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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.

14 January, 2017

A Year In The Life - 2016

Another year has come to an end which means it’s time for my annual look back at some of the major events and moments of the last twelve months; the ones I was directly involved in, the ones I witnessed personally and/or the national and global events that had a an impact on me. Good or bad, they made a lasting impression and may have even changed the way I think about and look at things as a man, as a husband and as a father.  Listed in chronological order, here they are.

  1. Mini-College Reunion (January):  I had one of the best times of recent years in January and it came, best of all, on my birthday weekend. I met up with two college chums for lunch. One of them, Vaughn, I’d seen semi-regularly for an annual tennis match and meal after graduating from Rutgers in ’91. Unfortunately, fighting the nemesis called Life, those annual get-togethers ended in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The other friend, Heament, I hadn’t seen since before graduating and he was a year ahead of me. I became close with both of them but with Heament there was something extra special; no offense to Vaughn. I was already a US citizen by the time college started but I felt then–as I still do now–like a stranger in my own land. Maybe for immigrants, America never really becomes ours. Anyway, Heament is from Singapore and I am from Hong Kong; two historic, business, academic centres and cultural centres in Asia with similar backgrounds. As a result, Heament and I became fast friends and, to this day, I still look up to him as an elder brother of sorts or kuya, as we say in Tagalog.  So, when Heament contacted me that he was going to be in New Jersey and asked to meet up, I agreed with more than an ounce of enthusiasm. To add to it, I took my son along so he could see, again, the town where his dad went to college and so he could meet two of his dad’s dearest friends. We met in downtown New Brunswick and had lunch at a local restaurant/bar; a new place that wasn’t around when we went to Rutgers. As it goes with good friends, we picked up right where we left off, poking fun and doing so with ease. We talked about our families, joked at the lack of speed of the wait staff (in fairness only one waiter was on shift), shared work stories and had a great time reuniting. We left if that we needed to do it again, sooner than later and not after another twenty-five years or so. If we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
  2. Asian Books Blog (February): Last year, Asian Books Blog came across my book, contacted and interviewed me on the writing process, my book and on self-publishing. That was three years after my novel, Back Kicks and Broken Promises, came out so it was with surprise and enthusiasm that I agreed to their interview request. As a result of this interview, my book became eligible for the 2015 Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year Award. My book didn’t win but it did garner some respect. At one point, early on, Back Kicks was in the lead on votes. Either way, win or lose, this experience reminded me that there is an audience for my work. My writing won’t appeal to everyone but there are those to whom it will. Write on!
  3. Commitment to Fitness (March): With no adequate place and lacking the proper equipment and partners to train in Taekwondo (a man can’t live on forms alone; well, at least this man, who’s been a forms champion, can’t), I made a decision this year to put Taekwondo on the back burner and get back into shape. That meant (still means) losing at least ninety pounds, getting back to structured and regular cardiovascular and resistance training, improving my diet, and regaining my flexibility. In March, I signed up for a 10K with three weeks to train. I trained, ran the race, albeit slowly but at the level of fitness I was at the time, and made a commitment to run the 2017 New York City Marathon. As a member of the New York Road Runners, the organisers of the NYCM, I could get guaranteed entry if I completed nine qualifying races and volunteered at one by New Year’s Eve. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to regain my life.
  4. Almost losing my son (April): I thought I lost my boy the morning of our final day in Boracay (an island resort–some say THE island resort–in The Philippines) in April. He was in the ocean, with my wife, about one hundred metres from the beach, and they were Paddle Boarding. My son veered into deeper, rougher water into a maze of moored and traveling motorboats. My wife sat on her board watching him, presumably ready to jump up and get him if she felt the need to. The guide from whom we rented the boards rescued him after he saw me enter the water and begin swimming out to him. Thank you, Lord for protecting him. There's nothing as wrenching like the emptiness inside when you see your child in distress and, potentially, fatal distress at that. I’m a competent swimmer with good endurance but I’m not fast by any means and I wonder if I would’ve made it out to him. From where I was, it may have looked worse than it did but, either way, as a parent, I was reminded not to take anything for granted when it comes to him. When he got back to the beach, the guide pulling him in by the attached cord, my son hopped off and took my hand. That touch was likely the most meaningful and best human contact I got all of last year.
  5. My son’s First Communion (May): I wouldn’t say that I’m a Holy Roller but I still observe the basic tenets of the Catholicism I was raised with. As a result, my wife (who is also Catholic) and I are raising our son as one so he has some moral and spiritual foundation. So, my son going through his First Communion–and some months earlier his First Confession; both Sacraments that help define Catholicism from other religions and other forms of Christianity–did have profound impact on me this year. For one thing, it brought back some memories of my on First Communion. For another, it got me thinking more deeply about the meaning of things in the Catholic religion and my relationship to it. 
