Thursday, December 11, 2008

busy bee

I realize I haven't posted in a while, sorry. I've been real busy these past few months, and even though I've had time to post, I just dreaded the act of doing it out of fear of posting a 10-page long entry. What I'll do instead is give a quick summary of the happenings in my life since I last posted, and over the next few days I'll be posting an entry for events I think would be interesting for you to read more about (unless I talk about them enough on this post).

Let's see. I was baptized (by immersion) in October. I felt great doing it - people would ask my WHY I hadn't done it before, but better late than never I guess. It was a pretty fun weekend too - my mom came to visit (to witness the baptism), and I was able to treat her to a nice hotel room and take her to pretty decent restaurants. I could tell she is happy to see I'm doing well over here, which in turn makes me glad. I give full credit to God on that one though (thank you).

So my friends and I dressed up for Halloween. It was fun - my first time actually dressing up since I was a kid. Influenced, I dressed up as a stereotypical, country-side Vietnamese guy. It was funny to me and my friends, but we didn't go to where Vietnamese people were, so not very many people got the joke. Oh well. We ended up going salsa dancing by the end of the night, which was cool because we got to dance all dressed up. I never thought dancing with a witch would be fun.

I again thank God for all the good times. Aside from teaching salsa dancing to my 3rd and 4th grade students, I am now also an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the Vietnamese Community Center nearby work. I teach mostly older people, and I really enjoy it. They are very nice, and they work hard to improve their English. The weekend following Thanksgiving Day, they even set up a potluck for the class. It was awesome to get to hang out with them. Some of my students are really good cooks, too. :-)

What else. Oh, I was part of a fashion show. Yes. For a fundraiser organized by the Vietnamese community. Yes. It was definitely a new experience. I was all sorts of nervous, but ended up doing good. I got to hang out with the girls from the fashion show backstage - and also with two well-known Vietnamese artists (singers). Also, I should mention that I also participated in the opening ceremony, which involved singing the Vietnamese anthem. Yes.

More recently, we made a trip down to San Antonio, TX to go to this year's Puerto Rican festival. It was pretty fun. We ate lots of food and danced a lot. They put on some shows displaying old school Puerto Rican dances like bomba, plena, danzon, and others. It was cool. Long drive though~

Even more recently, I started teaching salsa dancing to more people. One of which won the Miss Teen pageant some time ago (Yes, I had to mention it. Ahem.). It's pretty fun. I'm not advanced at salsa dancing by any means, but I figure if I can teach people enough so that they can go out and have fun, and maybe even continue learning elsewhere, then why not.

That's all I remember for now. Some more events are coming up as the year comes to an end, so I'll try not being as lazy this time, and keep you posted. God bless.

Friday, October 10, 2008

to be a salsa instructor, part II

It seems like a very long time since I last made an entry here. It's been very busy the last couple of weeks, and I simply haven't had the time to sit down and write (ok that's a lie - I've had free time, but I usually use it to chill, play games, sleep or whatever).

Salsa keeps showing up in different areas of my life. A couple of months ago I was asked to give a salsa lesson during the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations at work. It turned out to be pretty good. The organizers split up the celebration across the span of four weeks, each week targeting the Hispanic communities in different areas of America. The fourth and final week was "Caribbean"-themed, and I was chosen as the "speaker" for the day to teach salsa. The event was pretty packed - I think it was the most people they got during the four weeks. I asked a friend of mine to help me out so we could give a little salsa exhibition first, which people seemed to like. The actual salsa lesson only got about 9 volunteers, which I found to be pretty weak (people don't like to step out of their comfort zones very much sometimes). But anyway, it worked out because it was less people to teach, so it made it easier. I would say 3 out of the 4 couples did pretty good. We taught them the basic step, simple turn, and cross body lead. At the end of the activity, I was presented with a "outstanding performance" certificate for helping out with the activities during the month, a "certification of appreciation" (with its own frame and everything!) for being the salsa instructor, which I found pretty cool, especially because it has a little thing with the Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban flags. Finally, they gave me a $50 gift certificate from It's always cool to get rewarded for things you enjoy doing, especially when you would've done them for free anyways.

