Book: Dumpling Days

"Dumpling Days"

Pacy Lin is ready for summer! But her parents have decided the family is going to visit Taiwan for a whole month. Taiwan? Pacy isn’t even sure if she knows where that is.

And when she gets there, Pacy looks like everyone else but can’t speak the language, her art talent seems to have disappeared, and she has only her sisters to spend time with! But there’s plenty of adventure in Taiwan, too. As the month passes by, Pacy eats chicken feet (by accident!), gets blessed by a fortune-teller, searches for her true identity, and grows closer to those who matter most.

It seemed apt that the first post I was going to write for the month of August is about a book that takes place during the Ghost Month. I just wanted to put that out there.

Okay, so Dumpling Days. It says in the book that it’s a recollection of the author’s first trip to Taiwan. So I don’t know how much of it is just made up for creative license, and which parts are actually real. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. The end product is a heart-tugging memoir of a girl finding out who she can be by accepting who she is. And that’s enough for the book to get on my good side.

But here’s the thing. I can relate to Pacy Lin. I’m a Chinese guy born and raised in the Philippines. Filipino and English are my main languages for communication. And for thirteen years of my life, I saw my Chinese lessons as a torture device designed to keep me away from the television and my books. I speak better Italian than Chinese. Granted, I know more Chinese words than Italian words, but the point of that statement is, I never really connected with my Chinese heritage. Much like Pacy Lin.

Unlike Pacy though, I didn’t have a problem about cultural identity. During my first out-of-the-country trip, to Hong Kong, I was traumatized by a ship trip during a particularly stormy night. That kind of overshadowed whatever cultural shock I was going to experience. My second trip, to Taiwan, was composed of days spent locked in an apartment testing out Japanese video games for my uncles.

By the time I was sent to Xiamen (that’s in China) for a two-week ‘vacation,’ I knew enough Chinese words from school that I could get by. And, I don’t know why, but the people there liked me so much that they didn’t care about the fact that I couldn’t speak straight Chinese. One local even gave me discounts from her store whenever I thought her Filipino words.

It wasn’t until a third trip to Hong Kong that I would actually feel the alienation of being a Filipino with Chinese blood in a predominantly Chinese country. I had just graduated college. It’s been four years since I last studied Chinese. I felt like I could get by with just English. Until I realized that I was no longer that cute kid who spoke in Filipino or English to Chinese locals. I was a grown-up Chinese man who couldn’t even cobble up simple Chinese words together for a single sentence.

One particular memory sticks out from this trip to Hong Kong. I was thirsty and wanted to buy water. But I couldn’t remember how to say water in Cantonese (probably because of the thirst). I saw they sold Coke, so I said I wanted Coke. They couldn’t understand me. I said Coca-cola, and still nothing. Feeling like a smart-ass, because I could read the Chinese characters for Coke, I said I wanted to buy Ke-Kou-Ke-Le. And they looked at me like I had gone mad. I had to reach out behind the counter, point at the bottle of Coke and bring out the coins I was going to pay them with before they understood that I wanted to buy a bottle of Coca-cola.

That was embarrassing.

And unlike Pacy, I didn’t learn my lesson.

Four years later, during a trip to Beijing, I was almost run out of a store because they couldn’t understand my Chinese. Even after thirteen years of studying Chinese, I never realized that Hokien and Ko-gi were two different dialects. And that I was using the wrong one in Beijing.

The thing is, I don’t know if there will ever come a time when I would embrace my mixed heritage completely. The fact that I call myself a Filipino with Chinese blood kind of tells you how I see myself. But reading Dumpling Days… I would be more mindful to explain to my children why it’s important for them to study Chinese.

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Onwards to 2014!

"Onwards to 2014!"

Happy New Year!

2013 was quite the year for many of us, hasn’t it? But as that one Kelly Clarkson song says, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and I do think we’re going to be stronger this 2014.

