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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.

04 March, 2016

A Year In The Life - 2015

A Year In The Life – 2015

Happy New Year everyone! Is it too late to say that? 2016 is well underway and I've been thinking about 2015 and the ten most memorable moments from last year. As a result of that reflection, here is my annual A Year In The Life post. Enjoy and best wishes for 2016. 
My father-in-law’s death.  

This wasn’t the first death I’ve experienced and it’s not likely going to be my last but it was the first death that directly affected me and my immediate family (my wife, son and I). It was also the death of someone closer, to me, with the exception of my own lola, than any of the other deaths I’ve known.

This obviously affected me because it affected my wife and my in-laws. It still does. One doesn’t get over the death of a loved one so quickly. This death didn’t just affect me in a peripheral sort of way as his son-in-law, however. You see, my wife’s family and my family have been close for decades and our fathers had been friends since the 1950s. My wife and I have known each other since we were kids and, when I still lived in Hong Kong and she lived in The Philippines, I was often the guide when they came to visit. I’d show them and him around, taking him to the right store to buy exactly what he was looking for and to the best local places to eat. During our excursions, he always made jokes and teased me. He was cordial and, as the years went on, when my wife and I were still just friends and on through our marriage, I learnt more about my father-in-law. His kindness, fearlessness, curiosity, generosity, intelligence, faith in God and sense of service to others was unlike that of anyone else I’ve known. In my life, alongside my own father, my Taekwondo masters and my secondary school basketball coach, my father-in-law was someone I admired and looked up to. He is, without question, someone worth emulating; a standard bearer for all men, young and old.

Trying to find something positive from this, I know that he is no longer in pain (he was sick off-and-on for several years before he died) and that he is in Heaven, shaking hands again with the late Pope John Paul II, and exchanging discourse on the state of the world we live in with The Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph – to whom he was passionately devoted. We miss him – my wife, son and I and the entire family – but we take solace knowing that we are better people because of him and comfort because he is watching over us.

My son’s thank you.

Maybe it’s his age and his innate shyness or, perhaps, it’s the poor parenting job I’ve done so far but my son gets quite shy about saying “thank you” even when he knows he should. As a result of that, I’ve developed a slight concern that either I truly have done a poor parenting job or my son is a bit of a selfish ding-dong. Well, some of those concerns were allayed last summer. Summer being what it is, there is less money coming in and, at least, the same money going out with the monthly bills.

There was a day in July when my son and I were kicking around our PS3 and rented a couple of games. We played them, enjoyed them and, when the rental period had run out, they were gone. My son asked if we could buy them and download them. I turned him down citing their cost – one was $59.99 and the other was $29.99. A day or two later, I was in Target and I found both games, on some crazy mega sale. The $59.99 game was down to $19.99 and the less expensive one was available for $9.99. I decided to pick them up and I rushed home before my wife and son returned.  I put them on the top of our game CD pile and said nothing when they got home. I did, though, text my wife that I’d picked them up on sale and I told her not to tell our son. After they’d been home for a while – say, an hour or so – our son finally noticed them. He spoke slowly, moved to them in the same manner. “Hey…um…those look like…” Then he picked them up, as if he wasn’t sure they were real.  He held them up to his chest with their jacket covers facing me. He had a big and confused smile on his face. Then I smiled. Then he cried. It was nothing loud or hysterical but quiet and heartfelt. It was almost as if he was trying to hold back his tears. Then he sat down and my wife told him to thank me. Instead, he put his head down and let his tears quietly flow. Again, she told him to thank me but I told her it was okay and that he was already saying it. In fact, his response was more meaningful than any spoken form of gratitude he could’ve given me.

Studio 509.

No, this isn’t a disco from the 70s (although if my wife and her business partners/friends read this they might get some ideas of running disco night fundraiser event). Instead, Studio 509 is said wife and partners’ fitness studio that they opened last year. All three of them already worked there when it was owned by somebody else (who now works for them) and named something else. What happened was he wanted to sell and they wanted to buy - something that all three owners’ husbands feel should have happened many years ago. While this isn’t directly something I was involved in (other than installing a few hooks and curtains), this involves my wife. She’s happier, making more money and I’m reaping the benefits of both. More than that, I feel the pride that my wife is now a business owner, which has come from her hard work there (before and now) and how much the clientele (and community) rate her and her partners. Well done, ladies! Keep up the great work.