Last week I went to the school again for the second salsa lesson. I was escorted to the classroom by a teacher that I hadn't met before. She turned out to be real nice, and even complimented me at one point. One thing I have to mention is that she was white. I saw some new faces among the kids, but didn't see some from last time. The teacher and I were standing at the door of the classroom just talking and having fun with the kids and whatnot while we waited for Ms. J. At some point, one of the new kids asked her if I was her son, at which an eruption of laughter from the rest of the kids followed. The kids were like "they don't even look alike!", etc. I don't think I would've made a big deal out of the question, but really, the color difference between the teacher and myself was too big to even wonder, haha. Anyway, the kids were also wondering about the contents of the bag I was holding in my hand. They were trying to guess, and I just kept telling them that they would find out when we got to the gym. One of the funnier comments came from John (Boy #1 from to be a salsa instructor, part I). He insisted that I was a time traveler, and that I had an ice cream maker in my bag (which he vividly described with hand gestures, complete with motions on how he would eat the ice cream).

As we walked to the gym, the girls were in the front with Ms. J, and I hung back with the boys...

Gustavo: (with his backpack strapped on his waist somehow) Mr. Wired, I know Karate!
Me: Really? *making chop motions with my hand* Do you like, break trees and stuff?
Gustavo: No, but I can break wood!
Me: What, like pencils? ;-)
*all the boys laugh*
Gustavo: *looking down* No..
John: I bet Mr. Wired can break trees with his finger! *proceeds to make pointing motions as if touching a tree and making it explode*
Me: -_- Dude, I think you watch too many movies.

When we arrived at the gym, I had Ms. J sit the kids down, because I had a little talk ready for them. The first item in my bag was a world map. I pulled it out, and had them volunteer to see if they knew where Puerto Rico was located. After lots of attempts (one of the kids even tried finding it in Asia -_-), I had them give up, and finally showed it to them ("Oh! it's so small! No wonder we couldn't find it!"). I proceeded to tell them about the words "wepa" and "china" as we use them in Puerto Rico (the kids started going "Wepa, Ms. J!" as soon as I finished). I then told them about the other names that Puerto Rico has/has had throughout history, and finally told them a little about El Yunque. After that, I pulled out the second item in my bag: Pocky. I gave one stick to each kid, and they really liked it. As they ate, I gave them a little talk about Spanish, and the Hispanic community in general. I talked to them about being proud of their language and culture, and about learning about other people's cultures as well, etc. I also gave homework to three volunteers (John was one of them). For next time, they have to ask their parents something special/unique about their nationality, whether it be language, traditions, or even random facts. One of my goals is to get them to learn about, and appreciate, their own cultures and backgrounds.

The kids did great in class. I could really tell they had practiced their steps. I taught them the "cuarta" (which they picked up pretty quickly), and the basic turn (they struggled the most with this one, understandably). While we were practicing the turns, one of the boys asked me when were we going to be dancing with a partner. :-). I had them all stand in a line without telling them what we would be doing. I did a little bit of prep talk about salsa being a partner dance and stuff, and then asked for a brave female volunteer...(lots of hands went up) ... to dance with me (hands went back down, and they cowered towards Ms. J). I ended up having to really stress the fact that it wasn't a big deal, and proceeded to demonstrate (because they were having none of it) with Ms. J how it's done. Some girls were then willing to do the stance with me. Their reaction was hilarious when I suggested dancing with the other boys (they are 10 year olds for the most part). After some convincing, some girls were brave enough to do it. Soon, they were excited about it because it now "made sense", and they were just having fun doing the basic step and the "segunda". I also showed them the "open" stance, but I plan to teach them to dance in "closed" stance for the most part.

