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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.

31 January, 2012

A Year in the Life, part II

Hi, here's the second half of my 2011 recap. Enjoy.
Nationals. This trip would be our big family vacation. We’d stay at our friend’s place in Marina, just outside of Monterey, and the tournament was in San Jose. So, right now, I can say “yes” to Dionne Warwick. I do know the same to San Jose. I loved it there. Even the drive was nice. Everything was great - fantastic scenery, great farmers’ markets, cool and no humidity weather. We stayed with my wife’s friend Marsh, also a martial artist and a Monterey firefighter. Jude was so comfortable with Marsh. Guada, Marsh and Marsh’s girlfriend got to show Jude the Monterey Aquarium, where she works, and Jude got to feed the seals. I wasn’t able to go because I shot into San Jose to train and watch a friend compete in her division - a new friend, mind you, I’d made through the seminar and test in June – but just knowing my son was able to experience something as cool as feeding the seals made me happy.
Nationals itself was nice. I attended a small but meaningful opening ceremony. Each state walked in with signs, just like the countries do in the Olympics, and we heard opening speeches, pledged an oath to compete fairly and we watched some Taekwondo demonstrations. Was I excited after that? Heck, yeah! I couldn’t wait for the tournament to begin.
My actual competition was on the Saturday before July 4. There were 11 competitors in my division and I went right to the staging area. There, I warmed up, practiced my forms, relaxed. Then I’d repeat. While doing so, there were others doing the same thing. There were also lots of US team members, some I’d seen and competed against in Team Trials. What made Nationals and the year’s return to Taekwondo so rewarding was this: not only did I get to introduce my son to the thing I love, but, at Nationals, some US team members came up to me and greeted me by name. They’d remembered me from Trials and said they’d wished they could’ve helped me at Trials because they knew I was doing the forms the old way. I had pictures taken with some of them and made Facebook connections, too. We’re not all ‘buddy buddy’ and I’m nowhere close to becoming an elite athlete but I feel like I’ve become a part of the larger Taekwondo community. It’s easy to be the master of my school and keep it local and simple. To be a part of the entire community, however,  – making connections with US team members (one, incidentally, Facebooked me a birthday greeting today), making connections with the state association masters (the president served as my coach when I competed at Nationals), making friends in and through Taekwondo around the country – is what doing anything is about. Even as a writer. To make connections through the WDC and with other writers via Twitter, puts everything into perspective: that there’s a whole world out there that I am but a small part of and, yet, I can help it grow; that I do have a part to play.
I came tenth at Nationals. I thought I’d done well enough to place higher but I can accept my position. This was my first time doing this and, really, I pursued so intently for Jude. Sure, I did have notions and hopes – however, very thin ones – that I might medal but it’s okay that I didn’t. I committed, competed and have no doubts or regrets. If I do it again this year, I’ll be better prepared.
Things settled down and got back to normal. I still trained but didn’t have a tournament to compete in. I also saw myself in the mirror and noticed that I’d dropped a good 15 pounds and several inches around my waistline. There’s still a long way to go but I’m heading in the right direction.
My wife’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Due to scheduling and budgeting, we couldn’t all go to Manila and celebrate with them so my wife went and I stayed in New Jersey with our son and dog. It was an interesting and fun father-son bonding time but it was also a little scary. I didn’t know if Jude was going to meltdown every day without his mother but he did fine. We enjoyed going to the pool, playing soccer in the park and watching movies. I wouldn’t want to play ‘single parent’ all the time but it was a nice, like I said, father-son bonding time.
This month also saw me take over, again, as head volleyball coach at my district’s high school. My second time around in this position, I knew better what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve and how to go about doing it. We had some success and some failures – and most of the credit goes to the players – but we did get to do things our volleyball team hasn’t done it a long time. We beat some of the ‘bigger’ title contending teams. We advanced to the second round of our county tournament. Some of our players were voted onto the all-conference team.
Also in this month, I made the decision to indie-publish my novel. I’d gotten lots of praise for it but no one wanted to pick it up and I found that not finding a place for it was stifling my other writing pursuits. So, I decided to self-publish and so began my foray into being a publisher, of sorts. Sure, I wish I could’ve gotten a nice fat advance and all that but, especially for a first book, I’m okay with self-publishing. There are lots of reasons why agents didn’t pick up my work. It doesn’t have to mean my novel is junk. There are simple taste reasons, economy reasons, including shifts in the publishing business with e-books, who knows? Maybe I was just targeting the wrong agents.
It’s funny but these months really didn’t have much going on. Yes, the volleyball season ended in November with the team having done better than it has in recent years. Yes, there was Halloween and the strange snowfall before it. And, of course, there’s Thanksgiving but, really, nothing much happened to write about.
We did take Jude to see The Radio City Christmas Spectacular for the first time and its magic and the glamour of the Hall got to him, even as a three year old, instantly. “This is amazing,” is what he said. He actually said those words. I love the show. It’s a fun and meaningful program and I was ecstatic that he loved it, too. I hope he continues to enjoy it as he gets older and, hopefully, after I’m long gone, he can take his children and they’ll enjoy it too.
Oh, and about that freak snow storm, it really put me in a foul mood for weeks. I was in Brooklyn, with my wife, a mile or so away from Dumbo and The Powerhouse Arena, when the snow really started to come down. We were on our way to the Page Turner Festival, the annual literary festival and awards event hosted by The Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I’ve always wanted to attend but something always got in the way. This year, having committed to publishing my book, I bought tickets and we were set. As much as wanting to attend the event and hear speakers talk about their work, I also wanted to make some connections as an Asian-American writer, to get my book out and all that.  Well, so near yet so far. The snow forced us to go home. It’s a good thing we did because we would’ve gotten trapped in Brooklyn otherwise. As it was, we got stranded in Newark when the train wouldn’t go and our friend had to get us in his 4x4.
Christmas this year was very special. With Jude more aware of things, the idea of Santa became very real to him. So, Guada and I played it up. As a result, Christmas was brilliant. Jude loved it; getting into the songs, lights, decorations, the gifts, the food, everything. For me, his excitement brought back a renewed joy for the season. I love Christmas but there always seems to be a touch of melancholy around the holidays. Through Jude, I got to feel his innocence and unblemished enjoyment of all things Christmas.
So, that’s what I have to look back on in 2011. As I venture in my 44th year of life, let’s see what comes with it. My novel will be out in February. Maybe it’ll lead to some things big and exciting. The marketing people at the publisher think it’ll make for a good movie. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get on that US Poomsae team; with dual citizenship, if not the US one, how about Team Philippines?
I hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane. If you didn’t know me, now you do. I’d like to get to know my readers, too. What stands out for you in 2011? What do you have planned for 2012?

