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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.

27 April, 2013

Uncle Sam

Like many readers and writers, I subscribe to The New York Times, in large part, because of its weekly Book Review. In addition to reading through it, I listen to the weekly podcast. It's a great podcast. There are author interviews and/or interviews with the reviewers of the weekly book selections and those reviewers are often best-selling authors themselves. There's a segment on what's happening in the industry ("Notes From The Field") and the podcast usually ends with the "Bestseller News." I listen to the podcast because it's entertaining, it makes me feel like I'm enjoying a New York artsy/literary lifestyle (I live in New Jersey) - albeit for just a half hour or so - and because it keeps me updated on what's going on with books and such. As a reader, I like to be informed. As a writer, I feel I have to be. Moreover, the repartee between the podcast host and his regular contributors feels like you're in the living room, at a holiday gathering, listening to your uncles and aunts; and that would be your favourite uncles and aunts.

I'll confess that I listen, also, because, as a novelist, I've occasionally dreamt of being featured in the print edition of the Times' Book Review and of being interviewed on the podcast by the host himself. I doubt I'm the only one who's fantastised about this. Anyway, the host retired recently and, while I do enjoy the new host and her style, I can't help from feeling like I've lost a favourite uncle and that my dream of being interviewed by him, as far-fetched as that was, is long gone. (Having said that, however, if I'm ever given the chance to be interviewed and featured in the podcast and if that interview is being conducted by a blind, deaf and mute chimpanzee, I'll take it. It's The New York Times Book Review, for crying out loud!)

Before I continue, I must say that this host's departure isn't the first time I've felt his way. The last time this same dream of being interviewed by a major outlet for my writing went up in smoke was when Steve Bertrand quit the Barnes and Noble Meet The Writers series. That time, just a few years back, however, was a little different from this one. Since I last checked, there haven't been any new MTW episodes since Mr. Bertrand's departure so I believe the show lowered its curtains altogether and that it wasn't just a case of Mr. Bertrand leaving.

With The New York Times podcast, I'm talking, of course, about Sam Tanenhaus. He's charismatic, intelligent, jocular and genuine and I get that merely by listening to him. I've never met the man. After nine years of hosting the podcast, which I've listened to since 2006, he's off to write about politics, still with The New York Times. I was never really drawn to politics growing up but as I've gotten older, worrying about health insurance, job security, immigration laws (I'm an immigrant and so is my wife) and other such matters, I've paid more attention to it the last ten years or so than I have before. And, with Barack Obama becoming president in 2008, I've paid still more attention to politics. Obama's warm and caring "let's look out for one another" platform and his strong ties to Asia, and what that means for me as an American citizen, I finally felt a sense of Americanism inside me that I hadn't felt since acquiring US citizenship in 1987. Back to Mr. Tanenhaus. If he's going to be writing on politics in America, I may follow it even more. Politics, for me, can be dryer than....I was about to go into some locker room humour but I won't. It can be dry. With Mr. Tanenhaus on the beat, I doubt it'll stay that way.

So, thank you Mr. Tanenhaus. I've enjoyed listening to you and I will continue to listen to the podcast. Those following you have large shoes to fill. Best of luck in your new endeavour.

07 April, 2013

Dead Words

po·lit·bu·ro\ˈpä-lət-ˌbyu̇r-(ˌ)ō, ˈpō-lət-, pə-ˈlit-\
: the principal policy-making and executive committee of a Communist party
Origin: Russian politbyuro, from politicheskoe byuro political bureau.
First use: 1925

I got the above defintion from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app I have installed on my iPad and the word came across my radar a couple of weeks back. It was a lazy Sunday and one of the premium movie channels (I think it was HBO) was having, starting at around 7 or 8 in the morning, a Rocky marathon. With the exception of "Rocky Balboa," the second conclusion of the series that came out in 2006, all the Rocky movies were shown in their entirety and in order from Rocky all the way to Rocky V. And one of the cool things about the marathon was that, being in New Jersey, if I missed the showing on my time, I could watch it again on the west coast channel. I grew up with the Rocky movies and, in many ways, they depict the evolution of my generation. On an even more personal note, some of the movies relate to major events in my life so they possess extra special significance.

In Rocky IV, Sylvester Stallone's hero goes to the USSR to train in a secluded mountainous countryside that looks like it's been hit with one blizzard after another. He's there because Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, killed Apollo Creed, one of Rocky's best friends and his opponent in Rocky and Rocky II. Creed, coming out of retirement, dies in an exhibition bout against Drago. Before the ding of the round one bell, Creed comes out to James Brown singing "Living In America" and he's dressed up in a George Washington wig, Stars and Stripes trunks with back up dancers who are similarly jingoistically clad.

In various training montage scenes, there are shots of Drago being injected with something -steroids - and the entire movie is about the good west (represented by Rocky and the USA) battling the evil east (represented, of course, by the USSR). Juxtaposed with Drago's performance enhancing drug workouts are Rocky's all natural exercises. Instead of an Olympic bar stacked with forty-five pound plates, as Drago uses, Rocky lifts an old horse cart (minus the horse) with his trainer, wife and brother-in-law sitting in it. So, not only is the movie about the 'big bad Soviet Union,' it's a commentary on the stories of eastern bloc athletes doping in the international sports scene. In the final bout, as Rocky goes on to win, Drago refers to his opponent as a machine and Rocky shows the kind of indomitable spirit needed to win against all odds. After Rocky wins, he goes on to make a speech - an olive branch, of sorts, by the filmmakers - that says it's better that only he and Drago are bashing each other in and how that's better than two nations going at it. He also says how, through the bout, many of the 99.9% Soviet audience started cheering for him and if they can change and he can change so, too, can the whole world.

USA vs USSR of course, was the big deal in the 1980s. From the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics - and the subsequent boycotts of each nation from The Games it didn't host - to Star Wars nuclear technology, the USSR's entry into Afghanistan (commented on, in part, in Rambo III), the entire decade and some of the early 1990s - even after the end of the Cold War in 1991 - was all about the threat of what was behind the Iron Curtain.

Since the fall of the USSR and the emergence of the Union's independent nations, there is no longer a (secret) threat of nuclear war (at least not from Easter Europe). Along with the USSR's demise and the end of Communism in the region has been the death of certain words that were pertinent to the social and political structure of the day. 'Politburo' is one of them. A word that was common in front page, back page and middle page newspaper clippings is no longer seen. There isn't a need for it.The word 'glasnost' has also gone the way of ostensible extinction. Just like with politburo, there isn't a need for glasnost - as a word or an idea - since there is no longer a Soviet Union and because it's not a crime nor is it something to be feared if you talk openly about social concerns.

So, what other 'dead words' are there that existed in our cultural lexicon that we longer use? And, I don't mean the names of fad diets or products. I mean, when was the last time a waiter or waitress asked if a patron wanted a Tab? (I've seen Tab in a couple of stores, though, recently. And, what was the deal with Diet Tab? Yes, there was a Diet Tab. If Tab was already a diet cola, what was Diet Tab, an empty can?) I don't mean words like 'cowabunga' or how the 1980s brought 'awesome' to prominence the way 'cool' became vogue in the 1960s and 70s. What I mean are words that we used everyday because we had to but, due to some kind of world change, we longer need to; not slang or colloquial phrases between and within groups.

So,if you can think of any others and how/why they stopped being used, please do share. I can't wait to read your responses and the creativity in them.