John Tang

In Lines Available Now

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 13, 2012

My collection of short stories about Colegio City In Lines is available for download on the margins under “Books” or Thank you for reading.



Here’s an excerpt from “Another Good Thing about Ice Cream”:


Junko meant to own an ice cream parlor, not a coffee shop. Although he had imprecise dreams, he
was loyal to the foundation of the coffee shop. The wooden floors shined each day as if it were
linoleum. The tables with checkerboards prints were polished. At its best, he could remember when
he inherited the coffee shop from a close friend whom passed away without a spouse or child, which
at the time was convenient for both men because he needed a friend and Junko needed a job after he
had retired from accounting for eight years.

Nothing too hard. Junko said. I just want something-I can take care of.

Children? His friend smirked. I’m not a doctor, man. Or a woman.
Junko felt very old being that sentimental.
Two o’clock in the afternoon, Simon Alvarez, an anemic Junko met through bombardments
and interruption, came in with his silver sweater and a laptop under his arms. His wavy hair
disheveled from natural oils and fog. He studied at the international school for agriculture. He said
hello and the normal greetings in Japanese, and ordered his normal small Mocha Tesora. Then out of
nowhere, as he spilled coffee on his pants, he spoke of urgent news.

Mr. Junko, sir, there is a convention next weekend, he said, that I’ve been meaning to tell you

Silence, with a brief hum.

Downtown. There is a contest on who can serve the best pastries. If you win, there is a
thousand dollar prize. And here’s the best part: The worst that could happen is you get free
promotion. People in the city will be asking you, oh, where’s your coffee shop, then you tell him,
then he looks at his wife, oh, it’s over there, I know where that’s at, then he says thank you, then you
have a new customer.

Simon never had the ear for tonal expression, but his heart was in the right place.
Bring your best confections, okay?


Write like You’re Writing for the Newspaper

Posted in Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 6, 2012

Writing for the Newspaper

I had an idea Turkish author Mr. Pamuk inspired: Write as if you are preparing the news. That’s how I’ve been working for the last week, trying to self-publish a collection of short stories staple bound and on computer paper. I liked the texture of the cover and the harsh feeling when the pages unfolded. I print at home on Brother’s laser printer and order my covers from San Mateo for six cents a page. Where did I get the sudden burst of entitlement to my craft, one of my friends might ask. I would have to explain the argument I had with my parents about going back to Okinawa.

I told them I was unhappy in California, frustrated no one from overseas wanted me in their country. My suspicion was that I was Chinese American well seen in the last name of the patriarch: Tang. They advised me to find an administrative position around, and I agreed with some reasoning behind it. There was no incentive for me to remain in the country. I had no sacred relationships or a job. Nor did I identify myself with the culture or the architecture. The comedy was the best thing about the country, but it brought out the worst character in me. I’m sorry, I told my parents, I’m simply unhappy. They kept to themselves eating their McDonald’s burger and fries.

I texted my friends they needed to send me the image of the cover and the inside sleeve for the magazine. I explained the Pdf files needed to be in order so the printing press could have each image together. But then I remembered you could separate files and give them instructions. I was excited for the magazine Brevspread. My brother Tim Tang did the cover. With a James Jean’s influence, he rendered an ancient stork rising out of a golden tea box holding a grenade in a calico sling. For a staple-bound magazine, I was proud of it. For some strange reason my parents believe that I am bored.

Why the hell do you want to go to Okinawa? My mom said. You don’t even know what’s out there. Goddamn it. Matthew, you’re really trying my patience.

I’m sorry…I’m wrong…I’ll find a job tomorrow.

Don’t give me that shit. She didn’t listen to me. Tomorrow, you’re going to go to the outlets and apply—wherever, to Nike, to Kohls, to Banana Republic—I don’t want to hear this shit about Okinawa. I’m not going to let you waste your money. No, you’re on a loan, Matthew.

I graduated with bachelor in English from UC Davis and a master in English at San Francisco State University, with a TEFL certificate for a hundred hours. I sat on 5,000 dollars.

Okay, I will.

That didn’t happen. I applied online to more positions in Okinawa, including a concierge position at a hotel. I quickly grew bored and wandered beside my bookshelves. I remembered an interview from Pamuk as I picked up his collection of essays Other Colors. He said he was a national writer who picked up all his skills in Istanbul. Although the country betrayed via incarceration, he held no remorse. He also said another interesting thing. Before his daughter was born, he’d write from ten o’clock at night to three o’clock in the morning, when the city went to sleep.  By morning, he said, it felt like I had prepared the news for the city. I shared similar sentiments as I finished my first collection of short stories in one weekend (this was a different project from Brevspread). Feeling its feather weight and touching its stapled spine, I felt like a newspaper boy ready to deliver then by hand. I hadwished I could be an international writer like Pamuk or Marquez, the original planter to my desires, who wrote in France, Columbia, and Mexico.

