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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

08 February, 2017

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris

This coming March 10, Chuck Norris will turn seventy-seven. Two Tuesdays ago, I turned forty-eight. Both of us are martial artists, masters even, specializing, or at least, getting our foundation in Korean martial arts. I’m not comparing us. Not by any means. He’s a champion, successful, a legend and pioneer. Me, I’m small fry. But, in a roundabout sort of way, Master Norris has been a part of my martial arts life from the beginning.

I began my formal martial arts training in 1985 when I was training in Shotokan Karate. A friend from school and I went to take a class, a semi-private class, given by a journalist friend of his father. At the dojo was another Hong Kong-based journalist who was a mutual friend of my friend’s father and my father. My friend’s father worked in government publications and my father was (and still is) a journalist. To be completely honest, it wasn’t a class per se. The two men were there to work out. It was a Sunday morning and my friend’s dad’s friend said to just come around and he’ll show us the basics and give us an intro-type workout. With the other man there, a higher-ranking student and, based on his black belt rank, a sensei (master), we got a proper intro to Karate. Although there for his own training, in true black belt fashion, he gave us his time and passed down a little of what he’d been taught. This man won’t likely remember me but when I was younger, even before this impromptu karate class, I’d called this man ‘Uncle Alan.’ Some of you reading will know who this is. Anyway, Uncle Alan showed us attention stance (musubi-dachi), front stance (seisan-dachi) and low block (gedan-uke). He showed us how to travel in seisan-dachi and how to turn. Both me taught us how to bow. From then on, I was hooked. I wanted to be a martial artist.

Around the same time, the summer of 1985, my friend, his cousin and I went to the cinema to watch a Bruce Lee movie. It was The Way Of The Dragon (released in 1972 and in the United States as Return Of The Dragon). This is the one in which he goes to Rome and the one Bruce Lee wrote, starred in, and directed. (You know, I think he might have even produced it too.) It was also Master Norris’s introduction to the world. He played Colt, the American champion for hire. At the end, he and Bruce have an excellent showdown full of skill, respect and honour.

Move on a couple of years and I’m living in The United States and Master Norris has movie after movie coming to a theatre near you. Some of them were Delta Force, Code Of Silence, Missing In Action, Firewalker, Invasion U.S.A., Hero And The Terror, Sidekicks. Then, Walker, Texas Ranger came on TV. I’ve also read his two autobiographies – The Secret Of Inner Strength and Against All Odds. All this time, I was training in Taekwondo, getting my own black belts and opening my first (sadly it failed) dojang. Nonetheless, Master Norris was there. Some years after that, I saw him in an infomercial for the Total GymTM. I almost bought it (If it was good enough for him, it’d be good enough for me) but didn’t because there wasn’t space in my flat and I already belonged to a gym. At that time, the late 1990s, I remember being amazed at how fit he still was at almost sixty years old. I remember saying then, “If I could be half as fit as he is now when I am fifty, I’ll be happy.” Sadly, due to a mix of circumstances – not least of which were cumulative moments of weakness and my surrender to depressive thoughts of constant failure – I am less than half as fit as Master Norris was then. And I’m turning fifty in less than two years!

Master Norris has, in more recent years, undergone hip surgery and gotten older, yet he’s still in good shape and he’s still kicking. You might have seen the commercial in which he crescent kicks a saltshaker to the face of a man after that man’s friend tosses the saltshaker to him. He’s also inspired a series of websites listing ‘facts’ about how tough he is based on the characters from his movies. They’re all in good fun and I believe Master Norris was quoted as saying that he was okay with them. Some of my favourites are: “Chuck Norris counted to infinity. Twice.” and “Chuck Norris can hear sign language.” Then there’s, “When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.” I got these from the website http://chucknorrisjokes.linkpress.info/top-100 but there are others.

So, I do still have time to get back my mojo and become the martial artist I should be. But I don’t have a lot of time to get back there by fifty. Time goes by very fast as one gets older. It does for me, anyway.  To be in half as good, or better, shape as Master Norris was in 1998 and get back into being a fulltime martial artist. Those are the goals.

