Bye, 2017

Like the Sram video I posted about yesterday, 2017 just wasn't very good. 

I can't say I'm sad to see it leave, but should thank 2017 for a year of forced growth, good friends, new ideas, better eyebrows, and more quality time with my dog. 

me and postcard from sage
me and kaede

Here's to a new, bigger, and better year!!!

Everyone is White at Sram

Sram put out this video a few days ago in an attempt to both be funny and different.

It failed. Hugely.

It didn’t just fail because it wasn’t funny from anybody’s point of view, or because the lack of regard for details (no one could tell that that was an unlit cigarette). It didn’t even fail because it was generally cringe-worthy and an example of why you shouldn’t ask professional athletes to attempt to act.

It failed because not one person in that video is a minority, and nobody noticed.

In another, earlier year, I may have let it pass. Cycling, after all, has always been dominated by white athletes, white fans, and white amateurs. I can’t recall a single Rapha Continental rider who wasn’t white, and a quick look at the Rapha website today shows that nothing has changed. When the cycling industry made the push to include more women, it ended up with women, just no minority women. Yet, in a year when the “President” of the United States picked a fight with minority athletes, when neo-Nazis and white supremacists have killed innocent people, when racial tensions and discord seem as high as ever, it apparently still wasn’t enough for Sram to take notice. This video was nevertheless approved by the ladder of executives at Sram as suitable material for their public relations campaign. Worst of all, someone actually got paid for this.

I understand that the best cyclocross athletes may not include minorities (a bigger issue that goes beyond this particular post), but would it have killed Sram to find a minority employee at the Zipp factory to play a part in this video? Or worse, were there none to find?

Or, is this a statement by a global cycling parts manufacturer that minorities have no part in cycling and the cycling industry?

I’d like to give Sram the benefit of the doubt, but question the values of a company that can’t recognize its own lack of diversity. To be fair, it’s not only Sram; most companies in the cycling industry fail to include minorities in their American or European marketing campaigns. Only when minorities are a majority – for example, in Asian countries – are non-white models and riders ever mentioned or featured. On a less corporate level, I’ve heard laughter in response to a Rapha employee calling the predominantly Dominican Republician GS Mengoni team in New York City, as being “too brown” to include him.

Whenever I mention that I’m trying to get back into riding, a non-white friend who used to ride as much as I did will always ask, half jokingly, why I’d want to do such a thing.

“Why do you want to hang out with racists?” He’ll say.

“…I still like it,” I respond.

I have no other defense, and this video only seems to prove my friend right. Nor am I optimistic that it’ll become more inclusive. But maybe, eventually, if we scream loud enough for long enough, the cycling industry will take notice, and get it right.

Ramenism: Kagari

Back when I was frantically training for nothing, I learned to hate baths. This made me even more unpopular with my family as my avoidance of soaking in pools of hot water somehow meant that we couldn’t go on vacations to any destination that involved an onsen. This essentially precluded all of Japan and anchored us to Tokyo, where I suspect we would all have preferred to stay, anyway.

I would have gladly gotten naked with strangers to sit in sulfurized water had baths not turned my legs into swollen, water logged sacks of plaster. Even a short dip would leave me feeling like those hot dogs offered by NYC street vendors, miserably bloated with suspiciously cloudy water. Rather than relaxed, I felt like a cheap ham that’s been injected with salt water euphemistically called brine.

food is happiness

Fortunately, in the years since my last bath, I’ve traded training for eating. When I finally caved to the abnormally cold weather this year and dipped a leg into a full bathtub, the only discomfort I experienced involved the rediscovery of the meaty excess of flesh on my body. Even then, the experience was generally enjoyable.

“Ahhh,” I thought, “this is nice.”

People often say things like “I could bathe in that,” with various edible liquids, or pretend to like pictures on Instagram of people consuming food while naked in a bath. Those statements are nearly always suspect, however, when you think of the logistics of actually following through. Kagari’s chicken paitan ramen, though, made me think twice about my own rules on mixing dead skin cells with things that are normally reserved for consumption through your mouth.

kagari kitchen

Located in Ginza station, the small, brightly lit counter at Kagari seats only eight, and its popularity means that there is always a substantial wait. Anticipating a line, I had brought a book, but as if to guarantee prolonged suffering, the faint scent of ramen would occasionally drift from the back of the shop. As if to heighten the anticipation, once a group of eight left the restaurant, the counter would be cleared, thoroughly wiped down, and chopsticks placed at each seat. The process takes approximately three minutes, and though it is one that displays obvious care, the routine can be torturous to watch for the starving.

