- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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).
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.
Messi! Say It Isn’t So.
When it comes to international football, I have been a loyal Germany fan for thirty-four years. However, I’ve also been a huge Diego Maradona fan and, as a result of that, I’ve been a Barcelona fan (behind Arsenal and Hamburg, in that order, of course) and an Argentina fan. When I learnt that Lionel Messi, in my opinion the best player in the world today, retired from the national team, I felt and still feel shock, sadness and disappointment.
I’m shocked because he’s such a young and talented player. Without him, there’s a part of international football that will be lacking because of his absence. His absence, on some level, diminishes the opposing team’s accomplishments. It can also cause regret and doubt in his mind. If he doesn’t play out his abilities and let nature take its course on his footballing skills, he’ll always wonder if the next World Cup or Copa America would’ve been ‘the one.’ More importantly, he’s such a joy to watch. Without him, there’s less colour in the tapestry of the beautiful game.
I’m disappointed because he’s such an icon to so many people–children AND adults–that for him to retire is, in my opinion, a poor message to give to those he inspires. As an athlete and coach, albeit never on his level in any of the sports I’ve competed in and coached, I’ve always accepted that one team or player has to lose and the other one has to win. That’s part of sports. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating that he’s lost four international finals but that’s part of the game. What kind of message is this to send to our youth–quit when things seem impossible? Isn’t that why, or at least one reason why, we get into sports to begin with–to overcome the impossible on the pitch and in ourselves? Some of the other best players to have put on a pair of studs also never won a World Cup or their continental title but they never called it quits. Portugal’s legend, Eusébio never won either. Ferenc Puskás, Hungary’s superstar of the 1950s and 1960s, did win The Olympics and some smaller international titles but not The European Championship or The World Cup. And, of course, there is the Dutch Master, Johan Cruyff. He also never won the European Championship or The World Cup but he didn’t use that as his reason for giving up international football.
I’m sad because, as an athlete and a coach, I’ve experienced loss and setback after setback so I empathise with him. I’ve had some great moments too but there have been more setbacks than triumphs.
Recently, Maradona accused Messi of not having heart. At the time, I felt that he was being harsh. Your time has passed, Diego. Let Messi have his time. That’s what I thought at when I heard of Maradona’s statements but now I feel that maybe Maradona is right. I also felt that Messi needs to win a World Cup or Copa America to be regarded as a legend once his playing days are over. However, when I thought of the legends and the likes of Cruyff, Michel Platini (did win The European Championship in 1984), Eusébio, Puskás, Lev Yashin and George Best, all who also never won a World Cup, I changed my mind. In my opinion, Messi does need to win The World Cup to get out of Maradona’s very large shadow but to be a legend all he has to do is be his best and stay the course no matter how hard it is. It’s when things are difficult that someone shows his true character. When things are easy, well, it’s just easy. It might be fun and all smiles but it doesn’t really show what you’re made of.
Messi, like to many others, is my son’s all-time favourite player and Argentina is his favourite international team and Barcelona is his favourite club team. My son is eight and starting to really get into football. There are many players my son likes and looks up to–Neymar and Ozil are two of them–and he’ll still enjoy football without Messi playing for Argentina but it won’t be the same. It’ll be like Magic without Bird or McEnroe without Borg. It’ll still good to watch but not the best.
So, I’m hoping and praying that Messi made this decision in an emotional state–and he was in one–and, as I said earlier, I empathised with him. When the camera flashed on him as Chile was raising the Copa America trophy, tears welled up in my own eyes. When some time has passed and Argentina is preparing for 2018 World Cup qualification, I hope and pray that Messi reconsiders and announces his availability for national selection. As I said before, staying the course when things are hard is a sign of true character. So, too, is admitting you made a mistake. I believe his decision is a mistake. I hope if (when) he changes his mind, it’s not too late and the world can bask in his footballing majesty once again. However, if he doesn’t change his mind, I hope and pray that his decision, in the end, is the best one for him; that he has no doubts over it (he will always have regrets) and that he is happy.
Happy New Year everyone! Is it too late to say that?
Well, 2016 is well underway and as it plods along from one month to the next and one season to the next, I've been thinking about 2015 and the ten most memorable events in my life of that year. As a result of that reflection, here is my annual A Year In The Life post. Enjoy it 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.
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. (Video 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.
