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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.

03 January, 2021

My Ten Favourite Books of 2020

 My Ten Favourite Books Of 2020


I don’t think I’ve posted one of these in a couple of years so, as part of my personal resurgence and return to the things I love, I’ve decided to resurrect my annual ‘ten favourite books’ list. Since it’s been a while, I just want to remind you that this list is not based on what was published in this post’s titular year but, rather, of the books I read in that year. In fact, only two books on my list were published in 2020. Moreover, the list, with the exception for the first one, is not in any particular order. They aren’t ordered, for example, in what I think to be the best written. I have neither the expertise nor the authority to do that. Far be it for a self-published novelist and blogger to judge anyone’s literary aptitude. 


What this list represents are the books that resonated with me the strongest. I thoroughly enjoyed each one and they’re all brilliant. As with pretty much anything, what often crosses our paths isn’t what’s new or what we want or think we want. Instead, we’re often led to what we need. Regarding the book I’ve placed at number one, it’s been on my radar for several years but I don’t think I read it until now because I wasn’t at the right place to read it before now. The things that mean the most or the things that bring you the greatest joy aren’t always the latest thing but, rather, the thing you need the most when you need it the most. As far as the book at number one, it’s the one that hit me the hardest; down to my core and made me ask the most questions of myself. Having said that, what’s one reader’s classic may be another’s pulp, so it’s quite subjective really. 


So, without further ado, here’s my list of favourite books I read in 2020. I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings. 


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craftby Stephen King (2010, Scribner)

America Is In The Heart: A Personal Historyby Carlos Bulosan (2019, Blackstone Publishing, audiobook; originally published 1946)

The One and Only Ivanby Katherine Applegate (2021, HarperCollins)

Eastman Was Hereby Alex Gilvarry (2017, Viking)

KillingCommendatoreby Haruki Murakami (2018, Knopf)

Carmela Full of Wishesby Matt de la Peña(2018, G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

Murder in the Squash Court by Jonah Barrington (1982, Stanley Paul Hardcover)

99 Ways to Die(Taipei Night Market, #3) by Ed Lin (2018, Soho Press)

Loveboat, Taipei(Loveboat, Taipei, #1) by Abigail Hing Wen (2020, HarperAudio)

Lucky – Anil Nayar’s Story: A Portrait of a Legendary Squash Champion by Jean Nayar (2020, Five Rivers Press)



18 June, 2020

Seven Words Of Hope

18 June, 2020

Friday, the thirteenth of March of this year was the last time my son and I were in our respective middle schools. He’s in sixth grade and I teach seventh grade Health as well as sixth and eighth grade Physical Education.  My son’s school decided to close due to the coronavirus epidemic on the preceding Wednesday or Thursday, announcing a half day for all students and instructing them to bring home their books and such. My school district made a similar announcement on the Thursday and Friday was a half-day for the students and a full day for staff to plan what has become the new norm of distance learning. 

With three snow days that weren’t used, my district made the first Monday and Tuesday ‘snow days.’ That gave us more time to plan and prepare. As a result, we didn’t begin distance learning until Wednesday, the eighteenth.  My son’s school began on Monday, the sixteenth, but even so we were able to get to the club and play an hour of squash at 7am thanks to a 9am start for distance learning. Before that, we also had our usual Saturday session on the fourteenth. The lockdown/stay-at-home order hadn’t yet been declared by our governor and the severity of the coronavirus, the length of our school closures, and the impact on our lives were still unknowns. On Tuesday, things started shutting down and becoming very serious. For those who have suffered greatly – financially, emotionally, physically, the loss of a family member(s) – I offer you my condolences and prayers. Thankfully, my family and I have not suffered too badly although there has been a psychological and emotional toll.

That first Monday was the last time my son went anywhere. Since returning home from our squash session, other than for a couple of drives in the neighborhood, walking the dog, or venturing out for a workout (either a run, some kind of conditioning session on our driveway, a ‘squash’ game at a wall we found that has lots of room and where we can line out a court), he hasn’t left the house.  With the exception of running into a friend driving by and stopping to say hello and the Zoom party we had for his birthday in April, he hasn’t spoken to anyone other than my wife and I. Oh, and the dog. 

So, it was with great excitement when he had to return his school textbooks the other day. He had three – one for Social Studies and two for Language Arts – and I had to drive him to school and drop him off at a designated location. From there, he submitted the downloaded and printed ‘return form’ then, following instructions, he entered the new gymnasium (the one with direct outdoor access). Once inside, he returned his books to the assigned table. Each table was labeled with a different subject and there was a school administrator, office assistant, or PTA volunteer waiting to receive the returned texts. All of this was done with his mask and gloves on and with me waiting in the car. No more than two minutes had elapsed after I’d parked the car, when he was back and opening the door and sliding into the back seat. The book return was organized alphabetically by surname and scheduled blocks of time so it was very quick and easy. 

