About Me

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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.

30 March, 2011


Finally, for the first time since the summer before I got married, I visisted my sister and her family last weekend. It was my niece's confirmation and I was asked to be her godfather so I had to go.

In addition to the importance of the weekend - my niece becoming a full member of the Catholic Church and a 'soldier of God' - the thing that was foremost in my mind was how my son was going to relate to his cousins and how they were going to relate to him. Well, for all my worrying (for lack of a better word), they got along brilliantly. First of all, my sister and her husband have raised fantastic children. They're polite, thoughtful, energetic, intelligent, creative and just plain fun and nice. Jude, too, is at an age when he's more comfortable with himself and more confident that he doesn't shy away as much as he used to.

As soon as we arrived at my sister's house, and my wife and I were able to pry Jude out of his carseat and away from his portable DVD player and a third showing of Toy Story 2, Jude and his cousins discovered each other as they bonded over the abundance of toys in the play area in the far end of the kitchen. They played with cars, stuffed animals, airplanes and space shuttle replicas. Later, we all ventured outside, where there is a swing set and slide. They climbed, slid, played 'steer the boat' and tossed and kicke a rubberr ball around in the back yard. In an previous blog in my other site (filamkickingscribe.com), I talked about how, in Manila, Jude got lost at my sister-in-law's house on Christmas Day in the play room with his cousins from Alabang. Always aware of where he was, what he was doing and who he was with, after arriving at noon we didn't really see himuntil around 7pm when he was, finally, hungry and thirsty. Well, it was much the same in Boston.

Something that was really exciting was how Jude remembers all of his cousins names and how, as we were pulling off the Mass Pike into I-84 into Connecticut, he kept saying, "I want to go Zoe." Zoe is the youngest of the three cousins he met this past weekend. His comment reminded me that I have to be vigilant in showing him pictures of his Boston family - and all of his family - and make sure he recognizes them and knows everyone's name.

What's more, Jude's cousins got to love him and they miss him, too. I was asleep when they were shuffled off to school but my sister informed my wife and I that there were tears and expressions of "I'm going to miss him" from he daughters. I'm glad about all of this. As I've gotten older, my sense of family and how important connections are have become more important to me. For those of you reading who know me, it's no secret that my immediate family isn't the closest, most intimate and sharing unit. I regret that but that's something I can make sure doesn't happen to Jude. He doesn't have any brothers or sisters - yet (don't read anything into this) - so getting to know his cousins is key.

When I moved to America I got to meet and know some of mine. We became close and, as often happens, we got into our own lives in high school and college and making our own families that we losts touch. The last few years, we've gotten back in touch through various family get togethers and social media like Facebook. We're reconnecting. I hope Jude never has to reconnect. I hope he forms those close, deep family ties that  never become fake or sever regardless of the time and distance he and his cousins may be separated by.

This Boston weekend and the last two trips to Manila are forming those ties for my son; ties and contacts that will go on and grow into real, meaningful relationships.

21 March, 2011

State Champion

Wow. Well, the New Jersey State Tae Kwon Do Championships are over and I've come out on top. I took first place in my division - the Men's Black Belt 41-50 year old Forms Division. I did the Pyong Won form and scored 7.8, 7.1 and 7.7. That's not a bad score. All week before the event, I watched YouTube videos of performers at the recent World Championships, as part of my preparation, and they were scoring in the 7.0s and low 8.0s so I guess I didn't do too badly. Although, please don't take me to mean I'm world class or anything. Forms have always been my favourite part of Tae Kwon Do and I've won some forms titles before but I consider myself - now and when I was younger - to be far from world class.