Time was up after about 5 minutes of partner dancing. I gave them some more Pocky, reminded them of their homework, and sent them on their way. I was a bit surprised (in a good way) to see that John was the one that hung back as people left, and took care of throwing out the Pocky package, taking Ms. J's radio, and closing the gym. Even though he jokes around a lot, it seems like he's the most mature, and one of the better educated (imo) students of the bunch. I still look forward to the antics that are to come though, haha.

On a more 'random' note, I witnessed something that somewhat disturbed me last night. After Vietnamese class, I was packing my stuff and decided to hang back to talk about some things with the professor. Most of the class had left, except one other girl. I don't know why, but the professor asked her what her nationality was, because she had forgotten (apparently the girl had mentioned it before at some point). Anyway, I could sorta feel the vibe that the girl was stalling for time, waiting for me to leave so she could answer the question. At this, I purposely slowed down my movements, waiting for her reply. The professor asked again (I guess she thought the girl hadn't heard her the first time), and the girl finally replied -in a very low voice, with her head down- Mexican. I HAD to say something.

I think it's very sad, very very sad, that there are people that are ashamed (or not proud) of their culture/heritage. I don't know this specific person's story, so I don't know how she got to that point, but I would guess that it's a society thing. I think as people, we have to recognize and appreciate our background, no matter what it is. I don't want to get into it very much in this post, but man. Even though I've heard people make comments about how Puerto Ricans are very proud, this is one of the reasons I thank God for planting me in Puerto Rico. Not because I think we're better than anyone, but because it's a place that ever since you're little, you're taught to love your island and its culture ("yo soy boricua, pa' que tu lo sepas", "yo soy de aquí como el coquí", "que bonita bandera" among other sayings).

Don't get me wrong though - I don't mean to single the girl out by any means. It's the general mentality I have a problem with. I know not all Mexicans have that mentality, but I've seen both (proud/not proud) on different peoples at different times/places. It just encourages me even more to try and make a difference in this aspect, even if it's only with my 10 year old salsa students.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

to be a salsa instructor, part I

Between working, going to church and taking Vietnamese and Japanese lessons, I am now a salsa instructor.

A number of weeks ago, a friend (who I will call Ms. J) approached me at church and asked me if I could teach salsa to her 3rd and 4th grade students at the school she teaches in. At the moment I didn't really think much of it, so I agreed. As time went by and "the date" drew nearer, the fact that I was going to be teaching salsa to 9-10 year olds began to sink in. If you try and remember, when one is that age, one doesn't have the greatest attention span, nor the greatest interest for things other than toys/playing with other kids/etc, especially if it involved someone of the opposite sex. At that age I just wanted to play on my Super Nintendo all day. I realized it wasn't going to be easy, and I started praying and preparing myself for the day. A whole lot of patience and perseverance would be needed to teach salsa to kids.

The day finally arrived, and I made my way to the elementary school. I asked directions on how to get to the classroom, and when I got there, found myself in a room with Ms. J and around 15 kids. Immediately the kids started asking Ms. J who I was, if I was the salsa instructor, if I was a good dancer, etc. They seemed like a great bunch of kids from the get-go. The first funny dialog I got into went something like this:

Me: *approaching a group of kids in the middle of the classroom* So, what grade are you guys in?
Girl 1 & Girl 2: *excited* 3rd grade!
Boy 1: *with a cocky attitude* Well, I am in 4th grade.
Me: -_- Haha, well, excuuuse me kid. ;-)

But like I said, they were a great bunch of kids. All of them were excited and were telling me how they wanted to learn salsa real bad as we made our way to the gym. There was a total of 16 kids: 12 girls and 4 boys. When we got there, the kids sat down on the floor, and Ms. J proceeded to introduce me (she introduced me as Mr. Wired). I gave them a little background info of myself, and then started to talk about salsa. I told them where it came from, where it got its name, etc. Then I started to talk about the actual music.

