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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.

28 December, 2016

Top Ten Books Of 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2016

And, here it is. My list of the top ten books I read in 2016. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I do this annually and that my list is based on the books I read that year, regardless of the year in which a book was published. Interestingly, 2016 saw me read more recently published books (mostly 2015 and 2016) than I usually do. This year also drew me towards reading more non-fiction books as well.

What gets a book on my top ten is the following criteria: whether it changed a part of me or my life or how I look at life, the book’s emotional impact on me, how unique and creative I though the book was. Each book’s level of entertainment, education and ‘page turnability’ also determines if it makse the list or not. And, again, as I say every year, this is purely my subjective list. You may not like it and some of the books may be the kinds of books that don’t normally draw you to them but they called to me and I gladly shared a good part of my 2016 with them.

So, without further ado, here they are.

1. The Latinos of Asia: How Filipinos Break The Rules of Race by Anthony Christian Ocampo, Ph.D. Stanford University Press, 2016.
2. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016.
3. Incensed by Ed Lin. Soho Crime, 2016.
4. Arsene Wenger by John Cross. Simon & Schuster (UK), 2015.
5. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey. GRAPHIX, 2016.
6. The Sandwich Thief by Andre Marois, Patrick Doyon (illustrator). Chronicle Books, 2016.
7. Descender, Volume One: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen (illustrator). Image Comics, 2015.
8. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: A Novel by Salman Rushdie. Random House, 2016.
9. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong (Jason Pargin). Thomas Dunne Books, 2015.
10. The Thank You Book (Elephant & Piggie #25) by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion, 2016.

Honourable mentions:

One-Punch Man, Volume One by One, Yusuke Murata (illustrator). VIZ Media, 2015

Captain Awesome and the New Kid (Captain Awesome #3) by Jim Kirby, George O’Connor (illustrator). Little Simon, 2012.

27 December, 2016

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher 

21 October, 1956 - 27 December, 2016

I didn’t fully process Carrie Fisher’s death until a couple of hours after I’d heard the news. When I first heard of her heart attack en route from London back to The States, I prayed that there wouldn’t be any news of her death for a very long time.

As it was, my wife was checking her Facebook account and announced the news today as I was parking at an AMC movie theatre for the 1:35pm showing of Passengers. Not until we pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts back in our town that it truly hit me. I was reading a post on Facebook from Entertainment Weekly sharing the reactions of her death from many of her co-stars, family members and friends. As I read their tweets and posts, waiting in the car for my wife and son who had popped into Dunkin’ Donuts, tears formed in my eyes and I instantly got that empty, lost feeling in my gut. The last time I recall feeling this way for a celebrity and someone I didn’t actually know was when Brandon Lee died in 1993. The first time I’d ever witnessed anyone tearing up and feeling the impact of a celebrity’s death was in 1977 when Elvis died. After that, it wasn’t until 1980 when I watched my sister breakdown when she heard that John Lennon had been gunned down in New York City.

For some, Carrie Fisher may not have been as iconic as John Lennon or Elvis Presley. For others, however, she may be a larger one. For me, she’s right up there with the iconic of the icons. Carrie Fisher was a symbol of my generation. In an era that saw a added push for ‘girl power’ way before The Spice Girls, with movies like 9 to 5, with Sandra Day O’Connor becoming the first female justice in the US Supreme Court, and Sally Ride becoming the first women in outer space, Carrie Fisher was cast as Princess Leia in what would become one of the most beloved, watched and successful film franchises of all time. More than her success in the Star Wars movies, Princess Leia became a role model for the young girls of that generation. Here was a character that was confident, strong, beautiful, intelligent and badass. In many ways, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was the precursor to many of the badass heroines that have followed since. For the boys, well, who doesn’t like an attractive woman who can kick ass? And there’s always that slave girl outfit from Return of the Jedi. In the same way that Sophia Loren and Ursula Andres influenced a young man’s adolescence of their generation, Carrie Fisher did so with mine.

More than this, however, there was Carrie Fisher the writer–an insightful, thoughtful, intelligent and witty individual. She wrote Wishful Drinking, which became a one-woman HBO special, based on her troubles with substance abuse and her consequent recovery. Postcards From The Edge is hers too. That was adapted into a highly successful movie starring Meryl Streep. More recently, there is her recently published memoir, The Princess Diarist. She script-doctored as well for films such as Sister Act and Hook.