In some ways, I feel like this is my last chance; that if I don’t do this, everything else I shoot for will be missed yet again and I’ll never truly be the best version of me I can be. But if there’s one thing going for me, I’ve never quit anything and I am a martial artist. It’s the source of my power. I can’t fly or read minds and I don’t have x-ray vision. What I do have is a black belt with hours of training. I may not have trained like I used to in a long time but the lessons learnt from all the kicks and punches and falls are longer lasting than the ability to kick, punch and fall.  I’ve learnt fighting spirit, a warrior’s spirit. I’ve developed an indomitable spirit – maybe to the point of stubbornness and delusion – but I have it nonetheless. It may not always win but it’s there. It’s dormant and I have to wake it up. Master Chuck Norris and the examples he has left for me and younger generations of longevity and consistency and being a black belt versus wearing a black belt will be its alarm clock. Thank you, Master Norris. Thank you, Sir.

01 February, 2017

Wishing Has Value

How far back would you go?

There are times in our lives – I admire those who’ve never felt this way – when we want to change our lot in life. It might be everything, it might be one thing, it might be somewhere in between. To do that, we might wish for a lottery win. In some cases, we might wish to be able to go back in time and change the course of events in our lives that led us to where we are into events that lead us to where we wish we were. Sometimes, we wish for that to come with the knowledge that we made the change. At other times, we wish for complete ignorance so we don’t suffer the heartache of losing the good things we have. I mean, it can’t all be bad, can it? Maybe bad is the wrong word. Maybe disappointing or unfulfilling or empty are better.

Some people would stop me right here and say all someone needs to do is trust in God and leave everything in His hands. Perhaps that is so. But, being human beings – flawed and imperfect – it’s only natural and, I think, even good to let our minds wander and wonder ‘what if.’ And that brings me to the question at the top of this post. How far back would you go?

For me, there are several times I might jump back to and, in doing so, I would prefer to  go with the knowledge of everything that had happened to me in the previous future (my present reality). I would try to steer things so I’m where I want to be and what I want to be but in a way that I still get the good things I had before going back. Yeah, I’m greedy but why not? This entire notion is a greedy one, after all, isn’t it?

So, one of the places I might jump back to would be when I moved to America. What I would change:  I would return to Hong Kong and finish my secondary schooling there. Then, I might come here with a full sense of closure and completion of my Hong Kong youth.


I would go back to when I was applying to college. I wouldn’t have gone into teaching, knowing what I know. I would’ve gone into Communications like I originally thought I would in 1983 when my brother was going through the college process and I was reading through his college books. This might get me closer to being a working writer today.


I would’ve gone into the Air Force as I almost did when I was eighteen. I would’ve ROTC’d, flown and retired after my seven years. This might’ve given me a sense of patriotism, fraternity and a place to belong.


I would’ve taken a leave from school and trained hard core in Taekwondo when it was announced that Taekwondo was going to be an Olympic sport. I remember having that chat with my college girlfriend. She was indifferent to the idea. I might not have gotten on any kind of team to fight at The Olympics but, then again, who knows, right? Even without this, I became a martial artist in real life (less so lately though) but this might have solidified my place in that world. I might have made better connections and never stopped. I might have become a fulltime instructor. Still to this day, Martial Arts is THE single best thing I’ve ever gotten into. Like I told my son the morning after I turned forty-eight, I’d give up almost everything  – squash, my marathon finishes, my volleyball successes, some relationships, to name a few – to have a place and be able to train everyday and get back to being the fifth dan I am supposed to be.


I’d have gone to school at sixteen when I moved to the US, done my last two years of American high school and, perhaps, America would feel more like home than it actually does today. As it was, I ended up taking a year off because I was supposed to get my Green Card and go back to Hong Kong to finish school. After that, I’d come back to the US and do college and live in America.


Well, I could go on.