The really neat thing about all of this is that I wasn't really nervous up until I arrived at the venue and changed into my uniform. But then, once I started to walk out onto the competition area where the six rings were and watched the other divisions as I stretched out, the nerves seemed to dissipate. While I could see that I have become that older, more out of shape than in shape, Tae Kwon Do competitor I could also see that, even with the younger elite black belt fighters around me, I felt that I had something they didn't. And I don't think it matttered that they were competing in sparring and I was doing forms. As they stretched and did warm up kicks on the handheld targets, kihapping in that showy way us Tae Kwon Doists do - that kind of kihap that tries to convince the spectators and judges that we're the superior fighter in the ring - I could see and sense their confidence but also, perhaps, their own nervousness; a nervousness that believes they'll win but also knows they might not. It's a kind of conscious caring. They were displaying the same kind of feelings I used to get in my younger competitive days. In a way, too, it was fun for me. This was my first tournament since 1994. No one knew me. But it's not like I hadn't been there before. I felt like that old gunslinger who's returned to his hometown, greyer and more wrinkled, to find that, while the people may have grown up and changed, the place hasn't. It's still home.

For me, I wanted to do well. It wouldn't have mattered where I placed. And, my doing well would've been for me and not for the judges nor the points. I'd gotten wind of the States only ten or so days ago and entered on a whim just to get back into the swing of things. The training I did in a week wasn't much but it was the best I could've done in the time I'd had. I'd done the best of my best and that's what martial arts is all about - doing your best, knowing your limits, enjoying things in spite and because of them. For the first time, I felt like a master; subconsciously caring about the competition but knowing that no matter how things would've turned I'd still be a fourth dan, a master and a martial artist.

I won my division not because of an outstanding performance but because I was the only one who entered. Perhaps my title of 'State Champion' is a paper one. Perhaps it's not. After all, I knew there was a chance my division would have few competitors. Not many people my rank and my age compete, after all. That was another reason that enticed me to enter. The odds of me placing were in my favour. However, whether it was just me or me and a hundred others, I'd shown up on the day ready to do my best. And, again, comparing my scores to those of some of the performances in those YouTube videos, I may have done all right if there had been other entrants. It's not my fault that nobody else entered. I did, performed and took first. My point isn't to defend my win. Either way, and I got confirmation of this from the State TKD Association president, I am 2011 State Champion. My point is to go out and do what your heart tells you. Mine said to compete and get back into something I love.

And, for whatever it's worth, it paid off. It's paid off not only with the win but a chance to go to the national tournament and compete for a national title, which I will take much more seriously. In fact, the State president e-mailed and said he'll be e-mailing all the champions for team practice. I assume that means New Jersey team practice. How cool is that? Way back, I believe if you won, it was between you and your master to prepare for nationals and team trials. Now, I guess - I think - there's communal training under a state head instructor. For me, at my age, who would've thought? I'm just thrilled to have this chance.

As for the competition itself, my ring was right in front of where my wife and son were sitting. As I got into my ready position, I looked up and saw them and I said, in my head, "This is for you, son." Maybe that's corny. Maybe, though, it's just a sign of moving on. I have this chance to become a national champion but that's a long shot if there ever was one. What's for certain, though, is I have this chance to show my son to follow his dreams, to be patient and, for whatever he does, to be passionate. It's not enough to love what you do but to do what you love. For me, Tae Kwon Do is both.

Before I go, though, I must publicly thank my wife. She's been a constant support in everything I do. I have to thank our friend Ani, too. She was there, taking pictures for us, but she's also a black belt and, on some level I'm the reason she took up martial arts in the first place. Her getting into martial arts, before coming back to fully teaching my own classes and, now, competing again, have kept me in touch with them. I also have to thank my friend Drew, an instructor at my original master's dojang. He's younger than I am and in, some ways, he's become my younger brother in Tae Kwon Do. He came too and stood right outside the ring as I performed.

16 March, 2011

BambooMartial Arts

Hi. This is just a quick note. The website for my Tae Kwon Do school, Bamboo Martial Arts School

Haha. I guess it's Tae Kwon Do week or something.

Tae Kwon Do and Me - Perfect Together

The title of this post is a paraphrase of the New Jersey promo ads that I used to see on TV and hear on the radio when I moved to America in 1985. I think it's fitting for describing my relationship with Tae Kwon Do since I started studying the Korean martial art a few months after landing at JFK and moving into our first New Jersey home in Montclair.