The F.A. Cup.

If you know me, you know the answer to this question – What football (soccer) team do I support? Answer: THE ARSENAL. I became an Arsenal fan, in my mind anyway, through an absolutely ridiculous way. As ridiculous as it was, however, (it’s a possible discussion for another blog post) I’ve been loyal to the core and I’m a Gooner through and through. So, when we  (yes, we) won the F. A. Cup in 2014, after having not won anything since 2005, I was elated. Then, to win it again a year later and in dominant fashion (4-0 over Aston Villa), on the same day I completed my first 10K race in years, I was more than overjoyed. Naturally, I wore my Arsenal jersey for the race and I wasn’t the only one. I saw another runner and a race volunteer at a water station wearing theirs.

Super Essex Conference Champions – Again.

Well, this might be an obvious one but why not? In 2014, my team and I won our first volleyball championship. Last year, we won it again – albeit we shared the title with Millburn, the only team that beat us in the division. Honestly, Millburn and us (Columbia) were the two strongest teams in the division in 2015 and when we lost a close match at Millburn I knew right away that we’d need some luck again to win the title as solo champions. I also knew, however, that the other teams in the division weren’t as strong as in 2014 so we might not get so lucky with one of the other teams beating Millburn. More than that, I knew that we’d have to win our remaining conference games in order to, at least, share the title and that included a home match against Millburn at the end of the season.

Well, to say that my team did the business is understated. We beat the other schools and when it came to hosting Millburn, wow! We advertised this game immensely and the gym was filled to the brim with pro-Columbia supporters. Parents were drumming against their seats, every time we scored the spectators roared. The principal, an assistant principal, the athletic director, other coaches came to cheer us on. In a word, it was electric.

I found out after the game that one of my captains said this to her teammates before the game – “We’re not losing” and we didn’t. At one point in the match, this captain’s rival on Millburn was caught saying “What the f**k!” (silenced by the roar of the crowd but easily lip-read) when she made a big hit that my captain blocked. The ball bounced back to the Millburn girl who tipped the ball back onto our side (thinking she’d won the point she turned to celebrate but snapped back around when she realized she hadn’t scored) only for my captain to recover quickly and dig the ball for one of my other hitters to tip back over the net for a point.

Dare I say it, we did nothing wrong. Both teams played brilliantly but, on the day, we were the more brilliant. It was a match for the ages and what I call My ESPN Moment. Tensions were high, both sets of girls played their hearts outs and the winning point couldn’t have been more perfect than it was. One of my seniors, who’d struggled with serving for two and a half seasons, was poised to serve. She bounced the ball, as she always does, and that’s when I looked to the Millburn side and saw a gap. Their usual main passer moved back an extra step. Why? I couldn’t tell you but it was enough for anyone paying attention to see and make them think about serving an ace. I turned back to my player and wondered if she’d seen it. Then I wondered if she was going to go for the ace (I felt 50-50 about it, to be honest). You can see what happened here in this clip. (Courtesy of Sarai Roberts © 2015).

Of the 2015 Varsity, the majority of them are graduating. For 2016, we’re moving up to a harder division (so is Millburn) and we’ll be facing tougher competition. It’ll be a rebuilding year for sure and one that will likely come with more aches and pains than we’d like but such is the way of school sports – four years max and that’s it. As for the 2015 and 2014 teams, thank you.

Montauk Mayhem.

This was an experience, to say the least, and something I should probably turn into a short story. With the generosity of one of my wife’s friends, we’ve been enjoying a Montauk vacation every year at the start of the summer. This year, we had trouble with one of our cars – the car we usually drive to Montauk – and it made for some interesting adventures. The day we got there, the Check Engine light came on. It had been coming on sporadically and we had the car looked and everyone said it was fine. We were 300-plus miles away from home so we decided to have it looked at. Of course, there’s only ONE mechanic in Montauk (or one that was open) and it was booked. Being out-of-towners and sounding desperate, they took us in. We ended up leaving the car overnight with them and they discovered the problem but the part would take three or four days to get there. We got to Montauk on Thursday, brought the car to the mechanic Friday morning and we were scheduled to return to New Jersey on Saturday. What ended up happening was we drove the car back to our friend’s chalet, cabbed around Montauk and had the car towed back Saturday morning. I rode with tow and my wife and son took the LIRR to Manhattan and the NJ Transit back to New Jersey. Thankfully, the tow driver was a personable guy and not grumpy from having to do a Saturday morning pick-up for a 300 miles single-way journey.

