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    Am I cut out for CrossFit? Probably not and here’s why

    Above video: A clip from HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” season 1 that summarizes my feelings about competitive exercising like CrossFit, feelings admittedly rooted in my own insecurities and weakling status. I own that.

    Earlier this year, during a CrossFit competition called the “OC Throwdown” – a pre-cursor to the CrossFit Games – Kevin Ogar attempted an Olympic lift that would, within seconds, render him a paraplegic. One of the top athletes in the sport, Ogar, a former rugby player and CrossFit coach in Denver, was surely no stranger to the highly technical maneuver, but his slight move backwards caused him to drop the bar, 240 pounds in total weight, and sever his upper spine. The video of Ogar’s injury is disturbing, to say the least. Striking still is his reluctance to blame CrossFit for it.

    If you pay any mind to workout trends like I do (albeit as an easily-bored, obligated exerciser), you have heard of CrossFit and have at least one friend who cannot stop singing its praises in terms and zeal that border on fanatical: they’re in in the best shape of their lives, they’re healthier than ever before, bad karma erased, the list goes on. The CrossFit movement is emboldened by its 10,000 worldwide affiliates (gyms in laymen’s terms; “boxes” in CrossFit parlance) and its acolytes, over 200,000 of whom signed up to compete in the CrossFit Games Open, the worldwide qualifier for the ESPN 2-broadcasted CrossFit Games.

    Above video: Highlights from the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games broadcast on ESPN 2 where men and women competed to be the Fittest on Earth.

    CrossFit, at its core as an exercise philosophy, involves (very) high-intensity interval training in a compressed time frame. What it boils down to – with variations – is doing as many rounds as possible of set exercises dubbed “WODs” or “workouts of the day” usually with minimal rest. There are Twitterfeeds devoted to posting WODs or take your pick from a variety posted on the CrossFit website. Pick your pull-up poison; it’s all in the name of achieving elite fitness.

    “What is ‘elite fitness’?” you might be wondering. That depends on who you ask. While some have set out standards for being elitely fit, a sort of one-workout-to-rule-them-all, more generally, “elite fitness” seems to be an umbrella term for achieving the ability to complete the rigorous exercise regimens once only familiar to Navy SEALs and members of law enforcement and the military, populations with which CrossFit is immensely popular. Celebs have jumped on the WODwagon, too.

    “Forging elite fitness” (CrossFit’s motto) is also big business. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman is not what you would call a traditional businessman, but he might be a marketing genius. Operating on a unique model built on a network of, more or less, independent entrepreneurs who essentially buy into the CrossFit brand, the company pulls in around $100 million in revenue. It’s generated mostly from licensing fees and seminars that could turn anyone – even me! – into a Level 1 Certified CrossFit trainer for a $1,000 flat fee.

    In theory, after I complete my Level 1 certification, which includes a multiple choice test and completing a rigorous WOD called the Fran (okay, so maybe I can’t be a CrossFit gym owner), I could open my own “box” – a purposely generic term since it can be customized to the owner’s liking under the CrossFit brand. Box owners pay a $3,000 annual licensing fee, although early owners have been grandfathered in at rates as low as $500.

    To the marketing genius end, not only has Glassman founded an entire workout methodology/philosophy/lifestyle and created a lexicon around it (WODs, boxes), he’s co-opted some of the less-than-flattering buzz around CrossFit into the brand. There’s “Uncle Pukie” alternately known as “Pukie the Clown,” a vomiting clown mascot speaking to CrossFit-induced vomiting that’s made puke buckets box staples. A 2005 New York Times article detailed one new CrossFitter who landed in the ER after his inaugural workout with a debilitating condition known as rhabdomyolysis where muscle breaks down and causes kidney damage. Uncle Rhabdo, a fatigued clown hooked up to a dialysis machine, was Uncle Pukie’s corporate mascot cousin for awhile.

    It’s all very fascinating how CrossFit has turned puke and the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue into tongue-in-cheek marketing tools. Indeed, Glassman himself has acknowledged that CrossFit “can kill you.” But it’s precisely that weed-out-the-weak branding that has made me hesitant and, admittedly, intimidated about ever stepping into a box.

    Then there are the CrossFit-related injuries which have drawn criticism from various fitness professionals and doctors mostly because of inconsistent and unregulated programs that push participants to levels of physical activity for which they are unprepared. But before I get a deluge of hate-mail, let me be clear: certainly, correlation does not imply causation. One study cited the CrossFit-related injury rate at three per thousand hours of exercise, similar to rates in gymnastics and Olympic lifting. Every sport has its inherent risks. Living has inherent risks.

    But the CrossFit brand is bolstered by such vocal practitioners that I often wonder what they’re preaching about. The word “cult” has been thrown around, but I find that way too charged – “community” seems more appropriate. Furthermore, members of said community continue to promote it even when assuming those risks don’t work out in their favor: Ogar is now confined to a wheelchair and no longer competes but continues to train other CrossFit athletes.