I’m not going to waste your time with listing down New Year’s resolutions. Let’s be honest here. I’m probably never going to remember to do them anyway. So instead, I will do what I have been doing the past couple of years: making small promises. Those are easier to accomplish, and I don’t have to feel bad when I fail to do them.

Promise #1: Don’t make a new blog. I have four at last count. Five, if we include my barely updated personal blog. I’m starting to have a system, and right now, I just want to see this system work. Maybe I’ll introduce changes next year. For now, I’m settling with reliable.

Promise #2: I’m going to watch more Filipino productions. Last year, I made a promise to post at least one Filipino work a week. I cheated a little bit this year, with promotional posts for Magpakailanman instead of writing about books or films. So this year, I hope to complete my Filipino Fridays with just books, film, and theater productions.

Promise #3: Write at least one travel post. Which means, travel out of the metro at least once. I pretty much kept to Metro Manila last 2013, with the exception of the Singapore-Malaysia trip that was more headache-inducing than fun. This year, I’m planning on experiencing Cebu for a weekend, and going to either Japan or Korea to finally see snow in person. The goal is to go somewhere I’ve never been before. And that’s what I am going to do.

And my last promise is this: Create.

In 2013, I wrote a lot. But most of what I wrote were for this blog, and while I love this as an outlet, writing reaction posts is not the reason why I worked hard to become a writer. Writing for My Husband’s Lover, for Kahit Nasaan Ka Man, for Magpakailanman, and that one time on Unforgettable–those times affirmed my need to tell stories. And so this 2014, I will write more stories. Not all of them will be for television, and most of them will probably turn out not the way I expect. But one thing’s for sure…

2014 will be the year of creation.

Merry Christmas, 2013!

"Merry Christmas"

I’m giving away a Starbucks planner!

Why? Because ’tis the season of giving. Also, it’s been a while since I last gave something away.

So what do you guys need to do to get the planner? Watch a Metro Manila Film Festival entry, and convince me that it is the film I need to watch to complete my five entries of 2013. Take note that I am already planning to watch My Little Bossings, Kimmy Dora the Prequel, Kaleidoscope World, and Pedro Calungsod. I just need one more film to complete my five. The most convincing entry will win the Starbucks planner, along with a surprise gift.

You can give me your recommendations by commenting on this post, or by commenting at the Taking a Break fan page over at Facebook.

The contest is only open to Philippine residents. And the winner will be notified on January 3, when I upload my last MMFF post.

Filipino Friday: Something That I Want

"Filipino Friday"

I’ve been doing this book blog thing for three years now, and regular readers know that I read more international book titles than I do local ones. Mostly because there are more international titles than local ones.

And more importantly, there are more international book titles I’m interested in than local ones.

I don’t know if it’s because of my background, but I’ve been more exposed to local non-fiction books. To poetry collections too, but those are mostly published by university presses. It wasn’t until I started this blog that I even came across local fiction. Thanks in part to my fellow Filipino Book Bloggers who have introduced me to Trese, among many others. And, of course, to Summit Books.

But it seems I might have run out of books to read. I mean, technically, there are still a lot of books I’ve yet to read. But books that I’m interested in?

That brings me to the final Filipino Friday discussion for 2013: What do we, as readers, want to see in Philippine Literature?

Personally, I want to see more diversity. I have my preferred genre, but I won’t be selfish and say I want the local publishing industry to publish more dystopian fiction, or young adult books. Although, that would be nice. I just want more local books readers can pick through.

Right now, we have a lot of humor-based non-fiction that aren’t always funny; books published for the fans of local DJs and other celebrities; compilations of obviously fake true-life ghost stories; religious books, educational books, and books on how to succeed in life; the books for kids from Adarna; there’s the Precious Hearts romances, and their main competition whose brand I can’t remember; and then the very limited number of books that you cannot categorize from Visprint and Summit Books.

Suffice to say, I’ve read a lot of Visprint and Summit Books titles the past few years. Thing is, and I think a lot of Filipino readers would agree with me here, I want more.

