Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Yes, You Can be a Published Author, Too!

(Photo: With Alexa Hale, Project Based Learning teacher of SCVi)

It was a privilege to speak at the Santa Clarita Valley International School (SCVi) in Castaic, CA. Speaking in front of 60 sixth-graders and inspiring them to be creative writers was an awesome experience. I got a positive feedback from the students. Captive audience all. Now they are ready to write their own book for the Storybird Project. A copy of the following article was handed to students to remind them that they can be a published author too like me.

  So, you want to write a book?  I’m telling you, it’s not an easy goal. But if you have the discipline and perseverance in your system, then you can be a published author. 
     It took me 15 years to finish my novel The Zhongguo Orchestra—ten years of day dreaming and five years of actual writing. 
     Yes, those ten lost years didn’t amount to anything except that it filled my dream basket with buts and ifs.  Doubts were my unwelcomed visitors and later on became my unwanted companions.  In those fledgling years, my enthusiasm for writing waned, and at times, a week passed by without even a single page to credit.  Unbelief led to procrastination.  I almost gave up on writing and thought of letting The Zhongguo Orchestra die a natural death.  I prepared for its wake and was ready to mourn its passing. 
     You see, unlike other writers who pride themselves with a BA in English or an MFA in Creative Writing, I admit I have neither one of those coveted degrees.  Nevertheless, the dearth of writing skills didn’t discourage me from moving on; on the contrary, it bolstered me even more to work harder. 
    To hone my writing skills, I became a self-educated writer.  I read some How to Write articles on the internet and borrowed reference materials from the library.  I also bought books on creative writings and slowly built myself a mini-library.  I went further and subscribed to magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers.  A writer must be a reader first! 
     Some of the books I read were How to Write a Thriller, Grammatically Correct, 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, Rewrite Right, St. Martin's Guide to Writing, Writer to Writer, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Plot & Structure, and other self-help books.  I also read the creations of some great novelists like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, and Ken Follett.  Tom Clancy showed up later in my writing life. 
    If you want to improve your writing skills, you must study the great works of those master-storytellers. 
    My manuscript didn't come out easily.  I juggled everything in life – family, full-time job, and church activities. Writing always showed up at the bottom of my schedule.  I got my solitude only when everyone at home was asleep.  My creative juices usually flowed from ten at night to one in the morning.  So imagine it was hard for me going to work on the following morning half-dead like a zombie. 
     The last two years of writing The Zhongguo Orchestra was a grueling experience for me.  I felt like I’ve sailed into the unknown depth of literary seas fishing for elusive words that often escaped my convoluted mind.  It was an arduous struggle from the start, and more than anything else, the process tested my patience and sanity. 
     My indomitable will prodded me to go through those difficult years.  And during these times, a small voice—could be from an angel!—cajoled me relentlessly and said I have a good story to share with the world.  This angel encouraged me often and said, “Don’t give up, Daddy!”
     So I pressed on and I worked harder than ever before.  I found my creative thoughts flowed naturally this time.  I saw how my story metamorphosed from a lethargic draft to a promising manuscript.  Afterwards, I started forming Beta Readers—friends who’d provided critiques of my manuscript without getting any compensations.  The last year was nerve-racking for me, given all the writing and rewriting and editing, and everything that came in between that cycle. 
     Finally, The Zhongguo Orchestra came out but not without experiencing the blood, sweat, and tears of writing.  Oh, the joy and pain of writing! 
     You see, some writers have natural flairs, and their literary wells overflow with the abundance of words.  Those skilled ones could produce a novel in a three-month time or even in one month! You heard about NaNoWriMo?  I envy those gifted writers, really.  Me? I’m just an ordinary guy with two simple writing traits:  discipline and perseverance – two enviable qualities that helped me complete my book. 
    Let me share you some points-to-ponder from Andre Jute, author of Reverse Negative.  In his book Writing a Thriller, he said, “A Nobel laureate told me that, within a six block radius of the pub we were in, there were a hundred better writers than either of us . . . The difference between us, as published writers, and them as unpublished writers . . . was merely that we sat down and wrote a page a day or ten pages a day . . . and they didn’t.”  He also said, “The writer’s greatest virtue is never to give up.  If you were born stubborn, obstinate and plain pig-headed, you have a good start.” Wow. 
     So now, do you really want to write a book and become a published author?  Well, the only thing that can stop you from achieving your goal is—You! Take it from me—an ESL author. I hope my story will motivate you to write if nothing else.  Quit dreaming, and start writing!  sDg.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Beijing Goes Global: China to Expand Marine Force

