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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 December, 2015

Happy New Year! - My Top Ten Books Of 2015

Well, it’s just ahead of us. I’m talking about 2016, of course. In fact, in just nine hours (here on the United States’ east coast, anyway), we’ll be toasting 2015 out and welcoming 2016 in. So, before I go no, let me say Happy New Year! I wish you a healthy, happy and successful 2016. 

This is also the time of year when all the various Top Ten lists come out in magazines, newspapers, entertainment and news shows and, of course, blogs. Not wanting to be left behind, as I do every year, here is my Top Ten list of books from 2015. Well, they’re the top ten of the books that I read in 2015 so some of them may have been published in previous years.  Anyway, here they are. Maybe you read some of them this past year too.

1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Philip Gabriel. Vintage Paperback, 2015 (First published in 2013)
2. Monkey King, volume 19: Masters and Disciples by Wei Dong Chen, Chao Peng (illustrator). JR Comic, 2012.
3. The Stranger by Harlan Coben. Dutton Hardcover, 2015.
4. The Wicked Will Rise (Dorothy Must Die #2) by Danielle Paige. Harper Collins, 2015.
5. Saints (Boxers &Saints #2) by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Paperback, 2013.
6. Boxers (Boxers &Saints #1) by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Paperback, 2013.
7. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Vintage Paperback, 2014.
8. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2015.
9. Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Dairy by Keshni Kashyap, Mark Araki (illustrator). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Hardcover, 2012.
10. 1Q84 (1Q84 #1-3) by Haruki Murakami. Knopf ebook, 2011.

Honourable Mentions: The Young Elites (The Young Elites #1) by Marie Lu, Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig, We Are In A Book by Mo Willems, Guardian (Proxy #2) by Alex London

08 December, 2015

My Favourite Season, part II

Having written about the bad things about autumn in My Favourite Season, Part I, it’s only fair that I write about the good things of the season; especially after my writing about them was inspired by a reader’s response to my older post about the top then best and worst things about spring.

So, here goes - The Top Ten Things About Autumn (not in any particular order).

     1. Cooler Temps – The summer is great. I’m a teacher so it means less heavy workloads and a little time off. It also means being outdoors (which has its own ups and downs), the beach and the pool, being tanned, summer blockbuster movies and more. After a while, though, the dog day of summer come upon us, the temps gets to the high 90s and low 100s and the humidity tries to outdo the temps. So, it’s with excitement that I receive the fall. It bring the relief of cooler temps – during the day and at night and, generally, lower humidity as well. It’s rejuvenating compared to the draining effects of the extreme heat and humidity.

    2. The Holidays – Yes, I enjoy the holiday season and, for me, that begins with Halloween (not my favourite but it does begin the months-long sense of goodwill and fun) goes all the way to New Year’s; sometimes even Valentine’s Day. Giving and receiving gifts and goodwill is always nice and, whether it’s contrived or genuine, it still feels good to see and hear light sounds, less harsh voices and merrymaking.

     3. European Football (Soccer) – Generally, the European football season begins mid-August and runs to mid-May. By the time the autumn hits, around late September or early October, the season is in full swing. I’m an Arsenal fan and watch a lot of Premier League football. I also enjoy watching The Bundesliga (German League) and, of course, who doesn’t like watching Barcelona? And, with the Internet, apps and all-around better coverage, I can watch Arsenal play every week and mid-week when it has cup matches to win.

     4. The Leaves – While I hate that I have to rake the leaves and they can become driving hazards, the leaves do bring some joy. For one, when they start to turn colours, they signify the arrival of autumn and that means, of course, cooler temps, the holidays, and every other positive thing I like about the season. The leaves’ changing colours, moreover, are simply pretty to look at. They’re especially beautiful when they turn green to a velvety red. The winter is largely a grey, bleak season. The summer can be equally as bland sometimes; too bright and basically blue and white from the sea to the sky to sand to peoples’ clothes. The spring and autumn, however, offer colour and, for me, autumn is one of God’s canvases.

     5. The Smell – There are different smells in the autumn than there are in the other seasons. The cooler air makes everything feel and smell cleaner, fresher. The dying leaves also offer a certain muskiness to them that is pleasant to my olfactory sense, anyway. On really cool night, us among them, people start using their fireplaces and the smell of burning wood – not the pre-fab fake stuff – offers something cozy and soothing to me, my wife, my son and even our dog.

     6. Sweaters and sweatshirts – There’s something unique about the feel of a sweater against your skin. Blankets are comforting, soothing things. Sweaters are like wearable, portable blankets. So are sweatshirts. There’s also something stylish about wearing the right sweater with a pair of jeans and the right kind of boots that oozes confidence and security.

     7. Broadway preview season – Actually, new shows and their preview seasons tend to happen in the fall and the spring but the fall preview season lends something to the holiday season that ranks it just a notch above the spring preview season. Obviously, I’m a theatre fan. Haha! Previews are great because they’re, often, a little cheaper than post-opening night ticket. They also offer something special – a night out, a day trip into the city with the kids, an old-fashioned special occasion – but different that going to the movies or renting a DVD or plunking the kids in front of an iPad running Netflix or Hulu. I’ll go to the theatre anytime of year but with a slight nip in the air and an excited kid on one arm and my wife on the other, there’s no time like the fall.