It’s with sadness that I write this blog post. I wonder, too, how Carrie Fisher’s death will impact upon Episodes VIII and IX of the Star Wars triple trilogy. If Princess Leia’s death is to be written into the saga, it can’t happens between movies. That would be irreverent. She has to have an honourable one, a noble one in the way Obi Wan and Han Solo had. But, then again, who says Princess Leia has to pass on among the stars? With what they did in Rogue One with resurrecting Peter Cushing’s Admiral/Grand Moff Tarkin, it wouldn’t surprise me (and it would please me, too), if Princess Leia didn’t just show up in Episode IX but had a major part to play. She is Luke’s sister, after all, and has yet to fulfill her Jedi destiny.

Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you.

08 November, 2016

The Best Me

The Best Me

My running career is on hold. To be honest, it’s likely on retirement. My Taekwondo career is pretty much the same way and so is my squash enjoyment. You see, a left knee injury has resurfaced and is causing pain to the point that I was limping everyday. I’ve seen an orthopedic surgeon and he’s prescribed sessions of physical therapy, given me my first ever cortisone shot and I’m seeing him in two weeks for a follow-up.

I’ve always had knee issues. I had Osgood-Schlatter Disease growing up. In April 1996 (or was it 1995) I was knocked out at The Big East Taekwondo Championship and landed on my right knee. That freak landing resulted in a partially torn ACL. I never had surgery but I did go through several weeks of PT. The day before my final PT visit, I blew out my left knee playing a football (soccer) match with friends at Brookdale Park in Bloomfield, New Jersey. I was dribbling the ball into the final third when my leg, from the knee to my foot, didn’t move forward. The rest of my me, from the knee up, went forward after the ball tearing the joint’s meniscus.

Recently, with nowhere to train properly in Taekwondo, I decided to put Taekwondo on the back-burner and started running again; in the hope of qualifying for the 2017 NY City Marathon and to lose weight and, once and for all, get back into fitness. Generally, things were looking good until about two or three weeks ago when my left knee started hurting. The pain subsided and I continued to train and play squash until, after a four mile training run, I was laid up the rest of the day. I took a week off before doing a three-mile taper. My knee flared up so I took the rest of the week off before running my scheduled race – The Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff, a five-miler that starts the New York City Marathon week of activities and events. The resulting pain was sharp and forced me to limp. It was so bad that whenever I had to get up and walk, I’d have to stand up slowly, allow blood to get to the joint and then inch my way onward.

Now, having seen the doctor and gotten my meds and shot, I’ve been given the green light to do some elliptical training and stationary bike riding but nothing with impact – like running and squash and Taekwondo. Being in this condition - able to walk and not limp, thanks to prescribed anti-inflammatories and the cortisone shot, but always fearful of my knee giving in, I’ve been forced to accept a number of things.

First, I have to accept that I’m simply getting older. Even if I weren’t injured or out of shape, I am older than when I last seriously trained for a marathon and put everything else on hold. Even then I was full of recovering injuries! Second, I need to be more humble and respectful of the marathon distance; something I am horrified to admit because I’ve always been respectful of it. Even though I’m heavier and not in any kind of running shape, I eased into base training and into my proper training plan like I’d done it all before. In some way, I have done it all before but, this time, I relied too much on muscle memory and my own grit and my Taekwondo-inspired indomitable spirit and my high pain threshold to forge ahead. Full speed ahead and all that! Stupid. Third, and finally, I have to find a different path. Maybe I can still run again and train in Taekwondo and play squash. Maybe I can’t. If I can, I have to be the best I can be of the me I am now and not the me I was twenty or thirty or even just ten years ago. Life goes forward and not backward. And so must I.

At forty-seven, this is a lesson I should’ve probably learnt years ago. Instead, I’ve held on to the past and tried to be the best of the ‘me’ I was then. When I became a husband, and then a father, my life ceased being my own. If I’m going to be completely honest, it never truly has been just mine. It has and always will be God’s, my family’s, my friends’, my students’, my athletes’ and others’. After all, whenever we enter someone’s world and they enter ours and we do so sincerely, don’t we become part of that person and he or she becomes a part of us?  

