About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

20 May, 2014

Ten Years

In a week, my wife and I will be married for ten years. Of course, many of you reading this have been married for much longer than us. Some of you, a little less. Honestly, I don't know if I feel that we've been married a long time or a short time. I've known my wife, after all, since we were kids and our dads have been friends since the 1950s so our families have been connected and, in many ways, my wife's and my lives have been intertwined from the get go.

Nonetheless, 'ten year anniversary' has a nice ring to it. There's still so much more ahead of us and there's still so much more to learn and things to experience, to live and cry and laugh about, through which we can grow together - especially as our son gets older - but there's a certain feeling of accomplishment with ten years. We don't know it all but there are times when we've been the ones people who come to us for advice. It's like we've earned some street cred in the ways of the married. 

It reminds me of what one of my Taekwondo masters and examiners said when I got my fourth dan (degree black belt) in 2001. (I started Taekwondo training in 1985.) He said that he respects everyone who trains and takes the bumps and bruises but it isn't until the person has been doing it for, at least, ten years that he regards him as a 'martial artist.' He went on to remark that many people start martial arts - and, remember, for us masters, martial arts is more than kicking and punching, self-defense and trophies - but after a month, six months, one year, three years later they've stopped training and never come back. Ten years, for this master, was a milestone, not just because of the time, but because in ten years of training the practitioner begins to understand and accept things about himself. In ten years, with regular practise, a student can get to his third dan, a degree before 'master.' And, whether in martial arts or marriage, understanding and acceptance are key ingredients to getting through and being successful. 

Life, particularly through marriage, is much the same way. These ten years haven't always been roses and rainbows. There have been struggles mixed in with the smooth sailing, tears, both sad and happy, and yet we've come through them each time with better knowledge of our individual selves and our partnership. Certain words and their meanings take on greater significance  with marriage, too. I'm talking about words like patience, compromise, time, me and I; things we, as humans, take for granted when we're single but change drastically when your life is now responsible to and for a wife and, in our case, a son. With approximately 50% of American marriages ending in divorce, it's nice to know that my wife and I aren't a statistic. In fact, the numbers are greater for subsequent marriages. First time marriages have a 41% chance of ending in divorce. Second time marriages is at 60% and third time is 73%. I'm not saying that divorce is always a bad thing. I have friends who've gotten divorced and they're better off for it. Sometimes things just don't work out and it's better to get out of a bad situation rather than staying in it and making things worse. When getting married, though, you like to hope and believe the marriage will work,  otherwise, why do it? In my friends' cases, divorce wasn't something they pursued whimsically at the first time of trouble. That's not any good either. 

As we get to our ten year and look ahead to the next ten, I want to thank my wife. She's given me the courage to do lots of things I probably wouldn't have done without her - pursue, earnestly, my writing dreams; compete at the US Taekwondo National Championships; try out for a spot on the US Taekwondo Poomsae (Forms) team, become a more active member of our community (I'm pretty reclusive), take a weekly dance class, to name a few. She's also a source and reminder of positive energy. She's a listener and helps me everyday to be the best version of me I can be and, to that end, she's the best partner I can have to be the best father I can be to our son. 

So, to end, I'd just like to thank her for everything she's given me over the last ten years and tell her, in front of the whole world (well, my blog following world anyway), that I love her. Happy Anniversary, darling. 

15 May, 2014

Musical Tastes

I wonder if I'm just getting old or if I really don't fancy much of the music I hear on the radio. There are individual songs and some artists I enjoy, don't get me wrong. I really like the song Only Human but I'm not compelled to buy Christina Perri's album. I do, though, enjoy P!nk and have bought many of her albums and went to her concert in New Jersey last December. Lady Gaga's Edge of Glory has an 80s feel that instantly drew me to it. So, too, too does Stephanie Treo's I Love It. I also enjoy Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson but I still prefer the classic sounds of Queen and The Beatles and artists who sing their songs like they mean it; artists like The Eurythmics, Neil Diamond, and U2, to name a few. 

Perhaps I'm simply a child of my generations, having gone through my tween and adolescent formation in the mid to late 1970s to mid 1980s. I'm not jazzed about today's songs, mostly by female artists, with all the riffs and excessive vocal acrobatics. This, of course, is purely subjective - strictly my opinion - but I'm also not fond of the sameness with the boy band love ballads with their over-layered whispering voices. Whenever I hear one I feel like I'm eavesdropping on a friend who's trying to convince a girl, using less than sincere but flattering words, to go out or sleep with him when she's clearly not (that) interested. It's almost like watching someone begging.

Whatever my musical preferences can be attributed to, there are some timeless songs and artists I recently rediscovered. Once Upon A Time, You Don't Know Me, My Way and Somewhere Down The Road recently crept up on my musical radar again and resurrecting a playlist in my iPod I listened to these songs and allowed the feelings and memories - some happy, some not so - to wash over me. 