The thing is, I consider myself an average guy and there are many aspects of my life that I wish I could go back and change. Some of you reading this might be average Joes and Janes too and wish you could go back as well. Sadly, we can’t go back and we have to deal with our lot in life, hopefully get support from those around us and change the things we can in a way that works. Good or bad, as the saying goes, “it is what it is.” It is nice to dream, however, and imagine what life would be like had things gone the ways we wish they had. And, it’s not all boo hooey, pining and sad. You see, even though the motivation to wish for the ability to go back in time and make these changes stems likely from a missing piece in our lives, wishing and imagining are also ways to remind us of our goals and dreams. It reminds us that, while things may not be what we want them to be, we don’t have to accept our lot in life. Wishing reignites that desire to be something bigger than what we are, to reset our goals, to start believing and re-believing in ourselves, and to make change. Truth be told, we might not always get there. I may never get an agent and become a working writer but I’ll be damned if I ever give up. I’d rather fail knowing I never quit than quit, forever wonder and live with endless regret and doubt.

So, my two cents’ worth: Never stop dreaming. Never stop fighting. And take those time travels as often as you need to.

14 January, 2017

A Year In The Life - 2016

Another year has come to an end which means it’s time for my annual look back at some of the major events and moments of the last twelve months; the ones I was directly involved in, the ones I witnessed personally and/or the national and global events that had a an impact on me. Good or bad, they made a lasting impression and may have even changed the way I think about and look at things as a man, as a husband and as a father.  Listed in chronological order, here they are.

