I told myself Not today, Satan and calmly made myself my traditional long run breakfast: oatmeal with bananas, honey, and a spoonful of almond butter.

My brother, dad, and I arrived to Dodgers Stadium, the starting point, at 5:00. I rested in the car with them for a while until my bladder was about to explode and I really had to get out. When I parted with my family and headed toward the stadium, I imagined this was probably what Katniss Everdeen felt when she parted with her little sister for the Hunger Games, scared and all. The only difference was that I knew I would come out of this challenge alive and safe.

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Runs a marathon once.

My anxiety exacerbated as I observed my surroundings at the stadium: People in large groups stretching together, people looking like they already ran 10 other marathons with their defined calf muscles and biceps, people covering themselves with disposable thermal blankets as they curled up against the wall for warmth, way too many people in one place. Needless to say, being surrounded by all the super-athletic prowess intimidated me. I almost forgot to mention I took way too long to find an accessible restroom. (Good news: I found it in time.)

I met up with my brother and dad just before the race started. I’m glad I did because being with them calmed me down. I jumped into the open corral with the rest of the 20,000+ runners eager to start. The crowd started moving forward, and the next thing I knew, I went from walking to jogging. The adrenaline kicked in.

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A selfie to commemorate the start of the race.

For once, I let go of all my nerves and let myself be in the present with everyone else. For once, I kept up that mentality all the way through. Unlike all my other runs during training, I quickly recognized and shut down any burdensome, worrisome thoughts. I don’t recall thinking hard about anything, if at all. A lot of the times they were short bursts of positive reminders like this:

Erika! Look around you!

Look at all the people cheering for you and feeding you water and Gatorade and orange slices!

I didn’t care for orange slices before but now I love orange slices!!!

Let the love flow through you! 

And don’t forget the electrolytes so you don’t cramp later!

Wow I love water. Mmm. Water really is life.

Did you feel that breeze? Thank you, breeze!

As a lifelong SoCal resident who has visited a good amount of the landmarks along the course, I enjoyed the scenery. It allowed me to reminisce fond memories associated with those places. Little Tokyo (aka my favorite hang-out spot), where I carbo-loaded on ramen and fried rice at Daikokuya two nights before the race; Silverlake, where I celebrated a birthday brunch for a dear friend; Pantages Theater, where I saw Wicked with my mom when I was 13; TCL Chinese Theater, where I’ve taken many of my family and friends visiting from Japan… and so on. It brought a smile to my face.

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Taken at Silverlake, around Mile 7

Weird thing is, I ran a lot faster than usual. By the time I reached mile 13, I felt confident to finish my race in a timely manner. Another one of my biggest fears for race day: not finishing by the 6 hour 30 minute mark set by the race officials. Even weirder, aside from pain in my small toenail and a dull lower back ache, I felt totally okay. I must have nourished myself well and ran at a good pace.

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2017 L.A. Marathon course map, courtesy of the L.A. Marathon website

There were many times within the last 10 miles when I planned to walk after a song ended. Then a new song started and got my energy up, so I continued my stride.

I fought myself mentally for the three miles before the left turn on Ocean Avenue. It doesn’t help that I’m nearsighted and the last several miles seemed like there would be no end in sight. Though, actually, a dense fog crept up along the shores of Santa Monica so I really couldn’t see far away. Hah.

The final stretch on Ocean Avenue was surreal. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Of course I was ecstatic to make it to the end. By the last 100 meters, with spectators lined up along the finish line, I gave it my all and pumped my arms and carried my legs in a sprint. As strange at it seems, when I crossed the finish line in Santa Monica, I couldn’t help but think, Wait, that’s it? How did I end up here?

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A lesson learned: trust my heart and the rest will follow.

But I did that. And so did the tens of thousands of runners around me. All the blood, sweat, and tears from training paid off. I proved to myself that I can do anything with a full and intentional heart into it. While I was the only one being harsh and doubtful on myself for skipping a run or workout during training, my family and friends always believed in me. I can’t imagine a more steadfast love than that.

After the race and all throughout today, I’ve been resting my mind and my body. I went to a spa near my house today. When I gave my thighs a little squeeze after a relaxing bath, I thought to myself Wow, my muscles are f-cking strong. My thighs, my calves, my feet, my arms, my lungs, my whole body, my mind, my spirit carried me all the way. Thank you muscles and blood vessels for doing your thing. For keeping me alive and healthy.