    One of my favorite scenes from HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” season 1 is of a conversation between generously-mulleted Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) and his boss (Andrew Daly), a smug school principal bragging about training for an upcoming triathlon, to which Powers responds, “I play real sports, not try to be the best at exercising.” Chuckle, chuckle. It’s a clip I like to shove in my marathon-running, triathlete friends‘ faces mostly out of insecurity because I know I could/would never elect to do what they do. I would probably give up halfway through mile one.

    Competitive exercising just isn’t my bag, so then by extension, I have assumed that neither is CrossFit. But then again, if I were to try sell someone on surfing knowing full well there are sharks in the ocean and rocks and – most dangerous of all – other surfers while singing the sport’s praises, I would probably sound like some evangelist; I would probably sound like a dedicated CrossFitter.

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    Watch: Jasmine Villegas indulges my back-up dancer fantasies, does acoustic performance.

    Jasmine Villegas is currently blowing up the radio with her single “That’s Me Right There” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and she breaks it down acoustic style in the Young Hollywood studio. With over 760,000 Instagram followers and over 1.5 million on Twitter, the pop star – who made her big debut in Justin Bieber’s music video for “Baby” – is no stranger to navigating the often treacherous waters of social media. We sit down to chat about that, her ultimate R&B idol and how I can achieve my lifelong dream of being a back-up dancer.

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    Is it possible to have a strategy in fantasy surfing?

    Above video: Highlights from the Moche Rip Curl Pro 2014 in Portugal, where top seeds Gabriel Medina and Kelly Slater were knocked out in Round 3 by Brett Simpson and Aritz Aranburu respectively. Neither Simpson nor Aranburu are in the top 10 of the ASP WCT rankings.

    Playing fantasy sports is a bit like eating kale: hey, don’t knock ’til you try it. I never really understood the appeal of marinating in front of the computer for hours, looking up player stats and then round robin-ing on conference calls to draft players with friends and co-workers. Was it about the competition? The camaraderie? Or the cash? Being the manager of anything sounds like a huge headache, so why play pretend? Well, now I get it, although I would call my experience in fantasy sports a little skewed.

    Currently, I’m lone wolfing it in two fantasy surfing leagues, the ASP’s and Surfer Magazine’s Fantasy Surfer, where I build my dream teams of WCT competitors ahead of every stop on the tour. Unlike in football, basketball or baseball, where the actual landscapes upon which the games are played don’t change, surfing is a strange beast for which to construct a fantasy team. A court is a court whether it’s at the Staples Center or the Oracle Arena but different WCT locales can warrant wildly different conditions and, crucially, different types of waves: the 4 to 5-foot progressive waves of Trestles versus the 25-foot giants of Sunset Beach. Conditions at the contests themselves can change minute-to-minute, throwing off even specialists at particular spots. And then there’s the judging bias.

    This has led me to wonder whether it’s even possible to have a strategy in fantasy surfing, a sport that, in practice, is inherently unpredictable. Sure, you can pore over stats and competitor performance from contests past, but how relevant is any of it when your guy scores low because of a lackluster set or is eliminated suddenly in the opening heats because of poor wave choice or, worse, is hit with a sudden injury.

    As a relative n00b in the fantasy world, I’m – surprise, surprise – not doing great, opting mostly for passion picks and drops based on last season’s results. I recently brought up the issue with a surf journo who advised I make up my teams based on match-up so I don’t inadvertently eliminate multiple surfers in early heats. He also suggested I let go my attachment to Brazilian superstar and world title contender Gabriel Medina in the upcoming Billabong Pipe Masters. Sigh. Fine.

    Which is not to say that other fantasy-friendly sports aren’t negatively impacted by injuries and surprise wins, but the haphazard “strategies” of fantasy surfing seem to be yet another symptom of a sport that is so unlike other pro sports. The issues with scoring, contest conditions and player performance create a much more fluid – no pun intended – playing field such that I wonder if the only real strategy a play-pretend manager such as myself can employ is making gut picks and hoping for the best. The stakes are low enough to be still be fun. After all, it’s called “fantasy” for a reason with an emphasis on the “fan” part for me.

    Riding the new music nostalgia train.

    I have a confession to make: I still listen to terrestrial radio. At least I’m not alone. Yes, I know that sounds awfully old school of me in this age of Spotify, Pandora, last.fm and Sirius, but then again, I’ve been known to even buy (gasp!) CDs once in awhile.

    Music decision fatigue for me is a real thing; I’d rather let someone else do the choosing rather than having to sift through a bunch of genre lists or “stations,” or spend the time constructing my own to play in the car. I’m, more or less, perfectly content to turn up the radio and switch stations when an aurally-offensive song comes on. Trust me, it’s a different story when I’m in front of my laptop where I’ve spent years perfecting a “writing background music” playlist on Spotify.