Today, while I am still trying to lose weight and get back into fitness, I am starting to try and be more accepting of whom I am and what I am. I do this for my sake and my own piece of mind. I do it, for wife and my son because, you see, they’re who my life belong to now and they need me; the best me of today and tomorrow.

27 August, 2016

The Latinos Of Asia - A Response

I came across Dr. Ocampo's book via a Facebook post and I finished reading it about a month ago. And, I thought it was an amazing book. Absolutely excellent! For one thing, I think it's a great start - or, perhaps, a great continuation with a larger and more mainstream reach - in discussing the Filipino's role in the multicultural landscape that is the United States of America. Too often, Filipinos are forgotten; either lumped in with other ethnic groups (be it Asian or Latino) or altogether ignored. So, kudos and thank you to Dr. Ocampo for conducting his study and sharing his findings and opinions in a succinct book that was easy to read. It wasn't full of academic mumbo jumbo. Instead, I felt like I was sitting in a room and listening to him share his findings with me. 

Before I continue, let me say clearly, I liked this book and admire the work and praise the discourse it has started. So, when I discuss my response to it, I am not disregarding it or discrediting it. Some of you who read this might take it that way. My intention is to offer other insights and even suggestions into future study on the Filipino American.

Dr. Ocampo's research and findings were revealing and insightful. This type of anecdotal research won't produce any definitive results and Dr. Ocampo says that himself in the appendix. There are no right or wrong answers here. The conclusions presented in this book are based on the very personal experiences of the subjects and each one is unique. Dr. Ocampo clearly states also that his research subjects were few and from very specific communities in California and of a specific age group. He interviewed eighty-five second generation Filipino Americans ranging in age from twenty-one and thirty. Most of them came to the United States when they were very young (under eight) or were born in the United States and they were taken from Eagle Rock and Carson; two middle-class, multiethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. 

What I found interesting throughout my reading of  The Latinos Of Asia was that no interviewee brought up the geography factor - that The Philippines is in Asia, therefore, coming from there at an early age and/or being ethnically Filipino, they would, by definition, be Asian. Since coming to the United States in 1985, I've often been asked "What are you?" or "Where are you from?" Growing up in Asia, I was never asked that; at least not in an accusatory way that I have been here in the United States. And, even when I answer, I'm often contradicted with a statement like "Filipinos aren't Asian" and many of those contradicting me are other Asians of Chinese or Korean heritage. 

To further Dr. Ocampo's discussion, I would like to see follow-up research but with subjects who came to the United States either as a teenager (like I did) or adult. In both cases, a sense of identity will have already set in. In my case, I came to the United States when I was sixteen and I already considered myself Asian. My wife, who is also from The Philippines, came here when she as already an adult and also considers herself Asian. So, too, do our adult friends from The Philippines who have relocated and settled in the United States. I also have a friend, born in The Philippines but who came here when he was very young, and he considers himself Asian. He is, however, in his forties and not in the same cohort group as Dr. Ocampo's research subjects. So, perhaps there is an age factor that determines how one sees him or herself. Although not in the United States, all of our (my wife's and my) family and friends back in The Philippines (my in-laws, my parents and brother, my wife's former classmates) all consider themselves Asian. So, too, does my sister who lives in England.

Another follow-up study that would be worth seeing is how third culture kids, to borrow the phrase coined by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, identify themselves. I am a third culture kid, which is someone who is or has some combination of growing up in different cultures other than his or her parent culture and who is often also multiethnic.