It’s getting late and I need sleep (almost 2 AM). You bet I’ll sign up for another marathon 😉 Good night.

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Erika's Weird Dreams, Running

The nightmare before my race

At the starting line, I carried a big black bag and a fanny pack I decided not to use for my race. I saw an acquaintance in the crowd and asked her to carry it for me. She said no.

Meanwhile I saw another friend take off with someone else. To be more specific, this is the same friend who ran the half-marathon with me in 2014.

From a distance, I saw my dad walking away from the starting line. Feeling weighed down by all the bags I carried, I dragged myself toward him and asked him to hold onto my bags until I finished my race. He said no.

In between me and my dad, a seemingly friendly stranger interjected and offered to carry my bags. This stranger was a big white dude, undoubtedly a weeaboo, who gushed to me about his obsession with Japanese culture and anime. Gross. But I had no choice.

He handed me his smartphone so that I can input my contact information. I noticed his keyboard was in Japanese, enabled with the handwriting recognition.

 

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In case you’re wondering what’s a handwriting recognition?

 

I was already rushing to get going with my race, yet the smartphone wouldn’t recognize the characters for my name no matter how many times I wrote my name in Japanese. At this point everyone already started racing… except me.

And then I woke up.

The sun’s about to set over here in Pacific Standard Time and I’m still thrown off by this silly dream. I’m gonna go on a walk, blast 24K Magic into my ears, and embrace my anxiety (compounded by other life things, but that’s another story).

And stay hydrated. Can’t forget that, either. *chugs water from my 40oz hydroflask*

I trust myself and I know that I have what it takes to run a full marathon!!

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Running

A running advice for those who get distracted and/or discouraged easily

Passed on by my good friend Jessica, who did cross country in high school, here’s my favorite long-distance running advice:

While running, keep your eyes and mind focused on an immovable object 30-50 feet away from you. Once you pass that landmark, pick a new focus point. And repeat.

For example, you’re running on a road with multiple lamps lined up alongside it. You can randomly pick a lamp that’s 50 feet away and run toward that lamp. Say there’s six lamps spread out between you and that said lamp, you can also count down the number of lamps you pass from your starting point to your landmark.

I like setting small, mental landmarks like this because I get distracted easily in my own thoughts. Oftentimes my mind becomes clouded with negative thoughts, like not being able to see a clear end in sight and thus feeling discouraged from completing my distance for that day. So picking a random object within reasonable distance and running toward it keeps me focused and motivated.

This advice is probably more helpful for runners who are training on their own, as I have been training solo this entire time. Pray for me as I attempt 18-20 miles tomorrow.

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Politics

When a fire starts to burn…

Content warning: police brutality, state-sanctioned violence, white supremacy

Amid the outright disorder that is the current 45th president’s administration, a string of incidents occurring locally and nationally has been particularly difficult for me to process.

At the local level, yesterday afternoon in Anaheim, an off-duty LAPD officer instigated an altercation with a 13-year-old boy, eventually firing his gun at the scene. It all started with the officer yelling at a girl to get off his lawn, and the 13-year-old boy confronted the officer in defense of the girl…

At the national level, the state of North Dakota ordered an evacuation of the resistance campsite at Standing Rock, where a demonstration against the Dakota Access pipeline construction on indigenous land started back in April 2016. The movement sparked a wave of resistance across the country and throughout the world, exposing environmental racism that has disproportionately affected indigenous folks, Black, and brown bodies for decades. Let’s not forget that the Army Corps of Engineers rejected the original pipeline route that would have been built through Bismarck, a city with a predominantly white population.

Seeing the videos and reports of the militarized police forces demanding indigenous people and water protectors to overwhelms me. Either they leave or get arrested for defending the very resource that sustains all of us on this earth. Silencing the water protectors allows for state-sanctioned genocide to continue.

As someone who went to Standing Rock for several days last September, I feel so fucking heartbroken. (Pardon my French.) A space where all walks of life gathered out of love for the people, the need to defend the sacred, in one place to combat white supremacy. I’m eternally indebted to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that allowed me to stay as a guest, as well as to the indigenous people who fed me and my friends. I’ll always treasure the friendships and camaraderie that developed from the beautiful folks I met during my time at the resistance camp.

