Miracle [Dole] Whip

Back when I was around eight years old, my parents took my sister and I to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. As my mother hated rollercoasters, and I wasn’t the kind of child that liked to terrorize myself voluntarily, we avoided all the rides that seemed designed to test the strength of your sphincter in the face of a fabricated yet realistic, life-threatening situation. The spinning teacups were as dangerous as the rides got, and my family was quite happy with that.

We ended our Disney World tour at Tomorrowland. We’d checked off most of the non-rollercoaster rides, and we had one more to check out. We didn’t know what it was, but there was a long, snaking line, seemingly a hundred people deep. We joined the line and waited, wondering what was to come.

I remember a tinge of doubt when I saw a sign that indicated how tall you had to be to ride. As we shuffled closer to the front of the line, we heard screams.

“I think this is a rollercoaster,” I said.

For some reason, we didn’t beg the ride operator to let us out of the line. Or maybe my father thought this would be a good time to teach us an early lesson in commitment. We got on and after what seemed like an eternity of being bounced violently around in a dark planetarium, I got off with PTSD and an understanding of what kind of ride Space Mountain actually is.

Over 20 years later, I’m still cautious about theme parks and rollercoasters. Finding myself on a two-week vacation to Orlando, Florida I turned down Universal Studios for a slightly muddy walk around the Tibet-Butler Preserve and some face time with injured Gopher Tortoises.

gopher tortoise
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But afterwards, I still got a piece of the Magic Kingdom, in a Styrofoam bowl of soft, creamy, sweetly-sour, pineapple Dole Whip.

Originally limited to Disney parks and the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Hawaii, it’s now available at Twistee Treats in Orlando and several other locations around the U.S. It’s a surprisingly vegan soft serve that doesn’t lack in creamy heft – I would have assumed there was some sort of dairy in it if I hadn’t been told otherwise – but light enough to be the kind of thing you’d want to eat all summer.

I am the kind of person who craves and/or fixates on some highly processed candy bar or food item for some indeterminate amount of time. I am also the kind of person who usually forgets about the food I’m craving after, at most, a couple of hours. After my pineapple Dole Whip experience at Island Fin Poke Company, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for over 48 hours. The question, “what do you want to do?” was usually answered with the words, “Dole Whip.”

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Even after I’d hyped it in my head, my second cup still tasted just as delicious as the first. As I scraped the last smears of Dole Whip from the bottom of a Styrofoam bowl, I said that we should go back and order more. I was only sort of kidding.

That was nearly three days ago, and I’m leaving Orlando, once again, after having made a life-altering discovery.

Time to get more Dole Whip.

Needling My Butt

A few years ago, I went to Chiang Mai for three weeks. And, like most people do while in Thailand, I went to get a Thai massage.

I’d never gotten a Thai massage before, but from the way it is always presented – in curvy, exotic-looking letters often accompanied by lotus flowers or other symbols of meditative peace – I assumed it would be a relaxing experience. I was vaguely aware that some sort of stretching is involved, as promotional photographs always depicted a woman smiling serenely as her masseuse appeared to pull back her arms. That was the extent of my knowledge.

After some research, I’d found a reasonably priced place that was recommended by enough people on the Internet to lend it sufficient credibility. I walked in, was instructed to change, and learned what a Thai massage feels like.

It started with stretching and manipulation of my legs and ankles, which felt pretty good. From there, it eventually escalated to sitting up with my hands behind my head, my arms interlocked with my masseuse as she swung my upper half around first to the right, then to the left.

“Oh…my god,” I thought.

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Like most Japanese people, I have almost perfected the art of pretending any uncomfortable reality is not actually happening. In the middle of a humid Tokyo summer, I can sit in a train car that has suddenly turned into my private hell due a homeless person sitting directly upwind of me, as if nothing is wrong. When a drunk man rolled off the train seat onto the floor, unconsciously inebriated at my feet, I’ve simply moved back 30cm, keeping my gaze purposely fixed elsewhere.

So, I kept my cool, pretending like being contorted was an absolutely normal part of a relaxing massage. Then, the masseuse planted her foot in the middle of my back and braced her weight back while holding my arms behind me.

“Wai—,” I started.

It was too late. I imagined irreparable harm to my back as she almost bent me in half.

Like most uncomfortable situations, I’ve somehow been able to think back fondly on that massage, going so far as to tell people it felt good, that I’d go back. That’s not a lie, but unfamiliarity with the process lent a fair bit of discomfort that I wasn’t prepared for.

I was reminded of that massage a few weeks ago when a chronically tight and painful lower back forced me to seek out acupuncture treatment.

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Unlike in the U.S., acupuncture is readily and widely available in Tokyo. Suggestions to go to an acupuncturist were fairly common at my gym, but the idea of someone jabbing me with needles – however thin – remained a terrifying concept. It didn’t help that most of the people suggesting acupuncture were male and capable of enduring the pain of prolonged exercise. They’d assure me that “it doesn’t hurt at all,” but the phrase immediately seemed suspect given the source. It’s like when people say “oh, but it’s nothing compared to childbirth,” which only gives me a vague metric of “not painless but definitely better than the experience you haven’t had of a small human body squeezing through your cervix.”

 But when a good friend recommended her acupuncturist and told me that it wasn’t that bad, I was curious.

“They give you a massage, first, of the places they’re going to needle you,” she said.

Somehow, this gave me some reassurance. If they cared enough to go through the pretense of trying to relax you first, didn’t that mean they were good people? Didn’t that mean that, should I ever have the courage to ask them to stop, that they would?

