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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.

29 August, 2013

Knock, Knock! Who's There?

On the way to mass last Sunday, my son told me a joke. When he asked me if I wanted to hear a joke, I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" I was curious to see at his age - he's five - what kind of joke he was going to tell and it also made me think of how old I was when I started to understand what a joke is and tell them to those who'd indulge me. I couldn't recall when I told me first joke but I'm sure they weren't very good or well delivered. 

Anyway, my son began.

"Knock, knock," he said.

On cue, I replied, "Who's there?"

"Banana," he answered.

"Banana who?"

"Knock, knock."

"Wait! Huh?"

"Just play along, Daddy," my wife interjected.

"Okay," I said. "Who's there?"

Smiling, our son said, "Banana."

Dutifully, I said, "Banana who?"

"Knock, knock," he said one more time.

"Who's there?" I asked.


"Banana who?"

"Knock, knock."

And so it went on for a full minute or so and I really didn't know where it was going. You, however, reading this post, surely knows. Eventually, it did end and the final round went like this:

"Knock, knock."

"Who's there?"


I smiled, taken aback slightly. "Orange who?" I said.

Then, with the biggest smile I've seen on a five year old boy and in between giggles, my son said, "Orange you glad I didn't say banana?"

I was very impressed with his timing and delivery and in his complete understanding of the pun. But, once we'd gotten to church, had mass and over the next few days I hadn't thought about it at all. Until today, during the tour of my son's kindergarten.

When the three of us - my son, wife and I - arrived we were greeted by our son's  teacher. She showed us her classroom and his cubby. Then she directed us to the cafeteria where all the kindergarteners and their parents were going to congregate. From there, the kindergarten teachers  gathered us according to our students' assigned teacher and took us around the school.

Naturally, not knowing the lay of the land, I paid attention to where my son's classroom is and it's relation to the exits, stairways, main office, gym and cafeteria. I looked up when the teacher pointed out the fourth and fifth grade rooms but I didn't make any kind of special note of them. Additionally, as a public school teacher myself, I felt a certain kinship and comfort in the school. Even though I didn't know the exact locations of things, I felt like I knew my way around. It's like that saying that goes something like, "he (or she) knows his way around a (fill in the blank)." Someone who's a great cook, it might be said of that person that he or she knows his or her way around a kitchen. That's how I felt. 

Anyway, as we toured the halls, I noticed that each classroom had its own bulletin board just outside its door. Each board was nicely decorated. On one, there were cutouts of fish and on each fish was each student's name who belongs in that classroom. The heading of the bulletin board was You're O-Fish-Ally In Fourth Grade. When we got back to our son's teacher's classroom, I noticed her bulletin board. It had a yellow background and spread out on it were cutout illustrations of halved oranges. On each half was a student's name. I found my son's in the bottom right area. Seeing his name like that - the way I'd seen so many other parents' children's names on bulletin boards in schools I've taught - naturally give me a chill and a feeling of warmth. My son's heading into a brand new phase of his life and, just like the end of the summer and the start of a new school year, it's one full of opportunities in which he - and his mother and I - can grow, laugh, cry, marvel, learn.

We were then directed to the playground outside, where the PTO was sharing some refreshment. As I turned to enter the stairway, I noticed the title of my son's classroom's bulletin board - Orange You Glad You're In Kindergarten. Instantly, I recalled my son's joke. To most people, it's just a coincidence. Perhaps I'm too much of a dreamer because I took it as something else. There was something prophetic about it. My son's apparent understanding of a pun - and not just simply saying something because it sounds funny - coupled with an identically themed tongue-in-cheek greeting by his teacher has to be more than a chance occurrence. To me, it's a reminder that my son is growing older and smarter everyday and that his world - via his own imagination and via the lessons he's going to learn and the friends he's going to make - is getting even bigger. I hope, too, it means the next year is going to finally be our year; a year in which dreams come true.

Whatever you think it might mean, just remember that there is change around us. Graduated students are - and have been since last May and June - beginning to forge their own way. Younger people are entering new and challenging arena of their academic lives. Parents whose children have graduated and moved on are experiencing their own changes - 'empty nest syndrome,' perhaps - and others, like my wife and I, are seeing their children embark on entirely new endeavours. Whatever situation you're in - and it's easier said than done but it behooves us to try - remember that change is what you make it out to be. It can be everything you've ever wanted or it can be a chimera. Regardless, change is an opportunity. What you do with it, now, that's up to you. Just don't waste it.

Finally, for those young people entering another school year, especially the older ones of you who may be so focused on what's ahead - a final year of college, high school seniors filling out college applications, a stressed twenty-something studying for the bar exam - don't forget to let go sometimes and let your imagination take you to far away places. It is, after all, your imagination that got you thinking about what and who you want to become and how you want to become him or her. Never turn your back on your imagination and  it will never cease to be there when you need it the most.

Good luck everyone and have a great year.

11 August, 2013

Trivia Challenge

It's the second week of August and the summer is coming to a close. In many ways, I feel like it never really started. After all, I've been running volleyball workouts and working out of my district's maintenance department, which I do every summer, since July 1st. I'm a teacher - in my non-writing life - and I fondly look back to my summers off when I was a kid. As a teacher, many years on from those carefree days in Hong Kong, I still cherish my breaks from lesson planning, fielding questions from students, grading tests and attending department meetings. 