A Year in the Life, part I

Today’s my birthday and I’ve turned forty-three. I first wrote my age as a number but that seemed a little depressing, emphasizing my age somehow. I’m still pretty young, I guess, and in generally good health but I think it’s normal for someone my age to start assessing his life and taking stock of where he is, what he’s done and where he’s going.  I’m in the fifth decade of my life. Some of you reading are way beyond this. Some of you are at about the same stage and others are very far away from turning thirty, never mind forty. Perhaps some of you are even yet to hit twenty.
Last year, at around the twentieth anniversary of the completion of my undergraduate studies, I did a look back to see what I’d done since then. It was a timeline of some of the major events of my twenties and thirties. Today, I’m going to present what I’ve done and accomplished and failed in over the last twelve months. Hopefully it will be an interesting read and, perhaps, educate some and entertain others. Maybe, too, it will provide one or two of you some ideas and motivation for what you want to achieve for yourself.
It’s a bit long so I’ll post it in two parts.
The year started out great with a nice New Year’s celebration. We were in Manila, though, and coming home was a disaster. It’s a really long story but, in a nutshell, out flight was cancelled. People were getting booked on flights two and three weeks later. We couldn’t afford that. I’d connected somehow with another Fil-Am, who works as a travel agent in New York, and following his lead I pressed the airline to get us booked. I’m usually very shy when it comes to speaking Tagalog but this was not a time for those kinds of insecurities. I spoke Tagalog, as bad as I do, and made some progress. Granted, everyone there at the airport spoke English, but, if you’ve ever been to The Philippines and you’re Filipino, it’s never just English. It’s Taglish, which I found out is an official language, so I had to use whatever Tagalog I knew. After about 12 or so hours, we were bound for Tokyo and, from there, on to Newark. While Guada and I were about to lose it, Jude was brilliant. At one point, we had to re-inspect our bags. I’d been carrying Jude and after our bags came out of the x-ray machine, I was setting up to shoulder one, roll another and grab him. He said, “No, Daddy. Don’t carry. It’s too much.” As I write this, I actually want to lose it. At such a young age, he recognized that we’d been through a hellish ordeal (we got to the airport at about 5pm and didn’t leave for Tokyo until about 9am). He slept through a lot of it but, when he was awake, he was happy and smiling. I looked to him whenever I wanted to break down and whenever I was ready to lose my cool at the airport and airline people. He kept me from doing either. Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and hopeless cases. I became attached to the name years ago when I was going through a bad patch and came across a prayer card to Saint Jude. That’s how I became determined to name my son Jude and, yet again, Saint Jude came to my rescue.
I also returned to Taekwondo this month. Well, I never left it but the realities of everyday life had taken their toll and I hadn’t been training regularly, if at all. At the studio where my wife teaches Pilates, Niyolates and Gyrotonic, and where she and another instructor run their own business providing various dance and fitness classes, I started teaching Taekwondo. I do it through their business, Step2Gether, and I use the name of the Taekwondo school I operated in the early 1990s. I knew I missed training in and teaching Taekwondo, and perhaps it’s because of my age, but I didn’t know I missed it as much as I did. I’m really glad I’m back.
I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York City and pitched my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, to agents at the Pitch Slam. They were all kind and said nice things. Three of them requested the complete manuscript and two of them compared it, based on my pitch, to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s my opinion that writers need validation; that what we’re writing matters to someone other than us. Whether my novel is actually on par or similar, in some way, to Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize winner, I don’t know. That’ll be up to its readers to decide. Just hearing these agents say that, though, gave me a sense of hope and reward that what I’ve written could be something meaningful to someone other than me.
Not much happened in February, except for finding out when the NJ State Taekwondo Championships were being held. I’d only started teaching Taekwondo again when I had to get some supplies at a martial arts supply store in Bergenfield, NJ. On the door was a poster advertising the tournament. Funnily, it was held on the same day as the New York City Half Marathon, a race I’d applied to but didn’t get accepted. If I had, I wouldn’t have competed at States and won my division and the rest of the year wouldn’t have happened as it did.
The biggest thing to happen to me in March 2011 was the NJ State Taekwondo Championships. I hadn’t competed in, maybe, 15 years. Granted, I was only entering the forms division, so there wasn’t going to be contact happening but I was a little nervous about getting on the floor and performing. As it turned out, I was the only one who’d entered my division. I still performed but I was going to auto-gold anyway. If there had been others, who knows how I would have done but I was there, ready and willing to put it out on the floor. What was really interesting, and encouraging in a sense, was the fact that once I’d changed into my uniform and sat on the floor waiting for my time and stretching, a confident sense of déjà vu came over me. It was as if I’d never left the tournament circuit and, while the place and faces had changed, the calm I’d gained from experience, despite my absence, hadn’t.  I was relaxed and even confident and I didn’t have any of the nervousness that some of the other competitors looked like they had.
I’d finished the final draft of my novel the previous December and had it in submission with agents so I allowed myself a break from writing to focus on my training. I was still following up with agents I’d queried and working on my works-in-progress but the main activity I was doing was training; getting back into shape and getting ready for the next tournament. You see, a little while after winning States, I’d received an email from USA Taekwondo (USAT), the governing body of Taekwondo in the United States, that I’d qualified for the US Poomsae (Forms) Team Trials and the US National Championships. I’d tried out for a US team before – in 1996, in Atlanta, for a spot on the US Olympic Men’s Handball Team for 2000. I didn’t make it but I was one of about 300-plus who was invited to try out. Unfortunately, for the team, but in a way it eased my disappointment, the US didn’t qualify for the 2000 Olympics.
After reading the emails and talking with my wife, we decided that 2011 would be ‘my’ year; the year in which our focus were these pursuits that were, ultimately, mine and mine alone. We decided that I would train for team trials and nationals for the experience, for our son to be a part of, for writing research and, maybe, to qualify for a national team.
I also began training with the NJ Taekwondo Team. This was fantastic. I got to meet masters who are in the know of how things are currently done and I got to improve on my forms and my fitness. What I’d missed from playing basketball on my high school team in Hong Kong and from our Taekwondo tournament entries with my friends and students from the 1990s was being rekindled here with the New Jersey Team.
I also received a third email informing me that there was going to be a special poomsae seminar and test in June. The test was being given by the Martial Arts Commission of USAT (USAT-MAC) and the seminar was being taught by a senior master from the Kukkiwon Academy in Korea.
May is my anniversary month so, naturally, this has to be mentioned. In 2011, my wife and I celebrated seven years of marriage. This isn’t a lot, in terms of numbers, but when you hear statistics that 50% of American marriages end in divorce and that many marriages (I forget the stats) don’t get beyond 3-5 years, seven is not too shabby.
This was also when the US Poomsae Team Trials were. I’ll admit I had dreams of success. They turned into delusions of grandeur pretty quickly. In preparation for this event, I had to teach myself three advanced poomsae. I didn’t have a lot of time so I spent most of it learning those forms. Of the ones I already knew, I just practiced them as is. Later, after a humiliating last place finish at team trials, I discovered that the forms had changed. They’d become more streamline and uniform; easier to judge fairly in competition. It was still a great experience and a mini-vacation but I did have to put on a brave face. Inside, to be honest, I felt embarrassed and contemplated not even going to nationals.
After my humiliation, my wife and I talked and we decided that I should take the seminar. So, I enrolled in it and applied for the test. I hadn’t tested since 2001 and, since I had enough time in, I could test from 4th dan to 6th dan. So, turning to my masters and other masters involved with the state organization, I trained, relearnt everything, trained and trained some more.
It was another mini-vacation, thanks, to Taekwondo that was the main event for me in June - the all-day forms seminar and test. It was a fantastic event and I felt very much at home with the grandmaster from Korea. As soon as he’d arrived with the masters from the USAT-MAC, I bowed to him and I think this gave us some kind of connection. Throughout the course, which started at 9am and ended at 5pm, he would come to each us and correct us as we did the forms the new way; new to me but not the others. It was a packed room that was, perhaps the size of a two squash courts, and it held what must’ve been 90-100 of us. Jude and Guada were great. I wasn’t sure how Jude would be but he stayed happy and watched and played in the play room with other kids. Guada watched, learnt stuff herself and filmed the instructor’s demonstrations on her iPhone. I really absorbed what he taught us and I took it back with me, trying to do the forms the way he did. Strangely, and I don’t speak Korean other than a few Taekwondo-based commands, but I felt like I could understand the instructor.
After an hour break, the test was conducted. There were about nine of us who tested. Another master and I were testing for our 6th dan and it was a fantastic experience. Those testing were of varying ages so the style of Taekwondo that was on display could have been filmed into a documentary and titled “Taekwondo Through The Ages.” I did everything well, I think, but my breaking routine needed some work. I tried a three-board jump spinning back kick – MY kick – but no go. I hadn’t practiced enough and I was under-rotating. At least my large frame was still able to get up there, though. After three attempts, I switched to a flying sidekick and went right through the wood. Jude, as kids will do, wanted my broken boards.
The following day, I went to my New Jersey Team practice and got my official uniform. That was, simply, cool. I hadn’t been on a team in a long time and to have this uniform, with the New Jersey Taekwondo logo on it, made me feel, again, part of something exciting.