Tae Kwon Do seems to be taking the front seat in my life these days. I’m teaching two classes a week and I’ve been training more than usual. Up until a month or so ago, I was training here and there. I'd tried going to regular classes at a couple of schools but the irregularity of classes at one and the long drive to another belayed those intentions. For all intents and purposes, I'd retired. I still thought about them, wrote about them and advised others on them but my involvement in martial arts rarely involved me donning a dobok (uniform) and working up a sweat. Now that I'm teaching again, that special something of the martial arts has taken hold of me again and I hope it never lets go. Rather, I hope I don't let it go. That special thing is what I like to call "The It" - the thing that lets you perform when you're exhausted and have nothing left yet you're still able to kick with precision without effort. It's the thing that makes you do whatever it is you need to do without being aware you're doing it but you know you did it. I haven't been training regularly the last few years and maybe its because I've been a student for so long (almost 26 years) but in the short time I've been teaching, again with flags hanging on the walls and my own students in front of me, I feel the effects of The It. Other than my body's current inability to do some of the things I used to do - although with every training session I feel less restricted and returning to my old self - I feel like I never left. It's funny how that happens when you've done something for so long and when you love something so much. In some ways, I feel like I've come back home, as if I'm the best version of me I can be again.
I decided to enter the New Jersey State Tae Kwon Do Championships and come out of competition retirement, so to speak. I don’t foresee myself competing like I used to in the 1990s but a tournament here and there and, probably mostly in the Forms divisions and not the Sparring ones, will be fun. Besides, I only found out The States are this coming Sunday last Friday so it’s really going to be a hoot. My forms are good enough to enter but I don’t know about winning. I’m doing it for fun, really, and to get back into the Tae Kwon Do community and to get Bamboo Martial Arts back into public view. I’m hoping, too, to run into and say hi to a few old friends from the circuit. I know the tournament formats have changed and I've been in contact with the New Jersey State Tae Kwon Do Association president who's been generous enough to talk and email with me and to provide me with the newest rules changes. I don’t want to look like a clown not knowing what he’s supposed to be doing. I’ll admit I’m a little nervous though because I haven’t competed in more than ten years.  Actually, it's almost twenty! It'll be fun, though, and I'm looking forward to it. I'll post again when the event's over to let you know what happened.
But, for now, let me end by saying it's great to be back. Who says you can't go back where you came from? I've always said martial arts is responsible for making me who I am today. Well, I'm glad I'm back to it and I'm glad I'm still evolving.

13 March, 2011

Fathers and Sons and Martial Arts

My son is something else.

The past few months, Jude has come home from day care getting into martial arts stances and throwing kicks and punches in the air. I don't know where he got them. Perhaps there's an older kid there who's shown stuff to him and they play some kind of cops-and-robbers (as much as a less than three year old can) game or imagine themselves to be Batman or Spiderman or Iron Man or something. Either way, I was very impressed and even please, excited. As a 25 year student of martial arts, fourth degree Tae Kwon Do master and active instructor, seeing Jude kick, punch and kihap (kiai in Japanese) touched me and felt a little 'like father, like son" warmth.

Sometimes, however, he can take his kicks and punches too far. Once, the owner of the day care told me that Jude had hit another student. At home, he throws sidekicks at our dog. When he throws a tantrum, when it's bath time or bedtime, sometimes he  lashes out with hammerfist strikes. And this isn't just the random flailing of limbs. There's preparation, chambering of his weapon (arm or leg) and forceful execution.  To help him control his lashing out, I've taken to letting him hit the various kicking targets and shields I have at home and that I use in my Tae Kwon Do classes. I've also started to teach him some of the other martial arts moves that don't involve physical contant with another person.

Today, just before heading out for mass, I showed him how to get into an attention stance, how to bow and how to get into a ready position. He did them all and when I just wanted to watch and didn't bow he got annoyed and told me I had to. I counted out three kicks and he did them. After we bowed and finished. As we stepped outside and headed for the car for church, I decided to try something else as his mother had to go back inside to grab a jacket. I demonstrated some blocks and he mimicked, for lack of a better word, competently.