But I carry Standing Rock with me. Like the hundreds who have been at Standing Rock at some point within the past ten months, we’ve carried back to our own communities a piece of that fire that ignited at Standing Rock– the flame that brought all of us together. In fact, Standing Rock is everywhere, and we must speak up locally to spread the fire, to tap into public consciousness…

Once a fire ignites in me, it can never be put out. Try me.

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Dreams, Erika's Weird Dreams, Music

It was all a dream, or was it?

I’ve been seeing interesting dreams lately. In the most recent episode, I played my sax in front of my friends and a large crowd at a dimly lit, yet spacious venue. Velvet draperies decorated the interior. I was a bit nervous at first, simply blowing air through the horn, playing a one-note melody, keeping it as simple as Miles Davis soloing in “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” Next thing I knew, the accompanying bassist, drummer, pianist, and I grooved organically to each other’s sounds and motion. My friends cheered us on as my solo intensified. I felt alive.

But it was all a dream. I woke up and thought, “When’s the last time I felt that alive?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had countless ecstatic moments over the years. The last time I felt that particular way was June 2012. My high school jazz band performed our final concert of the school year; for me, my last performance as a high school musician. For background, my jazz band dealt with serious conflict that had me and several other members wondering if we’d make it to the end altogether. Looking back, our band drama could have been a prequel to the 2014 film Whiplash… except rated PG and without any band mate getting into a major car accident on the way to a competition.

For this final concert, one of our numbers was Charles Mingus’s “Boogie Stop Shuffle.” Since we performed this tune at festivals and concerts all year long, and on top of the drama, we were so done. As planned, I was one of the soloists for the song.

Unlike previous performances, we had an alum on the drums since our regular drummer had quit before the concert. Despite all the drama that went down during my last year of jazz band, I decided to let go all of the stress and enjoy playing the music for one last time.

As planned, I improvised within the usual 16 bars or so. Then, without prior rehearsing, I started trading fours with the drummer. Akin to a conversation between two people, we played off of each other, anticipating what sounds would come out of us in reaction to our improvisation, culminating in the most energetic moment…ever. And, like the aforementioned dream from last night, I felt alive. Adrenaline rushing through my body, through my fingers pressing down on the keys, through my breath vibrating within the bell of my horn. My friends and family in the audience felt me, too.

When my solo ended, I was breathless, I was euphoric. The drama no longer mattered, everyone let loose, and we made it to the end. Everything turned out okay 🙂

…So I bring up that anecdote from almost five years ago (oohmygoodness I’m old!!) because I woke up this morning with that exact feeling from my last high school concert. Riding on the dreamy wave of excitement, I fixed myself a small breakfast and sat myself down in front of my piano. I sight-read some tunes from a book filled with piano arrangements from Studio Ghibli films. Being a lot more literate with treble clef than bass clef, I saw the sheet music for the first time and played with my right hand. I even sang along to the Japanese lyrics written within the bars while my fingers pressed on the black and white keys.

Although I bicker about being in the suburbs, I am thankful and privileged to have plenty of time to play the piano, to train for the marathon. Experiment in my creative side without the pressure of weekly deadlines or having to mold my words in dry academic language. Let my body digest food and water well enough before I run or workout without rushing myself in between work, school, and studying.

I’m working towards reaching that point of euphoria, but who knows how that will manifests? Someday, I hope to find a healthy balance of all these things that fulfill me.

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Music

Music Monday: Four Tet

I don’t listen to electronic music very often, but when I do, it’s Kieran Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet.

“Parallel Jalebi” is my current jam. From his 2013 record Beautiful Rewind, Four Tet names the track after a deep-fried sweet snack popular in North Africa, Middle East, and South Asia. It’s moody, it’s sensual. Take a listen if you will…

If you ever get a chance to see Four Tet playing near you, DO IT.

Fortunately my friend had an extra ticket for his six-hour DJ set at a Far Away show in L.A. last October. During this set, he was on a roll with saxophone solos on funk tracks that hit all the falsettos. One sax solo held a high note long enough that people around me looked terrified and disgusted; the looks on their faces were priceless. As a saxophone player/lover, I was pleased.