29 January, 2012

Book Review: "Legend" by Marie Lu

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu
In books and films, it is often a bad thing if the reader or viewer can guess what’s going to happen next or where the story is going to end. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to tell a fresh story from a seemingly hackneyed theme; in this case, dystopia.  Sucker Punch, Terra Nova and, of course, The Hunger Games series come to mind. Picking Legend up at my nearby Barnes and Noble, knowing that it’s the first book in a series, I did turn to the first page with certain expectations for when I got to the last one. So, in that regard, there are certain things the reader can predict but it’s how Marie Lu gets there that is the brilliance of her novel – and her writing talents.
I was first attracted to Legend by its cover. The gold insignia, the sign of The Republic, caught my eye. It made me think of the Chinese character for ‘double happiness’ on boxes of matches that used to come with the cigarettes my father used to send me to pick up for him, when I was a kid in Hong Kong working as the office errand boy. (I’m glad to say that my father stopped smoking cigarettes in 1984.) Then I saw the author’s name and, as an Asian-American myself, there was greater interest in the book. A week or so later, I read a review of Legend in The New York Times’ Book Review. The reviewer stated something to the effect that Legend will fill the void of YA dystopia fans that was created by the conclusion of The Hunger Games series with the last page of Mockingjay. Coincidentally, on the visit to Barnes and Noble, I did buy a paperback of The Hunger Games. I didn’t buy Legend.
My wife read The Hunger Games in three days and went on to buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay and finished both books within the following five days. A couple of weeks later, we were Christmas shopping and ended up back at the Barnes and Noble. I handed my wife a copy of Legend, telling her what the New York Times Book Review said, and she started to read some of its pages. While playing with our son at the Lego table, she came back from the New Releases shelf grinning widely and said, “We have to get this.” And we did.
If you’ve read my blog on reading habits, you’ll know that I read four or five books at a time, devoting 15-20 minutes a day for each book. I like doing that because it keeps me reading and I get to experience a variety of books that fit in with my various tastes and moods. It also means I take longer than most to finish any one particular book. Well, just before the New Year, I started Legend and, a month later, I’ve finished it. I don’t mean that to say the other books I’m reading are badly written or aren’t holding my interest. They are all very good. I’m reading Lisa See, after all. Legend is just that good. It’s been a while since a book kept me turning its pages in such a way that Legend did; a way that makes me want to put everything else aside and just keep reading. The last books to do that for me were The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy). Legend is in good – no, great – company.
Lu’s interpretation of Les Miserables, with Los Angeles as its backdrop and Day and June, the two protagonists, taking over for Gavroche and Eponine (Day) and Cosette and Marius (June) in combination and sometimes gender-reversing roles, is fast-paced brilliance. Each character is expertly fleshed out and complex. It’s an old story – the rich power machine versus the poor and struggling – but Lu makes it fresh by creating characters with which the reader can sympathise and emphathise. There is nothing gratuitous in Legend and Lu sets up every twist and turn with meaningful and exciting – sometimes jaw-dropping – payoffs. Whether you enjoy YA books or not, Legend is a must read. It’s entertaining, exciting, well-paced and visual. To say the least, it’s simply a page-turner. It’s excellent, excellent stuff. (That’s two superlatives, folks.) She also tells the story from both protagonists’ points of view, switching between each character in alternating chapters, without repetition of thought or action. She moves the story forward deftly and seamlessly. Reading Legend is like hanging out with Day and June, listening to them tell the same story without skipping a beat or missing a detail.
As I mentioned earlier, The New York Times reviewer said that Legend will fill the void, for fans of YA dystopia, created by the end of The Hunger Games series. Generally, I don’t like to compare books and authors. I believe they all need and deserve to stand on their own and be liked or disliked on their own merits. However, with the Times’ juxtaposition of Legend with the successfully popular series and all the excitement and praise The Hunger Games has received, I can’t help from making my own comparison of sorts. I haven’t read The Hunger Games yet but it’s next on my list of reads for 2012. Lu informed me, in a quick Twitter exchange, that the follow up book to Legend will be coming out this fall. I wish I didn’t have to wait. I wish I could get hold of an advance copy or galley. Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources at my disposable to do that. In the meantime, I hope The Hunger Games can fill the void left by my finishing Legend.

Postscript: Legend has been picked up by CBS Films for a slated 2013 movie release. Naturally, I’m very excited to see the film version and, with Marie Lu on board as an executive producer, I’m sure it’s going to be a great success that maintains her tone and vision. I’m also a big fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and I was equally excited for the movie to come out. Sadly, in so many ways, I was disappointed. The casting, in particular, left much to be desired.  Please, Ms. Lu, make sure the casting stays true to your vision and doesn’t fall prey to Hollywood’s whims and/or its deep pockets.

25 January, 2012

Scheming Monkey

Monday was the start of Chinese New Year; the fifteen day celebration of the new lunar year. Happy New Year! Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Like in the western zodiac, which has a sign for different times of the year (there are 13 signs now, remember?), the Chinese calendar has an animal representing the current year. There are twelve of them and each one has certain characteristics attributed to it. Within each one, there are 'sub' versions of the animal. I, for instance, am a monkey but if you look deeper into the sign, counting the hour in which I was born, you will find that I am a 'lonely monkey.' Generally, the monkey can be mischievous; a schemer who is very generous but also very opportunistic. Hmm. That doesn't portray me in a very favourable light now, does it? Additionally, depending on when you were born and how close that i sto the previous or next year, you can also display some of the other year's animal's characteristics. For years, my family thought I was a rooster, having been born on 31 January, 1969. When I was in my teens, my sister discovered that the lunar new year happened a week or so after my birthday. Anyway, you get the drift.

This year, it's the Year of the Dragon. Generally speaking, the dragon is the most revered sign in the Chinese zodiac and it's an honour to have been born in the dragon year. Not just in the zodiac, but in Asian culture as a whole, the dragon is the highest symbol of enlightenment. It's a mythical creature that posseses the highest ideals of knowledge, strength, power and wisdom. From what I recall, hopefully accurately, from an Eastern Mythology class I took at Rutgers, there is a Shinto sect that believes that Japan was born from a dragon's egg.

With all its traits, the dragon brings a sense of intensityt, optimism, excitement and drive. It hints that the upcoming year is going to be filled with happiness and success. However, as ideal as the dragon is, there is also a sense of impulsivity to it. During the dragon year, people are encouraged to pursue their dreams but to do so with caution. Approaching them without care in the drago year can lead, ironically and sadly, to failure, poverty and whatever normal things none of us want to experience.