Maybe he's taken to martial arts, so far, with ease because of a genetic or hereditary component since I've been doing it for so long. When he was only a few months old, lying down on a bed, he brought his knee to his chest and extended his leg into a good sidekick with a pulled back foot. Maybe it's because his mother is an amazing athlete - a former ballet dancer and, now, Pilates and Gyrotonic instructor - who also finds it easy to perform many martial arts kicks and he got an abundance of her genetics.

I'll be fine if Jude never takes martial arts seriously but I'll be lying if I say I wouldn't be disappointed if he didn't try it at all. Really, I'd love for him to, at least, get his black belt. And, honestly, I wouldn't care what martial art he'd try as long as he honours, practices and shares its traditions. To be completely frank, I don't care what college or university he ends up attending. I wouldn't care if he attends at all as long as it's the right thing for him to be doing - or not doing. I, also, wouldn't care what kind of professions he pursues as long as he is happy doing it and that he gets some fulfillment and meaning out of it.

However, seeing Jude bow and kick and punch and get into his joombi, ready, stance I couldn't help from feeling that between us maybe the Bas family martial arts legacy may develop somehow.

03 March, 2011


I just read a comment in a friend's blog, about her experience enjoying dim sum on the weekend, that stated the person enjoys blogs about food. For some reason I liked that comment - and I thought who doesn't? - because I do too. Reading about people's experiences with food brings so much to the reader. It can transfer the reader to another culture. It can remind the reader of things they didn't know they missed. It can bring the reader to fond memories of things did when eating. It can spring board the reader into trying something new.

To that end, I've decided to repost a blog I recently wrote and posted on another site about my experience at a dampa. A dampa is a seafood restaurant in which you choose what you're going to eat from a wet market and you tell the waiter how you want it cooked.

I hope you enjoy the experience. Here's my post:

I haven't looked up the meaning of the word or its translation (laziness rearing its ugly head again) but from what I gather a dampa is a place where you pick your own food and a vendor will cook it for you the way you want it. I've been to such a place before, in Hong Kong, but I went to my first in Manila on Boxing Day.  And, I got the desire and inclination to go to one from oddest places, considering I'm Fil-Am and you'd think that my wife or someone who grew up in The Philippines would've suggested it. It was from watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations that going to a dampa entered my mind. So, on this trip, my wife and I decided that it was going to be a priority - along with her getting her fill of puto bongbong and eating our friend Jenny's tapa.

There are several dampa now in The Philippines but because the food is largely fish and other seafood many of them are by bodies of water. When we asked my father where we could go, he mentioned the one on Roxas Boulevard in Baclaran.

It was hard to get there, thanks to traffic on this holiday Sunday, and thanks to street vendors and shoppers walking along the road that, before reclamation, had been part of The Pacific Ocean. Now, from the front of the dampa to the water is about a mile or so of reclaimed land that has been turned into road and highways.  I could imagine a jetty or some other protrusion coming from the restaurant to the water, as the expression goes, back in the day.

As we pulled into a very narrow parking spot, which we were guided into by a thin woman in dirty capris and a long sleeve t-shirt with a towel around her neck, I commented to myself how skilled Filipino drives are to be able to get into, out of and around tight spaces with double parked cars, azcals (street dogs), people walking four or five wide shoulder-to-shoulder and tricycles trying to squeeze around you going the other way on a one way street. (Reality TV show idea! We could call it "Survivor Driver" and it would have drivers from all over the world competing in different mundane and outrageous driving feats.)

After getting out of the car and paying the woman a few pesos for her help, we proceeded to the restaurant. Above its entrance is a sign that says it's the original fish market and restaurant. Seeing that, my anticipation for the experience and the tastiness of the food was naturally heightened. There was, already, a sense of authenticity to what we were about to experience. In addition to the sign, I noticed my son. Clinging to me tightly, his head didn't stop turning from side-to-side and his mouth hung open as he watched street kids, shoeless and dirty, walking by themselves in and among the other people and between cars. One child was sleeping on a cardboard box that had been flattened out. When my son turned to me, I could feel tears wanting to well up when I saw, how at his young life of two years and eight months, he could see and tell there was something different and unfortunate about what he was seeing compared to his own life. When he held me tighter, I leaned down to him and whispered, "Be grateful, Jude. We're very lucky."