Once Upon A Time made me think of a couple of things. It reminded me of a trip I took to Manila in 2003. On one of my first nights there, my parents, brother and I went to a piano bar in Intramuros. It's a place my dad knew from many years ago, where journalists frequent and have a brandy or a beer and join the pianist in impromptu live music karaoke. It was a cool (not in terms of temperature) night. When my dad sang, I got a glimpse of him as a young man and, with my own journalistic and writerly aspirations, I could imagine living that life - banging on typewriter keys all day and chilling with the same people night after night and forming meaningful bonds. 

You Don't Know Me, a song from the same generation, brought me back to the late 1990s when I'd just watched the movie Two Girls and a Guy, starring Robert Downey, Jr and Heather Graham. The song is, obviously, used in the movie. I loved the feel of the movie. It was like a craftily written play and I was also at a time of my life when things were looking up. I was fit and going to taking film and writing courses in New York City. 

My Way, well, My Way is My Way. Need I say more? Well, actually, I'd heard renditions of this song growing up. Frank Sinatra's version, of course, is a classic but I do like Paul Anka's, which is interesting comparing the two because Anka wrote it but Sinatra made it the timeless hit it is. This song came in my consciousness, in a big way, in 1982 when my family was on a whirlwind summer holiday that began in San Francisco, moved to Los Angeles, jumped to New York and culminated in Europe (London, Paris, Munich, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome). Being my first trip outside of Asia, even though I was only thirteen, I felt that My Way was going to have some distinct meaning in terms of this trip and in my own life. Of course, we can all claim some connection to the song because, by definition, whatever we've done we've all done it our own ways. 

Somewhere Down The Road, Barry Manilow's song of love, loss and hope, was introduced to me on the same 1982 vacation. And, again, it seemed to be telling the story of how I was feeling during the trip. The thing was, I didn't  have a girlfriend at the time nor did I have any particular crush. It just seems to help define my vacation; that, perhaps, my path will lead me back to one of those cities or experiences I had that summer and it would be a reunion of major significance. 

I think - I know - a lot of my musical preference has to do with my parents. As far back as I can remember, every Sunday, I'd wake up to the unique sound of an LP playing in the living room. Without fail, it would be some kind of Broadway musical entering my ears - Oklahoma, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, The King and I, Gypsy, you name it. From that, I started to enjoy the classic sounds of Hammerstein, Rodgers, Porter, Gershwin and, as a tween, I started listening to my sister's Little River Band albums, The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt. 

Whatever music you enjoy, the music and the words and the voices elicit lots of different and mixed feelings. They can excite you, warm you, make you cry, inspire you, inform your moods and thoughts. Whatever music does to you, don't forget to look - and listen - back. Now, crank up that gramophone and be careful with that stylus. You don't want to scratch that vinyl.

08 May, 2014

Intra-Asian Conflict: Differentiate But Celebrate

The title of this piece could be the story of the Asian part of my Asian American identity. I’m mostly Filipino, was born in Manila but I was raised in Hong Kong and I have Chinese blood from my paternal grandmother, who was half Manchurian. I call myself Filipino but, in many ways, I associate more with Chinese culture than I do Filipino culture. I speak neither Tagalog nor Cantonese fluently and my understanding of Tagalog is better than my Cantonese but the sound of Cantonese pulls at my heartstrings harder and with more affection than Tagalog does.
This article, however, is not about my Asian American identity. Instead, it is about some observations I’ve made, after living in America for almost thirty years, about how Asians deal with one another and how non-Asians regard us – at least here in America, anyway. Bear in mind, as you read, that this piece is purely anecdotal based on what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard and what’s been said and done to me. There was no formal survey or research study done from which I’ve come to any conclusions based on  experiences I discuss below. Before we continue, however, I should also point out that I am going to be discussing, primarily, East Asia and the Asians I encountered growing up. I am not necessarily going to be discussing Central Asia or The Middle East or Asia Minor.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed, discovered and experienced is the myopic, narrow-minded and, largely, ignorant view of who and what are Asian. The worst part of this is that it’s not just non-Asians who possess this lack of knowledge (as you might expect and, perhaps, even excuse of non-Asians) but Asians are also guilty of disregarding other Asians.

There are, of course, accounts throughout history of Asians mistreating other Asians. These incidents have, unfortunately, developed distrust and animosity between the groups involved and, sadly, such feelings are often passed from one generation to the next. There have been – and is - animosities between Japanese and Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, Japanese and Filipinos, Filipinos and Malaysians, to name a few. These conflicts have come from one nation conquering or invading another and mistreating those who were conquered (e.g. Japanese invasions during World War II). In some cases, the conflict was over territory resulting in bad blood between the nations and their people (Malaysia and The Philippines arguing over sovereignty over the island of Sabah). In some cases, the conflict has derived from territory and religion – the battle of Kashmir, for example, between India and Pakistan. The feelings borne from these conflicts are often legitimate – after all, who wants to be or deserves to be conquered and oppressed, anyway? – however, that they should last from generation to generation, I feel, is a tragedy and a lost opportunity for healing and strengthening of the Asian ideal.