So, with that in mind, I wish all of you good luck, prosperity and much success. Just be careful how you get there.

For me, as a writer, I am very excited that it's a dragon year. I don't recall if dragons and monkeys are compatible - I think we are because one of my sister's is a dragon and we get along really well - but with my monkey traits of scheming (which I like to translate into planning; a less sinister word) and opportunism combining with the prospects of success brought with the dragon year, it appears to be very auspicious that my debut novel is coming out in this year. Maybe the stars and animals will align and I will have some kind of success with Back Kicks And Broken Promises. The marketing people at my publisher, Abbott Press, strongly believe that my book lends itself to being adapted into a screenplay and, consequently, a really good movie and that, as their agent put it, is a "life changer." A change for the better, I hope.

All-in-all, 2012 has been a good, albeit young, year. Taekwondo classes have resumed, after our winter break, and my students are progressing nicely. I'm also making new connections through my Twitter account with other writers and some influential players in the writing and publishing world. I also had a fantastic reunion with my best friend, who lives in Germany and who I hadn't seen since 1997. Thank God for the internet because we have been able to keep in touch, at least. And, my novel is coming together for a February release.

I know things won't always be up during the next twelve months. That's just the natural way of things. Things, however, are looking very bright right now and it's up to me, as a monkey, to make the most of that through the excitement and optimism and idealism of the dragon. I'm targeting and hoping for much success this year - professionally, personally, athletically, spiritually, you name it. I hope you are too and I wish you all the luck achieving it.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

24 January, 2012

Anti-Racism = Anti-White?

My friend is a contributing columnist for an online football (soccer) magazine. He's also Pakistani, raised in Bristol, grew up in Hong Kong and now lives in Germany. I've known him for going on thirty years and, I am proud to say, he has not a single racist bone in his body. As a Pakistani in England, he's had his fair share of racism directed at him and his family and, as a non-Chinese Asian in Hong Kong, he - along with some of us other Asians, including Chinese, who attended the expat British school - was on the receiving end of some unfavourable comments there.

I bring this up because he just wrote a piece on the racism scandal involving Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra and Liverpool Football Club, of which he has been a lifelong fan. In a nutshell, Suarez has been accused of calling Evra, eight times, a derogatory word for a black person. As a result, Suarez has been fined and is serving a lengthy ban from playing. The article also discusses whether the club handled the situation correctly and offers some suggestions on educating imported players on the 'dos' and 'do nots' of the English Premier League. (Here is the link to the article. It's called Liverpool FC, Kenny Dalglish, Luis Suarez and Racism: What Is The Best Solution?)

What struck me, however, was a comment one of his readers made. The reader wrote, "Africa for Africans, Asia for the Asians, white countries for EVERYBODY. Mass immigration and "assimilation" forced on all white countries and ONLY white countries.......Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-white."

For me, this is a ridiculous statement. First of all, are there any 'all white countries' (anymore)? Were there ever any, really? If so, what then of the mass immigration of whites to Africa, enslaving the native Africans and exporting those slaves to other parts of the world? What of the whites coming to America and stealing land from the Native American Indians and killing many of them off? What of the whites going to Asia, colonising its countries and making the locals less than people, equal only to the standing of a dog? Second, non-whites (just to continue to use the reader's phrasing) are not the only people migrating. There are whites who migrate, not just because their companies have relocated them but because they like the lifestyle, to 'non-white' countries. How many non-whites live in places like The Philippines, South Africa, The Bahamas, Brasil, to name a few? Thirdly, the incident my friend's piece was discussing had to do with two non-white players. This clearly shows that racism is not just an issue that has to do with a white person and a person of colour. It can happen between two people of colour and not one white person has to get involved. Here, in America for example, I've seen African-Amerians getting on other African-Americans for dating non-African-Americans simply because of the other person's race.

I hate racism. It's one of the worst things human beings invented. As a mixed-race person, I've gotten from both sides. My friend's article suggests that imported players get educated on the way things should be done in the English Premier League. I agree with this. It'd be like orientation day on the first day of any other job. Sadly, however, racism is a global issue and not just something that happens in England or on the football pitches of our favourite teams. Throwing Suarez a little bit of a lifeline, perhaps there was a language barrier issue. Suarez is relatively new to England and, perhaps, his English isn't very good yet. Evra, who's French, has been playing in England for a number of years now and I've seen him interviewed. His English is rather good. Suarez's native language is Spanish and the word for black in Spanish is 'negro' (the ne not pronounced like knee). Perhaps, there was a misunderstanding and maybe Evra thought Suarez used a different N word. However, this is thin defence if Suarez is using it. To refer to a player - to anyone - by his race, other than maybe to describe the person, is a form of racism. This may even be a form of racism, too. Personally, I'm okay with someone saying something like, "Oh Juan, he's one of the male gym teachers at school. He's the Asian one." Change "Asian" to "yellow" or "brown" then we have a problem.

Unfortunately, racism exists. With increased immigration and increased mixed race marriages, I think, I hope, racism eventually will stop. These, though, should not be the only solutions; if they are, at all. Am I being too romantic about it ending? Probably. If it does, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. Sadly, I doubt it will happen in my son's lifetime. Racism stems, largely, from simple ignorance. Eliminate that ignorance with education and exposure. It's not enough just to learn about it. Go out and meet and really get to know people who are different from you. That's the first step.

So, is anti-racism tantamount to being anti-white? No. Anti-racism is, simply, anti-racist.