My appreciation for Four Tet grew when he recently curated a Spotify playlist featuring artists from the seven countries listed under the travel ban enacted by the 45th president’s administration. With over 30 hours of music, his selections range from Syrian oud player and previous collaborator Omar Souleymann to Iranian songstress Simin Ghanem. His reaction is one of thousands in the U.S. and around the world condemning a policy motivated by xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism.

Four Tet’s own form of resistance against the 45th president gives me a bit of hope amid all the mess.

Check out Four Tet’s Spotify playlist here. [Side note: he continuously adds music to this ever-growing playlist, which started back in September 2016]

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Running

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The most impulsive decision I’ve made since moving back to my hometown suburbia after graduating college? Signing up for the L.A. Marathon.

When I signed up, I was in no physical or mental shape to handle a full marathon, let alone a 5K. I usually put a lot of thought into my decision-making process, even going as far as carefully brainstorming a pros and cons list. During my last year of college, I neglected my physical health, often eating compulsively as a coping mechanism for my stress.

I was a mess.

But there’s several factors that compelled me to go for it…

  • The early bird registration rate was about to end on the day I signed up, so I wanted to take advantage of the discount.
  • In 2014 I raced and completed a half-marathon with my best friend who I lived and trained with during that time.
  • I dug myself into a destructive black hole since moving back to my old home.
  • The little voice inside me, which I pushed away for the longest time, insisted I had to get out of said black hole before it was too late.

Plus, my friend Megan inspired me. Funny enough, I was rolling around on my couch while mindlessly sifting through my social media newsfeed. Amid the endless images and texts, Megan’s post caught my attention. She wrote about her commitment to train for the L.A. Marathon, which was about five months away at the time she posted about it. I thought, “Wow she’s so bad-ass!!!” Until that point, my only exercise consisted of walking to and from my fridge and taking frequent naps.

I knew I had to do something. I knew I could do better, be better than this. A Gemini can’t sit still for too long.

Since the beginning of November I’ve been training. It’s empowering yet frustrating. As I started adding mileage and gaining confident with my physical endurance, my lower back started hurting to the point where I had to hold off training for about a month. I’ve had lower back problems since 2013 so I anticipated it at some point. After much-needed rest and recovery, I got back into running and working out regularly. I’m not sticking to my original plan, but when do I ever?

I’m still battling my personal demons that have existed long before I signed up for the marathon. One positive result so far is reclaiming my self-control. When I hit the pavement or dirt trail, I tune out everything around me. I focus on my breathing, making sure I’m breathing in and breathing out in a 4-count rhythm, always starting with my left foot. (Thank you, marching band, for ingraining rhythm and physical motion in me. No, I don’t run in an 8-to-5 stride.)

The L.A. Marathon is in 30 days (!!!). I’m nervous from thinking about the stretch from Dodgers Stadium to Santa Monica Pier. I think I can do it.

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Essay

Reflection Across the Pacific

Around this time last June, I traveled in Okinawa to do fieldwork and to attend the 70th
anniversary of Okinawa Memorial Day. I remember the weather being humid and unpredictable between rain/sunshine throughout my stay, but skies were clear for June 23, this day of remembrance.

As a Japanese American, I felt conflicted while learning about the devastating history of the Battle of Okinawa, a battle that forced Okinawans to fight and die for their colonizer Imperial Japan against the US. Over 200,000 civilians died from the bloodshed that took place on the ground, on their own land which no longer belongs to them. This trip made me rethink how overseas US presence harms the local people it purports to “protect”, how the effects of colonization distort cultural and national identities, how we grieve and value the loss of certain lives over others when tragic events take place.

I think I felt conflicted because, until last June, I didn’t know that much about Okinawa other than its appeal as a ~tropical getaway~ and the sugar cane fields. But after studying about its history and having the privilege to visit different areas, I realized that the central government and the US silences the opposition voice of the people, dismissing them as uncooperative in bilateral relations. With silence comes absence of awareness about these indigenous struggles that not only take place in Okinawa but in other places around the world– Honduras, Palestine, Guam, Diego Garcia. Hell, none of my history textbooks in my American public education ever mentioned the Battle of Okinawa. After all, the winner gets to write history.

In light of the recent murder of 20­-year­-old Rina Shimabukuro at the hands of a male US civilian worker, has anything really improved for the people in this prefecture? How can the government ignore the persistent outcry of its own people, those who live through the trauma of their ancestors?