An excruciating hour after I arrived, I was seated with a party of six tourists. Unlike most ramen spots, where you buy a ticket at a vending machine, a real person took my order off of a menu consisting of tori paitan soba (鶏白湯SOBA) and tori paitan gyokai tsukesoba (鶏白湯魚介SOBA) (this is the tsukemen version with a chicken and fish broth), with an option to add hot chili oil to either. Each person was also provided with a small dish of minced ginger and fried garlic, condiments that can be added to the ramen to taste. Minutes later, I was served my first bowl of chicken paitan ramen.

kagari chicken paitan ramen

Kagari’s regular chicken paitan ramen comes with two thin slices of chicken breast and some bright Japanese vegetables. Everything you are served both balances and complements the creamy let light broth: the noodles are on the thinner side, with just enough starchy chew, and the leanness of the chicken breast – which still manages to be impressively soft – provides a welcome contrast.

kagari ramen close up
kagari condiments

After eating half of the bowl unadulterated, I followed the instructions posted on the bar to add ginger, pepper, and vinegar. The condiments, added one at a time to taste, give the same ramen a twist. The ginger gives it a predictable kick, and the rice vinegar – my favorite – rounds out the broth with a refreshing, acidic tang.

I slurped through the rest of my ramen, feeling no shame that in a room full of tourists, I was the only one making any noise. I resisted the urge to recreate the water scene from Flashdance with the remaining broth, and paid at the back of the counter, leaving warm, happy, and sated.

Though I honestly wouldn’t bathe in it, I’d gladly give up baths for endless bowls of that chicken paitan ramen.



4-1-2 Ginza Echika Fit

[Get out at Ginza station and walk towards Exit C1; you’ll see a line of people where Kagari is]

Open 11:00-23:00


Sneaker Friends

Like most people, I generally determine the value of my friends by the uncomfortable situations we’re willing to endure for each other. A few months ago, despite the ready availability of messaging apps, I agreed to a phone call with a friend. It lasted an hour, after which I understood how war unites veterans together for life. My conviction that experiencing discomfort is a critical part of any friendship also manifests – in those rare periods of self-clarity – in attempts to make up for forcibly strapping friends into the train wreck of my life via self-flagellation.

It’s not something new, like one of those dark and twisted things that come out in your 30s once you accept yourself for the person that you really are. Instead, it’s more similar to a mutation of prior tendencies to pair social activities with oxygen deprivation. Given that my aerobic capacity is currently capped at climbing a flight of stairs at a geriatric pace, I’ve managed to transfer the unique experience of bike rides that annihilate your self-esteem to sneaker lines.

sports lab by atmos bag

It works like this: a notice is posted online, including, recently, a dress code, and my Saturday starts at an hour that makes my lack of Friday night social activities glaringly obvious. In the winter, I pull on a base layer and my Woolie Boolies and join the hundreds of other people who apparently have nothing better to do on a weekend morning. We’re all waiting in the cold for the same thing, except that I’m in line not to buy a pair for myself, or as a reseller, but on the hope that I’ll win a pair of size 10 shoes for a best friend.


To date, I have yet to pull out the winning ticket to a pair of anything special. My inability to absolve myself – at least, temporarily – necessitates more lining up for hours. Every time, I ask the universe to make me appear to be a better friend by gifting me a pair of atmos x Nike shoes. It never happens, which makes sense in a karmic way. Rather than bringing home the white whale of Nike collabs, I’m forced to learn how to be a less exhausting friend through the negative people I keep around in my life as cautionary tales.

“But I can’t,” they’ll usually say in those conversations I seek out, out of either a foolish sense of charity or as overdue karmic punishment, “I can’t get out of this situation that I’m choosing to stay in.”

flat fix

Cornering myself into becoming a cheerleader for a more positive outlook, I advocate for looking on the bright side, arguing that it isn’t really as dismal as it seems. You could argue that playing the alternative role – of approving of marinating in extreme unhappiness – would be irresponsible. That the natural human response to a friend’s voluntarily relinquishment of agency is to firmly tell him or her to snap out of it, if only to exonerate yourself of responsibility for any consequent dive into even deeper depression. Yet, there is nothing more effective than a tantrum of hopeless despair to trigger a natural sense of sustained optimism.