Me: For now, I'm just going to throw this info out there - you may not understand all of it just yet, but you will when you actually start dancing. Salsa music has 8 counts and we count them as "1,2,3 ... 5,6,7" etc etc etc.
Boy 2: *raises hand*
Ms. J: Yes, Boy 2?
Boy 2: Ms. J, Mr. Wired said he was going to throw something out there. What is he going to throw?

Ms. J and myself almost died. Boy 2 forced me to remember that kids tend to take things very literally. :-)

The kids were doing pretty good. They picked up the basic step pretty quickly. Only like one girl and one boy were having difficulties, but the rest were doing good. It was really nice hearing the whole room go "1,2,3, 5,6,7. 1,2,3, 5,6,7..." as they tried their best to get it right. Some would call me excitedly, wanting to show me that they "got it". Things were going smoothly, but it was really tough to handle 16 kids at once, so at one point Ms. J came up with the idea of dividing them in four rows of four students each. On our first rotation, the first row ended up being the four boys. As Ms. J went on to take care of arranging the rest of the rows, I decided to approach the boys and give them some encouragement.

Me: Alright guys. You need to give it your best and represent the boy band. :-D !!
Boy 1: *Looking at me in the eyes* Um, what's a boy band?
Me: Hahaha, I don't know. I just made that up. (What does a boy band have to do with salsa and giving ones best?)

... 5 seconds later ...

Boy 1: Ms. J, Mr. Wired said we have to represent the boy band!
Boy 2: And he said he just made it up!
Ms. J: *dies laughing*
Me: .... gee, thanks guys. Thanks a lot. -_-

The whole thing was definitely not boring. It's awesome how kids are so easily amused, too. I got them to do the basic step to some music, then taught them the "segunda" (which is the "side to side" step, I don't know the name for it in English). They said it looked pretty easy, and sure enough, picked it up pretty quickly. Then, I told them how you can switch between the two steps anytime you wanted, and gave a little demonstration. The whole room went "ooooooooooh". It was great.

When class was over, I congratulated the kids for a job well done, and told them to keep practicing until next time. I also told them that next time I would be teaching them the "cuarta" and "quinta". More "oooooooooh"s from the whole room. Before leaving, they all group hugged Ms. J, and one of the girls even came up and gave me a hug. I love these kids. I am very grateful to God for giving me this opportunity.

I was told that the next time I am to speak only in Spanish. I already started getting ready for it. Should be good. =)

Monday, September 1, 2008

pink shirts, yellow balloons and fortune cookies

So we made a trip to Austin, TX this labor day weekend. Our "out of town" plans usually consist of a combination of meeting up with friends, eating, salsa dancing, and sleeping. We sometimes do some sort of sightseeing as well. Austin delivered in all aspects, but what might be exciting and cool to me might be boring to you, so I'll try to keep you from clicking the "x" button in your browser by only posting the highlights.

Friday night we went to 6th street for some Cuban/Puerto Rican food and dancing. I think it was the first time ever that I went to a salsa club, actively asked a good number of different people to dance, and didn't get rejected once. At one point I danced with a very nice (and cute) Mexican girl with a great attitude. I played the "beginner" card which resulted in her being impressed as I did the more advanced (not really) moves. So she had a good time, and ended up introducing me to her (also cute) friends so I could dance with them as well. Zing.

Later on some of my friends wanted to get drinks so we moved to a place called The Library. I just did some people watching while my friends had their drinks and did some dancing. At one point, one of my friends sorta challenged me to go up to a group of girls to take a picture with them. So I did.