    I bring up my love for radio because in middle school and for a chunk of high school, it made up of a considerable portion of my new music discovery. I traded mix tapes and CDs loaded with old Blink-182, Operation Ivy, Rancid and assorted ska/punk bands with my friends, but in the car on the drive to school, it was all about turning up terrestrial radio for “new music Tuesday” and at night, falling asleep to Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew on Loveline on the stereo in my room. Thankfully, the same artists I was car-singing to are still churning out new music. Below, a few of my latest favorites.

    Foo Fighters – “Something from Nothing.” It’s the new single released after the premiere of Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways on HBO, a docu-series tracking the band’s eight-city U.S. historical music tour and the making of their new (eight-track, haha!) album. If you’re a pop culture history geek, music history buff or just love the Foos, this show is definitely worth checking out. Personally, I’m obsessed.

     

    Gwen Stefani – “Baby Don’t Lie.” Lady G is at it again this time with more trippy motion graphics and no silly Harajuku back-up dancers.

    Bush – “The Only Way is Through.” A new one from Mr. Gwen Stefani and friends. I don’t mind the overt pop rockiness the Bush sound has become but part of me still kind of misses the Razorblade Suitcase-era Bush.

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    Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty.

    Trying to make myself a few apples taller.

    Trying to make myself a few apples taller.

    I would like to think that I don’t adhere to most of the stereotypes about Asian-American women (keyword: most), except when it comes to that undeniably kawaii mouthless creature named Hello Kitty. I love her; I’m convinced it’s in my DNA to buy totally ridiculous things for no other reason than because her likeness is emblazoned on them. There is an undeniable nostalgia I have for the entire Sanrio universe, really. One of my first bath towels ever was a My Melody one, and I have very fond memories of bi-weekly trips to Rainbow Gate, the Japanese tchotchke shop at my local mall, with my mom and younger sister to buy Keroppi erasers and tin Badtz-Maru pencil cases. Much to my dismay – but probably to the delight of my wallet – Rainbow Gate closed years ago and has since been replaced by a store that sells trucker hats or something.

    The most famous star in the Sanrio universe turns the big 4-0 this year, and to celebrate, the Japanese American National Museum is doing a sprawling retrospective of her entitled Hello! The Supercute World of Hello Kitty, which I had a chance to see this past weekend. It’s exhaustive and impressive with about every item you could imagine Hello Kitty being on on display, as well as insight into her history as an international cultural icon. Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to call Hello Kitty a global pop cultural diplomat: her message of happiness and friendship is (conspicuously) consumed all over the world. While the exhibit doesn’t go into the intricacies of any controversies surrounding Hello Kitty, it does touch on distinct east vs. west cultural interpretations of her image: “For some Western critics, Hello Kitty’s mouthlessness symbolizes powerlessness. But Japanese people understand things differently. They assume Hello Kitty’s design to be an abstraction. A typical Japanese comment: “Hello Kitty has no mouth? I never noticed.””

    I left the exhibit a little nostalgic, a lot charmed and appreciative of the fact that my Hello Kitty fandom is shared by so many others. Hello Kitty for pop culture president of everything.

    Hello! The Supercute World of Hello Kitty runs through April 2015; $20 for non-JANM members.

     

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    Watch: The adorable stars of DisneyXD’s “Kirby Buckets” take me on a tour of their set!

    DisneyXD’s new show, “Kirby Buckets,” is about creative kid Kirby (Jacob Bertrand) and his sometimes-animated adventures with his pals. And when I dropped by the set for a tour, naturally, my sense of humor vibed perfectly with the show’s stars – boys aged 11-14 – who share my love fart jokes. I also learned the super-not-so-secret Kirby crew cheer and got girly with the ladies of the show, Olivia Stuck and Tiffany Espensen, in the wardrobe department!

    “Kirby Buckets” premieres tonight, 8 pm ET/PT, on DisneyXD.

    Hangin' in the S&P Market with Kirby (Jacob Betrand) and friends.

    Hangin’ in the S&P Market with Kirby (Jacob Betrand) and friends.

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    Crab dumplings and crusty chopsticks.

     

    Shanghai is regarded as China’s financial center. In the center of that center, in an area called “the Bund” located along the Huangpu River, is a shopper’s paradise. Malls and mini-malls, multiple stories high, interspersed with the bricks-and-mortars of international brands line Nanjing Road, making this consumer mecca one of the busiest shopping districts in the world.

    It’s mid-May, and you and Boyfriend thought it would be a good idea to take an afternoon stroll, perhaps stop for a pre-dinner snack. But the gray portent of the clouds and that Pacific Rim humidity should have given it away – rain is coming, and soon enough, the two of you are caught in a storm that’s soaked the cobblestones of Nanjing Road as well as your pair of TOMS. In a moment of desperation, you take shelter, ducking into the nearest mini-mall that will have you.