23 January, 2012

Educational Conundrum

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being elitist. Maybe I’m being a snob. Maybe I don’t understand education. Maybe I don’t understand the culture in which I live. I am a teacher, though, and I do understand that there is a downward trend in students’ GPAs and test scores.
I’m bringing this up because I recently had a conversation with one of my students. It’s the final week of the semester and I assigned a small project for my students to complete by the end of the week. It’s also midterm time at our school and the student reminded me that we (the teachers) are not supposed to give homework during midterms. Honestly, I haven’t looked at the policy about this lately and I’m sure what the student said is over generalizing but it did sound familiar. Let me say, before someone points to the student and says that the student was just trying to get out of work, that this particular student is earning good grades in my class and produces good work. This student is not on the lower end of the grade spectrum and does not try to get out of working.
I believe the policy for not giving the students work during midterms is so they can focus on their exams, study for them and not get too stressed out. On some level, I suppose it’s looking out for the student. On the flip side, however, I think it’s doing the students a disservice. When I did a year at a private Catholic all-boys secondary school in New Jersey, there were designated days that teachers of certain subjects could assign homework. For instance, Monday was the day maths teachers could give homework and Tuesday was for science. Maths teachers weren’t ‘allowed’ to give homework on any day other than Monday.
I never considered myself to be a good student; one of those super motivated, high achievers who desire about going to an Ivy League school from the age of five or six. My parents, also, weren’t the type to push me towards that. My mother wasn’t a Tiger Mom and my dad wasn’t a Tiger Dad in regard to education. Looking back, however, I do recall getting good grades. Simply, I believe that was because I was made to work. Teachers gave us homework and assignments whenever they felt they needed to. It didn’t matter if all my teachers gave me projects at the same time and if they were all due on the same day. We, my classmates and I, were expected to get the work done and we were expected to do it well. I’m not saying to give students just to give them work. That would be a quantity over quality display and quantity doesn’t always lead to good things. However, work should be given when it’s needed and it should be work that’s meaningful and forces the students to think.
Some of the students I teach complain when I assign them a project. They cite that other teachers have given them work, as well. They ask for extensions. Some even ask if they have to actually do the projects I assign. I think we – teachers, parents, and society – have become soft enablers. There’s nothing wrong with being tough on kids; tough doesn’t mean abusive. It doesn’t mean bullying. It means demanding. It means forming discipline and good habits. Not being demanding enough can promote laziness which, in turn, leads to lack of performance. We’re talking education in this blog. Lack of performance turns into poor grades.
Another thing I’ve thought about over the years is the requirement for the number of days a student has to attend school each year. In New Jersey, it’s around 180 days. If a student misses too many, there are issues with failing and repeating the grade. Yes, there are truancy issues and kids can’t just not go to school and go to school when they choose, however, to simply say a student should fail because he or she just X number of days is, in my opinion, ludicrous. This came to mind because of a discussion I had about snow days and having to make up the days missed due to school closures if we use more than the built in number of emergency days.
Looking back on my own schooling, I recall in my Third Form (Grade 8) year that I was sick with bronchitis and out of school for a good two weeks. My brother got work for me from my teachers. As I recovered, I did the work at home and brought it in when I returned to school. For the classes my brother could not get work for, I simply asked them what I missed and, again, made up the work.
Encouragingly, I learnt from a fellow teacher that in one of the Dakotas – or is it one of the Carolinas – there isn’t a minimum number of days requirement in their schools. If days are missed due to weather or if a student is out due to a prolonged illness, for example, as long as the work is taught and learnt all is good. Again, there are truancy laws in this country and kids can’t just be absent. They do need to be in attendance to fully learn what they’re supposed to be learning. Also, requiring some kind of attendance teaches them responsibility and gives them a sense of what it’s going to be like when they’re older and in the workforce.
Education, in my opinion, should be a case of quality and not quantity. For the most part, in my experiences, the teachers I have had and worked with and the schools I have attended and taught in, follow this principle. Sometimes, however, funny things happen and it’s how much someone has done that takes precedence and is rewarded over the worth of whatever he or she did.
I believe accountability is the key. Make students accountable and make them think. Demand their best and accept nothing less.

18 January, 2012

Big Brother IS Watching...At Least He Wants To

PIPA and SOPA. That's all I've been hearing about today on Twitter and that is a good thing. It tells me that people are paying attention and doing what they can to stop these acts from being voted in as law. In a nutshell, for those of you who are unaware, both are acts that are geared towards stopping online piracy of copyrighted material and to prevent US-based websites and businesses from doing business with non-US websites and businesses that engage in copyright infringement. This is a good thing.

The bad thing about both acts - PIPA being put forward by the US Senate and SOPA, which is coming from the House of Representatives - is that they will sanction and prevent online business from dealing with foreign sites that are known, however not proven, to be engaging in copyright infringement. If proven, fine. Attack the illegally acting sites. But the ones that are just 'known' to be engaging in them? Come on. Doesn't our legal system say 'innocent until proven guilty' somewhere? What's next, sanctioning those sites that the government merely thinks and feels are doing illegal business? We are a nation of laws, not whims.

The other problem is that this 'protection' can only lead to blanket censorship of the internet and, eventually, to an internet that is no longer free but one that we, the users, will have to pay the government some ridiculuous tax or use fee in order to publish our material. For one thing, there is a fundamental right in this country of freedom of expression. For another, the internet is a viable, living entity that honest people use for business. Commerce relies on the internet. Small businesses get in touch with customers and potential customers through their websites and e-mail services that allow them to compete with the deep-pocketed conglomerates in their same fields.

I am a writer. I'm on the verge of getting my debut novel out to the public. Hopefully, I'll generate some sales of my novel and develop a fan base that will support my work and want to read more fiction I write. I can't do this as easily, quickly and effectively, as an independent writer and publisher, without a free and uncensored internet. Even writers and other artists who have the money and agents and the backing of big publishing houses, art houses and music labels rely on the internet to promote their art and generate an income.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook are important to people like us. They, and the internet as a whole, are also important to the 'everyman.' Since moving to American in 1985, I'd lost touch with many friends. Through Facebook, I'd managed to find them and reacquaint with many of them and some of them - in fact, the majority of them - live in other parts of the world. I have family members all over the world too and the internet allows us to keep in touch. Before the widespread use of the internet, we relied on letters and phone calls. Sometimes snail mail would get lost. Once, I received a birthday card from my dad in The Philippines more than a year after the birthday for which it was intended. In the past, phone connections weren't always reliable. Today, the efficiency of the internet has made snail mail service better. Phone calls are clearer and cheaper thanks to services like Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, FaceTime and Viber.

The internet is a great thing. Yes, there is piracy out there and it has to be stopped. All crime has to be stopped. However, it's not the internet and the freedom of its use and non-censorship that has done this. Just like a gun can't kill unless someone pulls the trigger at someone else, the internet is also just a tool. The government is going to make it harder for us honest individuals to use the internet for business and pleasure by attacking the tool and not the illict user.

Please, keep freedom of expression alive. Keep the internet free and uncensored.


This world is going nuts.

I'm attaching a link, at the bottom of this post, to a friend's blog about the Tucson school district's elimination of Mexican-American Studies. It's a terrible situation and, in my opinion, borders on (if not actually being) racism. The removal of the course has also seen a ban on several works of literature that will promote young people reading, give them something to relate to, educate them, entertain them and give them some kind of support that helps them understand themselves as Mexican-Americans.

Personally, when I came to America, when everything suddenly became about where I was from and what nationality I am, I wish there were more courses in the secondary school I attended and in college that had to do with multi-ethnic studies. Maybe I didn't look hard enough but I don't recall seeing offerings for Asian-American studies when I was a student at Rutgers University from 1987-1991. Now, there seems to be an abundance - and that's a good thing - of multi-ethnic studies at every university in the country. Those courses can be general (Asian-American studies) to specific (Chinese-American Literature).

This country was born of immigrants and to deny current and future immigrants and the children of immigrants, not to mention those individuals who just want to broaden their minds, the opportunity to learn about how people of the same and similar backgrounds fit in and have contributed to the growth of this great country is simply an injustice. I forget the actual statistics and timeline but a recent TIME Magazine article stated that the Census Bureau reported that this country is going to, eventually, have a majority population that is made up of mixed race citizens and minorities.

As an immigrant and a writer, as a teacher and a parent, I have to say that what the Tucson school district is doing is wrong. It's censorship and racism. I'm not a big fan of censorhip, although I do agree that some material is not appropriate for certain ages and populations. Whatever you believe religiously, sexually explicit material, for example, is here to stay and it's a big money-making industry. I wouldn't condone letting a minor read or watch any of it, however. What an adult does with this kind of material is up to him or her and something he or she will have to come to terms with within his or her own religious beliefs, feelings, etc. However, finding a connection and understanding of oneself, through literature for example, that is appropriate to the individual's age, level of understanding and so on is another thing altogether.

Here's the link to my friend's blog.

16 January, 2012


I'm cheating a bit with the post because I didn't write it but I think it's worth sharing. It's a little tongue-in-cheek, in my opinion, but it's something to consider the next time someone of a younger generation gets in your face about the environment.

As for where I got this 'guest blog,' a friend of mine found it and posted in on Facebook. I don't know the author but thank you for writing it and I hope you don't mind me sharing it.