Me: *walks up* Hey, let's get our picture taken. (or something like that)
Them: Uhh... *one of them points to another* take a picture with her!
Me: *looking at the single girl* Ok! Just look at the camera over there! My friend is taking the picture
Her: *with a confused look* why do you want to take a picture?
Me: -_- ... I just want to have a cool picture to take back to Dallas! :-)
Her: Uhh...
Me: Aww, come on. Am I a scary guy?
Her: *touching my shirt* ^_^ No, you're wearing a pink shirt!
Me: OK! Say cheese! :-D ...
Her: Cheese! :-D
Me: *explodes*

So I guess it didn't turn out too good haha. I'm not the kind of guy that "begs", but I really didn't want to walk away without getting that picture taken. It went from a group of five to just one girl, and me having to pull out all sorts of tricks from my bag (I omitted stuff from the conversation) in the process. I did get my picture taken with a random cute Austin girl however, and learned that wearing pink somehow lowers girls' defenses. Woot.

We're back in Dallas now, but Austin was such a great experience that we can't wait for another chance to go back. I'll just make sure to keep stocking up on pink shirts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hello! My name is Phước.

Nice to meet you.

I went to my first Vietnamese lesson today. The professor is really nice. She was telling us how she used to be a teacher in Vietnam, and how very different the school system is from the one in the United States. I guess today we learned more about culture than of the actual Vietnamese language (we learned some greetings and stuff), but I found it to be very interesting so it's all good. Finally, I should mention that there's a very cute Vietnamese girl in the class. Yep.

After class, I was still in the Vietnamese "mood" so of course I went for Vietnamese food. The owner of the restaurant I frequent the most is a very nice guy (I will call him Mr. An from now on) - I guess he's gotten to know me a bit over time since I go to his place so much, and has even let me borrow some of his Vietnamese DVD's because he knows I enjoy watching them at the restaurant. Anyway, I told him that I had taken my first Vietnamese lesson today, and that the Vietnamese name that was given to me by the professor was Phước (which supposedly means "blessing". Pretty sweet, huh?). He laughed, but then he said that I should work for him on the weekends, and that way I'd pick up the language very quickly. He seemed serious about it too. I just told him I'd consider it once I learned more Vietnamese - it definitely sounds like a good idea, at least in my head. I can't help but entertain the thought of what the Vietnamese customers will think when they walk in there and see a Puerto Rican guy take their order - in Vietnamese.

(I don't know Vietnamese yet, so please imagine the following conversation is not in English)

Me: May I take your order?
Customer: *blinking* Uhh, yeah. Small bowl of Pho Tai, please.
Me: Sure thing.
Customer: Hey, are you Vietnamese?
Me: ... ^_^

...Yeah, it would be too good.

Monday, August 25, 2008

do I look Vietnamese?

...maybe if you look at me from an airplane, yeah. I was born in Puerto Rico some 25 years ago, and I don't have the hair, the eyes, nor the color, but a cute Vietnamese girl asked me if I was Vietnamese the other day. Needless to say, hilarity ensued as I looked up from signing the receipt to pay for the delicious cơm gà rôti plate I just had, and she had the chance to reflect on what she had just asked me. I was kinda stunned so I couldn't come up with anything smart/witty to say, but I'll be ready for next time, haha.

Speaking of Vietnamese, tomorrow I begin taking Vietnamese lessons. I'm kind of excited but nervous at the same time. I really want to learn the language. I figure I go to Vietnamese restaurants so much, I might as well. It really sucks meeting all these nice people at the different places I go to, and not being able to carry on (a lot of times) a decent conversation due to the language barrier. I'm somewhat nervous because I'm still intimidated by the different entonations of the vowels, and how two words can sound so similar but have different meanings. Like, at first I couldn't tell the difference between how cá (fish) and
gà (chicken) sounded. I hope it doesn't take me too long to figure it out and get used to it - we'll see how it goes.

So yep, I'm looking forward to the end of the semester already. At which point I should be able to say something witty to that cute girl at the restaurant. Like, I dunno, responding with a simple "yes"?
. Let's just hope I don't mispronounce it and end up calling her fat, or something.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

just opened

I just opened this blog today. In here I plan to post when I think I have something interesting to say. This is my first blog so I pray that you bear with me while I get the hang of it.