(PLA Navy Frigate Yueyang. Photo by MC Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe, Wikimedia Commons

Hereunder article from Daniel Lang tells of an interesting topic about the strategic plan of the Chinese government to expand its military clout worldwide. China's People's Liberation Army (Navy) is going global. With its adventurous island-grabbing in West Philippine Sea, PLA (N) is now making its presence in Africa. 

So, from constructing an airstrip on a reclaimed area in Spratly Islands, the Chinese is now building a navy installation about four miles from Camp Lemonnier--United States' military base of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. 

In my book The Zhongguo Orchestra, I have discussed China's long-term objective of displacing the United States as the primary global power; and with the PLA increasing its military budget and expanding its armed forces, the Chinese keep the American military planners in Pentagon glued on their drawing tables as they strategize to counter the looming threat from Beijing.

Below is Lang's article.  

For most of its recent history, China has largely been a land power with no significant naval capabilities. They haven’t been able to exert much military influence beyond their coastline for hundreds of years. In fact, one of the reasons why Western powers had no trouble bullying China during the 19th and 20th centuries, was because the Imperial Navy under the Qing dynasty was incredibly weak. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that lately, China has been putting a lot of effort into building an effective overseas naval force. 
Not only have they been busy constructing their first combat-ready aircraft carrier, the Chinese have also been developing new aircrafts to accompany it. Of course, a navy can’t really exert much military influence if it doesn’t have soldiers to deploy. That’s why Chinese officials have recently announced that they are preparing to rapidly expand the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps.

Chinese media is reporting the People’s Liberation Army’s ambitious new plans following the announcement of a 7 per cent increase to $AU200 billion in defence spending last week. Among the details to emerge is a move to boost China’s marine corps — highly trained and well equipped troops intended for rapid deployment and offensive missions launched from the sea — from an existing 20,000 troops to more than 100,000.

Chinese officials have stated this is to protect arterial maritime trade routes and enforce its growing overseas interests.

“What growing overseas interests” you might ask? Well, China has been in the process of building their first overseas military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. And that base is expected to be completed this summer.

Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of AfriCom, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he expected the Chinese base on the Horn of Africa to be operational later this summer. Without getting specific, Waldhauser said he recently met with Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh “and expressed our concerns about some of the things that are important to us about what the Chinese should not do at that location.”

The Chinese base would be about four miles from the U.S. base at Camp Lemonnier, one of the Pentagon’s largest and most important foreign military installations, where about 3,000 U.S. military personnel and contractors are assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Given that base’s close proximity to Camp Lemonnier, China’s intentions are obvious. They want what the United States has, which is a vast overseas empire, and an expeditionary force that can reach any coastline in the world. They want to compete with our current role in the global theater. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room in the world for two countries carrying out that role. We may very well be witnessing the first stages of a new conflict between the United States and China.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Personal Security Measures: A Guide on How to Live and Work Safely in Abroad (Part 1)