Here's the link to it.


14 January, 2012

Age: Truly Just A Number?

Is age truly just a number?

One of the books I'm currently reading is Dara Torres' biography, Age Is Just A Number: Achieve Your Dreams At Any Stage in Your Life. In it, Torres chronicles her Olympics swimming career, particularly her preparations for making the USA team for the 2008 Olympics and her accomplishments at The Games. She also talks about becoming a mother later in her life and how that influenced her Olympics drive. She discusses how she's able to swim faster as she's gotten older as she's changed her training and fitness programs to allow her to do more quality workouts, in and out of the water, instead of just stroking metres upon metres in the pool. She states, at her age, it's really all about quality over quantity, working on technique over power, cross-training and allowing herself more time so her body can recover.

I've been a fan of hers for years but I'll admit that I was extra interested in her 2008 Olympics experience because, at the time, I was creeping up on forty, which I had a very hard time dealing with, and I was starting to ponder what I would be like athletically. I've never been an elite anything but I did run seriously, commiting to it the way a professional might but at a much slower pace and with less miles per week, and I'm a higher ranking Taekwondoist. Like all of the other mortals who followed her progress and cheered her on, I was as much happy for her as I was hopeful for me.

Last year, three years after Torres's amazing return to the world swimming stage, I was able to rejuvenate my own competitive athletic ambitions through Taekwondo. If you've read this blog since last year, you'll know that I got back into teaching Taekwondo a year ago (Happy Anniversary to me and Bamboo Martial Arts, by the way! Haha!) and, consequently, I began competing again too. I entered the New Jersey State Championships and won my Poomsae (Forms) Division. That allowed me to compete at the US Team Trials for a spot on the Poomsae Team and at the US National Championships. I bombed at Trials but came tenth at Nationals. Even though my accomplishments are minor, compared to others' achievements, I did get to compete on some of the grander stages in the sport of Taekwondo, which doesn't have a large following or sponsorship or recognition the way track and field, gymnastics and swimming do at The Olympics and soccer, football, basketball and tennis have worldwide.

I decided to spend the time training for all those evens last year and fork out the money to travel to them with my family, largely, for the experience and for my son to be exposed to such things. Who knows? Maybe one day he'll follow in my footsteps and, unlike me, be one of the elite. I hadn't really thought about doing it again this year. However, with the experiences behind me, I'm wiser and, through the training, fitter. I'm also hungrier and, recently, my wife and I talked about me defending my title at States. As a matter of fact, earlier today, we were talking to her parents in Manila, via iPad Facetime, about going to The Philippines this coming summer. When we go, will depend on if I compete at Nationals. I'll be forty-three at the end of this month and I could be a State champion again. Granted my division is for 41-50 year olds and not open, like Torres swam in the Olympics, but at least I'm competing and pushing myself to be the best I can be.

This past week, Arsenal Football Club signed Thierry Henry, who is thirty-four, on a six week loan deal. Henry is Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer, having played for the London club from 1999-2007. Last Monday, he scored the winning goal in Arsenal's 1-0 win over Leeds in the FA Cup. Today, Paul Scholes, who retired at the end of last season and came out of retirement last week for a return stint with Manchester United for the remainder of this season, scored in United's 3-0 win over Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League. He's also in his thirties and, in soccer terms, the thirties are when the legs start to go and the thoughts of hanging up one's boots start to creep in. However, these two soccer legends, are doing the business when some of the new younger, rising stars aren't.

So, I ask you, is age really just a number? For what I want to try to achieve athletically (I'd love to medal at Nationals and I'm still shooting for a sub five hour marathon) and for wanting to be able to play with my son and help him with whatever sports he gets into, I hope it is. I became a dad late, in 2008, andwhile I'm still young I am getting closer to the stage of my life when there are going to be less tomorrows than there are yesterdays.

11 January, 2012


I'm a fan of Arsenal Football Club. If you've read my blogs you'll know that. This season, we, Arsenal (like every true sports fan I've become one with my team), got off to a horrible start. Now, comfortably in fifth place in the English Premier League, and on a very good run of form since late September/early October we seem to be headed in the right direction as the season enters its second half.

In world football, January is the in-season transfer window. Players come and go and sometimes there are big signings and sometimes younger players go out on loan to other teams to gain valuable playing experience. So far, Arsenal has made just one signing. It's a two-month loan deal with Thierry Henry, arguably one of the best players ever to don a pair of studs and one of the best - if not THE best - player to have worn Arsenal kit. (He's definitley one of my favourites but I do have to admit that Denis Bergkamp and Pat Jennings rank higher than him in that regard. Sorry Thierry. I still love you. Haha.) This, you see, is Henry's second stint with Arsenal. He's the club's all-time leading goalscorer, having scored 226 goals, before his loan move.

Even though we're doing  relatively well, we need to do better. Last Monday, we had an FA Cup match against Leeds United, a lower division team, and while we were dominating we could not break through and score. That is, until Henry came on as a substitute, received a sublime pass from Alex Song and, just like he'd down countless times before, trapped the ball and curled it deftly into the far corner of the goal. Final score: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0. I had a moment of hysterical celebration, falling off my sofa and pushing the coffee table forward to find myself sitting on the floor with my arms raised and screaming like I'd scored the goal. There was even a moment when I felt I might start bawling my eyes out. By the way, that goal takes Henry's Arsenal scoring tally to 227 and counting.

Henry's only going to be playing with Arsenal until around March or late February when he returns to the NY Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, America's professional football league, where he will likely finish his playing career. However, when Henry scored, there was an immediate feeling of hope that we will go on to win trophies this season the way we had when Henry was in his prime. It's, perhaps, a far reach and an unrealsitic one but watching him play again in Arsenal's red and white and scoring gave me that feeling. Feeling that we will go on to win everything - or even anything - may be just plain silly but I think Henry's experience and skill, which is still there, can lift his teammates' in addition to getting us some positive results on the pitch.

I've enjoyed this season so far, especially when we've played well and won. The next two months, though, I'll enjoy it for different reasons. With Henry back on the team, it's almost like running into an old friend. You reminisce about the old times and, as you're doing that, you create new times; things you'll reminisce about when you see each other after another long separation.

Our next match is on Sunday, away at Swansea. It's at 11am New York time and I'll be sitting on my sofa, probably wearing my Arsenal jersey, cheering my team and my old 'friend.'

Special Chinese Chicken

We went for dim sum the other day. It’s been a while, probably since the summer, but this time was a little bit different.

As part of Jude’s bedtime ritual, we read him a book or two. If I’m the one putting Jude down, I tend to read him something that’s mostly text. I read that it’s good to do that because it help toddlers develop language and it plants the seed that books are good things, which they are. Naturally, as a writer and lover of books, I want Jude to develop an appreciation for them as I have. I’m currently reading him A Secret Shard by Linda Sui Park. When Guada’s putting Jude to bed, they read more picture-type books; things like Doctor Seuss and The Hungry Caterpillar, for example. Recently, they’ve been reading a pop-up book on Chinese New Year. (FYI, Chinese New Year begins on January 23 and it’s the Year of the Dragon.)

We, actually, got this book for Jude a couple of years ago but he’s more aware of its contents as he’s gotten older. So, when we decided to go for dim sum, my wife had the great idea of bringing the book with us. There’s a double page in it that shows a family celebrating Kung Hei Fat Choi at a dim sum restaurant. In the book, the lids of the baskets are pop-ups and inside the little offerings are labeled. So, as the waitresses came around with their carts and trays and we got what we normally get, Jude was able to see in real life what the family in the book was doing. It was a fun and fascinating learning experience for him. 