So, in the interest of trying to prolong the lazy and carefree days of the summer of 2013, here's a little fun trivia challenge I posted on Goodreads. All the answers can be found in my book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises.

Good luck and enjoy - the trivia and the rest of your summer.

02 August, 2013

Review: Proxy by Alex London

In a word, Alex London's Proxy is 'lux.'

I didn't know anything about Proxy when I first saw it at Barnes and Noble. The YA sci-fi dystopian was in its own display rack, adjacent to the other teen and YA books, and its shiny cover, with mirror image faces, like when you look into a brook, and catchy one word title caught my attention. So, I walked over and grabbed a copy. Then I flipped it over to read the book blurb but what I found was not the book blurb but, probably something more influential. (When I was growing up, book blurbs seemed always to be on the back cover. Nowadays, with hardbacks anyway, sometimes they're on the front flap.) My instinct to turn to the back, then, wasn't fluke or happenstance. What I found was advance praise from two authors who are among my favourites; authors who've been very supportive of my own work and one of them is someone I've  studied under - Marie Lu (Legend, Prodigy) and Matt de la Peña (Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, The Living). Seeing their endorsements of Mr. London's Proxy was enough for me to buy the book and, once I turned the final page, I am (not surprisingly) glad to report that both endorsements are spot on.

In a future  where the rich have everything and the poor much less of it - strikingly similar to our world in 2013 - the rich have the additional luxury of having their debts and punishments satisfied by someone else. Hence the title. But as things come to a head that even Knox, one of the book's protagonists - the rich one - can't simply turn the other way and let the system run as it normally does, he decides to help his proxy, Syd, escape from one destiny to fulfill another. Accompanying them is Marie, another affluent member of society, who has her own set of reasons to flee the city for the outskirts of a deserted wasteland in search of the rebel group known as The Rebooters. Pursued by Knox's powerful father on one side and underground mercenaries, The Maes, on the other Syd, Knox and Marie undergo a breathtaking, twist-turning series of adventures that sets the stage for volume two in the series. For those of you of a certain age and who enjoyed the movie Logan's Run, reading Proxy made me, on more than one occasion, think about the 1970s sci-fi thriller. I emailed Mr. London and asked if the movie had served as any kind of inspiration. He replied by telling me it hadn't, since he hadn't seen it, although he did say he may need to watch it since I wasn't the first one to bring up this similarity. Publisher's Weekly did so in its review. 

Proxy is a fast read, with its exciting storyline and (gentle) slap in the face twists. Mr. London deftly executes page turning excitement with efficient, yet, illustrative sentences and relatively short chapters; the average being about 10-12 pages long. One of the passages that stuck out for me the moment I read it and echoed in my head every time a Guardian appeared happens on page 174. As Syd and Knox begin their escape, one of The Guardians, the police force who are genetically manipulated to be strong, fast, single-minded in their approach and gorgeous to look at, pursues the two boys. Mr. London describes her pursuit like this: "She moved with  the easy grace of practiced violence. She was built to catch them. This was her nature." 

In addition to the action, Mr. London sends each character on arcs that happen naturally. Nothing in Proxy feels forced and the way he weaves in the dynamic of teenagers getting to know one another, in spite of the life-threatening circumstances surrounding them, possesses something natural that further pulls you into their story. In a word, Mr. London's starring characters -Syd, Knox, Marie - are believable and because of that you feel for them and you root for them.

In his endorsement on the back cover, Mr. de la Peña uses the word "groundbreaking" and, indeed, Proxy is. There are certain traits about each character that we don't often see - at least not obviously and/or with main characters - in other popular YA fiction. Additionally, Mr. London appears to have made a blatant decision to diversify in the ethnicities of his characters and the trappings of his novel. Yet, he does this without stereotype or alienation. There is nothing token about Mr. London's work. Yiddish plays a big part in the novel. Marie's father's name is Dr. Xiao Alvarez. There is a (secondary) major character with dreadlocks. Syd is described as having darker skin. One of the teachers in Syd's school is Indian and so too might be Mr. Baram, Syd's friend and employer; although with what you'll learn about him, he could be Israeli or Jewish. Moreover, while you can identify who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, each character is complex in that they all show traits and reactions from both sides of the right/wrong spectrum. 

I didn't know, when I finished reading Proxy, if it was a standalone novel or the first in a series. After reading the final sentence, I hoped it was a standalone. I say that ironically, though, as I am currently writing the first book in two different series. Obviously, I don't have anything against a book series. However, the ending of Proxy is so powerful that I liked the idea of  the reader having to think about and decide for him or herself what happens to the characters and the world in which they live. Such is the skill with which Mr. London writes, however, because the ending deftly leaves itself open to being continued while, at the same time, the entire story could end where it does without leaving the reader dissatisfied.

Even though I hoped Proxy, based on its ending, was a standalone, I am very much looking forward to reading the Guardian, book two in the series. If you're fan of of Ms. Lu's Prodigy, Veronica Roth's Divergent and, of course, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, as I am, once you've read Proxy, you'll be adding Alex London to your list of favourite authors.