  6. My son earning his Junior Black Belt (June): As a long-time martial artist and Taekwondoist, any time someone I know gets their black belt I am very excited and I welcome them to the fraternity of black belts. I refer to it as The Officer’s Club and I can say that my son is, now, a Junior Officer. As a dad, I am very proud of him. As a martial artist, who still believes that getting involved in the martial arts in 1985 is still the best thing I’ve ever done, I am very supportive of him. I’ll admit, though, that there is a little bitter to the sweet of his accomplishment. As a Taekwondo dad, in addition to being tradition, it was also my dream to be my son’s teacher and to pass Taekwondo on to him. This is something that those who are not in the martial arts, at least not lifers anyway, don’t understand. Practice in martial arts is not a sport or just a physical pursuit. It is a way of life akin to a religion. Due to many different circumstances, sadly, I am not his teacher but I trust the instructors at the dojang he does attend. In a year or so, my son will test for his ‘regular/non-junior’ black belt and there’ll be two Taekwondo back belts in The Bas Family.
  7. ‘Losing’ a Friend (June): I haven’t really lost a friend. No one died and I didn’t get into a relationship-ending fight with anyone. What did happen was that my friend, my work wife actually, got a job closer to home. With texting, mobile phones, emails and Facebook, it’s very easy to stay in touch; unlike when I moved from Hong Kong to New Jersey and the only accessible ways of communicating were handwritten letters and expensive long-distance phone calls. Nonetheless, I miss her greatly. I have other friends at work but this one was, and is, special. Of course, we worked. We supported each other, were in the same department and helped create and maintain aspects of our departmental curricula that are still used today. We worked but it was her friendship and knowing that I’d see her that made work that much more meaningful. Not since my teenage years in Hong Kong, hanging out with basketball teammates and my best friend Nabeel; not since the late 1980s and early 1990s, forming a friendship with Ron as Taekwondo students and black belts; and not since my undergrad years, joining the Rutgers Squash Club and making friends with students from Singapore, namely Heament, have I felt that I had a friend; a best friend. Lu was that for me for twelve years and, while I am very happy for her and her family, it was bittersweet to walk through the gym and exit our school together for the last time in June. In addition to teaching together, having each other’s backs and making each other laugh, we coached volleyball together from 2004-2006. We were part-time running partners. She was one of the most supportive people around me when I published my debut novel and she’s seen me at my worst and at my best. So, if you haven’t gotten the gist yet, Lu was my bestie, my BFF. She’s right up there with Nabeel, Ron and Heament, the other people who’ve been and are best friends. I’ve met and known many people in my forty-seven years but none will be or have been as close to me as Nabeel, Ron, Heament and Lu. I love them all and, at least with regard to my daily work grind, I will miss Lu in abundance. 
  8. Mother-In-Law Scare (July):  In 2015, my father-in-law passed away. He’d been sick, off-and-on, and in-and-out of the hospital a few times over the previous years. In July 2015, he got really sick, was hospitalised and died the following month. This past July, we all got a scare when my mother-in-law didn’t feel well and had to go to the hospital herself. She’d had a medical condition, without any resulting debilitation, and is doing well now but, a year after her husband’s death, it was with bated breath and stopped hearts that we-my wife, her brothers and sisters and I–received every text and phone call. It wasn’t the best month of our lives but, once again, it showed the power and love of family to rally and stick together. 
  9. Getting Injured (October): Well, I was on track, registered in all my races and ticking off one race after another. After about four races and five months, my left knee started to act up. I have a history of knee injuries but I figured the low-key walking/running I’d been doing would be fine. Well, to make a long story short, I ran my final race of 2016, hobbling and in pain, on October 30. For some weeks before that, I’d developed a limp, the pain had gotten worse and I feared for knee surgery. After the race, I finally (yes, I’m stubborn; I’m part German after all) went to see an ortho. I got a cortisone shot (my new fave!), did a stint of PT. Things are better now. I’m doing the PT on my own, I had a follow-up with the doctor after New Year and have been doing some very light cardio training and squash with my son. Running is out of the cards for now, as is full-on Taekwondo training. Instead, it’s rehab, get back to fitness, lose weight and then we’ll see. I was gutted not being able to finish my NYCM qualification and to get this injury setback. I’d lost over twelve pounds by the time I had to stop training and I’d cut my mile time by over a minute and a half. I know there are ways to bounce back. I knew better than to approach things the way I did. Next time, I’ll be more respectful of my body, more humble in the effort it takes to race (of which I do have some experience) and to remember that everyone has their own experience. There are individuals who’ve lost two or three hundred pounds after starting a walking/running program and drop down to, say, 180 or less. That worked for them and I thought it might work for me, as it has in the past, but it didn’t. Instead, I got injured and sidelined. 
  10. Trump (November): Well. What else is there to say, other than I’m hoping and praying that he doesn’t screw up the country, ruin families, turn us into a nation of fearful haters and that the next four years go by very quickly and that he doesn’t get reelected. It’s unsettling, though, that in 2016 someone who lobbied on a platform of division and fear got elected president. When I woke up the following morning and discovered that he was elected, I felt fear and uncertainty like I’d never felt before. I believe in the system that elects presidents in this country and I hope and pray Mr. Trump does a great job. If he doesn’t, he screws up this country and as an American citizen that affects me. However, with all of Mr. Trump’s brutish attitude and divisive rhetoric and hate mongering, I truly felt fear. And that fear hasn’t fully subsided. Those feelings have subsided but just a bit) but I still count down until we have someone else more sensible–Republic, Democrat or Independent– in The White House.