Since moving to the United States, though, I’ve noticed there almost appears to be a hierarchy of ‘Asianness.’ It’s almost a status symbol and something that is determined by what kind of Asian you are and how well your country or type of Asian is known by non-Asians. I have many Caucasian friends and students who have never heard of Malaysia or Indonesia, for example. To these same friends, their idea of Asian is Chinese or Japanese and, recently, Korean. There’s nothing to be said about Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, Indonesians and Malaysians. And let’s not forget the Vietnamese, Tibetans, Thais and Hmong. In fact, when I people find out I’m Filipino, I’m often remarked by comments like “The Philippines isn’t Asian. You’re Pacific Islanders.” Yes, The Philippines are islands – the largest archipelago, actually – in The Pacific Ocean but those islands are located in South East ASIA. I’m sorry if it messes with your mind that Filipino can be both Asian and, by definition, Pacific Islanders. India is also referred to as the ‘Asian sub-continent’ and Indians referred to as ‘South Asians.’  Do these groups not count then as Asians?

One fantastic example of intra-Asian ignorance is an interaction I had with the Korean mother of one of my son’s kindergarten classmates. My wife ‘looks’ Asian. I put looks in quotes because, really, what does Asian look like? Speaking in generalizations and typical (or stereotypical) viewpoints, my wife has sharp eyes, a yellow-mocha complexion, and a flat nose. I, on the hand, have brown eyes that are slightly rounder, freckles, a sharper more Roman nose and a lighter brown skin tone. When people meet me for the first time, I am greeted with confused looks and I still get the questions “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” So, when we met my son’s classmate's mother, she regarded my wife, who is three quarters Filipina and a quarter Spanish, with instant Asian familiarity. In fact, she thought my wife was Chinese. They chitchatted, laughed. One may even have touched the other on the arm in mid banter. There was that Asian thang, sisters from another mother and all that. When she learnt that my wife is Filipina, there was a muted “Oh” that accompanied the revelation. Being mixed (I have Filipino, Chinese, Spanish and German blood), I can accept that she didn’t think me to be Asian. So, you can imagine her surprise and disbelief when she found out that I'm Asian too.

After both discoveries, though, the most intriguing statement came out of her mouth. I’m sure she didn’t mean any offense by it but I was definitely taken aback when she said, about us being Filipino, “Philippines is not really Asian, though.” What does one do with that? I was torn between getting into a heated discussion of what that meant and correcting her ignorance, calling her an idiot and walking away, saying something in the little Korean that I know (which I’ve been told by other Korean friends is quite good in pronunciation but, admittedly, is limited to basic greetings, food items, and, of course, Taekwondo commands), or just smiling and letting this faux pas go by and wait for a better time to correct her. She is after all, since our sons are in the same grade, class and school district, someone I could be interacting with for the next thirteen years. And, lo and behold, my son and hers have come to form a friendship at school.

This isn’t the only slight Asian versus Asian slight I've experienced.  On Facebook a few years back, I took one of those quizzes that pop up now and again. This one, naturally, was called How Asian Are You? Well, I took it and answered honestly (which I was later told I shouldn’t have since those Facebook quizzes are largely satirical and tongue-in-cheek) and I got a rating like ‘Not That Asian.’ The quiz items may or may not have been made by Asians. If they were, though, they were very centric to Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. There were questions like “How often do you use chopsticks?” and “Do you put sugar in your tea?” and “Do you read anime?”

In other things I’ve noticed, you never hear of Asians being cited as a demographic in consumer spending. I was told, not directly but at a Q&A, by director Justin Lin, after a screening of his movie Finishing The Game, that this is because Asian spending habits tend to mimic Caucasian spending habits so the two sets of numbers are often lumped together. I guess, in this regard, Asians just don’t even exist in America. This, of course, is far from the truth. A 2012 US Census Bureau report showed that Asians are the fastest growing minority in the United States, rising 2.9% (530,000 more than the previous census bringing the total number of Asians in America to 18.9 million). In the same year, the Pew Research Center identified Filipino Americans and Indian Americans as the second and third largest growing Asian American populations, respectively, in the United States ahead of Japanese Americans and Korean Americans. Chinese Americans were first. I don’t mention this to rank Filipinos and Indians above Japanese and Koreans but to further illustrate that Asians in America are not only represented by Chinese, Japanese and Koreans.

So, what is it about Asians in America? We’re regarded as the ‘model minority’ yet our say doesn’t count and, even within our own Asian collective, there seems to be a rank among which groups are more Asian  and which groups are not. Moreover, there is, from what I’ve seen, a distinction between mixed Asians and pure Asians and between immigrants and Asians who were born in the United States. And, don’t even get me started on Asians living outside the United States and how they often look at Asians in America, regardless of whether they are mixed Asian or immigrants or both (like me).

With the Internet, satellite television, immigration and easier air travel, globalization has happened and is here to stay. This has brought people together but, in a weird way, it has also heightened the awareness of our differences and, perhaps, pulled people apart. Differences can be good if we’re celebrating them but not if we’re recognizing them in ways that raise one culture while putting down another. For Asians to strive in this country, we need to celebrate each other’s differences and unify those differences in a total Asian identity and, when one of us succeeds, cheer it as not only a Chinese American or Vietnamese American or Korean American or Whatever American triumph but as Asian American triumph.