A couple of days later, we had the car repaired for a grand total cost (towing, miles, repair, tolls) of about $700! On the positive side, I got some good writing material. I learnt a bit about a long-hauler’s life and the drag racing circuit – two of the driver’s previous forms of employment. If we go to Montauk this year, though, I may consider taking the train the whole way. Maybe.

The Wind-up Books Chronicle and Asian Books Blog.

I had two pleasant writing-related surprises in 2015. I’m working on my second, third and fourth novels (none are related to the others) but my first book, Back Kicks And BrokenPromises, came out in 2012. For me, it’s out there and, in a way, I’m done with it. I’m not doing any major promotion for it and I’m working on new books. Well, twice this past year, I was emailed about my Back Kicks. Asian Books Blog, a Singapore-based books website, emailed me and asked to do an interview. Naturally, I agreed. I may have put Back Kicks to rest, so to speak, but I’d have been a fool not to accept ABB’s invitation. Click here for the interview. The interview even got me on the shortlist of their 2015 Lunar Book of the Year Award. I didn’t win it but, at one point, I was leading in votes.

The other surprise came from another online books blog, The Wind-up Books Chronicle. This site wanted to do a review of Back Kicks and, again, I gave the go ahead. I sent the reviewer a copy of my book and she took it from there. Click here for the review.

Ed Lin.

I got to have lunch with Ed Lin in 2015. For those of you who don’t know who Ed is, he’s an award-winning Chinese American author. Ed isn’t just an award winner. He’s the only writer to have won the prestigious Asian Literary award, given by out by The Asian American Writer’s Workshop, twice. I blogged about my lunch with Ed previously so, instead of re-writing something, you can click here for my insights on our meal together.

Breaking My Son’s Heart.

In 2015, I signed up to run in the 2016 Disney World Half-Marathon. I was going to use the year training to regain my fitness and we were going to make a little family vacation out of the trip to Disney. Naturally, my son was excited when we told him about it. Unfortunately, due to my father-in-law’s health taking a turn for the worse, we decided to cancel the trip. At the time, we didn’t know how much time my father-in-law had and the doctors even told me wife that he was likely to have several months left whether he recovered or not. Sadly, this ended up not to being the case. However, with that in mind, we cancelled the Disney trip for several reasons. We thought, if my father-in-law was recovering, that we might go to Manila for Christmas to celebrate a final one with him. We also had to be prepared for an eleventh hour trip if things got worse.

My wife was in Manila with her father and family when I told our son our decision. We were preparing for bed and brushing our teeth when I told him. Naturally, he was gutted. What child wouldn’t be? Tears filled his eyes and he was worried that it would be forever when we could go again. I promised him that we will go soon and I intend to keep this promise. I also explained his lolo’s condition and how we had to be there for his mother and his lola and the rest of the family. He understood all of it and accepted it. There were more important things happening at the time and he knew that cancelling the trip was the right thing to do. But here’s where this becomes really momentous. After hugging me, he looked up at me and said “What about the race?” I said, “What about it?” His response: “I know you really want to run it.” I did and I wanted to give my Donald Duck medal to my son. My tears had also gotten wet with tears when I initially told him we weren’t going to Disney but, when he said this, it was all I could do to stop my tears raging down my face like the Pagsanjan Falls.

The Force Awakens.

Do I even have to write anything? Ha ha! I was born in 1969, I’m a child of the late 70s and 80s and I am a crazy Star Wars nut. I’m a martial artist and The Jedi Order is the samurai of space. I was a member of the Star Wars fan club in the 1980s and I still have many of my Star Wars toys from back then. So, again, need I say more?

Now, I’m counting the days until Rogue One comes out in December and Star Wars Episode VIII comes out the following year.

May The Force Be With You.