  1. Mini-College Reunion (January):  I had one of the best times of recent years in January and it came, best of all, on my birthday weekend. I met up with two college chums for lunch. One of them, Vaughn, I’d seen semi-regularly for an annual tennis match and meal after graduating from Rutgers in ’91. Unfortunately, fighting the nemesis called Life, those annual get-togethers ended in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The other friend, Heament, I hadn’t seen since before graduating and he was a year ahead of me. I became close with both of them but with Heament there was something extra special; no offense to Vaughn. I was already a US citizen by the time college started but I felt then–as I still do now–like a stranger in my own land. Maybe for immigrants, America never really becomes ours. Anyway, Heament is from Singapore and I am from Hong Kong; two historic, business, academic centres and cultural centres in Asia with similar backgrounds. As a result, Heament and I became fast friends and, to this day, I still look up to him as an elder brother of sorts or kuya, as we say in Tagalog.  So, when Heament contacted me that he was going to be in New Jersey and asked to meet up, I agreed with more than an ounce of enthusiasm. To add to it, I took my son along so he could see, again, the town where his dad went to college and so he could meet two of his dad’s dearest friends. We met in downtown New Brunswick and had lunch at a local restaurant/bar; a new place that wasn’t around when we went to Rutgers. As it goes with good friends, we picked up right where we left off, poking fun and doing so with ease. We talked about our families, joked at the lack of speed of the wait staff (in fairness only one waiter was on shift), shared work stories and had a great time reuniting. We left if that we needed to do it again, sooner than later and not after another twenty-five years or so. If we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
  2. Asian Books Blog (February): Last year, Asian Books Blog came across my book, contacted and interviewed me on the writing process, my book and on self-publishing. That was three years after my novel, Back Kicks and Broken Promises, came out so it was with surprise and enthusiasm that I agreed to their interview request. As a result of this interview, my book became eligible for the 2015 Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year Award. My book didn’t win but it did garner some respect. At one point, early on, Back Kicks was in the lead on votes. Either way, win or lose, this experience reminded me that there is an audience for my work. My writing won’t appeal to everyone but there are those to whom it will. Write on!
  3. Commitment to Fitness (March): With no adequate place and lacking the proper equipment and partners to train in Taekwondo (a man can’t live on forms alone; well, at least this man, who’s been a forms champion, can’t), I made a decision this year to put Taekwondo on the back burner and get back into shape. That meant (still means) losing at least ninety pounds, getting back to structured and regular cardiovascular and resistance training, improving my diet, and regaining my flexibility. In March, I signed up for a 10K with three weeks to train. I trained, ran the race, albeit slowly but at the level of fitness I was at the time, and made a commitment to run the 2017 New York City Marathon. As a member of the New York Road Runners, the organisers of the NYCM, I could get guaranteed entry if I completed nine qualifying races and volunteered at one by New Year’s Eve. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to regain my life.
  4. Almost losing my son (April): I thought I lost my boy the morning of our final day in Boracay (an island resort–some say THE island resort–in The Philippines) in April. He was in the ocean, with my wife, about one hundred metres from the beach, and they were Paddle Boarding. My son veered into deeper, rougher water into a maze of moored and traveling motorboats. My wife sat on her board watching him, presumably ready to jump up and get him if she felt the need to. The guide from whom we rented the boards rescued him after he saw me enter the water and begin swimming out to him. Thank you, Lord for protecting him. There's nothing as wrenching like the emptiness inside when you see your child in distress and, potentially, fatal distress at that. I’m a competent swimmer with good endurance but I’m not fast by any means and I wonder if I would’ve made it out to him. From where I was, it may have looked worse than it did but, either way, as a parent, I was reminded not to take anything for granted when it comes to him. When he got back to the beach, the guide pulling him in by the attached cord, my son hopped off and took my hand. That touch was likely the most meaningful and best human contact I got all of last year.
  5. My son’s First Communion (May): I wouldn’t say that I’m a Holy Roller but I still observe the basic tenets of the Catholicism I was raised with. As a result, my wife (who is also Catholic) and I are raising our son as one so he has some moral and spiritual foundation. So, my son going through his First Communion–and some months earlier his First Confession; both Sacraments that help define Catholicism from other religions and other forms of Christianity–did have profound impact on me this year. For one thing, it brought back some memories of my on First Communion. For another, it got me thinking more deeply about the meaning of things in the Catholic religion and my relationship to it. 