The wound remains fresh, a constant reminder of the lives that continue to be slain at the hands of colonial powers.

To this day I still think about Okinawa.

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Life story

A Day at the Gardner Museum

As Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month wraps up this month, I want to share a story that I’ve only told a handful of close friends because I get so emotionally riled up whenever I talk about it…

My mom and I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on a cloudy Saturday afternoon in April. This one-of-a-kind museum displays all the antique furniture, artwork, letters, and collections by Isabelle Stuart Gardner, a wealthy socialite in the late 1800s-early 1900s with solid connections with people in the arts and literature world. In fact, she hired some architect to bring her vision of a three-story Venetian building to life, including a gorgeous indoor garden. She used her social status to establish a vibrant, cultural spot in Boston that continues to flourish today.

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Because of the small physical space within the rooms and hallways, the museum enforces a strict rule toward visitors to keep their hands, jackets, and/or bags to themselves. Otherwise, such items could knock down and potentially ruin the treasured displays. Unlike most art museums where there’s lots of open space within and between displays, the Gardner Museum is basically like entering the private world of a rich white woman.

Earlier on the ground floor, a museum guard had warned my mom to carry her bag over her shoulders so as not to swing it around and break something. We made our way to the third floor, looking around in awe by all the things Gardner acquired and preserved throughout her life.

My mom had been carrying her jacket and bag on her arm until a big museum guard of (presumably) Eastern European descent, “Lily”, told her to put the bag over her shoulder. Using minimal words and mostly gestures, Lily showed her how carrying a bag on the arm could increase the risk for damage. My mom understood and did as instructed, while keeping her jacket on her arm.

We walked through the hallway and entered another room, where another guard instructed my mom to wrap her jacket around her waist. My mom was a little confused since she was already asked to put her bag over her shoulder. Of course, Lily happened to walk by during this interaction and lightly interjected, “Oh, I already told her before, she means well.”

Lily told my mom to wrap the jacket around her waist, and then turned her head to me.

“Are you her daughter? Can you tell her she needs to wrap the jacket around her waist? I’m trying to tell her but she doesn’t understand English.”

I immediately shot back, “Excuse me, you never told my mom about the jacket. You only mentioned the bag.”

We exchanged a few more words and at this point my blood started boiling. How dare she assume that my mom didn’t understand English. Lily had only one job as a museum guard: be clear with the rules to visitors, not be a condescending scum about it.

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How I felt when Lily disrespected my mom

Frustrated, we took our grievance to the museum security supervisor, a gentle but assertive Algerian man.

After we explained our complaint and identified the guard, he called over Lily, who acted oblivious about the whole situation. We went to the basement of the museum and he mediated our conflict. My mom and I told Lily that she disrespected and humiliated us in front of everyone, to which Lily claimed only three of us were present to hear the conversation. Lily kept defending herself, trying to get away with it, saying that she’s never received that complaint in her two years of working at the museum until that day.

Nonetheless, Lily gave a half-hearted apology and left. The security supervisor profusely apologized on her behalf and told us she would be dismissed from her job if a similar situation occurs again.

More than a month has passed since this incident. I can’t help but think about the hardship that my mom endured as a Japanese immigrant who knew little to no English when she first arrived to the states in the 90s. The conscious decision she made to leave her homeland for a better life in the states, for me and my older brother to thrive. I can’t help but think about all the other revolutionary immigrant women and moms who came before me.

Here’s to the women who restart their lives on foreign soil, the women who constantly give their love and energy through their labor without expecting anything in return, the women who fight for racial and social justice in their communities.

Lily most likely has gotten away with saying “You don’t understand English” to other visitors who come from all over the world, from places where English is not their native language. As Asian Americans, we’re so often stereotyped as quiet, submissive, and complicit to the system. Mind you, this system has excluded Chinese immigrants from entering the country (see Chinese Exclusion Act 1892), arranged internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, forcibly separated families through US intervention in their homelands, among countless other cruelties. With the rise of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments today, these patterns of exclusion and misunderstanding will only tear people apart… unless we do something about it.

But I digress. I simply could not let this woman get away with her remark, belittling my mother’s non-native language ability– another small reminder that America is not her home.

As the daughter of an immigrant, I refuse to remain silent.

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