For three years now, I’ve been going back to the argument that there are no Filipino readers. I hope that this is no longer a thought that local publishers subscribe to. Trese, although a comics series, has proven this not to be true for sure. Unfortunately, I cannot cite books to strengthen this argument. But that’s mostly because we don’t have a lot of local books to actually cite.

And most the books that are out there, are either something you wouldn’t want to brag about–or don’t get enough exposure.

Tomorrow’s the third Filipino ReaderCon. Where we talk books. And while I’m very proud of its existence, I must say that I’m also disappointed at the book discussion line-up: Seasons of Mist by Neil Gaiman? Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen? Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card? Only one group will be discussing a Filipino book: Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog by Edgar Calabria Samar.

But can we really blame the book groups with their choices?

Again, it comes down to lack of options.

There will be no Filipino readers if there aren’t more Filipino books.

I do understand that that’s a double-edged sword as well. If more books are published, and yet readership still doesn’t pick up, are we effectively killing the local publishing industry? Maybe. Unless the books that do get published are actually good. And then readers will come.

Maybe work with the bookstores too. Have Young Adult shelves be stocked with local Young Adult books as well. But don’t just put the books there. Make it belong there. Make it look enticing to readers.

One of the things I’ve noticed when browsing through bookstores is that our local books look cheap. Put side by side with international titles, no one is going to notice the little books that look like they didn’t have enough to pay the graphic artist.

I know that I’m asking a lot off the publishers. But really, all that I’ve said can be summarized in one simple business term: Invest.

Invest in your books, and we will come.

Filipino Friday: Kids and Books

"Filipino Friday"

This week on Filipino Friday, bloggers talk about kids and books by answering the following questions: “What were your favorite books as a kid? Do you still read children’s books? If you would give a book to your younger self, what would it be?

I don’t remember having one particular favorite book as a kid. I do remember reading. A lot. I remember getting a reprimand for reading while the car was moving, for reading while walking–and then, because it happens, falling down a sewer because I was paying more attention to the book than where I was walking.

Even then I didn’t discriminate with the books I read. I would pick up a volume from the encyclopedia one day, and a Bobbsey Twins novel the next. I remember picking up a romance novel, the one where characters ‘make love,’ and never being told to not read it. I remember my parents bringing me my weekly local komiks every Friday when they come home from work. I remember stealing into my mom’s stash of horror komiks too.

No, I don’t have a favorite book. I still don’t, mulling it over now. I do have books I like to read again from time to time, but are they my favorites? What’s the criteria? I just like them.

There are books that really stand out in my reading history though.

There’s Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor which was the first romance novel I really enjoyed reading. I loved the mix of fantasy, comedy, and romance. I loved the time travel. And I remember loving the premise of time affecting love much more with Jude Deveraux’s Remembrance.

But those aren’t really books for kids.

I remember not liking A Little Princess very much when I first read it as a kid. But fast forward to a couple of decades later, and it’s now one of my go-to books when I just want to feel good. That’s considered a children’s book, right? A Little Princess?

And then there’s Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. It’s Young Adult, not really a children’s book. But if there’s one book that I’ve read that I would want to give my younger self–that would be it.

There’s also Inkheart. The early years of Harry Potter, although I much preferred the latter years… Artemis Fowl

Again, I don’t really discriminate when it comes to books. I read anything I find intriguing. It doesn’t matter if it’s for kids, for young adults, or for more mature readers. As long as it interests me, you’ll see me pick it up. And then I’ll write about it here. And if I really like it, I’m going to share it with everyone I know. Heck, I’d even share it with people I don’t know–

Which I’m planning to do at the Filipino ReaderCon this coming November 9! So if you have nothing planned that day, hang out with us at Ateneo de Manila University’s Rizal Library. Join us for an afternoon of talk, talk, book sharing, and more talk!

See you there!

Third Anniversary

"Third Anniversary"

I can’t believe it’s been three years since I started this blog. I feel like it was only yesterday when I decided to do branch out into a serious blog. Then again, I also feel like I’ve been doing this forever. But that’s probably because I’ve been maintaining a blog of one form or another for ten years now. Ten years.