  6. My son earning his Junior Black Belt (June): As a long-time martial artist and Taekwondoist, any time someone I know gets their black belt I am very excited and I welcome them to the fraternity of black belts. I refer to it as The Officer’s Club and I can say that my son is, now, a Junior Officer. As a dad, I am very proud of him. As a martial artist, who still believes that getting involved in the martial arts in 1985 is still the best thing I’ve ever done, I am very supportive of him. I’ll admit, though, that there is a little bitter to the sweet of his accomplishment. As a Taekwondo dad, in addition to being tradition, it was also my dream to be my son’s teacher and to pass Taekwondo on to him. This is something that those who are not in the martial arts, at least not lifers anyway, don’t understand. Practice in martial arts is not a sport or just a physical pursuit. It is a way of life akin to a religion. Due to many different circumstances, sadly, I am not his teacher but I trust the instructors at the dojang he does attend. In a year or so, my son will test for his ‘regular/non-junior’ black belt and there’ll be two Taekwondo back belts in The Bas Family.
  7. ‘Losing’ a Friend (June): I haven’t really lost a friend. No one died and I didn’t get into a relationship-ending fight with anyone. What did happen was that my friend, my work wife actually, got a job closer to home. With texting, mobile phones, emails and Facebook, it’s very easy to stay in touch; unlike when I moved from Hong Kong to New Jersey and the only accessible ways of communicating were handwritten letters and expensive long-distance phone calls. Nonetheless, I miss her greatly. I have other friends at work but this one was, and is, special. Of course, we worked. We supported each other, were in the same department and helped create and maintain aspects of our departmental curricula that are still used today. We worked but it was her friendship and knowing that I’d see her that made work that much more meaningful. Not since my teenage years in Hong Kong, hanging out with basketball teammates and my best friend Nabeel; not since the late 1980s and early 1990s, forming a friendship with Ron as Taekwondo students and black belts; and not since my undergrad years, joining the Rutgers Squash Club and making friends with students from Singapore, namely Heament, have I felt that I had a friend; a best friend. Lu was that for me for twelve years and, while I am very happy for her and her family, it was bittersweet to walk through the gym and exit our school together for the last time in June. In addition to teaching together, having each other’s backs and making each other laugh, we coached volleyball together from 2004-2006. We were part-time running partners. She was one of the most supportive people around me when I published my debut novel and she’s seen me at my worst and at my best. So, if you haven’t gotten the gist yet, Lu was my bestie, my BFF. She’s right up there with Nabeel, Ron and Heament, the other people who’ve been and are best friends. I’ve met and known many people in my forty-seven years but none will be or have been as close to me as Nabeel, Ron, Heament and Lu. I love them all and, at least with regard to my daily work grind, I will miss Lu in abundance. 
  8. Mother-In-Law Scare (July):  In 2015, my father-in-law passed away. He’d been sick, off-and-on, and in-and-out of the hospital a few times over the previous years. In July 2015, he got really sick, was hospitalised and died the following month. This past July, we all got a scare when my mother-in-law didn’t feel well and had to go to the hospital herself. She’d had a medical condition, without any resulting debilitation, and is doing well now but, a year after her husband’s death, it was with bated breath and stopped hearts that we-my wife, her brothers and sisters and I–received every text and phone call. It wasn’t the best month of our lives but, once again, it showed the power and love of family to rally and stick together. 
  9. Getting Injured (October): Well, I was on track, registered in all my races and ticking off one race after another. After about four races and five months, my left knee started to act up. I have a history of knee injuries but I figured the low-key walking/running I’d been doing would be fine. Well, to make a long story short, I ran my final race of 2016, hobbling and in pain, on October 30. For some weeks before that, I’d developed a limp, the pain had gotten worse and I feared for knee surgery. After the race, I finally (yes, I’m stubborn; I’m part German after all) went to see an ortho. I got a cortisone shot (my new fave!), did a stint of PT. Things are better now. I’m doing the PT on my own, I had a follow-up with the doctor after New Year and have been doing some very light cardio training and squash with my son. Running is out of the cards for now, as is full-on Taekwondo training. Instead, it’s rehab, get back to fitness, lose weight and then we’ll see. I was gutted not being able to finish my NYCM qualification and to get this injury setback. I’d lost over twelve pounds by the time I had to stop training and I’d cut my mile time by over a minute and a half. I know there are ways to bounce back. I knew better than to approach things the way I did. Next time, I’ll be more respectful of my body, more humble in the effort it takes to race (of which I do have some experience) and to remember that everyone has their own experience. There are individuals who’ve lost two or three hundred pounds after starting a walking/running program and drop down to, say, 180 or less. That worked for them and I thought it might work for me, as it has in the past, but it didn’t. Instead, I got injured and sidelined. 
  10. Trump (November): Well. What else is there to say, other than I’m hoping and praying that he doesn’t screw up the country, ruin families, turn us into a nation of fearful haters and that the next four years go by very quickly and that he doesn’t get reelected. It’s unsettling, though, that in 2016 someone who lobbied on a platform of division and fear got elected president. When I woke up the following morning and discovered that he was elected, I felt fear and uncertainty like I’d never felt before. I believe in the system that elects presidents in this country and I hope and pray Mr. Trump does a great job. If he doesn’t, he screws up this country and as an American citizen that affects me. However, with all of Mr. Trump’s brutish attitude and divisive rhetoric and hate mongering, I truly felt fear. And that fear hasn’t fully subsided. Those feelings have subsided but just a bit) but I still count down until we have someone else more sensible–Republic, Democrat or Independent– in The White House. 