You better do something about it now. My brother Tim said. Or maybe you just didn’t want it.

If someone can just give me the platform, I’ll leap.

It was quiet. I left out the part where my mother cried to my dad, and he later came back to scold me for my romantic dreams. The truth was that we lived in Okinawa for nine years. I remember the clean architecture and the warmth, the typhoons which short-circuited the whole city and the Habu snakes which inhabit the trees and the sugarcane fields. I was ready to accept that. Keep it simple, my father shouted. Goddamn it, it’s Sunday. I didn’t disagree with the candid truth coined by Occam’s Razor. In fact, I tried to apply to my writing one sentence at a time. The context was however different. While I meant skill trade, he meant for one night.

Tomorrow, my mom came to our workspace to say. You’re going to apply to the outlets. Or how about applying to Travis School District?

It made more sense to apply for Travis School District because of my background and aspirations.

Marquez said the first night he landed in the city where he studied law, he slept in a prison on bed of hay fermented from sweat the night before. He stopped writing to focus on school, when one of his friends told him to write about a riot in the city. He did and became a journalist. At the same time he continued to write short stories without royalties. I look at Marquez’s humble life and unseen events, and thought writing for Okinawa for the rest of my life would be fine.

I felt exhausted applying to fourteen different places, schools or hotels, in Okinawa. I thought about applying to Travis School District around my house, but was stopped by Pamuk’s collection of essays. The first paragraph was about the things around his desk, an essay which he wrote for Ox. It was simple infatuation for the things and their shapes and their smell. I put that in my backpack. Then I read a paragraph from a short story I haven’t completed. It was from Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Sachi, a mother, had just cremated her son in Hawaii, and she visited the spot where he was attacked by a shark and drowned. I was three paragraphs in before I knew it. I needed to disconnect from his humble pros so I could apply to the school district. I put that in my backpack. I remembered how happy I felt around literature. How it forced you to focus to have some kind of pleasure. How you were not yourself as you naively followed the character. How it required your entire being. How it warned you about how you perceived your life.

I thought the people of Vacaville needed to know about this, so instead of visiting Travis School District, I wrote about it in the Cultural Center Library.

How I left Mr. Pamuk’s Apartment and Another Essay

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 2, 2012

How I left Mr. Pamuk’s Apartment

In a dream I came back to the apartment and asked my friend if I could borrow his coolant for the car. When he said he didn’t have one I told him there was one in the back. The back connected to four other tenants, shared through a cross section. The room was plainly painted in an orange coat closed to a pumpkin. The wainscoting was green as winter grass with frost. The coolant was on the ground in a tall gallon, standing beside a rake and box.

Is it all right if I borrow it, I asked.

It’s not mine.

You don’t mind if I ask your neighbor.

Be my guest.

I don’t know who my friend was. I had the feeling he was my friend on the account he accommodated me when my car was broken without any queries. He didn’t even question my intrusion to the backyard. He was tall and slim, had a diva-like attitude. He was bald and had a neatly trimmed mustache that seemed to be hard with hair gel. He left me alone to deal with my problem. I knocked on the door and appeared was Istanbul author Orhan Pamuk. He looked nothing like the man I’d seen in videos or university interviews. His hair was silver and oily. Face had a soft demeanor with the look of fierce inquiry.


I was wondering if I could borrow your antifreeze. My car is overheating.

Oh, sure. It’s yours.

Could I ask you something, sir: Are you Orhan Pamuk?

Yes, I am Orhan.

I didn’t know what to say. I was sure a thousand of people asked about how to write very well, asked him how he’d endured his trial for desecrating the land.

Thank you, Mr. Pamuk.

He hummed and shrugged his shoulders, then he closed the door. I was delighted to have met the author and borrowed the thing which would fix my car. The antifreeze was cool and pretty heavy, probably fifteen pounds. It had a sticker of a mountain cap with a violet tone over the picture. I wondered what Mr. Pamuk would say about this: I woke up in the middle of the night and heard someone knock at the door. There was a young man holding a coolant of some kind and claimed it was mine. If it was true, I hadn’t seen it for years. Didn’t know when the last time I used it on my 94 Chevorlet. He asked if he could borrow it because his car had broken down, and I said take the damn thing, I have no use for it.

I carried the bottle of antifreeze under my arms and went back to my friend’s apartment. He didn’t answer the door. I wanted to knock harder with my fist, but was afraid of disturbing the neighborhood. Because I knew Mr. Pamuk’s house, I went back to his, with a little excitement that I’d enter his house.

Oh, it’s you again. Mr. Pamuk said.

My friend is not answering the door. I said. Could I exit through yours? I’m just parked on the other side.

He opened the door so I could enter. Already it had led me to his kitchen. The countertop was marble blue with a hint of smoke. On the right was a painting by Ciudad Real painter Antonio López Garcia of the apartment complexes in Madrid rendered in oil. An orange horizon stood from one side as the buildings cast a shadow over the streets below. I wondered if it told me the secret to where I  was. I wondered if Mr. Pamuk would say something profound about the painting I stared at.