By this point, my glute pain had spread to my lower back. Front squats hurt. Back squats also kind of hurt. Sitting was beginning to hurt. I was getting close to being forced to do something to actually address this problem.

I made an appointment online that week and walked into the recommended clinic for my first ever acupuncture experience.

feet on the train

As this was my first appointment, and my first time getting acupuncture, my acupuncturist, N-san, poked and prodded at my lower back and hip, and pressed and massaged the sides of my back and shoulders while asking me questions about pain and soreness. He told me that my issue was definitely due to my glutes and hamstrings, not my back, and that he probably couldn’t fix me in one appointment. He spent time explaining how acupuncture can feel different to different people: some people just don’t like the tingling feeling of acupuncture, others find it super relaxing. Some people find it more painful than relaxing. It just depends.

After the massage, N-san chose a fleshy part of my hip for my first acupuncture needle. He tapped the needle in, twice, and other than something much less than a pinprick, I felt nothing.

“This is what it feels like,” he said, “is that ok?”

I told him it was, because it really wasn’t painful at all, and he tap-tapped more needles into my right hip and glute. After the sensation of the double-tap, I eventually started to feel the “vibration” that people often talk about. You know the needle is going into one place, but it feels like an entire area is released of tension. It’s a weird, half-numbing sensation that feels like trigger point therapy on steroids.

After inserting a bunch of needles, N-san then used a small box to pass a weak, electric current between the needles. It feels like a deep, trigger point therapy massage; you can’t call it relaxing, but it’s not unpleasant. After about 5 minutes of this, I went home feeling a bit sore but better, with advice to come back in about a week.

needle marks

The next week, I went back for more treatment. This time, there was a short massage of my hamstrings and calves, then the acupuncture started. From my ankles to my knees, N-san started inserting needles to fix some muscle imbalances. N-san would probe my lower legs, find a knot, and promptly insert a needle into it. This time, I felt the entire range of possible sensations when undergoing acupuncture: some pinprick pain, tingling, a weird numbing feeling that spread over my foot at one point, the releasing sensation, and some discomfort. I also felt like a human pin cushion.

“What is happening?” I thought.

By the time N-san finished with my right glute, all I could do was cling to the body pillow used to elevate my leg as I lay on my left side, my butt-cheek twitching from the electroacupuncture, seriously considering N-san’s advice to maybe just lay off the lifting for a while.

But like that Thai massage from a few years ago, once it was over, I felt renewed. Or maybe I’m discounting the effect of an electric charge to my butt-cheek. In any case, high on my own self-congratulations for doing something that was not completely awful to my body, I asked when I should come back on the way out.

Snatching Back

“Kaiko,” my coach said a few months ago, as he watched me try to snatch, “stop getting flung away.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And I don’t mean just by guys.”

I stood there, sweaty, with third-degree burns from that roast. The whiteboard declared that we’d be doing snatches, and I’d been attempting to heave the barbell and two oversized, red, plastic plates weighing 2.5kg each, over my head. To accomplish that, I was bouncing the bar off my hip flexors instead of scooping it up, then getting pulled forward before swinging the weight back towards my body to get it over my shoulders. My arms were tensed up and straightened throughout the lift. It seemed to me what a snatch should look like, except it was completely wrong.

calloused hands

Fortunately, the vice grip I had on the barbell and the tension in my arms naturally died after doing about 20 snatches for a WOD. By snatch 26, my coach was impressed with my form enough to be shouting out praise over the increasingly irritating pop music.

“Good snatch, Kaiko!” he said, “you’re not wasting any movements!”

I was sweating uncontrollably and turning increasingly pale. My lungs hurt but everything else was becoming numb and useless. I had stopped concentrating on form, on all the small things that need to come together for a half decent snatch. I was too busy trying not to die.

There’s very little that is more fun than learning the Olympic lifts. But the process can often feel a lot like trying to date in Tokyo in your 30s: first, you spend a lot of time and energy trying to control things you can’t, then, once the deadening exhaustion sets in, you lose all the fucks you thought you could give and, ironically, start getting better at it.

I’ve been learning this the hard way. There were the ghosters, the friends-with-benefiters, the guys who can’t take rejection, and the guys who just want to sext. So far, it’s been a string of failed attempts. Most times, I fix one way I approach things and something else goes completely wrong. Other times, I need to step back, take a break, and re-group.


In the process, I’ve learned that rushing things can get you hurt or at least make you feel like an idiot, but, taking a few risks isn’t a bad thing. That having more confidence and a little more faith in myself never hurt, and meaningful progress always involves being uncomfortable. And that for every failure, there are ten, twenty, fifty more chances to get it right.

They say you get back what you give. What they don’t tell you is that you can give your best but a lot of the time, you have to wait to get it back. It’s not your day or your timing is off or it’s not meant to be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your best at every try, or half-ass your pulls and expect a great result. As exhausting, frustrating, and infuriating as it can be, you have to keep pulling with the hope that one day, everything will boomerang back to you. And since you miss all the shots you don’t take, eventually, I’ll set myself up at the bar again and try to get something off the ground without looking entirely stupid and/or disposing of my dignity.

back at the bar

A few weeks back, after a crush didn’t pan out, I arrived at the CrossFit box to another torturous WOD.

“We’re doing this ‘Heartbreak’ one,” coach said.

“But, no,” I whined, “I’ve had enough of that this year.”

He laughed, because he somehow believes I’m capable of more than I think, and we did it anyway.