Before anything else, here’s a look back at the past year on the blog:

Most of the stuff that’s getting a lot of traffic, are the press releases for Magpakailanman; although, only two Magpakailanman posts actually makes it to the Top 10 most viewed pages for the past year. This aren’t paid advertisements, as I’m part of the show. But seeing as how people seem to always be reading these posts, I have to think of ways to make it more engaging. More discussion worthy.

The rest of the eight entries in last year’s Top 10 are equally distributed to the Books and Movie category–all of which are works by Filipinos. I’ve noticed this since the blog started that my posts on Filipino works get more traffic than my posts on books from other countries. I don’t know why, but that’s actually one of the reasons why I started the modified Filipino Friday.

There are people looking for Filipino works. Let’s make it easier for them to find it, right?

Entering the fourth year of Taking a Break, I’ve noticed a lot of things that I need to work on. I like to think that my writing has improved, but I know I can still do better.

I’m also starting to see where I want to take my writing. When I started this blog, I tended to be on the defensive. I always end with a disclaimer that what I wrote is purely my opinion as a reader–not as a critic

But am I not a critic? Not a good one, sure, but the fact that I am writing about someone else’s work–does that not make me a critic? I’m not objective, nor am I academic. But that shouldn’t matter. The point is, I always stand by what I say–unless you convince me otherwise.

This is why, from this point on, I will refrain from distancing myself from my opinion. I will welcome discussion–which I have been doing for the last few posts. And I will do my best to be more eloquent in my writing.

I am curious though. To those who are regularly reading my posts, what are the things I need to work on? What parts of the blog should I improve?

Help me make this blog better.

And thank you for always being there.

Event: The Jason Mraz Concert

"Jason Mraz and the Band"

Last March, I received the best news on my inbox–Jason Mraz was going back to the Philippines! And after a couple of failed attempts at purchasing a ticket over the phone (TicketNet said they weren’t available yet, when their own website and the newsletter Jason Mraz’s team sent out said it should already be), I finally finagled a couple of tickets on the TicketNet website.

It was around 500 pesos more expensive than the advertised price, and it wasn’t the best seat. Good thing this is Jason Mraz. All seats are good seats because he knows how to put on a show. And what a show it was.

Oh yeah– the concert was last night. And it was awesome. A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

Now, I have a pretty bad track record when it comes to Jason Mraz concerts, wherein I’m always coming from somewhere and cutting it close. This is the first time though, I think, that I didn’t even catch the front act. Not that I minded. I’m not a fan of Zendee Rose. No offense, her type of singing just doesn’t jive with me.

Fortunately, I was able to catch the Jason Mraz part of the concert.

Back in 2011, when he was last here, I was a little let down with the whole shebang. But that was coming from his 2006 intimate nights that were simply astounding. I enjoyed the both times I went, but there was something magical about the 2006 concert that the 2011 one didn’t have.

The magic is back though. Last night.

Yesterday is the first time I’ve seen Jason Mraz perform with a band, come to think of it. The first two of his concerts I’ve been to, it’s always just Toca Rivera with him. Awesome duo, but as I said, there was a certain lack of something in the second time.

The band definitely marks last night as an experience that can’t be compared to the first two.

But, really, the best part of it all is that Jason Mraz seems to be enjoying himself more nowadays. And the way he interacts with everyone is amazing. He has chemistry with the whole band, and their joy at performing is palpable–and contagious.

I don’t know about the other parts of the Coliseum, but our area was standing, stomping, clapping and singing along with the band. It was a exhilarating.

The mix of songs favored his most recent album release, but Jason clearly hasn’t forgotten the ones that really made an impact in the Philippines, singing The Remedy, You and I Both, Lucky, Make it Mine, interspersed with his more recent songs. And, of course, he had to have I’m Yours as his finale.

There was a medley somewhere during the concert too. A medley that transitioned organically from one song to the next, thanks to the great performances of the band.

I’m still on a high from last night.

And I can’t wait for the next time he comes back.