(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

     On January 2016, the US Department of State had issued seven travel alerts and warnings for the Americans who are going to Mexico, El Salvador, Haiti, Uganda, Sudan, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The USDOS advised the travelers of the risks they would encounter in these countries. Tourists are even cautioned to consider not going at all or to postpone their plans to a later date.
     Accordingly, the reasons for issuing the notification was due to “unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.”  The announcement also mentioned of “an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.” On both publications, the USDOS pointed out the possible terrorist attack. This kind of threat would intensify as the years go by notably with the expanding clout of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East, and the al-Qaeda (AQ) in the African continent.
     For the American tourists, they can always forego their vacation plans and depart when the security condition in their destinations changed for good. This could also be said for those company executives who are on a planned business trip. But for those expatriates living overseas, they do not have the luxury of altering their schedules; instead, they will need to raise the level of their security awareness to protect themselves and their household from physical harm.
     Executives of multinational corporations would be the most likely targets of criminal and terroristic acts, not only for financial gains but also for political objectives because they are construed as conduits of so-called American imperialism.
     One of the critical assets of a corporation is its personnel—primarily the managers or those assigned on sensitive assignments. As such, appropriate attention must be given to the safety and protection of the executives and their families, particularly in high-risk countries where crimes are rampant and where terrorist groups operate unabated.
     The security operation is of universal application, but some techniques may need to be applied to address the threat condition. A security precaution required for a given situation would depend mostly on the nature of the threats, which could be assessed on several factors. 
     So, in this article, I am going to outline the Personal Security Measures that you--the American expatriate--could apply to mitigate your risk of becoming a victim of criminal or terrorist group. I will discuss the precautionary security measures you can take while in the field, in the office, and at home. These guidelines come in the simple Do’s and Don’ts, which are uncomplicated that you and your family members can perform daily.
     As a caveat, the security measures presented herein should serve as guides only, as no one is more concerned with the protection of your well-being than yourself. So, the greater the security awareness you put into the task, the greater the degree of your safety will be. Remember, even the professional security practitioners find it hard to stay on full-security alert on a 24-hour basis. As such, it is crucial for you to identify and recognize vulnerable situations when traveling to work, staying at home, or even doing recreational activities with your family. For instance, you might be defenseless when pumping gas in a local station, opening the door to callers, or traveling on a deserted highway. It is, therefore, important to always be on the lookout and not to lower your guard down.
     Remember, attackers operate using the element of surprise, and if you take that component away from them, the criminals or terrorists will find you operating on higher ground, if not leveling the threat to a manageable degree.
     The following are basic personal security guidelines that lay down the foundation on the Do’s and Don’ts that I am going to discuss in the succeeding chapters. These guiding principles are:
     1. Always be alert to the suspicious conduct of person/s around you, in the vicinity of your home, or near your office.
     2. Always be sensitive to the areas of threat arising from your personal dealings, as well as those resulting from your official business. Inform your immediate superior, staff (who should be aware of the situation), and family members.   Report the threat to the police at once either by phone or in person.
     3. Always remember that an attack would succeed if the perpetrator caught you unaware. If you were on guard, the attacker would stop and think twice. This brief interval is precious, as it will give you time to take evasive actions or call for assistance.
     4.  Summon for help at the first sign of danger when something is about to happen or when the act is occurring. Shout, sound the motor horn or blow the whistle to call the attention of the people around you! When you can’t do this yourself, tell your family or friends to sound the alarm.
     5. Always remember that raising the alarm is an effective means of slowing or hindering the perpetrator from pressing on his attack.
     6. If you and your family plan to go out of town in a period of days, inform your trusted neighbor or friend in the community to look after your house. Have your lookout call you and/or call the police when they see unusual activities happening in and around your house.                            
     7. While traveling to work and going back to home, make sure not to establish observable patterns that would enable a potential attacker to predict your future movements, construct an attack-plan based on it, intercept you in conditions unfavorable to you, or isolate you from summoning assistance.
     8. Only provide an interview or conduct a business transaction with a properly accredited person in the office during the business hours, or in the presence of your staff or trusted person.
     9. While on the field, you must not stay overnight in a place or in conditions that would isolate you from persons able to provide help or summon assistance.                            
   10. When attending social functions, be cautious on your conversations with the locals and with expatriates of other countries. If your position in the company is sensitive in nature, do not disclose anything about your official functions/duties, particularly to the publishers of commercial or social directories. You may not know who among the guests are working for the criminal or terrorist group.
     Please bear in mind that your family and household staff may, at any given time, also be the target of the criminal or terrorist group. So, the Personal Security Measures I am going to share on this blog apply to them as well.