     8. The New York City Marathon – I’ve run this race twice, was scheduled to run it a third time until Sandy hit, got inspired to run it after watching a tape-delay of Rod Dixon winning in 1983 (I was still living in Hong Kong and I was only 14 at the time), I’ve met Rod Dixon. I’ve run The Disney World Marathon as well and several Half-Marathons and other races during my running days. But, the NYCM is my favourite. It’s a challenge with all the hills and bridges. I was introduced to the distance by chance and it happened to be the NYCM I watched Rod Dixon win. I live in New Jersey so the NYCM feels almost like my local marathon. Every year, I watch it live and I get goose bumps knowing I’ve run the same streets as the pros and knowing how the other everyman and everywoman runner feels.

      9. Book Award Season – As a writer and reader, of course, I love books and stories. The fall is when the book awards season begins. Among others, this time of year, the winners of The National Book Award and The man Booker Prize are announced. All the top ten lists come out, too, (not just books of course) and I like to see which I’ve read and which I should’ve read. And, no, I’m not going to lie. There is always a moment when I imagine what if a book I write gets on one of those lists or, more amazingly, wins one of those prestigious awards.

     10. New York City – I love New York City. I’d live there if I could afford to and I’ll go in, from my home in New Jersey, almost anytime and any season. (I’ll avoid days like SantaCon that, incidentally, is set for December 12 this year.) New York during the holidays, though, as cliché as this is going to sound, is truly special. The lights, sounds, smells, the various window displays, The Rockettes all bring warmth to the heart and even melts me back to my childhood and my first New York Christmastime in 1985.

And, there you have it. My top ten best things about autumn. You’ll notice, if you juxtapose the list of things that make autumn bad and the list here – the things that make autumn good – you’ll see some of the items are the same in both lists. No one said there had to be an absolute and I think it also goes to show that not everything is all bad or all good, which makes things and people and books and movies and what have you more interesting,

So, let’s, all of us, enjoy or lament the remaining days of autumn. After that, we can take on winter.

07 December, 2015

Meaningful Things

Meaningful Things

Not because of the then upcoming movie Creed but, rather, because of the Rocky Broadway musical that ran last year, my son and I have been sporadically watching the Rocky movies since the summer. Pretty much up until October, wherever we went, we listened to the Rocky Broadway album in the car. It was much like when Frozen came out and all we listened to was the Frozen soundtrack getting to know each song’s lyrics, each musical interlude and each chant. This time it was with Rocky and, as a result of the songs, my son got curious about entire Rocky saga. As we watch them, it’s really interesting to watch Rocky Balboa’s transformation from a seemingly has been amateur boxer to the coveted Heavyweight Champion of The World.

Thinking about these movies, my favourites in terms of story and emotional impact are Rocky II, Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. I know my selections go against the grain of many critics and the general public (most people I know trashed Rocky V) but I liked them and everyone likes different things for different reasons. Interestingly, though, and not one of my favourites but one that still holds special meaning to me is Rocky IV. As a movie, it fully represents the 1980s. Cold War tensions, abundant movies with jingoistic under – and over – tones. It has plenty of flash and focused on the materialism of beauty – Stallone never looked leaner, Dolph Lundgren was (and still is) a fantastic physical specimen and Brigitte Nielsen was a babe. However, it was also, in my opinion, one very long music video (another media form that reached its peak in the 1980s). I will admit, however, that I do like a lot some of the songs on the soundtrack.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I didn’t like the movie or call it is bad movie but it’s not one of my favourites in the series. It’s a revenge movie and I think, as a whole, the Rocky story is deeper than that. Nonetheless, Rocky IV manages to hold a special place in my heart and for non-movie reasons. The day Rocky IV came out, in 1985, was the day before my first ever Taekwondo test. I was a white belt and because of my previous martial arts experience in Shotokan and Koeikan Karate and, I like to think, because of my hard work and aptitude for martial arts, my instructor was letting me skip the usual yellow stripe and test directly for my yellow belt. Before Taekwondo class that day, my sister and I watched the movie at our local cinema. I, then, went to class, hyped up and ready to train. The following day, I took my test and passed.

I’d never taken a Taekwondo or any other martial arts test before and, while I had watched the test two months before mine (tests are held every two months for qualified candidates), I was nervous about mine. I’d seen how it was run. I knew what I had to do but would I be able to do it. Of course, I felt confident in my training. The fact that I was skipping a rank gave me a boost too. Before every class and test, to this day, I say a little prayer that is an additional calming influence. But, of all things, it was a popular movie, with an iconic hero-figure, that overcame his odds to triumph in the end that really kept me focused and certain.

It’s because of that that I write this post. Some of the trivial things in our lives may, at the moment or at the end, turn out to be some of the most meaningful. Maybe Rocky IV ended up doing so much and meaning so much because the character of Rocky was a familiar one and I’d just moved to America a few months earlier so he/the movie became my Mickey in my corner. Maybe the connection is simpler. I was a sixteen year old pursuing a (different kind of) fighter’s life and I’m a guy so, perhaps, there was just some young man machismo connecting with the testosterone revving scenes of Rocky and Drago training and punching the shit out of each other. Regardless, Rocky IV helped me.

So, don’t be quick to put aside the little or passing moments of your lives. I’m not saying you have to start looking for or creating meaning in everything. No. Sometimes, a thing is a just a thing. There are coincidences, after all. But, then again, sometimes they’re not.