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 Broken Promises, 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.
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.
1st February, 2016
The Curiousness of Coincidence
Have you ever wondered about the coincidences in your life and think that, because they’re so alike, they might not be coincidences at all?
Before I go on, I should warn you that this post is about something extremely trivial – or is it? – that for some of you it might not that interesting. But, sometimes the most trivial of things can spark the most curious reflection.
I have on occasion wondered about the coincidences in my life, although not to the point of looking over my shoulder or fearing that there’s a conspiracy working against me. I’ve wondered how and why these things have happened but I can’t come up with a sensible reason or than they’re simply coincidences. For me, one of the more curious ones has to do with the sports colour scheme of the schools I have been involved with, either as a student or teacher or coach. I did my secondary education at Island School in Hong Kong. Most of the uniforms of the sports teams there were red, white and blue – the colours of The Union Jack – but there was a year or two in which our basketball kit was red with blue trim and blue numbers. One year our football uniform was blue with red trim. My favourite professional sports team – Arsenal Football Club – has for the most part always had a red home jersey since I became a fan in 1980. So, in some way, red has been following me since my youth.
Here’s where it gets really curious. I wouldn’t say there’s a conspiracy against me. I mean, come on, what kind of conspiracy is it to have someone exposed to the same colour scheme at different stages of his life at the different institutions that were/are important to him. But, it’s worth a mention.
I did my undergraduate university studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Its school colours are red, black and white. The University’s teams’ nickname is The Scarlet Knights. After graduating and a couple of job changes, I found myself coaching at Passaic County Community College. I was the Head Men’s Soccer Coach. We had a great run; getting nationally ranked and reaching the national Division III semi-final. The team’s colours were red and black and white. I did that for a season and a couple of years later I was teaching and coaching at Hunterdon Central Regional High School. (All the schools mentioned in this post are in New Jersey.) I was the Assistant Varsity and Junior Varsity Boys Volleyball Coach. Our school and team colours? Red, Black and White. The school’s teams’ nickname? The Red Devils. During that time, I was working on my M.A. in Coaching and Sports Administration at Montclair State University. I’d gotten into MSU, then Montclair State College, as an undergrad as well but I elected not to go there because there was a foreign (non-English) language requirement. Hindsight being 20/20, I regret not going there for that reason and I regret not pursuing a different language at Rutgers. I could’ve continued my four years of high school French or I could’ve pursued Cantonese (the language of my hometown which I wish I could speak fluently) or Korean (the language of my chosen martial art, Taekwondo). Anyway, MSC’s/MSU’s colours are red, black and white and the nickname is The Red Hawks. My Graduate School graduation cap and gown were red too. Finally, taking our story to present day, I’ve ended up teaching and coaching in the South Orange-Maplewood School District and, again, the school colours are red, black and white. I am the Head Girls Volleyball Coach for our high school, Columbia, and the Assistant Throws Coach (shot put, discus, javelin) for our Outdoor Track and Field Team.
There have been a couple of hiccoughs. I did coach at then Solomon Schechter Day School, now Golda Och Academy, and the school colours there are blue and white but, as you can see, my life – at least in terms of teaching and coaching – has been coated in red, black and white. Coated or clouded? Hmm. You decide.
Is this purely coincidence? Has someone or some larger organisation set me up so I get hired by schools whose colours are red, black and white? Or, is there something in my psyche or subconscious that makes me apply for and interview better at schools whose colours are red, black and white? Of the three, only black is a favourite colour of mine. To be completely honest, my favourite colours are orange and blue; royal blue to be specific.
So, while I do contend that all of this is likely coincidence, it might be plausible to suggest that there’s something more to it. Maybe one of you reading – someone much more intelligent than myself and who has the proper training in sociology, psychology, neuroscience and other disciplines – can look into this and see if there are others who’ve gone through something like this as well. Perhaps you can explain if I create this coincidence subconsciously and, if so, why red, black and white are so important.
Because of my age (I turned 47 yesterday), my place on my school district’s salary guide and being a tenured teacher, I am not likely going to change teaching and coaching jobs before I retire. If I ever leave my current position, it’ll be for something other than teaching so my red, black and white adventure has more than likely come to its end with Columbia. Or has it?
Thanks for stopping by.
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 on, let me wish you a very Happy New Year and best wishes for 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