    As happenstance would have it, the entire ground floor is a food emporium, a wall-to-wall organized mess of foodstuffs, mostly in packages and boxes with clear plastic lids: dried-up dates, glutinous mochi sprinkled with coconut flakes and powdered sugar, Chinese candies of all sorts, many of which are probably not very sweet or tasty. You tell yourself that you’re allowed to jump to such a prejudiced conclusion. After all, you’re Chinese, too.

    After bumping shoulders with fellow customers, you drag Boyfriend by the hand and fight your way to the escalator, determined to find something more appetizing. Second floor is housewares, third floor is clothing, but the fourth floor is exactly what you were looking for: eateries. Several petite restaurants make up the mall’s food court, many of them dingy with aging pale pink banquettes and cracking linoleum floors. Everything takes on a subtly yellow-gray hue, as though you are seeing the world through a filter called “Slightly Depressing.” You decide that you’ll take anything that’s hot and cooked and forsake anything raw as to minimize the likelihood of loose stools and emergency Imodium-popping later in the evening.

    So you settle on a modest – well, they’re all modest – establishment, one where you order first and ask questions later. A woman with a severe bowl cut and several fine hairs blanketing her upper lip hands you a laminated menu with pictures of their offerings with English translations below each dish, written very deliberately in a scrawl that looks like they were traced: “Crab dumpling,” “Hot wonton noodle.” Apparently, you only get one of any dish; there are no plurals to be found. Through the conversational Mandarin that was your first language and careful pointing, you indicate to Madam Bowl Cut your choices, and she snatches the menu from your hands in exchange for the can of Pepsi you requested. It’s warm.

    After seating yourselves at a small table, you and Boyfriend sift through the tableside caddy for clean chopsticks, a rarity at this joint. Every other one is gray and crusted with a hardened particulate that does not wash away easily by pouring some of the boiling tea Bowl Cut has set down for you. You hear your mother’s voice warning you to pack disposable wooden chopsticks before you left. Finally, you find two pair clean enough and hope that the heat from the wonton soup you ordered will take care of the rest. You squirt a silver-dollar-sized dollop of hand sanitizer into your hands and rub vigorously, just to be safe.

    There are only two other patrons besides you, your significant other, Bowl Cut and her minion, presumably the chef. To your right, a father cradles doughy wontons in a soup spoon before devouring them in big slurps, while his daughter – a girl of about five or six with a pink hoodie and laceless Dora the Explorer sneakers – shovels generous helpings of chow mein into her mouth. They don’t talk but occasionally exchange bits of food from each other’s plates, mostly father to daughter. You are reminded that that’s how Chinese people show their love. In American culture, “I love yous” and hugs are the currency of parental affection. In Chinese culture, food – having it, sharing it, letting you know when you look like you’ve had too much or too little of it – is often the medium through which parents do this. Instead of kisses and coos, it’s a morsel of the most tender part of the steamed fish at dinner that lands at the corner of your bowl or an extra soy sauce pickle in your porridge at breakfast, one more off-white scallop or sliver of beef from the fresh plate of chow mein that makes its way onto your plate.

    Madam Bowl Cut has arrived with two steaming hot bowls and one small plate of love. More specifically, she has brought your wonton noodle soups and four dense crab dumplings. The wontons are small but generous, packed in tightly with ground pork and scallions and boiled just so such that their skins are almost transparent. The noodles, the wontons’ pool mates, are scraggly and chewy so as to not compete with the voluptuousness of their culinary bedfellows, and cooked to al dente. The hot broth they swim in is oily and savory with a base of indeterminate origin but one that is, decidedly, not chicken. You and Boyfriend look for napkins on the table to sop up droplets of broth from the sides of your mouths and remember that it isn’t customary for restaurants in China to offer napery. No matter. You move onto the crab dumplings, which you dip into an improvised mélange of spicy garlic chili paste and dark, salty soy sauce. They are juicy and briny, bursting when you bite into their tender, flaky meat. You and Boyfriend don’t talk much for you’re too busy diving in heartily. He looks up on occasion and drops a wonton into your bowl and smiles.

    More cups of tea are drunk, the last sips of tepid Pepsi gulped, and it’s time to settle the bill, of which Bowl Cut looks relieved, like the dearth of your presence will finally let her to go back to not tweezing her mustache. You and Boyfriend gather up your belongings, and your TOMS have dried by now – just in time for them to be soaked once again, as the storm outside has only gotten worse. Hand-in-hand, the two of you exit into the rainy bluster, a little full, a little more loved. He pauses in his tracks, turns to you and asks, “So, where should we go for dinner?”