Other than being another reminder that the school year is ending and the summer break is coming, my son was very excited for this book return event. He joked on the way that he’s actually going somewhere. When he got back into the car, he was ecstatic that he’d gotten to speak to other human beings. They weren’t deep or meaningful conversations by any stretch of the imagination. He said he recognized some of the staff in the gym but none of them seemed to know him the way one of his teachers would have so the exchanges were brief. Nonetheless, he was thrilled. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I asked him how it went. His answer was so special and heartfelt and made me almost pull the car over and hug him as tightly as I could. His reply to my question was, “Seven words.” That’s what he’d said inside the gym. During various steps of the book return process, he’d had to answer two questions and make five affirmations. He said “okay” four times and one time each for his surname, “here” and “no.” From his reaction and the excitement he was displaying, I could’ve cried. You’d have thought he was just named Squash Player of the Year or received some other highly coveted accolade 

I get it, though. We live together, my wife, son and I. Naturally, we are the most important people in each of our lives and we love each other but, after twelve weeks together and 24/7 at that, any change is a wonderful thing. On one of my more recent trips to the supermarket, I had a conversation with a woman in the checkout line. Our grocery store has regular cashier checkouts as well as newly installed self-checkout machines. With social distancing, customers form a line and get called up when a cashier is open. She asked me if the line I was in was for self-checkouts or just the regular checkouts. I told her I wasn’t sure. Another customer knew the answer and told her (it’s the same line). After that, masks on, we had a chat about our previous supermarket trips and how there was no line, not many customers, and how the relative crowd on this day was probably due to the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. Eventually, using the self-checkout, she was called up ahead of me and went about her business. I’ll likely never see her again. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to point her out if I did. I doubt she would recognize me either. 

The brief chat, as meaningless as it appeared to be, was actually one of the highlights of that day and, perhaps, even of this lockdown. I’ve always been a loner. I don’t have many friends and I don’t socialize much but I do understand and appreciate the need for and value of human contact. In these dark times, positive human interaction is like striking gold. Without it, there’s the potential for conditions like loneliness, sadness, and depression to develop. So, for my son to be totally overjoyed at having had seven brief conversations, each with him only having to say just a solitary word, I am overjoyed and grateful. I’m happy that he had some additional human contact and that he cherishes it, whether he realizes it or not. I’m thankful that the school had the students bring the books back and not just the parents. Kids are vulnerable. So, too, are adults. We all need human interaction. We all need to feel connected – to one another and the larger world around us. In a small way, my chat in the supermarket and my son’s seven words connected us to our community and made us feel a part of something. 

In pre-coronavirus life, these kinds of interactions would’ve been nothing more than an encounter with another person and not likely be thought about ever again. With the isolation and distancing, much needed to help combat against this pandemic, and which I think are still needed, these brief encounters become so much more.  In these dire times, more so than ever, we need that sense of connectedness and community. Seeing his school and stepping in it, gave my son a bit of that. It, also, offered him a glimpse of hope and a return to some kind of normalcy; that there is a world out there and that there is a life after COVID, after crisis. Who knows if we’ll get back to the normal we used to know. Maybe we shouldn’t and we need to create a new and better normal. Either way, we need hope and hope can come in the form of a place, a person or even a single word. 

19 June, 2017

Knee Saga

19 June, 2017


I have depressive tendencies.

I haven’t been diagnosed but I’ve read enough to see a lot of the characteristics of a depressive in myself; things like being alone, losing interest in stuff, not wanting to go anywhere or do anything, feelings of hopelessness, to name a few. I also tend to see things darkly. That, however, might just be a practical approach to things. I’d rather prepare for the worst so that I’m ready for it if or when happens – in my mind, it’s more likely when than if. If it doesn’t happen, that’s a bonus.

With the ongoing saga that is my knee, my depressive triggers have resurfaced. I had a follow-up appointment with my ortho last Tuesday and he examined my knee, which was feeling pretty good. During the examination, a sharp pain emanated from within the joint. As the days passed since seeing him, the pain has gotten stronger. (Over the weekend, though, it’s subsided but that’s because I’ve been off my leg for a lot of the time.) My doctor ordered an MRI that I got last Saturday. He also used the word ‘surgery.’ It’d be a 30-minute arthroscopic procedure but with a four to eight week recovery. He said at four weeks I’d be walking again, although not any long distances, and at eight weeks I’d be ‘normal.’ Whatever that means, I’m not entirely sure.

The last few days, my mind and my heart have been in a whirlwind of uncertainty. I coach volleyball. I don’t do a lot of the drills or jumps and runs I put the team through but I do need to be able to instruct and demonstrate. I need to be on my feet on court. I also have a summer job that pays hourly and I need the money. Knee surgery now would impact upon both of these things and not in a positive way. With a four to eight week recovery period, if I got the surgery now, I’d be better by mid-August. There’s plenty of volleyball left to coach and I can continue to prepare for the sixth degree black belt test in December I’m trying to get approved for. Getting the surgery now, however, would also mean no income because I wouldn’t be able to work.  On the flip side, and if the diagnosis isn’t so bad that I have to undergo the surgery now and I can put it off, I could possibly go about my summer as normal and get the surgery after the volleyball season has concluded in November or, maybe, even after the sixth dan test a month later.