To clarify with my own experiences, I am primarily Filipino. My mother is half American and half Filipino. My father is three quarters Filipino and one quarter Chinese. My mother's American side is of German origin and her father's parents was the generation that came to the United States from Munich. On my father's side, his mother was half Chinese (Manchurian) and half Filipino. You can also trace our surname, Bas, directly to a priest from Madrid who, during the Spanish colonization of The Philippines, spawned the first Filipino members of The Bas Family. So, you can see how, from an ethnic standpoint, I am a third culture kid. There's more. I moved from The Philippines to Hong Kong when I was nine months old. I moved back a few months later then moved back to Hong Kong some time after that. From then on, I've called Hong Kong home. However, I wasn't ignorant of The Philippines and its culture growing up. I was exposed, although I don't speak it well, to Tagalog on a daily basis and to other Filipino languages also. We cooked Filipino food as a part of our daily meals. We would go on extended vacations back to The Philippines to visit family and friends, giving manong and manang (a sign of respect to older males and females; taking the elder's hand and touching the back of their hand to  your forehead) to my lolo (grandfather) and lola (grandmother), riding Jeepneys, eating Halo Halo and Balut. Growing up in Hong Kong, I learnt to speak some Cantonese, was exposed and grew to love Chinese cuisine and folktales, like Journey To The West, and I've even adopted some of the mannerisms of my fellow but native Hong Kongers. As I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong is where I call home, not The Philippines. However, I don't look stereotypically Asian, my German American genes winning that battle. If you look carefully, you'll see the Asian in me but at a quick glance I'm often taken for straight up Caucasian or I get the confused look and the eternal question - "What are you?" Going back to Dr. Ocampo's book, it would be interesting to see how other third culture Filipinos who ended up in the United States see themselves. 

A final follow-up suggestion, would be to duplicate Dr. Ocampo's research with the same conditions (second generation Filipino Americans, mostly born here or who came here at age eight or under and from middle class, multiethnic neighborhoods) but from other parts of the United States; a cohort group in Hawaii, a cohort group in the Northeast, a cohort group in the Midwest, etc.

Again, I admire Dr. Ocampo's work and I thank him for doing it. So, please don't think I'm hating on it but I think it's just the first step. I hope he and others are already working on the next ones and, in doing so, maybe we'll see anecdotes and data on the populations I mention here - older Filipino Americans, Third Culture Filipinos and Second Generation Filipino Americans in other parts of the United States. The implications to truly understanding the often neglected Filipino American population across the country are valuable and abundant from educational opportunities to public office representation to employment opportunities.

​Either way, whether you're a Fil Am who identifies as Latino or a Fil Am who identifies as Asian, as I do, don't neglect the Fil part. Filipinos are a proud, brave, kind, generous and driven people. We're survivors, adaptable anywhere and we're strong of limb, sharp of mind, quick of wit and stout of spirit. Lakas ang Pilipino!

10 July, 2016

My Daddy

No, this isn’t a sentimental recollection of things I’ve done with my father. Although, I could and should probably write a post about that. This post is about my son’s impressions of his father–me.

This just happened two days ago but I can’t even recall how it came about; what prompted me to ask him what he would say if someone said, “Tell me ten things you know about your dad.” He took a few minutes to complete his list and I let him take his time doing so. After all, I wanted it to be his list, without my coaxing, so I worked on a post for my food blog, Panlasa, as he thought it out.  As he gave me something, I wrote it down.

So, for fun and entertainment, here’s what he said in order (although I’m not entirely sure if the order means anything to him).

My Daddy…

1. Is a 5th and 6th degree black belt (I have 5th dan certification from The Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul, Korea, and 6th dan certification from USA Taekwondo, the governing body of Taekwondo in the US)

2. Wears glasses

3. Plays FIFA on the PS3 and it’s his favourite video game, just like me, and he likes playing it with me

4. Is a little bit fat  (I corrected him on this that ‘little but’ is way too kind)

5. Used to be skinny

6. Does not like it when I joke around using ‘locker room’ humour (Boys will be boys, I guess. His favourite words apparently are fart and butt and words in that realm and he likes to say them with a giggle and a smile just to get a rise out of me)

7. Is a good drawer

8. Likes writing

9. Likes doing things with me

10. Is a thoughtful daddy.

After he finished his list, I told him I was surprised that he didn’t say anything about me be being a runner, a squash player or enjoying cooking; all things he’s done with me, likes to do and asks if we can do together. His response was that those things are “minus” meaning their places on the list are negative numbers so they’re more important than number one. So, perhaps, the order does mean something to him.

So, there it is, an eight-year-old boy’s impression of his father. What will be interesting is to ask him the question in another eight years.

Thanks for stopping by.