He didn’t.

We passed the kitchen. In the living room the walls corrode an off-colored white. He owned a very old couch, which you could tell he read feverishly on it by the books that laid on the far side of the couch and the bookshelf that stood behind it. Because Mr. Pamuk was granting me this favor of passing through his apartment, I didn’t get a good look at his bookshelves, the one he restored after the earthquake.  Before I knew it I was in the foyer, standing beside the green door.

Thank you for letting me pass, I said.

Oh, it’s no problem. He said. I hope you enjoy my coolant.

It’ll only take me a second. I said. I don’t think you use the whole thing, anyways.

No, take it. I have no use for it anymore.

He opened the door wide which meant I had to leave.

Thank you.


I stepped through the door but turned around. Instead of saying goodbye I had left the Turkish writer with a question.

Mr. Pamuk, if you could begin a story about a coolant how would you tell it?


What’s to come is my desire to become an instructor for Teach for America.  When they asked for my personal information, I wasn’t sure what form they preferred: The continuity of an essay or the direct bullet-point form of a resume. I chose to write in the former, but in the end they had you insert your personal information on their form.

My Desire to Teach for America

I first graduated from Solano Community College with associates degrees in Liberal Arts and English to suffice my General Education to enter into a four-year college. Then I received my Bachelors in English at University of California Davis in 2009 with an emphasis on Teaching and Creative Writing. And lastly I received my Masters in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing this year June of 2012.

This may be grand and marks of growth in my English discipline, but they do not entirely justify my development and desires to be a teacher, for a teacher requires leadership and empathy for the student.

With experiences of leadership, I would refer to my work experience. Specifically in regards education, I tutored English at Solano Community College from 2007 to 2008 and was a Graduate Instructor’s Assistant for an English class for a semester in 2012, where I had my own group of students, twenty students to be precise, for an hour every week. Some days I would lecture before a hundred students in the auditorium under my professor’s supervision. As an English tutor, I helped ESL students to more advanced students who were enrolled in critical thinking. I learned using the white board helps establish an objective view of texts. I broke down paragraphs and showed the profluency of content, from topic sentence to transitional sentence when diagramming an essay. I normally would write them down before the student arrived. Because repetition was vital to the learning experience, I learned patience is highly valued. The student may have asked me for the answer, but I had to refuse because they needed to possess the grammar rules at an independent level. “I won’t be there when you take the test,” I said. Some might be acrimonious to the standard, but those who were diligent and patient with themselves, the pass the test at the end of the semester, moving them one step closer to their college career. That was where I learned the most important value as a tutor: Have an optimistic outlook and high-expectations from your students.

My experience as a Graduate Aid Instructor at San Francisco State University was different, but perhaps closer to being an instructor. Unlike tutoring, where I tutored one student at a time every session, being a Graduate Aid Instructor allowed me to conduct my own class. I had learned the value of time management, a student’s motivation, and the significance of structuring a class session. The original class size was a hundred students, and every week I was given a group of twenty students who stayed with me the whole semester. Then two times in the semester I had lectured to the entire class about the craft of writing. Teaching the group is much more difficult than to the individual. The tempo is different because you simply cannot address everyone’s strengths and weaknesses in a session. I had followed the professor’s lessons and at the same time facilitate a discussion. This required structure: First, you want to engage the student. I would ask an interesting question or begin with an activity. Second, once you got their attention, you want to elaborate on the lesson plan, which I call the “study” portion of the day. Third, you want to give the students a chance to practice what he/she learned, hoping they played with the concept, by which I mean, experimented with the concept.

As I read back my experiences, it seems I have ignored the difficulty of fostering a productive classroom. I hope to clarify here that I had my achievements and failures during these times. Some students would be unmotivated in the classroom. Some students would be disrespectful by putting their feet on the desk or not showing up for their tutoring session and later emailing me asking for the answers to the test. For the disrespectful student, my goal is never to embarrass him. After class, I would ask him or her about how they felt about his or her expectations, skills, and desires. Getting at this level of their lives helps establish a rapport and finds solutions to the issue, because the problem is usually outside the classroom. In regards to managing a classroom, I had my share of difficulties trying to engage the students with a teacher-centered environment, where I lecture over twenty minutes. This method simply does not work, and I realized it rather late in the semester. The classroom environment is when the teacher lectures for fifteen to twenty minutes, and most of that time is to help set up the next activity.

I learned a lot over the years, how to structure a lesson plan, how to have command of the content, and most important, how to humble yourself before your students, which includes listening to them in and out of the classroom, demanding high expectations as if they were adults, and demonstrating mastery over the content of today’s lesson plans. Working for your corporation would help me improve my philosophy as a teacher by showing great leadership and empathy for the student.