Jude with his Chinese New Year book at the dim sum restaurant page

It’s funny, though, because we’ve been to dim sum before with him and he’s eaten the shiu mai and wu gok. We’d cut them into small pieces and he’d chow down. Such is the fussy eating habits of a toddler, I guess, because this time around he was only interested in the char siu, which he was calling ‘chicken’ and, eventually, ‘special Chinese chicken.’ He’s eaten pork and fish and beef before but he has to call it ‘chicken.’ I don’t know if he actually thinks they’re all the same or, at his age, anything that’s freshly cooked and is some kind of meat or, as we say in Tagalog, ulam (usually some kind of meat or fish or vegetable that’s eaten with plain rice) is simply called ‘chicken.’

At first, I was getting the char siu, using my chopsticks, putting it on his plate and cutting it with a fork into bite size pieces good for his toddler mouth. As the meal went on, he insisted I bring the char siu dish to him and he’d put pieces onto his plate using his own chopsticks. Naturally, I was extra alert making sure he didn’t make a mess or topple everything onto the floor. But, I did let him do it and it was fantastic to watch. He held his chopsticks, both of them, in his right hand. The way he was holding them I thought for sure he was simply going to stab at the meat. He didn’t. Instead, he lowered the tips of his chopsticks to the meat and, with his other hand, he made them pinch the meat the way chopsticks are supposed to be used. Then, in what reminded me of a construction site crane, Jude moved both hands, the chopsticks and char siu, in unison, over his plate and dropped the meat onto it. Amazing!

Jude and his chopsticks ready to grab a piece of char siu

Jude and Guada getting ready to enjoy 'special Chinese chicken'

I was terrifically enthralled, proud, excited at his creativity and ingenuity. He didn’t just stab at the meat! He tried to use the chopsticks the way they’re supposed to be used. He interpreted how they’re used and modified that in a way so he could feel like he was doing it the correct way. I also got a warm sense of watching him manipulate the chopsticks and I’m looking forward to the day I can teach him how to use them properly; the way my father did, having me just hold one stick, balancing it and tapping it against a bowl. Then, he added the second and showed me how to keep the bottom one still while moving only the top one. My dad taught me this when my mother and sisters and brother were in The Philippines and my dad and I were in Hong Kong and it is, to this day, one of the most endearing and best memories I have of anything in my life.

With Jude getting older and his learning curve getting as high and steep as a K2 class mountain, I’m looking forward to teaching him things like this and, hopefully, they’ll be good memories for him as my chopsticks lesson with his grandfather is. Jude’s not even four though so there’s plenty of time to make these memories. In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy ‘special Chinese chicken’ and who knows what else. Hmm. Chinese New Year is coming up. I think a trip to Chinatown for lion dances might be in order.

09 January, 2012


For the privacy of the family, I going to simply call the subject of this post 'Stoner' - that was his nickname, after all - although anyone who knows and works with me will know exactly who I am talking about.

Yesterday, after lunch, I got some very sad news that Stoner had passed away that morning. The last couple of years, he'd had some medical issues and I guess they got the better of him.

I didn't know Stoner very well. My interactions with him were limited to when he'd come to my school to do some maintenance work or in the summers when I, along with other teachers, work in our district's maintenance department doing odd jobs, landscaping the schools' yards, painting and so on. Through our interactions, which were very fraternal in that there was ribbing, joking and plenty of 'locker room' talk, I discovered that Stoner had been to The Philippines when he was in the navy. We talked about the old US Navy base at Subic Bay, a place I have never visited. We even joked, with no disrespect and dishonour to my parents, that Stoner was my real father. You see, I'm Filipino-American and I don't look Filipino, or Asian even, right off the bat. When people look at me, it's always with hesitation and uncertainty as to what I am. Funnily, I get it more from other Asians. Anyway, because of that, Stoner and I had that joke.

Although I didn't get to him very well, I'm really glad I got to know him at all. You see, two things that I noticed immediately with Stoner was that he was a genuine person - the kind of guy that would wear his heart out on his sleeve - and that he was genuinely happy. I don't recall a time when he wasn't smiling and his smile was infectious. Even through the pain of his surgeries and medical conditions, Stoner would be grinning from ear to ear. He talked openly about everything - his thoughts on his job, his declining health, the excesses he's had in life - and he did so, from where I stood, without a hint of regret and with total acceptance of how he'd lived his life and who he was. The song My Way comes to mind and, in fact, I believe I've heard him belt out a line or two during our work hours.

It's funny how people who we interact with in limited doses make an impact on our lives. It's a case of quality over quantity, I suppose. Well, Stoner did have an impact on my life. What that impact is going to result in, I don't know. What I do know is that, in my own way, I will miss him. I was sad when I got the text from one of my teacher friends, who also works on the maintenance summer crew, that Stoner had died. I'm still sad. I am smiling, however, because I know that whatever better place Stoner's in he's smiling too.

RIP, Stoner. 

08 January, 2012


Today’s the Epiphany, the day the three kings got to Jesus and gave Him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I believe today is actually the day the Greek Orthodox celebrate for its Christmas celebration. For me, as a Catholic, it’s the end of the liturgical Christmas season and the day that my family takes down its Christmas decorations and puts our tree out into the curb for pickup.
It’s refreshing, in a way, to move on with regular life again (as if that hasn’t already happened with the return to work and the disappearance of Christmas carols from the radio and, just about, everywhere one can go in November and December) but it’s always a little bit of a bummer during the removal of Christmas lights from the tree and seeing the red and green all but gone from our living room. Perhaps it’s from some kind of unresolved childhood issue or missing a big family gathering like I used to have as a kid - and not just any family gathering - or maybe it’s from some other kind of longing that I can’t quite pinpoint or maybe it’s just from the holiday blues but I always have a sense of something isn’t quite finished, that Christmas was somehow incomplete. It has nothing to with the presents I did and didn’t get, did and didn’t give. Like I said, I can’t pinpoint it.
Regardless, this Christmas was probably the best I’ve had in years and, like I mentioned in a previous post, that’s largely because of Jude and his awareness of things and how excited he was. Next Christmas he’ll be more aware and maybe we can revel in his excitement all over again and do a better job of surprising him with his gifts and teaching him the miracle of the season.
Our New Year’s celebrations were a nice wrap up to the season. Other than when we visited The Philippines in 2010 for Christmas and New Year with our families, normally we just ring in New Year at home in a very low key manner. If memory serves me right, in 2009, I think we – Jude, Guada and I – actually went to bed before the ball drop on Times Square. Yes, we actually went to bed. We didn’t fall asleep watching TV and tried to stay up for the countdown. This year, our friends Ani and Sam came over, ate dinner, drank champagne and stayed the night. We stayed up, watched the ball drop, watched clips of Russell Peters on YouTube and laughed a lot. The following day, I got up and went for a four mile run with our dog, Bauer.
I didn’t make any resolutions for 2012 until later in the week. I stopped making resolutions years ago. Yes, every year I vow to get back into shape and improve my fitness. I vow to spend less. I vow to laugh more and be more social. I don’t make these as resolutions because I believe these are things that should be done all the time and not just promised on January 1. On January 2 or 3, however, Writer’s Digest Magazine tweeted if any of us writers had made any resolutions. With my novel coming out in the next few weeks, I decided that I would be a more disciplined writer in 2012.  To that end, I plan to write a screenplay adaptation of my debut novel, Back Kicks and Broken Promises, and finish the first draft of my work-in-progress, Sage of Heaven. Other than that, it’s a case of ‘same stuff, different year.’ I just want to do the ‘same stuff’ better.
So, as the season ends, I want to wish all of you best of success, health, happiness, contentment and whatever else you might want for 2012. If you’ve made resolutions, go for them and I hope things don’t conspire against you so you fail to keep them. And, for the last time until December 25, 2012 and January 1, 2013, let me wish you a final Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

06 January, 2012

Fathers and Sons and Football

I posted a blog last March called "Father and Sons and Martial Arts" that talked about how my son, Jude, was (and he still does) coming home from day care and getting into martial arts stances and throwing kicks and punches in the air. I talked about how proud I was because, as a longtime martial artist myself, I'd love it if Jude followed in my footsteps and studied Taekwondo or Karate or Escrima or whatever martial art he gets into.

