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.

The Watermark and Its Effects on Marquez’s Autobiography

Posted in Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on July 31, 2012

The water damage on my hardback novel was more devastating than the muscles repairing after a day of lifting at least five-hundred pounds worth of items into our new house. I remember yesterday. After my friends, dad, my brother, and I finished moving into our new house we sat in the car garage of the former household where a slight breeze blew from the hot hills in Vacaville. At first, Gabe Castro invited us to his house to make spam wasubis and play games, but there was a silence because that was routine at the Castro’s household. Three days a week someone from the group of friends would play video games at their house. Then from the top of the circle Chris Parker invited us to his house as if he didn’t want us there to his pool and smoothies made from his mother. How could we not accept the accommodations? Gabe was the first to accept it. He loved the ocean like a tourists on an island in the Pacific, and it spoke to his character that he couldn’t swim very well. We all agreed to meet at Parker’s house in an hour from now. Two hours later everyone made it with the Playstation 3s and the ingredients to produce the wasubis: three golden recycled spam cans, five cups of long rice, bacon, and roast Korean seaweed wraps. For me, I brought my underwear and a spare t-shirt for the pool, and I brought one book that served me well.

            The book stained by the watermark was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale, which you will find in my recent journal entries my reverence for the growth of the Columbian author. It is serving me well now in the stage where I stand in life. Not that my accomplishments parallel to the classical story teller of our time, but the simple and natural act of movement that comes from life: Adjustment. Currently umemployed and twenty-six years old I am in the procession of maturity. I told my brother my wish to visit Okinawa, Japan, or as the maps know it as, the Okinawa Perfecture, even it went against my dad’s wish for me to be employed with health insurance. I debate that health insurance is worth ignoring as I look back at the passage from the Marquez’s autobiography when he left Bogotá for the warm harbors of Cartegena where the schooners drifted and where the brothels were more hospitable than the hotels. Living on thirty-six pesos, Mr. Marquez slept on his first night not in the hotel or brothel, but in the prison where the hay was fermented in sweat from the night before. He was arrested for breaking curfew in the park as he sufficed the anxious craving from the nicotine. I wonder if my trip to Okinawa would be the same.

We were never collected. Some of us played Playstation 3 on the large television screen that rendered images in standard definition. Some of us swam in the pool while the sun was lethargic. Some of us cooked the spam on a low-fire. I was part of the third group with Gabe watching the natural oil from the spam hiss like an aggravated kitten. He was on the last set, and I helped him prepare the bacon sugaring them. Everything was in order. One could imagine the American paradise here in the suburbia, where expectations dissipate in the face of friendships and unsaid forgiveness, and where the primary goal was to serve the omnipresent nature of self-enjoyment. One could imagine these are the only pieces you need to run chess board against your recurring opponent: Life. I was not immune to the idea. I had thought of nothing, for there was nothing to think of. Food and water served well during the afternoon. I had embedded myself in the enjoyment like a bronze door-knocker on a wooden door. I had lost myself and felt it was worth it.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez doesn’t recount his life with chapter numbers. Now don’t misunderstand me. Numbers one, two, three, four, five and six, are printed somewhere between page one and page four-hundred-eighty-three. And yet, that is not how one pinned the sprawl in which Marquez’s life unfolded before the author. The best term to describe the pace is natural continuity, for in nature, shifts in adjustment occurred on its own volition and fortune, with glimmers of hesitancy, reluctance, steadfastness, contralto, and chaos, and in continuity, for the prose never read as if it was not at service to the reader but to the author, a misconception from the avarice reader that has become our current standard of American literary digest that had branded on his tongue from years of institutional fortification, “It could be better.” Because if the author has entire control of the prose, then the reader has entire control of the prose in its reconstruction, and if done very well, best said by the Oklahoma journalist Ernest Hemingway, the reader will feel as if he wrote it. Marquez works in this fashion. Events and circumstances simply occur wherever the author stood at the specific moment in time. If he was in Arataca, where he heard his mother cry about the strain caused from his father’s infidelity, in the same frame of premature adulthood, he observed the intercession of Monsignor Lopez Lleras take presidency, which he believed was no good for the country because of the ideals of the Conservatism. He’d suddenly conclude the incident simply and innocently: Peace was restored to the household. Or in Cartegena where he hid away and prayed for protection from the devil’s tangible form, bats, the last situation to the sequence of events, before we felt we were about learn a new item from the author, was his imprisonment for violating the curfew in the park. I never got the hint why he retells us his life or had a hint where he was going or what he needed: The cogs which make up Aristotle’s theory of traditional narrative. Like the curfew, Mr. Marquez violates the rules of narrative, and the reader has every right to tell the Columbian author the same answer the police officer told Mr. Marquez’s when he joked about not having a place to sleep at two in the morning: “Stop being an asshole.”

As the water dripped from the ridge of my shorts I removed my shirt in the bathroom. My body was hard from lifting the boxes of books, bed parts, and furniture. The tumult was a struggle and an impossible task if it weren’t for my friends. This celebration was our reward. I learned a few things about them, especially their future prospects. Like Mr. Parker’s desire to move to Arizona because he hated the cold weather. Or Mr. Cato’s literary reviews he’d publish for the Dixon newspaper. I wondered where I was at in life. What kind of growth did I need to endure to be a more disciplined person, the kind of nature for writing? I think back to a time when I was an undergraduate student at UC Davis and my first year at San Francisco State University. Both students and professors, in one way or another, deemed my work to be an “unreadable.” In their defense the language was very tough to read. It reminded me of Faulkner. Still to this day I don’t understand his literary merit except for the experimentations that pushed the norm of literature when it was difficult to read a passage. My friend Greg made the observation as he described my work to have “a lot of color.” I was discouraged, because even my professor Junse Kim from San Francisco State University said my prose was very difficult to follow: “You want to render a moment by moment, a step by step, rendering of the vicarious experience.” It took this heart, and mean I wasn’t naturally gifted in the art. He also said something more valuable to the fiction writer than the poet: “Story comes first. Language is secondary. John, you seem to always put the cart before the horse.” I had asked myself if I had a story to tell. “How come Marquez can write a story without a scene?” I asked him. To which he replied with reverence for American authors: “I haven’t read anything from Marquez since my undergraduate years. But if you want to use models, think of Pam Houston, Mary Gaitskill, or if you like the more hyper-reality, George Saunders.” These thoughts bothered me.

Later this evening a quiet warmth pervaded the backyard. My friends were inside playing video games or sleeping on the couch. I took out Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale with a cup of ice tea. I sat beside the stone demarcations around the pool and read the passage beginning with his new assignment as a writer. He lived with a family who read Virginia Woolf instead of Pablo Neruda, and he found it amazing. I thought being not alone but away from my friends and family and paradise, like how I’m positioned now outside, would bring me to a closer relationship to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wanted this relationship so deeply I had held the book firmly in the y of my palm, pages held out to me like music notes on a music stand. That was when I felt the watermark on the bottom of bookcover. Particles of the cardboard began to roll, leaving a rotten residue behind. I thought about throwing it away that instant, knowing that I had three-quarters of the book, meaning I had a “firm grasp of the concept,”  to use my Political Science professor’s words, but in the same instant realized the depth of reflection it had asked me to study. As I look back at the passages, I see my growth unfold and Mr. Marquez’s prose work through me.