Deep down, I know I’ll end up not taking or not being able to take test and that pisses me off and brings me down. I’ll either be laid up recovering, my knee will be in even worse shape, and/or I won’t be prepared. Since I was a kid, there are two things I’ve always wanted to be – a writer and a martial artist. I’ve been both to some level of success. In the 1990s, I managed to sell articles to various martial arts magazines and get paid for them. I’ve published a book and gotten a touch of respect and notoriety because of it. That’s not enough, however. I want to be a working writer. As for the martial arts, I’ve had several good years of training, teaching and competing. I had my own dojang (training hall) twice in my life but, more than that, I’ve tried to live my life and guide my actions according to the warrior ways prescribed by the codes of Bushido, The Samurai and The Hwarang. Even without a dojang now, I try to train at my wife’s dance studio whenever I can and, through my daily actions at work, on the volleyball court and more, I try to live according to what my black belt symbolises. Thankfully, so far, I am able to absorb and accept the situation I am in because of what I’ve learnt and taught as a martial artist.

For now, I’ll use my indomitable spirit and of perseverance to forge ahead and battle this renewed opponent, my knee, and its allies of age, injury and life. Throughout the battle, I hope I make the right decisions on when to get my surgery, if I do actually need it, and my training for the sixth dan test.

Thanks for stopping by.

02 June, 2017

Making Choice - Life 2 Juan 0

Making Choices - Life 2 Juan 0

2 June, 2017

Last autumn, I reinjured the knee I damaged in 1996. I was doing a lot of running, getting back in shape and training towards earning a guaranteed spot in the 2017 New York City Marathon (NYCM). I’d begun my training the previous April and was in a good groove. As a result of my injury, I had to forego my 2017 NYCM dreams. I followed my doctor’s instructions, did the PT (physical therapy) and slowly my knee was getting better. Before long, I was doing some cardio training (no running) and playing squash. Throughout all of it, I’d do some flexibility training and some light Taekwondo training when I could squeeze it in. I don’t have my own school anymore and I coach volleyball from August to November so finding a time and place wasn’t - and isn’t - always the easiest thing.

Recently, I’d gotten into another good groove. I was training regularly, eating better, and dropping weight. Then I discovered that the Kukkiwon (the world governing body of Taekwondo) will be holding special promotion tests in the United States throughout the year in various locations. One of them is taking place in New Jersey this December. This coming August, I will have met the time requirement to test for my sixth degree black belt and I’m using the test as impetus to up my training; all while monitoring the strength of my knee. I don’t know if my application will be accepted and, depending on my knee, if I’ll even be able to perform. If I am, I hope I am able to perform that deems me worthy in the eyes of the examiners, and my own eyes, to be awarded my sixth dan.

As life would have it, I reaggravated my knee two Sundays ago while mowing the lawn - our uneven, undulating lawn. I maneuvered the lawn mower to turn left but it got caught on one of the bumps and didn’t turn. My knee did, however. All this after completing the Euflexxa treatments my doctor recommended. So, I went back to the doctor, got another cortisone shot and was given a pair of loaner crutches. I’ve stopped using the crutches but I still have a minor limp and there’s still a little stiffness and an occasional shooting pain. I’m hoping in a week or so that the pain and limp will vanish enough that I can get back to some cardio and, eventually, light then regular Taekwondo training.

For now and for the next six months, that’s where my focus has to be. I have to give up squash, which is going to be a killer because I enjoy it, it’s a great workout and it’s my son’s and my ‘thing’ together. Without a school and master to train under, I need these opportunities like the Kukkiwon special promotion test and preparing for it is going to take up much of my extra energy and time. Like the old Chinese adage says, “One has to eat bitter to taste sweet.” It’s a choice I hate having to make but it’s one that has to be made. As much as I love squash and athletic pursuits, Taekwondo is a martial art and martial arts are about life. They’re not just the physical attributes one develops through practicing them. If you’re reading this and you’re someone who knows me well, you know that since 1985 I am and have always been a martial artist before most everything else. You’ll also know that I didn’t get into martial arts training for the physical benefits but for the psychological, spiritual and emotional ones. If I could have a regular place to train, I would be willing to give up almost everything else to train daily even if my knee wasn’t injured. The other option, albeit a forced one, is to choose to hang up my squash racquet and my black belt but that would be completely contrary to what martial arts are all about. Quitting martial arts just because my physical abilities have waned decision would be akin to giving up on who I am and what I’ve believed in the last thirty-two years.

So, while life leads two-nil in our current match, I’m hoping to pull a goal back in December. And after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll find an equalizer and even a winner. In the meantime, trying to see a positive out of all of this, I’m hoping that my predicament can be a lesson my son can learn as well; that one has to make sacrifices and choices that he might won’t like or want to make in order to get what he wants or needs.

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.