When we got inside, an intrepid waiter from one of the restaurants - there are several and you choose the one you go to with your food - greeted us, gave us a menu with the options we had of how the seafood would be cooked and guided us around the various fish stalls. The squid, laid out on ice, some about the size of a small squash and some as small as an individual pack of Rolo chocolates, glistened and changed the appearance of its coat when we'd brush our fingers against them. The crabs were some of the largest I'd ever seen. The seaweed didn’t look like the sliced stuff we'd get at the sushi counter in the supermarket in New Jersey. Instead, it looked like green mini sago (clear tapioca balls) stuck together on a stem two or three inches long.

After making all of our selections, we went upstairs and had our feast. Without doubt, this Boxing Day lunch with my wife, son and parents has been the tastiest and most satisfying meal of this trip. We had Chili Crabs, done with typical Filipino sweetness and different from the Singaporean spicier version. We also had fried pampano, Mussels Soup, my wife's seaweed salad, garlic rice, kang kong sautéed in bagoong (shrimp paste) and garlic, and adobong pusit.  Without doubt, this adobong pusit was the best I'd ever had; its sauce thick and salty-sweet.  For Jude, we got some plain rice and lechon kawali. We tried to give him some of the seafood but he wouldn't take it so we ordered the pork but still he wouldn't eat, which is very strange because back in New Jersey he eats everything - American food, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, you name it.

So Jude could eat something, we went to Pancake House©, one of the restaurant chains my brother-in-law owns, and got him his favourite waffles. That's where we had our sweets too. My wife had an old fashioned Banana Split, my parents shared plain pancakes and I enjoyed a Halo Halo.

On the way back to the house, battling for road space among the other cars, Jude discovered and became enthralled by Jeepneys. Now, a week on, he says the word correctly but then it was "Jeepey." Not bad for a less than three year old who'd never seen them or said the word before.

It was a fantastic day. For all of us, we got to savour a delicious meal and spend time together. It was more time for Jude to bond with his paternal grandparents, who he is starting to know and call Grandma and Granddad, the way they want him to (his maternal grandparents are lola and lolo). For Jude and I, Fil-Ams who didn't grow up and aren't growing up in Manila (I grew up in Hong Kong and Jude is growing up in America) it was a chance to experience more than the 'metropolitanised' Makati and Greenhills. It was a chance for me to get in touch with my roots and for Jude to see the country of his parents' birth.

Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year everyone. May you all have a safe, happy, healthy and content 2011.

01 March, 2011

Simple Pleasures

The last couple of weeks I'd been having a food craving but, up until last Wednesday, I didn't know what I wanted. My taste buds were calling for some sweet satisfaction (how's that for alliteration, fellow writers? haha) but I didn't know for what exactly. Then, out of the blue, when my wife was heading out to the store and asked if I wanted anything, it hit me. I wanted a bun from the bakery at the Asian supermarket; a bun I used to enjoy as a child in Hong Kong that I would get from Maxim's and other bakeries around the city.

A few days later, we headed to the Asian market, after taking our son to see an early showing of Gnomeo And Juliet, to buy Japanese mayonnaise and grab some lunch. After sharing a couple of double rice combo lunches three ways, we bought the mayo and some other groceries then headed for the bakery where I satisfied my sweet tooth. The bun that did it for me is oval with a slit/trench cut down the middle lengthtwise. That trench is filled with a sweet white cream and the top of the bun is sprinkled with sweet desiccated coconut. My entire childhood, I thought that filling was some kind of cream. Only now did I discover it's butter; not a thick lard-like kind of butter but a light, smooth and ungreasy kind. Well, for the rest of the day, and maybe even the remainder of the weekend, that butter bun was the tastiest, most delicious thing I'd eaten.

It's funny how things make your day. I'd been having - and am still having - a stressful time of things. There's a lot going on. Maybe, subconsciously, I wanted that bun because it's a reminder of my childhood when things were light and easy; a contrast to what's happening these days. Or, maybe, my taste buds just wanted something they'd missed. Either way, that butter bun did it for me.

What does it for you?