I emerge from those conversations with a desperate sense of possibility. Like rides that crush your lungs and shatter your self-worth, I make a mental note of that fact that there is value in the effort of becoming a better friend, however vain. That your friends can’t let you win the race to the next telephone pole or the town line unless you drag your ass to the starting line of that group ride. That there’s slightly more shame to a DNS than a DNF.

I try to remember that as I wait in line, shivering, hands practically numb, for the next pair of hyped shoes.

Ramenism: Fuunji

“The thing with ramen is,” a friend, a devoted yet reluctant ramen voyeur by virtue of being located in Germany, said, “it can look great in a photo, but taste like shit.”

He’s right, of course, but that truism applies to more than ramen. Since the introduction of the phrase “food porn,” hyper-saturated photos of indulgent casual food have – alarmingly, disappointingly – become the norm. The process of food photography has devolved into the following: select a close up of a juicy burger oozing cheese, add a runny egg, and then, to make it more blatantly sexually enticing, squeeze the crap out of it to induce maximum yolk flow for the ‘gram. Should a runny egg be unavailable, shoot a picture of a few burgers and varieties of loaded fries – enough to cause concern for the arterial and mental health of the eater – turn up the warmth on the photo, click “sharpen” a few times, and post. It’s the thottery of food photography, where food is no longer appetizing, but only notable for its off-putting excess.

Then there is the hype. That circle jerk of praise perpetuated by ignorance and expectations already swinging towards the positive, prior to the first bite. That’s not to say that customer reviews are worthless; just that often, they need to be taken with a teaspoon of salt.

I knew this, but when a friend told me he always takes friends to Fuunji for their tsukemen, I followed his advice. He was a real person, someone I trusted because he had lived in Tokyo for several years and had eaten his share of decent ramen. Google told me there was a perpetual line outside of Fuunji; could that many people be wrong in believing Fuunji was exceptional?

Apparently, yes.

fuunji tsukemen

Inching my way towards the door, I waited approximately an hour to be seated and served. The line usually continues from the door of Fuunji to the small park-like area across the street. Once inside the small restaurant, you buy a ticket at the machine, then line up behind the patrons behind served. You hand your ticket over to the girl behind the counter, tell her how many grams of noodles you’d like (200g or 300g), then wait some more.

fuunji the line
inside fuunji

The one thing you notice about Fuunji is that no one is eating ramen. Every single person is here for the tsukemen: cold ramen noodles served with a thick, rich, chicken-based dipping sauce that includes a small mound of dried smoked fish powder.

Anticipating gastronomic bliss with a punch of umami, I ordered the special tsukemen (特製つけ麺) with 200g of noodles. What I ended up choking down were noodles – appropriately thick and chewy – coated in room temperature grease and tasting mainly of salt. Though there are hints of fishy umami here – the special tsukemen also comes with a soy sauce marinated egg and thick slices of pork – the experience was incredibly underwhelming and practically nauseating. By the third bite, there isn’t much to the sauce other than an overwhelming and exhausting saltiness. I found myself trying to slurp up the least amount of the dipping sauce as I powered my way through the last of the noodles.

fuunji tsukemen
fuunji tsukemen dipping sauce

I didn’t bother thinning out the sauce to drink it down as any more salt would have probably killed me. I went home with a headache and a fear that I might throw up on the way home, in slight disbelief that people would call this “the best tsukemen I’ve ever had in Tokyo.” But, I get it; there is little subtlety in Fuunji’s tsukemen. Everything seems somehow heightened – the saltiness, the greasiness – which lends itself to be favored by those with more aggressive palates. Like Instagram thots, Fuunji presents an enticing-looking dish that turns out to be way too much.

Later, with a sufficiently settled stomach, I remembered that conversation with the ramen voyeur.

“Yeah,” I had said in response, “it’s like a relationship. You never know until you’re face deep in something and slurping things up.”

How true that is.



2-14-3 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku

(10min walk from Shinjuku Station South Exit)

Open: 11:00-15:00, 17:00-21:00, closed Sundays