28 December, 2016

Top Ten Books Of 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2016

And, here it is. My list of the top ten books I read in 2016. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I do this annually and that my list is based on the books I read that year, regardless of the year in which a book was published. Interestingly, 2016 saw me read more recently published books (mostly 2015 and 2016) than I usually do. This year also drew me towards reading more non-fiction books as well.

What gets a book on my top ten is the following criteria: whether it changed a part of me or my life or how I look at life, the book’s emotional impact on me, how unique and creative I though the book was. Each book’s level of entertainment, education and ‘page turnability’ also determines if it makse the list or not. And, again, as I say every year, this is purely my subjective list. You may not like it and some of the books may be the kinds of books that don’t normally draw you to them but they called to me and I gladly shared a good part of my 2016 with them.

So, without further ado, here they are.

1. The Latinos of Asia: How Filipinos Break The Rules of Race by Anthony Christian Ocampo, Ph.D. Stanford University Press, 2016.
2. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016.
3. Incensed by Ed Lin. Soho Crime, 2016.
4. Arsene Wenger by John Cross. Simon & Schuster (UK), 2015.
5. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey. GRAPHIX, 2016.
6. The Sandwich Thief by Andre Marois, Patrick Doyon (illustrator). Chronicle Books, 2016.
7. Descender, Volume One: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen (illustrator). Image Comics, 2015.
8. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: A Novel by Salman Rushdie. Random House, 2016.
9. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong (Jason Pargin). Thomas Dunne Books, 2015.
10. The Thank You Book (Elephant & Piggie #25) by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion, 2016.

Honourable mentions:

One-Punch Man, Volume One by One, Yusuke Murata (illustrator). VIZ Media, 2015

Captain Awesome and the New Kid (Captain Awesome #3) by Jim Kirby, George O’Connor (illustrator). Little Simon, 2012.

27 December, 2016

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher 

21 October, 1956 - 27 December, 2016

I didn’t fully process Carrie Fisher’s death until a couple of hours after I’d heard the news. When I first heard of her heart attack en route from London back to The States, I prayed that there wouldn’t be any news of her death for a very long time.

As it was, my wife was checking her Facebook account and announced the news today as I was parking at an AMC movie theatre for the 1:35pm showing of Passengers. Not until we pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts back in our town that it truly hit me. I was reading a post on Facebook from Entertainment Weekly sharing the reactions of her death from many of her co-stars, family members and friends. As I read their tweets and posts, waiting in the car for my wife and son who had popped into Dunkin’ Donuts, tears formed in my eyes and I instantly got that empty, lost feeling in my gut. The last time I recall feeling this way for a celebrity and someone I didn’t actually know was when Brandon Lee died in 1993. The first time I’d ever witnessed anyone tearing up and feeling the impact of a celebrity’s death was in 1977 when Elvis died. After that, it wasn’t until 1980 when I watched my sister breakdown when she heard that John Lennon had been gunned down in New York City.

For some, Carrie Fisher may not have been as iconic as John Lennon or Elvis Presley. For others, however, she may be a larger one. For me, she’s right up there with the iconic of the icons. Carrie Fisher was a symbol of my generation. In an era that saw a added push for ‘girl power’ way before The Spice Girls, with movies like 9 to 5, with Sandra Day O’Connor becoming the first female justice in the US Supreme Court, and Sally Ride becoming the first women in outer space, Carrie Fisher was cast as Princess Leia in what would become one of the most beloved, watched and successful film franchises of all time. More than her success in the Star Wars movies, Princess Leia became a role model for the young girls of that generation. Here was a character that was confident, strong, beautiful, intelligent and badass. In many ways, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was the precursor to many of the badass heroines that have followed since. For the boys, well, who doesn’t like an attractive woman who can kick ass? And there’s always that slave girl outfit from Return of the Jedi. In the same way that Sophia Loren and Ursula Andres influenced a young man’s adolescence of their generation, Carrie Fisher did so with mine.

More than this, however, there was Carrie Fisher the writer–an insightful, thoughtful, intelligent and witty individual. She wrote Wishful Drinking, which became a one-woman HBO special, based on her troubles with substance abuse and her consequent recovery. Postcards From The Edge is hers too. That was adapted into a highly successful movie starring Meryl Streep. More recently, there is her recently published memoir, The Princess Diarist. She script-doctored as well for films such as Sister Act and Hook.

It’s with sadness that I write this blog post. I wonder, too, how Carrie Fisher’s death will impact upon Episodes VIII and IX of the Star Wars triple trilogy. If Princess Leia’s death is to be written into the saga, it can’t happens between movies. That would be irreverent. She has to have an honourable one, a noble one in the way Obi Wan and Han Solo had. But, then again, who says Princess Leia has to pass on among the stars? With what they did in Rogue One with resurrecting Peter Cushing’s Admiral/Grand Moff Tarkin, it wouldn’t surprise me (and it would please me, too), if Princess Leia didn’t just show up in Episode IX but had a major part to play. She is Luke’s sister, after all, and has yet to fulfill her Jedi destiny.

Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you.