This blog - perhaps a Fathers and Sons post will become an annual thing - is about my (our?) love affair with Arsenal Football Club, undoubtedly the best football team in London and in Europe. Yes, that is my biased assessment but what self-respecting football fan wouldn't stand by his team? Haha.

Ever since Jude was a baby, he'd watch football on TV with me. When he was newly born, he might be asleep or awake but we'd sit on the sofa and watch AFC take on whatever club it was scheduled to play that week. Whether it was a weekend Premier League match or a midway Champions League or Carling Cup fixture, we'd be on the sofa watching the match. Eventually, I'd buy him infant PJs and play wear from Arsenal. Yes, I'd order the clothes from England and not from a US retailer. As Jude got older, I bought him some replica jerseys for toddlers. His last jersey, from the 2009-2010, is getting smaller and he's due for new kit. (He's also been to Red Bulls Arena and watched the NY Red Bulls take on Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur play against Sporting Lisbon and he has a Thierry Henry NY Red Bulls replica jersey.)

In 2009, my wife gave me a Wii for Christmas. Naturally, I bought the current FIFA game. Recently, she bought me the 2012 edition. Watching me play, Jude cheers when I (as Arsenal, of course) score a goal, responding the way I would watching an actual live match. As his football education continues, he's gotten familiar with our team's jersey and he recognizes it whenever he sees it. If he's not wearing his and there's an Arsenal match on TV, he'll point at the players and say, "I have that shirt." He's also taken to calling Arsenal the "red team." Recently, he's learnt to say the team's name and when a replay of last month's Wolves-Arsenal match was on TV I asked him who was playing. Jude looked at the screen then to me and, with a huge smile, "Arsenal." You can imagine my joy and pride.

This week, it was Jude's turn for Show-And-Tell at day care. For that, he brought his Arsenal shirt and talked about it. He told the class that it was his favourite shirt, that it's the red soccer team and that he loves it. That was yesterday. On the way home, I asked him about what he said and after he recounted it he added, "And the team shirt is getting smaller. Can I buy a new one?"

You can imagine how I felt. This season Arsenal has its usual red home jersey but a two-tone blue away one. I asked Jude which one he wanted and he said the blue. Honestly, I don't think he's aware of what the blue one looks like but he likes the colour blue and looks great in it so, yes, he can have one. The best part, though, was that he asked for it. As the saying goes, "My work is done."

Before getting home, we stopped at the local Chinese takeout spot, ordered some food, hit the local drug store for a couple of things then proceeded to the soccer and lacrosse shop to see if they had an Arsenal jersey Jude's size. I'm glad they didn't because, as my wife pointed out, for his Arsenal stuff we have to order it from Arsenal so we can get BAS put on the back like we did with his two previous shirts. I guess with my wife and her football indoctrination, my work could also be done.

Another smile was put on my face when we walked into the shop. Seeing all the kits and soccer stuff, Jude said, "Oh...my...God" and when he saw a size five ball in the middle of the room he added, "Daddy, look at that soccer." That's what he calls the ball - soccer. He'd love to have kicked it around but there were other customers there and I didn't want him to disrupt them and I didn't want him to chance breaking something.

Well, just like with the martial arts, I'd love it if Jude really gets into football and plays, like I did but takes it further than I did, and if he really becomes a fan, especially of Arsenal. If he does neither of these things, I'll be okay with that too. As long as he finds his 'thing' and lives a happy, content and fulfilling life I'll be cool with that. But, if he were to become a Gooner like his dad that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Or, better still, play for Arsenal and, maybe even score....Hmm.



04 January, 2012

Reading Habits

During my time off from work, in addition to the holiday prepping and celebrating, I was able to really delve into my Twitter account, read posts and accompanying links without being rushed, and make new connections while promoting my upcoming debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises. One of the connections I made was with another author and blogger who very kindly said he'd profile me in his blog's spotlight of new indie authors when my book's out. Naturally, I took him up on his offer and promised to send him a copy when my novel's ready.

Looking at his Twitter profile, he describes himself as an 'avid reader.' I like that and I have been called one myself. It got me to thinking, though. What is an 'avid reader' and am I one? As a writer and lover of books and words, I should be one I think. Primarily, I read for entertainment but, as a writer, I also read for research, style, motivation, inspiration and comparison.

These days, I'm reading Inheritance, the concluding book in Christopher Paolini's fantasy series that started with Eragon; Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See; Age Is Just A Number: Achieve Your Dreams At Any Stage In Your Life by Olympian Dara Torres; Legend by Marie Lu; and The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. That's five books. The way I do it is by reading 15-20 (sometimes more) minutes a day of each book. There are some days when I read much more because I'm so drawn in. Other days, I don't get to some or any of them because I'm swamped and, to be completely honest, on some days I just want to sit on the sofa and catch up on something I've got on DVR or play a little FIFA 12 on my Wii. I finish everything I start reading but sometimes it takes me a long time to finish a book or two. I started Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games in 2009 and finished it just last autumn. In between I did start and finish other books (about 20) in a more reasonable time.

My wife, however, reads one book at a time. If she feels like she needs a break from it, she'll take one and go onto another book. She always goes back and finishes what she started but she'll jump around somewhat. Recently, though, I bought The Hunger Games. It was on sale so I jumped at buying it. I was going to anyway, at some point, but the sale price made me go ahead and buy it when I did even though I was already reading several books and didn't play on starting it until I was done with one of my current books. My wife, who also wanted to read it, picked it up and finished it in three days. She went on to buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay and devoured both of them within the remaining four days of the same week. Now she's back to the third Tattoo Girl book, which she'd started but had to put down after devouring the first two a few months ago because she needed a break from those characters. When she's done with that, she'll likely pick up Legend. After that, she might take a break from reading for a bit before jumping onto something else. She's also currently breezing through the Twilight books to get full appreciation of the nuances of the characters that aren't revealed in the movies.

So, I'm just curious. Which one of us is the avid reader? Are both of us? Or, is being an avid reader something that has neither a wrong nor a right way about it? Sometimes, as a writer, I feel like I'm supposed to be reading all the time and, perhaps, I should only be reading certain books - like those in the genre of my work in progress or by authors whose style, genre or tone my work is similar to.

From the writing workshops I've taken, the coolest bit of advice I got is that, while there are rules to writing, the rules can be broken. I suppose reading - and reading as a writer - follows the same approach. The other thing that all writers are told to do: JUST WRITE. I guess the same can be said for reading, too. JUST READ.

What are your reading habits? Are you an avid reader?